Can Gender Equality and Kindness Fix Scotland’s Family Courts?

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child from the same abusive behaviour they got subjected to in the home, and they have often been unsuccessful due to outdated legislation and ideology.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.

IN ITALY, CHILDREN AND PROTECTIVE MOTHERS SYSTEMATICALLY IGNORED AS A RESULT OF PA THEORY

By Michela Nacca

Lawyer and President of “Maison Antigone”

manager of The Court Said Italy

Since about twenty years in Italy was introduced the pseudo-theory PAS, still today some Italian universities teach it under its original name (PAS) while many others the year renamed differently, but continuing to teach its substance. Those who teach PAS / PA are legal psychologists, forensic psychiatrists and lawyers engaged in defending men accused by former partners – mothers of their children – of mistreatment and incestuous sexual abuse.

 I personally, as a lawyer, I first encountered this diabolical trial strategy in 2003-2005. At that time I thought that the Judge, the social workers, the psychologists involved in the case had all gone crazy. What was the need for the Judge to hire an Office Technical Consultant (CTU) to establish that the abusive father had no parenting skills and therefore the children should be entrusted to the mother: a good doctor and a very empathetic mother? Up to that moment, in the judicial cases I dealt with, the Judge had always decided the children’s foster care by studying the documents, the complaints, the medical certificates of the emergency room, and questioning the witnesses of the violence.

The violent behaviors in that specific case were serious, had been repeated almost daily over the years, directed not only towards the mother but also towards young children, but above all had been committed even before witnesses outside the family, so they were proven.  Among these witnesses was also the priest of the parish community frequented by the family, who had helped the woman and the children to escape. Everyone was ready to testify, even the parish priest himself had given his name so that he could be questioned by the judge. But that time the judge behaved differently. He did not summon the witnesses indicated in the courtroom. He completely ignored the documents presented by the woman. She did not question the 10-year-old boy about the parents’ and father’s behavior. Instead, the Judge appointed a psychologist as an Office Technical Consultant to assess the parental ability of the father and mother. I thought it was all a waste of time, because the facts were obvious: at that moment I was still confident about the outcome of the technical advice. Instead, the psychologist began to evaluate only the mother’s parenting skills, debasing every behavior in an unreasonable and incredible way, taking for granted the parental fitness of the father who was never questioned. The judge’s counselor psychologist ignored every story of violence and was very careful not to ask anything about it and to reprimand her mother when she began to explain the violent and dangerous personality of the man. The outcome of the Report considered the mother unsuitable, just because this woman asked for protection for her children, claiming a sufficient adequacy of the father.    The situation was Kafkaesque and absurd. At the time I was handling the case for the nullity of the couple’s marriage before the Ecclesiastical Courts, as the woman had asked me.  If in front of the Italian civil court the paternal violence was completely denied, in the ecclesiastical court fortunately the investigation proceeded in the normal way and the violence was confirmed and proven by documentary and witness evidence acquired by the ecclesiastical judge and the causes of that violence, dependent on a narcissistic, paranoid and aggressive man, were explained by a Psychiatric Judge Consultant. Therefore, while in the Italian Court still debated in a crazy way the custody of the two minors, forced to attend the father and next to be removed from the mother, the judgment of the ecclesiastical court instead came recognizing the nullity of the marriage bond for inability ‘of the man to assume the marital and parental burdens. In the Italian ecclesiastical courts the PAS had not had access (and so I hope it has remained until today).  At that time, that man, probably irritated by the outcome of the ecclesiastical sentence, was no longer able to contain his aggressiveness and so a few days later he attacked in a very dangerous way the psychologist who had been appointed by the Judge to realign/reset the children and bring them closer to their father. This outbreak of violence saved the children, who were entrusted to the mother, and finally social workers, psychologists and judges had to surrender, withdrawing the accusations of PAS and recognizing the inability of that father.

Only when the violence was acted directly on the operators of the Court forced the same operators to recognize the paternal violence!

After that case it became more and more frequent, over time and years, to verify the use of the trial strategy based on PAS/PA pseudo-theory in Italian courts, by lawyers of fathers denounced as abusers. Today there are hundreds of children forced every year who are snatched away from protective mothers and are entrusted back to abusive fathers, even if convicted. In fact, Italian Judges have been induced by legal psychology, spread through some Italian universities and professional training courses, to believe subconsciously at first and then openly that paternal violence is not dangerous for children, while the request for protection of mothers who ask for justice would be dangerous!

 Even the Italian Supreme Court, after having repeatedly reaffirmed the ascientificity of Pas (Parental Alienation Syndrome) and PA (Parental Alienation), but in May 2020 with order no. 9143/2020 and referring to the right of “bigenitoriality” has confirmed the total and prolonged detachment of a child of 6-7 years from the protective mother and the placement of him with his father: a father denounced and with 3 referrals to Judgment for mistreatment and injury. Father and son were put together in an “educational structure” precisely to prevent any violent acts of the father on the child.  The mother was judged inadequate because she was “not resilient” to violence. On October 2, 2020, the Strasbourg Court condemned Italy for the abnormally high number of dismissals of complaints for domestic abuse: dismissals that depend on that culture of denial of violence!

The normalization of paternal violence in Italy is complete and normativized today. Even the Supreme Court, while recognizing paternal violence, has not evaluated the danger and risks to the mental and physical health of the child, punishing the mother.  

Three years ago, to counter this madness, I founded an association called “Maison Antigone” with other professional women and mothers who are victims of domestic violence.

Every day for three and a half years we publish articles on our websites and write posts on fb, give interviews to the press, organize and participate in conferences and training seminars, we write petitions and start media campaigns.

We have launched a questionnaire among mothers who are victims of institutional violence.

In recent years we have started training courses on Feminicide and violence against women and minors for high school students.

We intervened assiduously on the ICD 11 platform to discuss about the inclusion or not of Parental Alienation, highlighting the scientific studies and judgments of international higher courts that have unmasked the pas/pa recognizing it as ascientifica.

In January 2019 we were audited before the Justice Commission 2 of the Italian Senate, during which we filed a 240-page report.

A few days ago we started a web TV program where we explain that Parental Alienation is ascientific and that it has never really been accepted by the international academic community, neither in the DSM nor in ICD 11, despite the contrary statements of the supporters of Parental Alienation. We indicate american, canadian, british, australian, etc. scientific studies, we help mothers to understand that they are suffering Institutional Violence (also called Legal Harassment or DV by Proxy), that is, that they are victims of real violence and that they have not gone mad. We suggest trial strategies and help them find scientific studies that they can use in their defensive memories to demonstrate the groundlessness of “pseudo-theory” and “junk science” PAS/PA.

Every day I listen to mothers who call me from all over Italy: Italian and foreign mothers who ask for help. Hundreds are the cases that I have collected: stories of children already victims of violence, taken away from protective mothers and entrusted to violent, abusing, even convicted fathers.

We are studying, with hundreds of university Professors and world experts, how to help the Courts to regain the right way to proceed, eradicating the pollution caused by the pseudo-theories supported by the defenders of abusing fathers. These hundreds of Professors, Academicians and Experts from all over the world provide us with their studies and we ask them what we need to win this momentous battle against women and children. Studies by Joan Meier, Linda Neilson, Simone Lapierre, Julie Doughty, Nancy Erickson, Jean Mercer, Bob Geffner and many others. Studies that we provide and point out to mothers, lawyers and psychologists.

We are helping mothers, journalists, politicians, psychologists and lawyers to bring out these stories of “evil justice”.   We met the Italian Press Agency DIRE in February 2019 and since June 2019 this press agency has started to systematically tell these cases of malice affecting mothers and children and to publish their stories every day.

In September 2019 the mothers we are helping finally constituted the first Mothers’ Committees and Movements. Then followed other movements and associations of mothers victimised in Italian courts through the use of pseudo-theory Parental Alienation and the law on “bigenitoriality”, which requires the custody and contact of violent fathers with children victims of their abuse.

Finally, some women Congresswomen are beginning to understand that the system of foster care courts and criminal courts has been seriously polluted, causing distorted and unfair sentences and archiving of allegations. The Honorable Member of Parliament Veronica Giannone, with whom we work assiduously, in a year has presented 30 parliamentary questions on cases of children taken away from mothers and entrusted to fathers of which the children told serious violence.

After the Grevio Commission in January 2020 noted the numerous and serious violations of the Istanbul Convention by Italian Courts, against women and children victims of domestic violence, the Feminicide Commission composed of Senators and Parliamentarians has acquired 571 court cases to study the discrimination implemented in italian courts.

In Italy we are finally beginning to question and denounce the distortion taking place in the courts, but in the meantime children continue to be taken away from protective mothers and exposed to new dangers, while a group of psychologists and forensic psychiatrists, lawyers and even judges supporting Parental Alienation, and even before the PAS, has published a Memorandum that, with great irrationality and inability to scientific reflection, accuse Maison Antigone and Mothers’ Committees and Movements to make misinformation and indirectly even terrorism. An absurd and incredible accusation, seriously defamatory, because everything we write and do is supported by serious international scientific and academic studies and evidence.

Since last year, with Natalie Page’s authorization, I have opened and managed the social profile of The Court Said Italy, continuing the battle for Justice that unites us.

We are creating a strong network of mothers and scientists, professionals and experts from all over the world to stop the Institutional Violence taking place in all Western countries.

Why is this important?

Because we are facing an epochal crisis that could compromise future welfare and social peace, instilling in the new generation a cult of male violence against women and children.
The supporters of PAS/PA at a conference in April 2020 in Dublin declared that, according to their estimates, there are 50 million European children and young people victims of parental alienation. Children who, according to the PAS/PA protocol, will have to be taken away from protective mothers -women who rebel against violence and denounce paternal abuse – and will be entrusted exclusively to denounced and even condemned for mistreatment and/or abuse. 50 million future European citizens at risk of serious physical and psychological trauma.

Announcement: The Government’s Decision on Recourse

As you may already know we have been campaigning for those affected by the harm in the family court to have a separately available recourse mechanism to put right the harm they have suffered.

This week I met with Minister Alex Chalk, the Under-Secretary of State, and asked for the government’s position on a separate provision for survivors to access justice. Alex explained to me that unfortunately this is an issue that would threaten the independence of the judicial system and could have unconstitutional ramifications not just here in the UK, but throughout the Commonwealth. It has been confirmed that the government’s position on this is a definite ‘no’.

Alex Chalk, Under-Secretary of State

Whilst I understand the deeply important constitutional arguments against offering a separate mechanism for recourse, I do feel that judicial independence is currently an issue. A Judiciary that does not act with integrity and impartiality, in my view, are not independent and deserve no such protections. However, to intrude on the independence of the judiciary is an un-democratic act.

Currently, the situation in the Family Court for survivors is shambolic. Hearing heart-breaking stories is our every-day, the same as those heart-breaking stories are your every-day, if you are living it.

Alex Chalk has also been listening to these experiences. He was very enthusiastically describing the changes and the reforms that are coming up. Regrettably, we may not have been given an uncomplicated way out right now. But that is not to say there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel. There is a lot of good news on the horizon, but that doesn’t affect the here and now. Let’s not forget those who have been on the sharpest end of a system capable of destroying their families lives. Let’s not forget how we got to the point of public outcry. Let’s not forget this is still going on, with the Family Court operating on a ‘business as usual’ basis.

The good news on the horizon is that the recommendations from the harm report (Read the report here – recommendations start on page 173) are beginning to be implemented, pilots are being organised and the motion is very much forward. COVID-19 has added complications to this process, but the reforms are still very much at the forefront of Alex Chalk’s agenda, and something he was clearly extremely passionate about.

I also had the opportunity to join another meeting attended by Peers from the House of Lords. Brave survivors spoke their testimony amid tears and deep breaths, and no one hearing it was untouched by these harrowing accounts.

They are listening. They recognise the necessity of involving us in these conversations. Survivors voices were central to the harm report, but crucially, they must remain central during the process of reform.

Not winning recourse does not mean we will not be treated better in future. One of the most important realisations coming out of these meetings and hearing this disappointing news was that we must do our utmost as a community to ensure that this system is not a hostile place for a survivor entering it for the first time, or for the ones who will now be forced to go back after having been treated unjustly before.

If a separate mechanism for recourse hasn’t been granted, this leaves survivors who have already been harmed, in the difficult situation of knowing they can’t enter the system just yet to reverse the damage. Childhoods are time limited and there is a need for urgency in moving this forward to safer resolutions.

Many survivors will feel like they have been abandoned by government again when they needed their protection the most. If there had been no honesty in the review and harm report, or if there had been no recommendations of bold, sweeping reform, I would agree. But the fact is these reforms are on the table, and the moves to implement are happening. There is cross party acknowledgement and support for the changes that so sorely need to be made.

This means we must now concede on the point of separate recourse and get behind the government’s moves to reform. The government will have opposition in many quarters to the reforms by those who are benefitting from the current status quo. If we fall silent after this setback, we give this opposition the power.

If we unite our voices for what is possible in the upcoming reforms, those reforms are likely to be implemented more quickly, with greater effectiveness and increased public accountability.

We must make the decision in times of trouble to focus on the things we can do, can change, and can help with, rather than the things we cannot.

This is by no means the end of the road.

Already, #thecourtsaid is reducing the more brutal outcomes in the family court through the ground-breaking, 5* rated programme of help we provide (learn more here). Survivors deserve to know more than just the law, because the law is just a fraction of this journey. We now move to develop our amazing national and international networks, working on exciting projects and initiatives; all with one over-arching aim:

Safer futures for survivor families, everywhere.

Family Courts: What will it take to end the abuse?

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?”

Northern Ireland Challenged to Defeat Domestic Abuse Injustice

#thecourtsaid is the campaign for survivor family justice.  It provides a network of support and advice for women that have suffered domestic abuse and are going through the secretive, patriarchal family court system. 

It has become increasingly apparent that this vital network is needed for victims of domestic abuse here in Northern Ireland.  #thecourtsaid is dedicated to challenging the way domestic abuse, and it’s victims, are viewed by the family court.  

It has become increasingly apparent that women and children are under threat from the nefarious fathers’ rights movement (FRM).  These groups are hoodwinking our politicians, judiciary and the general public, with their parental alienation narrative. Parental Alienation allegations are the weapon of choice for domestic abusers in the Family Court, and women in particular are at risk.

At present, no one is challenging them, here, in Northern Ireland.  The document Nineteen child Homicides published by Bristol Women’s Aid in 2016 and a previous document, Twenty-six Child Homicides published by Women’s Aid in 2004, emphasizes the dangers and the arrogance of the family court’s drive for contact at all costs. It is understood that within Northern Ireland, the family court, social services and other agencies are not working together and too often evidence is ignored by judges. 

It is a common misconception that once a woman has fled the perpetrator of violence, that she is free and her world will be that of sunshine and lollipops, this could not be further from the truth for those victims with children.  For thousands of women, leaving the perpetrator is the most dangerous time, the risk of murder is at its highest. Our justice system should punish such heinous crime, but women and their children are being failed by a system that is steeped in misogyny. Abusers will never be satisfied until they see their victim crushed, or worse.  When they do not have their victim to control and the victim finds her voice, the abuser will use the children to punish the victim for leaving. 

Most women view their children as more cherished than their own selves; abusers are aware of this and will use that to their advantage within the family court.  The Family Court does not protect these mothers; indeed, it provides a platform for the abuser to further his abuse, through the very system, that is supposed to protect them. 

When women leave their abuser, they will seek help. Here in Northern Ireland women will be directed to Women’s Aid. Women’s Aid can allocate a support worker to assist these women through the initial phase of leaving their abuser. Women’s aid provides invaluable support and listen to women and their stories and carry them through the uncertain and frightening time post separation. Most relationships that breakdown do not end up in family court. When abuse isn’t a factor, partners can talk and agree on a way forward with child arrangements. This is not a viable option when there has been abuse in a relationship. Despite this, the family court will usually request inappropriate mediation in these circumstances. 

Nobody expects to be disbelieved, especially after years of abuse. The abused are already speaking from a place of inequality and they are then made to feel that they are liars. This is exactly what happens to victims in the family court. Not only are they disbelieved, they are blamed for the very abuse that they suffered. This is unacceptable and one of the many factors that #thecourtsaidNI campaign is hoping to change. 

Solicitors will sometimes advise victims not to disclose their abuse, as it is well documented that the FRM have encouraged fathers to allege parental alienation, for which there are a plethora of ‘experts’ to stand in court to attest to this phenomena, yet there are no experts called upon from the domestic abuse sector. In fact, a terrified and traumatised woman is often left alone in court, with no support, facing her abuser in the same waiting room. 

The fear of just being so close to the abuser can cause panic attacks. I saw a woman collapse in the waiting room, from sheer terror! Moreover, women will have decades of complicated, frightening abuse minimised to a paragraph by a solicitor that has had meagre training in domestic abuse and trauma. This indicates that more training is required by the multiple agencies that involve themselves in these cases. Refuge state that women cite the fear of losing their children as a reason for not reporting abuse to the police and are often afraid of counter allegations being made by the perpetrator.

Another major problem that is faced by the abused family is the lack of time and substance of assessment awarded to the child’s wishes and feelings. The Children Act 1989 and The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) both indicate that a child’s wishes, and feelings are paramount when the court proceedings involve them. However, most Child Court Officers (CCOs) will conduct a 15-minute (30minutes if you’re lucky) assessment of the child. How can anyone achieve a proper assessment of a traumatised child in this short space of time? The younger the child, the worse this situation is and again, the victim will be blamed for causing the child to be afraid of the abusive father.  Promoting the pro contact culture and ignoring the child has been cited by so many women and it is an issue #thecourtsaidNI is determined to address. 

Do you resonate with this? Have you or your children been affected by abuse? Are you currently going through the family court in Northern Ireland and feel hopeless? Join our campaign, together we are stronger! 

Julie Marinescu

#thecourtsaidNI Leader

Contact #thecourtsaid in Northern Ireland:

Mariella Frostrup: victim-blaming does a disservice to survivors

I was deeply saddened, if not horrified, to read the unsound advice given by esteemed journalist, Mariella Frostrup, to a victim of coercive control in the Observer (6 September 2020).

The victim had written to the publication about her desperate circumstances. She had split with her husband when their son was just three. Despite years of trying to co-parent amicably, her ex continued to exert his dominance through their informal child arrangements.

This included threatening to kill himself because she had met a new partner (suicide threats being a hallmark of a high-risk domestic abuser). Like all abusers, the father clearly felt that once the mother was ‘his’, she was always ‘his’ – even if he did not want to invest in any stable family relationship.  

He kept her in a classic ‘rubber-banding’ situation – where he would lure her in, give her false hope of family life, and then cruelly push her away. This process is known to ‘trauma-bond’ victims to their abuser, making it harder for them to break free. Clearly, he had no concern for her feelings or the impact on their child. This pattern will be familiar to anyone who has experienced ‘narcissistic’ abuse from a partner or ex-partner and forms part of the well-known cycle of violence.

Rape and coercion

This intolerable situation grew worse when the ex-husband started using the co-parenting arrangements to rape his victim. If she ever refused to sleep with him, he would threaten to take her son away. Sadly, the mother’s fears of losing her son to the abuser were more than justified.

The combined impact of the vociferous Father’s Rights movement, and the 2014 introduction of a legal presumption that contact with both parents will further a child’s best interest, has meant that family courts increasingly award abusive fathers with unsupervised contact – sometimes full ‘custody’.

The chances of the father gaining custody rise if the mother alleges that she or her child are the victim of his abuse. Typically, the father will often claim he is the victim of ‘parental alienation’ which dramatically increases his chances of ‘winning’ in court.

That family courts systemically overlook and minimize abuse, re-victimize survivors, and reward perpetrators has been confirmed by the Ministry of Justice’s report on ‘Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases’ (June 2020). This mother’s fear of losing her child to a perpetrator was founded.

Thousands of women are being abused and coercively controlled by their current or former partner, using the threat of family court/child removal as leverage. Not only are the father’s actions likely to constitute an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is also a crime under s.76 Serious Crime Act 2015 (the law covering the crime of coercive control in England and Wales).

Victim blaming and minimization

Given that this woman was the victim of serious crime, it is truly disheartening to read the advice doled out to her by Frostrup. In short, the woman is chastised for being a doormat who has failed to be the mistress of her own fortune:

“It sounds simplistic, but where many of us go wrong is in refusing to take agency of our own lives – instead allowing others to make subservient our personal desires. It’s very hard, stuck in one form of reality, to conceive and create another, but it’s important that you dream up a vision for the future that’s realistic and achievable.”

Coercive control is never simplistic. It’s never a question of simply lacking agency. Coercive control is about consequences. What keeps a woman in a horrifically abusive situation is the threat that things will be a lot worse if she leaves. The threat of homicide, the threat of violence, the threat that loved ones and family pets will be harmed, the threat of not being able to protect your own child because family court will give the aggressor excessive unsupervised contact.

Real fears that should never be underestimated.

Despite this, Mariella advises:

“And I can reassure you that no court is going to significantly alter custody arrangements just because you put your foot down about your ex-husband’s overnight stays. Any fears over the custody of your son can be addressed through family mediation (try the Family Mediation Council or National Family Mediation).”

And later:

“Up until now he seems very much to have had his cake and eaten it with little opposition from you. He can’t take your boy away – that is an empty threat – and, very shortly, your son will be able to make his own choice.”

Abusers do not ‘mediate’

While it is true that the reader’s child is mid-teens, increasingly, family courts will make Child Arrangements Orders until a child is 16. In any event, the notion that a court will not award an abuser with more contact is palpably wrong. Undermining the mother’s genuine fears (fears that led to her being raped) helps no one.

To add insult to injury, Mariella then advises the woman to attend mediation with her abuser. Mediation is completely unsuitable. In fact, domestic abuse survivors are exempt from the mandatory Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) that parties to child ‘custody’ disputes must normally attend before court. It takes little imagination to see the potential for the abuser to overpower and intimidate his victim during mediation.

We need people like Mariella, who are in privileged positions, to take the side of victims and their children (also victims). We need them to put the blame squarely on the perpetrator – which is the only place it should ever fall.

We ask Mariella to please consider revising her advice and giving a response that will sit better with victims, while reflecting the current state of affairs in family court.

Victoria’s Appeal

Guest Blog by Victoria Hudson

I Just wanted to say an enormous Thank You to everyone who co-signed our letter to Robert Buckland QC MP asking for redress of unsafe decisions made in light of the Family Court Review. 

Some of you will know me from my campaign #GetMHome and some will have followed my journey so far to try to gain justice. 

For those who haven’t yet come across my campaign, I’ll give you the background. 

I found myself in the Family Courts in 2017, after a horrendous 2 years of fighting a losing battle where admitted abuse by the perpetrator was ignored, minimised and then blamed on me, my daughter was removed from my care and given to the perpetrator for reasons we have seen time and time again in the Family Courts. The horrific removal video was placed online by a witness and through this I gained the support of many prominent domestic abuse campaigners, commissioners, celebrities, charities and MPs. 

I told my story publicly in March 2019 and in April 2019 the Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts Bill 2017-19 was put into Parliament by Louise Haigh MP for an independent inquiry into Family Courts and highlight what domestic abuse victims and their children go through in the secret family court system. The Ministry of Justice agreed that a review into the Family courts was needed. 

I continued campaigning and risked my liberty speaking out, I was threatened with prison, injunctions were placed on me, but I still kept speaking out as nothing was changing. 

In June 2020 the Family Court Review came out, we were all vindicated! Everything we said was happening in the draconian system was published in the report. 

So, my daughter can come home, right? 

My case was raised in Parliament, printed in the media several times, Baroness’ (who sit in the House of Lords) support. I was asked to take part in the Ministry of Justice Focus Group with Womens Aid, as part of the Ministry Of Justice review. Everything I explained that happened in my case was evidenced in the review by many others, a major overhaul of the Family Courts was instructed! 

So, my daughter can come home now, right? 

No, nothing had been put in place for all the cases they got wrong. All the children who have gone before this review and all the cases currently still going through Family Court are still receiving the same barbaric, cruel treatment. 

Children are still being forced to attend unsafe contact and those children who raised abuse while visiting those parents (who were then removed from the safe parent to the abuser) are still there. 

So those children may still have 10/15 years of abuse, the safe parent mentally tortured watching them go through it 

There is no redress on any of these cases? 

In response to this I set up my new campaign Justice For Family Court Children #JusticeForFCchildren asking for 2 things; 

1. Unsafe contact orders to be made safe. 

2. Any children removed from the safe parent to the perpetrator to be brought home to the safe parent 

#thecourtsaid wants the same thing, recourse on these cases, so we decided to join forces.

Natalie Page and I drafted the open letter together for Robert Buckland QC MP.

The letter was published on 21/8/2020 and can be found here

Now, this is where we ask for your help.

We ask for every single parent and child (who is old enough) to write to your MP, ask them to lobby the Justice Minister Robert Buckland and put something in place for justice for our children, for us It may take a little time out of your life, but it may stop thousands of victims of abuse being put through more state sanctioned abuse through the Family Courts 

You may not even have been affected directly, but if it is a friend, a relative, a co-worker, please also write…..we need an army……we need you! 

Victoria Hudson

If anyone would like to follow my campaign I can be found at www.facebook.com/getmhome and Twitter: @victoria_hudson 

Victoria Hudson

Our Written Submission to the Government in Support of a Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

Public Petitions Committee / Justice Committee

The Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh

EH99 1SP

Date 7th September 2020

Written submission by The Court Said (Scotland)

Petition PE01458 Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary

Dear committee members

We are a group of domestic abuse survivors who have spent many years in the family court system. We hope you will consider our views from our lived experiences, from the frontline. We believe there must be a register of judge’s interests; our reasons are as follows.

If a judge is a member of an association, such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), then this could be detrimental to victims of domestic abuse and their children. If an interest could negatively impact users of the system, then that interest should be public knowledge.

The AFCC is a long-standing American association which is branching out into Europe and further afield. Its members are family court professionals including judges, lawyers, service providers to the family court industry, and court expert witnesses such as mental health professionals.

The AFCC are generally proponents of;

  • Parental Alienation                                          
  • Mandatory Mediation
  • Shared Parenting

As raised in debates on the recent Children (Scotland) Bill, these concepts can harm victims of domestic abuse (should they be in legislation). These matters were rejected by parliament when considering the bill, bringing more protection to the vulnerable; however, in our experience, the concept of parental alienation is still brought into the courtroom, even when not in legislation.

You may say that the judicial oath, the statement of principles and ethics and the system for complaints against the judiciary are sufficient to prevent judicial bias. We have good reason to believe this is not always the case.

When ‘parental alienation’ is counterclaimed to ‘domestic abuse’ in the courtroom, then in some cases the focus moves away from the evidence of abuse, and the spotlight shines on the apparent ‘alienating behaviour’. It is common knowledge amongst domestic abuse victims that complaining of any sort during the process can be considered as evidence against the victim and for the abusive parent. 

When victims of domestic abuse feel that certain professionals within the system have mistreated them or their children, they are often scared, worried and anxious. Judges hold immense power; the power to remove their children to care, transfer the residency of their children to the other parent, and the power to hold them in contempt; the power to send them to jail. When a domestic abuse victim is in court proceedings, they are in a constant state of fear; fear of their ex and fear of the power the judge holds. They would never dream of complaining to the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Services about the judge on their case whilst their case is ongoing, or about any other professionals in the system. Lawyers and others who support victims of abuse do not encourage victims to complain, and victims often have no idea that there is a route to complain until long after they have left the system (after the time to complain has lapsed).

There is an air of secrecy around the family courts. The factors contributing to the secrecy are;

  • The lack of a register of interests for family court system professionals including judges
  • The restrictions placed on journalists
  • The inability for parents to speak freely about their case when they feel misconduct has taken place

Therefore, any move the government can make to address the matters of secrecy, fear of complaint, and judicial bias would be helpful to domestic abuse victims and their children. A move towards transparency and openness would undoubtedly help restore the user’s confidence in the administration of justice by the family courts. Therefore, we fully support the register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The Court Said (Scotland)

The Campaign for survivor family justice

The Resolution of Injustice

By Rachel Watson

03/09/2020

Injustice is a strong word, particularly when you claim to be on the receiving end of it following court proceedings. Shout the word injustice in the wrong tone, at the wrong pitch on social media, and you run the risk of being considered disgruntled, hostile or vengeful.

When your family court experience starts to cause immense pain; when it tortures you and your child emotionally, you seek answers. You must understand why your experience has been so cruel. In the 21st century, we head to the internet for explanations. When you find hundreds of other women, globally, who have experienced the same pattern of harm, shouting not only injustice but ‘collusion’, at first, you are hesitant.

You see the placards at marches.

“Stop stealing our children.” “Stop killing our kids.” “Stop child abuse.”

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Once again, one questions and seeks answers. You can’t entirely dismiss the possibility of collusion, yet you can’t quite believe it to be true. You become an investigative journalist to get to the core reason for your harrowing lived experience of the justice system. You often shudder at what lays beneath the murky waters on your journey of discovery.

When the dots are all joined, and you realise collusion has taken place within the family courts, you are shocked at first, and then angered. You discover that self-serving interest, immorality, and patriarchal beliefs are the reasons children are being removed from safe homes, sent into dangerous ones, being harmed, and sometimes being killed.

Governments in the UK are working hard to radically reform their justice systems to make them a fairer, kinder and safer environment for victims of domestic abuse.

Mothers of the family court crisis were tricked by those who’s ideology and beliefs were extreme, outdated, and biased. Some mothers are still faced with draconian treatment in UK courtrooms today. They are silenced with threats, engulfed in fear and are desperately worried about the fate of their child. Governments have acknowledged the harm; however, governments must consider, and take prompt action for those children stuck in unsafe contact arrangements right now; they desperately need help.

The scoundrels in the system were not prepared for the 21st century, the era of social media. No wonder they consider it to be problematic. They never expected silenced, scared mothers from around the world to break through their fear, band together, share their experiences and raise their voices.

To survivors of the family court crisis, whose human rights have often been breached, the word injustice means betrayal. Studies on institutional betrayal prove that inflicting malpractice and wrongdoing on those who depend on a system has damaging psychological effects. Survivors are brought up to treat others with kindness and fairness, and to apologise and make amends if they cause someone harm; this is our shared belief system.

The tide is changing in the world, and a new consciousness is developing across nations; a kinder nation, one that lacks blame and judgment, promotes wellbeing and deals with the problem of abuse at its core. Collusion, to profit from family’s trauma, does not fit into this new consciousness.

When a government responds appropriately to a crisis; makes amends, deals with misconduct, and prevents harm from happening to others, it does several things. It restores faith in our leaders; it helps to heal those the system harmed, and it restores confidence; confidence for the domestic abuse victims currently embroiled in the system and confidence for those victims following in the wake of the brave warriors, and their children, who survived it.


About

Rachel Watson

Rachel discovered the challenges a victim of domestic abuse faces in the courtroom during her own fourteen-year court case in Scotland. She has helped victims of domestic abuse following in her wake, ever since. When Rachel discovered that harmful misconduct was happening within the system, she felt a need to raise her voice and bring attention to the matter. She could not sit by and watch the system harm more children.

She heads #thecourtsaid (Scotland) campaign and hopes to help bring about robust legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse in the family justice system in the future. Rachel is the author of ‘How To Annihilate A Narcissist In The Family Court’, a survival guide, written to help victims safely navigate their family court journey in the meantime.

Rachel Watson
Author & Activist
Visit #thecourtsaid Scotland

Injustice has Side Effects

Suzanne (not her real name) left her husband due to Domestic Abuse. She engaged with services who helped her move with the children to a place of safety. The children settled well at school and things were starting to look up. The Family Court papers arrived, but she managed to get some legal aid and a high street solicitor to help. ‘We are safe, that’s the main thing’ Suzanne told herself, because she initially trusted the judges to listen. She had evidence, there had been a MARAC, Police records, Social Services reports. She thought she would be believed, and the children protected.

Despite her faith in justice, she was finding Family Court traumatic. Suzanne went to the Doctors and told them what had happened to her, how she had been raped and abused. How she felt she was on trial, not him. She explained the persistent night terrors and panic attacks that had started. How she struggled to switch off and was in a constant state of ‘high alert’. How her memories had become an unwelcome intrusion. The Doctor prescribed beta blockers for the emerging PTSD symptoms, and the referral for counselling was marked urgent.

Suzanne tried to get on with her life. She read on social media it was ‘okay not to be okay’, and that there was no shame in seeking help. She was told she did the right thing because she left and that what was wrong with her was PTSD, and not her fault. She tried hard to look after herself and her children. She went for regular meet ups with a couple of the mums from the children’s new school but had not confided about her situation. She wanted a fresh start, she just wanted to feel better.

During one of these outings her counsellor rang for the first time and asked to schedule an appointment. She was asked a few things about how she was feeling and whether she was currently in crisis. Feeling awkward in the café, with people who did not know her situation, she said she could not really talk right now, but was fine, thanks for asking. She confirmed the appointment and hung up. The counsellor wrote on the brief notes “Suzanne says she is fine, appointment made for [date]”

Neither of them thought anymore of it.

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Before Suzanne attended the first counselling appointment, her fact-finding hearing was held in Family Court. She was being cross examined by her ex-husband’s barrister on the evidence of Domestic Abuse. The rape allegations were not to be discussed in Family Court as there was still an open criminal investigation. During the cross examination, her ex-husband’s barrister started to laugh loudly. Rounding on Suzanne, she asserted that the abuse allegations were just a malicious lie and began taunting her about why she would not be cross examined on the rape allegation. Was she scared of being caught in a lie?

“What rape victim says they are “fine”? You’re a liar, aren’t you Suzanne” She bellowed, waving a sheet of paper. “You’ve just come here today to tell a pack of lies!”

Suzanne realised the paper the barrister was reading from was her rape counselling notes, which held one throwaway comment, given on that phone call in the middle of the café. The damage was done, before she had even turned up to the appointment. She did not know how the barrister got hold of it.

Distressed and horrified, she was unable to defend the allegations because she feared jeopardising the open criminal investigation. She would be ordered to co-parent weekly with her (alleged) rapist, without it ever being heard, with no safety measures in place. The judge wrote that although the allegations had not been examined due to the police investigation, he thought it was fabricated. The criminal case consequently collapsed.

All around us are those that (quite rightly) chant the mantra of “reach out” if you are in difficulty, whilst they have no idea that for many, this is simply not possible. Suzanne is now mistrustful of reaching out to anyone, knowing that whatever she says is likely to be raked over by the court, and her abuser. She continued to suffer without treatment, because her case also continued.

After a final hearing in Family Court with an abuser, the next round is often not far away. In many cases, a final hearing is merely a temporary cease-fire before you are onto the next case. For victims, this means recovery is nigh on impossible, with continued, repeated exposure to the trauma.

Children are being denied NHS treatment relating to trauma that others can freely access. A doctor spoke of a 14-year-old boy he was treating for self-harm & anxiety, who had disclosed suffering violence at the hands of his father to his School & the Police. He had been ordered to live with his father against his will by the Family Court, despite these reports. The boy’s protests, anxiety and self-harming had been blamed on the mother. Subsequently the father emails a Court order to the Doctor, saying that the child can no longer be treated by him, the CAMHS referral, halted. The mother later spoke with the Doctor, in tears of despair. Asking how anyone can protect her son if even his GP is not allowed to assist in treating him. The Doctor’s hands are tied. The mother’s ‘crimes’ were reporting Domestic Abuse and taking a self-harming 14 year old to the Doctor. The child is now living with a perpetrator, cut off from avenues of help. This is not an isolated case.

A group of Health Visitors were also horrified to learn that a mother they had been supporting with establishing breastfeeding, had been ordered to stop, because breastfeeding was considered “an act of alienation” towards the father. She later de-registered from the Health Visitor service.

Survivor Families are being ordered by the Family Court not to access tailored Domestic Abuse support; in case they come to believe that the abuse happened (FYI – they already know it happened, they lived it). You cannot seek help as a victim, unless the Family Court say you are a victim. With the culture of disbelief in the system about the fact that Domestic Abuse even occurs, this stance means that many, many families face the prospect of never getting the help they need to move on from Domestic Abuse if they are also in Family Court.

The Family Court also make the climate utterly treacherous to anyone suffering the very real and present effects of living with ongoing Domestic Abuse, and the associated injury of PTSD. “If mother keeps going on about abuse, we may as well take the child now” is commonly said. One survey relating to barriers for mothers seeking mental health support, reported that 30% of women withheld negative feelings from Health Care Professionals often due to fear of their baby being taken away1. Whilst these fears can often be unfounded, in the Family Court these fears are representative of a very real and pressing danger. Those who have come to understand the system for what it is, are rarely able to seek treatment for the health issues that often develop, as a direct result of compounded, repeated trauma.

When Perpetrators are emboldened by the Family Court, they often try to make good on the threat to remove the children from the victim (usually the mother). Parental Alienation is likely to be alleged, fitness to parent questioned. The privately paid experts’ form an orderly queue ready to write reports confirming either the mother’s vulnerability or hostility, depending on the narrative (and budget) of the case. This often means that those who have come to understand the system for what it is, are rarely able to reach out when they are not okay.

During the COVID-19 Lockdown, we saw the horrors of Domestic Abuse revealed all around us. We also dutifully clapped for the NHS. The NHS professionals who have caught an unfortunate glimpse of the Family Court will know that when a mother with PTSD says she is in Family Court for Domestic Abuse, they will be less able to help her or her children. Tragically, five women a week lose their lives in the UK because of Domestic Abuse, three of which will take their own lives.

It should not be the Family Court who decides that out of those who have survived Domestic Abuse, who then gets to access treatment to recover from it.