Protection Measures: How to make the family courts safer

Tuesday 1st December 2015

For Day 7 of our 16 Days of Activism blog series, Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, highlights why we need better protection for children and their mothers in the family courts.


When Women’s Aid asked local specialist domestic abuse services what change we should campaign for to help the women and children they support, they overwhelmingly told us that it was the treatment they receive in the family courts.

The stories flooded in. Women threatened and even physically attacked during the court process, even in court itself. Children directly abused and witnessing abuse of their mothers on contact visits; supervised contact used rarely and only for a short time. Women cross-examined by their perpetrator, even when he has convictions for abusing them – something that could never happen in the criminal courts.

Yet often judges think nothing is amiss, particularly if any physical abuse in the relationship happened some time before. There is a perilous lack of understanding of domestic abuse that is not physical. There is a staggering failure to recognise the dangers of coercive control and emotional abuse, and its effects.

And when we asked survivors of domestic abuse themselves, the picture got even worse. An overwhelming 89% said they felt afraid in the family court [1].

That’s why we are planning a major public campaign in January to better protect children and their mothers in the family courts. And that’s why we are starting right now, during the 16 Days of Activism, by calling for simple, practical, low-cost steps which every family court in the country could introduce. There is no excuse not to.

We want protection measures to be available to survivors of domestic abuse and their children in the family courts. Separate exit times and waiting rooms are essential. This is in the gift of judges, and they must do it. Otherwise, women are afraid that they will be followed home by their perpetrator, perhaps to a refuge or other secret location. This could place the child in danger.

Over 70% of survivors who have been through the family court process say protection measures would have made a difference to their children and themselves [2]. How can justice be served if one party is too intimidated to give an accurate account of what has happened?

Local services and family lawyers tell us perpetrators frequently use the family courts as an arena to continue their campaign of coercive control. So, they appear calm and credible, while the victim struggles to control her fear and is forced to relive the abuse in front of a disbelieving and even disdainful audience.

This does not lead to a fair hearing. Women are being denied justice. Even more importantly, children – whose best interests should be at the heart of every single decision in the family courts – are being put in danger.

Here’s how you can help

  • Join our network of Campaign Champions in time for the launch of our major public campaign in January
    Learn more
  • Tweet this blog to your MP and ask them to support protection measures in the family courts.
    You can find out who your MP is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/

Notes

[1] 89% of 92 female survivors of domestic abuse surveyed

[2] 72.5% of 92 female survivors of domestic abuse surveyed


PollyAbout the author

Polly Neate joined Women’s Aid in February 2013. She is a leading authority and prominent commentator and activist on domestic abuse, sexism and feminism, and has significantly increased the influence of Women’s Aid on behalf of survivors of domestic abuse and its federation of local specialist service. Follow her on twitter: @pollyn1

About 16 Days

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, Women’s Aid will release a blog a day on our website, promoted via social media, encouraging people to take action and use their influence to help raise the status of women to a level where violence against them is no longer tolerated. Read more blogs from the series

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