Friday, 31 October 2008

Abuse Victims Punished

In July this year I published a post, "Family Courts and Injustice", which highlighted articles,  written by Camilla Cavendish, from The Times.  I have another article of hers from last week filed away ready to appear here but an article from today's Times jumps straight to the head of the queue.

Today, Camilla Cavendish describes the horrendous case of a mother who ......  Shit!  This is so bad that there's no point in my writing a precis.  Just read the entire article - sorry it's very long - and then scream at the injustice.


"First battered at home and then by the State

Women who manage to escape domestic violence then find themselves under suspicion and facing a wall of silence

When I first started campaigning for children who had been taken from their families by local authorities on what I felt were flimsy grounds, my editor told me to keep writing “until we're sick of it”. I apologise to readers who have reached that point. But a case has been raised with me by an MP who is being prevented from helping a constituent because the local council believes that it is obliged to withhold most of the relevant information. That is worrying.

Tim Yeo is concerned about the treatment of two constituents by social services. Ann - not her real name - was in an abusive marriage. The council advised her to move into temporary accommodation the next time her husband became aggressive. She did.

At this point Ann was a textbook victim. Her little boy had had an operation. She cared for him and took him to medical appointments. When she started living with another man, Bob, and got pregnant by him, her ex-husband sued for custody. He claimed that Ann suffered from a condition that used to be called Munchausen's syndrome by proxy and is now known as fabricated or induced illness (FII). This would have led her to pretend the child was ill.

Despite a surgeon explaining that he had made most of the medical referrals, social workers seem to have become convinced that Ann was a liar. When a teacher reported that the boy was scared of his dad, the idea was said to have been put into his head by Ann, because he used “adult words”. The father won custody. Ann's little boy now sees her for only three hours a week.

It is one thing for the system to decide that a boy is better off with his father than his mother. It is quite another to take a child from its parents into care. When Ann became pregnant, the council was concerned. She and Bob found its suspicion hard to bear. She tried to express this to a social worker by saying that Bob felt like killing them all if their baby was also taken away. It was a disastrous mistake. Police arrived. Bob was marched out of the house. A few days later, their baby was removed.

Mr Yeo has written to the council to ask what justification there was for removing a ten-week old baby from a couple who have never been charged with an offence. The council's previous replies to his requests for information are not encouraging. Ann and Bob want their MP to know all the facts of their case, however damaging it might prove to them. Mr Yeo would treat this in confidence. But the council says that it is bound by confidentiality. It cannot disclose information about families with which it works. So Mr Yeo is in the dark. He cannot advise his constituents without seeing the files.

What constitutes “confidentiality” for a ten-week old baby? Should her right to privacy trump her right to family life? If a council puts people under such pressure that one of them makes a silly remark and it then punishes them for that remark, is that not persecution? Not only is Ann a victim of domestic violence, but the State has made her a victim a second time. If she really is ill with FII, she needs help. Yet all she has received is punishment.

This story looks like an example of a Catch-22 that I have begun to notice. You could call it “once a victim, always a victim”. It is well known that if you have been in care yourself, the authorities are more likely to consider you a risk to your child, keep you under scrutiny and to put your child in care. But it appears that something similar holds true if you have suffered domestic violence. It is not illogical to keep tabs on women who have fallen for cruel, manipulative men who can harm them and their children. What is surprising is that allegations made by such men are given so much weight

In the past three months I have spoken to a surprising number of women who have escaped domestic violence only to find themselves accused. First, they are blamed for having exposed the children to violence. Then, when they get up the courage to leave, they are suspected of being too weak to cope alone. One woman told me that she was labelled as a “weak parent” because she rang the police whenever her ex, against whom she had a restraining order, prowled round her home at night. Many claim that their ex-partners started to accuse them of being mentally ill as soon as they departed or after they turned down a derisory divorce settlement. Thus the psychological abuse continues.

The coup de grâce seems to come when women who make the break, and manage it well, then find themselves accused of obstructing access to the children. The system is understandably keen to keep children in touch with fathers. But this can create a double bind.

I recently spoke to a manager of a refuge for battered women. She is furious that a family judge has revealed the address of this refuge, which is supposed to be secret, by insisting that the father be told where his children reside. The father is now sending threatening mail there, and arrives there for visits with the children. So a woman who had been urged to make a clean break is still being browbeaten. The refuge staff fear that this man may eventually get custody of the children, by arguing that their mother is depressed. The authorities will have made her so.

I do not know how widespread this phenomenon is. But too often, power seems to tip the wrong way. The abusive partner gets custody. The innocent new father loses his child. The MP - one of the only people that Bob is legally allowed to talk to - is kept in the dark. Mr Yeo believes that “a family is being split up because of decisions taken by unaccountable officials who are hiding behind the law”. Can a system that relies on circular logic really speak for the children?"

— Camilla Cavendish has been shortlisted for the 2008 Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism for her family justice campaign


Why are some women abused by their partners and then abused by the very services who should be helping? 

Why are these vulnerable women not supported?

Why do Social Services turn from helpers to abusers?

How do the abusers manage to swing the system to support them?


Might it be that abused women are weakened by the abuse?

Do the women appear to be over-protective of their children?

Does the abuser come over as pleasant, rational and level-headed and the abused woman as fearful and frightened and over-protective?

Are Social Services blind to the effect that abuse has on women?

Do Social Services actually blame the women for being abused by their partners?  Their actions defy logic and then they claim confidentiality  - no doubt to protect a child - to prevent any appeal.


The injustices meted out to abused mothers is completely unacceptable.  We cannot stand by and let this continue.


Please support Camilla's campaign. 


There are links to several of Camilla's articles in my first post on family courts and injustice.


  1. This area is always a problem area for social services. For in many cases they leave it too long to remove children from very harmful situations with tragic results. At least that has been the case where I live on several occasions. I wonder if an over zealous worker who has experienced such a result previously is involved in the case and is not making sound judgments any more. Or is this the new policy as a whole for the department?
    It is a very tragic story in itself unfortunately, both for the children and that young mother. How many more are there that do not make the news?

  2. There's a whole system dysfunction in operation here.

    It's not just apparent in the family courts/custody/social services system.

    The root of the problem is that as a society we simply do not recognise abuse in all its forms.

    We would prefer to believe the abuser. We do not stand up to bullies, whether they're in the school playground or driving young army recruits to death or whether they're in Parliament or in the police.

    This most abysmal failure of authority to take responsibility was brought home to me when my son was recruited as a 6th former to be a peer mentor for younger children who were being bullied by other children in the school. The school head and teachers completely abdicated their responsbility to protect the victims and simply passed them on to other children - who had probably been bullied themselves at some point...thus they could be empathic.

    THIS is what we do as a society. We completely abdicate our responsibility to deal with the bullies around us.

    I am so distraught for this young mother. I can completely see how the bullying system is creating the situation where it does not support but perversely undermines her at every turn. When she's thoroughly broken by their system they will then be able to justify their actions in removing children, shunting her off to a mental hospital, filling her full of drugs to silence her wholly justified complaints....

    THIS is sickness. As jmb asks, how many hundreds of thousands more cases are there that we don't hear about?

  3. This is awful, tragic and is the 'norm' it would seem, however, it is seen often by abused women, domestic violence.

    One thing with the social services, is to note everything, get an advocate to go with you everytime you meet with them. Never go alone, always have a witness. Then if you forget something, your advocate can speak for you.

    Advocacy Alliance is free service, it states to people with disabilites, but they offer help to people with depression, domestic abuse and so on.

    The most awful thing is they do seem to be a law unto themselves.

    Many women of domestic abuse are depressed severely, for obvious reasons, it is far too easy for the Social Services to label someone depressed as Mentally ill and dismiss their concerns, and so on, as someone who is Mentally Ill.

    Read every report they write, correct any detail they put that is incorrect. It is also your right to do this.

    It very much seems as the article states once a victim always a victim.

    Please note however, this is important you cannot ignore them or be hostile or confrontational, it will most certainly go against you, also abusers are clever and will try and paint the victim as being unstable to Social Services, they relate rubbish to deflect from themselves.

    All advice to Domestic Abuse/women is to work with Social Services there is no other way, not working with them, results in greater consequences, these are not people you can ignore, whether you wish to do so, it is in best interests to work with them,telling them they are wrong means you are in denial .

    You have to take their suggestions and just remain unemotional, show them you have the children's best interests at heart, a bit like scoring brownie points.

    You have to be strategic instead of emotional, it is the only way out of Social Services and abusive relationship.

    Abusers even after the relationship has ended then cause more problems/abuse than ever imagined to the woman. They will also use Social services to discredit the woman, and make themselves look better the perfect parent. The trick is to remain unemotional show you are the better parent, work with them not against them. They will not go away, not working with them, goes greatly against anyone.

    It is a difficult situation for anyone involved, but all domestic violence women it is in their own interests to work with them not against them.

    Not in relation to the article but just how the 'system' works and what is best for the woman to do finding herself with Social Services involved. This happens frequently as once leaving the abusive relationship, she then becomes ill, suffering flashbacks and so on.

  4. Made a special journey over here Calum! :) thought this may be interesting, today found out that the GSCC (General Social Care Council) has a register on the Internet that you access, type in the name of a social worker to see if they are registered,they will also strike them off the register if their conduct is not correct.

    Apparently they have codes of practice which i find hard to believe.....(from what have experienced), in these conducts and rules, it speaks of respect for people they are helping and so on,(you can download the rules a small booklet)
    they can be removed from the Social Care Register if they breach the codes.

    The codes mention respect for the people they deal with and abuse is not allowed, you can make a complaint on the same site or find out how to do so.

    It would also be good for anyone experiencing dis-respect or anything like that, to remind the social worker/s of their duty to uphold the standards in the rules of conduct regulated by the GSCC.

    You can also see if a particular social worker is registered with them, by simply typing in their name and area.

  5. Feathers

    Thanks for this. I'll post the details - different for England, Scotland, NIreland and Wales. May be a slight delay in doing so. I can't access the Scotland site this am.

    Many thanks.