In the UK, a Review into the Family Court was granted in 2019. The panel’s findings were published in June 2020 and the unanimous verdict was damning.
You can read the Ministry of Justice report & the Literature Review written by Dr Adrienne Barnett here.
Both documents identify terrifying negligence with Private Law Domestic Abuse cases in Family Court. The thousands of women interacting with #thecourtsaid campaign report that this level of injustice is replicated all over the world. It is representative of an underbelly of misogyny and ignorance surrounding Domestic Abuse. Dr Adrienne Barnett’s literature review draws upon a large body of independent research into the issue of Survivor Family Justice. It is a unanimous finding, between a Judicial Panel, swathes of independent research and Survivor Family testimony, that Domestic Abuse is neither properly understood, nor properly dealt with in Family Court. Survivors echo this locally, nationally and globally. The results of ignoring Domestic Abuse can be catastrophic, such as the tragic, preventable murder of Keira, during Court ordered contact. #for-little-keira
This negligence permeates throughout the entire system, no matter where you go. There is no ‘postcode lottery’ in the Family Court. This is why these two documents, although originating from the UK, are so important. Around the world, especially during COVID-19, rates of Domestic Abuse and in particular violence towards women and girls sky-rocketed. Many of those Domestic Abuse cases involve children, who are at risk of ending up in the Family Court. They will be likely met with systemic negligence, by the people tasked with protecting them. The abuse for Survivor Families is allowed to continue because it is Court Ordered. This is state-sanctioned Domestic Abuse.
If we are serious about tackling Domestic Abuse, we must be serious enough to tackle the Family Court.
Large Scale Injustice
The scale of the injustice in Family Court for Survivor Families is difficult to measure. Data suggests around half of all cases in the Family Court are Domestic Abuse Cases. In reality, the amount will be much higher. Survivors frequently report that Domestic Abuse was flatly ignored by the Court from the beginning. This means that it’s likely not recorded as a Domestic Abuse case even though it is.
Laws, customs and cultures vary hugely from country to country. However, the similarities of Survivor Family testimony from all over the world is a chilling reminder that this is not just one countries anomaly. This is formulaic, wholesale, global injustice, disproportionately affecting women and children in particular.
What the court does routinely is ignore the very real and present risks associated with having a parent who has harmed. Survivor Families are ordered to adhere to a strict regime of contact with the perpetrator, or face penalties. Those punishments include prison sentences, but more often, a switch of who the children live with – to a known perpetrator of abuse. This is the perverse way a protective parent can lose their children to a perpetrator, when trying to safeguard their children from further harm. Close to 1 in every 3 cases where Parental Alienation is counter-alleged in response to Domestic Abuse, will result in the Mother losing the children. To give an idea of the sheer scale – 98% of Survivor Families interacting with #thecourtsaid campaign have been accused of Parental Alienation in response to their evidence of Domestic Abuse. Many of these families face significant injustice as a direct result of weaponised Parental Alienation allegations.
Attitudes to Abuse
In most parts of the world there are some protective measures already in place to help Survivor Families stay safe after leaving Domestic Abuse. The Family Court have almost total discretion on whether these measures are applied. They are not being applied. Instead, Survivor Families are faced with Judges and Professionals victim blaming, ignorance and misogynistic attitudes towards Domestic Abuse. In child contact cases, the narrative across the board is the same: Contact at any cost.
Don’t take our word for it though. Here’s some of theirs.
“I give contact to peadophiles and murderers. Domestic Abuse isn’t that bad”
“It wasn’t rape. It was just something you didn’t fancy”
“Mother is intelligent, I fear she will manipulate us all”
“Mother must accept it wasn’t rape, it was non-consensual sex! She’s in denial”
“If mother mentions Domestic Abuse, we may as well take the child now.”
“The assault was just the mark of a desperate father”
“But he only had the gun to her head!”
“Don’t worry, if he does kill the child, we will prosecute”
“It doesn’t matter that he raped you. He’s got rights to contact.”
What does a peadophile, murderer, and mass shooter all have in common? A pattern of perpetrating Domestic Abuse. It IS that bad, it IS a risk and it MUST be taken into account when assessing whether that person has contact with a child.
Survivor Families must be treated as a whole unit. The children need a mother who is not traumatised by weekly exposure to her rapist or Domestic Abuser. We need perpetrators of Coercive Control to NOT be given unfettered opportunity to exert that control, in the form of a weekly co-parenting arrangement. We need to ensure that children do not grow up living in an Abusive household, yet the Family Court happily send children to live with known Domestic Abusers with alarming frequency.
Domestic Abuse is not cured by separation; it simply continues through the child arrangements.
Preventable Child Homicides
In Februray 2020, 4 year old Keira went to a Court ordered contact visit with her father. Her mother, Jennifer Kagan, had been in Court with further evidence of Domestic Abuse, trying to stop his unsupervised contact with Keira for safety reasons. The judge had agreed to have the contact restricted, but allowed one last unsupervised visit, despite Jennifer’s pleas.
Little Keira was found at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton, Ontario, Canada. Police found the bodies of Keira, aged 4 and her father, at the bottom of a cliff. It was a murder-suicide.
Family Court is notoriously shrouded in secrecy. Speaking about your case in most countries is a criminal offence. Cases involving child homicide rarely directly emerge as arising from a Family Court decision, until someone whistle-blows. There are many Family Court cases where Domestic Abuse was ignored, and the perpetrator then went on to murder the child. All over the world, child homicides happen because, like in the case of little Keira, the Family Court ignored Domestic Abuse.
This has to stop, full stop.
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