Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Christian Activist Slams Victims of Domestic Violence

If Phyllis Schlafly is not dedicated to an all-out assault against victims of domestic violence and the credibility of abused and battered women, she is making a very good show of it.

In spite of the fact that she frequently skews facts in her own articles minimizing, or ignoring altogether, violent incidences between spouses. Schlafly, attorney, political activist and founder of Eagle Forum, an evangelical watchdog organization, falsely accuses the American Bar Association of using false and misleading statistics in divorce cases where abuse or domestic violence is alleged--which they do not. It is Schlafly, in fact, who misleads her readers by deliberately providing them with false information. Schlafly cruelly slanders genuinely battered women by depicting them as making false allegations against their abusers.

When writing about domestic violence, Schlafly’s articles reek with tabloid sensationalism and deceptive journalism. One would think a veteran journalist who is an attorney as well as a prominent, well respected, spokesperson for Christian evangelicals, could be counted on to present her readers with honest, well researched facts. But the sad truth is that Schlafly has allowed her fear of radical feminists to color her perception of all women who do not fit into her very narrow view of what constitutes appropriate feminine behavior, which is topped by an obvious belief that any woman who takes legal steps to protect herself from an abusive spouse or physically violent relationship is merely a liar using the legal system in order to further her own devious, feminist, anti-family agenda.

Just one example (there are several) of Schlafly’s skewed portrayal of the domestic violence issue can be seen throughout her Town Hall article, "Brave Judge Resists Feminist Agenda," (August 2008). This article is rife with untruths which, considering her status as an attorney with access to much more legal information than the average researcher, can only be construed as deliberate deception and a misrepresentation of easily accessed facts.

In paragraph one of "Brave Judge...", Schlafly states, as fact, her opinion that restraining orders are unconstitutional, that abusive and violent husbands are non-criminals, and that most women who allege abuse are devious liars.

In paragraph two, she states, as fact, her opinion that jail sentences for restraining order violators are unjust. Need I point out that violating a restraining order is breaking the law? And those who violate them are well aware that they will be arrested as a consequence?

In paragraph three, she gleefully begins “proving” her points by introducing the Anibal and Vivian Crespo case (Crespo v. Crespo, FV-09-2682-04) in which Superior Court Judge Francis Schultz, ruled that Anibal Crespo’s rights were violated by his ex-wife being granted an unconstitutional restraining order against him. The case is thought to be headed to the Supreme court. It is interesting that Schlafly's description of the facts of the case differ slightly, yet (as we shall see) significantly from reports submitted by other sources.

In an analysis of the ruling, written by Mary Pat Gallagher, we find the following facts: “The ruling vacated a final restraining order that Vivian Crespo obtained in 2004 against her former husband, Anibal Crespo, based in part on photographs showing injuries he allegedly inflicted in March 2004 when he entrapped her arms in the electric windows of his car when she tried to talk to him about unpaid child support. Anibal was living upstairs from Vivian in a two-family home."

WCBSTV relates the following:
Anibal and Vivian Crespo divorced in 2001 after about 17 years of marriage, but lived in the same two-family home in North Bergen: She was on the first floor with the children; he was on the second floor with his parents.

In 2004, Vivian Crespo obtained a final restraining order from a different judge after claiming that her former husband hit her face and pulled her arms when she sought the child support money. Anibal Crespo responded that his ex-wife attacked him while he was in his car and any injury she suffered came when he closed the car window to protect himself. As a result of the restraining order, Anibal Crespo had to move
."

Schlafly describes the facts of the same case as follows: “Anibal and Vivian Crespo were divorced and rearing their children in the same household when they had a fight, and Vivian asked for a restraining order. Anibal was not charged with any crime, but the judge issued the restraining order, which banned Anibal from his own house and thereby separated him from his children.”

Am I the only one who finds little resemblance between how Schlafly relates the “facts” of the case and the descriptions given by Gallagher and WCBSTV?

Anibal and Vivian Crespo were divorced and rearing their children in the same household?

Schlafly deceptively portrays Anibal and Vivian to her readers as divorced yet still living together. This immediately paints Vivian Crespo in poor light to most of Schafly’s readership which is primarily composed of evangelical Christians. Vivian is going to get little sympathy from that camp—and obviously none from Phyllis Schlafly who had to have known the facts of the case before writing her horribly misleading article. It doesn't take an attorney to know the difference between a "two family house," and the "same household."

Vivian and Anibal Crespo were not living in the same “household.” These facts are clear in news reports read by the public at large and in documents presented at legal proceedings.

"They had a fight, and Vivian asked for a restraining order…?"

It is indeed a sad day when a couple can have a simple argument and a restraining order is granted, no questions asked. However in the Crespo’s case, the argument was not simple. Vivian claims she was hit in the face by her ex-husband, and Anibal admitted to rolling up the electric window of his vehicle thereby entrapping Vivian’s arms. That was assault, pure and simple--regardless of whether they were arguing or not. Vivian’s injuries were photographable by the police. Police photos of her injuries were presented to the judge when she asked for protection from further assault.

Schlafly's statement, "They had a fight, and Vivian asked for a restraining order…" does not even come close to giving readers an honest report.

Schlafy plays on her readers sympathies by writing, "Anibal was not charged with any crime, but the judge issued the restraining order, which banned Anibal from his own house and thereby separated him from his children…"

As an attorney, Schlafly knows that the granting of restraining orders do not carry an automatic sentence of being separated from one’s children. Parental visitation is mandated in cases where restraining orders are granted just as in divorce decrees. But this refrain of, “fathers being separated from their children by frivolous, undeserved restraining orders,” oft repeated by Schlafly, is a veritable mantra with men’s rights and father supremist organizations (the majority of which do a very bad job of masquerading as pro-family advocates).

Schlafly has written at length concerning her objections to the passage and renewing of VAWA, the VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT, which admittedly has some serious problems, especially within the family court arena. Unfortunately, she has allowed her writing on the subject of women’s rights and domestic violence to become extremely biased against families headed by abused (or formerly battered) women and single mothers. She has allowed herself to become the evangelical, feminine voice for groups who pose as pro-family advocates but are in reality, nothing more than men’s activists and father supremists dedicated to the continued suppression of women.

If these groups are indeed “pro-family,” why do their media releases, websites and commentaries reflect the same misinformation and sensationalism as is seen in Schlafly’s article dealing with Vivian and Anibal Crespo? She makes unproven accusations against women such as, “Too often, the order serves no legitimate purpose, but is just an easy way for one spouse to get revenge or the upper hand in a divorce or child custody dispute.”

Who says “too often?” Where is the proof of that? The facts are that false accusations occur no more frequently in divorce/custody disputes than in any other legal dispute. In fact a report by Bala and Schuman published in the Canadian Law Quarterly in 2000 revealed that when it does happen, it is fathers who are much more likely to level intentionally false allegations against mothers. Studies have also shown that fathers who level intentionally false accusations are usually batters or otherwise controlling and abusive.

Sure, there will always be men and women who abuse the legal system in making false allegations. But they are certainly not the majority, and in no way constitute the, “all too often.”

According to the S. L. Keilitz National Center for State Courts, up to 50% of contested custody cases involve domestic violence. In addition to that, studies have shown a high correlation between wife beating and child abuse--even sexual molestation. In spite of this information, mothers who dare to try and protect their children from abusive fathers are very likely to lose custody altogether. The percentages are staggering--70%. Yet Phyllis Schlafly along with men’s rights/father supremist groups continue to scream that restraining orders against batters are unjust and destroy families.

It is domestic violence and abuse that destroys families, not the act of seeking protection from the abuse.

As far as I am concerned, Phyllis Schlafly has become an avowed enemy of battered and abused women (and their children). In my opinion, she has seriously compromised and is well on her way to losing her credibility altogether, as a journalist, as a spokesperson for evangelical Christians, and as an advocate for the American family.