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Almost Anything Now Counts as Domestic “Violence,” Report Finds

Last December TV talk show host David Letterman found himself named in a restraining order. The order was granted at the request of Colleen Nestler of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nestler alleged that for the past 11 years Mr. Letterman had been sending her “thoughts of love” in the form of mental telepathic messages and televised facial gestures.

According to a RADAR Special Report issued today, Letterman’s actions indeed represent domestic “violence,” at least according to the laws of New Mexico. In that state, domestic violence is defined as “Any incident by a household member against another household member resulting in ... severe emotional distress ... [or] harassment.” The law states “cohabitation is not necessary to be deemed a household member.” Any “person with whom the petitioner has had a continuing personal relationship” is a “household member.” So Nestler’s decade-long telepathic relationship with Letterman made him a member of her household, even though he had never heard of her.

RADAR’s report, “Expanding Definitions of Domestic Violence, Vanishing Rule of Law” analyzes the civil domestic violence laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report concludes that statutory definitions have been widened over the past decade to the point that in most states, almost any action can be viewed as “violent.”

“Domestic violence has become whatever the man does that the woman doesn’t like,” notes RADAR Steering Committee member Lisa Scott of Washington State. “Finding out she is having an affair and demanding she stop is seen as ‘abuse.’ This often triggers the woman to file for a restraining order, where no real evidence is required. In my 18 years of family law practice, I have seen this pattern occur over and over.”

Each year 2-3 million restraining orders are issued in the United States. Half of all restraining orders are issued without even an allegation of physical abuse. In 85% of cases, it is the husband or boyfriend who the target of the order. (http://www.mediaradar.org/docs/VAWA-Restraining-Orders.pdf)

Most orders are issued on an ex parte basis, which precludes the defendant from being present to give his side of the story. Restraining orders require the defendant to vacate the house and restrict contact with his children.

“Expanding Definitions of Domestic Violence, Vanishing Rule of Law” can be viewed at http://www.mediaradar.org/docs/VAWA-Restraining-Orders.pdf.

Persons are asked to share the report with media representatives, state legislators, and judges. Reporters are being asked to write articles that explain the problems of our current domestic violence system; lawmakers should roll back overly-broad definitions of abuse; and judges should demand higher standards of proof before issuing restraining orders.

Date of RADAR Release: September 6, 2006

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Register now for the National Family Law Reform Conference, to be held September 15-16 in Alexandria, Virginia (near Washington, DC). The conference will address the crisis of family law, including biased family courts, false allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, and much more. For more information: http://www.acfc.org/site/Calendar?view=Detail&id=100021

R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://mediaradar.org