A rape victim is to appeal against a family court ruling which found that she must share the cost for the rapist, a former partner, to have contact with their child at a centre.
Claire Waxman, London’s independent victims’ commissioner, raised concern in January about a “pro-contact” culture. “The family courts system is letting down children and survivors of abuse,” she said in a statement.
“I am deeply worried by the severe lack of understanding of domestic abuse and trauma in the courts, and the fact that courts persist in prioritising contact between a parent and child — even when there are cases of domestic and sexual abuse. Survivors and children are being put at risk due to this pro-contact culture.” She added: “Pro-contact culture also means allegations of domestic abuse are being minimised and treated as irrelevant.”
Charlotte Proudman, a family law barrister, said that contact decisions were often made against the wishes of children “vehemently opposed” to contact.
.In a statement released through Waxman, she said: “Unfortunately, the family courts still take an approach that dates back to the 1970s where children are seen as unreliable witnesses of abuse or that they are being influenced by one parent to make allegations about the other parent, when more recent empirical evidence has proved this isn’t the case, and our understanding of the signs of abuse has improved.
The Women’s Aid charity said last year that a bias towards contact, even in cases of abuse, was leading to “a culture of routinely minimising and ignoring allegations of domestic abuse”. Women’s Aid found that 19 children had died between 2005 and 2015 in circumstances related to unsafe contact.
Polly Neate, the group’s chief executive at the time and now head of the housing charity Shelter, said: “The knowledge that severe abuse has taken place does not stop this relentless push to maintain as close a bond between father and child as possible. A father who has abused his child(ren)’s mother is routinely seen as a ‘good enough’ dad.”