on behalf of Women Against Rape and the Support Not Separation Coalition
Submitted to Public Bill Committee, 8 June 2020
Women Against Rape (WAR) is a multi-racial women’s organisation founded in 1976. It provides support, advocacy and information in individual cases. It campaigns for justice, protection and compensation for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence. It has won changes in the law such as making rape in marriage a crime and set legal precedents such as the first successful private prosecution for rape in England and Wales, after the authorities refused to bring a serial rapist to court. It is active in the Support Not Separation Coalition which defends mothers and children against unwarranted separation. Through this work, we are in contact with hundreds of mothers and children, family law professionals and organisations. We have successfully intervened in a number of cases to stop local authorities and the courts forcing children into contact or even residence with violent fathers.
Women are primary carers in 90% of households. Domestic violence is widespread and often deadly. During the COVID-19 lockdown, domestic murders of women in the UK doubled and calls to the Met police from victims rose by one third. This has exposed the lies of domestic violence deniers. Overwhelmingly, the victims are women and the perpetrators are men, particularly in more serious physical attacks, and coercive and controlling behaviour.
As part of the Support Not Separation Coalition, which defends mothers and children facing the family court, we are particularly concerned that the Bill does not address many of the major problems with the way violent men are using the court to continue their reign of terror and to escape prosecution. Between 70-90% of family court cases involve domestic violence, yet only 1% of fathers are denied access to children—a strong indication of how biased the courts are in favour of men.
The reality we deal with every day is that mothers who report violence are being routinely disbelieved, especially if the allegations are also sexual. They face having their children taken away by the state and even given to the violent/rapist father, further traumatising the children by separating them from the mother they depend on for protection. The horror of this situation cannot be overemphasised.
We urge MPs to put forward a proposed amendment to Part 5 to:
Delete Section 11 (2A) of the Children and Families Act 2014 which presumes that it is always in a child’s best interest to have contact with both parents.
RATIONALE: The presumption of contact is continually used to over-ride any history of rape and/or domestic violence, or lack of care/involvement by fathers. Introduced in 2014 after intensive lobbying by fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence, it has opened the way for allegations of “parental alienation” against mothers who report a history of domestic violence, and especially when they report fathers’ sexual or other violence against children.
For the welfare of children to be paramount, their safety and the safety of the mother, who is usually the primary carer, must be prioritised over fathers’ contact. Fathers who are violent to their children, to mothers, to former or present partners should not have contact with children, especially unsupervised contact. Thousands of children are being harmed physically and psychologically by being coerced to see fathers they are terrified of. It is horrifying that mothers trying to protect their children by reporting the violence and refusing to force their children into contact with their abuser, are accused of alienating them and having them taken away by the state and often given to their abuser. The presumption of “equality” between mothers and fathers is of a piece with pressure to keep this Bill “gender neutral” – a travesty that plays into the hands of organisations of men who deny domestic violence or accuse women of it in order to hide the truth and call the victims liars.
REJECT: all Amendments proposed by Phillip Davies, Bob Stewart and Damian Collins
Davies is closely allied with militant fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence. His amendments have no place in a Bill to protect victims of domestic violence. A member of the 1922 Committee, he has a long misogynistic and racist parliamentary track record. He’s almost always voted against laws to promote equality and human rights for women (attacking feminists as “zealots”), Black people, disabled people, lgbtq, against bans on smoking, against corporation tax increase, against making rented homes fit for habitation, against welfare increases targeting poverty.
His women constituents were so horrified by his record and rudeness to constituents that in 2016 they formed the Shipley Feminist Zealots to campaign against him. Over 1,000 marched against him and President Trump, whom he supports. (He said “I would vote for Trump in a heartbeat”). They say now: “We are appalled by his track record of obstructing legislation which seeks to protect survivors of domestic abuse in the name of ‘men’s rights’. Well over 1,000 of us have worked tirelessly over the past four years to hold him to account, despite being branded by him as “extremists”, “socialists” and “feminist zealots”. We urge the scrutiny committee to ensure that this long awaited Bill is not delayed or derailed by him at the expense of the safety of women and families across the country”.
Reject the following amendments:
Amendments 1 &5: to exclude economic abuse from the definition of domestic abuse. It is a fact that most men earn more than most women, (the income gap is still 18%, up to 26% for BAME women and women with disabilities) and that abusive men often use their financial superiority as part of their abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour, especially against mothers, in ways which are never “reasonable”!
Amendments 8 & 9: which would include “parental alienation” in the definition of domestic abuse. Creating an open-ended definition of parental alienation could lead to mothers being prosecuted as soon as they report violence against themselves or their children.
Children and mothers are frequently disbelieved or dismissed even when incidents of violence have been reported to the police or others in authority. Mothers are accused of making up such allegations in order to “alienate” the child from the father.
“Parental alienation” is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner, a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence and defended paedophilia. The World Health Organisation recently declassified “parental alienation” from its list of “disorders”, and many experts have dismissed it as pseudo-science.
Shockingly the fathers’ lobby, mostly men who deny domestic violence, have succeeded in getting “parental alienation” recognised as de-facto policy by the family courts. They have heavily influenced CAFCASS which champions it, including to recommend children go to live with abusive fathers. It’s a reflection of its sexist bias that there are five men’s groups among CAFCASS’ stakeholders, and only two women’s groups! The Chair of its Board is Edward Timpson MP who as Minister for Children & Families was instrumental in promoting the presumption of contact. (Should an MP really be chair of an independent body??)
Mothers face an impossible catch 22. If we report domestic violence or child abuse, or if we don’t, we can be blamed for harming our children by having (had) a violent partner, even though we are victims, and the children taken from us, put in care or even housed with the violent father.
Also reject amendments 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 27
We also support proposed New Clauses 19, 20, 21, 24
We support the proposals made by Stay Safe East, Step Up Migrant Women and Southall Black Sisters.
Investigation into violent fathers using allegations of “parental alienation” in the family courts