“What about my right not to be abused?”

Domestic abuse, human rights and the family courts

This report, created in partnership with Queen Mary University of London, looks at domestic abuse and child contact proceedings in the family courts through the lens of human rights. It is based on the testimonies of 72 women survivors living in England. It uncovers a glaring gender gap in the way human rights are used and understood in the family courts. It also highlights a clear lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse, and new evidence of gender discrimination within the institutional culture of the courts.

Key findings

Domestic abuse: awareness, understanding and evidence

Echoing many previous studies, this research found that evidence of domestic abuse was often not taken seriously by the courts and other professionals involved in the child contact process.

Gender discrimination: attitudes, stereotypes, myths and behaviours

The testimonies of women in our sample highlighted gender discrimination within the culture and processes of the family courts. Testimonies also showed a culture of disbelief, including negative stereotypes about survivors of domestic abuse.

Discourses of parental alienation

The research revealed disturbing examples where domestic abuse and child abuse were obscured by allegations of parental alienation against the non-abusive parent.

Safeguarding: child abuse and unsafe child contact

The study highlights clear safeguarding gaps around child contact, both for children and non-abusive parents.

Impact and outcomes

The report documents the long-lasting impacts of going through the family court process for survivors and their children. Physical and mental health, finances, family relationships and safety and security were negatively impacted upon.

Human rights implications

The research highlighted a range of potential human rights protection gaps and inconsistencies, negatively impacting on survivors and their children. It also illustrated examples of gaps in knowledge on human rights among family court professionals.

Recommendations

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
• An independent inquiry into the handling of domestic abuse by the family courts.
• Improved education and awareness raising on domestic abuse, human rights, theories of ‘parental alienation’ and equality for all professionals involved in child contact cases.
• Ban cross-examination in family courts of survivors by their abusive former partners.
• Guarantee special measures for survivors of domestic abuse in the family courts.
• Better, empowering support for survivors of domestic abuse.
• Take a safer approach to unsupervised contact.

© 2015 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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