Everyone who works with women who have been subjected to domestic abuse, or children who have been subjected to sexual abuse, will know how volatile, unpredictable and misogynistic our family court system can be.
Each year, thousands of women write to me about their terrifying experiences of the family court system. Despite every woman being an individual, and residing everywhere from Essex to Sydney, the story is the same.
Women who report abuse are quickly reframed as crazy, jealous exes
None of them want to be with their ex, but it’s amazing how credible male ex boyfriends and husbands seem to be, when they accuse the woman of being ‘jealous’ that he’s moved on. Mud sticks, and professionals around her soon begin to make comments or write reports which include these inaccurate assumptions.
No one seems to be taking young girls seriously when they disclose sexual abuse
So why are these signs and disclosures from girls being ignored in the family courts? Why are professionals suggesting that girls are making this up, or don’t know what they are talking about? Why are we so sure that she isn’t being abused, that we will continue contact with sexually abusive parents and ignore her disclosures?
Character assassination is par for the course; and no one seems to care
Reports and hearings often become obsessed with the character assassination of the mother – and become less and less focussed on the well-being and disclosures of the children.
There’s a lot of dodgy psychiatry and psychology going on, with no real process to challenge poor practice
It concerns me how many women are diagnosed or labelled with disorders and psychiatric conditions after meeting a psychologist for 2 hours during an assessment. I have read several reports in which women have been labelled, accused and diagnosed after one short interview, whilst they were under severe stress and worrying about their child being abused.
Parental alienation seems to be the trump card for abusive men
It is clear that real parental alienation does happen in some cases – but choosing to stop contact when a child spontaneously discloses serious sexual abuse is surely common sense, and not an act of parental alienation.
One woman I spoke to was threatened by a judge that if she didn’t support contact with her ex husband, (who had convictions for DV and the child was reporting had sexually abused her), that he would award full custody to Dad as a way to punish/control her.
Evidence is not being gathered correctly or quickly enough when children are at risk from abuse
We already know that on average, children disclose 7 times before someone takes it seriously (according to an NSPCC, 2014 study).
[S]ome children who disclose recent rape or sexual abuse have not been referred for tests or examination for several weeks, sometimes as long as two months, by which time all DNA evidence would be gone, and some injuries would arguably have healed.
I have also come across poor practice in which children have disclosed serious sexual abuse, and the way we have dealt with it is to send uniformed officers into their houses, or taken children to police station evidence suites where the child has instantly stopped talking and has refused to speak about anything.
Decades of research evidence is being totally ignored
Research clearly gives us lists of things to look out for in children who might be being sexually abused, and despite many of these signs being present in these cases, children are being ignored.
Research on offenders seems to be being ignored too. Men with previous convictions for sexual abuse or accessing child sexual abuse imagery have been given unsupervised access to children because professionals have argued that his own children are not at risk.
Women need to know that their case was not a one-off. They need to know that they are not to blame, and that they are one of thousands of women who have been labelled and gaslit in the family court system. So many women contact me to talk about their cases and experiences, and they have no idea that this happens to other women, too.