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Ministry of Justice Domestic Abuse Consultation - Deadline is 31st May!

Well-intentioned plans can have devastating consequences

31st May deadline - make sure your voice is heard!

Many of you tell us of your experience of being falsely accused of domestic violence or abuse in the context of family separation. We also hear frequently from dads who have been victims of abuse, only to then have this compounded with allegations of actually being perpetrators. It is often assumed that the reason for under-reporting by men of such situations is because of the stigma men feel. There may be something in this, however, our service users often say that it is because of their fear of reprisals in relation to them seeing their children or feeling that their experiences will be ignored by the authorities.

Please take the time to provide your input. There is a long version and a short version of the consultation document. Depending on the time you have available to you, please use the appropriate links below. The full version contains 65 questions.

Short MoJ Consultation - Click Here   Full MoJ Consultation - Click Here

 Brief Outline of Proposals

The Government are consulting on proposals to toughen-up on perpetrators of abuse and to extend it to include coercive behaviour. In particular, they propose a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices/Orders as a centre-piece. As proposed, these would work a bit like current Non-Molestation Orders whereby a breach of such an order will result in an automatic criminal record. On the face of it such proposals may appear to serve the positive purpose of protecting vulnerable adults and children - those who have truly have suffered deserve all the support that they can get. However, we are concerned at the lack of necessary checks and balances in the system to ensure that they do not lead to an increase in its abuse where malicious ex-partners use these to undermine relationships with children in the context of family separation. We are also concerned at the lack of appropriate support given to men and in particular to fathers. The consultation also proposes a Commissioner for Domestic Violence, but we feel that this would not serve the needs of men as currently proposed and that there should therefore be a separate Commissioner or Deputy-Commissioner focused on the experience of men. Your feedback to the government based on your experiences will help to redress the balance. If you would like to read more about FNF's key concerns in response to the questions posed in the consultation then please read on.

Further FNF Comments on MoJ’s Domestic Abuse Consultation

We summarise below our views on some of the key questions in the government’s consultation. Please use your own experiences to answer the questions asked and illustrate your responses with these. Question numbers are based on the full version of the consultation.

What will change as a result of these proposals? (Questions 1-3)

The pressure on organisations such as Families Need Fathers and Mankind Initiative will become immense as false allegations are part of the currency of family separation. Allegations of domestic abuse are a gateway to Legal Aid in family courts and are a way of delaying or completely thwarting child arrangements. Your experience of the effect of inappropriate use of Non-Molestation Orders or investigations by the police and family court Findings of Fact hearings would be valuable in response to this question e.g. causing delays and the effect of this on your relationship with your child(ren).

If applied as proposed and without new support for legal and pastoral care for those who are accused or balancing measures to avoid improper use of new powers, it will lead to a further increase in the number of children growing up without loving fathers in their lives, increases in already high male suicide rates and a less healthy or safe society. You may wish to give an account of what it might mean for you personally and your confidence about getting help.

 

How should the new definition that includes coercive/financial control should be embedded in frontline practice? (Questions 1-3)

Given that some 37% of domestic abuse is against men (700,000 men! - Office of National Statistics [ONS] 2017), there is a need to understand far better why it is that men under-report their experiences. Without this, front-line services cannot provide appropriate training to staff or support to them. The current proposals are very focused on the experiences of women and are likely to make it more rather than less difficult for men to obtain appropriate support. It is our view that fear of reprisal action by ex-partners leading to the loss of access to their children and failure of authorities to take men’s complaints seriously are bigger factors in under-reporting of abuse of men than stigma.

How can schools help educate about domestic abuse? (Questions 6)

There is a need for educators to make children aware that abuse can be against women, men, girls and boys and that there is a need to help educators who are explaining these things to have an in-depth understanding of the experience of this by boys as well as girls and the barriers they face in discussing these things. The education should also explain that exaggerating or making-up abuse allegations, sometimes in the context of falling-out with girlfriends/boyfriends or others is a very serious matter and of itself a form of abuse which they should not be afraid to raise. Role-play exercises where children discuss a range of inappropriate behaviours and how to deal with them in age-appropriate ways may be of value.

 

(Questions 7-12 on supporting victims)

Which statutory agencies should the Government focus its efforts in?

Police, Health Professionals, Social Services, court staff and Cafcass seem like obvious candidates. For some, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) may also be relevant e.g. in providing false statements to CMS in order to control or hurt the ‘Non-Resident’ parent.

 

What else such agencies can do?

There is a need for fresh initiatives to be developed to encourage men to report abuse. These need to be developed in consultation with men and groups that represent them such as us and Mankind Initiative and Families Need Fathers if they are to understand how and where they might be able to report and what their barriers are to reporting abuse.

Measures need to be introduced to protect child-parent relationships in safe and proportionate ways. Currently, even if the allegations are not supported by any evidence, many agencies recommend a cessation of contact with children rather than recommending safe arrangements pending enquiries which often take far too long and are not on a timescale that reflects children’s needs. The use of proposed new Domestic Abuse Notices/Orders (see below) or other existing orders should be accompanied by automatic referral to Family Courts to ensure that, where possible, the collateral damage of false allegations can be minimised.

Such damage would be further reduced if, where it is clear that false allegations were made, police time wasted, perjury committed or Legal Aid obtained under false pretences, that such actions were prosecuted so as to discourage gaming the system. Giving more power to a system that can be abused is dangerous and leads to many miscarriages of justice and in these cases, untold damage to children and their parents.

 

How can understanding of domestic abuse be improved?

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Home Office can start to understand the issues of violence against men by not defining it, as they do, as ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’. Men are significantly less likely to report - Male victims (39%) are over three times as likely as women (12%) not to tell anyone about the partner abuse they are suffering from. Only 10% of male victims will tell the police (26% women), only 23% will tell a person in an official position (43% women) and only 11% (23% women) will tell a health professional. (source ONS BCS Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences 2014/15)  These are all compelling reasons for a separate focus for male victims to help the Government develop appropriate responses for all victims or to develop strategies to end it.

What support should be available for those who are abused?

We should suggest an education campaign to professionals and the wider public to extend understanding of men’s perspective on abuse and hence help them to (a) identify when they have been abused and (b) assist others to assist them. For most men, their responsibility to their own children trumps all other considerations. New mechanisms need to be developed to enforce Child Arrangement Orders if fathers are to feel safe in reporting abuse.

 

What should be the priorities for Government funding?

In the context of family separation, truth is often the first casualty. There needs to be support for speedy investigations of allegations and for safeguarding the parent-child relationship whilst this process continues. This could be done by having safe arrangements for this in Children Contact Centres or with qualified supervision. As such arrangements are made in the interest of the child, they should be funded by both parties in a family dispute, but subsidised by the Government. Time is the enemy of child-parent relationships and huge damage is done when it is stopped, particularly when the ‘parent with care’ enmeshes the child in their own feelings, false perspectives or untruths. Further funding should also be made available for investigating such allegations quickly so that the risks one form of abuse are not substituted with another just as happened, until recently, when the Metropolitan Police had a policy of always believing alleged victims.

The Government also need to ensure an equality of arms and that those who are accused are given Legal Aid on the same basis as their accusers – anything less will continue to result in fundamental injustices to children and parents alike.

Funding should also be provided to ensure that any order such as a Non-Molestation Order or Domestic Abuse Protection Order, where children are involved, results in agreement for safe contact arrangements or, if that cannot be agreed, an automatic and urgent (within seven days) referral to a Family Court for an urgent hearing to decide upon.

 

What more can the Government do to better support victims who face multiple barriers to accessing support?

They should fund services that are grounded in the experience of men rather than those who marginalise or demonise them. UK Govt fund Respect (a feminist organisation dealing with male perpetrators) – to provide the Men’s Advice line for male victims. This service ‘screens’ or ‘assesses’ callers to determine whether they are perpetrators of abuse. No service for women would do the same. There should also be someone whose job is to consider both parents as potential victims and take a child focused on both protecting children from conventional abuse as well as protecting their relationships with both parents.

 

What can be done to support vulnerable women? (Question 14)

Not only women are vulnerable. There needs to be respect for the law, criminal behaviour needs to be acted upon and there must be enforcement of the rule of law, however, this must include Child Arrangement Orders which rarely are.

 

There are a number of questions about new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices/Orders (Questions 16-26)

These form the centre-piece of the legislation. It builds upon a relatively recent move that introduced Domestic Violence Protection Notices – DAPNs (issued by the police) and Orders - DAPOs (obviously issued by the Court but applied for by the police within 48 hours of making a Notice).

The proposal is to extend this structure to Domestic Abuse Protection Notices & Orders. These would be available for any actions that fell under the new ‘Statutory Definition’ ie ANY INCIDENT OR PATTERN OF INCIDENTS ETC ETC…… INCLUDING EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND ECONOMIC ABUSE’. Sanctions would include the equivalent of Restraining / Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders (as currently with DVPN/DVPOs. Breach of a proposed DAPN/DAPO would be a specific criminal offence. Most of these DAPOs are likely to be issued in the Family Court because the burden of proof would be the balance of probability. Those subject to a DAPO could be required to attend drug & alcohol treatment, DV perpetrator course, parenting courses etc. They could also be electronically tagged.

Extending such powers needs balancing with safeguards for the accused so as to discourage or prevent abuse of the powers, especially in the context of family separation.

 

How might the new orders work?

Anything that might result in a criminal offence, should require a criminal threshold of proof. Anything that might result in a criminal record, needs Legal Aid support for both parties. There need to be matching sanctions where there are findings that allegations were malicious or unfounded. The consequences are too awful otherwise with very serious risks of serious miscarriages of justice. It would be wrong if there were further erosion of the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in matters involving criminal outcomes, especially in areas such as coercive control where such a threshold, whilst required, may often be difficult to reach. However, the alternative does not bare thinking about.

 

There is a question on Clare’s Law about disclosure of details of abusers to new partners. (Questions 32-34)

This law should be balanced with reciprocal arrangements for disclosure of details of those who have found to make unfounded allegations, devastating people’s lives in the process.

 

On strengthening Coercive & Controlling Behaviour
There’s only one question of this. A way to strengthen the offence (under s76 of the Serious Crimes Act 2015) would be to remove the requirement for the perpetrator to be living with the victim. ONS data shows that there is a significantly increased risk of all forms of abuse in the 12 months following separation. If the requirement to be living together is dropped then cases where the child is used as a weapon against the Non Resident Parent might be covered by the criminal offence.

 

Question about Conditional Cautions (Questions 48-52)

The acceptance of guilt via acceptance of a Conditional Caution needs to be supported by Legal Aid to prevent miscarriages of justice. Explain if you have ended up accepting a caution for example, when you should not have and what the consequences were. The government should consider legislating to include repeated breech of Child Arrangement Orders without seeking variation through Family Courts.

 

Questions on establishing a Commissioner (Questions 59-61)

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner will be the ‘cheer-leader’ for the DV sector. Some are calling for it to be titled the ‘Violence against Women & Girls Commissioner’. Because of the current emphasis on Women and Girls it is no longer credible for men to have confidence in a single Commissioner. Already, the lack of balance and support for men and women and this is causing a great deal of damage to men who are not perpetrators and who are less likely to report abuse or to be heard when they do. Men’s experiences of domestic abuse and violence now need to be understood and championed separately.

 

28th May 2018

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FNF HSSF Kite Mark Award

Families Need Fathers has been awarded the Help and Support for Separated Families Kite Mark which is a new UK government accreditation scheme for organisations offering help to separated families.

Families Need Fathers work with a range of family law professionals, including Family Law Panel

 

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