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
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.
http://www.lundybancroft.com/pages/articles_sub/CUSTODY.htm, August 2, 2004