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PAS: In the Best Interest of the Abuser?
Is parental alienation syndrome a mental disorder or a defense?
Joan Dawson (joanied40)     Print Article 
Published 2008-09-23 07:24 (KST)   

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"I think when my daughter becomes an adult she'll be fully cognizant of the fact that she's estranged."
--Alec Baldwin

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On Tuesday, Alec Baldwin's book A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce will be available in bookstores. You can also count on him making a lot of guest appearances. I caught him Friday night on the 20/20 show.

As expected, he talked about his custody battle in family court with his ex-wife Kim Basinger and parental alienation syndrome (PAS). Some claim PAS is a diagnosis; others claim the courts have gone from "best interest of the child" to "best interest of the abuser."

PAS is a form of "woman on man crime."
--Alec Baldwin, on 20/20

PAS is a term coined in 1985 by child psychologist Dr. Richard Gardner. It is defined as "a disorder of children, arising almost exclusively in child custody disputes, in which one parent (usually the mother) programs the child to hate the other parent (usually the father)." This was Dr. Gardner's personal view and it was never published in a peer-reviewed journal; thus, this "syndrome" has never been subjected to the typical rigors of research. Moreover, critics claim Dr. Gardner was pro-pedophilia.

"All of us have some pedophilia within us."
--Dr. Richard Gardner

In contrast to Dr. Gardner's anecdotal evidence, here is some information from credible sources and a child survivor:

Jennifer Hoult, J.D., provides a comprehensive analysis of the science, law and policy issues of PAS in the Children's Legal Rights Journal. She states that "PAS is rooted in theory that can fairly be described as pro-pedophilia." And, in sum, PAS shields abusers, promotes access to children, presumes male violence as false and punishes women (Vol. 26, No. 1; Spring 2006).

The American Psychological Association says PAS "lacks evidence."

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges condemns the use of PAS as a "discredited" syndrome.

Harvard's Jay Silverman's survey (as reported in Newsweek, Aug. 21, 2007) found 54 percent of cases with documented abuse were in favor of the abusers. PAS was used in nearly every case.

The American Prosecutor's Research Institute says, "In short, PAS is an untested theory that, unchallenged, can have far-reaching consequences for children seeking protection and legal vindication in courts of law."

"Nobody in our family likes our father anymore. We call him our 'ex' father. He can play the very concerned parent when he wants to, but as soon as there are no witnesses, he will stab us in the back. He keeps messing up with our mom's job, so she cannot work or hire an attorney, and so we stay poor. We cannot do much, and are depressed. Most of us have insomnia and nightmares. Many people know about the situation, but the judge doesn't listen to us, or to our mother's witnesses. Everything the court does is labeled 'In the Best Interest of the Children' when in reality it has always been 'In the Best Interest of the Child Abuser.'"
--Stephanie, Apr. 4, 2004

Proponents of PAS, and there are many, claim that women alienate their children from their fathers. While it is true that some women inadvertently or intentionally bad-mouth fathers (and vice versa), several other reasons can also explain why the child fears the father or distances himself from Dad. One is the parent's own behavior. Baldwin called his daughter a pig and this is just one term we heard. Perhaps this behavior would influence her opinion of him. Another reason, of course, is that the parent is an abuser.

"Terms such as 'parental alienation' may be used to blame the women for the children's reasonable fear of or anger toward their violent father."
--APA Task Force Report

The use of PAS alleges that mothers and children are liars. PAS, when used as a defense, claims the abuse did not happen and that mom is lying. In fact, there is no evidence that women make more false allegations than men or that lying is the norm rather than the exception in family court. (See: National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse; National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect.)

When mothers claim abuse, then, they are faced with counter-claims of being an alienator. Since more courts are using shared parenting plans and "friendly parent" criteria, a woman alleging abuse faces a serious uphill battle in the courtroom and, indeed, often loses custody to the abuser. Indeed, she faces a double-edged sword -- allege abuse to protect the child and be labeled an alienator or do not report abuse and be charged with failure to protect.

"It's really been a cancer in the family courts."
--Richard Ducote, family court attorney for 22 years, referring to PAS

Allegations of PAS are common among the Fathers Rights (FR) groups, which I have written about previously. Some call these groups backlash groups (because they are anti-woman or anti-feminist); others call them the Abusers' Lobby. They represent (often bitter or angry) men who have been through family court, the place where high conflict cases get settled. Many of these men have had charges and allegations of abuse made against them. Thanks to the Internet, they are now organized.

PAS is related to a term known as "Divorce Related Malicious Mother Syndrome."
--New York Fathers Rights Attorneys

Here is a brief summary of the FR agenda:

- Promote mandated shared parenting (the problem is that this has been allowing abusers to get custody or to maintain control over ex-wives; many FR advocates believe a violent dad is better than no dad at all).

- Lower or stop child support payments.

- Claim domestic violence is mutual.

- Attack services for female victims of violence (sue shelters; try to restrict restraining orders; attack the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for family violence, rape and stalking in the US).

- Discredit women by calling them false accusers (in domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse and rape).

- Use syndromes like PAS to discredit women and get custody of children.

These days, I have found that they use the term "syndrome" less often, instead preferring the term "parental alienation" to counter claims of the "syndrome's" credibility. They also tout more women as victims of PAS in order to gain more sympathizers for their cause. It is interesting (weird, really) to note they have used other terms against women: Malicious Mother Syndrome (MMS), Sexual Allegations in Divorce (SAID), Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP) and Lying Litigant Syndrome (LLS). As you can imagine, all are used in their arsenal against women.

And Baldwin is now providing them with a very public voice to promote their so-called parental alienation syndrome. I will not be buying the book. No, thank you.

I understand custody battles are difficult and there are a lot of scars from this battlefield. However, PAS is a weapon that allows people to shoot below the belt. It is unfounded at best, dangerous at worse. I would not hand a gun to an angry person, nor would I hand a ready-made defense over to a potential abuser. That is not in the best interest of anyone.
For further information:

American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence (Quarterly newsletter)
American Prosecutors Research Institute (PAS: What Professionals Need to Know)
American Psychological Association (Statement on PAS)
Cincinnati PAS
Defend the Children
Justice for Children (The Hoult article)
Leadership Council
Newsweek
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Joan Dawson

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