QotD: “Contact with violent fathers is the last thing children need”

This article is from 2004, but still worth a read:

For two nights this week Bob Geldof and Fathers 4 Justice took over our TV screens, spreading their message that bitter exes and unfair courts are preventing caring fathers from seeing their children. Both Geldof and the high-profile campaigning group are adamant that when a relationship breaks down, children are better off if parenting is shared equally.

This is at best naive, at worst dangerous. Few would deny that the majority of fathers should play an important role in their child’s upbringing, or that it is best for a child to have regular contact with both parents following separation. Reflecting this consensus, the courts refuse to grant a contact order in only 0.8% of cases. With so few fathers refused contact, perhaps we should ask Fathers 4 Justice to explain why they are among this minority?

Often the reason for denying contact is domestic violence, an entrenched social problem which affects one in four women during their lifetime and kills two women each week. Domestic violence represents almost a quarter of all recorded violent crime and carries the highest risk for repeat victimisation. Yet, though grim, these statistics do nothing to convey the impact on both women and children of witnessing or experiencing domestic violence.

I have met children who shake with fear at the thought of coming face to face with their father. I see mothers who wait on tenterhooks to see if their children are returned after contact, and children terrified that they will inadvertently reveal their mother’s whereabouts to their father.

In 90% of domestic violence incidents there are children in the same or next room. Both they and their mothers are at risk of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

When a relationship ends and we know domestic violence has occurred, it is our moral duty to protect the children and help them overcome the trauma they have experienced. It is also in our interests: it is no coincidence that many young male offenders grew up in violent homes.

It is not good for a child who has witnessed or experienced abuse to be forced into contact with the perpetrator. Children are regularly placed at risk and 23 died between 1994 and 2003 as a result of unsafe contact arrangements with abusive fathers. One woman who came to Refuge took her three-year-old son to the park to meet his father. There were people around. He threatened them with a baseball bat, forced them into his car, and took them to his flat where he beat her.

Less extreme, but still damaging to the child, are the many instances where the contact meeting is used as a means of perpetuating control over the family. Seven-year-old Natasha watched her father keep her mother tied up all day, beat her and then shoot her in the stomach. She was adamant she never wanted to see him again but was forced into contact by the court. During contact he would whisper that he would find her and her mother and kill them.

Children should not only be safe, they have the right to feel safe from the threat of harm. Michelle, aged 8, was afraid to close her eyes because she could see her father coming to get her “like in a video”. She knew she did not want to see him.

Sandra Horley

2 responses

  1. OMG Bob Geldof is the last person to be giving advice on how to parent and he teamed up with mra’s to boot!

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