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NOW Court Report Lacks Facts
Tuesday, July 02, 2002
NOW Court Report Lacks Facts
by Wendy McElroy
A "report"* just released by the California chapter of NOW on the alleged
abuse of women in family courts is fluff without substance.
Nevertheless, a submissive media is eating up the report and rushing to
sound tired alarm bells.
"Family Court Report 2002" has the ostentatious trappings of respectable
research: 134 pages; four authors, including the President of CANOW; and a
self-declared "three years" of research.
What it doesn't have is evidence.
What is the FCR? It is the supporting document behind a call to revamp the
family court system to eliminate purported bias against women.
The report is heavily based upon CANOW's call "for individually prepared
case histories from constituents" and a "detailed questionnaire"* posted
on the Internet. ("Constituents" appears to be a synonym for women who
approached CANOW with complaints about the family court system.) CANOW's
subsequent "historical research" and "review of the often bizarre
practices of judges" are based on responses from the questionnaires (p.4).
Moreover, it is the "constituent" and questionnaire data that makes the
FCR news - complete with a press conference - rather than a university
project. It is on this data that the FCR lives or dies.
It dies. The FCR has gross methodological errors that render it utterly
invalid. The errors include:
A blatant political agenda. FCR opens with the statement, "the present
family court system in California" is "crippled, incompetent, and corrupt"
and "pathologizing, punishing and discriminating against women."
CANOW's Family Law Task Force has suggested several strategies to reform
the courts to "protect" women (p.3). Although CANOW's self-description as
a "political action organization" does not invalidate the report, it
should raise red flags emblazoned "extra scrutiny required."
The data is self-selecting. FRC's much-touted "nearly 300" questionnaires*
appear to be all from women who contacted NOW over a three year period to
complain about the family court system. This approach virtually ensures
that all respondents will be both unhappy with the courts and sympathetic
Ask yourself: How many women who thought the family court system was fair
or who disagreed with NOW's slant would fill out a 20-page, tedious,
time-consuming questionnaire? How many would even find the questionnaire
that seems to have been distributed only to CANOW "constituents," or those
who visit its site? The FCR is not empirical research: it is advocacy
FCR omits crucial information as to how the questionnaire data was
processed. For example, was there any means of verifying the information
rendered, such as the actual circumstances of the described cases in
family court? Without verification, the questionnaires become hearsay or
mere testimonials. Moreover, did CANOW control for multiple submissions
from the same individual? And where is an explanation of the report's
sampling methods, its margin of error...? The data is worthless without
such a context.
There is no presentation of data - e.g., no real break down of
questionnaire responses such as demographics. The "Findings" section (pp.
5-9) presents a set of conclusions about the abuse of women by the family
court system but no numbers are attached.
For example, how many of the respondents answered "yes" to whether their
ex-husbands or boyfriends had better legal representation? Was it two of
the almost 300, or all? The significance of the "yes" answer depends upon
such numbers. There is no quantitative analysis.
No information is offered on how many family court cases occurred in the
alleged three-year period covered by the report. Do the approximately 300
cases constitute .02 percent, 1 percent or 10 percent of the three-year
total? Anything less than three percent is statistically irrelevant and
such testimonials - if verified - would establish only that sometimes
According to the Judicial Council of California* (p.44), in recent years
there were over 150,000 filings and over 100,000 dispositions per annum -
some years were considerably higher. Three hundred selected cases spread
over three years is statistically meaningless.
Footnotes are often absent or "weak."
For example, in the capsule history of family law in California, the FCR
states that, before a bill changed the law in 1998, "Apparently the
existing policy of the state had been to allow a batterer to obtain
custody of his children by arguing the [sic] for the court's bias toward
[the] 'voluntary' joint physical custody/frequent and continuing contact
rule. Frighteningly, research has shown that abusers are highly successful
in gaining custody of their children.[note 56]." (p. 25)
This is an extremely serious charge. But the evidence backing it up (note
56) merely cites "AB [Assembly Bill] 200" - that is, the "facts" allegedly
"found" by the partisan legislators or staffers who wrote the bill itself.
No data was collected from men. However bad the situation is for women in
family court, the treatment of men may be much worse. Without a
comparative study, there is no way to tell.
An extensive critique of the FCR's sloppiness and/or dishonesty could
easily absorb 134 pages itself. But even a cursory examination should be
enough to discredit the report. The media has no excuse for passing along
propaganda as fact. And the fact is: after three years of research, CANOW
offers no data to support its conclusions or demands.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com*. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology
Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R.
Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.
Respond to the Writer / Editor:
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Fox News Network, LLC 2002. All rights reserved.
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Links* in this article:
"detailed questionnaire"* / questionnaires*
Judicial Council of California*
Scrapping NOW: Time to Redefine Feminism
Delivered in St. Paul, Minnesota, June 21, 2002, at the National Coalition
for Free Men (NCFM) Forum.
by Wendy McElroy, email@example.com
NOW: Family Courts Not Corrupt Enough
by Stephen Baskerville -- MND/CNS/FCF, 01 Jul 02
About California NOW's Family Court Report
by Roger F. Gay -- MND, 27 Jun 02
by Trudy W. Schuett -- MND, 25 Jun 02
The Feminazi Campaign Against Fathers
by Michael Tremoglie -- FrontPageMagazine, 17 Jun 02
Fathers' Rights Activists Plan Rally
[comments on NOW's 1996 national conference]
by Wendy McElroy -- Fox News, 04 Jun 02
CA NOW Family Court Report 2002
2002 National NOW Conference
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