BRIEFING 2 RE: DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL

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

Submitted to Public Bill Committee, 8 June 2020

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reject the following amendments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bill must go further in three key areas:

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

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

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

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

We propose the following amendments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.The Bill must not be gender neutral.

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

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

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

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

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


Footnotes:

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

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

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

Model letter to MPs on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee

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

Dear [INSERT the name of your MP]

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

[YOUR NAME and postcode]

Domestic Abuse Bill Committee members and their contact details

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

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

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

Self Help Guides for Survivors

Justice is your right – A self help guide for survivors of rape and sexual assault and their supporters, by Women Against Rape. Updated edition, May 2020

This is a collective effort based on decades of experience of survivors and campaigners. It offers ways to tackle obstacles to justice you may face when reporting violence.

Click here to download the Self-Help Guide.

To order a paper copy, please send a cheque to ‘Women Against Rape’, PO Box 287, London NW6 5QU.
Prices: individuals £3; unfunded organisations £5; professionals or solidarity price £10. Free to women in prison.

NEWSFLASH JULY 2020: Please note there was a successful legal challenge to the police digital consent form (affecting their power to seize your phone and trawl your social media and other personal records), we will post updates about this when we know how this plays out.

What people say about the Guide:

“This Guide is lucid, it is clear, it is to the point. I recommend it.” Ian Macdonald QC

“People will grow in confidence and feel less intimidated by the authorities.” Sally Freeman, mother of rape survivor

“Knowing our rights can make the difference between winning and losing.” Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project

Online Guide for Asylum Seekers and their Supporters: A Self-Help Guide Against detention & removal by Legal Action for Women: This new and updated step-by-step guide comes out of intensive work over many years with women (and some men) seeking asylum. BWRAP and WAR have contributed to the pool of practical knowledge which is an invaluable and essential tool for victims of rape and other torture. Available here.  To order a paper copy go to Crossroads Books online . Other Self-Help Tools are also available to download here

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/

CORONAVIRUS AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN: WE DEMAND THE RESOURCES TO ENSURE SAFETY AND PROTECTION

This coronavirus crisis comes on top of the rape and domestic violence crisis and the austerity crisis.

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]

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.

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.  Refuges have been cut: 1 in 6 refuges closed over the past 8 years.  Women’s Aid reported this month that before lockdown, they had to decline 64% of referrals in 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]

Mothers in particular 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.  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 inaccessible during the lockdown, mothers’ contact with children who have been taken from their care has been curtailed even further, cutting children off from their mothers.

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.  

Support for disabled children and disabled mothers entitled to care and childcare help under the Care Act (made discretionary by the Coronavirus Act).

Immediate changes to the family courts so women who report violence do not risk having their children taken away or given to the perpetrators.  (See our amendments on this to the Domestic Violence Bill which is going through Parliament now – the Bill must go further to protect us.)  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!

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 financial 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 violence deserve an income for self-care and recovery, and to be there for tramatised children.

Thorough investigations and prosecutions by the police and Crown Prosecution Service.  The Coronavirus Act has given police free rein 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.

30 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, 2020

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/

Domestic Abuse Bill: AMENDMENTS from Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape, part of the Support not Separation coalition

On family courts –

Insert new clauses into Part 3: Family Proceedings following Clause 75 on cross examination:

  • 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. 

RATIONALE: This has resulted in a presumption of contact for fathers regardless of any history of rape and/or Domestic Abuse. 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 father’s residence and contact. Fathers who are violent to their children or their partners should not have contact with their children. Thousands of children are being harmed physically and psychologically by being forced into contact with fathers they are terrified of.  

  • Reduce the threshold of official evidence required when domestic violence is raised as an issue in the family courts.

    RATIONALE: Evidence must include reports to GP, midwife, counsellor, etc., as well as non-molestation and/or occupation order. This is even more crucial now that the level of convictions for rape and DA are at an all-time low and violent men have near impunity from prosecution. The majority of victims do not report domestic abuse or rape to the police and when they do they can expect little or no protection.

  • Remove Clause 120 in the Adoption & Children Act 2002 which extended the definition of significant harm (Children Act 1989) to include “impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another”. 

RATIONALE: This addition to the definition of significant harm was meant to protect children. It has instead been used to take children from mothers who are victims of DA, further victimising the child and the mother instead of providing the help and support they need to leave violent men. It is unbearably cruel and discriminatory. DA has become the most common reason to remove children from their mother, thus isolating children from their only protector. Violent men know this and taunt telling them, ‘Go ahead and report me and they’ll take the kids from you.’ There is evidence from the US, and we must look for evidence here, that separation from one’s mother causes more serious harm than witnessing DA. For this reason, the New York courts have ruled that children should not be removed from mothers who are victims of DA.

  • End the use of ‘parental alienation’ to remove children from their mothers. Ensure that courts take seriously children’s allegations of sexual abuse by fathers.  

RATIONALE: Children and mothers who make accusations of violence are disbelieved or dismissed even when these incidents have been reported to the police or others in authority and despite evidence of how pervasive DA is.

Mothers are routinely accused of poisoning their children’s minds when they report what the children are telling them. It is horrifying that mothers are instructed by the court to force their children, whom they know are being abused, often sexually, to have contact with the man who is abusing them. The law is supposed to protect children not rapists. Mothers who defy the court in order to protect their children risk having their children taken from them and left without protection. As a result, mothers are increasingly wary of mentioning DA.

‘Parental alienation’ is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner, a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic abuse and defended paedophilia. It is shocking that CAFCASS which was created to protect children is using this. It shows the impact that organisations of domestic abuse deniers have had on the family courts.

  • Prioritise implementation of Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 so that resources are made available to mothers and children facing domestic abuse, in particular access to benefits and housing, without which many women are trapped with violent men.

RATIONALE: Section 17 exists to help ensure that children are raised by their family and therefore provides for local authorities to use their resources to keep children within the family. But it is not being implemented. This is particularly outrageous given that austerity policies have targeted single mother families: over 4 million children are living in poverty, single mothers are 75% of those affected by Universal Credit, and 86% of austerity cuts have been borne by women. Section 17 is needed more than ever and could make a massive difference to DA victims. Instead huge amounts of money are spent wrenching screaming children from their mothers’ arms, causing significant and lifelong harm. An increasingly privatised industry is profiting from the pain of children and mothers. This must stop and the original purpose of the law must be adhered to.

  • Open the family courts to public scrutiny. 

RATIONALE: End the secrecy which has shielded the family courts from public scrutiny, and delayed the introduction of protections the women’s movement won in other civil and criminal courts. Transparency can be safely introduced with reference to the law protecting the anonymity of victims of sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1994. The same should be done in the family courts. In many US states family courts are open and this has not been detrimental to children.

INSERT in Part 3, Section 31W:

  • Reinstate legal aid in family cases, so that women are not forced to represent themselves.
  •  Implement Practice Direction 12j and 3AA. Do risk assessments and findings of fact whenever violence is an issue.

Proposed amendments to other parts of the Bill

INSERT in Part 1 Chapter 3, in orderto improve protection by the criminal justice system and civil courts:

  • The police should prioritise investigating crimes of violence against women over minor offences they suspect women of committing.
  • The police should arrest, charge and prosecute violent men, especially when they commit a second or third offence.

This is urgent as the rape and DA conviction rates are at rock bottom granting violent men impunity from prosecution.

Community Resolutions or Out of Court Resolutions are not appropriate for a violent crime and are dangerous.

To make police officers more accountable, take disciplinary action if a woman is murdered after repeated calls to police for help and protection.

  • End the hostile environment for immigrant women: stop women being detained and/or deported when they report DA.
  • End domestic abuse being classed as an either way offence, which results in many cases being closed after 6 months.
  • Make it easier for women to get a non-molestation order (e.g. abolish the costs) and routinely add power of arrest.

DELETE in PART 1, Ch. 4, section 54, section on polygraph conditions:

  • Delete the clause on lie detector tests, which are notoriously unreliable.

INSERT IN PART 1, Ch. 4, section 54:

  • Provide protection from the offender when he is released from prison.

INSERT in PART 1, Chapter 4, Section 56, Clause 1 where the Bill refers to housing (keeping a lifetime council tenancy).

  • Economic abuse and economic independence.
    The Bill includes economic abuse in the definition of Domestic Abuse, but to tackle economic abuse thoroughly, the Bill must also enable a woman’s economic independence from men, regardless of her social class, so that she can leave a violent man. The government must properly fund women’s vital escape routes beginning with: welfare benefits, social housing, and refuges.  

July 2019

Secret policy change by CPS cut number of rape trials, high court told

Application on behalf of women’s group follows concern over fall in number of charges

Owen Bowcott and Caelainn Barr  The Guardian  Tue 17 Mar 2020

legal challenge over alleged changes to Crown Prosecution Service policy on bringing charges in rape cases has been dismissed by the high court.

The judges, Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, and Lord Justice Singh, denied permission for the case to proceed to a full hearing on Tuesday.

The challenge by a coalition of victims’ organisation sought to prove that the CPS had raised the bar for charging suspects in rape cases.

The high court heard arguments that there had been a “precipitous drop” in the number of rape cases brought to trial due to a secret and unlawful change in policy adopted by the CPS.

The CPS adopted an internal conviction rate target of 60% of cases charged and became increasingly risk averse although it consulted with no one outside the organisation about the new approach, Phillippa Kaufmann QC told judges.

Her application on behalf of the End Violence Against Women Coalition follows concern over steep falls in rape charges and convictions in recent years at a time when an increasing number of women have been making rape complaints to police.

“This change [in policy] was brought about in secrecy and no one was told even afterwards,” Kaufmann told the court.

The changes were introduced from late 2016 after an internal review by the CPS’s director of legal services, Gregor McGill, it was alleged.

It resulted in refresher training of prosecutors that in effect abandoned the established policy of a what is known as a “merits-based approach” to assessing whether to charge suspects in rape cases, Kaufmann said.

“The easiest way to [raise the conviction rate],” she added, “is to whip out those cases that are a bit weaker … No one knew about it until it was leaked by an individual inside the CPS.”

The consequence, Kaufmann said, was that some prosecutors reverted what had been known as the bookmakers’ approach – guessing the probability of a jury convicting on the evidence and becoming reluctant to press ahead with more difficult rape cases.

But the CPS, which successfully, resisted the challenge, argued that courts should not become “an arbiter of prosecutorial policy”.

In written submissions, lawyer for the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Max Hill QC, said it was factually wrong to allege that prosecutors have now adopted a “bookmaker’s test” approach.

The CPS maintained that the courts should dismiss the claim at this preliminary stage and not proceed to a full judicial review of the arguments.

“There has not been a change in policy,” Tom Little QC, for the DPP, told the court. “The fall on conviction rates is due to a far wider range of factors involving the police that are now the subject of a government review.”

Rape victims who donated to the legal challenge, because they felt failed by the CPS, are set to see their donations go towards the institution’s legal costs.

The CPS is pursuing legal costs against the women’s rights’ charity the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and asked for a request to cap legal costs to be denied. The CPS were awarded £35,000 – £41, 000 in legal costs by judges ruling on the request for a judicial review into the claims.

The coalition’s director, Sarah Green, said: “We have no regrets about bringing this case. It was the right thing to do, and it was entirely necessary to challenge our justice system institutions when they are failing to keep women safe and deliver access to justice.

“We have been approached by so many women who have been let down by the CPS as we prepared this case. We know there are really serious problems. But instead of working with us, the CPS chose to fight us.

“It is a long way from the kind of leadership we need in our public institutions … The CPS is arguably failing to keep with the times on expectations for justice after sexual violence. The situation as it is cannot hold, it amounts to the effective decriminalisation of rape.”

The charity received hundreds of donations, many for £10 and £20, via a crowd justice campaign ahead of the hearing. Many messages left with the donations were from women who said they had been raped but denied justice. One donor wrote: “Having been through the system myself and being failed on every level I so wish you every success.” Under the anonymous donation of £10, someone simply wrote: “I never got justice.”

The legal challenge also received £10,000 from the family of Jill Saward, the Ealing rape victim who became a leading figure in the fight against sexual violence.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, who supported the claim, said: “We are deeply, deeply disappointed that [the judges] didn’t see there was a basis on which the case arguable.

“We feel they were just not prepared to grapple with all the detail and ultimately they saw it as a factual dispute. The court was not prepared to get involved.”

Wistrich said they were considering appealing against the ruling at the court of appeal. “We don’t see this as a loss because we think we won in the court of public opinion.”

On the heavy costs of £41,000 imposed on the claimants, she added: “ It’s astounding that the CPS have pushed for as much in costs against a small women’s charity.”

Eminent jurists write to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for Julian Assange’s immediate release.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 22 February 2020

With Julian Assange’s extradition hearing set to begin on Monday, February 24th more than 40 international jurists have written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The jurists’ letter asks for the rule of law to be upheld and details several issues with the way the case has been conducted to date. These include the difficulties that Assange has encountered communicating with his legal counsel from Belmarsh Prison and the systematic compromise of his legally privileged meetings while he was living in the Ecuaorian Embassy in London.

Icelandic lawyer Olga Margrét Cilia notes that “Everyone has the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.”

The signatories highlight what they see as the disregard shown by the British authorities towards their duties and responsibilities under British and international law. Their letter calls on the UK authorities to deny the US extradition request and urges the UK government to immediately release Mr Assange.

Hong Kong barrister Robert Tibbo points out that “governments have resorted to using their enormous political powers and resources to permanently silence Mr Assange with a clear motivation to create a global chilling effect on journalism and freedom of expression. The US, UK and other nations must be held to account for their unlawful treatment of him, but also for the unlawful acts they have committed as exposed by Mr Assange in publishing evidence provided by whistleblowers.”

The jurists express alarm at the sweeping, extra-territorial claims being made by the prosecution of a non-US citizen for conduct outside the United States. Australian barrister Greg Barns says that “Many Australian lawyers are rightly disturbed by the Assange case. It represents a threat by the United States to abuse extra-territorial reach so it can seek to prosecute individuals who have no link with the US jurisdiction but who simply publish material which displeases Washington.”

Prof. Heather Ellis Cucolo, of the New York Law School, adds that “Mr. Assange would no doubt face a politicized show trial in the United States”.

The signatories call on the British legal community to reclaim professional standards, to condemn the torture of Mr. Assange and to engage in urgent actions to secure his immediate and safe release.

Media queries should be directed to Deepa Govindarajan Driver on + 44 7979 917 197 or deepadriver@protonmail.com

Bridges for Media Freedom

Editors’ notes

Mr Assange’s persecution comes after a decade of smearing and intentionally-prolonged preliminary investigations in Sweden, for which charges have never been raised. Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests have since revealed the extent of pressure put on Swedish authorities by the UK Crown Prosecution Service, to keep these preliminary investigations artificially open for many years to ensure Mr Assange remained isolated in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. FoIA requests have also revealed the intentional destruction of evidentiary trails by the CPS.

Prominent UK politicians have engaged in negotiations with the Ecuadorean government to extract Mr Assange from asylum, and have even claimed credit for Mr Assange being deprived of his Ecuadorean citizenship without due process. Since Mr Assange was dragged out of asylum, he has been imprisoned by the UK authorities in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison, in harsh conditions and until recently in isolation, on the flimsy grounds of a purported bail violation arising from seeking asylum. An extradition request has also since been filed with the UK by the United States authorities, and Mr Assange faces charges including under the Espionage Act, and so he continues to be jailed pending extradition to face a potential jail term of 175 years and a trial without First Amendment protections. The Swedish investigations meanwhile have been closed without a charge being raised after a decade of “investigation”.

Serious and multiple conflicts of interest have also come to light in respect of the senior British judge who was involved with Mr Assange’s previous case and to date, there is no record of investigations into these conflicts of interest.

Civil society groups have spoken out against the persecution of Mr Assange by the U.K. authorities. Over 100 international doctors have also publicly condemned Mr Assange’s mistreatment. Women Against Rape (UK), which has supported women fighting for justice for over 40 years say: “We are alarmed at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange has been pursued. Do the victims of murder, rape and torture by US-UK occupiers in Iraq and Afghanistan not count? How can we find out about state crimes if journalists like Assange and whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning are silenced?”.

The case holds particularly worrying omens for the profession of investigative journalism. National Union of Journalists (NUJ) executive member Tim Dawson who spoke at a recent public meeting in London on 4 Feb said: “The legal devices being deployed to try and take Julian Assange to the US are unprecedented and terrifying for anyone whose journalism touches on state security, defence or espionage. If Assange is sent from here to start a prison sentence that could be as long as 175 years, then no journalist is safe.”

View Jurists’ letter