The family courts don’t yet recognize narcissism or coercive control. They trivialize and diminish a domestic abuse case, labelling it ‘high conflict’, creating a narrative of warring parents and a vengeful, bitter or disruptive mother. Some media outlets make the same mistake; they victim blame, and they re-traumatize.
Family courts deem historical abuse irrelevant when, in fact, it is fundamental. By failing to understand domestic abuse and assess the risk of harm adequately, the courts put children like Keira Kagan in grave danger. Victims of egregious abuse get forced into shared parenting type agreements, leaving them in extremely vulnerable circumstances. As a result, abusive fathers like Robin Brown are emboldened and empowered by the family courts; they use their visitation to continue the post-separation abuse.
Family courts can prevent unsafe visitation and prevent homicide by comparing behavior to a checklist, analyzing it and recognizing the warning signs. Narcissistic, controlling individuals mask their behavior well. It takes a thorough risk assessment by a credible expert in behavior to see through the guise.
Quickly developing relationship: Abusers present a false-self to their victims; they deceive their victims and portray themselves to be their ideal partner. They quickly trap their victim in a cycle of abuse.
The Façade: Narcissistic abusers appear to be charming, successful individuals and admirable parents, but the evidence usually shows otherwise. Their words do not match their actions. They grossly overstate their education or achievements. Their behavior is often cruel and volatile; they are bullies and compulsive liars.
Coercive Control & Narcissism: Abusers have an inflated sense of entitlement. They believe themselves to be superior, and they manipulate their victim’s emotions to trigger a reaction. They gaslight, humiliate and intimidate their victims to punish them and keep them in a constant state of confusion and fear. They respond to perceived criticism with anger or vengefulness; they degrade, threaten, and scare their victim. They warn,
“I will never stop; I will never leave you alone”, or “You will never see your child again.”
They dictate to, and shame their victims. Their coercion is intentional; they attempt to destroy their victim’s sense of self and transform their victim’s strength into weakness. Some abusers monitor their victim’s actions or deny them of their basic needs. They may take control of the finances to weaken their victim and attempt to force them into dependence.
Killing Animals: Many abusers will kill animals to demonstrate their superiority, power and control and extract an emotional reaction out of their victim. They are desensitized to the harm they do, a huge red flag.
Fantasies about Power & Domination, Infidelity: Abusers may have a hidden lifestyle, possibly spanning several years with multiple partners. They have an exploitative approach to their relationships; relationships are to benefit and serve them alone.
Weaponizing the Court System & Counter-parenting: Post-separation, abusers fail to reason or compromise and make unrealistic demands of the safe parent. Their victims often have no option but to defend or raise court action to protect their child’s welfare. Abusers repeatedly breach court orders, they raise numerous petty court actions, they frustrate visitation and even abduct their children. The system enables them by focusing on the victim’s behavior, not the perpetrator’s.
Failure to Acknowledge & Accept Responsibility for Behavior & Inability to Self-reflect or Demonstrate Remorse. Abusers have a deep-rooted belief and value system, they feel justified in their actions, and they feel entitled to abuse; they choose to. They accuse their victim of the very things they are guilty of – DARVO – Deny Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender. They go to extreme lengths to deny their behavior, and blame and vilify their victim to gain sympathy and regain status and control.
Placing Needs Before the Child’s Needs, Lack Capacity to Parent: The abuser’s focus is on hurting their victim, not parenting their child; they are oblivious to the psychological harm they do to their child in the process. Abusers don’t give their child emotional permission to be content in their victim’s care; they coach their child to distort their views. Abusers attempt to sabotage their child’s relationships and isolate their child, particularly with the safe parent and any new partner or siblings. Abuser’s gaslight their children; they tell them they are sick or lying when they are not; they coerce their children into a state of confusion and fear to satisfy their own needs.
Responding to the Child’s Distress with Anger: Abusers may meet their child’s cries with frustration, anger and punishment, particularly if the child expresses that they miss or love their safe parent or siblings.
Failing to Work Constructively with Professionals: Abuser’s often refuse to grant permission to the safe parent to get treatment for their child; they see it as a risk of exposure; they will insist on a health professional or court expert of their choosing and will demand someone they sense they can befriend and manipulate. If the professional is not to their choice, the abuser will fail to co-operate; they may instruct the child not to open up to a therapist or psychologist.
Failure to Accept the Responsibility for the Treatment of the Child & Capacity for Change: Narcissistic abusers fail to accept that their behavior is the problem. They fail to recognize the need to change their behavior for their child’s sake; they consistently deny and excuse their behavior towards the child and lay the blame on their victim.
Threatened control: When an abuser’s façade starts to crumble, and their ego takes a significant blow; their control over their victim gets threatened. This creates a ‘high alert’ situation. It can cause a change in thinking, which can prompt a move to the planning stage.
Keira Kagan’s story is a tragedy; the evidence showed Brown posed a clear and present danger. He had distorted views of himself and right and wrong. Jennifer Kagan-Viater could see that unsupervised visitation was not positive or beneficial to their daughter, Keira; it was confusing, upsetting, scary and harmful. Jennifer and her husband, Philip, desperately tried to get the family courts to recognize the warning signs, see the pattern and protect Keira. They begged a judge to see the escalation in Brown’s volatile behavior, another huge red flag; they pleaded to the court that he was ‘out of control’. Keira herself courageously opened up and reached out for help too. All their pleas got diminished in severity and importance by the family courts, and unsupervised contact remained in place.
When Brown received a damning report from child protection, it became clear he was likely to lose unsupervised visitation with Keira. The development undoubtedly caused a change in Brown’s thinking; he knew his game was up, and his public façade was about to fall. Brown knew that weekend was highly likely his last opportunity to be alone with Keira. He vindictively retaliated to his expected loss of power and control by hurting Jennifer and her family where he knew he could cause excruciating pain; he jumped with four-year-old Keira off a cliff, in what was clearly a murder-suicide.
Jennifer Kagan-Viater fought to the ends of the earth along with her husband Philip to protect Keira from danger; a danger which they could foresee but were rendered powerless to prevent. The Ontario family court system failed to recognize the warning signs or read the pattern, and when the alarm got raised, they failed to answer it. The system not only failed Jennifer, Philip, and Keira, but it also betrayed them. When an abusive father’s rights to visitation get prioritized over a child’s human rights, then deaths are inevitable. The Canadian Government must remedy this in Keira’s honor. They must radically reform the system and prevent deaths of heart-warming children who’s trust, childhood and lives are in their hands.