The Home Office issued a letter on 29 June saying that children who witnessed domestic violence would be classified as victims under new legislation.
The letter, written to Jess Phillips MP, also confirmed that children who see or hear domestic violence in their home would be acknowledged in a new statutory definition of domestic abuse.
A growing body of research explains that children who witness domestic violence are at heightened risk of developing long-term physical and mental health problems.
The decision to include children as victims rather than passive bystanders in domestic abuse settings comes after proposals to do so were included in a Bill which is currently passing through Parliament.
A clause in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which passed its report stage in the House of Commons today, provides that a child who “sees or hears, or experiences the effects of, domestic abuse and is related to the person being abused or the perpetrator” must also be regarded as a victim of domestic abuse in the context of connected legal proceedings.
The Report stage of a Bill allows MPs to put forward any proposed amendments which are then considered by the Speaker.
The Bill features several provisions which look at issues such as banning cross-examinations of an alleged domestic abuse victim by their alleged or convicted abuser in family courts in England and Wales, and offering vulnerable witnesses alternate ways of offering evidence where court attendance might affect the quality of evidence being given.
The letter, written by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, Victoria Atkins MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk MP, outlines the ways in which these measures will be applied.
The Bill has one more reading in the House of Commons before passing through to the House of Lords for evaluation.
For more information on the Bill and the government’s proposed framework for statutory guidance on domestic abuse and how to address it, please see the links below:
- Home Office: Draft Statutory Guidance Framework
- Domestic Abuse Bill 2020: factsheets
- Statutory definition of domestic abuse factsheet
“The Bill features several provisions which look at issues such as banning cross-examinations of an alleged domestic abuse victim by their alleged or convicted abuser in family courts in England and Wales, and offering vulnerable witnesses alternate ways of offering evidence where court attendance might affect the quality of evidence being given.”
This is wrong. The Letter from Atkins and Chalk to Philips speaks not of ‘alleged’ abusers or victims but perpetrators and victims, ergo if you are accused, the accuser is already a victim and the accused is already a perpetrator. I also have reservations about how much time a lawyer parachuted in may have with a ‘perpetrator’ to get to know their case well enough to be able to adequately pursue accusers under cross examination. To me, this just seems further tinkering with s system by MPs who do not understand it simply doesn’t work for these kind of issues.
Yuri Joakimidis said:
The Home Office correspondence from Atkins and Chalk to Philips also addressed the issue of parental alienation.
Philip Davies argued for the definition of domestic abuse to be amended to include parental alienation. We agree that parental alienation can have devastating consequences on victims of domestic abuse and their children. ……Rather than setting out a list of forms of abuse in clause 1, we believe the better approach is to address parental alienation in the statutory guidance provided for in clause 66. We aim to publish a draft of the guidance ahead of Report stage.” (page 4)
In place of esoteric chatter, the plain English amendments by Phillip Davies spell out that parental alienation of children, knowingly made false allegations, and contact denial are child protection issues. A copy of the amendments are included with this comment
Psychologist Jennifer Harman and Nebraska lawyer Nancy Shannon have an excellent Op ed. on maternal gatekeeping in the Omaha World Herald, 27/6/2020 that spills over into parental alienation as well. Although maternal gatekeeping and parental alienation are two different things, the former can be the latter and gatekeeping behaviour could easily become a precursor to alienation.
Harman and Shannon alert their readers to a 2015 report by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families on maternal gatekeeping. Its findings are of more than passing interest.
“According to this report, “more than half of non-resident fathers offered accounts of gatekeeping behavior, ranging from refusing to grant physical access to making frequent last-minute schedule changes. Gatekeeping also came in more indirect forms, such as refusal to communicate in person or by phone, withholding information from the father about the child or berating the father.”
Motives for gatekeeping vary. Sometimes, it’s used to control the other parent. Other times, it’s used for financial gain. According to the federal report, “mothers would sometimes restrict access when a father failed to provide ‘extras’ over and above the required child support.”
Everyone needs to understand that parents who engage in these behaviours, regardless of their gender, are harming their children. If a parent were beating a child in public, most people would intervene by trying to stop the abuse or by calling the authorities. Any parent who limits the other parent’s access to their child or who interferes with the other parent’s relationship with their child should be treated the same way.
What they’re doing isn’t appropriate or justifiable. It’s child abuse. It’s also domestic violence. According to a recent Nebraska ruling in district court, “Domestic intimate partner abuse includes using a child to establish or maintain power and control over any current or past intimate partner.” The Nebraska State Patrol, in a policy statement, also recognizes that domestic violence occurs when an intimate partner tries to control the other partner by “damaging [that partner’s] relationship with his or her children.”
Domestic Abuse Amendments
The three amendments handed in by Philip Davies to the Domestic Abuse Bill are:
Amendment A. Philip Davies: 4
Clause 1, page 2, line 6, at end insert—
“(4A) “Psychological, emotional or other abuse” includes but is not limited to—
(a) parental alienation,
(b) false allegations of domestic abuse by A against B, or Consideration of Bill (Report Stage): 2 July 2020 37
Domestic Abuse Bill, continued
(c) A deliberately preventing B having contact with their child or children for no good reason.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment gives specific examples of domestic abuse – parental alienation, false allegations of domestic abuse and the prevention of contact with a parent for no good reason.