A sure-fire way for perpetrators to get at victims is through children…
By Jess O’Callaghan, Family Court Liaison Worker
It’s a typical morning in my job as a domestic abuse Family Court Liaison Worker, and I’ve received four referrals from incidents attended by police over the past two days.
In all of these, and the referrals that our service has received up to now, the victims have contacted police to ask for help because they’re suffering continued abuse from ex partners around child contact arrangements. Something that they all say is that they are not getting support to help them with family court proceedings. Some of them need help with non-molestation orders, and access to other legal options. All of them need information and advice.
I call these victims back; three are female, one male, to find out what their situation is and how we can help. Although each case is different, they are also all the same. Because in all of these cases, family court is being used by the perpetrator, as a way of controlling their ex-partner.
And what do perpetrators know is a sure-fire way to get at the victim? Threatening the relationship and attachment the victim has with their children. Forcing them back to family court time after time to try and alter child contact orders, making baseless allegations about the victim’s parenting and mental health amongst other things. Some perpetrators have been able to cross examine their ex-partners, the victims, across the table. In some cases, this has gone on for up to an hour. Can you imagine how a victim feels about this when they have previously suffered serious assaults, threats, intimidation and harassment from the perpetrator? And how much more vulnerable they would feel because they have no legal representation, because they can’t afford it, like a lot of our victims?
Unsurprisingly, a lot of victims report suffering anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder during and after family court proceedings. It doesn’t feel like a process of justice to them. It feels as though the perpetrator holds all the cards, and has all the power, and that the justice system is balanced in their favour.
NSPCC statistics show that 1 in 5 children have witnessed domestic abuse between parents, and local and national information shows us that this is not a new phenomenon. But it is something that needs to be changed, because children affected by domestic abuse often become victims or perpetrators of domestic abuse.
In our FCLO roles, we are trying very hard to connect with and help professionals understand and identify the coercive controlling behaviour tactics typically used by perpetrators, and to educate them on the detrimental effects this can have on victims and children.
Most people are now aware of the #metoo campaign. Looking at some of the experiences of the victims we support in the family courts, I have often thought that, to draw attention to what they’re forced to go through, we should perhaps use hashtags of #methree #mefour #mefive #mesix, even #meten. Because that’s how many times some of the Domestic Abuse victims we are working with have been taken through family court by their abusive ex partners. It is harrowing and exhausting for them to go through.
In our roles, we work with specialist support services, social workers, CAFCASS and the courts to try and get the best deal for the victims we’re working with. We give them support and advice so that if needed, they know to ask for things like special measures in court to protect them from having the face their abuser. We guide them on how to get relevant information together and submit this to courts in the right format, and at an early stage. Because we know that the courts are there to try and make the best decisions for the child, and by helping to protect victims, we are also helping to put the child first. Now, and in the future.
Posted on Thursday 29th November 2018