Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Women Against Rape (WAR) (DAB67)

Women Against Rape (WAR) is a multi-racial women’s organisation founded in 1976. It provides support, advocacy and information in individual cases. It campaigns for justice, protection and compensation for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence. It has won changes in the law such as making rape in marriage a crime and set legal precedents such as the first successful private prosecution for rape in England and Wales, after the authorities refused to bring a serial rapist to court. It is active in the Support Not Separation Coalition which defends mothers and children against unwarranted separation. Through this work, we are in contact with hundreds of mothers and children, family law professionals and organisations. We have successfully intervened in a number of cases to stop local authorities and the courts forcing children into contact or even residence with violent fathers.


Women are primary carers in 90% of households.  Domestic violence is widespread and often deadly.  During the COVID-19 lockdown, domestic murders of women in the UK doubled  [1] [1] and calls to the Met police from victims rose by one third.  [2] [2]  This has exposed the lies of domestic violence deniers.  Overwhelmingly, the victims are women and the perpetrators are men, particularly in more serious physical attacks, and coercive and controlling behaviour. 

As part of the Support Not Separation Coalition, which defends mothers and children facing the family court, we are particularly concerned that the Bill does not address many of the major problems with the way violent men are using the court to continue their reign of terror and to escape prosecutionBetween 70-90% of family court cases involve domestic violence, yet only 1% of fathers are denied access to children-a strong indication of how biased the courts are in favour of men. 

The reality we deal with every day is that mothers who report violence are being routinely disbelieved, especially if the allegations are also sexual.  They face having their children taken away by the state and even given to the violent/rapist father, further traumatising the children by separating them from the mother they depend on for protection.  The horror of this situation cannot be overemphasised.

We urge MPs to put forward a proposed amendment to Part 5 to:

Delete Section 11 (2A) of the Children and Families Act 2014 which presumes that it is always in a child’s best interest to have contact with both parents.  

RATIONALE: The presumption of contact is continually used to over-ride any history of rape and/or domestic violence, or lack of care/involvement by fathers. Introduced in 2014 after intensive lobbying by fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence, it has opened the way for allegations of "parental alienation" against mothers who report a history of domestic violence, and especially when they report fathers’ sexual or other violence against children. 

For the welfare of children to be paramount, their safety and the safety of the mother, who is usually the primary carer, must be prioritised over fathers’ contact.  Fathers who are violent to their children, to mothers, to former or present partners should not have contact with children, especially unsupervised contact. Thousands of children are being harmed physically and psychologically by being coerced to see fathers they are terrified of.  It is horrifying that mothers trying to protect their children by reporting the violence and refusing to force their children into contact with their abuser, are accused of alienating them and having them taken away by the state and often given to their abuser.  The presumption of "equality" between mothers and fathers is of a piece with pressure to keep this Bill "gender neutral" – a travesty that plays into the hands of organisations of men who deny domestic violence or accuse women of it in order to hide the truth and call the victims liars. 

REJECT: all Amendments proposed by Phillip Davies, Bob Stewart and Damian Collins

Davies is closely allied with militant fathers’ groups who deny domestic violence. His amendments have no place in a Bill to protect victims of domestic violence. A member of the 1922 Committee, he has a long misogynistic and racist parliamentary track record. He’s almost always voted against laws to promote equality and human rights for women (attacking feminists as "zealots"), Black people, disabled people, lgbtq, against bans on smoking, against corporation tax increase, against making rented homes fit for habitation, against welfare increases targeting poverty.

His women constituents were so horrified by his record and rudeness to constituents that in 2016 they formed the Shipley Feminist Zealots to campaign against him. Over 1,000 marched against him and President Trump, whom he supports. (He said "I would vote for Trump in a heartbeat"). They say now: "We are appalled by his track record of obstructing legislation which seeks to protect survivors of domestic abuse in the name of 'men's rights'. Well over 1,000 of us have worked tirelessly over the past four years to hold him to account, despite being branded by him as "extremists", "socialists" and "feminist zealots".  We urge the scrutiny committee to ensure that this long awaited Bill is not delayed or derailed by him at the expense of the safety of women and families across the country". 

reject the following amendments:

Amendments 1 &5: to exclude economic abuse from the definition of domestic abuse. It is a fact that most men earn more than most women, (the income gap is still 18%, up to 26% for BAME women and women with disabilities) and that abusive men often use their financial superiority as part of their abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour, especially against mothers, in ways which are never "reasonable"!

Amendments 8 & 9: which would include "parental alienation" in the definition of domestic abuse. Creating an open-ended definition of parental alienation could lead to mothers being prosecuted as soon as they report violence against themselves or their children.

Children and mothers are frequently disbelieved or dismissed even when incidents of violence have been reported to the police or others in authority.  Mothers are accused of making up such allegations in order to "alienate" the child from the father.

"Parental alienation" is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner , a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence and defended paedophilia.  The World Health Organisation recently declassified "parental alienation" from its list of "disorders", and many experts have dismissed it as pseudo-science.  [3] [3] 

Shockingly the fathers’ lobby, mostly men who deny domestic violence, have succeeded in getting "parental alienation" recognised as de-facto policy by the family courts. They have heavily influenced CAFCASS which champions it, including to recommend children go to live with abusive fathers.  It’s a reflection of its sexist bias that there are five men’s groups among CAFCASS’ stakeholders, and only two women’s groups! The Chair of its Board is Edward Timpson MP who as Minister for Children & Families was instrumental in promoting the presumption of contact. (Should an MP really be chair of an independent body??)

Mothers face an impossible catch 22.  If we report domestic violence or child abuse, or if we don’t, we can be blamed for harming our children by having (had) a violent partner, even though we are victims, and the children taken from us, put in care or even housed with the violent father.

Also reject amendments 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 27

We also support proposed New Clauses 19, 20, 21, 24

We support the proposals made by Stay Safe East, Step Up Migrant Women and Southall Black Sisters.

Preliminary investigation into violent fathers using allegations of "parental alienation" in the family courts, separating children from their mothers, by Support Not Separation.

Legal Action for Women, which coordinates the Support Not Separation Coalition , holds regular self-help meetings with mothers fighting to protect their children. In our self-help meeting last week, six women came together to discuss how they and their children have been targeted by violent fathers. Three were women of colour, and one was an immigrant from Eastern Europe.

In every case the father had a history of domestic violence against the mother, sometimes including rape, and in several cases he had also been abusive towards the children. All six mothers had accused of "parental alienation" by the fathers after they raised concerns about violence and the impact of forcing the children into contact with a father they feared or hardly knew.

● In one case two young children have already been taken from their mum and given to the father who hits them and is so neglectful that they had to be sent to live with their grandmother.

● In two cases, the children are threatened with being taken into foster care if they continue to refuse to see their fathers! This includes 12 year old twins who face being separated from each other and put in foster care so they can be "persuaded" to see their father.

What is clear from these accounts is that:

– Children’s "wishes and feelings" not to see their violent father are being ignored, in contravention with the Children Act 1989. Children are being tortured with threats of being taken from their mother and their home and put in foster care if they don’t comply and have contact with their violent father.

– Mothers who are doing their best to protect their children and to listen to the voices of those old enough to clearly speak for themselves, are accused of manipulating the children against their fathers i.e. of "parental alienation".

– Mothers who have experienced violence on themselves and their children, are being directed by the court to coerce the children into contact with the abusive father or risk having the children taken into care or given to the man they know to be violent.

– Violent men are using the family courts to continue their reign of terror over women and children, and to avoid prosecution. We know of cases where police investigations were dropped once the fathers applied to the family court for contact. Violent men are considered "good enough fathers" despite being ready to deprive children of their primary carer.

– Court appointed psychiatrists, CAFCASS officers and social workers are more keen to promote fathers’ "right" to contact with the children than to protect children’s safety and welfare. They are ready to take children from their mothers, split up siblings and put them into foster care to try to force them into contact!

– No consideration is given to the devastating impact and lifelong trauma caused to children by being brutally cut off from siblings and from the mother who has been their primary carer, and put into state "care" with strangers.– In addition to the sexism of having the violence they reported ignored, dismissed or even turned against them, mothers who are women of colour or immigrant and/or have a disability face racism and other discrimination from professionals. Disproportionate numbers of BAME children are in "care"; half of mothers with learning disabilities who seek help have their children taken from them.

8 June 2020


Prepared 11th June 2020