Scotland is a compassionate country, yet some mistake Scotland’s kindness for weakness and report our country to be a ‘soft touch’ when it comes to justice. Coercive control and domestic violence have been a burden on our economy and our society for years and it disproportionately affects women. Preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls is one of the Government’s top priorities. Scotland knows that punishing citizens alone for abusive behaviour is not going to help. Understanding why people abuse, responding to it appropriately and eradicating it at its core, will. Scotland is not weak; it is savvy.
Gender inequality has created stereotypes and an imbalance of power, and that power has been abused in homes and institutions. The narcissism in our society and the existence of the patriarchy is clear to see for survivors of domestic abuse who have experienced the family courts. Survivors have had to fight long and hard to protect their child from the same abusive behaviour they got subjected to in the home, and they have often been unsuccessful due to outdated legislation and ideology. The family courts have emboldened and empowered abusers further.
The courts have failed to understand domestic abuse and its effects on children and assumed both adult parties to be at fault. Court reporters and judges have made sure what goes on behind closed doors in the home, and the courtroom remains behind closed doors. The power wielded in the family courts mimics the self-entitled behaviour of the abuser; dishonesty, threats, force and fear keep the vulnerable trapped in a cycle of abuse. Children are emerging from the family court system as traumatised teenagers; they have not had a chance to recover, they have been subjected to further traumatic experiences while in the court system and by the court system.
Research shows that trauma in childhood creates wounds that have a life-long negative impact. Scotland is dedicated to creating an anti-oppressive, ACE aware, trauma-informed society which will in turn help curb abuse. Scotland knows most abusers are not born; they are created. The value and belief system an abuser acquires from childhood experiences, their parents and society create self-entitled adults with distorted views of right and wrong, adults who choose to wield power and abuse. Only in the minority is it their pathology.
The Scottish Government recognises the suffering of all its citizens; it plans to prevent further suffering and turn Scotland into the best place in the world for a child to grow up. An ambitious plan yes, but one which is unfolding before our eyes. By creating children who see each other as equals, and who lack feelings of blame, shame and insecurity, we can encourage confidence in children, not self-entitlement, and we can give children the greatest gift of all, self-worth. The Government must ensure that children in the family court process receive this gift too.
As new legislation comes into force, and progressive bills move through parliament to protect the vulnerable from abusive behaviour, a shift in power takes place, and each small shift is a move towards equality and fairness. Abuse affects all genders in our society in one way or another, and if it hasn’t yet then statistically it will. It is going to take all of us to fix it.
There are many more steps to be taken to balance the power in the family courts but giving children of all ages a voice, incorporating their rights into law and regulating child welfare reporters is significant and welcome progress. The approach used to resolve family matters must be one with a good understanding of domestic abuse, particularly coercive control. It must be an approach which recognises how the behaviour of an abusive parent and a lengthy court process adversely affects children in adulthood so that earlier intervention can be made to protect children. The family courts must end victim-blaming and carry out thorough assessments using credible experts to determine complex cases.
The Government must consider the power the judge holds over the vulnerable too – we must end the secrecy of the family court by implementing a register of interests for the judiciary. With transparency and accountability comes confidence and trust in the family justice system, something that can get restored on the path to modernisation.