Falsely labeling or calling a victim of domestic violence “crazy” is a common tactic used by abusers to discredit to victims, and create obstacles so they will not be believed when seeking help, or seeking to hold the abuser legally accountable. This is also referred to as “victim blaming”.
This happened in a recent domestic violence incident involving John Bowlen who assaulted his girlfriend then claimed she was “crazy” when she sought help by calling 911.
The Denver Broncos have suspended John Bowlen, son of owner Pat Bowlen, after recent domestic violence charges.
The incident occurred when John Bowlen shoved his girlfriend against a bathroom wall and disconnected the phone while the girlfriend attempted to call 911 for help.
When the 911 dispatcher called back, Bowlen assured that everything was fine then states his girlfriend only called 911 because she is “crazy”. When the dispatcher heard the girlfriend screaming and asked what is wrong, again Bowlen says that she is just “crazy”.
In this case, the dispatcher did not believe Bowlen and sent police to the home. Police charged Bowlen with 3rd degree assault and harassment; he was later released on a $1,000 bond.
John Bowlen mugshot (Dead Spin): http://deadspin.com/son-of-broncos-owner-arrested-on-domestic-violence-char-1709189384
Read the full story about the John Bowlen assault on Raw Story: Heir apparent to Denver Broncos assaults girlfriend and tries to sweet talk 911 dispatcher out of charges
But what happens when a false allegation that a person is “crazy” is made by an abuser, or someone seeking another kind of advantage, and is believed?
In family court, an abusive or vindictive ex may falsely claim their former spouse/partner is crazy or mentally ill in order to gain an advantage in legal proceedings. Gaining custody of children is a common power play by abusers seeking to re-victimize a ex partner, whom they no longer have access to. According to a recent study by Rights of Women and The Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU) called “Picking up the Pieces””79% of legal professionals reported that regaining power and control was a primary motivation behind applications for child contact by perpetrators of violence.”
It also commonly happens that court officers (Guardian ad Litems, CPS, social workers, evaluators, attorneys etc) also make false allegations of mental illness, make up conditions that do not even exist in the DSM-IV or, alternately, manipulate a professional to falsely label someone as being mentally ill. If an allegation of domestic violence, child abuse or child endangerment is raised, there is a significantly high risk that the person making the allegation will be labelled with some kind of mental illness, or condition, that negates their safety concerns and instead, favors and empowers the identified perpetrator.
How false labels get accepted as truth usually happens when the word of one party is taken as fact. In these cases, a proper investigation of the abuse allegations does not happen. Or, you may have an investigation but it seems agenda-driven.
There may also be a bias or preference for one party over the other which causes one party to be believed and another to be held with suspicion or scorn. This is usually seen when the parties are held to a different standard or expectations. One party may be labelled as “mentally ill” when real concerns with the other parties behavior, history and other issues are ignored or minimized. Bias can also be created when a court officer views a case based on their own presumptions, and is not able to objectively evaluate the facts or evidence.
And finally, false allegations of mental illness often occur in cases when allegations of domestic violence or child abuse are not believed, not taken seriously, or minimized. Allegations of abuse must be taken seriously and investigated, it should not be that in order to “prove” abuse, you must place yourself or your child in harm’s way.
A research report recently published by Rights of Women and The Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU), 2012, titled “Picking Up the Pieces” studied the experiences of women and legal professionals in London dealing with child custody disputes between women and abusive ex-partners. The report revealed that a majority of domestic violence victims felt that the family law system failed to properly respond to allegations of abuse, and those failures endangered victims of domestic violence and their children. Including the finding that, “Despite histories of violence, children refusing contact or expressing terror and distress, unsupervised contact was found to be routinely ordered to abusive fathers.”
I would like to add that the failures of family court to recognize, and respond to domestic violence would logically and similarly cause failures to properly respond to child abuse, and family dysfunction overall. There are many stories of men also being affected by family court failures, the common denominator being that children are put into the care and custody of abusive and/or unfit parents. I think this study–or another–needs to dig deeper to survey parents involved in family court litigation, and to audit the courts response to family violence overall.
“Picking up the Pieces” also offers recommendations to improve the court’s response to abuse allegations, and to better protect victims. The study also makes recommendations to improve accountability, and transparency in the court system overall including developing an effective complaint process, and a means for a litigant to request another CAFCASS officer (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service appoints a social worker to advocate for the needs of children in court, similar to a Guardian ad Litem in the US).
The John Bowlen case provides an example of how an abuser will make a false allegation of mental illness to discredit a victim, or avoid responsibility for their own actions. The recent report by “Rights of Women” and “CWASU” demonstrates that there is also a systemic failure within family court to recognize and respond to allegations of abuse, which abusers take advantage of at the detriment of their victims. As seen in the John Bowlen case, those who recognize abuse and take measures to investigate allegations (rather than dismiss them or engage in victim blaming) can help save lives, and improve outcomes for victims.
The “Picking Up the Pieces” study is important to understand the issues of domestic violence victims in family court, and to help identify the court’s failures, and what improvements can be made. Please read the study at: Picking Up the Pieces Report
Family Law Week also provides a summary of the report, with recommendations: ‘Courts not following law and procedure in domestic violence child contact cases’