Supervised Visitation Hurting Children Helping Abusers: Erring on the Side of Risking Children
Our campaign was founded in response to media coverage of two events: The 'Oxford gang case' in which vulnerable girls were blamed for the sexual exploitation and the murder of Matthew and Carla Stevenson by their father on the very first unsupervised contact he had been given because of his long history of violence against their mother. The media chose to spin the narrative that Stevenson wouldn't have had to kill his children if contact had been "sufficient to his needs", as though child murder was a rational response to child protection guidelines.
We have repeatedly called attention to judges calling violent and abusive men "good fathers". We have been supporters of Women's Aid Child First: Safe Child Contact Saves Lives from the beginning, because we know that family courts still view children as possessions of men and will allow contact regardless of the safety of vulnerable children (and their mothers); that courts refuse to recognise that children who witness domestic violence and abuse are victims of abuse. Women have their children taken into foster care due to their "failures to protect" children from violent fathers despite serious barriers to women's ability to protect children. Mothers are held legally accountable for violence committed by fathers whilst these violent men are still guaranteed unsupervised access to their children. We know that the majority of children living in poverty do so because their fathers refuse to pay child maintenance, and yet people refuse to recognise financial child abuse. We consistently see men's entitlement guaranteed by courts, despite clear histories of violence.
This article "Supervised Visitation Hurting Children Helping Abusers: Erring on the Side of Risking Children" was written by Barry Goldstein on the dangers of supervised visitation and court collusion with violent men at the expense of children's safety and mental health:
... We wanted to give judges a safe alternative so children could visit with dangerous abusers because judges were reluctant to deny fathers any contact with their children. In many communities courts continue to risk children by providing unsupervised visitation for abusers who pose a serious safety risk because there are inadequate supervised visitation slots. In a system that many measures demonstrate is broken, courts routinely waste the limited resources on parents who are safe and then permit dangerous abusers the unprotected access they need to kill the children.
In California, protective mother, Katie Tagle informed the judge that the father had threatened to kill their baby. The judge repeatedly said he believed the mother was lying and refused to protect the child.
In Maryland, Dr. Amy Castillo told the judge the father had threatened to kill their three children. Right before leaving for court she had marital relations with her husband. The judge, failed to consider it might be unsafe for her to refuse, assumed this meant the father could not be that bad and gave him unfettered access to the children.
In Connecticut, the protective mother was Adrianne Oyola who asked the judge to protect 7-month-old Aaden Moreno from a father threatening to kill him. The judge, untrained in domestic violence dynamics assumed there was no current danger because the father did not continue to assault the mother. ...
Whilst this references incidents of fatal violence by men in America, this applies also to family courts in the UK. We need a fundamental overhaul of the system starting by demanding that all social workers, police, CAFCASS, prosecutors, sheriffs, and judges have specialist training in domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We need legal recognition that children witnessing their father's violence to their mothers is a form of child abuse'; that actual child safety needs to start from the premise that violent men should not be allowed accused (supervised or otherwise).
We need to start holding men accountable. We need a recognition of the ways in which women attempt to protect their children with zero support from a family court system which prioritises men's rights over the safety of women and children.
Inspired by our participation with the Write to End Violence Against Women awards organised by Zero Tolerance, we are now collecting examples of good journalism about domestic and sexual violence and abuse to make it clear that it is possible to write about DSVA without resorting to myths, misrepresentations, minimisation and victim blaming.