QotD: “Including parental alienation in legal definition of domestic abuse ‘places victims at great risk’”
Including the “highly troubling” notion of parental alienation in the legal definition of domestic abuse would place victims subjected to violence by their partners at great risk, campaigners have warned.
Peers in the House of Lords – where the domestic abuse bill is being debated this week – have suggested an amendment to the landmark legislation which would include parental alienation in the definition of domestic abuse.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service identify parental alienation as “when a child’s hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.
But the concept of parental alienation has been discredited by many experts – with the World Health Organisation having recently dropped the notion from its index and classification.
Claire Waxman, London’s Independent Victims’ Commissioner, told The Independent she was “deeply concerned” by proposals to incorporate parental alienation into the statutory definition of domestic abuse.
Ms Waxman added: “The Ministry of Justice’s own report found that fears of parental alienation allegations are directly suppressing survivors and children from talking about their abuse. Parental alienation does not have an agreed definition or sound scientific basis and by enshrining this vague term, we risk handing perpetrators yet another tool for continuing coercion and abuse.
“The bill could make a greater impact by committing judges and other professionals working in the Family Courts to mandatory annual training on the complexities of domestic abuse so they are better equipped to make safe decisions around contact.
“The domestic abuse bill in its current form fails to protect children from the impact of domestic abuse and must be amended to remove the presumption of contact and to allow children’s voices and preferences to be safely heard.”
Peers spent four hours on Monday discussing the amendment to the domestic abuse bill which has been proposed by Baroness Meyer, Baroness Altmann and Earl Lytton as the legislation begins its Committee stage in the Lords this week.
Recent research found abusive men are winning time with their children by accusing mothers who have won custody of turning their child against them.
The study by Brunel University London found claims of so-called “parental alienation” are growing in the family courts, and this sometimes results in a child being transferred from their mother’s home to live with an abusive father. Allegations of domestic abuse are often not properly investigated and can even be seen by courts and professionals as “evidence” of parental alienation, the report found.
Dr Adrienne Barnett, who carried out the research, told The Independent she was concerned by the fresh proposals to include parental alienation in the domestic abuse bill.
Dr Barnett, who specialised in family law while practising as a barrister for more than 30 years, said its inclusion “could have far-reaching and unintended consequences which have not been assessed or tested by large-scale, generalisable national research or impact assessments.”
She added: “A range of studies conducted in a number of jurisdictions including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Italy, as well as my own small-scale peer-reviewed research into reported and published court judgments, have raised concerns about the impact of parental alienation claims on survivors of domestic abuse and children involved in family court proceedings.
“It would be concerning if parental alienation, a concept with a questionable scientific base, were included in the bill without taking into account or even dismissing systematic, peer-reviewed research.”
The academic noted only two jurisdictions have criminalised parental alienation – Mexico and Brazil – as she explained concerns about the impact of this legislation on victims of domestic abuse have been raised in both places.
Dr Barnett added: “It would be helpful to draw on all this international experience before launching into legislation that may be detrimental to those the bill seeks to protect.”
Last week, the Court of Appeal examined how the family court protects victims of domestic abuse as leading women’s rights organisations warned outdated views of judges endanger survivors and their children.
The government launched a review last November looking at how the family court’s approach to parental access affects the safety of children, with the findings set to be released this year.
Lucy Hadley, of Women’s Aid, one of the largest domestic abuse charities, told The Independent they would be “extremely concerned” if the definition of domestic abuse incorporates concepts which do not have a “robust evidential basis”.
She added: “Parental alienation is increasingly used in the family courts, but there is a dearth of robust evidence to back up the concept or reliable data on its prevalence.
“The ‘pro-contact’ culture in the family courts means that parents are expected to facilitate contact, even if they have concerns about safety. It also means that allegations of parental alienation – where one parent is accused of encouraging their child to resist contact with the other parent –can be taken more seriously than allegations of domestic abuse and other forms of harm.”
Parents can face fines or even jail sentences if they do not make sure their child sees an ex-partner on a supervised or unsupervised visit when court-ordered contact is in place.
Anne Neale, of Legal Action for Women, told The Independent absorbing the concept of parental alienation into the statutory definition of domestic abuse would “open the way for victims who this bill is supposed to protect to be criminalised and for domestic abuse to be decriminalised”.
She added: “Women who report violence – especially sexual abuse of children – not only could have their children removed, because their ex-partners accuse them of parental alienation, but could be prosecuted as perpetrators of domestic abuse.
“This is a patriarchal attempt to turn the clock back to a time when domestic violence and rape in marriage where a man’s right. Parental alienation is fast becoming the default argument of domestic abuse deniers against any woman who raises safety concerns and any child who refuses to have contact with a violent father.
“Parental alienation is not a form of domestic abuse, but is a misogynist tactic used by domestic abusers to continue perpetrating abuse their victim and children.”
This article explores the emergence and development of parental alienation (PA) in England and Wales. It considers the background into which PA first appeared in private law proceedings concerning children in England and Wales, and examines how it progressed in the case law through the changing political and discursive context of private family law from 2000 to the end of March 2019. A clear pattern emerged of, initially, parental alienation syndrome and subsequently PA being raised in family proceedings and in political and popular arenas in response to concerns about and measures to address domestic abuse. The case law revealed a high incidence of domestic abuse perpetrated by parents (principally fathers) who were claiming that the resident parents (principally mothers) had alienated the children against them, which raises questions about the purpose of PA. More recently, a PA ‘industry’ appears to have amassed comprising experts, therapists and lawyers, advocating transfers of children’s care from ‘alienating’ mothers to non-resident fathers, as well as PA therapy for children and parents. While PA has had a chequered history and is not without its critics, it has become part of the discursive repertoire of current family law, with increasingly harsh consequences for women and children.
Family court and abuse professionals have long been polarized over the use of parental alienation claims to discredit a mother alleging that the father has been abusive or is unsafe for the children. This paper reports the findings from an empirical study of ten years of U.S. cases involving abuse and alienation claims. The findings confirm that mothers’ claims of abuse, especially child physical or sexual abuse, increase their risk of losing custody, and that fathers’ cross-claims of alienation virtually double that risk. Alienation’s impact is gender-specific; fathers alleging mothers are abusive are not similarly undermined when mothers cross-claim alienation.
Today [19th January 2021] the High Court in London hears a landmark legal challenge. It relates to the policy for criminal records for prostitution to be held on file until those convicted are 100 years old. Currently, women who have escaped the sex trade and have convictions for street soliciting will have to live with this record for ever. And it’s not only the police that can access these records – so too can bodies including the Royal Mail, trading standards and credit checking organisations. This is not just a gross violation of human rights, but also deeply unjust.
As I have discovered during the vast amount of in-depth research on the global sex trade I have conducted over the past three decades, women find it difficult if not impossible to exit prostitution. Those that do escape are judged, stigmatised and disenfranchised. So how did this legal challenge come about?
In 1996, I met Fiona Broadfoot who was not that long out of prostitution. We were at a conference on violence against women, and Fiona was giving her first public address on the grim realities of the sex trade. Pimped into prostitution aged 15, she had endured indescribable violence at the hands of her pimp and numerous punters. But as I would come to learn, Fiona’s story was more typical than extraordinary.
Fiona had a criminal record several pages long. Women in street prostitution would be routinely picked up by the police and sent through what we called the ‘revolving door’. The magistrates would issue them a fine for soliciting or loitering. Needing to earn the money to pay the fine, the women would go back out onto the streets, get re-arrested, and the whole charade would begin again. The kerb crawlers were rarely arrested and therefore acted with impunity.
Fiona and I came up with an idea: to launch a legal challenge to decriminalise the women selling sex on the streets, and to prevent the law from requiring those women that have previous convictions to disclose them. Handily, my partner, the indomitable Harriet Wistrich qualified as a lawyer in 1997 and began challenging state agencies for failure to tackle violence against women. It took 20 more years before we were able to formulate a constructive case against the Home Office, which involved involving additional claimants alongside Fiona.
In 2018, after three years of jumping through legal loopholes and case preparation the team won a legal challenge against the Disclosure and Barring Scheme, which means that women no longer have to show these records of their abuse and exploitation from many years back. This is a big deal. Prior to the legal challenge, when women with criminal records for soliciting applied to volunteer in any position involving children or vulnerable adults, including at their own children’s school, they would be required to disclose their previous involvement in prostitution.
On hearing about the challenge, and of the fact that a further case would be brought to challenge such criminal records being held on file, a number of women with similar experiences came forward. As Sam, one of the claimants in today’s case tells me, it is interesting that those organisations seeking to normalise and decriminalise the entire sex trade (as opposed to decriminalising the women and criminalising the pimps and punters) have not taken this case to court despite their considerable resources and networks of lawyers that take the ‘sex work is work’ line.
A number of years ago, distressed by yet another knock-back following a job interview, Sam approached one of the ‘sex work is work’ groups in the hope they would help her. Despite the fact that our very high profile legal case was already in progress, of which this group was well aware, Sam was merely advised to write a letter of disclosure ‘explaining’ her convictions and outlining how she got involved in prostitution which she could add to her job applications in the future. ‘It took me another four years before I found Harriet and Fiona, by looking online for women that are against prostitution rather than celebrating it as a profession,’ she says.
The powerful lobby which views prostitution as ‘sex work’ has neither been involved nor helpful in this case. As I wrote about the 2018 case at the time:
‘When Fiona [Broadfoot] and I contacted members of the pro-prostitution lobby to ask if we could form a united front to argue for the decriminalisation of the women, we were told, in somewhat hostile terms, that they would not work with abolitionists. We were further told that if we dropped our efforts to criminalise sex buyers then they may consider joining forces with us. We refused.’
Had that same offer been made regarding today’s legal challenge we would have refused again. Protecting the men that create the demand for prostitution is a disgrace. These men are the very reason why women are sexually exploited, and yet groups such as the English Collective of Prostitutes argue that criminalising them is wrong. Until we end demand for prostitution, more women like Fiona and Sam will be drawn into this nightmarish life.
If today’s case succeeds, the victory will be down to the sex trade survivors that dare to expose the truth about the horrors of the sex trade, and not those that seek to sanitise it.
How do you dramatise a murder without glamorising the murderer? The Investigation (BBC4), a Danish drama about the death of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, has a radical solution: it turns her killer into a faceless, nameless void. Ms Wall disappeared in 2017 after interviewing and taking a trip with an amateur submariner in Koge Bay, south of Copenhagen. The series focuses on dogged police efforts to retrieve her dismembered corpse from the sea and, amid the accused’s ever-changing story, to reach the seemingly extraordinary level of proof required by Danish law.
Although this is an infamous case, The Investigation does not once name the killer. (So neither will I.) Nor does it dramatise the interrogations, always the exciting centrepiece of a police procedural, thus denying a murdering narcissist the thrill of a charismatic actor speaking his words. Through the grief of her parents, however, Kim Wall infuses the story.
What a contrast with The Serpent, the BBC drama which portrays Charles Sobhraj, the 1970s “Bikini Killer”, swanning around with a glamorous wife in swimming-pooled luxury wearing designer shades. Sexy dead girls — whose families no doubt still mourn — are dragged semi-clad down beaches. There are Serpent playlists on Spotify so you can chill to that poisoned backpacker vibe. How Sobhraj, who revelled in toying with the police, must smirk in his prison cell. The Investigation, no less gripping for its restraint, leaves you oddly uplifted by the gargantuan effort to secure justice for a single woman. While The Serpent just left me queasy at its glib marketing of murder.
Argentina legalised elective abortions in early pregnancy last [month], giving it probably the most liberal abortion laws in Latin America.
The legislation, which passed the Senate by 38 votes to 29 on December 30, had already secured the support of the lower house a few weeks earlier.
It is the first significant predominantly Roman Catholic country in the region, where religion remains influential in society and politics, to take such a step, the culmination of a decades-long women’s rights movement that has drawn support from across the political spectrum.
Up until now abortion in Argentina had been outlawed except in cases of rape or when a mother’s life was at risk. Terminations will now be offered by its national health service in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Of the 20 countries in Latin America only Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana permit elective abortions in early pregnancy. Outside these smaller, more progressive nations, abortion is classified as a crime in almost all circumstances, with varying degrees of punishment.
There remains an absolute ban on abortion in El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua, where women frequently face prosecution and long prison terms — in the most extreme cases up to 40 years if found guilty of aggravated homicide. In Ecuador only rape victims who are mentally disabled and are represented by a legal guardian in court can legally have an abortion.
In Brazil, Chile and Colombia abortion is legal only in very limited circumstances, such as rape, risk to the mother’s life or a fatal foetal abnormality. Until 2006 it was outlawed without exception in Colombia.
In Mexico there are growing calls to liberalise the law. Some states, including Mexico City and Oaxaca, have made moves to decriminalise abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and President López Obrador has already indicated that the country could follow Argentina’s lead.
“Matters of this nature should not be decided from above,” he said. “It’s a decision for women.”
Across the region clandestine procedures are common and range from relatively safe methods, performed by a private gynaecologist for those who can afford it, to traditional herbalists and backstreet surgery for the poor.
Abortion is increasingly a public health problem, not a police matter. Two thirds of all public hospital beds taken up by women in Brazil in 2019 were a result of complications from unsafe abortions, according to health ministry data.
The article ‘Children in the Roman Empire’, by Peter Thonemann, has, for some reason, disappeared from the Times Literary Supplement website, and I can’t find an archived copy. Fortunately, I saved it as a pdf, so I have a copy myself. It’s a useful article, I think, because sex industry apologists cite ‘cultural norms’ and even ‘children’s sexuality’ and ‘children’s agency’ to justify the commercial sexual exploitation of children (‘youth sex workers’). As the article shows, the ‘cultural norms’ in the past of ‘adult-child’ sex, were nothing to do with the ‘rights’ or ‘agency’ or ‘sexuality’ of children, and everything to do with what society allowed powerful men to do. In the present day the ‘cultural norm’ in many parts of the world is of marrying off girls as young as ten to men decades older.
The key sections of the article are:
It comes, then, as a rude shock to discover that the baby was not Statius’s son, but his slave. “He was not of my stock, nor did he carry my name or features; I was not his father … I was not one to love some chatterbox plaything bought from an Egyptian slave-ship – no, he was mine, my own.” This little boy was a verna, “house-reared”, the child of two of Statius’s own household slaves. He was Statius’s property, to be trained up or sold on as he wished. To judge from Statius’s other poems for deliciae, beloved slave-boys in elite Roman households, the boy’s early adolescence would probably have been spent ministering to his owner’s sexual desires.
Adult-child relationships in past societies present painful and delicate problems for the historian. Were Statius’s feelings for this child “natural”? Did he have “paternal instincts” towards him? By the standards of contemporary Roman society, Statius’s relationship with his verna was clearly quite normal, and there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his feelings for the child. House-reared slaves, as Beryl Rawson shows in Children, Memory, and Family Identity in Roman Culture, could play a variety of roles in the Roman elite family, from surrogate son to erotic plaything. What is difficult for us to deal with is the notion that, as in the case of Statius’s beloved boy, they might have played both roles simultaneously.
[…] Whether or not a twelve-year-old child was regarded as an acceptable sexual partner was determined not by biology, but by the child’s status, slave or free. No Roman saw anything problematic about setting slaves and lowstatus children to work as soon as they were physically capable of doing so. For many, adult labour began painfully early. The tombstone of Quintus Artulus, who died at the age of four at the silver mines of Baños de la Encina in Andalusia, depicts the child in a short tunic, barefoot, carrying the tools of his trade, a miner’s axe and basket.
By contrast, the adolescent sons and daughters of wealthy Roman citizens were at least as segregated from adult society as any modern Oliver or Olivia. Sexual advances towards a freeborn Roman child of any age, male or female, were punishable by death. Premarital purity was obsessively guarded; obscene language was known in Latin as nupta verba, “married words”. Physical labour was unheard of: the sons of the Roman elite could expect to stay in full-time formal education well into their mid-teens, studying the civil arts of grammar and rhetoric.
I will put screen caps of the full article below the line.
Pornhub parent company MindGeek has been hit with a massive $600 million class action lawsuit accusing it of hosting child-porn videos on the website.
The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of Québec at the end of December but first reported by the Journal de Montréal on Friday, seeks restitution from the smut site on behalf of “The Children of Pornhub.”
The class representative is a woman who alleges that a video of her rape as a 12-year-old was posted to Pornhub, and who accused the site of being deaf to her pleas to take it down.
MindGeek also was hit with an $80 million suit in California federal court last month by 40 women who claim it made millions off the alleged GirlsDoPorn sex-trafficking scheme.
The porn site last month removed more than 10 million videos from its page as part of its recent crackdown on illegal content.
The purge marked a massive shift in the porn site’s approach to content moderation amid pressure from advocates and payment processors Mastercard and Visa, which earlier cut ties with Pornhub over allegations that the platform is infested with videos of rape and child sex abuse.
A representative for Pornhub did not immediately respond to a request for comment.