As a mental health professional working with survivors of domestic violence, I have seen firsthand the failure of family courts to protect women and children from extremely abusive and dangerous men. The perpetrator may have joint custody, thus endangering the lives of the children. In such cases, the rejection of the woman’s allegations of domestic abuse leads to constant scrutiny and abuse (emotional, mental and economic) through the family courts and puts them in a position where they are unable to protect their own children.
Violence against women and their mistreatment and abuse have their roots in our patriarchal stories. But when survivors’ advocates deal with the widespread issue of family abuse and the failure of family courts in such cases, discussing it exclusively as a crime against men attacking women often leads to the unnecessary polarization of lawyers and others. It can also instill resistance in those who would otherwise support the cause of family court reform in handling domestic abuse cases.
The truth is that there are many male survivors of domestic abuse, and both men and women can be perpetrators in different formations (men abuse women, women abuse men, men abuse men, women abuse women, etc.). I was surprised by the biased arguments of some supporters about supporting survivors of gender-based domestic abuse. Both sides (supporters of male survivors on the one hand and supporters of female survivors on the other) have valid and fascinating points of view. However, as with most issues, no one is going to win an argument.
Both women and men who have survived domestic abuse are important, and we must recognize that all genders face trials and setbacks due to systemic failures, as well as established gender stereotypes and the objects of a historical patriarchal system.
Both women and men who have survived domestic abuse are important, and we must recognize that all genders face trials and setbacks due to systemic failures, as well as established gender stereotypes and the objects of a historical patriarchal system. Defenders need to realize that recognizing our historic patriarchal institutions does not endanger male survivors. In addition, a more comprehensive effort to address the problem of family court failures in cases of domestic violence does not necessarily endanger women survivors.
The need for education on domestic violence and trauma
Subject to much of the retroactivity of domestic abuse survivors in our legal and judicial systems is the lack of training for homework professionals and how trauma occurs to victims. These professionals include psychotherapists, psychologists, doctors, evaluators and mediators, lawyers, police officers and judges.
Some are well trained and knowledgeable about these issues, but they approach the services that should be provided as an effort to create money. Sometimes, they may even choose to support the perpetrator in custody cases by distorting the facts or they may charge exorbitant amounts for the reports of their “experts”, further exploiting the already vulnerable and injured.
Here are some key points about home abuse and trauma:
- Domestic abuse revolves around issues of power and control (which may include threats and intimidation), but does not necessarily include physical violence. Simple focus on the presence (or absence) of bodily injury (albeit serious and dangerous) loses most of the dynamics surrounding domestic abuse and minimizes the harmful effects of mental, emotional, and financial abuse on victims.
- Many cases of domestic abuse include psychological abuse known as enlightenment. A victim of gas lighting is beginning to question his experiences with reality and may even conclude that they are “going crazy.” A manipulative criminal is often quick to use it to their advantage in family courts, portraying the victim as a “crazy” person who is now making false allegations of abuse.
- In extreme cases of prolonged physical and psychological trauma, the victim can cope with separation or other defenses to survive. The victim may therefore not remember details of the abuse and may not have a coherent narrative. They may even continue to protect their abuser or actually believe that the abuse was their own fault.
Professionals need to be trained to listen to the signs of domestic abuse while meeting with the perpetrator and / or the victim, and not just to view either the perpetrator’s or the victim’s narratives as objective truth. Abusers can be key operators who are very experienced in meeting the impeccable and can be smart enough to blame their victims. Professionals should also be trained to identify the tactics of manipulating abusers, both with their victims and in their interactions with professionals working in or with the family court.
Unfortunately, it is often the extreme case of domestic violence (which rightfully belongs to the criminal court) that the family court system can go wrong, with devastating consequences for all involved, including loss of life.
Stereotypes and gender prejudices in cases of domestic violence
We all have prejudices (conscious and unconscious), and we may not always know how quickly we will believe something that reinforces our prejudices.
Proponents of domestic violence and violence exclusively as sex, male and female crime may be part of studies and statistics that reinforce their own beliefs (biased affirmation) and may dismiss the experiences of male victims as ” exceptions ”as a rule. Many others are resilient in recognizing established and historic patriarchal beliefs and behaviors that result in the continued abuse of women in closed doors and the risk of family court judges having these (unconscious) prejudices and gender stereotypes in positions of power.
Male victims of domestic violence are often ashamed or disbelieved by the law or by others when the perpetrators are women because of their entrenched gender stereotypes. In family courts, an injured woman victim is often slandered as “hysterical” or “irrational” by a manipulator who plays on the unconscious prejudices (especially of judges) of a historically patriarchal system.
Dealing with high-profile custody cases
High conflict resolution cases are those in which parents cannot reach an agreement on custody arrangements and one or both parents often return to court seeking amendments to current court decisions. The first step is to assess all of these high-conflict cases for the possibility of domestic violence, by assessing domestic violence (regardless of whether or not there are complaints). Cases that are high in conflict but are determined not to have any domestic abuse must be treated very differently from cases of domestic violence.
When there is any accusation or indication of domestic abuse, these allegations must first be considered (including assessing the risk of abuse) before the joint custody is examined.
In cases where there are no allegations or indications of domestic violence, ongoing custody battles can be detrimental to children, so parents are often called upon to work together and learn to coexist and communicate better to end these battles. Currently, the “high conflict” label is used for cases that may or may not involve domestic violence, leading to some confusion between lawyers and the family court over nomenclature and best practices.
It is important for the family court and professionals to recognize that parental alienation claims between parents in high-conflict conflicts must be treated and treated in a completely different way when one parent is likely to be dangerous and manipulative.
Understanding parental alienation claims
One currently under discussion is parental alienation, where one parent deliberately alienates children from the other non-abusive parent. This construction only applies when the alienated parent is not abusive. However, abusers often claim to be victims of parental alienation in order to divert attention from domestic violence and abuse, as well as other elements related to the best interests of the child (Meier, 2020).
It is important for the family court and professionals to recognize that parental alienation claims between parents in high-conflict conflicts must be treated and treated in a completely different way when one parent is likely to be dangerous and manipulative. In other words, if there is a claim of domestic violence, these allegations should be taken seriously and examined immediately before any other allegations such as parental alienation are considered.
It is important for lawyers to distinguish between:
- Discuss whether the structure of parental alienation is valid.
- Pointing out how this edifice is being exploited by abusers of domestic violence to blame the victims as perpetrators.
The validity of the construction is independent of whether it is used or not, so education and training on these issues is important.
Barry Goldstein, a leading advocate for women who have survived domestic violence, has proposed a law on safe children that prioritizes the safety and well-being of children involved in child custody cases. The measures he describes (but a more comprehensive approach to male victims) would be a huge step toward protecting victims of domestic violence.
I hope this article encourages more cooperation and discussion among all survivors of domestic abuse and violence, their advocates and professionals working with them in the areas of law enforcement, mental health and social services, as well as legal and judicial systems.
Meier, J. S. (2020, January 7) The effects of child care in the United States. in cases involving allegations of parental alienation and abuse: What does the data show? Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law. doi: 10.1080 / 09649069.2020.1701941
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