Press release: Domestic Abuse Bill – Lords reject ‘parental alienation’ and discuss ‘presumption of contact’

Support Not Separation and Women Against Rape, 10 March 2021

Victory against ‘parental alienation’
In a victory for women and children survivors of domestic abuse, the House of Lords has refused to amend the definition of domestic abuse to include “parental alienation”. This would have opened the way for violent fathers to allege ‘parental alienation’ in order to force children to have contact with them, and to claim that mothers who report domestic violence, especially sexual violence against the children, are actually domestic abusers!

There was widespread opposition to this amendment particularly from Baroness Bennett and Baroness Helic (speeches here). At the end of the discussion Baroness Williams for the government confirmed that opposition, including from women’s groups, the Domestic Violence Commissioner and the London Victims Commissioner, stoof in the way of any change that would weaken or even subvert the definition of domestic abuse:

Adding parental alienation to the Bill could allow it to be weaponised by perpetrators of domestic abuse . . .Perpetrators who are not seeing their children because their former partners are trying to keep those children safe could, for example, allege in turn that they are victims of domestic abuse themselves in the form of parental alienation . . .we cannot allow survivors of domestic abuse to be reframed as perpetrators in this way.
. . . including parental alienation on the face of the Bill—in whatever terms it is described—risks silencing survivors of domestic abuse and, worse, risks further harm to survivors and their children.

This is a victory to all those of us who have been exposing how ’parental alienation‘ has become the default argument of abusers against any mother or child who raises safety concerns.

We must now lobby to stop any attempt to include reference to ’parental alienation‘ in the ’Statutory Guidance’ which goes along with the Bill as this would reintroduce it through the back door. The government has agreed to further discussion on this.

Today Lords discuss ‘presumption of contact’

We are urging Lords to SUPPORT amendment 42 by Baroness Jenny Jones. This would change the presumption of contact and prohibit unsupervised contact when there has been domestic abuse. The presumption of contact pervades Children’s Services, CAFCASS and the whole family court process and is used by abusive fathers to insist on unsupervised access and even residence of their children, with deeply harmful and even lethal consequences.

The Sunday Mirror recently reported the shocking circumstances of 69 children killed between 2004-2020: 78% were killed by fathers; there was a history of violence in every case (mostly domestic violence but also sexual abuse, child abuse or other violence) which was known to the authorities (police, children’s services, family courts) and yet the perpetrators were allowed unsupervised contact or even residence of the children. In 16% of cases a family court order gave contact to the father; in 84% of cases contact was sanctioned by the local authority. This is the violence the Domestic Abuse Bill should be preventing.

The Domestic Abuse Bill must also abolish the racist No Recourse to Public Funds (which forces immigrant women to stay in violent relationships or face destitution).

And the Bill must not be gender neutral: it must recognise that 84% of victims of domestic abuse are women, and 93% of perpetrators are men. A gender-neutral law threatens what little access to justice and protection exists. Rise, a refuge in Brighton, lost its £5m funding because its services were aimed primarily at women! Their services were handed over to Victim Support and a housing association.

It is also urgent that the Bill put a duty on the government and local authorities to make resources available (principally money and housing) for women to escape domestic abuse WITH their children, including by prioritising implementation of Section 17 of the Children Act. No mother should be forced to choose between staying with an abuser or having her children taken into care. No child should be subjected to the life-long trauma of separation from a mother who is usually their first protector and put in the hands of violent fathers or an uncaring “corporate parent”.

See our full briefing to the Lords at Report Stage here

Since 1976 Women Against Rape (WAR) has provided advocacy and information in individual cases and campaigns for justice, asylum, protection and compensation. It has won changes in the law such as getting rape in marriage recognised as a crime. WAR is active in the Support Not Separation Coalition (co-ordinated by Legal Action for Women), which includes organisations of single mothers, women of colour, women with disabilities, rape survivors, breastfeeding advocates, psychotherapists, men and social workers. We defend mothers and children against unwarranted separation and the devaluing of the mother-child relationship. We are in contact with hundreds of mothers and other primary carers, and children, family law professionals, organisations and concerned individuals.