Sunday, January 10, 2010
Judge Mike Brigner on batterers, stats, and other Judges
Battered Mothers Custody Conference 2010
“Batters do not deserve First Offender status even if it is the first time they are in court. It is well documented that police are not called until the victim has been assaulted 5 to 6 times. And even then, it can be another 5 to 6 more assaults before he is called into court. Abusers are not first offenders.” So says Judge Mike Brigner, and he ought to know. He informs conference attendees that “batterers are notorious for battering while out on bail or probation. He stressed that, “We need to take these dangerous offenders seriously.”
Judge Brigner underscored the need for Judges and family court workers to be educated about the facts of domestic violence as so many judges continue to make decisions based on myth-understanding. One common misconception is that batterers are simply “good men” who are stressed out by divorce or separation. That could not be further from the truth.
Brigner was adamant that batterers do not just “suddenly snap” and beat their wives. “No,” he says, “They are in complete control. Their anger is not mismanaged…it is very well managed and focused—towards their wives. These guys don’t need anger management,” he said, “These guys could teach anger management.”
After blasting the myths of the “good man” under stress and the non-existent need for anger management, Judge Brigner addressed the fact that batterers are notorious dead beat dads, “Batterers are twice as likely to be in arrears on child support than non-batterers.” Some other statistics provided by Judge Brigner (citing sources as he went) was that 30% of Batterers will physically or sexually abuse their children. More recent studies show up to 70% with the newest citing up to 80%. The numbers are even more staggering if the mother has been battered 50 or more times during the relationship, the likelihood of the children being physically abused or molested increases to 99%.
Batterers are twice as likely to seek custody. Brigner says it is a “No Lose” situation for the abuser. Why? “Because they really don’t want the kids anyway.” While the mother stands to lose everything and often does, voluntarily giving up one thing after another in her negotiations with the abuser in efforts to protect her children. Joan Zorza, Esq., added that fear of losing her children often keeps a woman in an abusive situation much longer that she would choose to stay otherwise. Abusers use the children as weapons against the mother and property and pension rights (only a few of many examples) as bargaining chips.
Why do Judges typically hand down bad decisions in custody matters relating to domestic violence? Brigner says it is a combination of many things including the fact that most judges are overworked, and mistakenly believe that separation will end the violence. Some judges pigeonhole domestic violence as a criminal matter, falsely believing the criminal courts will handle the matter, therefore feel they should not have to deal with it. Some believe women are lying to them and are gender biased. Judges are misled by mental health professionals. In short, Judge Brigner says, “They are simply uninformed. Judges are required to have zero hours of domestic violence training, whereas one thousand or more hours of training is required before you can pick up a comb and be a hair dresser!”
Clearly, the efforts going on to educate Judges and family court workers about abusers and custody issues are not misplaced, and the need for these efforts is not underestimated.