This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Commentary on ''Mothers, Domestic Violence, and Child Protection,'' by Heather Douglas and Tamara Walsh
Marianne Hester Violence Against Women 2010 16: 516 DOI: 10.1177/1077801210366289 The online version of this article can be found at: http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/16/5/516
Additional services and information for Violence Against Women can be found at: Email Alerts: http://vaw.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://vaw.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Citations: http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/16/5/516.refs.html
>> Version of Record - Apr 13, 2010 What is This?
Downloaded from vaw.sagepub.com by Claudine Dombrowski on October 23, 2013
Commentary on “Mothers, Domestic Violence, and Child Protection,” by Heather Douglas and Tamara Walsh
Violence Against Women –523 16(5) 516 © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: http://www. sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1077801210366289 http://vaw.sagepub.com
domestic violence, child protection, child contact and visitation
Douglas and Walsh outline the often problematic and negative outcomes for both women and children experiencing violence from male partners, resulting from contradictory practices of professionals dealing with domestic violence. Though the article is about Australia, these are issues that are equally valid and relevant, and continually repeated, across many countries (e.g., United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark; see Eriksson & Hester, 2001; Hester, 2002; Humphreys et al., 2007; Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003; Radford & Hester 2006). The authors are especially concerned with what they identify as contradictory practices and discourses relating to domestic violence within child protection work. However, these problems may also be understood within a wider set of contradictions related to the areas involving direct work with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, child protection, and child contact or visitation. These three areas, at least in the United Kingdom, have developed in such different ways that they might be conceptualized as being located on three separate “planets,” each with their own separate histories, culture, laws, and populations (i.e., sets of professionals; Hester, 2004, 2009a). In each of the three “planets” of domestic violence work, child protection, and child contact/visitation, there are distinct “cultural histories” underpinning practices and outcomes. Domestic violence work in the United Kingdom (and many other countries) has been
University of Bristol, UK
Corresponding Author: Marianne Hester, Centre for Gender and Violence Research, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TZ, UK Email: Marianne.firstname.lastname@example.org
influenced by feminist understanding of domestic violence as gender based, and tends to see the problem as (mainly) male perpetrators impacting on (mainly) female victims or survivors. The work of child protection services in the United Kingdom has a very different history to that of domestic violence, with the family, and in particular “dysfunctional” families, as central to the problem. Within this approach the focus is on the child and her or his main carer, usually the mother. These structural factors, with domestic violence and child protection work on different “planets,” have made it especially difficult to integrate practice and have resulted in child protection work where there is a tendency to see mothers as failing to protect their children rather than as the victims of domestic violence, and where violent male perpetrators are often ignored (Hester, 2009a). These difficulties are made even more complex when both child protection and arrangements for child visitation postseparation of the parents intersect. Within the contexts of divorce proceedings, mothers must be perceived as proactively encouraging child contact and must not be attempting to “aggressively protect” their children from the direct or indirect abuse of a violent father (Radford & Hester, 2006). The child protection and child visitation/contact planets thus create further contradictions for mothers and children: There may be an expectation that mothers should protect their children, but at the same time, formally constituted arrangements for visitation may be implemented that do not adequately take into account that in some instances mothers and/or children may experience further abuse. While these “planetary” problems have been documented as applying to the United Kingdom, the United States, and many European countries, they also appear to be reflected in Douglas and Walsh’s Australian example. The Australian research involved focus group discussions with a range of professionals “who support mothers dealing with both domestic violence and child protection matters,” and specifically staff from “community organizations that assist mothers in their dealing with child safety authorities.” These professionals may thus be construed as being located on the domestic violence planet, focusing on safety and protection of women (the adults) experiencing domestic violence, and perceiving the world primarily from that vantage point. The authors indicate that, “The primary concern raised by study participants was that child protection officials often misunderstood the dynamics of domestic violence and that this has negative consequences for both mothers and children.” This is not surprising within the “planetary” framework, where such frustrations may be understood as occurring because the professionals on the other planets do not, and cannot, perceive the world in the same way without a major realignment of the planets concerned. The remainder of this commentary will look more closely at the issues brought to the fore by Douglas and Walsh’s research, as it applies within the English context.1
In England the child protection framework is provided through the Children Act 1989 and 2004, the Adoption and Children Act 2002, and to a lesser extent the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004. The emphasis, as in Australia, is on intervention in families
Violence Against Women 16(5)
by the state to ensure that a child does not suffer significant harm. There is no overt acknowledgment of domestic violence in the English Children Act, although an amendment in 1996 (via the Family Law Act 1996), shifted this emphasis and allows the courts to exclude from the home someone who is suspected of abusing a child within the home, including a domestic violence perpetrator. However, reflecting the general approach on the child protection “planet” as outlined earlier, there is an expectation that the carer, usually the woman, will herself eventually exclude the abuser either by using civil protection remedies or through the intervention of criminal justice agencies (Hester, Pearson, Harwin, & Abrahams, 2007). In 2002, the Adoption and Children Act also extended the definition of “harm” to include “impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another” (Hester et al., 2007). This came into effect in January 2005, and since then there has been a steady increase in the use of “emotional abuse” as a category for registering children with the child protection services as at risk of significant harm. However, difficulties and contradictory messages continue to be the result for mothers, with pressure on them to show that they are protecting children from violent partners. While recognition of domestic violence as a context for child abuse should be a positive step, in reality the “planetary” problems and processes of gendering lead to the opposite. An example from recent research in England indicates both the increasing awareness by children’s services of domestic violence and the intractable problem of mother blaming. It involved a very physically and psychologically abusive male ex-partner who was attending a perpetrator program (Williamson & Hester, 2009). There were fears about a significant emotional impact of the man’s behavior on two children, who had been placed on the child protection register as a result. The parents were separated, and as part of a safety plan developed by social workers the mother was provided with an alarm with direct access to the police so that she could easily call for help if the ex-partner/father came to the house. However, social workers also used the evidence of the woman’s attempts to increase her own and her children’s safety (by triggering the alarm on a number of occasions) as evidence against her of “failing to protect,” and the children were removed into local state care. The problem is that (as Jaffe et al., 2003, have also concluded for North America), if witnessing domestic violence is seen as child abuse, women experiencing domestic violence will continue to be accused of “secondary abuse” or as having “engaged in domestic violence.” In a further development, legislation in England ostensibly aimed at dealing with situations of child homicide where neither parent indicates that they are guilty is creating a further context for mother blaming and criminalizing mothers for “allowing” a child to be murdered. The English Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act of 2004 (section 5—introduced March 2005) has a new offense of “causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult” where “the defendant either was or should have been aware of the risk and failed to take steps to protect them.” The legislation has been used against a number of mothers who were acknowledged as not carrying out the homicide but who “stood by,” often in circumstances where the mothers were themselves experiencing domestic violence from the same individuals. As Herring (2007) points out regarding the new clause, “It involves criminal proceedings against women when they and their children have been let down
by the state’s failure to provide adequate protection from domestic violence or adequate services for those seeking to flee from it” (p. 7). The gendering of meanings and expectations about women’s behavior as mothers thus place a focus on a mother’s “failure to protect,” even if the father is the actual abuser. Douglas and Walsh emphasize that child protection workers’ misunderstanding of domestic violence is the central problem. Some workers, for instance, seem to see it as “just a relationship issue,” “as more of an interpersonal conflict situation,” and that “there’s this assumption that both parents are problematic if there is any violence.” Thus, they argue, child protection workers miss seeing that there is a protective parent (mother) who can and should be supported in this role. However, this also raises a number of interesting questions. For instance, what are the domestic violence experiences of the women and children referred to in Douglas and Walsh’s sample? Are they all experiencing the same degree of abuse? Is it the ongoing coercive control (Stark, 2007) or intimate terrorism (Johnson, 2006) that typifies the “archetypal” domestic violence with primary (male) aggressor and control over the woman concerned? Or is it the chaotic, more “dual” use of abusive behavior sometimes found where both partners are alcoholics (Hester, 2009b)? Also, might children be impacted similarly in these different contexts? Or are professionals just finding it easier to label situations as involving “interpersonal conflict” and seeing both parents as problematic because of their preferred practice approach and/or because they do not as a consequence need to identify a primary aggressor? In England the approach used by social workers to assess families (the Framework for Assessment) relies on a notion of families as “dysfunctional” that does not separate “parents” into (violent) fathers and (protective) mothers. Domestic violence is an aspect social workers are supposed to identify within the assessment, although it is presented as merely a feature of the family rather than a coercively controlling dynamic. In the English context, therefore, the tools provided for social workers on the child protection “planet” do not make it easy to understand the dynamics of domestic violence, nor why women may behave and react as they do when they are victimized by male partners.
Men as Good Enough Parents
Douglas and Walsh point out that “male perpetrators of violence were sometimes judged to be satisfactory fathers, just not good husbands” and that “these assessments can lead to children being removed from the mother (who is judged to be failing to protect the children), and placed in the care of the father (the perpetrator of the violence against the mother).” In England this applies especially in relation to child contact/visitation. While violent men are largely invisible and ignored on the child protection “planet,” they are highly visible on the child contact/visitation “planet.” However, their visible presence is as fathers and not as violent men. While it appears relatively easy for professionals to make the connection between a woman being an abused woman and being a mother, this is not so between being an abusive man and a father. The overriding presumption of contact on the contact/visitation “planet” has masked the gendered separation of men into good fathers on the one hand and
Violence Against Women 16(5)
violent men on the other (Eriksson & Hester, 2001). Thus their violence, not their presence, becomes invisible in this context.
Domestic Violence Intervention
In England there have been many policy initiatives aimed at developing criminal justice approaches to domestic violence, as well as support for victims/survivors. The government response has been to focus on criminalizing domestic violence via pro-arrest policies and increases in prosecution and conviction. There are also civil law approaches involving nonmolestation and exclusion (or “ouster”) orders. The most recent legislation, the English Domestic Violence Crimes and Victims Act 2004, places further emphasis on criminalizing domestic violence by making it a criminal offense to breach a civil protective order, and increases the possibility of arrest of perpetrators in domestic violence situations. As also found in the United States, in England dedicated advocacy support for victims, where women are provided with an advocate who can provide information and support throughout the criminal justice process, increases reporting to police and also use of protection orders (Hester & Westmarland, 2005). As a consequence, the government has recently funded Independent Domestic Violence Advocates in many parts of England to support women in this way (HACS, 2008). The setting up of dedicated domestic violence courts, with the judges receiving specialist training in domestic violence issues, has also been established across England to increase conviction rates (Cook, Burton, Robinson, & Vallely, 2004). However, the use of a criminal or civil justice approach deals with only a minority of domestic violence cases, and only a small proportion of cases proceed to prosecution or conviction. A range of research and reports in England have highlighted that a large proportion of cases involving domestic violence incidents “fall out” as they progress through the criminal justice system (Hester, 2006; HMCPSI & HMIC, 2004; Ofsted, 2008). Only about a quarter of incidents recorded by the police result in arrest, whereas only about 5% of incidents result in conviction (Hester, 2006; Hester & Westmarland, 2005). At the same time, research indicates that from a victim perspective, the ability of the criminal justice system to provide safety is key in their decisions about “staying in” or “dropping out” of the system (Hester, 2006). In March 2009 the U.K. Government published Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls (Home Office, 2009), with the aim of consulting on how to further combat violence, including domestic violence, specifically against women and girls. This potentially takes the response farther by recognizing that there are genderbased violence and abuses, including domestic violence, which women and girls experience disproportionately, and that there are links between different forms of violence against women and girls (ACPO, 2009). As one aspect of the consultation, new legislation is being proposed in England—a Domestic Violence Protection Order—that would enable the police to issue an “emergency injunction” of up to 10-days duration, to prevent a suspected perpetrator of interpersonal violence from entering the address of the victim
and/or to prevent contact with the victim. Douglas and Walsh point out from the literature that in England civil legislation already allows exclusion of a violent partner from the family home via an occupation order (Family Law Act 1996, s33(7)), but that the courts have been reluctant to make such orders because they are seen as interfering with property rights (Choudry & Herring, 2006). It is hoped that the proposed legislation, by relying on the police to take action rather than the victim, will be more likely to result in exclusion of the perpetrator. In supporting this new order, the police point out that situations often arise where a suspected offender, who is not charged or otherwise on bail at the time of release from police custody, is free to return to the scene of abuse, sometimes within hours of arrest (ACPO, 2009). In many cases, therefore, the risk to the victim can be as great or, indeed, greater, following the arrest of the suspect. There is no readily available, consistent, and affordable access to civil court orders at this time of increased risk. The Domestic Violence Protection Order would help to plug this gap. The proposal for a Domestic Violence Protection Order draws on the experiences of a number of other European countries, including Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Poland, where similar legislation has provided the police with powers to take positive action at the domestic violence incident to exclude the perpetrator of violence from the home for 10 or more days. The approach relies on the exclusion of the perpetrator from the home, rather than the victim (usually female) and children having to leave, and has been seen as a progressive step in relation to the protection of the victim’s human rights. The extended period of exclusion allows the victim/survivor to have a “breathing” space, enabling her to decide what to do about the relationship and other issues. Despite concerns about further intervention by the state, and potentially undermining victims/survivors’ autonomy and empowerment, the evaluations of these approaches have been very positive (see ACPO, 2009).
Douglas and Walsh support “the view that children are sometimes better supported where the battered woman is properly supported and protected,” but also point out that “there are layers of difficulty to be overcome in each case.” They conclude that “A holistic approach to service delivery must be taken . . .” In many respects the conclusions from England are similar. I would suggest, however, that the systemic contradictions presented by the “planets” mean that bringing the three “planets” into line, so that the safety of women and children prevails throughout, is a key challenge. Alongside this the processes of gendering that blame mothers also need to be addressed.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.
Violence Against Women 16(5)
The author received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
1. There are now four separate countries in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), each with their own regional government and some separate policies and/or legislation relating to domestic violence and families. This commentary focuses on policy and legislation as it applies to England.
ACPO. (2009). Tackling perpetrators of violence against women and girls: ACPO review for the Home Secretary. London: Author. Choudhry, S., & Herring, J. (2006). Righting domestic violence. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 20, 95-119. Cook, D., Burton, M., Robinson, A., & Vallely, C. (2004). Evaluation of specialist domestic violence courts/fast track systems. London: CPS/DCA/Criminal Justice System Race Unit. Eriksson, M., & Hester, M. (2001). Violent men as good enough fathers? A look at England and Sweden. Violence Against Women, 7, 779-798. Herring, J. (2007). Familial homicide, failure to protect and domestic violence: Who’s the victim? Criminal Law Review, 923, 1-8. Hester, M. (2002). One step forward and three steps back? Children, abuse and parental contact in Denmark. Child and Family Law Quarterly, 14, 267-279. Hester, M. (2004). Future trends and developments: Violence against women in Europe and East Asia. Violence Against Women, 10, 1431-1448. Hester, M. (2006). Making it through the criminal justice system: Attrition and domestic violence. Social Policy and Society, 5, 79-90. Hester, M. (2009a). The contradictory legal worlds faced by domestic violence victims. In E. Stark & E. Buzawa (Eds.), Violence against women in families and relationships: Making and breaking connections (Vol. II, pp. 127-146). New York: Praeger. Hester, M., Pearson, C., & Harwin, N. with Abrahams, H. (2007). Making an impact: Children and domestic violence. A reader (2nd ed.). London: Jessica Kingsley. Hester, M., & Westmarland, N. (2005). Tackling domestic violence: Effective interventions and approaches. Home Office Research Study 290. London: Home Office. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Publications-and-research/Browse-allby/Documents-by-type/Cafcass/Cafcass-South-East HMCPSI & HMIC. (2004). Violence at home: A joint inspection of the investigation and prosecution of cases involving domestic violence. London: Author. Home Affairs Select Committee. (2008). Domestic violence, forced marriage and “honour”based violence. Sixth report of Session 2007-8, Volume II. London: House of Commons. Home Office. (2009). Together we can end violence against women and girls. London: Author. Humphreys, C. & Carter, R., with Eriksson, M., Haller, B., Hanmer, J., Hester, M., Kirwil, L., et al. (2006). The justice system as an arena for the protection of human rights for women and children experiencing violence and abuse. Final report. Osnabrueck: Co-ordination Action on Human Rights Violations (CAHRV).
Jaffe, P., Lemon, N., & Poisson, S. (2003). Child custody and domestic violence: A call for safety and accountability. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Johnson, M. P. (2006). Conflict and control: Gender symmetry and asymmetry in domestic violence. Violence Against Women, 12, 1003-1018. Ofsted. (2008). Ofsted’s inspection of Cafcass south east region: An inspection of service provision by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to children and families in the South East. London: Author. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from www.ofsted.gov.uk/reports Radford, L., & Hester, M. (2006). Mothering through domestic violence. London: Jessica Kingsley. Stark, E. (2007). Coercive control. New York: Oxford University Press. Williamson, E., & Hester, M. (2008). Evaluation of South Tyneside Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme. Bristol: University of Bristol. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www .bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/projects/completed/2009/rl6866/
Marianne Hester is a professor of gender, violence and international policy at the University of Bristol, UK, heading the Centre for Gender and Violence Research. She is also NSPCC Professor of Child Sexual Exploitation. Current research includes a study of young peoples’ experiences and perceptions of violence in the family in the UK and China; a longitudinal study of gender, domestic violence perpetrators, and the criminal justice system; domestic abuse in same sex and heterosexual relationships; and intervention with domestic violence perpetrators via the health care system.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.