Why Governments Are Rejecting The Label ‘Parental Alienation’

Post-separation, a coercively controlling abuser will do all they can to maintain power and control over the domestic abuse victim. They will conduct judicial terrorism and use the family courts to continue to cause pain. The abuser sees the court as a means to hurt their victim in several ways – through the contact arrangements and financially. If the abuser is successful in gaining custody, they take great pleasure in leaving their victim destitute, childless and with their reputation in tatters. It is the ultimate victory for the cruel parent who lacks empathy.

During contact or custody, the coercively controlling perpetrator will try to sabotage the relationship between the safe parent and the child. They will;

  • Monitor & record their phone/skype calls
  • Not give the child emotional permission to feel comfortable in the care of their ex
  • Prevent the child from talking to the safe parent during their parenting time, and withhold contact (isolate them)
  • Badmouth the safe parent
  • Manipulate and bribe the child to keep them ‘on side’
  • Encourage the child not to open up to people they trust such as grandparents or medical professionals
  • Coach the child to get them to align with their way of thinking
  • Abduct the child

The child is rendered into a state of confusion and fear by a coercively controlling parent and becomes anxious; a controlling parent doesn’t accept their child’s feelings or prioritise their needs. Only a credible expert in behaviour, particularly coercive control, can analyse the situation and determine if the behavioural patterns of a parent are having a negative mental impact on the child and can be defined as emotional and psychological abuse.

Many of you know and recognise the behaviour I have described above as ‘parental alienation’. I forgive you for being confused when I then say,

“Parental alienation is junk science!”

Richard Gardner, a disreputable court reporter, created the theory of parental alienation syndrome. His theory is junk science. Alienation is not a syndrome, it’s an effect of coercively controlling behaviour, and as such, it was removed by the World Health Organisation from their classification index.

The Scottish Government recognised that coercive control is a form of domestic abuse, and it is a crime under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act. They also recognise that behaviour to alienate a child from a safe, healthy parent is one of the many behaviours of a coercively controlling perpetrator. A parent whose controlling ex is engaging in a pattern of harmful behaviour towards their child has a remedy in law.

There are currently several Domestic Abuse Bills going through parliaments globally, and many campaign and lobby to have parental alienation made a specific form of domestic abuse. Creating a specific form of domestic abuse, one based on Gardner’s misogynistic parental alienation theory, would be regressive. Gardner was a very sick man; a huge red flag, and why his theory is still entertained in the family courts today is perplexing. It would be nothing short of legal victim-blaming.

When the cross-claim of parental alienation is entertained in a domestic abuse (coercive control) case, it diminishes the situation in court from one of domestic abuse to one of mutual conflict. Many parental alienation ‘experts’ hold the outdated views that domestic abuse does not harm children – that an abuser is not at fault for their behaviour; it gets induced by stress or alcohol, for example. An abundance of research tells us that this is not the case; abusers choose to abuse, and coercive control harms children. The expertise of these ‘experts’ has been called into serious question , particularly when it comes to proceedings involving allegations of coercive control.

The Scottish Government’s new coercive control laws are proving to be a success, although the education on coercive control still needs to make its way into the family courts. The Northern Ireland Committee for Justice recently decided to follow Scotland’s lead and not make parental alienation a specific form of domestic abuse. Their views can be read here.

A parent who’s ex partner’s behaviour causes their child to reject them, male or female, is suffering; it is one of the most insidious and unimaginably cruel things a controlling parent does to both their ex and their child. Parents can seek support from credible domestic abuse experts; domestic abuse charities, lawyers and mental health professionals (ones who understand coercive control and the need for a trauma-informed approach.)

The label ‘parental alienation’ is one that causes confusion and masks the real perpetrator. The Scottish Government realises that removing labels and focussing on behaviour is the solution to many problems.

Family Courts Fail To See Warning Signs and Protect Keira

 

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.

Warning Signs

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.

Tragedy

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.

Ireland Must Not Be Fooled By The Parental Alienation Tricksters

Coercive control is the most insidious type of domestic abuse. A coercively controlling perpetrator denies their behaviour and often successfully blames it on their ex. It can be challenging for a judge to know which parent is the abusive parent and which one is the victim.

A coercively controlling parent, in the relationship, uses manipulation, gaslighting, intimidation and aggression to keep their victim in a constant state of confusion and fear. After separation, the child becomes a pawn, as the perpetrator uses the family courts to keep their victim in that same state of fear and under control.

The controlling parent manipulates the child’s thoughts and actions and attempts to get them on-side and turn them against the safe parent. (They try to alienate the child from the safe parent). When the victim of abuse (mostly mothers) claim in court that they are a victim of abusive, coercively controlling behaviour– the controlling parent uses DARVO techniques to deny their abusive behaviour and project it back onto their victim – they say in court;

“Im not the abusive one – they are – they are alienating the child from me. It’s parental alienation!”

Narcissistic abusers can often be charming and convincing. Mothers and children do not have equal rights to fathers in the family courts – patriarchy and misogyny exist; a father’s rights to contact tend to come before mother’s and children’s human rights.

Victims of domestic abuse and their children have suffered terribly in family courts globally as a result. Victims of domestic abuse, including coercive control (psychological manipulation), are often disbelieved, or the abusive behaviour does not get thoroughly investigated. When the abusive parent is successful in cross-claiming parental alienation, a custody transfer to the abusive parent from the apparently alienating parent is more likely; the Victim’s Commissioner in England described it as state-sanctioned abuse as these children often go on to get isolated from their loving, safe parent and get abused.

Academic research by Dr Adrienne Barnett shows that parental alienation, in the context of domestic abuse cases is a powerful weapon to deny and discredit real domestic abuse allegations. The only people that would benefit in Ireland from the criminalisation of parental alienation are coercively controlling perpetrators seeking to deny their abuse in a courtroom. ( Research by several experts worldwide ).

Mothers and fathers who suffer from a coercively controlling ex who pressures their child to reject them, already have a remedy in law in a Domestic Abuse Bill which recognises coercive control / psychological abuse. Those lobbying alongside abusive parents to have Gardner’s misogynistic parental alienation syndrome made a separate form of domestic abuse, will financially gain from parental alienation being it’s own ‘thing’ in law. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) are an American networking association of family court professionals whose members profit from the business they get through the family courts. The association also profits from the training they offer in the industry.

In America, victim-blaming has become big business. Domestic Abuse V Parental Alienation cases get dragged out for years, and protective parents are often left destitute and heartbroken. Children are dying at the hands of dangerous perpetrators at extraordinary rates. Parents are now suing the courts for sending their children into the custody of known abusers, to then get murdered.  

When fathers’ rights groups were climbing rooftops and gaining sympathy from the masses, they claimed to be unfairly treated in the family courts and to have been alienated from their children. Many of the members had criminal convictions for domestic abuse. One had to see through the charm and pseudo-heroism to get to the truth. These fathers’ rights groups helped disingenuous cross-claims of parental alienation gain traction in family courts.

Of course, some mothers are abusive, and some mothers do attempt to turn their child against the father post-separation. Many of these mothers who badmouth the father after separation are not pathological, or coercively controlling. They are unaware of a father’s parental rights and responsibilities, and this often gets sorted out by the time both parents have lawyers. Any psychologically abusive mother, who coercively controls and alienates, would be dealt with under the existing Domestic Abuse Act.

Sadly, female victims of domestic abuse are not being treated fairly under the Domestic Abuse Act, and as a result, their children are suffering from unsafe child contact. The reason is fundamentally the cross-claim of parental alienation used to conceal and deny the real abuse. The Irish government must have their wits about them and not get fooled into making parental alienation a crime for it then to be exploited in the family courts as a disingenuous cross-claim. Scotland foiled the plot. Ireland must do the same.

‘Toxic Conflict’ Didn’t Kill Little Keira

27th October 2020

By Natalie Page


Jennifer had the news that no mother should ever have on 9th February 2020. Little Keira had been found dead at the bottom of a cliff at Rattlesnake Point, in Canada. She was just four years old; dead alongside her father, Robin Brown, who had taken her there on a court ordered contact visit, plunging them both to their deaths. Brown was a known domestic abuser; escalating in the final, fatal way that coercive controllers are known (and predicted) to do. It was a murder-suicide.

Jennifer had become a bereaved mother because she was catastrophically let down by the Family Court. The public needed to know what happened to Keira, and why her death could prevent another mother and child going through the same, inevitable pattern.

In Jennifer’s case, like so many others, she had been pleading with judges to reduce or limit the damage done during unsafe contact by Brown to their daughter Keira. Brown had a well-documented track record for abusive behaviour. Time after time Jennifer presented to the court a worrying pattern of his behaviour towards her, Keira, and other women. The court found her concerns had substance and made noises about acting upon those concerns.

The court finally made a move to reduce Brown’s contact due to the risk of harm it was clear he presented. There was another unsupervised visitation in the schedule. It was on this contact visit that he chose to end his life and Keira’s, changing a family beyond recognition forever.

Recently, Toronto Life magazine published a feature on Jennifer’s case entitled ‘Death at Rattlesnake Point’, which demonstrated the way the media can perpetuate damaging myths about domestic abuse cases in the Family Court.

The sort of reporting that emerges surrounding domestic abuse in general can often fan the flames of ignorance. The frequency of ill-informed reporting is enough to have been the subject of various campaigns, focused purely on the way fatal domestic abuse is reported on in the media, and how spectacularly it can miss the point.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in the U.K, we saw the ridiculous headlines where a perpetrators flimsy defence is reported as fact. Lockdown stress and money worries due to COVID-19 have all been recent defences to domestic abuse homicides published in various newspapers. Level Up Media Watch and David Challen all lead commendable campaigns to continually remind journalists what does and does not cause a domestic abuse murder.

When Jennifer Kagan’s life changed forever, she found herself compelled to speak out. When she took that leap of faith with a journalist from Toronto Life Magazine, she found that the reporting is often deeply traumatic if it is irresponsibly done.

The Toronto Life’s piece on the Kagan case made great pains to give the perpetrator in this case a voice and did not shy away from publishing his flimsy defences as fact, like the cases picked up on by campaigners here in the U.K.

The article perpetuates the myth that it was a senseless middle-class custody battle from moneyed parents with nothing better to do than litigate. “What went wrong with the marriage entirely depends upon who you ask, or which affidavit you read” the journalist writes. She refers to the case as a ‘toxic custody battle’. This could not be further from the truth.

Jennifer was repeatedly going to court because of Brown’s abusive patterns, not because she was a ‘bitter ex-wife’ with the ability to wield a lawyer. She had no other option and needed to protect her child. He counter-alleged alienation – a well known weaponised response that often falls out of the mouths of domestic abusers when confronted with evidence of their actions. It is even less credible, when coming from an abuser such as Robin Brown, who had a long history of bizarre and abusive behaviour which the court knew about.

Problematic Stereotypes

The most problematic myth (aside from a baseless alienation accusation) in a domestic abuse case is the narrative where abuse is confused with ‘conflict’. A one-sided pattern of perpetrating abuse is minimised and explained away as ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’ when the victim no longer takes it lying down. At no point does anyone seem to deviate from the conflict Kool-Aid and ask themselves who the true protagonist in all of this is.

Keira Kagan was found dead at Rattlesnake Point, Canada in February 2020.

The reason this conflict narrative is so damaging is because if the victim of the abuse calls it out or seeks to reduce the harm, they are seen to be ‘contributing’ to the conflict rather than what they are actually doing; which is seeking to reduce the harm inflicted up on their children and themselves.

In the Kagan case it was well known that Brown exhibited patterns of coercive control, the deadliest pattern of domestic abuse. The court records attest to these patterns and document the reality that Jennifer and Keira endured. His patterns included cruelty to animals, humiliating and degrading acts, abduction, pathological lying to the point he led a double life. He conformed to every documented pattern known about coercive control, from the epic but brief courtship, to the Jekyll and Hyde personality. Conversely, Jennifer’s only ‘crime’ was to not be wholly compliant and welcoming of her abusers every action. She sought to try and stop him, she safeguarded Keira where she absolutely should have, as any good mother would. The fact the Toronto Life Magazine echoed this ‘toxic conflict’ narrative is a travesty in this case. The fact the Court made this into a lengthy battle is beyond unjust.

Jennifer is resolute that authorities need to recognise that Keira’s tragic death should be a lesson to the world. Leading the Canadian arm of #thecourtsaid – the global campaign for survivor family justice, Jennifer aims to make a difference. Keira’s story caught the heart of the world, with over 11 million views and counting. The world should not twist this conversation to portray victims as stereotypes that fall so far from the truth.

He had form, and plenty of it. The court knew it and ignored it. He displayed all the red flags that make anyone with any experience of violent offenders poise to spring into protective action when they hear it.

Those protective actions did not happen for little Keira, despite Jennifer’s attempts to ensure it.

In Canada, laws like Bill C-78, and here in England and Wales, PD12J, and the equivalents elsewhere are all intended to ensure cases of domestic abuse are properly judged, with professionals able to correctly risk assess the patterns of abuse. This kind of learning cannot occur in a vacuum. The myths surrounding domestic abuse are pervasive and frankly, getting tired. In the age of information, there is no excuse for ignorance. The media plays a key role for all concerned to try and ensure that we move away from stereotypes that damage our understanding when we should be seeking to enhance it. Misrepresentation, misdiagnosis, marginalisation, or minimisation have no place in this discourse. Domestic abuse does not discriminate. It is the elephant in the room in Jennifer’s case and the cause of the immeasurable grief and unfillable void in her family.

It was not conflict that killed little Keira. It wasn’t conflict that killed all the other children who have been murdered during unsafe contact with a domestic abuser, but you can bet your bottom dollar it’s written all over their case files, the same way it was written in the media about little Keira. It is time we changed the trajectory of this conversation.

Keira was photographed wearing a T-shirt that said “I can change the world” before her life was tragically ended. This little girl will never get the chance to change the world herself, and the reasons why she cannot, should be the catalyst for a world-changing conversation about how we as cultures, nations and institutions fail victims of domestic abuse.

Can 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.

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, lawyers 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; Iceland’s advances towards equality have not had a positive outcome for female and child victims of egregious domestic abuse, and the fault lies firmly with their family courts.

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 everyone 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. 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.