Briefing 4: Report Stage Domestic Abuse Bill

From Women Against Rape and support Not Separation

REPORT STAGE DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL, Monday 6 July

We daily work with mothers who have suffered domestic violence and are fighting in the family court to protect their children from abusive fathers. Our experiences of sexism, racism, class and other prejudice have been confirmed by the recent government Review into how the family courts treat victims of domestic abuse. (See our Review summary with quotes.) The Domestic Abuse Bill is an opportunity to provide protection for women and children, but there are serious problems with it. We urge you to address them.

SUPPORT NC10: “Prohibition of reference to sexual history of the deceased in domestic homicide trials”.

OPPOSE NC11: “Anonymity for victims of domestic homicide” – It is a protection for victims, families and defendants that courts are open to public scrutiny. This is essential to holding judges and barristers to account and to ensure that we can all see whether or not justice is done. We also oppose all recent proposals to end jury trials. Our experience is that the key problems in court are caused neither by the jury nor the public, but by the way the evidence is handled and presented.

Oppose NC15: “Children as victims of domestic abuse” – This may be used to remove children from their mothers causing further injustice and trauma. While the intention may be to ensure children’s access to services, legal changes should be considered on how they are likely to be implemented. This amendment could result in more children being removed from their mothers. We say this based on experience. The family courts have been heavily criticised for their deep-seated sexist bias, especially against low income single mothers, who are often also women of colour, immigrant, and/or have a disability. They commonly blame mothers who report domestic violence, accuse them of either lying or of failing to protect their children from witnessing domestic violence, and remove children from the only parent concerned with their protection. Violent fathers know this and use it to stop women from reporting. Unless professionals are directed to prioritise keeping children with their primary carer, they are likely to use children’s “independent” status as victims to recommend their removal, subjecting them the worst trauma of losing their mother and siblings. The shocking 44% increase in children being taken into foster care during Covid19 confirms the urgent need for resources to go to mothers, NOT to separation. Section 17 of the Children Act was designed to keep children with their mothers but is not implemented. It must be strengthened to help address the massive rise in poverty and homelessness, especially among single mother families.

Support NC22, NC25, NC26 and NC27: Protections for migrant women who are domestic abuse survivors. These four amendments would strengthen the rights of women who are in the process of regularising their immigration status, including mothers financially dependent on violent partners, and destitute women who are all vulnerable to exploitation, especially given the hostile environment and the COVID pandemic.

Support NC24: “Proceedings under the Children Act 1989” to amend presumption of contact. The recently published government Review and its accompanying literature, make clear that the “pro contact culture” pervading the whole family court process enables abusive fathers to gain unsupervised access and even residence of their children, with deeply harmful and even fatal consequences. The Review also made clear that children are often ignored when they express fear and strong feelings against contact with their abusive father. This is against the interest of the child as defined in the Children Act; it must be stopped. Abusive men and family court professionals must no longer be allowed to dismiss mothers who report violence, especially sexual violence, with accusations of “alienating” the child. The use of the discredited psychological theory of domestic abuse deniers and paedophiles by CAFCASS and others whose job it is to protect children must end.

Demand an amendment to ensure the Bill is NOT gender neutral In the year ending March 2018, 92% of defendants in domestic abuse-related prosecutions were men while 83% of victims were female; 95% of calls to domestic abuse helplines were made by women (ONS, 2018). Maintaining gender neutrality puts women in even greater danger by hiding the violence we face and allowing perpetrators to portray themselves as victims. This has serious consequences:

1. For the family courts: it enables violent fathers to claim and gain access to the children.
2. For the Bill’s Domestic Abuse Protection Orders. Abusive men often make counter allegations that they are victims in order to escape prosecution; unless the legislation explicitly states that the overwhelming majority of DV victims are women, as stated in the Istanbul Convention, the police could use their new powers to remove women from the family home with devastating consequences, especially for the children.
Given proven police sexism, racism and other prejudices, we are deeply concerned about how these new powers may be used against families of colour.

REJECT all the wrecking amendments proposed by MP Philip Davies, a close ally to militant fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence. Davies wants the pseudo-science of “parental alienation” to be included in the definition of domestic abuse. The recent government Review found that while women are concerned with their children’s safety, men are concerned with themselves. These are the men who have influenced CAFCASS and other family court professionals to back “parental alienation” as a way to dismiss mothers and children’s reports of abuse, especially sexual abuse.  He further calls for the immediate eviction of women who report domestic abuse and are disbelieved by a sexist criminal and family court system. Davies also wants to maintain the Bill’s gender neutrality, thus hiding that overwhelmingly women are the victims and men the perpetrators.  His amendments have no place in a Bill to protect victims of domestic abuse and must be strongly opposed.

DEMAND an amendment about bail, as in Women’s Aid’s Briefing: “Changes in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 have led to a dangerous drop in the use of pre-charge bail in domestic abuse cases, and dangerous offenders being released under investigation with no conditions attached.”

Please contact us if you would like to discuss this further.
Lisa Longstaff Anne Neale
Women Against Rape
Support Not Separation
war@womenagainstrape.net sns@legalactionforwomen.net