When domestic abuse victims leave a controlling and often violent relationship, they have two hopes; a peaceful life, free from pain, and a safe and healthy environment for their child. Their hopes get shattered when they enter the draconian family courts. They are met with an air of elitism and find themselves in a secret world where egregious physical, psychological and sexual abuse gets swept under the carpet so that the perpetrator’s demands can be met. Domestic abuse victims have a precarious journey thereafter as they strive, for years, to protect their child.
The victim’s nightmare compounds in the family courts; the courts allow and enable post-separation abuse of the victim, by making it clear that raising concerns of the perpetrator’s behaviour (towards them or the child) will not be tolerated. Solicitors actively encourage victims not to mention abuse during hearings. Victims no longer fear only their abuser; they fear welfare reporters and judges too; for they have the power to make harmful recommendations and devastating, life-changing orders, and they make sure the victim knows it. The court system becomes an abuser too.
Judges and welfare reporters, in agreement, force terrified children into contact then threaten and punish protective parents who do not submit, encourage and comply. The system uses fear as a tool to arrive at the pre-determined outcome; contact in the best interests of the perpetrator masked to be in the best interests of the child. How do certain family court professionals cover their tracks? By reconstructing the narrative of the case; by making the abuse disappear from welfare reports and opinions and blaming the child’s resistance to contact on the protective, safe parent. ‘Parental alienation’ is the tactic and weapon of choice.
If there were an exit survey which asked domestic abuse victims and their children, how was your family court experience?, then they would tick the box that said shocking, brutal, and unconscionably cruel. Victims of abuse leave the courtroom bewildered. They and their children eventually leave the family justice system emotionally overwhelmed and psychologically harmed.
UK Governments have acknowledged the harm the system inflicts, and are in the process of reform. At first, domestic abuse victims feel vindicated; they are hopeful their situation will swiftly improve, and the experience of victims following in their wake will be kinder and fairer. Yet victims are dealt with one more blow in their laborious journey towards justice; they learn it is ‘business as usual’ in chambers, in family services and the courtroom. Academic research and reports get set to one side and children continue to suffer. The lack of consideration and compassion for the plight of the vulnerable, by the influential and powerful professionals in the family court system, becomes apparent.
Like the abuser, the entitled and superior feel protected; they do not apologise, and they do not get held to account. Domestic abuse victims and their children are just the next annoyance of the day or source of subjugation or income. The abusive cycle of the courts, and the familiar pattern of harm, continues. The battle for meaningful change to the family court system is an arduous one, not just for victims but for those members of parliament who genuinely do listen and care.
However, this generation of domestic abuse victims do not call themselves victims; they call themselves survivors. They are warriors; they have had the strength to leave abusive relationships, they have run the gauntlet of the treacherous family courts, and they have endured vicious online abuse when breaking their silence and raising their voices. They have fought many battles and they dust themselves off and fight on. Why? Because they are determined; determined to protect their children, determined to prevent the harm from happening to others, and determined to see justice served once and for all.
So we ask the family courts professionals who continue to deny, diminish and omit evidence,
“What will it take to end the abuse?”