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Flawed court report reveals feminist desperation

By Wendy McElroy
web posted November 4, 2002

What do you call a report that invalidates itself in the introduction and threatens critics with criminal prosecution in the conclusion? Answer: the revised 2002 Family Court Report issued by the California National Organization of Women (CA NOW).

The original Report (07/26) claimed that the California family court system was "pathologizing, punishing and discriminating against women." Child custody practices were particularly excoriated.

To reach this conclusion, the Report had to ignore data demonstrating that "in the 1970's and 80's...women had sole custody of the children approximately 85 per cent of the time.... More recent data sets indicate that father custody figures may be closer to 15 per cent." Instead, the Report relied on a miniscule, biased sampling, hyperbolic language, and such shoddy methodology that no quantitative or qualitative breakdown of statistics was rendered in the 132-page document.

On July 2, my FOX column offered seven reasons why the Report was "fluff without substance." The column created a furor, including talk of "lawyers" and "damages" from the National Alliance for Family Court Justice which claims to have provided CA NOW with documented evidence for the Report.

The revised 65-page Report (09/26/02), issued in time to influence the California election, states in the introduction (iii), "This is action research with a social justice agenda. It does not profess to be unbiased or neutral." Thus, the Report eliminates any confusion about its representing an objective evaluation of data.

Nevertheless, CA NOW immediately uses the language of data to drape its "social justice agenda" in the garb of objective investigation. For example, the Report states that its conclusions are "confirmed by supplemental case studies and "statistical analysis."

The core of the revised Report remains unchanged: it offers the same 300 cases as before. 2/3rds of the cases are what statisticians call a Self-selected Listener Opinion Poll or (SLOP). This fact alone invalidates the Report's "findings," for two reasons.

  1. the sampling is biased. 221 cases come from women who sought out the CA NOW online questionnaire and were committed enough to wade through its 20 pages, 331 questions. Moreover, the questionnaire is as biased as the Report itself.
  2. the sampling is statistically meaningless. The Judicial Council of California (44), indicates that there were 150,000 divorce/custody filings and over 100,000 dispositions per annum in recent years -- sometimes considerably more. 300 women over a three-year period represent no more and probably less than .1 per cent of cases.

Yet, based on this "research," CA NOW calls for sweeping changes to the family court system which will affect the relationship hundreds of thousands of people have to their own children. For example, the Report rejects joint custody, arguing for almost automatic sole custody being granted to the "primary caregiver" (clearly, the woman). Visitation rights are to be "detached" from child support calculations to "reduce the incidents of fathers seeking...joint custody." And, lest the child object, CA NOW declares "provisions for counsel to represent the child should be deleted from the Family Code." Counsel for the child is deemed "unnecessary."

The Report indicates how to deal with criticism of this agenda. "Identify the parties responsible for the perpetuation of problems related to false syndromes, 'fluid' joint custody laws, evaluations and counsel for children. Establish the connection between those parties and fraudulent nonprofit continuing education and support organizations (Fathers' Rights groups) and sue under statutes for RICO vis a vis conspiracy to violate the rights of women.... Along with damage suits, sue for declaratory relief, making ...mandatory joint custody, mandatory psychological evaluations and mandatory mediation unconstitutional."

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was meant to fight against organized crime by allowing those harmed financially by a pattern of crime to bring action in state or federal court for damages amounting to three times their actual harm, plus costs. But CA NOW wants to use the RICO Act to criminalize dissent on custody matters.

Further, the Report advocates financially probing nonprofits based on nothing more than their political disagreement with CA NOW's policies.

This is a dangerous posture for CA NOW. Questions could too easily be asked about its own financing. For example, in her new book "Guide to Feminist Organizations," Kimberly Schuld asks, "Has NOW or a NOW state chapter received government grants? None are reported on its tax forms and its website says NOW receives no federal money for operations."

Yet, according to Tammy Bruce, former president of Los Angeles NOW, NOW has received money from the federal government. In her book The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech, Bruce points to $543,636 dollars awarded under President Clinton's administration to CA NOW by the Center for Disease Control's Office on Smoking and Health.

Bruce concludes, "For an organization that had absolutely no history of leadership in the health arena, the grant was, to say the least, out of the ordinary. On the other hand, if the California organization -- NOW's largest and most successful satellite -- had to file for bankruptcy, it would have sounded a death knell for National NOW, exposing the depth of its troubles, financial and organizational."

The revised Report aims at revoking children's rights in family court and father's rights in custody. It would criminalize dissenting views and make unconstitutional those custody policies diametrically opposed to its own.

NOW is becoming desperate.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

Other related articles (open in a new window):

  • NOW court report lacks facts by Wendy McElroy (July 8, 2002)
    A new NOW report alleges that women are getting a raw deal in family courts. Wendy McElroy isn't terribly impressed by the work by the chapter that produced the study
  • Put up or shut up by Wendy McElroy (July 15, 2002)
    Her recent article on a poorly researched feminist study on gender bias in family courts has landed her in the middle of a war, writes Wendy McElroy

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