Briefing 4: Report Stage Domestic Abuse Bill

From Women Against Rape and support Not Separation

REPORT STAGE DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL, Monday 6 July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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/

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/