Digging beneath the Equality Language: The Influence of the Fathers’ Rights Movement on Intimate Partner Violence Public Policy Debates and Family Law Reform
Kelly Alison Behre
UC Davis School of Law
February 17, 2014
WVU Law Research Paper No. 2014-1
In 2004, a fathers’ rights group formed in West Virginia to promote “Truth, Justice, and Equality in Family Law.” They created a media campaign including billboards and radio spots advocating for male victims of intimate partner abuse and warning about the dangers of false allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, even offering a $10,000 award to anyone who could prove false allegations of abuse were used against a parent in a custody case. In 2007, they released a study concluding that 76% of protection order cases were based on false allegations or were unnecessary, and warned that protection orders were often filed to gain leverage in divorce and custody cases. They coupled their research with language created by a national fathers’ rights group to propose a new law to sanction parents making false allegations of intimate partner violence during custody cases. The Governor signed the bill into law in 2011.
To anyone unfamiliar with the fathers’ right movement, this story may not cause concern, let alone outrage. But another look at the research and the law may raise red flags. In spite of its dissemination between and beyond the fathers’ rights movement, the evaluation conclusions bear little rational relationship to the findings. The research is at best misguided and confused, and at worst, a deliberate attempt to mislead the public in order to promote a political agenda. The new law is inexplicably redundant, as both the domestic relations code and criminal code already provide sanctions for parents who make false allegations of abuse. The law was essentially a solution created to prove a problem by shifting the public policy focus from protecting victims to questioning their motives and potentially silencing them.
At first glance, the modern fathers’ rights movement and law reform efforts appear progressive, as do the names and rhetoric of the “father’s rights” and “children’s rights” groups advocating for the reforms. They appear a long way removed from the activists who climbed on bridges dressed in superhero costumes or the member martyred by the movement after setting himself on fire on courthouse steps. Their use of civil rights language and appeal to formal gender equality is compelling. But a closer look reveals a social movement increasingly identifying itself as the opposition to the battered women’s movement and intimate partner violence advocates. Beneath a veneer of gender equality language and increased political savviness remains misogynistic undertones and a call to reinforce patriarchy.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 65
Keywords: intimate partner violence, domestic violence, fathers' rights movement, child custody, joint custody, parental alienation, patriarchy
Date posted: February 20, 2014 ; Last revised: September 3, 2014
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