Correction appended — see below
Summary: Violence against women is terrible, but the laws and federal programs related to it can be seriously flawed, too. Significant government funds now influence groups that work with women in strained and breaking marriages. This can lead to false accusations of domestic abuse and dishonesty over abuse statistics as well.
A popular paraphrase from the great thinker Eric Hoffer’s work is that, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” This is the case with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a cause so holy to the activist Left that nary a voice is ever raised in criticism of the politically correct pork-barrel program that spawned an industry. The damage that groups funded under VAWA do to men falsely accused of domestic abuse is hard to estimate.
Although states already had laws against assault and domestic violence in 1994, left-wing feminists managed to convince federal lawmakers that Congress had to get involved in combating violence against women.
The statute was originally intended “to change attitudes toward domestic violence, foster awareness of domestic violence, improve services and provisions for victims, and revise the manner in which the criminal justice system responds to domestic violence and sex crimes.” It created new programs inside the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS) that sought to combat domestic violence and improve responses to and recovery after domestic violence incidents. VAWA programs “target the crimes of intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking” (“The Violence Against Women Act: Overview, Legislation, and Federal Funding,” by Lisa N. Sacco, Congressional Research Service, May 26, 2015).
On Sept. 13, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed VAWA into law. Future Vice President Joe Biden had first introduced the legislation in the U.S. Senate in 1990.
“When Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994, it was a landmark in federally recognizing the scourge of domestic violence,” journalist Kate Pickert wrote in 2013. “It also brought about a very practical change, meant to address the problem of cops treating such cases as private family matters instead of serious crimes. With grant funding as reward and with the backing of many leaders in the battered women’s movement, VAWA encouraged states to adopt mandatory arrest policies that allowed domestic violence cases to move forward without the cooperation of victims” (Time, Feb. 27, 2013).
“VAWA has increased prosecution rates of domestic violence cases, but there is little conclusive evidence that it has significantly reduced the incidence of violence. According to the Department of Justice … intimate partner violence dropped 64% between 1994 and 2010, a drop pro-VAWA policymakers largely attribute to the law,” Pickert continued. “But this decrease happened at the same time violent crime as a whole fell dramatically nationwide, making it hard to know whether a drop in domestic violence might have happened without the policies adopted under VAWA.”
Some critics say the real purpose of VAWA has always been to funnel money to left-wing feminists and their rapacious tax-eating activist groups. Experts at the Heritage Foundation see VAWA as an unwarranted federal intrusion into the rightful business of state and local governments that are constitutionally responsible for dealing with such crimes. Just as a city or state government is not the proper authority to deal with crimes like treason or spying against the United States, so the federal government is not the proper authority to deal with neighborhood speed limits or violence in the home.
“Using federal agencies to fund the routine operations of domestic violence programs that state and local governments could provide is a misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that truly are the province of the federal government,” write David B. Muhlhausen and Christina Villegas of the Heritage Foundation.
VAWA springs from the bowels of radical feminism, a world where the inhabitants imagine that women are mercilessly exploited and enslaved by the so-called patriarchy. Women are always victims; men are always their oppressors.
“The VAWA initiated an extensive federal role in combating sex-based violence. Because proponents of the law argued that violence against women is a form of social control perpetuated by—according to their arguments—women’s weaker social, political, and financial status, the substance of the VAWA focused largely on redistributing power and resources to female victims. This philosophy of group victimhood undermines equal protection and the rule of law and has been detrimental to the protection of victims generally” (Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #2673 on Family and Marriage, Legal Issues, March 29, 2012).
The legislation suffered a setback early in its life when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Morrison (2000) that Congress had exceeded its constitutional powers when it granted victims of gender-motivated violence a right of action in federal courts. But that seems to have been just a speed bump on the road to so-called social justice.
VAWA was reauthorized and expanded by Congress in 2000. In 2005 it was again reauthorized. Penalties for repeat stalking offenders were increased, new protections were added for battered and/or trafficked foreign nationals, and new programs were established “to improve the public health response to domestic violence.”
Three years ago VAWA was once again reauthorized by lawmakers. Among other things, provision was made to try to deal with the rape kit-processing backlog in states.
The enactment of VAWA created what is now a burgeoning bureaucracy. That apparatus, headquartered in the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) within the U.S. Department of Justice, funnels taxpayer-funded grants to the states and then to local nonprofits. OVW has handed out “more than $6 billion in grants and cooperative agreements to state, tribal, and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and universities.” OVW administers most of the grants, but other federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Office of Justice Programs, also manage some VAWA funds. (Sacco)
Because VAWA grants are filed under such categories as domestic violence protection, training, sexual abuse protection, and victim services, politicians rarely question them, perhaps for fear of being labeled as soft on domestic abuse.
Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is an exception. In prepared remarks for a congressional hearing in 2013, he observed, “The Justice Department Inspector General conducted a review of 22 VAWA grantees from 1998 to 2010. Of these 22, 21 were found to have some form of violation of grant requirements ranging from unauthorized and unallowable expenditures, to sloppy recordkeeping and failure to report in a timely manner. We should make sure that VAWA money goes to the victims. That hasn’t been the case under the current situation.”
Grassley’s spokesman Beth Levine didn’t respond to an email for comment for this article by press time.
The 2 percent myth
Men’s rights activist Ben Vonderheide confronted Rita S. Smith, then the executive director of the Denver, Colo.-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) outside a congressional hearing in 2011. “Are you concerned with false allegations of domestic abuse?” he asked.
Holding up two fingers, Smith responded with the oft-repeated statistic used by feminists: “two percent of the time.” Smith was referring to the so-called fact that only 2 percent of accusations of domestic abuse turn out to be false. (Video of the confrontation is available at http://daddyjustice.com/wp/?p=141.) “It’s documented,” Smith continued, “2 percent of the time. Stop lying.” She added more definitively, “All the research states about 2 percent of the time: no more.”
Vonderheide told me in a telephone interview that he has been presented with that statistic repeatedly whenever he challenges feminists about false allegations of abuse. “They claim to have studies, and I don’t have the resources to analyze or challenge their findings,” he said.
There’s just one problem with the 2 percent statistic: it’s non-existent. There is no study that has definitively measured how many allegations are false, and experts I’ve spoken with would be dubious of such a study.
Barry Goldstein told me the number came from a study by Nicholas Bala. Goldstein is a hero in the domestic violence movement because he lost his law license after advocating too aggressively on behalf a client who was a domestic violence victim. He is currently an author, speaker, and radio talk show host who has pushed the so-called Quincy Solution (see his book of that name), which provides for more funding, more training, and easier access to restraining orders: in other words, VAWA 2.0.
Bala is a professor in the Faculty of Law in Queen’s University in Canada. He is associated with the Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), which bills itself as “Canada’s authority on research and resources for bullying prevention.” But Bala has never produced any study that concluded only 2 percent of domestic abuse allegations were false.
With Nico Trocme, another Canadian academic, Bala wrote the paper, “False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate” (Child Abuse & Neglect, 29 (2005) 1333–1345; available online at http://www.leadershipcouncil.orgwww.leadershipcouncil.org/docs/Trocme.pdf). Referring to the 1998 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS-98), the paper states:
“Consistent with other national studies of reported child maltreatment, CIS-98 data indicate that more than one-third of maltreatment investigations are unsubstantiated, but only 4% of all cases are considered to be intentionally fabricated. Within the subsample of cases wherein a custody or access dispute has occurred, the rate of intentionally false allegations is higher: 12%. Results of this analysis show that neglect is the most common form of intentionally fabricated maltreatment, while anonymous reporters and noncustodial parents (usually fathers) most frequently make intentionally false reports.”
A better study
In 2005, Janet Johnson, Soyoung Lee, Nancy Olesen, and Margorie Walters produced a study, “Allegations and Substantiations of Abuse in Custody-Disputing Families” (Family Court Review, April 2005, pp. 283-94). The paper examined abuse reports in the United States and concluded that up to 37 percent of allegations are unsubstantiated – but it’s what they concluded about the unsubstantiated allegations that really tells the story. The authors added this caveat: “However, this study cannot determine rates of false allegations, as it could not distinguish among ‘unsubstantiated’ allegations between those which were false and those which could not be determined due to lack of evidence.”
Let’s reiterate that startling conclusion: Researchers who study this grim subject for a living do not have a “scientific consensus” that only 2 percent of domestic violence allegations are false. That claim is absolutely false. The truth is that the best researchers have concluded that it’s impossible to know exactly how many allegations are not false, but that no one has found evidence that the true rate is anything less than 100 percent higher than the bogus “2 percent” claim, and in custody disputes the rate is probably 500 percent higher, and some mainstream researchers believe the true rate is as much as 1,750 percent higher.
A 2010 study by Rockville, Md.-based Stop Abuse and Violent Environments (SAVE) concluded as many as 70 percent of restraining orders taken out in conjunction with divorces are based on false allegations of abuse. (The study is available at https://www.scribd.com/doc/293092132/SAVE-Cost-of-False-Allegations.)
Deb Beacham is founder and president of My Advocate Center Inc., based in Atlanta, Ga., where she advocates on behalf of family court abuse victims. She said about 30 percent of her clients are like Susan Skipp and Sunny Kelley: protective mothers falsely accused of being parental “alienators” after they spoke out about physical, psychological and sexual abuse. (The cases of Skipp and Kelley were examined in my article, “Making Divorce Pay,” Organization Trends, July 2015.)
She is suspicious of any study that claims a certain knowledge of the exact incidence of false allegations of abuse.
“At My Advocate Center we focus more on the patterns of professionals who tend to get what they want from the courts (as opposed to statistics about men vs women). Certain attorneys will encourage the use of false claims more than others, and the biggest problem we have—what is perpetuating this problem—is that the attorneys make more money on BOTH sides of the case,” Beacham told me in an email. “I do not believe that anyone has done the level of study we have to have nailed down the statistics enough to quote them. I am confident that they have not factored in professional misconduct and the undermining of good police work.”
Beacham, herself a victim of domestic violence before she founded My Advocate Center, said she has worked with several men who she believes were falsely accused of domestic violence as a divorce strategy.
The claim that only 2 percent of domestic abuse allegations are false involves more than academic semantics. If in fact only two percent of abuse allegations are false, then the article you’re now reading is an exercise in demagoguery and fear mongering that improperly takes the spotlight off the real problem of domestic abuse. If, on the other hand, the correct statistic can’t be clearly determined and is likely much higher—partly because of the domestic violence infrastructure these advocacy groups created—then it is the feminist nonprofits that have a lot to answer for.
“Do you believe false allegations of abuse are a form of abuse?” Bonderheide finally asked Smith. He didn’t receive a reply.
A violent woman for VAWA
VAWA has helped send tax dollars to nonprofit giant Planned Parenthood. The Center for Community Solutions, a VAWA grantee, funneled federal grant monies to Planned Parenthood’s San Diego affiliate. The grant allows the two nonprofits to “cross train,” according to Planned Parenthood. “Our affiliate will teach staff from The Center for Community Solutions about women’s reproductive health care needs. And our staff will be trained on the best way to screen for and handle domestic violence with a ‘trauma-informed care approach.’”
VAWA and feminist nonprofits also provide for seamless career moves. For five years, Lisalyn R. Jacobs was employed at the Department of Justice’s Office of Policy Development, where she “worked on a number of issues including implementation of the Violence Against Women Act,” according to her current biography at Legal Momentum, a nonprofit formerly known as the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Organization for Women. Since joining Legal Momentum as vice president for government relations, she has “fought for and secured needed protections for poor women and survivors of violence in a number of key federal laws including two reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act (2005 and 2013).”
Unsurprisingly, Legal Momentum received $739,382 in grants to benefit victims of violence under the auspices of VAWA in 2013, which provided 27 percent of its revenue that year, according to the group’s most recent public tax filing. Jacobs became notorious after she was charged with assault when she attacked father’s rights activist Ben Vonderheide outside a 2011 U.S. Senate hearing on VAWA. The court ordered her to perform community service and stay away from Vonderheide.
Case study: Ronald Pierce
Pierce had three kids, a city job, and lived in a $200,000 home in Dinuba, Calif., in Tulare County, at the time of his divorce. At different times, both sides engaged in adultery, and the marriage ended in 2008.
Pierce had no history of physical violence, and his ex-wife could produce no photos, police reports, or any other documentation to back up her claims. Instead, she used a tactic in the legal battle that is so common, we shall see, that it is has a name, “the silver bullet”: She said she was scared.
The same day he filed for divorce, his soon to be ex-wife filed for an emergency protective order. “I didn’t get accused of domestic violence until I filed for divorce,” Pierce said.
A Tulare officer wrote on March 4, 2008, that Pierce’s ex-wife “told me [she] and Pierce have been married for several years and during that time she has been in fear of his temper. She told me Pierce has an anger management issue. She told me he has never hit her in the past but he has intimidated her by fear.”
Because she filed for an emergency protective order, Pierce wasn’t allowed to respond to the charges when the judge signed the emergency order from a stack of orders. A formal hearing was scheduled about a month later, but the emergency protective order effectively carried with it a presumption of guilt.
“The hearing wasn’t a hearing at all.” Pierce told me. “A judge had already signed a restraining order,” and so the hearing was a rubber stamp for the restraining order, which was renewed repeatedly for the next two years.
Pierce’s nightmare was only beginning. He was forced into a battery of services at his expense, all to be conducted at the local domestic violence shelter, Family Services of Tulare. The shelter ordered an assessment on him, his ex-wife, and their children, all at Pierce’s expense, and if he didn’t go along and pay, the program implied that he would be punished with denial of access to his children.
When the assessment couldn’t find any hint of anger issues, the shelter became creative: “I was accused of creating an ‘atmosphere of abuse’ because I wouldn’t leave the home when she demanded it,” Pierce said.
“The DV [domestic violence] shelter recommended its next service be court ordered—reunification therapy. Of course the court ordered it, and for the next year and some, I attended reunification therapy as did my children—separately. We were never reunited in this therapy. Always the promise dangled out there, but never actually happened.”
(Reunification therapy is a controversial so-called therapy (see https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/the-controversial-therapy-thats-shaping-custody-128797596692.html) which puts a court-appointed professional in charge of re-introducing a parent who has previously been removed from children’s lives.)
The total for all these services quickly exceeded $10,000, and Pierce could no longer afford rent. He lived for months out of his car.
About a year and a half into the process, penniless, homeless, and still with no access to his children, Pierce had had enough; he pulled records on his judge and all the financial records of all the judges in his courthouse. Along with that, he pulled the public tax filings of Family Services of Tulare. In the IRS filings, Pierce found a line item which explained the source of his problems: VAWA. Family Services of Tulare had contracted with the courthouse to provide domestic violence services for anyone deemed a victim or perpetrator by the court.
In 2009, Family Services of Tulare received $1,716,138 in violence and abuse response, prevention, and intervention grants. The same year, the group’s total revenues were $2,109,647. In other words, VAWA accounted for nearly all the group’s grant funding that year. In 2014, the latest year with tax filings available, the group relied less on VAWA, receiving $1,477,561 in similar grants out of a total revenue of $3,312,030.
Pierce discovered an insidious conflict of interest: The more cases of domestic violence identified and put through the bureaucratic process, the more grant money Family Services of Tulare County received. That means it was financially beneficial for this nonprofit to deem as many men domestic abusers as possible.
Case study: Tamir Sukkary
Tamir Sukkary holds a Master of Arts degree, teaches political science at several California community colleges, and is the father of two daughters. He has also been deemed a domestic abuser.
In late 2012, he married his third wife, whom he met through a matchmaker, but the marriage quickly deteriorated, and he told his then-wife of his intention to divorce in August 2014. His wife left the family home on Aug. 18, 2014. About three weeks later, Sukkary was informed by a legal aid organization that he was the subject of legal action, but he didn’t find out the nature of the action, which was accompanied by a domestic violence restraining order, until he came to court a week later.
As Sukkary would soon learn, his ex-wife employed not one but two domestic violence shelters, both of which received significant VAWA grants, to help her file and then adjudicate the restraining order. Sacramento-based WEAVE (Women Escaping A Violent Environment) helped her file the restraining order paperwork and My Sister’s House provided her with legal representation in the domestic violence restraining order hearing.
Sukkary had no history of criminality, physical violence, or physical abuse. When asked why she never reported prior alleged incidents of physical abuse, Mrs. Sukkary responded, “First of all, I was scared for my husband, and especially when he threatened me—he threatened me July 6, 2014.”
Sukkary was required to pay $45 per week to attend a 52-week “batterer intervention” course, which he completed in December 2015. He has spent a great deal of money defending himself: “I have spent over $12,500 in costs associated with the [restraining order] trial and another $5,000 so far on the appeal. I will likely spend an additional $20,000 on the appeal,” he said in an email.
In August 2015, WEAVE attorneys contacted Sukkary and warned him that if he didn’t remove certain YouTube videos he made about the abuse he felt he’d suffered, they would proceed with charges of violating the restraining order; Sukkary even asked me not to identify his ex-wife’s country of origin because WEAVE deemed that information threatening.
Furthermore, his ex-wife may have had an ulterior motive to ask for the restraining order: She had a conditional two-year green card, which would probably have been renewed if she stayed married, but she would likely lose her green card if she and her husband divorced.
She would, however, be granted a green card (i.e. permanent legal residence in the United States) if she were deemed a battered woman, and the restraining order established that status. While it’s possible she knew that all along, a cynic may suspect the domestic violence shelter which helped her prepare the restraining order also informed her of a little-known amendment to immigration law that just happened to have been included in VAWA re-authorization legislation.
The silver bullet technique
In April 2008, the divorce between Chris and Dina Mackney hadn’t yet officially started—no papers had been filed—but both spouses had hired divorce attorneys while they lived in the home they owned. That’s when Dina’s attorneys fired off a letter strongly encouraging her estranged husband to leave the home: “You need to address the enormous tension in the household.” The letter added, “The tension in the household can be reduced if you move from the home.”
Chris Mackney refused to move out, later telling an evaluator that he was “fearful that he would be seen as abandoning the children. Further, he could not afford such a move.”
So, on May 25, 2008, Dina Mackney did what hundreds of thousands of people—mostly women—do every year in conjunction with their divorce: she filed for a restraining order. At first glance, filing for a restraining order appears unusual in this case. Chris Mackney had never been in trouble with the law, and he’d never been accused of being physically violent toward her. Months earlier he had called police, accusing his wife of scratching him and ripping his shirt off his back during an argument. The police refused to file charges in that incident.
But because Dina Mackney filed for an emergency restraining order, Chris Mackney couldn’t be there to argue against the order.
“Chris has become increasingly irrational and physical especially since we began talking about divorce. I simply cannot feel ok in a house when a heated argument inevitably becomes physical. He keeps a gun in the house and [I] don’t want my kids or myself exposed to continued hostility which I feel could harm me,” Mrs. Mackney stated in her application in support of the restraining order.
She even turned the tables on her husband, citing the argument during which Chris Mackney called the police after his shirt was ripped: “This began from an argument about his continuing to text and on-line date with other women on the internet. He then took (while I was sleeping) my studio (jewelry) keys. He wouldn’t give them back so I took his. An argument ensued and ended with physical pushing and his throwing and destroying thousands of dollars of jewelry around my studio. He threw trays at me and all around the room.”
The emergency order was granted the same day it was filed, and 13 days later a “settlement agreement” was reached that removed Chris Mackney from his home. He was never allowed back into that home. Although there was about $500,000 in equity in the property, he received nothing in the final settlement.
On Dec. 29, 2013, Mackney sat in a parked car, put a rifle underneath his chin and ended his life. At the moment he ended his life, he was penniless, homeless, jobless, with no access to his two children, and he had been jailed, always at the behest of his ex-wife, on four separate occasions since the divorce proceeding began. (Mackney’s story was told in my book Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce.)
While no one can get inside Dina Mackney’s head, there are several reasons to doubt she was really as afraid of her ex-husband as she claimed and in desperate need of a protection order. For example, her father, Pete Scamardo, is a murderer, convicted of hiring a hitman in 1968 to kill his friend and business partner in order to collect on insurance money, and Dina never expressed any fear of him. Throughout the process, Dina Mackney, her father, and their legal team didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment including one for this profile.
If in fact Dina Mackney was not really afraid of Chris but was using the restraining order as leverage, it would be an example of something referred to as the silver bullet technique, “a system of stripping you of your property, your right to own a gun, and your freedom. It can put you out of your own home, with no access to your own money, your children, or your possessions. It can cause you unlimited legal expenses. It can turn your friends and family against you,” according to the Family Rights Association.
Greg Hession, a Massachusetts lawyer, said the proliferation of the silver bullet technique is largely the product of the way individual states define domestic violence. He said that although each state writes its own law, he’s found that nearly all of them look remarkably similar, which leads him to suspect feminist influence must be at play.
He said the standards in most domestic violence laws include three categories: prior physical violence, prior sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, and the third category, “placing a person in fear of imminent of physical harm.”
Ninety percent of domestic violence restraining orders are based on claims of fear, Hession said, and that includes Dina Mackney’s order. Hession said the so-called fear standard allows almost any spouse in a household where there have been arguments or other turmoil to obtain a restraining order against the other spouse.
As many as 500,000 individuals are removed from their homes each year based solely on so-called psychological harm, according to a 2006 study by Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting (RADAR) entitled VAWA: Threat to Families, Children, Men, and Women. The study said, “This represents a serious breach” of the accused persons’ civil liberties.
A silver lining?
Despite the damage groups funded under the Violence Against Women Act have done, VAWA itself has done plenty of good things, according to Tina Trent. Unfortunately, radical activists have co-opted the movement that created the law. Dr. Trent is a former liberal activist who experienced an epiphany during her studies and eventually became a conservative political organizer. She earned a Ph.D. from the Institute for Women’s Studies at Emory University.
“As with many movements, political radicals have taken over the issue of crime victimization—they’ve hijacked it from the service providers and real crime victim advocates. And they hijacked it for their own purposes, which have nothing to do with achieving justice or equity for crime victims and everything to do with pimping the issue of crime for political ends, ends which ironically include leftist efforts to undermine the very mechanisms used to protect real victims from real crimes, such as incarceration itself, along with sentencing reforms such as truth-in-sentencing, minimum mandatories, recidivist sentencing enhancement—all laws passed by real victim advocates back in the 1990s to address the horrific tidal wave of crime created by the leftist takeover of the criminal justice courts starting in the 1960s.
“So we have a situation today where the ‘victim advocate’ movement has been largely taken over by ideologues who want the opposite of what will reduce crime or serve real victims. You see this in the so-called campus rape movement, which is a perversion of the idea of helping real rape victims secure justice and safety. Those activists aren’t opposing rape: they’re using the issue of rape to push an ideological agenda.” And, of course, to obtain tax dollars.
In Connecticut, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) is central to the work of coordinating and distributing VAWA funds and resources. “I’m a domestic violence victim,” Sunny Kelley told me, “but neither I nor any domestic violence victim I know has been helped by any of their programs.” The head of CCADV has declined to respond to this criticism.
Chicago-based writer Michael Volpe spent more than a decade in finance before becoming a free-lance journalist. His work has appeared in such national publications as the Daily Caller, FrontPage Magazine, CounterPunch, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Newsletter. His second book, The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers, was published in 2013.
Correction (Dec. 17, 2016): Barry Goldstein is the name of the disbarred lawyer, not Barry Greenstein. The error has been corrected in the web version of this article.