Press statement


A response to 123 MPs’ call for an inquiry and the Victoria Derbyshire Special

For more information contact Support Not Separation

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The horrendous treatment of mothers and children who are victims of domestic violence by the family courts is finally out in the open. It has taken years of campaigning by desperate mothers – from Clare Throssell whose children were murdered during contact, to others who issued petitions or ran away with their children risking prison in order to protect them.

As a coalition which includes Black Women Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape, and supports mothers and other primary carers fighting to protect their children and themselves, we have been raising these issues many times: in Parliament, in our dossier Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers and in our monthly picket of the London family court where we meet many distraught mothers and grandmothers.

The letter from over 120 MPs demanding an end to the legal presumption that fathers have a right to see their children even when they have a proven record for violence is a major step. The question now is how long will it take for this change to be made? Will we have to wait for the results of an inquiry when it is needed now? What other changes are needed?

Watch yesterday’s Victoria Derbyshire one-hour special and today’s follow up. A number of mothers spelled out what they had gone through and the horror of having to force children to see their abusers against their will. For some the consequences have been lethal – at least four more children have been killed during contact in the last five years. One mother said that ‘the family court abused her way more than her ex ever did’ – and he was a repeated rapist! Others confirmed these experiences, including a lawyer who represents both mothers and fathers and was explicit about how mothers reporting rape and domestic violence are routinely disbelieved.

The response from CAFCASS was shockingly predictable – justifying the unjustifiable. As were the responses of the former Tory minister Tim Loughton who brought into law the presumption of contact, and of Families Need Fathers – both denying the extent of domestic violence and presenting fathers as victims of ‘parental alienation’.

Former president of the Family Court Judge Munby has welcomed the call for an independent inquiry but so far Theresa May has rejected it. What will MPs do now to bring this outrage to an end?

Some glaring injustices were not mentioned and we will be doing a longer statement. But we want to mention two:

  1. Mothers who report rape or DV are not only disbelieved and their children forced into contact, they risk losing their children altogether as the family court may give residence to the father despite all the evidence against him or blame the mother for ‘emotional harm’ and take the children into care;
  1. Court bias is not only based on gender but on race, disability and of course income. Mothers are generally poorer than fathers, and our economic disadvantage and poverty are at the heart of the sexist way women are treated. Most of the women who come to us are single mothers, many are women of colour, immigrant, have a disability, a mental health issue or learning difficulty, or were in care themselves and are assumed to be ‘unfit’. All should be entitled to help under Section 17 of the Children Act and under the Care Act but are denied it as they are not implemented. Instead millions are spent taking children from their mothers.

The time has come to open the family courts to public scrutiny and end the sexism, racism and other bias which is destroying thousands of lives, starting with children’s.