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NOW Distances Itself from the Family Court Report and NAFCJ
August 6, 2002
by Trudy Schuett

The National Organization for Women says a report produced by the California chapter, released in late June, is an "independent report." Rebecca Farmer, spokesperson for NOW's Washington headquarters, declares no knowledge of alleged evidence of criminal activity, claimed to be contained in the "Family Court Report 2002." She was not apparently prepared to deal with questions regarding the month-old report.

Cindy Ross of the National Alliance for Family Court Justice, a self-proclaimed activist group which contributed information in the compilation of the controversial report, sent e-mail to Wendy McElroy in early July, later published at Men's News Daily, claiming to have sent actual evidence of criminal activity on the part of various organizations and individuals, to CA NOW.

When the DesertLight Journal [DLJ] asked Rachel Allen of CA NOW: "please clarify, if you would, what specific evidence you have been given, if in fact you have been given such evidence relating to [such] charges... Ms. Ross' comments would appear to charge many people of some quite serious crimes. Does CA NOW, or the National Organization for Women have any plans to pursue these charges, and if so, would you please comment on the nature of any planned action on the part of either?"

This response was received, in part: "the only information received from Cindy Ross included in our Family Court Report was in the form of links to related articles found in the related links and articles section of the report. The content of the report itself was written and researched by the authors indicated on the title page. Although we support the work of the NAFCJ in their efforts to improve the family court system for women and children, we are not in any way affiliated with them nor do we speak for them."

When asked, "Have you received any evidence of criminal activity on the part of any group or individual from Cindy Ross? Do you feel that CA NOW has any responsibility to address this evidence in any way, such as reporting the alleged criminal activity to authorities, and does CA NOW have any plans to do so?"

Ms. Allen responded by directing us back to report itself, which contains no reference to either evidence of specific criminal activity, or to specific actions on the part of NOW itself regarding any crimes reported to them. The "solutions section," referred to by Ms. Allen, appears to be in the form of suggestions regarding legislative and other changes in the general family court system. Although it calls for a statewide audit of the judiciary for non-compliance in elections and government codes in election and appointment of judges is mentioned, as is an "audit and investigation by the Attorney General of fraudulent non-profit continuing education and support organizations participating in family law processes," it does not specify any groups or individuals by name, nor does it suggest the means to be used by the AG's office to identify which organizations should be considered. There is no mention of NOW being in possession of any evidence regarding any specific group or individual, nor is the charge made by NAFCJ of "a court kickback/financial corruption scheme that calls for the misuse of federal program funds in the name of fatherhood and shared parenting" referenced in this section.

It would appear that while Ms. Ross believes herself to have "worked closely" with CANOW in providing information and criminal evidence, as stated in her previous e-mail, NOW considers her contribution to be otherwise. There is no apparent recognition of any evidence of criminal activity in the possession of NOW or specific action intended by either the National Organization or its California chapter.

It has also been reported to the DLJ that the President of NAFCJ, Liz Richards, claiming specialized knowledge of father's rights organizations and public figures active in the men's movement, has been contacting women's organizations seeking their support. To our knowledge, she has not been successful.

While all of this information is mainly a confirmation of suspicions on our part, we have begun to formulate more questions: the actual reasons for issuance of the Family Court Report 2002, and why an established, even (in some quarters) respected organization such as NOW would rely on a small, self-proclaimed activist group such as NAFCJ to supply them with clearly unverified, unsubstantiated information. The website for NAFCJ speaks for itself. There is no apparent organized activism project for the org since 1993, when they claim to have organized. There are neither specific goals stated, long-term or short, nor any of the procedures obvious with other orgs, such as regular meetings, or fund-raising projects. It is simply, as in Rachel Allen's words, a collection of "links to related articles." A visit to their online discussion group, Family Court Reform, shows that their professionalism as a group is questionable. Personal correspondence and communications by the org's "officers" also leave much to be desired. Have they perhaps been chosen as the too-willing scapegoats in some larger, as-yet-unrevealed scenario?

Is the arrogance of NOW complete, and they believe themselves to be a law unto themselves? That no person, nor organization would dare challenge their conclusions, no matter how faulty or hastily prepared? The report itself was not even proofread; which suggests either a reason for haste, or an uncaring attitude on the part of its authors. Why is it that the national office seems to be disinterested in, possibly even embarrassed by this report?

One thing is obvious; this is certainly not an example of "linking arms in dangerous times," as was the theme of this year's national conference for NOW in St. Paul, MN. If this is an example of the kind of sisterhood and solidarity practiced by feminist orgs these days, then the men's movement has made much more progress than we realize.

As has been seen by the well-founded criticism both in the mainstream and men's issues press, this report was at best an ill-conceived, poorly designed attempt to point out indications of a social problem. It should be pointed out that of the authors of the report, only Rachel Allen has spoken out publicly in defense of the document, in her position as PR spokesperson for CANOW. With only one author of the report itself and some of the contributors to the project apparently willing to 'own' it in its entirety, it is highly unlikely that anyone - any responsible person, that is - in California state government is likely to give it credence. They would be even less likely to act on any of its suggestions. These suggestions, by the way, fail to assign a specific role for NOW in implementing the proposed changes. In another era, NOW would be certain to carve a niche for itself in the proceedings, if not to direct the changes as much as possible.

The next step is to find out why this tremendous faux pas occurred, or was allowed to occur. Was FCR2002 intended to be accepted without question? Or was it in fact a purely political move that backfired? We can only hope that time will tell, and the answers to our questions will soon reveal themselves.

Trudy Schuett is the publisher of the DesertLight Journal.

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