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You Made Me Hit You! Interventions with Male Batterers

Appendix A - Victims Seeking Custody
Reproducible Client Worksheet

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Batterer's Style in Mediation or Custody Evaluation

Batterers naturally strive to turn mediation and GAL (Guardians Ad Litem) processes to their advantage, through the use of various tactics. Perhaps the most common is to adopt the role of a hurt, sensitive man who doesn't understand how things got so bad and just wants to work it all out "for the good of the children." He may cry in front of the mediator or GAL and use language that demonstrates considerable insight into his own feelings. He is likely to be skilled at explaining how other people have turned the victim against him, and how she is denying him access to the children as a form of revenge, "even though she knows full well that I would never do anything to hurt them." He commonly accuses her of having mental health problems, and may state that her family and friends agree with him. The two most common negative characterizations he will use are that she is hysterical and that she is promiscuous. The abuser tends to be comfortable lying, having years of practice, and so can sound believable when making baseless statements. The abuser benefits to the detriment of his children if the court representative fails to look closely at the evidence - or ignores it - because of his charm. He also benefits when professionals believe that they can "just tell" who is lying and who is telling the truth, and so fail to adequately investigate.

Because of the effects of trauma, the victim of battering will often seem hostile, disjointed, and agitated, while the abuser appears friendly, articulate, and calm. Evaluators are thus tempted to conclude that the victim is the source of the problems in the relationship.

Abusers increasingly use a tactic I call "preemptive strike," where he accuses the victim of doing all the things that he has done. He will say that she was violent towards him and the children, that she was extremely "controlling" (adopting the language of domestic violence experts), and that she was unfaithful. If he has been denying her phone access to the children during their weekend visits with him, he will likely complain to the court that she is preventing him from calling the children during the week. If he has been highly inflexible about the visitation schedule, he will accuse her of inflexibility. These tactics can succeed in distracting attention from his pattern of abusiveness; in the midst of a cross-fire of accusations, court representatives are tempted to throw up their hands and declare the couple equally abusive and unreasonable.

Mediators and GAL's tend to have a bias in favor of communication, believing that the more the two parents speak to each other, the better things will go for the children. In domestic violence cases the truth is often the opposite, as the abuser uses communication to intimidate or psychologically abuse, and to keep pressuring the victim for a reunion. Victims who refuse to have any contact with their abusers may be doing the best thing both for themselves and for their children, but the evaluator may then characterize her as being the one who won't let go of the past or who can't focus on what is good for the children. This superficial analysis works to the batterer's advantage.

Abusers are likely to begin the mediation process with an unreasonable set of demands, and then offer compromises from those positions. This strategy can make the victim look inflexible, as she refuses to "meet him in the middle." She may relent under these circumstances out of fear that the mediator will describe her negatively to the judge. These compromises may then be used against the victim later. For example, she may agree to unsupervised day visits in order to avoid the risk that the judge will award overnight visitation, and then months later she is asked by a lawyer, mediator, or GAL, "If he is so dangerous, why did you voluntarily allow him unsupervised visitation?" On the other hand, if she is inflexible from the beginning, the abuser will accuse her of being on a campaign to get revenge by cutting him off from the children. There is, in other words, no path she can take to avoid criticism and suspicion, and the abuser capitalizes on her dilemma.

Finally, mediation sessions and the time spent waiting for them to begin are opportunities for the abuser to re-victimize the battered woman with scary looks, threatening comments muttered in passing, degrading accusations made about her to the mediator, and intimidating or ridiculing comments made to her by his lawyer.

Bancroft, R. Lundy, Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes., August 2, 2004

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