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Letter to Representatives on the topic of VAWA abuse and VAWA reform

Update: originally, I wrote my state's Senators on this topic. I've now written my area representative, and another Ohio representative on the topic. I have slightly condensed the letter for easier reading, though as you can see it remains detailed (and again, I've omitted the county names, replaced by Xs to avoid giving away my specific location.

Sent 2/12/13

From 2006 until recently, I was a witness in a bizarre case in which a woman falsely used the XXXX and XXXX county justice systems (police, court, and the victim's advocacy system) as weapons to abuse her ex-husband, who was (and still is) married to a close friend of mine.

Following a change of custody due to her neglect, the woman began falsely accusing her ex-husband of stalking, aggression, and physical abuse. Those of us who know the family knew the allegations were false not just because of the man's good character, but because the women accused him of actions at times when he and his wife happened to have friends over at their house, all of whom could plainly see that he was there.

It started out small, and we foolishly expected it to be over quickly. The first time the police came to the house, those of us who knew the family figured out that this was a tactic the false accuser was employing to try to regain custody of their child, lost to the falsely accused because the accuser's current husband had viciously abused the child. Since the accuser was lying, we all figured that the evidence would be all that was necessary to clear the accused's name and let the family move on with their lives.

We were wrong.

After her first false allegation was shot down, she leveled another... and another... and another... it just kept going and going. From beginning to end, the criminal allegations part of the ordeal lasted over 5 years.

As the case progressed, a pattern quickly emerged. The accuser's method was to go to the courthouse first, instead of the police. There, she would profess fear of her ex-husband and obtain a Temporary Restraining (Civil Protection) Order. A hearing would be set for a date 30 days later. During that 30 days, she would at some point falsely accuse her ex of violating the order.

Following each allegation, the false accuser would then motion for the restraining order hearing to be postponed, often giving flimsy reasons or no reason at all. She wanted the alleged violation heard first because even if the restraining order was overturned, if she got a conviction in the alleged violation, that would remain on record. If the restraining order hearing went first and the restraining order was overturned, the charge for allegedly violating it, if nonviolent, would be dropped.

Because she knew she did not have a legitimate case for the restraining order, the false accuser pushed for the allegations. She knew that if she caught him without a provable alibi, she'd get a conviction regardless of guilt or innocence. The accused responded by requesting the alleged violation case be continued until after the restraining order hearing, to avoid having to go to trial twice when once would suffice.

In one instance, the two played continuance tag for a year - meaning that the false accuser had a 30-day temporary restraining order in place for an entire year. This involved repeated juggling of court dates.

Eventually, the false accuser even began citing her previous false allegations as evidence that her current false allegations were legitimate, the logic being that a man accused that many times must be guilty of something, even though the accusations had all been proved false, and had all come from the same person.

The case became completely ridiculous, evolving into textbook malicious prosecution. A vexatious litigation complaint was filed against the false accuser, who frequently represented herself in court. That complaint got "lost" in the system for 2 years before the victim's lawyer pushed it forward by threatening to sue for violation of his right to a speedy trial. On the good end of it, during those two years, the accuser provided her victim with a lot more evidence for the vexatious litigant case. On the bad end, she almost killed him with the stress, elevating serious symptoms of physical ailments that he had under control prior to her harassment of him.

According to the attorney for the accused, this tactic is one she has seen consistently and frequently employed by women in divorce/custody cases, with the active assistance and encouragement of the local VAWA-funded domestic abuse victim's advocacy system. The tactic, when used successfully, virtually guarantees women favorable rulings in family court.

For the latter half of the ordeal, the ex-husband's friends (including myself) rallied an effort to keep watch on him so that no matter where he went or what he did, there would be a credible witness. We knew that if she ever caught him alone, that would be it - in court, her word was worth more than his even though she was a proven liar. He spent a couple of years with literally no privacy outside of restroom use, during which she continued to level accusations.

At the same time as the malicious prosecution was being employed, the false accuser also stalked and harassed her alleged abuser and his family, leaving her empty cigarette packs at his family's home to show she'd been there, throwing poisoned toys and food over the fence for the family's pets. She stalked his extended family, including his sister, his underage niece, and his other witnesses.

Local police wouldn't do anything about the stalking because the woman was backed by the local VAWA-funded domestic abuse victim's advocate system. A judge did award the niece and sister restraining orders against the false accuser, but when the accuser violated those orders, local police refused to enforce them because of the domestic case and the support the local VAWA-funded domestic abuse advocacy group was giving to the false accuser. No charges were brought against the false accuser for the violation.

Let me repeat that: Police refused to enforce a restraining order following a violation of it, because the perpetrator had the support of the local VAWA-funded domestic abuse victim's advocacy group. Or, that can be re-worded for accuracy: The local VAWA-funded domestic abuse victim's advocacy group assisted the stalker of an underage girl in avoiding arrest and prosecution for violation of a protection order because they were assisting the stalker in her malicious prosecution of the child's uncle.

It took a monumental effort, but the false accuser is now on Ohio's list of vexatious litigants, and she is barred from taking any further legal action against her ex without a judge's prior approval.
Unfortunately, the vexatious litigant has continued her harassment of the family by other means. There has been no way found to put a stop to that behavior.

The combination of gender-specific language and funded incentives for arrest and prosecution in the Violence Against Women Act are the causes which led to this travesty of justice. Because a woman was accusing her ex-husband of abuse, regardless of the facts, regardless of the evidence, every part of the system is by law required to accommodate and act on her claims. This requirement continues even when there is a pattern of false allegations, even when the pattern itself is identifiable as a form of abuse (malicious prosecution.)

Further, the lack of accountability applied to VAWA-funded domestic abuse victim's advocacy groups with which the police and courts work on these cases leads to the groups advocating in favor of female accusers even after the accuser has clearly demonstrated a complete lack of credibility. In this case, advocates pressured police, prosecutors, and judges on behalf of a known and proved false accuser, causing significant hardship, distress, and stress-related health problems for the victim... and because it was the local domestic abuse victim's advocacy group helping his abuser, the victim had no place to turn for help.

These advocates even assisted the false accuser in fighting to avoid being placed on the vexatious litigant list, showing up in court with her for some of the hearings, and assisting her in preparing for the case. They successfully pressured local prosecutors to avoid charging the false accuser for any of her crimes related to this ordeal, which include filing false charges, perjury, stalking and harassment of her ex-husband and his witnesses, and violation of judge's orders (contempt of court.) She was even permitted to get away with violating a child support order for years, amassing some $8000.00 in debt from which she was partially released by a judge because of her refusal to work, (an unheard of ruling, had she been a man) all because she had the courtroom support and assistance of case workers from that VAWA-funded domestic abuse victim's advocacy organization.

The group SAVE (Stop Abusive and Violent Environments) has written a brief with a set of reform principles, some of which, had they been in place, would have changed the progression of my friend's case. In particular, points 4 through 9, and point 11 would have been very helpful.

Save's Points listed at http://www.saveservices.org/pvra/vawa-reform-principles/

1. Treatment programs: Programs funded by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) ignore the most common causes of intimate partner violence: substance abuse, marital conflict, and psychological disorders. This makes it difficult for violence-prone persons to get help before the abuse escalates. Domestic violence programs should address the social and psychological causes of partner aggression.

2. Reconciliation: Many states prohibit couples counseling when abuse has been alleged. Partner reconciliation should be allowed when the counselor and victim believe counseling is desirable and safe.

3. Abuse shelters: Abuse shelters should give priority to victims of physical violence. Shelters should be staffed by personnel with appropriate training and expertise in crisis intervention, mental health, and substance abuse treatment.

4. Non-discrimination: VAWA should be refocused to include all victims of domestic violence, rather than singling victims out for special protection based on gender, sexual orientation, or other group status.

B. Criminal Justice Interventions:

5. Restraining orders: Restraining orders don’t deter determined abusers from harming their victims, and can lull victims into a false sense of security. Restraining orders should only be issued when there is objective and verifiable evidence of abuse.

6. Mandatory arrest: Mandatory arrest policies increase partner homicides by nearly 60%, according to a Harvard University study. VAWA should not award grants to jurisdictions with policies that promote arrest without probable cause.

7. Prosecution: Mandatory prosecution and prosecuting protection order violations may be linked to increases in partner homicides, research says. Prosecutors need to avoid ‘no-drop’ policies that ignore probable cause requirements.

8. Presumption of innocence: Criminal justice policies and procedures need to restore the presumption of innocence to the accused.

9. False allegations: False allegations can cause lifelong harm to the wrongfully accused, and rob victims of services, protections, and credibility. Perjurers need to be held accountable.

C. Other Issues:

10. Definitions: Because of expansive and vague definitions, minor incidents of partner conflict are being criminalized. In addition, victims of physical violence aren’t getting the priority they deserve. VAWA needs to restrict definitions of abuse.

11. Accountability: The Violence Against Women Act needs to institute strong transparency and accountability measures to stop waste and fraud.

12. Training and public awareness: Training and education programs should be based on sound science, not gender ideology.

Related to point 4: None of the other local domestic abuse victim's advocacy groups would help the victim in this case, because his abuser had the assistance of the most powerful group in the county, and these groups all cooperate with each other. This created a unified wall of dismissal, wherein he could not find anyone to help him escape the abuse.

Related to point 5 on restraining orders, I think men like my friend would be better protected from false accusers if accusers repeatedly requesting restraining orders were prevented from doing so without evidence. This could be accomplished by adding a stipulation that, once a judge has ruled a request for a restraining order unmerited, another one cannot be requested by the same accuser against the same person during the time period in which the order would have been in effect (5 years, in Ohio) without proof of an assault against the accuser by the person against whom the order is sought.

On points 6 & 7: By the end of the ordeal - even by the middle of it - it had become clear to everyone involved that the repeatedly accused man was not an abuser, and had done nothing to his ex-wife except gain protective custody of their daughter. Every police department near their home (multiple communities) as well as the local prosecutor's office, and the judges in two county courts, all knew the accuser was abusing the system. Nobody was able to stop her.

On point 8: Had the accuser been able to successfully choose a moment in time to level an accusation when the accused couldn't account for his whereabouts, it is likely that he would have been wrongfully convicted on her word, and manufactured evidence, and as a result falsely imprisoned. She knew this, and it is part of what encouraged her to continue her effort. Had she been required to prove her accusations, the case wouldn't have dragged on for so long.

On point 9, if demonstrably false accusers who commit perjury in the course of arguing their cases were subject to prosecution, that would create a deterrent which would reduce the number of women who would chose to abuse the system this way. If repeat offenders were jailed, then my friend's abuser would not have had the opportunity to continue to make false allegations for as long as she did. If she were found guilty of several counts of perjury, something which was possible after only a couple of hearings, imprisonment would have prevented her from continuing the behavior.

On point 11, I think that the advocates involved in these organizations would be less comfortable supporting abusers who use them this way if there were some means by which their actions could be known to the public, even if making those available entailed employing someone to scrub identifying information from their records. Public accountability is vital to keeping any government funded organization honest. In this case, the organization would not have been so quick to continue to support the accuser after she made admissions which demonstrated that she had been stalking the man she claimed to fear, as well as members of his family, facts which would be entirely inconsistent with her claim of being a victim of abuse. Even if those things would not have altered the course of events, the numerous times when her accusations were proved false by his evidence would have demonstrated the inappropriateness of continuing to advocate for further arrests.

The current version and proposed updates to the Violence Against Women act are too easily abused in the manner used against my friend, and in similar ways. The lack of oversight and transparency in the system created by this law has led to an environment in which gender is more important to the case than evidence.

Further, because the law is gender specific, it excludes victims who are not women, or who are not abused by men. While the law itself does not expressly dictate gender-specific assistance, the repeated use of female-specific terms in the law does indicate to anyone attempting to interpret it for legal use (such as the awarding of grant funds, determining who to arrest, and decision-making regarding prosecution and sentencing) all appear to be directed by that language. As a result, there are few resources in existence for victims of female abusers, for male victims of any abusers, and especially for fathers with children who are displaced due to abuse.

The combination leaves male victims of false and malicious prosecution with little to no means of defense, and no recourse against their abusers, especially if their abusers are using the system designed to protect the abused.  

I urge you to consider the reforms suggested by SAVE, in the hope that reforming the law will reduce the ease with which it is being abused, and will encourage the diversification of its application to populations which are currently underserved.

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