By Robert J. Hansen & Susan Bassi
Complaints from 53 women alleging Los Altos-based nonprofit WomenSV referred clients to high-priced divorce attorneys who provided poor legal services and charged outrageous fees has published a response following The Vanguard’s reporting.
“Recently a pattern of social media attacks and false accusations against WomenSV and [founder] Ruth Patrick has escalated to the point of impacting WomenSV’s ability to support survivors of covert abuse and domestic violence,” WomenSV wrote.
WomenSV claims that due to the “aggressive” and “harmful” attacks of these accusers, including revealing their office location to the public, WomenSV has been forced to take their operations fully virtual for the time being for the safety of their staff and survivors.
However, several women who were clients of WomenSV said that meetings have been conducted virtually since the pandemic lockdown in early 2020.
In addition, Patrick rented office space and held meetings at the [Los Altos] Masonic Lodge, but a member of the Masonic Lodge said that WomenSV has not used their meeting space since 2019, and gave notice of closing their office space the week after the Vanguard published their report.
Rather than responding to several requests for comment made by The Vanguard, WomenSV instead published a statement: “The Truth Regarding Allegations Against WomenSV” on a web page.
The Vanguard contacted several dozen of the women to respond to the nonprofit’s statements. They called the WomenSV response self-serving, misleading, and substantially not accurate.
“It is outrageous that a nonprofit that has collected over $1 million from taxpayers and private citizens on a platform of believing women and now the founder of that nonprofit is telling the public not to believe 53 of us who had the courage to speak up and expose what was really happening,” one former client said.
As of Monday, April 10, WomenSV added a new webpage that seemingly seeks to discredit The Vanguard’s reporting and the statements of the 53 women that reporting was based on.
The following “facts” are on WomenSV’s new webpage.
Fact 1: WomenSV is not a lawyer referral service, and has no involvement in the legal proceedings of their clients. The non-profit provides survivors with information about various resources that WomenSV members can pursue at their discretion. Leaving an abusive marriage can be daunting and overwhelming, and the organization works to support them in this process by sharing resources. WomenSV survivors are encouraged to research these resources extensively beforehand and select an option that best supports their unique circumstances. Survivors are never forced to select one of the suggested resources as a condition of membership or support.
Attorney Nicole Ford said in an email that at least one paying client was referred to her by WomenSV.
“I got one case that paid me from them. Any other case I got concerning any referrals made were either free consults or pro bono cases,” Ford said.
Several WomenSV whistleblowers told the Vanguard that WomenSV regularly referred their “clients’ to attorneys James Hoover of the Hoover-Krepelka law firm and Jessica Dayton, a family law attorney with the ADZ law firm. Both attorneys hold positions on WomenSV’s Advisory Board.
Margaret Petros, Executive Director of Mothers Against Murder, a crime victim services and advocacy nonprofit, said that the fact that there is a lawsuit by a woman who met her divorce attorney after giving a presentation at a group session is ethically suspect.
“Ruth can say she did not directly refer victims to attorneys, but she and the attorneys didn’t set any ethical boundaries in place to declare a conflict of interest once they spoke to these women through the nonprofit,” Petros said via email. “I’d like to see how many of these attorneys would have donated their time if the ethical boundaries were set in place.”
Following The Vanguard’s reporting, another former WomenSV client consulted with attorneys about the conflicts WomenSV created in her divorce case.
“Each time Jim Hoover or an attorney spoke to WomenSV network meetings, they were speaking largely to represented parties, which is beyond unethical and more consistent with collusion,” the woman said. “We never stood a chance at a fair divorce. WomenSV was working for our abusers.”
The same former client said WomenSV turned what was billed as a support group for survivors into what felt like a used car sales lot for attorneys preying on them.
“Now the woman behind all that harm is saying 53 women who spoke up to expose the bogus charity should not be believed. It is horrifically shameful,” the woman said.
Petros said it is important to encourage community leaders to do right by victims of domestic violence but to be careful.
“When such serious allegations by so many women come up, these community leaders can’t just hide and wish these allegations to go away,” Petros said. “The 53 women that were interviewed deserve to be believed.”
Fact 2: There are no financial qualifications that must be met for survivors to work with and be supported by WomenSV. WomenSV offers all survivor services for free and never pressures survivors to make donations. WomenSV believes it is every woman and child’s right to be free and safe in their own home, and they shouldn’t have to pay to exercise that right. Another reason WomenSV doesn’t charge for services is because of the severe financial abuse that so many survivors suffer. WomenSV conducts a detailed intake to understand the survivor’s needs and ensure the organization can best support them in their specific circumstances. WomenSV assesses financial, emotional, physical, legal, and technological abuse and other forms of coercive control to understand the full extent of the abuse suffered and the best ways to protect and support members.
Petros asked a woman she helped last year with a very serious case of domestic violence and child abuse why WomenSV had not helped her.
“She told me they only have group sessions, no other real help,” Petros said.
Petros said she was incredibly bothered after speaking to clients who confirmed that Patrick put a basket out during these group sessions and asked clients to donate cash.
WomenSV’s 2019 tax return notes it only helps women, not men, who are victims of abuse. The nonprofit also states that its mission is to “raise awareness of domestic violence in affluent areas where abusers have money.”
Another survivor of WomenSV said it didn’t offer any support or financial assistance to help her get through her situation.
“There was the constant pressure to donate at WomenSV meetings and attend charity events which cost $150 per plate, which I could not afford,” the survivor said.
According to the 2019 WomenSV tax returns, the nonprofit collected $385,000 in donations yet spent just $5,000 on client support and Patrick drew a $99,000 salary.
Fact 3: Divorce can be an incredibly stressful, devastating, and traumatic period in a person’s life, especially if abuse was present in the marriage. As part of the attempts to undermine the work of WomenSV, those antagonistic to the organization, have publically shared Ruth’s mental health history to shame her for undergoing a mental health assessment shortly after her divorce, and have questioned the legitimacy of her experience with domestic violence. This challenging time is something that Ruth is open about, as it inspired her to devote her time and energy to helping hundreds of women over the last 12 years and educate the community on the reality of domestic violence – as 50 percent of domestic violence cases go unreported, often due to fear of being disbelieved.
Page of Ruth Patrick’s 1986 psychiatric hold. (Image by Susan Bassi)
The Vanguard’s reporting on Ruth Patrick being placed on a psychiatric hold in 2010 highlighted a history of mental health issues very close to her founding WomenSV.
In April 2010, Ruth called the Palo Alto police while driving near El Camino Real Avenue and California Avenue claiming her husband was following her in his car with a gun, police reports reveal. When the police responded to Ruth’s call, they found her alone.
In 1986, Ruth was put on psychiatric hold after her mother committed suicide, according to acquired documents—suggesting her mental health issues were always present and existed throughout her marriage rather than being a product of her divorce as she claimed in her statement.
The report noted Ruth Patrick had no history of drug or medication use and no marital conflicts. Ruth demonstrated “delusions for which she feels quizzical” noting she knew it was summer, but not the month or day, and believed her husband was trying to kill her.
Another former client of WomenSV said everyone struggled with mental health issues during divorces that drag out for years.
“In every way possible Ruth used our stories to enrich and validate herself in our community. She profited as she told everyone we needed to be believed,”one former client said. “Now she is victim shaming the very women she once called clients, calling us all liars.”
Among the awards Ruth Patrick proudly claims is that from the Santa Clara Psychological Association which Psychologist Paul Marcille, Ruth’s personal therapist and board member, is a member of.
Fact 4: Covert abuse is incredibly dangerous and isolating and can often be easily overlooked or ignored by others, especially in families of affluence. WomenSV’s national renown for its expertise in coercive control stems in part from its unique focus on serving women who live in areas of apparent privilege but in reality, are trapped in a relationship with a powerful, sophisticated abusive partner. Oftentimes these partners have prestigious careers and are well-respected members of society, making it harder for victims to be believed, get help, or leave the dangerous relationship. This type of abuser often threatens to “destroy” their partner should she ever leave, and because covert abuse doesn’t always leave forensic evidence behind, it can be difficult to prove. Victims of this type of crime often have a difficult time getting support, protection, or validation because of the general misperception that if someone is educated and has a respected career and positive public reputation, it is unlikely that they could also be abusive.
This claim by WomenSV is self-serving and makes assertions without providing any tangible evidence proving how many people it has helped such as attendance logs. WomenSV claims to be “nationally renowned” but Ruth Patrick has no formal education or certification in domestic violence.
WomenSV conceded that its clients are asked to sign an NDA for the safety and protection of not only themselves but also their fellow group members who share personal and confidential information that could impact their safety.
Petros said the lengths WomenSV went to keep its work under control is suspicious and terrible.
“The NDA is no different than the abuse of power and control that these women’s abusers have put them through and to have a helping agency control them and prohibit them from speaking up about the services is just terrible and should be closely investigated,” Petros said.
California Grandparents United (CGU) is a collective of grandparents concerned about the multigenerational impact WomenSV has had on families that have gone through a high-asset divorce.
CGU points out that WomenSV claims to have helped over 1000 women, yet the group cannot find five women willing to come forward and describe how WomenSV helped or made their lives better.
Do you have anything to share on WomenSV or the Santa Clara courts? Robert J. Hansen can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Signal at (916) 633-8008. Susan Bassi can be reached by email at email@example.com