No Restraint on Restraining Orders by Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D.

© 2002 Stephen Baskerville

Originally published in Human Events, vol. 58, no. 29, 5 August 2002, p. 16.

Reproduced with permission of the author

This site is supported and maintained by the Equal Justice Foundation.


 

| EJF Home | Find Help | Help the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| Domestic Violence Book | DV Site Map | Data tables | DV bibliography | DV index |

 

| Chapter 2 — Domestic Violence And The Rule Of Law |

| Next — The New Star Chamber: The New Jersey Family Court And The Prevention Of Domestic Violence Act by David Heleniak, Esq. |

| Back — Domestic Violence — The Other Side Of Zero Tolerance by Janeice Martin, Esq. |


 

Fathers Under Siege

Top

The increased use of restraining orders in alleged domestic violence cases is being advocated in states across America. In Maryland, one proposal would allow court commissioners rather than judges to issue protective orders.

The Washington Post calls it an "unlikely subject for controversy" and validates this assessment by ignoring voices of opposition. Indeed, no national debate has ever taken place on restraining orders. Yet it is time the public understands the danger they pose to constitutional rights.

The Post claims that the potential for abuse is "minimal." In fact, the potential for abuse is already being realized. A judge quoted in the New Jersey Law Journal in 1995 calls the restraining order law "probably the most abused piece of legislation that comes to my mind."

Parents issued with restraining orders based on uncorroborated allegations are summarily evicted from their homes and jailed for contacting their children and spouses. "Stories of violations for minor infractions are legion," the Boston Globe reported in 1998. "In one case, a father was arrested for violating an order when he put a note in his son's suitcase telling the mother the boy had been sick over a weekend visit. In another, a father was arrested for sending his son a birthday card."

"The restraining order law is one of the most unconstitutional acts ever passed," says Massachusetts attorney Gregory Hession, who has filed a federal suit on constitutional grounds. "A court can issue an order that boots you out of your house, never lets you see your children again, and takes your money, all without you even knowing that a hearing took place."

As if to validate Hession,s charge, New Jersey municipal judge Richard Russell actually urged his colleagues to violate basic constitutional protections: "Your job is not to become concerned about the constitutional rights of the man that you're violating as you grant a restraining order," he told a judges' training seminar in 1994. "Throw him out on the street, give him the clothes on his back and tell him, see ya around...We don,t have to worry about the rights."

The real purpose of restraining orders is not so much to prevent violence as to eliminate one parent during divorce proceedings. This is now common knowledge in legal circles.

Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Women,s Bar Association, writes that "allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage" in divorce courts and that restraining orders are doled out "like candy." "Everyone knows that restraining orders and orders to vacate are granted to virtually all who apply," and "the facts have become irrelevant," she reports. "In virtually all cases, no notice, meaningful hearing, or impartial weighing of evidence is to be had." Yet a government analysis found that fewer than half of all restraining orders involved even an allegation of physical violence.

Restraining orders are an indispensable tool to keep the regime of unilateral (or "no-fault") divorce in business, because they prevent involuntarily divorced parents from running into their children in public places. Anyone can attend a child's first communion or little league game, after all, anyone but their forcibly divorced father, who will be arrested if he shows up.

How restraining orders can prevent violence is unclear. Violent assault is already criminally punishable. A father whose wife obtained a protective order against him was, according to the St. Petersburg Times, "enjoined and restrained from committing any domestic violence upon her." But is he not thus enjoined and restrained to begin with, along with the rest of us? The conclusion seems inescapable that the purpose is not to protect anyone from violent fathers but to protect the power of divorce practitioners from peaceful ones.

In fact, restraining orders very likely create violence, since forcing a parent to stay away from his or her children can provoke precisely the violence it ostensibly intends to prevent. "Few lives, if any, have been saved, but much harm, and possibly loss of lives, has come from the issuance of restraining orders," Dudley District Court Justice Milton Raphaelson wrote last year in the Western Massachusetts Law Tribune (only upon his retirement).

A report just released by the Heritage Foundation confirms that the safest arrangement for mothers and children is a married, intact family. "Marriage dramatically reduces the risk that mothers will suffer from domestic abuse," concludes the report.

By providing a tool to tear families apart, restraining orders are creating the very problem their promoters claim to be solving.

 

Dr. Baskerville teaches political science at Howard University.

 

Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D.

Department of Political Science

Howard University

Washington, D.C. 20059

Telephone: (202) 806-7267

Email: baskerville@starpower.net


 

Readers Respond

Top

Stephen Baskerville's article on restraining orders "No Restraint on Restraining Orders," was absolutely accurate. It is a weapon in the war against fathers, and has been used with devastating effect. In Massachusetts, the number of restraining orders issue has risen by ten thousand each year until reaching a high of over 65,000 orders issued, per year. Does any sane person really believe there are that many violent men in the state of Massachusetts?

The discriminatory nature of these orders is made clear by state government pamphlets which state clearly that "restraining orders are available to any woman who..." Furthermore, they are issued solely on the word of the female complainant, who need only state that she is in fear.

No proof of any kind is required, no evidence, no corroborating testimony, no eyewitnesses.Just her word, and the order will be issued to deprive a man of his children, his house, his belongings, his constitutional right to due process, and his reputation, which often occurs at night, via telephone, without even a chance for the man to voice a defensive word. Lawyers call it "The Poor Woman's Divorce."

Paul M. Clements

Hillsborough, N.H.

Top


 

Stephen Baskerville's "No Restraint on Restraining Orders" was absolutely right. Family courts grant restraining orders like candy to anyone who claims domestic violence, no matter how dubious the claim. Restraining orders are granted even though the complainant had documented mental problems or the accused was confined to a wheelchair. I have seen many such abuses in my five years working at a conservative public interest law firm.

Restraining order hearings are a mockery of due process. Most judges grant close to 100% of all requests for restraining orders. Judges who do not are targeted for removal from the bench by the National Organization for Women and liberal governors like Maine's Angus King.

Restraining orders are almost useless to the lower-class women who most often suffer domestic violence. Their abusive boyfriends have little to lose from going to jail. Someone who is not afraid of a criminal conviction for violence will not be afraid of a restraining order, either.

But restraining orders are very useful as a tool in divorce litigation. Often, they are used by liberal, middle-class women to order their husbands out of the house and away from the children to ensure that the divorce court will give the wife custody of the kids and possession of the house. These middle-class husbands are typically harmless. Indeed, among the college-educated, men are even less likely to initiate domestic violence than women, as a recent study by Murray Strauss of the University of New Hampshire shows.

The myth underlying the flood of restraining orders is that society permits men as a class to oppress women as a class. But according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, husbands receive prison sentences that are three times longer than wives receive for unprovoked killings of their spouses. Where is the evidence of oppression?

Hans Bader

Washington, D.C.

Top


 

| EJF Home | Find Help | Help the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| Domestic Violence Book | DV Site Map | Data tables | DV bibliography | DV index |

 

| Chapter 2 — Domestic Violence And The Rule Of Law |

| Next — The New Star Chamber: The New Jersey Family Court And The Prevention Of Domestic Violence Act by David Heleniak, Esq. |

| Back — Domestic Violence — The Other Side Of Zero Tolerance by Janeice Martin, Esq. |


 

This site is supported and maintained by the Equal Justice Foundation.

Last modified 5/18/15