We need to know that Family Courts are safe for survivors of abuse
Keeping children safe is something that most of us believe is at the core of what being a parent is all about. For survivors of intimate abuse this is one of the most dangerous and difficult things to achieve. The evidence stacks up, children of women abused in their own homes are detrimentally impacted,, with many also experiencing abuse in the home.
This is why alarm bells are ringing and growing louder about what is actually happening behind closed doors, in the secrecy of the family law courts across Ireland. In the past week a media report reported that women and childrens reports of domestic and sexual abuse is often ignored in family law proceedings. Fine Gael TD Bernard Durken recently spoke in the Dáil about the problem of secrecy in family courts in the Dáil.
SISI, the collective of survivors of intimate abuse, has become a hub for women battling to hold on to their children. After years of silence women are coming together and beginning to realise that they are not ‘the only one’ this is happening to. After years of being told that they’d be sent to prison for speaking about the case to anyone not directly involved, they are finally joining the dots and realising that the so-called system supposedly there to protect the vulnerable is actually helping to perpetuate violence and abuse towards themselves and their children.
Mary’s case is not unusual. After years of horrendous abuse she finally found a way out of her marriage. After leaving her son disclosed that he had been abused by his father. The father was allowed supervised access but this stopped when he broke the agreement. A judge appointed a family ‘expert’ to assess the situation. This so-called ‘expert’ ignored the history of abuse towards the mother and the boy, recommending that access be provided.
In several cases so-called family ‘experts’ have recommended that children be forced to live exclusively with their father, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, sometimes permanently. In many of these cases the mother was ordered to have zero contact with her children. Failure to obey that order could land her in prison. Intimate abuse by the father towards the mother and in some cases involving children, has been a feature of all these experiences.
Imagine telling your children who live in fear of the person who has inflicted unimaginable trauma on them, that they will be now living with him or spending time with him and that they can’t contact you.
Imagine being told by a so-called ‘expert’ who you’ve met once, that you are alienating your children from their father and that all experiences of abuse need to be ignored. Imagine hearing a judge say that the “balancing of rights principle” means he wants your children to live with a father who has inflicted unimaginable pain and trauma on them.
The pseudo science concept of “parental alienation” has been widely discredited. Meanwhile it is the new buzz word in the family law courts across the country and routinely used to justify removing children primarily from mothers. The thing is, all we have to go on is the sharing of SISI members own experiences and increasingly the concerns of various professionals, academics piecing together the evidence.
The In-Camera Rule, initially introduced to protect the identity of families involved in family law proceedings means there’s no data, no transparency, no accountability. It has become a weapon in the continued abuse of women and children, turning family courts into the wild west of the legal system.
It doesn’t need to be like this. There is nothing to prevent oversight and monitoring of family law proceedings while also protecting the identity of the people involved. If protecting survivors of abuse and children are a priority in the judicial system then there has to be trustworthy and credible transparency and accountability for the very professionals involved in making life changing decisions. Right now the In Camera rule is being used as an excuse to avoid scrutiny.
And we know from past experience that a lack of transparency and accountability for institutions responsible for deciding the faith of vulnerable people can lead to terrible consequences. Let’s not keep repeating the same cycle of failing women and children.
If you support our call for the family law courts to be safe for survivors of abuse please add your name to our peition to stop family courts making abuse of women and children worse.
Mary Louise LynchCoordinator of SISI, a collective of survivors of intimate abuse in Ireland