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/