Under the law of the father
Interview of Maralee McLean
By Francine Sporenda
MARALEE MCLEAN is a child advocate, protective parent, domestic violence expert, professional speaker and author of PROSECUTED BUT NOT SILENCED: Courtroom Reform for Sexually Abused Children. . Maralee has written several articles for the ABA Child Law Journal, Women’s E-New and other publications on the problems of family courts not protecting abused children. Maralee is with Women’s Media Center (WMC), SheSourceExpert, NPEIV (National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence) and is with RAINN speaker bureau, All American Speakers. She presents at conferences, law schools and is a spokesperson for protective mothers. Her passion for advocacy developed through living a mother’s worst nightmare. Fighting the system with body and soul, she gained the insight that this was not her nightmare alone. She organized a National Rally of Mothers at the Colorado State Capitol and has been involved in legislative work that spans over two decades. She testified before Congress to promote judicial accountability to better protect sexually abused children’s rights in our courts. Maralee’s story has been covered by many media outlets and internationally on CNN.
FS: In your book, you tell how Doris Truhlar (the Guardian ad Litem assigned to your daughter Ami) who stated repeatedly that it was irreparably damaging for Ami not to have her father in her life and consistently demonstrated a strong bias in his favor, is –like many social workers–a strong advocate of the PAS theory. How come this PAS theory is still widely adopted by US Social workers and judges whereas it has been recognized has having no validity at all by most psychatrists (at least in Europe) ?
MM: The Guardian ad Litem Doris Truhlar used Richard Gardner’s debunked PAS Parental Alienation Theory. Which is not approved by the “AMA” (American Medical Association nor the “APA” (American Psychological Association) The G.A.L., who was an attorney, is supposed to represent the child’s best interest. However my child’s safety was not paramount and the father’s rights superseded my child’s protection.
Her bias was evident, she stated repeatedly the damage it would cause my daughter not to have her father in her life and showed bias throughout all the court proceedings. Never once considering the irreparable damage for a 3 year old being forced to live with her abuser and subjected to the continuation of a lifetime of rape. She continually reinforced Gardner’s theory and even paid him for consultation in my case.
This theory is still being used widely in the U.S. because it started here where Richard Gardner self published his books and sent them to every court in our nation. The U.S. was saturated with this theory. Today it should not be admissible. I feel there is a lack of training in the justice system. PAS is a defense that is being used by pedophiles explaining away the child’s abuse as false. To discredit these accusations, they say that mothers make false abuse reports. It’s a myth: these false abuses reports have been found to be less than 2%. As a result, the child who is the victim is being awarded custody to the abuser 70% of the time in contested custody cases. PAS has been described to be a defense lawyer’s dream theory because the more evidence on abuse is presented, the more it is treated as alienation. It is often used in other terms as alienation or parental alienation, which silences the abuse reports and is a justification to remove mothers who have been the primary attachment figure in the children’s life. Many women had to flee the U.S. in order to protect their children. However I do get cases of women in Europe having the same problems of trying to protect their children– this is worldwide discrimination against women and rampant greed and corruption and paternal control in the courts.
FS: In his books and articles, http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/RAG.html , Richard Gardner, the father of the PAS theory, writes that « there is a certain amount of pedophilia in all of us » and « pedophilia has been considered the norm in the vast majority of individuals in the history of the world ». According to him, « incest is benign, the children even enjoy it » and if the father abuses his child, it’s because his wife is not responsive to his sexual needs. How do you explain that the books of an avowed pedophile have become the « bible » of the professionals (social workers and judges) who are supposed to protect children ?
MM: To this day I am shocked at Richard Gardner’s theory and the lack of research on it. Most people would find his personal beliefs deplorable yet there are court professionals who are still using this theory and forcing abused children to live with their abuser. If courts professionals are promoting PAS, they are taking children out of the arms of safe loving mothers. This is more about abuse, coercive control and domestic violence by proxy.
Even when the court system is aware of Richard Gardner’s books and writings and his justification of pedophilia, it is not considered and ignored. CNN International News covered my story and titled the program “Parental Alienation Syndrome.” They interviewed Richard Gardner stating,” jail these moms, gag these moms” The CNN film was brought before the judge in my case. The judge still ignored the medical evidence, doctor reports, hospital reports and police reports of the abuse of my child. The court issued a gag order to silence me.
Most of the women in these cases are receiving gag orders and jail sentences. Seven different judges presided over my case: this is a systemic problem. Two appointed Custody Evaluators in my case cited Gardner, Underwager and Wakefield; their view is definitely on the side of the pedophile and they never consider what the abuse does to the child. Therapists Leona Kopetski and Claire Purcell never included the three doctor reports, the three police reports stating the abuse of my child nor did they contact over 25 witnesses involved.
It is ludicrous that we have no accountability for judges, lawyers, social workers, therapist-custody evaluators, and guardian ad litem’s who are misguided and still promoting his theory and not protecting innocent children, thus jeopardizing generations of children. The discrimination of women in the courts and the bias is huge, it’s corruption of paternal control at the highest cost to our children, and it’s destroying the women trying to protect them. It is clear that we need transparency in our courts and all court professionals to be held accountable.
FS: You say that, due to these theories, as soon as she makes accusations of sexual abuse against her husband/ex-husband, the mother is automatically labeled « an alienating abusive mother » by the justice system: she loses custody to the abusive father by trying to protect the child against his sexual abuse. Would you say that the acceptance of the PAS theory makes it impossible to denounce sexual abuse of a child by her father and thus offers an absolute guarantee of impunity to incestuous fathers ?
MM: This theory is automatically labeling the mother as an alienator even though she has come in good faith to protect her child. These cases are founded 98% of the time and usually it is the father who is domestically abusing the mother physically, emotionally and using coercive control. To take her children away from her is the ultimate form of abuse. Yet the mother is the one who is on trial. In 90 % of the cases where there is sexual abuse, the fathers are getting full custody and good loving mothers are reduced to less visiting time, supervised visits or no contact order with their children. I believe the PAS label is extremely damaging, but it goes deeper than just the PAS junk science. This goes back to paternal control: when the courts believe the contact with a father is a privilege over children’s safety, then it is an absolute guarantee of impunity for incestuous fathers. These cases are criminal and belong in criminal court, not in family courts.
FS : You say that, in the eyes of the justice system, father’s right is sacred and must be maintained at all costs and that « fathers’ parental right supersedes a child’s right to live free from sexual molestation ». You underline that, while the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are overwhelmingly fathers/stepfathers (about 50%), fathers are nevertheless the least likely to be prosecuted. Why this extraordinary bias and leniency of the system towards fathers? Is this somehow related to Father’s Rights Activists lobbying ?
MM: The courts are not screening for domestic violence and in many of these cases, the courts give custody to the abusive father: in the “best Interest of the child”, the father is seen as more able to nurture the relationship with the mother and child than the mother is able to nurture the relationship with the father and child. I lost my daughter when there was no federal funding of monies for Fathers’ Rights. I know it is a cause today for a lot of women losing their children, however the outcome would be the same whether there is funding or not.
The Fathers’ Right Movement is not the main reason fathers gain custody when they are abusers, the main problem is that the safety of the child does not come first. Yes, there is gender-bias in our courts, forty states and many districts have created court sponsored gender bias committees. They have found a widespread bias particularly against women litigants whereas mothers are held to a higher standard of proof and women are given less credibility. There is a lack of training on domestic violence and child sexual abuse among judges and lawyers, but there is never a reason to give a child to his abuser. The safety of the child is paramount and should always come first.
FS: One of the reasons given to justify the principle that the father should never lose access to the child is that sexually abusive fathers can be treated and stop being abusive, and then contacts with the child can resume. Can these men really be cured ?
MM: Absolutely not, they go on to abuse your child, your neighbors’ children, there is no cure. Do you see pedophiles as alcoholics or drug addicts who go and check themselves into an institution and state they have a problem? No! Most of the pedophiles do not think it is a problem, they do not care about the damage it does to children, only about meeting their own “needs”.
FS : You say that the average cost of arriving at a decision about child custody is very high (100 000 $). Can you explain what a woman fighting a custody battle has to pay for, and how these very high costs also work in favor of fathers ?
MM: The cost becomes enormous, especially if the other party is litigious. The abuser using the court as a weapon is nothing new, this is a well known strategy to victimize the women further in these cases. In most of the cases I deal with, the women are depleted financially in the thousands and ordered to pay all court cost, the father’s attorney fees, higher child support than he would have paid and they are bankrupted. The women are left to litigate Pro-Se, they have to represent themselves. Most are also depleted emotionally by this time, with severe PTSD. They have been through a lot of trauma but are going into courts and filing motions in the hope of protecting their children and reinstating their relationship with them. The bond with the primary care taker is disrupted and the children are suffering the loss of the parent who believed them and tried to protect them.
Even women who have the funds to fight are losing custody if the case is labeled as PAS, and there is child sexual abuse. The family courts do not allow evidence in, lacking due process and their first amendment rights. There are women nationally and internationally receiving gag orders and jail sentences. These are criminal cases and they belong in Criminal Court. It is a crime to rape and a crime to commit domestic violence. The bottom line is “safety of the child first”– believe the children and protect the women who are just trying to protect their children and babies. Since stats show that most violence is committed by men, we need also to figure out how we are raising our boys and all good men need to take a step forward.
FS : Your ex-husband appears to be a highly skilled manipulator who was able to charm policemen, lawyers, judges, experts, and social workers (particularly when they were women) This lack of awareness of the fact that narcissistic sociopaths can win over anybody, even seasoned professionals, seems to indicate they will almost always win a custody case against a mother. What do you think of this situation, and what should be done about it ?
MM: I feel more training is needed, since most of these abusers are either sociopaths, psychopaths or have a narcissistic disorder. Until you have experienced this, most would not see it.
These people have arrested behavior at a very young age and are masters of manipulation. I read Robert Hare’s books, one in particular “Without Conscience” and developed more insight on sociopaths. Sam Vaknin’s books, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” describes narcissistic personalities. This manipulation and charm goes a long way, but if judges, lawyers, experts really understood domestic violence and the abusers tactics to win at all cost, thus making a mockery of the system, they might save some innocent children and women who are victims of these abusers. We need transparency and accountability in our courts, judges are not getting it right nor are the appointed professionals. There is much needed education to do so the behavior of the sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists do not rule the courtroom.