SNS complaint to Woman’s Hour

30 Apr 2019

Dear Woman’s Hour,

We are outraged by your piece on Friday 26 April, featuring a discussion about “parental alienation” with a woman psychotherapist and a woman barrister.  How come Woman’s Hour gives coverage to this issue which is strongly promoted by Families Need Fathers (FNF), an organisation known for its misogyny because it exists to attack mothers?

Any quick research into FNF would tell you that their starting point is to deny men’s violence against women, and against children. They claim that ‘False and unfounded allegations poison proceedings when a non-resident parent is seeking parenting time with his children. Judges need to make findings of fact as soon as possible and to take false allegations into account when determining the best interests of the child.’ They accuse women of ‘making allegations’ as ‘a motorway to obtaining legal aid’.

FNF’s view that fathers who are estranged from their children have the same rights as mothers who do the daily work of caring and protecting them is the traditional patriarchal view by which children and mothers are seen as men’s property for them to do what they want with.  They dismiss not only mothers’ concerns but those of the children, who consequently find themselves forced by judges into contact with fathers who are abusing them sexually or torturing them in other ways. 

Yet your women guests unashamedly backed FNF’s claim that “parental alienation” causes “emotional harm”; one even welcomed judges increasingly using it to remove children from their mothers and send them to live with their father.  These are the kind of professionals whom women are up against in court and a major reason so many mothers lose their children.  Your presenter did not question or dissent from their views.

“Parental alienation” is a concept invented by Dr Richard Gardner, a misogynist who believed “that 90 per cent of mothers were liars who “programmed” their children to repeat their lies, and never mind the corroborating evidence. . . .  In one of his earliest cases, a Maryland physicist he labelled a “parental alienator”, unfit to retain custody of her children, was subsequently shot dead by her ex-husband. Still Gardner did not change his view that the wife was the true villain; her lies, he insisted, had made the husband temporarily psychotic.  He also defended paedophilia . . . In state after state, courts deferred to Gardner’s academic credentials and put children in the custody of their alleged abuser, even in cases where police records, medical records and testimony by teachers and social workers supported the mother’s accusations” (see Independent).

Shockingly “parental alienation” has been adopted by social services, CAFCASS and family court judges who are happy to side with violent fathers against desperate mothers in the secrecy of the family court.  The fathers are often portrayed as ‘charming’ and ‘reasonable’ while the mothers are dismissed as ‘emotionally unstable’ and ‘unable to work with professionals’. 

Even without any background research, you must surely know how often mothers who are victims of rape and/or domestic violence, including coercive and controlling behaviour, and are trying to protect their children, are dismissed by the family courts, sometimes with deadly consequences for themselves and their children, including murder.   For ease of reference, here are some key facts:

One in five women aged 16-59 have suffered sexual violence in England and Wales;[1] two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner; one in four women have been subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime; 81% of victims of domestic violence are women; domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime; 62% of children in households where domestic violence is happening are also directly harmed;[2] 50% of rapes are domestic.  The level of false allegations of rape is less than 1% and less than 0.5% for domestic violence, both are much lower than false allegations for other crimes.[3]

Family courts have allowed violent fathers (even when they have a criminal record for violence) to terrify, threaten and intimidate those they had victimised and who managed to escape them.  These legal standards would never be tolerated in an open court.  Judges have insisted on contact and even residence, dismissing what women and children were telling them.  Nineteen children and two mothers were killed between 2005 and 2015 following court orders to allow fathers unsupervised contact.

The way the law is being implemented is contrary to what is written – it is an abuse of power with little to do with the welfare of the children. Section 17 of the Children Act instructs local authorities to provide support, including cash, to mothers so children can stay with their families; the Care Act provides for extra support for disabled mothers – neither is being implemented.  Instead millions are spent on taking children from their mothers causing them significant harm, including by forcing them to have contact or even live with violent fathers.  From the women who are coming to us, local authorities target single mothers, Black, immigrant and disabled women, all generally on low incomes.  The younger the child, the most desirable especially since so many children services including adoption and fostering have been privatised. 

The lack of implementation of Section 17 and of the Care Act is never raised by professionals – they support each other in imposing their own will on families they know little about and have little respect for, rather than support mothers who are struggling to do the best for their children.

Finally, we note that Woman’s Hour was happy to give credibility to an event by FNF.  On the other hand, mothers and their supporters with Support Not Separation, a coalition embracing a number of organisations and professionals who disagree with how the law is being implemented, have received no coverage at all.  This despite having held a monthly picket of the central family court for over two years, published a DossierSuffer the Little Children & their Mothers, a copy of which was handed to Jenni Murray in person, and a number of meetings in Parliament. 

Are we ignored because we are mainly mothers? 


Support Not Separation