PRESS RELEASE: Re government announcement to review the family courts:

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Why another review when all the facts are known? Where are the resources for mothers and children?

We welcome the government’s announcement that the family courts must do more to protect victims of domestic violence, and that the presumption that a child’s contact with both parents is in her/his best interest may be ended. About time. But why wait for another review when all the evidence is there? Why is the report gender neutral when mothers are the carers and men the perpetrators? And where are the resources for mothers and children to escape? Without these there will be no meaningful changes for women and children.

The “expert-led review” into how the family courts handle domestic abuse already reported that victims are being put at unnecessary risk. But despite the fact that 63% of respondents to the review were women, the report perpetuates the “gender neutral” presentation of domestic violence, thus hiding the fact that it’s overwhelmingly women who suffer violence from men who perpetrate it.  Of some 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse a year aged 16 to 74, two thirds are women. This was proven again during the Covid19 lockdown as the number of women reporting violence skyrocketed (domestic murders doubled in the first three weeks and calls to the Met Police have risen by a third.  MPs have told us that most of the emails they get are from desperate mothers struggling to protect their children.

For years, we have been working with mothers who’ve suffered rape and domestic violence and are overwhelmingly low income, single mothers, women of colour and/or who have a disability. What they report, and what we have seen from our own experience, is a family court process which is deeply sexist, racist, class-biased and discriminatory in other ways. While millions are spent on taking children into care, women and children are deprived of the benefits, housing and other resources they need for their protection. Section 17 of the Children Act, which entitles mothers to resources to keep children within the family, is not implemented. CAFCASS, social workers, psychiatrists and judges are guilty of taking children from mothers who are victims of domestic violence and backing fathers’ false claims that mothers “alienate” the children by reporting their violence, especially sexual violence.

Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape says: “The Domestic Abuse Bill must recognise that mothers are the carers and men the abusers. To be gender neutral allows violent fathers to hide and continue their reign of terror over women and children, and to get the backing of misogynistic and racist courts. The junk science of “parental alienation” used to dismiss mothers and children who report abuse must be dropped. Mothers must get the financial support they need to protect their children.

We are calling on the government to urgently:

  1. Abolish the presumption that it’s always in children’s best interest to have contact with both parents. This presumption is continually used to over-ride any history of rape and/or domestic violence, or lack of care/involvement by fathers. Introduced in 2014 after intensive lobbying by fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence, it has opened the way for allegations of “parental alienation” against mothers who report a history of domestic violence, and especially when they report fathers’ sexual or other violence against children.  
  • Review all cases currently in the family court where children are being forced into unsupervised contact with abusive fathers based on the presumption of contact, as well as historic cases where children have been taken from mothers who tried to protect them from violence. For the welfare of children to be paramount, their safety and the safety of the mother, who is usually the primary carer, must be prioritised over fathers’ contact. Fathers who are violent to their children, to mothers, to former or present partners should not have contact with children, especially unsupervised contact. Thousands of children are being harmed physically and psychologically, and even murdered, by being coerced to see fathers they are terrified of.
  • Ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill makes clear that domestic violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women. Maintaining the law’s gender neutrality allows men to disguise their violence, endangering women and children’s lives.
  • Urgently investigate how much racism, class bias, disability discrimination and other prejudices affect decision making at every level throughout the family court process, including the disproportionate number of children of colour in “care” and taken from mothers with disabilities, especially those with learning disabilities. 

Two recent cases: Just this week, despite a judge finding that the father had strangled the mother on at least two occasions, thrown her to the floor and stomped repeatedly on her face (as well as being violent to his sister as a child), she ordered the father to have unsupervised contact with his children and also disclosed to him the mother’s address in a refuge. In another case, a judge ordered a BAME mother who is shielding due to Covid19 to take her children to contact, ignoring her shielding letter and forcing her to choose between endangering her life (and her children’s) or being in contempt of court. 

For details of other cases see here.

BRIEFING 3: REPORT STAGE DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL

25 June: Oppose amendment proposed by Jess Phillips MP which would include children in the definition of victims of domestic abuse.  

We are inundated with cases of mothers who’ve suffered domestic violence fighting in the family court to protect their children from abusive fathers.  Based on our experience over many years, we are very concerned that this amendment, rather than protect children, would result in even more being taken from their mothers.  

Since the Adoption and Children Act 2002 extended the definition of significant harm to include witnessing domestic violence, it has been used by social workers, CAFCASS, psychiatrists, and judges –- all of whom have been heavily influenced by the fathers’ lobby – as yet another reason to decide the mother is “unfit” and/or “unable to protect the children”.  Little or nothing is done to get the perpetrators prosecuted and removed from the family home to protect the mother or children from abuse nor to provide support to recover.  Instead, victims are punished and traumatised, starting with the children.

Given this deep-seated sexist bias, especially against single mothers on low incomes, who are often also women of colour and/or with disabilities, any change to legislation has to be considered in the real context of how it is likely to be implemented.  If a child is treated as a victim separately from her/his mother, it is likely that again the mother will be blamed for causing her child to be a victim.   Rather than allowing this amendment to increase the power of professionals to act against mothers, legislation which already exists –- Section 17 of the Children Act – must be implemented to give mothers resources to increase their power to escape violent situations and protect their children.  

Professionals must be directed to prioritise protecting women and children, rather than take children away from mothers, siblings and extended family to be “cared for” by strangers.  The shocking 44% increase in children being taken into foster care during Covid19 confirms the urgent need for resources to go to families and NOT to separation.  

If this amendment is presented at Report Stage we urge you to vote against it.    

Please contact us if you would like to discuss further. 

Lisa Longstaff                                       Anne Neale
Women Against Rape                            Support Not Separation

See our other Briefings on the Bill further down this page

Crossroads Women’s Centre 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX T: 020 7482 2496 sns@legalactionforwomen.net war@womenagainstrape.net

Women’s group urges Parliament to reject ‘misogynistic’ MP’s amendments to Domestic Abuse Bill

Morning Star, 9 June 2020 Lamiat Sabin

A WOMEN’S rights group called on Parliament today to reject “wrecking amendments” to the Domestic Abuse Bill proposed by Tory MP Philip Davies, who they say has a “misogynistic” record.

The Shipley MP has said that attempts to use a child as a “weapon” by keeping them away from a parent, usually the father, “without good reason” should be classed as domestic abuse.

Women Against Rape (WAR) said Mr Davies is “closely allied with fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence.”

The group said that the Bill, currently at committee stage – where amendments are considered – must ensure family courts protect abuse victims and not perpetrators.

WAR insisted that the proposed law should end the use of “parental alienation” – the allegedly unjust separation of a child from a parent – which is invoked by abusive fathers in order to “torture” children who refuse to see them and take them away from mothers who reported abuse.

The group is part of the Support Not Separation Coalition, which said: “Last week, six women described to us how they and their children have been accused of ‘parental alienation’ after they reported violence.

“One mother has already lost her children to the violent father who hits them and is so neglectful that they have been sent to live with their grandmother.

“In two cases, court professionals are recommending the children be taken into foster care to force them into contact with their fathers, including twins who would be separated. Such blatant disregard for children’s best interest amounts to child abuse.”

WAR is also demanding resources for abuse survivors.

The group argues that Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which instructs councils to assess what mothers need to keep their children, is hardly used and that millions of pounds instead goes into “a growing privatised ‘child protection’ industry.”

Mr Davies has been contacted for comment.

Investigation into violent fathers using allegations of “parental alienation” in the family courts

Further to the Briefing by Women Against Rape & Support Not Separation (8 June) to the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee.

Legal Action for Women, which coordinates the Support Not Separation Coalition, holds regular self-help meetings with mothers fighting to protect their children. In our self-help meeting last week, six women came together to discuss how they and their children have been targeted by violent fathers. Three were women of colour, and one was an immigrant from Eastern Europe. 

In every case the father had a history of domestic violence against the mother, sometimes including rape, and in several cases he had also been abusive towards the children. All six mothers had accused of “parental alienation” by the fathers after they raised concerns about violence and the impact of forcing the children into contact with a father they feared or hardly knew.

● In one case two young children have already been taken from their mum and given to the father who hits them and is so neglectful that they had to be sent to live with their grandmother.

● In three cases, the children are threatened with being taken into foster care if they continue to refuse to see their fathers! This includes 11-year old twins who face being separated from each other and put in foster care so they can be “persuaded” to see their father.

What is clear from these accounts is that:

  • Children’s “wishes and feelings” not to see their violent father are being ignored, in contravention with the Children Act 1989.
  • Children are being tortured with threats of being taken from their mother and their home and put in foster care if they don’t comply and have contact with their violent father.
  • Mothers who are doing their best to protect their children and to listen to the voices of those old enough to clearly speak for themselves, are accused of manipulating the children against their fathers i.e. of “parental alienation”.
  • Mothers who have experienced violence on themselves and their children, are being directed by the court to coerce the children into contact with the abusive father or risk having the children taken into care or given to the man they know to be violent.
  • Violent men are using the family courts to continue their reign of terror over women and children, and to avoid prosecution. We know of cases where police investigations were dropped once the fathers applied to the family court for contact.
  • Violent men are considered “good enough fathers” despite being ready to deprive children of their primary carer.
  • Court appointed psychiatrists, CAFCASS officers and social workers are more keen to promote fathers’ “right” to contact with the children than to protect children’s safety and welfare. They are ready to take children from their mothers, split up siblings and put them into foster care to try to force them into contact! 
  • No consideration is given to the devastating impact and lifelong trauma caused to children by being brutally cut off from siblings and from the mother who has been their primary carer, and put into state “care” with strangers. 
  • In addition to the sexism of having the violence they reported ignored, dismissed or even turned against them, mothers who are women of colour or immigrant and/or have a disability face racism and other discrimination from professionals. Disproportionate numbers of BAME children are in “care”; half of mothers with learning disabilities who seek help have their children taken from them.

@NotSeparation sns@legalactionforwomen.net

PRESS RELEASE: Domestic Abuse Bill must go further and ensure family courts protect victims not perpetrators

The Domestic Abuse Bill is now going through Committee stage in parliament when amendments are considered.  Some of its measures are welcome, but it must go further to stop violent fathers using the family courts to continue their reign of terror against women and children and avoid prosecution. 

The Bill must:

End the legal presumption of contact with children, and the consequent use of parental alienation” to torture children who refuse to see their violent fathers and take them from mothers who report domestic violence.  WAR is part of the Support Not Separation Coalition which says:

Just last week, six women described to us how they and their children have been accused of “parental alienation” after they reported violence. One mother has already lost her children to the violent father who hits them and is so neglectful that they have been sent to live with their grandmother. In two cases court professionals are recommending the children be taken into foster care to force them into contact with their fathers, including twins who would be separated. Such blatant disregard for children’s best interest amounts to child abuse. Three of these mothers are women of colour and one an immigrant from Eastern Europe – we believe they face not only sexism but racism and xenophobia.” 

Ensure resources for women and children escaping domestic violence, regardless of immigration status. Without resources such as refuges, housing and benefits, women and children are unable to escape violence. One resource already exists in law but is hardly used: Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 which instructs local authorities to assess what mothers need to keep their children. Instead millions go into taking children into care. In low income areas, up to 50% of children are being investigated for “neglect” and are therefore at risk of being taken from their mothers – easy prey of a growing privatised “child protection” industry.

We are calling on the Committee to reject all the wrecking amendments proposed by MP Philip Davies who wants “parental alienation” to be included in the definition of domestic abuse. Davies is closely allied with fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence and have influenced CAFCASS and other family court professionals to take up their cause. A member of the 1922 Committee, he has a long misogynistic and racist parliamentary track record, which so horrified his women constituents that in 2016 they formed the Shipley Feminist Zealots to campaign against him. Over 1,000 marched against him and President Trump, whom he supports: “I would vote for Trump in a heartbeat”. They say now:

We are appalled by his track record of obstructing legislation which seeks to protect survivors of domestic abuse in the name of ‘men’s rights’. Well over 1,000 of us have worked tirelessly over the past four years to hold him to account, despite being branded by him as “extremists”, “socialists” and “feminist zealots”.  We urge the scrutiny committee to ensure that this long-awaited Bill is not delayed or derailed by him at the expense of the safety of women and families across the country”. 

We won’t go back to the 1980s when it was legal for a man to rape his wife, and for men to sexually abuse children!

Women Against Rape is part of the Support Not Separation Coalition, which defends mothers and children facing the family court. For more information and our briefing on the Bill see here.

Contact

 Women Against Rape    war@womenagainstrape.net

Support Not Separation    sns@legalactionforwomen.net

BRIEFING 2 RE: DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL

on behalf of Women Against Rape and the Support Not Separation Coalition

Submitted to Public Bill Committee, 8 June 2020

Women Against Rape (WAR) is a multi-racial women’s organisation founded in 1976. It provides support, advocacy and information in individual cases. It campaigns for justice, protection and compensation for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.  It has won changes in the law such as making rape in marriage a crime and set legal precedents such as the first successful private prosecution for rape in England and Wales, after the authorities refused to bring a serial rapist to court. It is active in the Support Not Separation Coalition which defends mothers and children against unwarranted separation. Through this work, we are in contact with hundreds of mothers and children, family law professionals and organisations.  We have successfully intervened in a number of cases to stop local authorities and the courts forcing children into contact or even residence with violent fathers. 

Introduction

Women are primary carers in 90% of households.  Domestic violence is widespread and often deadly.  During the COVID-19 lockdown, domestic murders of women in the UK doubled and calls to the Met police from victims rose by one third. This has exposed the lies of domestic violence deniers.  Overwhelmingly, the victims are women and the perpetrators are men, particularly in more serious physical attacks, and coercive and controlling behaviour. 

As part of the Support Not Separation Coalition, which defends mothers and children facing the family court, we are particularly concerned that the Bill does not address many of the major problems with the way violent men are using the court to continue their reign of terror and to escape prosecutionBetween 70-90% of family court cases involve domestic violence, yet only 1% of fathers are denied access to children—a strong indication of how biased the courts are in favour of men. 

The reality we deal with every day is that mothers who report violence are being routinely disbelieved, especially if the allegations are also sexual.  They face having their children taken away by the state and even given to the violent/rapist father, further traumatising the children by separating them from the mother they depend on for protection.  The horror of this situation cannot be overemphasised.

We urge MPs to put forward a proposed amendment to Part 5 to: 

Delete Section 11 (2A) of the Children and Families Act 2014 which presumes that it is always in a child’s best interest to have contact with both parents.  

RATIONALE: The presumption of contact is continually used to over-ride any history of rape and/or domestic violence, or lack of care/involvement by fathers.  Introduced in 2014 after intensive lobbying by fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence, it has opened the way for allegations of “parental alienation” against mothers who report a history of domestic violence, and especially when they report fathers’ sexual or other violence against children. 

For the welfare of children to be paramount, their safety and the safety of the mother, who is usually the primary carer, must be prioritised over fathers’ contact.  Fathers who are violent to their children, to mothers, to former or present partners should not have contact with children, especially unsupervised contact.  Thousands of children are being harmed physically and psychologically by being coerced to see fathers they are terrified of.  It is horrifying that mothers trying to protect their children by reporting the violence and refusing to force their children into contact with their abuser, are accused of alienating them and having them taken away by the state and often given to their abuser.  The presumption of “equality” between mothers and fathers is of a piece with pressure to keep this Bill “gender neutral” – a travesty that plays into the hands of organisations of men who deny domestic violence or accuse women of it in order to hide the truth and call the victims liars. 

REJECT: all Amendments proposed by Phillip Davies, Bob Stewart and Damian Collins

Davies is closely allied with militant fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence.  His amendments have no place in a Bill to protect victims of domestic violence.  A member of the 1922 Committee, he has a long misogynistic and racist parliamentary track record.  He’s almost always voted against laws to promote equality and human rights for women (attacking feminists as “zealots”), Black people, disabled people, lgbtq, against bans on smoking, against corporation tax increase, against making rented homes fit for habitation, against welfare increases targeting poverty. 

His women constituents were so horrified by his record and rudeness to constituents that in 2016 they formed the Shipley Feminist Zealots to campaign against him.  Over 1,000 marched against him and President Trump, whom he supports.  (He said “I would vote for Trump in a heartbeat”).  They say now: “We are appalled by his track record of obstructing legislation which seeks to protect survivors of domestic abuse in the name of ‘men’s rights’. Well over 1,000 of us have worked tirelessly over the past four years to hold him to account, despite being branded by him as “extremists”, “socialists” and “feminist zealots”.  We urge the scrutiny committee to ensure that this long awaited Bill is not delayed or derailed by him at the expense of the safety of women and families across the country”. 

Reject the following amendments:

Amendments 1 &5: to exclude economic abuse from the definition of domestic abuse.  It is a fact that most men earn more than most women, (the income gap is still 18%, up to 26% for BAME women and women with disabilities) and that abusive men often use their financial superiority as part of their abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour, especially against mothers, in ways which are never “reasonable”!

Amendments 8 & 9: which would include “parental alienation” in the definition of domestic abuse.  Creating an open-ended definition of parental alienation could lead to mothers being prosecuted as soon as they report violence against themselves or their children.  

Children and mothers are frequently disbelieved or dismissed even when incidents of violence have been reported to the police or others in authority.  Mothers are accused of making up such allegations in order to “alienate” the child from the father. 

“Parental alienation” is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner, a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence and defended paedophilia.  The World Health Organisation recently declassified “parental alienation” from its list of “disorders”, and many experts have dismissed it as pseudo-science.[3] 

Shockingly the fathers’ lobby, mostly men who deny domestic violence, have succeeded in getting “parental alienation” recognised as de-facto policy by the family courts.  They have heavily influenced CAFCASS which champions it, including to recommend children go to live with abusive fathers.  It’s a reflection of its sexist bias that there are five men’s groups among CAFCASS’ stakeholders, and only two women’s groups!  The Chair of its Board is Edward Timpson MP who as Minister for Children & Families was instrumental in promoting the presumption of contact.  (Should an MP really be chair of an independent body??)

Mothers face an impossible catch 22.  If we report domestic violence or child abuse, or if we don’t, we can be blamed for harming our children by having (had) a violent partner, even though we are victims, and the children taken from us, put in care or even housed with the violent father.

Also reject amendments 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 27

We also support proposed New Clauses 19, 20, 21, 24

We support the proposals made by Stay Safe East, Step Up Migrant Women and Southall Black Sisters.

Investigation into violent fathers using allegations of “parental alienation” in the family courts

BRIEFING 1: Domestic Abuse Bill does not go far enough:

Women and children are entitled to resources and to family courts that support victims not violent men.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is in Committee from Thursday 4 June, where they will discuss amendments.  We are urging MPs to give women and children more protection.

The Bill must go further in three key areas:

1.     It must provide resources, beginning with money and housing, so women (and children) can escape violent partners.  This includes implementation of Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act. 2.    
It must protect mothers and children from violent fathers using the family court to continue their reign of terror and escape prosecution.  The Bill aims to restrict cross examination by abusers.  It must also end the legal presumption that both parents should have equal contact with a child.  And it must end the use of “parental alienation” to dismiss allegations of sexual and other violence and to force children into contact with fathers they are terrified of. 
3.     The Bill should not be gender neutral.  Most perpetrators are men and most victims are women and children.

Women are primary carers in 90% of households.  Domestic violence is widespread and often deadly.  During the COVID-19 lockdown, domestic murders of women in the UK doubled [1] and calls to the Met police from victims rose by one third.[2]  This has exposed the lies of domestic violence deniers.  Overwhelmingly, the victims are women and the perpetrators are men, particularly in more serious physical attacks.  Yet the Bill is gender neutral.  This is a travesty that plays into the hands of organisations of men who deny domestic violence or accuse women of it in order to hide the truth and call the victims liars.  It must be reversed. 

As part of the Support Not Separation Coalition, which defends mothers and children facing the family court, we are particularly concerned with the way violent men are using the court to continue their reign of terror and to escape prosecution.  Between 70-90% of family court cases involve domestic violence, yet only 1% of fathers are denied access to children—a strong indication of how biased the courts are in favour of men. 

The reality we deal with every day is that mothers who report violence are being routinely disbelieved, especially if the allegations are also sexual.  They face having their children taken away by the state and even given to the violent/rapist father, further traumatising the children by separating them from the mother they depend on for protection.  The horror of this situation cannot be overemphasised.  The Bill’s section on the family court is much too narrow and if left as is will do little to right this injustice.

We propose the following amendments:

1.  INSERT INTO PART 4 Local Authority Support the following new clause:

Prioritise implementation of Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 so that resources are made available to mothers and children facing domestic violence, in particular access to benefits and housing.

RATIONALE: Section 17 provides for local authorities to put resources and help into keeping children within their family.  But it is not being implemented.  Money is instead being used to take children into care, contradicting the aim of the law.  The COVID-19 pandemic worsens the unprecedented poverty and destitution caused by a decade of austerity policies, which have targeted single mother families in particular and disproportionately affected those of us who are of colour, immigrant and/or have a disability.  Section 17 is needed more than ever.  It could make a huge difference to abuse victims. 

Before the pandemic, over 4 million children were living in poverty *** Single mothers were 75% of those affected by Universal Credit *** 86% of austerity cuts have been borne by women *** Women of colour earn up to 32% less than the wages of white men *** In 2018-19, 63% of referrals to refuges were declined *** Single mothers, women of colour and/or immigrant, and women with disabilities are disproportionately having their children taken from them—more likely to be impoverished and face sexism, racism and every discrimination *** Over 20% of children in care are from BME backgrounds.

2.INSERT INTO PART 5: Protection for Victims and Witnesses in Court.

Remove Section 11 (2A) of the Children and Families Act 2014 which presumes that it is always in a child’s best interest to have contact with both parents. And stop the use of “parental alienation” against women who report sexual and other violence, including of their children.

RATIONALE: The presumption of contact is continually used to over-ride any history of rape and/or domestic violence by fathers.  For the welfare of children to be paramount, their safety and the safety of the mother, who is usually the primary carer, must be prioritised over fathers’ contact.  Fathers who are violent to their children, to mothers, to former or present partners should not have contact with children.  Thousands of children are being harmed physically and psychologically by being coerced to see fathers they are terrified of.  It is horrifying that mothers trying to protect their children by reporting the violence and refusing to force their children into contact with their abuser, are then having their children taken away by the state and often given to their abuser.  The law is supposed to protect children not rapists.

Family courts must take seriously children’s allegations of sexual abuse by fathers, and of domestic violence against mothers.  Yet children and mothers are frequently disbelieved or dismissed even when the incidents have been reported to the police or others in authority.  Mothers are accused of making such allegations in order to “alienate” the child from the father.

“Parental alienation” is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner, a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence and defended paedophilia.  For years the fathers’ lobby, mostly men who deny domestic violence, have succeeded in getting “parental alienation” recognised by the family courts.  CAFCASS, which was created to protect children going through the court process, has been instrumental in this, siding with fathers and promoting “parental alienation” as a reason to recommended that children are taken from their mothers.  

The World Health Organisation recently declassified “parental alienation” from its list of “disorders”, and many experts have dismissed it as pseudo-science.[[3]]  Yet family court professionals continue to give it credibility.  This must stop.

Mothers face an impossible catch 22.  If we report domestic violence or child abuse, or if we don’t, we can be blamed for harming our children by having (had) a violent partner, even though we are victims.  Our children are taken from us, put in care or even housed with the violent father. 

3.The Bill must not be gender neutral.

Overwhelmingly, the victims are women and the perpetrators are men, particularly in more serious physical attacks. 

Overall, money and housing from central government are the most important things women need to protect us from domestic abuse.  More housing rights should go into Section 8 under secure tenancies.  If women have nowhere safe and affordable to go we are trapped with violent men.

We welcome the recent successful legal challenge to the No Recourse to Public Funds rule, which makes immigrant women particularly vulnerable to violent and exploitative men.  Women seeking asylum are also vulnerable to rape – over 70% have fled rape and other torture, and several have reported to us being raped in the UK by men who know they cannot call the police for fear of being deported.

The Bill does not address the continuing problems with criminal justice agencies not prioritising domestic violence.  We have been protesting for decades at the biased and negligent way in which reports are investigated and the lack of protection offered to victims.  There are always plenty of resources to combat “terrorism” and recently for breaches of the Covid-19 measures with more “stop-and-search”, but the daily terrorism against women and children which costs many lives is never prioritised.  The Bill will not change this unless the changes we are recommending are put in place and implemented.

Get our Model letter and find out which MPs are on the Committee here.


Footnotes:

[1] There were 16 murders from 23 March-12 April, including two children, compared to an average 2-3 women a week before the lockdown, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/15/domestic-abuse-killings-more-than-double-amid-covid-19-lockdown

[2] “Met Police officers have made an average of nearly 100 arrests every day for domestic abuse offences during the lockdown, the force has revealed. . . . domestic abuse calls have risen by about a third.” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-52418650

[3] Professor Meier has published important research in the US documenting family court sexism in its use of parental alienation https://supportnotseparation.blog/2020/06/01/parental-alienation-important-research-shows-sexist-bias/

Model letter to MPs on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee

Find out if your MP is a member of the committee below.

Dear [INSERT the name of your MP]

I am one of your constituents and am very concerned about the Domestic Abuse Bill now in Committee.

I have personal experience of the sexism in the family courts.  I was a victim of abuse by an ex-partner [INSERT whatever you want to say about it, not in too much detail].

Therefore, I strongly urge you to support the three amendments [below/linked /enclosed], circulated by Women Against Rape.  If you are not on the Committee please speak to your colleagues who are.

I will be following the progress of the Bill as it goes along through Parliament, and hope you will act to strengthen women’s hand against abusive and traumatic violence and silencing.

Yours sincerely

[YOUR NAME and postcode]

Domestic Abuse Bill Committee members and their contact details

MPPolitical PartyConstituency Phone NumberEmail
Joint Chair: Karen BuckLabourWestminster NorthParliament: 020 7219 3000
Constituency: 020 8968 7999
buckk@parliament.uk
Joint Chair: Peter BoneConservativeWellingboroughParliament: 020 7219 8496 Constituency: 01933 279343bonep@parliament.uk
Aiken, NickieConservativeCities of London and Westminster020 7219 4553nickie.aiken.mp@parliament.uk
Atkins, VictoriaConservativeLouth and Horncastle020 7219 5897Victoria@victoriaatkins.org.uk
Bowie, AndrewConservativeWest Aberdeenshire and KincardineParliament: 0207 219 2791 Constituency: 01330 705013andrew.bowie.mp@parliament.uk
Chalk, AlexConservativeCheltenhamP: 020 7219 8087 C: 0124 221 0473alex.chalk.mp@parliament.uk
Coyle, NeilLabourBermondsey and Old Southwark020 7232 4640neil.coyle.mp@parliament.uk
Crosbie, VirginiaConservativeYnys Môn0207 219 3000virginia.crosbie.mp@parliament.uk
Davies-Jones, AlexLabourPontypriddP: 0207 219 4981 C: 01443 401122alex.daviesjones.mp@parliament.uk
Gibson, PeterConservativeDarlington0207 219 3000peter.gibson.mp@parliament.uk
Harris, RebeccaConservativeCastle Point020 7219 7206rebecca.harris.mp@parliament.uk
Jardine, ChristineLiberal DemocratEdinburgh WestP: 0207 219 1701 C: 0131 285 5972christine.jardine.mp@parliament.uk
Jones, FayConservativeBrecon and Radnorshire0207 219 3000fay.jones.mp@parliament.uk
Kyle, PeterLabourHoveP: 020 7219 6133 C: 01273 933 380peter.kyle.mp@parliament.uk hove.portslade@parliament.uk
Marson, JulieConservativeHertford and Stortford0207 219 2429julie.marson.mp@parliament.uk
Phillips, JessLabourBirmingham, Yardley020 7219 8703jess.phillips.mp@parliament.uk
Saville Roberts, LizPlaid CymruDwyfor MeirionnyddP: 020 7219 6876 C: 01341 422 661liz.savilleroberts.mp@parliament.uk
Twist, LizLabourBlaydonP: 0207 219 2221

C: 0191 414 2488
liz.twist.mp@parliament.uk
Wood, MikeConservativeDudley SouthP: 020 7219 6982

C: 01384 913123
mikej.wood.mp@parliament.uk

DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL in Parliament today

MUST PROTECT MOTHERS and TACKLE WOMEN’S POVERTY


The Domestic Abuse Bill is debated in Parliament again today – it must help protect women’s and children’s lives.
 
The Bill introduces new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which should offer more protection in an emergency.  But it must go further to tackle women’s poverty and the appalling sexism mothers and children face in family courts.   

Mothers face an impossible struggle.  If we report domestic violence or if we don’t, we are blamed for harming our children by having a violent partner, even though we are victims.  Our children are taken from us, put in care or even given to the violent father.  

The family courts have allowed themselves to be used by violent fathers to continue their abuse and control.  The presumed “rights” of fathers to see their children, regardless of a history of violence, are generally prioritised over the safety and wishes of children and the efforts of mothers to protect them from harm.  

As part of the Support Not Separation Coalition which defends women and children facing the family court, we know that between 70 and 90% of cases involve domestic violence, yet only 1% of fathers are denied access to children.  Over 70% of the cases brought to us involve domestic violence, including rape.

We demand: immediate changes to family courts so women who report violence do not risk having their children taken away or given to the perpetrators.  (See our amendments to the Domestic Violence Bill.)  Implementation of Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act to keep children safe with their mothers.  Judges who refuse to apply the law must be removed – we won’t go back to the 1970s when rape in marriage was considered legal!  

Court judgements have repeated flouted the rights of children and mothers to safety and welfare, and court professionals often display shocking disregard for the basic legal protections victims have won.  Many of the mothers and children struggling against injustice are women of colour or immigrant, and/or have a disability.

    One judge repeatedly insisted a violent father, convicted for attacking the mother, be brought from prison to the family court, breaking an exclusion order from the mother’s and children’s town. No protection was available in or around the court, and the judge called her ‘pedantic’ when she asked about it. We succeeded in getting the judge removed from the case.  

Another judge ruled that the rape of a pregnant woman by her partner who woke her in her sleep was not rape even though he acknowledged the rape in a text, because she hadn’t fought him off. The judge allowed contact.  

As foster carers and contact centres are now inaccessible during the coronavirus lockdown, mothers’ contact with children who have been taken from their care has been curtailed even further, cutting children off from their mothers.  

Remote family court hearings are causing injustice and retraumatising vulnerable women.  When they are isolated on a phoneline to the court they are denied meaningful access to a lawyer (if they have one) and can’t talk to any lay supporter.  

For many women and children the lockdown and #StayAtHome directive are a like a “prison sentence” with a violent and controlling man.  Support workers and the police have reported that the murder of women has doubled [1] in the UK with at least 16 killings between 23 March and 12 April 2020, including of children. Reports of domestic violence have mushroomed all around the world. China and Spain saw a surge in calls reporting domestic violence, while police in France reported a 30% increase in domestic abuse cases.[2]  

Women around the world have been demanding emergency safety measures, including cash and housing.  In some European countries, like Spain, Italy and France, women have won new State protections, including: emergency refuge in hotels or the eviction of violent men from the home, helplines and code words to alert pharmacists to call the police.  

In the UK, the Home Secretary has said victims can leave their home despite the lockdown.  But where are they to go?  What are they to live on?  As with the protective equipment demanded by health and care workers, our survival and protection are not being prioritised.  Yesterday’s Home Affairs Committee report demands money for services.  But funding charities is not enough – women need our own money.  

A decade of austerity wiped out our financial independence and our escape routes out of violence.  Women have suffered 86% of the cuts.[3]  Benefits and social housing were slashed – a key source of independence for women.  The bedroom tax and total benefit cap hit mums and kids fleeing violence. Refuges have been cut: 1 in 6 refuges closed over the past 8 years.  Women’s Aid reported this month that even before lockdown they had to decline 64% of referrals over 2018-19.[4]  

The withdrawal of social care services leaves disabled women more at risk of abuse as we are forced to rely on family and friends who can turn abusive. Unwaged family carers are suffering domestic violence during lockdown as Council support is not provided to disabled adults with aggressive and challenging behaviour, and day centres are closed.

This is echoed in the criminal justice system’s disgraceful response to violence.  Before the virus, an average of two women a week were murdered by partners or ex-partners often after reports to police.  And despite a 40% increase in reports of rape over 2012-2018, in 2019 convictions fell to 3% – the lowest in a decade.[5]  

The anti-rape movement has won important protections over the years: ● WAR’s 15-year campaign got rape in marriage finally recognised as a crime in 1991 ● We exposed and defeated some outrageous discrimination in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, especially against those who were raped as children, and won thousands of pounds for individual victims ● Official recognition that rape is torture and grounds for asylum: we won the right to stay for many rape survivors seeking asylum.  

But the falling conviction rates for rape and domestic violence show that in reality the state has given violent men near total impunity.  And without financial independence our vulnerability to violence and injustice remains.  

WE DEMAND:

·     Immediate safe accommodation for women and children in emergency need. 

·     Immediate changes to the family courts as outlined above.

·     A permanent end to benefit sanctions and other punitive measures, especially to disabled and traumatised claimants. People pressing their needs during COVID-19 brought some benefit changes but Universal Credit is lower than many previous benefits it replaces, and makes women financially dependent on men. ESA which a lot of traumatised women get, has not had the £20 increase like other benefits. They must scrap the two-child limit, total benefit cap and policies which pay money to the man in the household rather than individually to the woman. Scrap the bedroom tax. Raise child benefit. All payments must be made without delay.  The welfare state must be rebuilt and expanded – we need urgent access to benefits and social housing. 

·     We support the call for a Care Income made by the Global Women’s Strike and the Green New Deal for Europe.  The virus crisis has shown how dependent society is on caring work, waged and unwaged, in the family and outside, and how women in particular care for extended families and neighbours.  For the health and protection of people and the environment to be prioritised, those already doing caring work must be compensated.  Money from the state would guarantee financial independence from men and our ability to protect ourselves and our children.  We could refuse unwanted sexual demands, and have the means to leave and to use the law.   Women fleeing or surviving after violence deserve an income for self-care and recovery, and to be there for traumatised children.

·     Thorough investigations and prosecutions by the police and Crown Prosecution Service.  The Corona Virus Act has given police free reign to arrest, fine and criminalise, and even to fine the parents of young people who leave the house.  We demand a change of priorities so that resources go into protecting women and children from violence.  We demand accountability from those charged with protecting us – those who don’t implement the law should be sacked.

·     An amnesty against deportations #Papers For All. Over 70% of women seeking asylum have fled from rape but sexism, racism and other injustice in the asylum process leaves them destitute. Sign the Open Letter to the Prime Minister of the UK and the Taoiseach of Ireland demanding  the release of all immigration detainees, free health care, and an end to destitution.    

28 April 2020  

Notes
1 Data collated by Karen Igala Smith of Nia Project. Looking at the same period over the last 10 years, data records an average of 5 deaths. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/15/domestic-abuse-killings-more-than-double-amid-covid-19-lockdown 

2 https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/04/08/domestic-abuse-reports-coronavirus

3 Women’s Budget Group, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/09/women-bearing-86-of-austerity-burden-labour-research-reveals

4 Women’s Aid

5 There were 58,657 complaints in the year to March, but just 1,925 of those resulted in a successful prosecution.’ https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/17/anger-police-just-3-rape-cases-lead-conviction-11918901/

In our secret family courts, judges still don’t understand what rape means

Louise Tickle The Guardian 5 January 2020

It’s a scandal. Away from scrutiny, courtrooms are failing mothers by not taking evidence of sexual assault seriously

When is rape, you know, real, proper rape? Shockingly, in our family courts, it seems it’s only when you put up a fight and have the injuries to show for it. Never mind that you might clearly not consent to sex but in the end submit, terrified of what might happen if you were to actively resist.

In one recently reported case in the family courts a woman had complained to the court that she was a victim of domestic violence and had been raped.

Judge Robin Tolson ruled that because the woman had taken “no physical steps” to stop the man from raping her, “this did not constitute rape”, and consequently ruled against her.

Legally speaking, this means that when it comes to that same judge deciding whether or not, say, it is safe for a father to have contact with his child, claims of sexual violence will not be taken into account. Because, in the eyes of the court, that rape simply didn’t happen.

The fact that the family law system in this country is hidden behind a veil of secrecy means that these offensively vintage attitudes to rape and domestic violence can persist in courts that tens of thousands of separating couples must pass through every year. And it raises the question: what other outrageously sexist decisions are being made by out-of-touch judges behind closed doors?

The woman in the above case was so horrified at the judge’s finding that she challenged it via appeal. Unlike in a normal family court hearing, appeals are heard in public, and findings can be openly reported.

It is only because of this tiny chink in the family justice system’s protective shield that we are able to glimpse inside Judge Tolson’s courtroom, and see such attitudes for what they are. The usual level of secrecy in the family courts stifles investigation and reporting of what goes on.

I am typically contacted several times a week by women who say family judges have not taken their evidence of domestic abuse seriously. These women, often mothers fearful of the man they say abused and sometimes raped them, are without question retraumatised by a system presided over by some judges who have simply not accepted a modern understanding of what is and is not domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Women point particularly to difficulties in proving coercive control, a dangerous pattern of abusive behaviour that can indicate a risk of homicide. Coercive control is now a criminal offence; but in family courts, I am repeatedly told, judges are reluctant to name it, even if they find that emotional and psychological abuse has occurred.

Not only that. Women say that judges can even agree domestic abuse has occurred but not consider it serious enough to protect the victim and child from what we now know to be its damaging continuing effects: an abusive ex can easily continue their controlling behaviour throughout many years of court-ordered contact with a child.

If it were “just” scores of women telling me that this is happening, then these allegations would be exactly that: allegations. However, I recently sat through days of evidence in a family court case involving claims of domestic abuse and a dispute around child contact arrangements. The judge in that case made it clear he is unlikely to publish a judgment, and it is therefore unlikely at this stage that he will agree to allow the media to publish any part of what went on in court.

But I can say that I emerged from that courtroom astonished, dismayed and alarmed for very similar reasons to those that prompted the woman described above to appeal against a different judge’s findings about what constitutes rape.

In the year ending March 2019, more than 58,000 allegations of rape were made to police in England and Wales. It is an uncomfortable fact that many women are forced to have sex without their consent within relationships. It may be inconvenient for a family law system that operates on the principle that children are better off having contact with both their parents to acknowledge this truth. But surely any judge who grasps the mechanisms and psychological effects of coercive control should understand that you don’t need to be physically forced, there don’t need to be bruises, and you don’t need to scream, in order for it to be rape.

This is 2020, not 1920. Society has moved on. So have the criminal courts, which are open to scrutiny and would be instantly challenged should any barrister or judge articulate such archaic attitudes. Unless you have the courage and the cash to go to appeal, however, the family courts are essentially unaccountable to the public they serve.

Thanks to one of the most senior judges in the land coming firmly down on the side of the woman in the Judge Tolson case, she won her appeal. But it may well feel like a hollow victory. She will now have to relive every aspect of her evidence of domestic abuse and sexual assault at a new fact-finding hearing. This will be in front of a different judge. But that court will, once again, sit in private. How can we – or she – know what attitudes to sexual violence lie in store for her there?

• Louise Tickle is a journalist who specialises in social affairs and family law

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/05/secret-family-courts-judges-rape-evidence-sexual-assault

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