Santa Fe “life coach” Ray Lopez runs small groups for men in troubled relationships, in the hopes of introducing “alternatives to violence.” Lopez breaks the ice with his own story, starting with his “dysfunctional alcoholic family, blah blah blah.”
Lopez’ anger reached its peak approximately 18 years ago when he slapped his 3-year-old son. His wife gave him an ultimatum, and he began taking therapy seriously.
He’s familiar with abusers’ excuses, like she slapped me before I punched her. “It’s blatantly not true that women are as violent as men,” Lopez says, referring to a common refrain in the DV denier movement. However—this is where lines blur, and Lopez jokes about getting “into trouble”—he says “women can manipulate much better than men.”
Though not always politically correct, Lopez’ frank approach has likely improved a few lives. He acknowledges that some relationships are unsalvageable because of both parties—a notion that raises a taboo subject.
Some court reformers believe family violence won’t improve without abandoning two cultural assumptions: that marriages should be preserved, and that children benefit from contact with both biological parents.
“One reason the fathers’ rights groups are so effective is they’re tapping into these mainstream ideas that divorce is bad,” Dragiewicz says.
Yet despite claims by fathers’ groups, courts are anything but a tool for female vengeance.
“If you look at patterns, [courts rule] very much in favor of fathers and against mothers,” lawyer Barry Goldstein, co-editor of the forthcoming research compendium “Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody,” tells SFR. (Goldstein provided the earlier statistic about domestic abuse in disputed custody cases.)
Family court codes and procedures do not reflect advances in the social sciences, he says.
“Thirty years ago, the focus was on physical abuse. What we understand now is that domestic violence is a tactic men use to maintain control, to continue to make the major decisions in the relationship. Most of the time it’s not physical,” Goldstein says. “It can be a raised eyebrow. It can be economic.”
Most people would agree the legal system has overreached if a raised eyebrow constitutes a crime. But that is not Goldstein’s argument. Rather, he says, courts misunderstand the role of violence and, just as importantly, the implied threat of violence in abusive relationships. As a result, police, prosecutors and judges don’t know how to distinguish a one-time mistake from an escalating situation.
“In most [dangerous] cases, there’s something physical, but he doesn’t need to keep doing it, because she knows what he’s capable of. The courts don’t see that,” Goldstein says.
Santa Fe may have a bigger problem. The courts never see what the police don’t report.
When Leticia López called 911 on Aug. 18, two Santa Fe Police Department officers came to her home. It was the fourth time SFPD had responded to an incident involving her and Gonze. The Aug. 18 report, by Officer David Webb Jr., describes a “domestic disturbance” in which “not battery, nor assault took place.”
Webb’s description doesn’t jibe with the petition López filed the next day, in which she described being threatened with a knife and witnessing potential abuse of a child.
“They didn’t believe anything I said,” López tells SFR. She claims Gonze ran down the block from their home to meet and speak with police before they interviewed her—by which point, they’d been convinced her story was unreliable.
López calls the officers’ conduct “extremely inappropriate,” for instance: “They said I shouldn’t be fighting over 50-50 custody,” she says. (It wasn’t Webb who criticized her parenting decisions, she says, but another officer whose identity remains unknown.)
Officer Webb did not return a message.
A few months later, inside a courtroom on a cold December morning, López sits only feet away from Gonze, but never meets his eye.
He has agreed to a four-year restraining order, which bars him from coming within 50 yards of her in public, or from buying a firearm. Gonze also agreed to an apology.
“I recognize that my domestic violence petition harmed Leticia and [our daughter],” Gonze says, reading the prepared statement. “I acknowledge Leticia is a good mother and loves [our daughter].”
The hearing officer asks if the statement was coerced.
Gonze hesitates. “No,” he says finally.
“Are you sure?” she asks.
“Yes,” Gonze says. “I owe Leticia an apology for everything that happened.”
López tells SFR she hopes Gonze will change his ways. “I know this marriage has been a nightmare,” she says. “Josh has begun the process of self-examination. He’s begun to apologize and make amends. He has a lot of work to do.”
Approached by SFR after the hearing, Gonze says he settled the dispute for the sake of his daughter. He declines to elaborate but says, “Since you didn’t identify yourself as a reporter, I don’t think you should say anything in the paper about my case.”
SFR’s reporter did identify himself. Gonze did not return subsequent email and phone messages seeking comment on the events described in this article. SFR