This week domestic abuse and all things related have been at the forefront of my thinking and my practice. Never far away from the experience of family separation, domestic abuse is the number one issue facing dads who are fighting to stay in the lives of their children.
For years we have been told that fathers are unsafe after family separation. The mantra ‘supporting children’s relationships with both of their parents where it is safe to do so‘ is attached to every service which is funded by government and the only parent it refers to is dad. ‘Where it is safe to do so‘ arises from the years when organisations like Women’s Aid and Gingerbread ruled the space after family separation and basically means that dads are dangerous and should be prevented from automatic relationships with their children after separation, whilst mums are the natural carers who should never be regarded as anything other than the proper and primary parent.
If we listened to Women’s Aid and Gingerbread et al, every dad at the point of separation, wakes up with a monster mask on his face and murder in his heart. Thus protection of the children, from this violent and unpredictable being, should be our number one priority.
Of course there are dads who damage their children and damage their children’s mother too. And for that reason I have never been a proponent of anything but safeguarding and support where it is necessary. How we determine what support is needed however, is something that I have long been concerned about. Because the determinants of who is violent, what constitutes violence and how violence should be treated in the family, seem to me to be made up largely of wounded women who are seeking revenge on men in general. And the broken nature of the interventions that are standard in this country, when dealing with domestic violence, appear also to me to less about protecting children and more about performing a sort of brainwashing routine on men. Sometimes I think that if these women could lobotomise men, just as women were lobotomised in the past, there would be some kind of satisfaction achieved. Instead what they do is something far far worse in my view, they take the relationship that dads have with their children and hold that hostage, aided and abetted by CAFCASS and supported by the family courts. Is this in the best interests of children? I don’t think so, do you?
Working as I do, in the field of family separation I see this story daily and so I long ago abandoned the notion that these stories are just freak tales. Here is just one of them.
Danny is a dad to three children, he is one of those dads who came home one night to find his wife and his children were gone. Six years later he has not seen his children since the day he kissed them goodbye and went off to work in 2008. The years in between have been like walking through a holocaust of grief, loss and pain for Danny, but he has survived, just.
Danny was ordered onto an Idependent Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP) in 2009 on the basis of the fact that his wife said that he had regularly threatened to hurt her. Danny says that the couple often fought verbally and that she as well as he could be cruel in the process. And there were physical fights too, she would pull his hair and kick him, he would grab her wrists and hold her down so that she could not continue. After these explosions, both would feel shocked and ashamed of themselves and promise each other they would get help. A visit to Relate however left Danny feeling blamed and his wife feeling she was not dealing with this problem properly. A quiet word with the counsellor after a session made her understand that she was in an abusive relationship. She made a plan and executed it. Danny was excised from her life and the children’s. He was ordered to submit to the IDAP leader and admit his failings. When he asked why only he had to undertake the course, he was told he was in denial, when he talked about the couple in conflict together, he was told he was minimising the damage he had done. Finally he was made to understand the rules – conform and change your mindset or lose your children forever – he was told – failure to show the ability to reflect on the ‘truth’ would mean failing the course. Failing the course would mean no contact. Danny tried but could not bend his mind enough. All he could ask was why, when the couple had behaved badly, was he being punished and his relationship with his children held to ransom? He failed the course. He never saw his children again.
Up and down the land this modern day ducking stool scenario, is being quietly played out in a community centre or other such place near you. Behind closed doors, your sons and your brothers, other women’s ex husbands and lovers are being subjected to this grim and unpleasant ritual. From all walks of life, from accountants to carpenters, men are being shuffled along a conveyor belt designed to strip them of their power and their sense of self so that they can be moulded into acceptable dad, docile dad, dad who is aware of his inherent deficiencies. Rolling off the end of this conveyor belt, these men are graded to show how accepting they are of their failings, not enough acceptance and it’s an automatic fail, just enough and they might just pass, complete acceptance presumably wins them a gold star and the right to join the Fatherhood Institute (I jest but you understand my meaning).
What kind of madness is this? What happened to humanity? What happened to dignity?
This is a constructed world in which the family courts have turned domestic abuse into very very big business. Run by women for women, the domestic abuse perpetrator programmes are designed to reassure the courts that the man standing in front of them, charged with all manner of heinous crimes, is fit to be a father. Before 1973, when the divorce laws changed, women who left a marriage were regarded as being an unfit parent. Today the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that women can choose to leave a marriage, take the children, the assets, years of financial support AND decide the fate of the fatherhood of the man with whom they chose to have children. Women truly have it all. Apart from those who get caught up in this winner takes all system and who lose to the man who outwits them in the court system. But they are just collatoral damage, invisible and disregarded in the general scheme of things. The sick and twisted truth of the matter is that those women who do lose in this system are often those at the mercy of the very kind of men who SHOULD be on Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes, but that appears to fall on deaf ears when raised in the company of the women’s rights groups. Instead what we see, is routine man shaming wrapped up in the idea that all dads are dangerous. It is shameful, it is inhuman and it is happening near you right now.
DV perpetrator programmes are nothing more than the cold revenge of wounded women and it is time we stopped using them. It is time that we began to see them for the modern day ducking stools that they are, that damn men if they admit their violence and damn them if they don’t. The women’s rights political agenda that has underpinned thinking around domestic violence for five decades now has to be shown for what it is, incapable of stopping intergenerational violence, unconcerned with women’s violence and focused on one thing and one thing only, shaming and blaming men.
We are now one of a very few countries that fails to use, as standard, a triage approach to violence. Other countries are recognising that co-ercive controlling violence is not the only kind of violence that occurs in family relationships and are acknowledging that these other types of violence cannot be treated through routine shaming and brainwashing.
Violence between people in marriages is not uncommon, it is something which is dysfunctional for sure and something for which there should be widespread help and support; which is tailored not to the needs of women at the expense of men, but to the realities that face men and women in relationship together.
The ducking stool approach which is currently in use, is cruel, inhuman and wrong and it is time we all stood up to say so. But just like the emperor’s new clothes, until we do, more men as fathers will face the same routine humiliation and destruction of their masculinity as their brothers gone before. It is our responsibility now to say no more of this, enough is enough.
Domestic violence/abuse is NOT a gender issue it is a generational learned behaviour which can be treated. But not this way.
(This is my last post before my summer break. I will be back in September when we will be launching something new which is focused entirely on alienation and related issues. I will still blog on all matters to do with families and separation here too but all of our work on parental alienation will be under one roof soon, I am looking forward to a lively and exciting Autumn)