See government press release here. Congratulations everyone who campaigned for this change – what a wonderful if very belated victory for grassroots claimants /campaigners! It seems that the government has decided not to make people wait for the end of their Review of the Compensation Scheme after all. That’s good as the uncertainty has been terribly traumatic.
Paul Maynard MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary (Ministry of Justice)
28 May 2019
Dear Paul Maynard,
We write regarding the government review on “how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences” called in response to the investigation by Victoria Derbyshire and the letter from over 120 MPs. We welcome this about-turn following the Prime Minister’s initial refusal during PMQ.
For this review to be effective it must take evidence from mothers, children and family members with direct experience of domestic violence and those organisations supporting and/or campaigning with DV survivors. The Panel conducting it should include grassroots organisations which have a long track record and much experience of working in this area, such as our own; it should not be dominated by ‘experts’ intent on proving that the issue is ‘complicated’ or needs further ‘research’ which would have the effect of delaying change and maintaining the status quo.
As you will know, mothers interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire spoke bravely and articulately: from Clare Throssell describing the murder of her children by their father during unsupervised contact ordered by the courts, to the woman who said that ‘the family court abused me way more than my ex ever did’ – and he was a repeated rapist! For years mothers and their supporters have been raising the alarm, risking their lives and their liberty. Some have been jailed for refusing to be silenced and to hand over their children to violent men; others have gathered almost 200,000 signatures petitioning for change.
As anti-rape/DV organizations, which are members of the Support not Separation Coalition of (mainly women’s) organisations and concerned individuals, we confront such injustices all the time. We have been raising them in Parliament, where we launched the dossier Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers (January 2017) documenting many cases of rape and DV where children were forced into contact or given residence to violent fathers. In September 2018, SnS’s seminar in Parliament, Do No Harm, heard evidence from a distinguished panel of speakers who highlighted the trauma inflicted by the family court process on children and their mothers.
We know from our casework that rape and DV are not being treated as crimes of violence. All the evidence is there. Official figures show that 70-90% of cases in the family court involve domestic violence/abuse, yet only 1% of contact applications are refused altogether.
We attend SnS’s monthly self-help meetings at the Crossroads Women’s Centre where we are based. Through great collective effort we are enabling some mothers to keep their children and others to win them back, giving hope to all who come to us.
For years organisations of men who deny domestic violence have been allowed to set the agenda, and have had the support of many judges and of CAFCASS – the very service whose job it is to ensure the welfare of children. On 14 October 2017 CAFCASS was advertised by Families Need Fathers as the keynote speaker of its conference on ‘parental alienation’. CAFCASS has accepted and promoted ‘parental alienation’, the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner, a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence, defended paedophilia, and argued that children who objected to seeing violent fathers should be forced to have contact. Soon after he gave ‘expert’ evidence in a family case where the children were forced to have contact with their father, one of the two teenage sons committed suicide.
Organisations of DV deniers should not be part of this review. Their purpose is not the welfare of children and their primary carer and protector, almost always the mother, but the imposition of the patriarchal order with the violent father in charge.
The remit of the review is too narrow. It should include the following glaring injustices.
- Mothers who report rape or DV are not only disbelieved and their children forced into contact, they risk losing their children altogether as the family court may give residence to the father despite evidence of his violence, or blame the mother for ‘parental alienation’ which they claim without grounds, then say it may cause ‘emotional harm’ and take the children into care. Research published in 2017 in the US where mothers are facing similar injustices, found that the family courts only believe a mother’s claim of a child’s sexual abuse 1 out of 51 times (2%) and lose custody more than half the time (56%) when ‘parental alienation’ is mentioned! This is the most scandalous attack on women and children by violent men through the use of a state institution.
- The court’s bias against women is compounded by discrimination based on disability, race, nationality, age and of course income. Mothers are generally on lower incomes than fathers, including because we do much more unwaged caring work for children and others. Our economic disadvantage and/or poverty are at the heart of the sexism with which women are treated. Most of the women who come to us for help are single mums, many are women of colour, immigrant, have a disability, a mental health issue or a learning difficulty, or have a child with a disability, or were in care themselves and are assumed to be ‘unfit’ because of the traumatic experiences they suffered.
- Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 which should provide support for mothers and children to stay together, and additional support for disabled mothers under the Care Act 2014 are not being implemented. Instead millions are being spent taking children into care and profiteering by an increasingly privatised ‘child protection’ industry. The cruel and dangerous treatment of children by the family courts is being replicated by institutions across the board, especially against disabled children.
- The reason children who have not been harmed can be removed from their mothers, and thus subjected to the harm and trauma of separation, is that their relationship with their primary carer and protector, their mother, is devalued and even disregarded. There is an assumption that mothers are dispensable so that in taking the child there is no loss despite the bond of love between them. This attitude makes it possible to assert that any father, even a violent one, or even a ‘corporate parent’, is ‘good enough’ to replace the mother. A court in New York (2004, Nicholson v Williams) after hearing evidence from reputable trauma experts concluded that taking children from their mother causes more trauma to the child than witnessing DV. It is time the UK courts acknowledged that. Princes William and Harry have spoken of their unbearable pain as children when their mother died – children go through similar pain when they are wrenched from their mother by family court decisions.
- The biased conduct of ‘fact finding’ hearings by judges would not be tolerated in criminal courts. It has been hidden by the secrecy of the family courts which prevents public scrutiny.
- Controversial algorithms to be used for ‘child protection’ are being developed. This threatens to automate inequality, which a number of professionals and IT experts are beginning to raise. SnS’s open letter spells out the reasons for our grave concerns.
We look forward to your reply about the issues we raise. We are very anxious to let women in our network know how they can contribute their experiences to the review. It is urgent that this information as well as the names and qualifications of those who will be on the Panel conducting the review are made public.
Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Lisa Longstaff, Women Against Rape firstname.lastname@example.org
on behalf of the Support not Separation Coalition, Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX
cc Shadow Policing Minister, Louise
 All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence Parliamentary Briefing, April 2016
Meet Clerkenwell Green from 12.00 march to Trafalgar Square. https://www.londonmayday.org/
We will highlight our campaign with the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union to end sexual harassment in the fast food and hospitality industries. Poverty wages, zero hour contracts, benefit cuts, insecure immigration status and the threat that we can lose our job or that social services can take our kids if we report sexual violence are making women more vulnerable to attack.
We will be marching with the English Collective of Prostitutes and a “A Very British Brothel”, in support of their #makeallwomensafe campaign for decriminalisation. The criminalisation of sex work must end. Why should the law make any of us unsafe by calling us criminals? Why should any of us be discouraged from reporting violence and demanding justice and protection for fear that police will arrest us instead of our attacker?
More info on #makeallwomensafe:
The ECP’s campaign #makeallwomensafe raises sex workers’ safety. A short film directed by Bafta nominated Charlotte Regan starring Lyndsey Marshal, highlights the injustice that while sex work is legal, it is illegal for women to work together for safety. Women are forced to choose between risking arrest by working with others or risking being attacked by working alone. A government petition calls for implementation of the Home Affairs Recommendation to decriminalise sex workers on the street and in premises. Support has come from celebrities such as Sarah Solemani (Bridget Jones’ Baby) and Amnesty International. See media coverage: The Guardian, Vice, Refinary, The F Word and Huffington Post.
|from Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape
We welcome the Committee’s recognition of many of the issues raised in the evidence we and other women’s groups submitted. But they should have gone much further, especially in the following areas:
1. Welfare cuts & financial dependence on violent men.
We welcome the Committee’s acknowledgement that welfare cuts have made women vulnerable to Domestic Violence (DV) and made it harder for victims to flee violent partners. The Committee noted that Universal Credit is a disaster for women as it will be paid to the head of household, usually assumed to be the man, making women and children financially dependent on men. As the Committee noted, this reverses the principle established in 1945 by independent MP Eleanor Rathbone who after decades of campaigning won Family Allowance as part of the Welfare State, paid to the mother – the primary carer.
They should have supported the widespread call for Universal Credit to be scrapped along with the discriminatory and degrading two child tax credit limit (which denies money to any further children unless the mother can prove they were the product of rape) and the benefit cap. They should also have called for welfare benefits to be reinstated.
2. Other austerity cuts that cut off women’s escape routes.
Lack of provisions such as refuge space, social housing and legal aid have left women at the mercy of violent men, especially where the couple have young children. We welcome the Committee’s call for refuge funding to be a legal obligation nationally.
They should also have recommended changes to address the social housing crisis which traps women and children in violent relationships.
3. Family courts and DV.
DV has become a key pretext for local authorities to remove children from their mothers with the excuse that they are ‘at risk of future emotional harm’. The Committee acknowledges that family courts don’t treat DV as seriously as criminal courts, prioritising child contact for fathers even when they have criminal convictions for violence or a history of DV. Forced contact with fathers has resulted in violence, even murder, of children and their mothers. The Committee falls short of recommending that children should stay with their mother, who is usually the child’s first carer and protector, rather than be forcibly separated from her. But they do mention that happens in Edinburgh and could be a useful model.
The forthcoming Domestic Violence Bill must go much further than stopping a man cross-examining his victim in court. It must stop fathers’ ‘right’ to contact being prioritised over women and children’s right to safety and protection, and provide support for victims rather than take their children.
4. Immigrant and BAME women face DV.
We welcome the Committee criticising the ‘hostile environment’ as making immigrant women more vulnerable to violent men, and particularly the police for reporting immigrant victims of DV to the Home Office. But they do not acknowledge that racism results in women of colour and immigrant women having lower incomes and therefore being more vulnerable to DV.
We welcome their call for care ad support for all victims of DV regardless of their immigration status. They should also call for an end to policies of detention, destitution and ‘voluntary returns’.
5. THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.
The Committee acknowledges that police and courts sometimes let violent men off the hook with catastrophic consequences for women and children – even murder.
Key actions that need prioritising are: early arrest and conviction of violent men before they are allowed to attack again; robustly enforcing and financing the protection of victims; ending the criminalisation of women and children who report violent men.
6. WOMEN THE MAIN VICTIMS.
We welcome the Committee’s call for DV to be treated as affecting mainly women. We have seen too many examples of men making counter accusations against women who report DV in order to avoid arrest and prosecution, and to gain access to the children and/or to keep exerting control over the mother.
Dealing with DV must be integral to all economic and social policies.
Black Women’s Rape Action Project email@example.com
Women Against Rape firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 020 7482 2496
Since 2002 BWRAP and WAR have been providing specialist services to victims seeking asylum in the UK. Research, including our own, has found that over 70% of women seeking asylum have fled rape elsewhere. We document what happened to them and the aftermath of sexual violence: the continuing impacts of stigma and trauma.
We help co-ordinate self-help sessions with the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women asylum seekers & immigrants. Their fortnightly meetings are attended by up to 120 women and an increasing number report experiences which could be considered as “trafficking” and/or “modern slavery”. Some of these experiences result from how they were brought to the UK and what happened to them on arrival.
One important and recurring theme is that many victims we see say that their suffering has been exacerbated by the government’s “hostile environment” immigration policies. Specifically, victims suffer from: institutionalised disbelief and hostility from immigration officers and decision makers; lack of acknowledgment of the traumatic impact of rape and sexual abuse. Since the 2014 Immigration Act “hostile environment” policies were introduced women report increased difficulties accessing health care, education, housing, banking etc. More women describe being destitute without any income at all and living in precarious situations where they are vulnerable to abuse.
Our evidence will focus on care and support for victims.
- Victims of rape face particular obstacles in accessing protection in the UK. Procedures for responding to victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking who have suffered sexual violence do not help them overcome these.
Victims of modern slavery who have suffered sexual violence face the same difficulties that those seeking asylum from rape face in pursuing their immigration cases. The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and “Competent Authority” which was supposed to provide a bespoke and sensitive approach have been contaminated by the government’s hostile immigration environment. The cases we cite below and our work more generally with victims covers the period both before and after the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act of 2015. Since the Act we have seen no improvement in the care and support for victims.
Trauma and stigma makes it much harder to report rape than any other violence. Many women we work with have never spoken to anyone else about what they have been through. Others haven’t been able to tell professionals who are helping them, like lawyers or GPs. Hardest of all is speaking to officials. Most women have not reported rape until after their Home Office interview and an initial decision has been reached on their application.
Women report rude and hostile officials when they go to their interviews. They are often pressed to “speed up” or alternately kept for hours ploughing through details of traumatic experiences which they have never spoken about before and have battled to keep at the back of their minds. Invariably it is an unnecessarily distressing and traumatic experience with many women unable to recall details of what happened to them because they are “blanking out” under the extreme pressure. It is usually clear from the interview notes that officials scan the overall account for potential “weaknesses” which may offer grounds to refuse a case. They then quickly “home in” on these, e.g. within the first ten questions. Meanwhile other crucial information, e.g. the situation a woman fears if sent back, is not gathered as if this would make the decision to refuse more difficult. We have seen this pattern repeated so often that it appears to be “policy”. We would like clarification on whether immigration decision makers get incentives or bonuses for refusals.
- The problems victims face in securing justice and protection
- Even when women do report sexual violence 88% of Home Office decisions disbelieve and reject their applications.
- Long delays in reaching decisions in the NRM despite stated deadlines. One woman came to a session from Bristol and told us that she had been in the NRM for eight years – unfortunately she did not return when we tried to arrange to help her.
- There is no right of appeal against refusals in the NRM – women can only pursue these through Judicial Review. Legal aid cuts have devastated their access to not only good quality representation but also to expert evidence essential to a fair hearing. Our research found that women with such evidence were six times more likely to overturn HO disbelief and refusals at appeal than those without.
- Any help ends when final decisions are reached on victims’ applications and they are dropped from the NRM. Women find themselves out on the street just days after decisions are reached – whether or not their cases have been accepted.
- Delay in reporting rape is still routinely used as grounds for disbelief despite the Home Office’s own guidance and the legal precedent we helped establish that women may be “unable not unwilling” to report rape earlier.
- So-called discrepancies resulting from the interviews and sometimes translation errors are seized on. These are not presented to the woman at the interview so that mistakes and misunderstandings can be resolved.
- Evidence and information is twisted, including quoting country evidence reports where they suit and then omitting crucial evidence in the same reports directly addressing the woman’s situation e.g. about lack of state protection from rape.
- After issuing its refusal any appearance of a non-adversarial approach is dropped and the HO doggedly defends its decision no matter what evidence is submitted subsequently. Of the thousands of asylum/immigration appeals against HO refusals which we have been involved with we know of only three in which it withdrew in view of the evidence provided to the Tribunal.
- Changes to the legal procedures make it increasingly difficult to pursue legal cases e.g. the “deport first appeal later” procedure and the application of decisions to remove which deny women notice to oppose an imminent removal.
- NGOs and charities have become dangerously tied up with running government procedures and are not independent, deterring many victims from seeking their help. Contracts, not women’s need, determines the help they give e.g. Hestia puts women out on the street in a matter of days after they have a final decision on their trafficking application – even though they are accepted as vulnerable victims.
- Government policies increase women’s vulnerability to modern slavery
Policies not only fail to protect women, they are making them more vulnerable to exploitation, rape and other violence. Over half of the women in the self-help group are destitute. Even those living on asylum support benefits are left in vulnerable and dangerous positions, struggling to survive on 50% less than the poverty line benefits that others in the UK receive.
This month marks the first anniversary of WAR’s “Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaign” in which both the All African Women’s Group and Black Women’s Rape Action Project are partners. Our aim is to end of destitution because it forces women and girls into all kinds of dangerous and exploitative situations, leaving them vulnerable to rape and other abuse, e.g. forced to rely on working for free as “domestics” or sex with men offering a bed for the night. Thirty-five percent of destitute homeless women asylum seekers report being raped in the UK.
Four case studies
|Ms K faced horrendous abuse after her mother died. She was forced into sex work while still a child in Nigeria and then again after being brought to the UK and still a minor. Although the Home Office accepted the documents used to bring her into the country were false, it still insisted that the age attributed to her in them was correct. She was accused of lying and told that she was not a victim of trafficking because she had been working as a prostitute prior to being brought to the UK and so had not been tricked into coming. She was put out on the street but with our own and other support has just won full refugee status.|
|Ms M was raped by soldiers in Uganda and WAR wrote an expert report for her application. It was only later that she revealed she had also been forced into prostitution – something she found even more difficult to talk about. Her application was rejected because although it was accepted that she had been trafficked, she was found to be no longer suffering as a result and so was not defined as a “victim”. WAR’s report and that of the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture were cited because they only addressed the trauma she suffered as a result of rape by soldiers. She also went on to win full refugee status – only because of a prolonged and determined battle with the help of a legal aid lawyer and her supporting organisations.|
|Ms A had suffered repeated rape and other abuse since childhood after being orphaned. Her support was stopped by the charity Hibiscus just days after the Home Office accepted that she had been a victim of trafficking. This only gave her very limited right to remain but no help had been provided to her to pursue an asylum claim – for which she had very good grounds for asylum. Being referred into the NRM had in effect stopped her from pursuing her refugee status. The Home Office refused her asylum claim, cruelly claiming that she had demonstrated resilience and resourcefulness in providing for herself after her parents died.|
|Ms C had spent years being raped in the UK after being lied to by the people who brought her into the country and until she was helped to escape. She was terrified to find herself arrested and taken into police custody when she went to a food bank. BWRAP was outraged when the “volunteer” told us it was her job to alert the authorities to any illegal immigrants – even when we told her that we had just found Ms C a legal aid lawyer and she was in the process of making an asylum claim.|
The fact that so many victims of modern slavery end up destitute because they are denied the help and support they needs must be of concern to this Inquiry. We urge members to look at first-hand accounts of the impact of destitution on victims including the ways in which it increases and exacerbates vulnerability to abuse.
Summary: This evidence covers five key policy areas that result in increased vulnerability to domestic violence and lack of resources to escape violent men:
- Family courts and domestic violence
- Austerity cuts and domestic violence
- Destitution – a recipe for domestic violence
- The hostile environment for victims of domestic violence in immigration and asylum procedures
- Improving the police and CPS response to domestic violence, and victims’ experience of the Criminal Justice System
1. Family courts and domestic violence (DV)
1.1 We are part of the Support Not Separation Coalition – a national network of mothers, grandmothers and other kinship carers, campaigners, psychologists, social workers, academics and other professionals. Reporting DV has become a major reason children are removed from their mothers often with the excuse that they are ‘at risk of future emotional harm’. It is contrary to the welfare of the child and the mother, who is usually the child’s protector, for the child to be removed from her care.
1.2 Mothers’ experience of family courts is that domestic violence is often not believed, they are not given the protection they need, and are in every way disadvantaged – from legal aid to cross-examination by their attacker. Their trauma as a victim of a controlling relationship is not taken into account by judges who are often sexist and expect unrealistic standards of evidence while often excluding evidence such as reports from support organisations like ourselves or refuge workers.
1.3 In our experience the relevant Practice Directions (3AA and 12J) to assist vulnerable witnesses in the family court are often not implemented, and it is too soon to know whether recent changes to 12J (2018) are helping.
1.4 Family courts cannot fundamentally improve the treatment of vulnerable witnesses until they address the shocking disbelief commonly expressed by judges and other professionals when mothers or their children report that they have been victims of rape or other violence, including coercive and controlling behaviour by the father. This bias against mothers and children has been well-documented: see Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers by Legal Action for Women 2017, and Domestic Abuse, Family Courts and Routine Failure to Protect Children by Mothers Unite UK 2017, Courts (Abuse of process) Bill 2018 presented by Liz Saville Roberts MP, Women’s Aid research (May 2018). These all show that mothers still face routine disbelief and even questioning by their abuser in family courts.
1.5 In general, our experience is also that children’s wishes are often disregarded and mothers’ warnings about safety are disbelieved or ignored.
1.6 The family court (eg in Practice Direction 12J) recognizes that children suffer harm from witnessing DV to their mother, but in deciding to remove the child from the mother, they take no account of the harm that they will cause with that separation. In New York, the separation from the mother has been recognized in a 2002 precedent case as more traumatic to the child than witnessing DV, and courts are no longer allowed to take children from their mothers on that basis. The same principle needs to be applied in the UK.
1.7 Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act instructs local authorities to use their resources to support families so that children can stay within the family instead of being removed. But it is rarely used, especially to support mothers who are DV survivors. It’s implementation must be prioritized.
1.8 Instead of support and protection, women victims of DV and children are punished. We have been involved in a number of cases where children were taken from the mother when she reported DV or when it was discovered that she was a victim, traumatizing the child who was then placed with strangers.
1.9 Women are damned if they report DV and damned if they don’t. Either way, the father’s violence is blamed on the mother who is accused of failing to protect the child. Why isn’t the State instead acting against violent men?
1.10 Mothers who are particularly vulnerable to injustice in family courts include those who are victims of repeated rape and DV, BME mothers, migrant and immigrant mothers, those who are mentally disabled, single mothers especially those who are working class and/or on benefits, and all those who are denied legal aid.
1.11 It is outrageous that a family court judge has the power to rule in a Finding of Fact hearing whether or not a woman was raped or suffered violence. These judges are sometimes more sexist than the rape-ticketed judges in the criminal courts. Family courts have not kept pace with changes in other courts. This is largely because criminal courts are public while family courts are not, what goes on there is little known and family court judges are not publicly accountable. Some of them don’t know the law on rape or DV, and others have belittled rape as insignificant and repeated DV as unlikely to have happened. The secrecy of family legal proceedings also cuts off the mother’s opportunities to seek support, keeping her isolated and increasinging her vulnerability.
1.12 Many social workers are also biased against mothers – blaming the woman is easier than confronting a violent and bullish man. Budget cuts to local authorities have certainly contributed to harsher uncompassionate decision-making but merely increasing funding will not address the institutional bias in the system. Sexism, racism and class bias needs to be addressed so that mothers and kinship carers are not treated as disposable or irrelevant in their child’s life, to be replaced by a foster carer, a children’s home or adopted by a better off family.
1.13 We are opposed to the privatisation of children’s homes and adoption services, which introduce a profit motive. There is clearly a conflict of interest if agencies which are reporting to the court on what is best for the child are making money from children being taken into care. The motivation should instead be the child’s welfare, and putting resources into helping women and children escaping domestic violence, not separating them.
1.14 In some cases the children are given to the father and the mother is banned from seeing them if she continues to raise that he is a danger to them. The bias in favour of fathers even when they have a record for violence is extraordinary. Even men with previous convictions or non-molestation orders can be concealed during the family case.
1.15 We can only conclude that the courts want men – even the most violent – to have access to their children and to their former partners, whatever they may say and whatever the consequences for safety.
1.16 The hostile fathers’ lobby, led by Families Need Fathers, has the support of the NSPCC and CAFCASS, and their recent campaign to get the authorities to recognize that they are victims of parental alienation is a worrying step towards misogyny.
1.17 It is well-known among mothers’ networks throughout the UK that men use the family court as a vehicle through which to continue to coerce and control a female partner who has left them.
1.18 Men are using the family court to get investigations of rape and DV dropped. We know of cases where the police stopped investigating after a judge decided he didn’t believe the mother. We also know of a number of cases where abusive men dared their victims to call the police as social services would come and take their children into care. The mothers were petrified and didn’t report the violence as a result. Violent men are very confident – after all, they generally have the power of higher wages over women, and also the backing of the authorities which are more likely to believe them than women.
1.19 Mothers whose immigration status is dependent on staying with a violent partner are at particular risk. Women in these situations have also experienced bullying and intimidation including terrifying threats to report them as “illegal overstayers” to the Home Office if they dare report the violence. Family courts are far more likely to believe men and deport women causing untold harm to mothers and their children.
1.20 The State has to stop assuming that a man who is violent to his child or to his female partner is a good father. Children are being forced into unwanted contact with violent uncaring fathers against their will. Some children’s reports are dismissed as the result of manipulation or coaching by their mother. On the other hand, we have seen cases where a child said their mum has once slap them and the child was removed from that mother, a totally disproportionate response.
1.21 None of this is in the interests of the child – a key principle that family professionals are supposed to uphold.
1.22 The government is proposing to train a wide range of professionals to spot domestic abuse. But what are they supposed to do about that abuse? Every state agency has become more intrusive and punitive while offering very little help as a result of wide-ranging funding cuts. Does spotting abuse result in more children of DV victims being taken into care? Does a mother lose her housing after DV? If she lost her job, what welfare benefits are left to support her?
1.23 Action points – We strongly recommend that the family courts should:
- End the secrecy of family court proceedings. They must be open to public scrutiny in a way that protects the child’s identity (eg call the parents A and B).
- Stop forcing children into unwanted contact with violent uncaring fathers.
- Stop men using the family courts as a vehicle through which to continue to control a female partner who has left them.
- Use Section 17 to provide resources to families who are poor, rather than take their kids away.
- Reverse the privatisation of children’s homes and adoption services.
- Stop taking children from mothers who report or are victims of domestic violence. They need protection not separation.
2. Austerity cuts and Domestic Violence
2.1 DV has to be viewed in the context of the life conditions of women and children and the policies that help or hinder their conditions. The government has cut women’s escape routes out of DV by massively cutting benefits, social housing, legal aid, advice lines, and funding to refuges. Of the austerity cuts 86% have fallen on women. Many already cannot get appropriate mental health treatments on the depleted NHS. Merely training officials to spot violence is not going to address any of this; it will instead increase state powers against women and children. In the absence of resources and help, state agents such as social workers tend to prioritise policing mothers and punitively removing their children.
2.2 Research shows that low income Black and Asian women are the poorest and pay the highest price for austerity. Camden where we are based is ranked the 15th most deprived borough in London and has one of the highest rates of child poverty – 60% of children live in low income families. Mothers risk their children being taken into care when their poverty is equated with “neglect”. In 2011, 56% of Camden’s residents described being of Black minority ethnic origin or non-white. The overwhelming majority of rape and DV victims who come to us for help are working class and disproportionately affected by poverty, racism and other discrimination compared to the general population.
2.3 We refer you to recent evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee by WinVisible – Women with visible and invisible disabilities, to which we contributed. Universal Credit paid to the man in the household is a recipe for DV, as is the benefit cap:
2.4 ‘The single monthly payment when paid to violent men is as dangerous as the total benefit cap, which is condemned by Women Against Rape for trapping women and children with violent men, and for penalising single mothers fleeing violence who rely on benefits to pay the rent in their safe accommodation. When the total benefit cap was first challenged at the Supreme Court in 2015, although the overall appeal failed, Lady Hale, currently President, stated: “The prejudicial effect of the cap is obvious and stark… This prejudicial effect has a disproportionate impact upon lone parents, the great majority of whom are women, and is also said to have such an impact upon victims of domestic violence, most of whom are also women”’(para 180, see http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2015/16.html
2.5 Action points
- We support WinVisible’s demands to Stop and scrap Universal Credit, to reinstate disability benefits (including for women with mental ill-health caused by the trauma of domestic rape and other violence).
- Reinstate welfare and housing benefits and end benefit sanctions
- Reinstate legal aid.
- Fund emergency and permanent housing for women fleeing violence beginning with the established network of refuges. Housing benefit is essential for refuges to survive.
- Destitution – a recipe for domestic violence
3.1 Destitution puts women at grave risk of domestic violence. Women left with no money or resources are prey to every predatory, violent, exploitative man who takes advantage of the fact that she is desperate and has no routes to escape. This includes violent and abusive husbands, boyfriends and partners. For the government to deliberately make women destitute is to encourage and promote this abuse.
3.2 Destitution was first deliberately deployed against women seeking asylum (and with other immigration applications) whose legal cases had failed and been closed. Many have already suffered domestic violence before coming to the UK. Our own and other research has found that over 70% of asylum-seeking women have fled rape in their country of origin. With the introduction of Section 55 (of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002) asylum-seekers who did not make a claim immediately on arrival in the UK were denied any support. Literally hundreds of women came to the door of the women’s centre where we are based. Some were sleeping in parks, in hospital A&E units, on night buses.
3.3 The deliberate policy of destitution against asylum-seekers and other immigrants has since been rolled out against many other women, making them also more vulnerable to domestic violence. For example, benefit sanctions and the delays in paying Universal Credit, have left many women with absolutely no income, or living below the poverty line, sometimes for months on end. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s 2018 report found 1.5 million people destitute in the UK.
3.4 Destitution among women is particularly hidden, as they are less likely to be “street homeless” because of the fear of violence. In one study, 35% of destitute homeless women asylum seekers in the UK reported being raped. Instead women tend to rely on family, friends, acquaintances and strangers for a roof over their head and the basic necessities. This makes them vulnerable to sexual and domestic violence. For example, one woman in our network described fighting off attempted rape by the husband of the woman she was staying with. She couldn’t risk telling his wife for fear she would end up in an even more dangerous situation on the street. Nor could she tell the authorities, for fear she would be detained and removed because she had no immigration status. Another mother who was given shelter in exchange for childcare and housework became homeless when her son was physically attacked by the male head of the household.
3.5 Even when women win their legal cases, some are denied access to public funds and remain victims of or become vulnerable to domestic violence.
3.6 A government that makes women and girls deliberately destitute cannot claim to be taking action to protect women from domestic violence.
3.7 Action points:
- Ending destitution is essential in tackling domestic violence. No-one should be left without the means to survive, least of all some of the most vulnerable women in the community – many of whom are already victims of domestic violence.
- End the No Recourse to Public Funds policy.
- The government should provide women who had fled from domestic violence to the UK with resources and protection in order to meet its Istanbul Convention obligations towards victims “irrespective of immigration status”.
- The hostile environment for victims of domestic violence in immigration and asylum procedures
4.1 Women are made destitute when their immigration applications are turned down, but in our experience cases fail unjustly because women do not get the legal and other help they need. The hostile environment is deeply embedded in how asylum and immigration cases are considered.
4.2 To our knowledge no investigation or account has been taken of the impact on women’s vulnerability to domestic violence by how the Home Office treats asylum and immigration cases. A callous, hostile and frequently unjust system results in women being unable to report domestic violence and rape, and uses their difficulties in speaking about these horrific experiences to disbelieve them when they do. WAR’s Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaign is highlighting how the Home Office and judges routinely flout case law and their own guidelines on how women should be treated, so that no consideration is given to the traumatic impact of rape and domestic violence.
4.3 Policies are being employed that deliberately disrupt women’s ability to pursue their legal cases: the Chapter 60 policy which sets a three month “window” within which women get no further notice of removal; certification which denies the right to an in country appeal, including by holding women at fault for not reporting rape and domestic violence earlier; fast-track decisions by the enforcement team charged with meeting targets for removals rather than a fair and thorough consideration of the evidence presented. The legal aid cuts compound the injustice, leaving many victims going to appeal hearings unrepresented or in the hands of inept or even corrupt private lawyers.
4.4 Action points:
- Restore the right to legal aid for all asylum and immigration cases
- End the “deport now appeal later” procedures so all appeals can be heard in the UK.
- Withdraw the Chapter 60 “windows” policy and allow people time to access lawyers and the courts to challenge removals/deportation.
- All Home Office and Tribunal hearings must adhere to their guidance about the treatment of vulnerable victims.
- The government must recognise that severe and prolonged domestic violence is torture and that under the Convention Against Torture victims are entitled to resources and support to recover in the UK even if this took place in another country.
- The UK should ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention to help protect vulnerable immigrant women in the UK, who otherwise have little protection and may be deported if they try to report violent men.
- Improving the police & CPS response, and victims’ experience of the justice system
- We do not call for any more powers to the police, as they are not using them accountably but are instead abusing them to intimidate and even arrest the women reporting violence.
- The police and CPS do not implement the existing laws against domestic violence. They must be made to do so or be sacked.
5.3 The police can’t be relied on to investigate domestic violence, including domestic rape and even murder. Nothing in your paper seriously addresses the current problems in how existing domestic violence laws are applied and the appallingly low conviction rate of 6.5% (Women’s Aid website 2014). Two women are still being killed every week – often after many calls to the police and police inaction. Yet no officer has ever been prosecuted or properly held to account for the bias or negligence that resulted in such deaths. Even when the police were found guilty of failing in their duty of care to victims, we are not aware that the officers responsible were demoted, sacked or prosecuted. If any have been, we would like to know.
5.4 The police already have laws and resources at their disposal if they choose to use them to protect women from rape and domestic violence. They often choose not to. In relation to rape – they seem to make up their own version of the law. The Met was sued successfully this year for refusing to investigate serial rapist John Warboys –upheld by the Supreme Court despite a £1m legal appeal by the Met and government support.
5.5 When will they be held similarly accountable for refusing to investigate DV?
5.6 We know from extensive experience over four decades that in response to reports of domestic violence, the police and CPS do not always record them properly; in many cases they don’t gather, don’t test, or lose forensic and witness evidence; and they do not charge appropriately.
5.7 They put pressure on women to retract, and in some cases investigate the woman for committing some kind of crime, including accusing her of lying. This has been evidenced by whistleblower PC James Patrick and other officers to the Public Administration Select Committee in November 2013, who testified that many women are bullied by police into retracting their allegations of rape.
5.8 Also, the 2014 HMIC report ‘A Matter of Fact’ said: “We are seriously concerned about the picture that is emerging – one of weak or absent management or supervision of crime recording and serious sexual offences not being recorded (14 rapes). Some offenders have been issued with out of court disposals where their offending history could not justify it. In some cases they should have been prosecuted.” [HMIC REPORT] Little has changed according to more recent reports.
5.9 The issue of rape as a serious and common form of DV, and the additional disbelief/suspicion that comes from many professionals/officials rarely receives official acknowledgement. Every woman who ‘cries rape’ is suspected of lying, particularly if they have ever suffered violence before. Yet it is well known that DV is a recurrent crime and that most victims suffer many attacks before they report.
5.10 The police also need to stop investigating rape and domestic violence separately when they are committed by the same perpetrator. Rape is part of the definition of domestic violence; when they are investigated together more evidence will become available to build a case, get the CPS to charge appropriately, and more violent perpetrators can be convicted.
5.11 The CPS legal guidance on domestic violence says:
“Where a summary only offence has been committed, such as common assault, any charge(s) or information must be laid within 6 months of the date of the alleged incident. This time limit may prevent some previous cases being joined with those involving later complainants. However, the earlier victim(s)/complainant(s) may still be able to support the more recent case through the use of bad character evidence.” https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/domestic-abuse-guidelines-prosecutors
5.12 This time limit of six months is a major problem in many cases and in practice results in many cases being dropped as out of time or the number of charges heavily reduced. In court the woman victims find the history of domestic violence has been reduced to a single incident, and isolated from the pattern of other violence and threats to kill – such a representation is much less serious and convincing and less likely to result in the conviction and sentencing the crimes deserve. Domestic violence incidents such as common assault, threats to kill, or threats to harm the children, should not be prosecuted as a summary only offence.
5.13 We strongly disagree with the government’s proposed new statutory definition of domestic violence which would make the law gender-neutral. The current definition does not exclude men and boys. But the proposed definition would take out gender completely thus hiding that the overwhelming majority of DV victims are women. We have found that removing gender from violence which is very gendered further reduces women’s power to get protection and justice. Men who are violent and controlling feel ‘entitled’ to exercise power over women and are adept at portraying themselves as ‘victims’ when they don’t get their way. A gender neutral definition would play into their hands and should not be introduced.
5.14 We have seen many cases where men call the police on their victim in order to discredit her and cast doubt on what she has to say; tragically they are often successful. Institutional sexism within the police and the criminal justice system as a whole results in women being disbelieved more than men, and facing harsher treatment.
5.15 Research by Prof Marianne Hester in 2009 ‘Who Does What to Whom?’ found that women are disproportionally arrested for DV compared to men. Women are 3 times more likely to be arrested for DV – they are arrested every 3 incidents out of 10, whereas men are arrested every 1 incident out of 10.
5.16 More women victims of DV will be arrested and even charged if their violent partner can use this new definition as leverage to deflect blame away from themselves. This already happens and will happen even more often. More disbelief and prosecutions of women will follow, deterring even more women from reporting and seeking justice.
5.17 There is no better encouragement to women to engage with the criminal justice system than to improve the conviction rate and to robustly enforce the restrictions of movement on their attacker.
5.18 The victim should not be forced to prosecute or testify. She is in the best position to judge whether a prosecution of her attacker will protect or endanger her, or her children.
5.19 Women must be given the power, protection, resources and support to follow through with a prosecution, rather than take it out of their hands and prosecute their attacker behind their back and without their consent. It is punitive and heavy handed to prosecute a perpetrator of DV without giving his victim any police protection, and without changing the economic and other conditions in which she has been living so her and her children’s survival and safety are assured.
5.20 There are too many cases where women’s sexual history is still allowed in court. Evidence found sexual history to have been used in a quarter to a third of rape trials (Vera Baird: Seeing is Believing: The Northumbria Court Observers Panel. Report on 30 rape trials 2015-16., and Application of Section 41 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999: A Survey of Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs), by Lime Culture 2017.)
5.21 We are glad to see that Vera Baird and Harriet Harman are finally pressing for what we demanded during the formulation of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill in 1999, where we made it clear that evidence of sexual history with men other than the defendant should be excluded from trials. Worryingly, Vera Baird’s evidence of breaching the current restrictions on evidence was totally dismissed by the Attorney General recently.
 Women’s Budget Group
 Underground Lives, PAFRAS Report March 2009
Family Courts are failing to recognise and protect survivors’ human rights by not giving victims of domestic abuse a safe and fair hearing which is putting their children’s safety at risk, according to a joint report by Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London.
30 May 2018
Survivors of domestic abuse face a lack of protections within family courts according to a new report from Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London.
The report, “What about my right not to be abused?” Domestic abuse, human rights and the family courts, found that nearly a quarter of suvivors (24 per cent) reported that they had been cross-examined by their abusive ex-partner during court hearings, which breaches survivors’ human right to be free from degrading treatment.
The report also uncovered systematic gender discrimination and a culture in the family courts that silences women by failing to uphold the human rights of survivors.
[From what the report reveals about the bias towards men in family courts, more needs to change than simply stopping abusers cross examining their victims in court, which the government has accepted but delayed enforcing for many months now – see more about the report’s findings here https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/2018/hss/family-courts-failing-to-uphold-human-rights-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse-according-to-queen-mary-report.html.]
The Rape of Recy Taylor review – vital story of a woman who fought back
❝This harrowing and very instructive documentary from Nancy Buirski is about the remarkable courage of Recy Taylor, a young black woman in Abbeville, Alabama, in the United States. After she was raped on her way home from church by six white teenage boys in 1944, Taylor refused to stay silent like all the other victims of this very commonplace crime.❞
With the help of her community, the case was taken up by the NAACP and no less a person than Rosa Parks spearheaded the campaign . . . Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 25 May 2018
In May, BWRAP & WAR hosted a screening of The Rape of Recy Taylor at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. We were also invited to speak on the panel after a public screening at the Court House Hotel, London . . . Well worth catching this film if you can. It definitely begins to spell out how survivors across the US were speaking out and organising together with Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement to expose rape in their communities, by white men, as part of the legacy of slavery.
Terrific news – Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa’s daughters landed last Friday (11 May) at Heathrow after an exhausting 10 hour journey from Kinshasa. Brigitte and Cristel from Black Women’s Rape Action Project, who has worked with Brigitte at every stage of her case,
waited anxiously as the daughters were held for an extra hour after other passengers in immigration control.
Finally, the two young women came through the arrival doors and as they saw Brigitte they abandoned their luggage and rushed to wrap their arms around her for the first time in fourteen years! A luggage alert was only just avoided when her oldest daughter managed to scramble back into the “restricted area” and recover their baggage.
Brigitte and her daughters say a massive “merci beaucoup” to everyone who donated so generously and helped in other ways to make their reunion possible. They are now on the road to rebuilding new lives together. The photo attached also conveys this joy of this occasion.