In September 2020, a letter emerged from Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and Elizabeth Broderick, UN President/Rapporteur of the working group on discrimination against women and girls, detailing the removal of a child from her mother, ordered in Bizkaia, Spain. The 8-year-old girl had been snatched by a team of police, private security agents and social workers.
Anyone who has witnessed a police removal of a child from their home will be aware this type of removal is conducted with similar tactics as police raids. Except in children’s cases, they are not apprehending dangerous criminals, they are removing children from their parents, usually on the order of a family court judge. During a ‘raid-style’ removal, the police’s preferred tactic is to take children from their beds. This is to ensure a child is sleepy and disorientated, in the hope of decreased resistance. Those who have witnessed these brutal removals will know that even confused and tired children will resist it with every fibre of their being. Many children in this situation will do anything to escape it. Because being a child outnumbered by around 8 uniformed (sometimes armed) officers is horrifically frightening.
Police act on these types of family court orders in relation to children in the same way all over the world, including the UK. During these terrifying raid-style removals, the child will often make a desperate attempt at escape, even if that is through a third-floor window, or by hurling themselves down a flight of stairs. Imagine being a child faced with that immediate, traumatic threat to life, occurring whilst you sleep in your bed. Now imagine being a child being subjected to that on the request of your own father.
Dubravka Šimonović’s letter describes the impossible predicament of Mrs Costumero and her 8-year-old daughter. Accused of manipulation by the father, an alleged domestic abuser, she had felt the full force of the state’s disproportionate reaction to the parental alienation dog whistle. It’s well known that the common defence used by those accused of domestic abuse or child abuse is parental alienation. The narrative is uniformly misused in courtrooms around the globe, by abusers who wish to manipulate those investigating allegations of abuse. It is a fully loaded response. Šimonović states in her plea to the UN, that the child was also subject to suspected physical abuse at the hands of her father. She details that three abuse referrals had been made to the Cruces hospital in Bizkaia for injuries the child had sustained whilst in her father’s care.
This case led to Spain prohibiting the use of unscientific theory in children’s cases recently, effectively banning parental alienation as a defence. Spain heard how judicial and social work decisions and interpretation of legislation were clouded by prejudices and stereotypes. This poor understanding is replicated globally and has led to an explosion in the use of misogynistic narratives like parental alienation; otherwise known as ‘malevolent mother syndrome’ or ‘implacable hostility’ in custody disputes, with chilling outcomes for children.
Italy’s highest court followed suit in rebutting it, recently ruling that “manipulation cannot be scientifically proven and therefore the representation of children’s will as manipulated does not fall into any legal category”. The judge had homed in on the methods used by parental alienation proponents in the judgement. The theory was dubbed ‘Nazi Theory’ because it is more concerned with the “perpetrator type” which is a legal term that refers to a theory that emerged in 1940’s Nazi Germany and is based on the idea that one is not so much concerned with the act itself, rather how the person can be punished for the act. In this particular case, the mother was not punished by the Venetian court because she was an inadequate mother or an unsafe parent, but because of prejudice and hostility against women that parental alienation theory so uniquely plays into. This is the narrative that views all mothers with hostile suspicion, and ensures children’s disclosures of abuse are taken with a pinch of salt, or entirely ignored – before placing the victims with the perpetrator.
Lawyer Voltaggio pointed out in this Italian article about the case that “the mother, to put it more clearly, could not see her daughter for months without committing a crime, only because she was a woman who was not very subservient to CTU and the judiciary”. The state treated her unjustly and they punished her dissent, rather than addressing the injustice that allowed this to happen.
In recent years, a vast network of those with a stake in the parental alienation industry have been lobbying and creating an ever-expanding list of possible crimes that (primarily) mothers may be punished for. These crimes include a flicker of a facial micro-expression, or not being utterly enthralled by your ex-partners parenting. If there is evidence or children’s disclosures of abuse, they assert this is evidence of alienation. They routinely advocate forceful and draconian methods such as the raid-style removal of children to demonstrate the courts and (usually) the father’s authority. This is how a safe mother most often loses the children to an abusive father, through no fault of her own. They shamelessly target those talking about domestic abuse, because their livelihood depends on abuse allegations being twisted using this theory. This network, whilst ruining countless lives, has spawned a multi-million-dollar industry. It relies on victims continued subjugation.
International developments like these progressive and well thought through judgements from Spain and Italy must be learnt from elsewhere. Currently in Ireland, it’s emerged that the family court, who preside over approximately 12,000 family court cases a year, have no idea how many sexually abused children have been forced to live with or have contact with the perpetrator of their abuse. Despite these shocking admissions about the Irish family court’s safety record, the Irish parental alienation lobby have nevertheless managed to unanimously establish formal recognition of the discredited theory within Ireland’s councils.
In England and Wales, similar gains have been made by the lobby, putting the UK’s children very much at risk. The notion of this weaponised ‘Nazi Theory’ has been firmly and atrociously embedded in the last document it should have been; our Domestic Abuse Act.
Special thanks goes to Centre for Social Injustice for the translation of the Special Rapporteur’s joint letter. Follow CSI on Twitter @Punishthepoor. The Centre for Social Injustice critically disseminates financial and ideological driven policies that harm women and children.