Experts Testify on Family Court Failures – Abuse Victims Falsely Labeled, Put at Risk of Harm

This article will examine recent testimony coming from Royal Commission Into Family Violence (Australia), as reported by The Guardian, along with research from domestic violence expert Lundy Bancroft (U.S.), to talk about how family courts can falsely accuse domestic violence victims of being unstable, difficult or unable to co-parent. Once the court has determined the abuse victim is the “problem” the court treats the abuse victim with hostility, resulting in re-traumatization; and targets the abuse victim for punitive measures, often resulting in loss of custody or visitation of a child(ren). The true perpetrator is given preferential treatment, and is never held accountable. 

I chose Lundy Bancroft’s research and writing because the recent testimony to the Commission in Victoria (AU) corroborates what Bancroft has shared about the plight of abuse victims in family court, and the court’s failings.

It is startling that similar complaints are being raised about family court from abuse victims from every corner of the world (Australia, the U.S. and elsewhere) – people who have never met, and do not speak a common language, are sharing similar experiences, and similar problems in family court. To say this is just a systemic problem is an understatement, clearly this is reaching a humanitarian crisis. 

The Guardian: Domestic violence victims mistakenly judged unstable after abuse – expert

 What’s Happening in Australia? The Victorian government is holding public hearings to help improve the government’s (and court’s) response to domestic violence

In February 2015, the Governor of Victoria appointed a Chair and two Deputy Commissioners to the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The Commission will study and make recommendations on how to improve “the family violence system” in Victoria, and to “foster a violence free society”. The role of the Royal Commission is to audit and investigate the current system including criminal law, the courts, the health care system, the housing system and law enforcement. Part of the process includes holding public hearings, doing research and gathering information through community consultations. A panel of survivors and professionals offering support services will also be part of the process.The Commission’s report is due by Monday, 29 February 2016. Royal Commission into Family Violence

The public hearings are ongoing, you can see the hearings live at: Public Hearing RCFV

Lundy Bancroft Offers Additional Insight: Lundy Bancroft is a recognized domestic violence expert, much of his research focuses on the revictimization of battered mothers in family court.

Bancroft has over 20 years of experience working with abusive men as a counselor and clinical supervisor, with involvement in over 2000 cases, in addition to working with teen boys who have been exposed to domestic violence. He has served extensively as a custody evaluator, child abuse investigator, and expert witness in domestic violence and child abuse cases. Bancroft has trained judges, probation officers, child protective personnel, therapists, law enforcement, and other professionals for over ten years. 

In 2009, Bancroft co-founded the advocacy group Protective Mothers Alliance International along with Janice Levinson to offer education and exposure about systemic failures in family courts, and to offer support to abuse survivors dealing with family court litigation.  PMA International has state chapter leaders in 30 states and several countries world wide. PMA International

Complaints About Family Court’s Treatment of Abuse Victims:  

The recent testimony to the Royal Commission, and the work of Lundy Bancroft, is based on real-life experiences of victims of domestic violence, whose lives have been devastated by family court failures, almost all have lost custody of children, and the abusive or unfit parent won sole or primary custody.

Complaints mentioned in the recent article by The Guardian (“Domestic Violence Victims Mistakenly Labeled Unstable After Abuse – Expert, 8/7/2015) include these specific examples:

  1. Family Court (judges, GALs, mediators, psychologists, court officers etc) falsely label an abuse victim as being unstable, difficult and the source of the problems. The abuser is falsely assumed to be rational, stable and in custody cases, is often determined to be the better parent. 

Reported by The Guardian, Kelsey Hegarty, a general practitioner who leads an abuse and violence research program at the University of Melbourne, is reported as telling Commissioners: “The trauma suffered by domestic violence victims after leaving an abusive relationship meant family law court staff sometimes mistakenly judged them as psychologically unstable. It meant that when they appeared before a court to seek custody for any children involved, the fear and post-traumatic stress felt by victims could make them seem erratic, she said, while perpetrators appeared calm and rational by comparison.”

Hegarty is quoted as saying, “But the problem is … they (abuse victim) can look mentally unwell and sometimes those diagnoses by court-appointed psychiatrists and psychologists can be used against them in child custody disputes.

Lundy Bancroft further clarifies (1998) “Because of the effects of trauma, the victim of battering will often seem hostile, disjointed or agitated, while the abuser appears friendly, articulate, and calm. Evaluators are thus tempted to conclude that the victim is the source of the problems in the relationship.” — Lundy Bancroft: Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes

Bancroft also says that abusers have an advantage in psychological testing because they are adept at manipulating people, and have not been traumatized.

2. Victims of Domestic Violence (and parents in general) have difficulty obtaining legal help in family court, and are forced to represent themselves with no legal expertise or knowledge of the law. This is further compounded when a victim of domestic violence is struggling to survive, and heal from the abuse while at the same time being forced to battle an abuser in family court and forced to co-parent, in situations that often escalate or continue the abuse. Family Court can re-traumatize abuse victims. 

Kelsey Hegarty (AU) says it is difficulty obtaining legal help, because many victims are not eligible for programs offering legal aid or cannot afford the expense of an attorney. Many victims of abuse have to fight legal battles in family court without representation, and without any knowledge of the law, while at the same time coping with and trying to heal from the domestic violence they have endured.

Another source offering personal testimony about the plight of abuse survivors in family court can be viewed at Unstoppable Mothers

PMA International has created the art advocacy project “Unstoppable Mothers” to raise awareness about family court failures, and to give mothers (who have survived abuse) a safe, and anonymous, venue to share their experiences of injustice in family court and what the loss of a child(ren) means to them. The quotes from mothers are accompanied by black and white photographs, depicting their experiences, “We are Unstoppable Protective Mothers, whose children have been ripped from our arms and lives. We are joining our voices as one, to share our stories about family court abuse and corruption. Each heartbreaking tragic story, capturing loss and abuse, is told in our own words and accompanied by stunning photographs based on mother/child milestones missed in our lives.” The quotes and photographs give a glimpse into the how families have been destroyed by the unjust actions of family court.

3. Abuse victims are given confusing, even contradictory messages on what it means to protect children. In many cases, the victims who seek help are then required to send children back into a dangerous situation, and punished for raising concerns or making efforts to keep children safe. 

The counsel assisting, Luke Moshinsky, said the Commission heard testimony from women who survived abuse, and many reported that they were given confusing messages about what it meant to protect their children , “Child protection may expect her to prevent all contact with the abusive father, whereas the family court expects her to facilitate access to children, with the mother criticised for opposing this.

Lundy Bancroft came to a similar conclusion his article, “Child Custody Justice”, “Our society is currently giving mothers a powerful and crazy-making mixed message. First, it says to mothers, “If your children’s father is violent or abusive to you or to your children, you should leave him in order to keep your children from being exposed to his behavior.” But then, if the mother does leave, the society many times appears to do an abrupt about-face, and say, “Now that you are spilt up from your abusive partner, you must expose your children to him. Only now you must send them alone with him, without you even being around anymore to keep an eye on whether they are okay…

The sad result of this double-bind is that many mothers who take entirely appropriate steps to protect their children from exposure to abuse are being insulted by court personnel, harshly and unethically criticized and ridiculed in custody evaluations and psychological assessments, and required to send their children into unsupervised contact or even custody with their abusive fathers. And sometimes these rulings are coming in the face of overwhelming evidence that the children have both witnessed abuse and suffered it directly, evidence that would convince any reasonable and unbiased person that the children were in urgent need of protection.” Child Custody Justice

Family Court Failures: The Implications

The Royal Commission on Family Violence, and the work of Lundy Bancroft, has clearly demonstrated that Family Courts are endangering the lives of abuse victims and failing to protect children from harm.

Family Court failures are happening on a global level – being reported in Australia, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Europe, Mexico and elsewhere. Family Court failures are becoming a humanitarian crisis. 

The number of family court victims could easily be in the millions when you consider the large populations of people involved, the duration of complaints going back 20 years or more, and the apparent secrecy in which the family courts operate.

Who are these parents? They are the testimonies coming forward in the public testimony to the Commission. They are the stories shared on “Unstoppable Mothers“. They are the families in your community. Perhaps your family or relative, friend, co-worker, a teacher, the clerk at a store, or someone you met in passing…it could even be you.

Reform is urgently needed. We cannot afford to wait another 20 years, hoping for change. The Royal Commission on Family Violence has begun the work in Victoria, now is time to bring the work to our local courts. 

— EJ Perth








About EJ

Parenting Abused Kids (PAK) reflects the personal thoughts and opinions of "EJ" sharing her experiences of surviving domestic abuse and injustice in family court. PAK also includes news and informational articles about abuse and family court issues. The purpose of PAK is to raise awareness of the challenges domestic abuse survivors to rebuild their lives after experiencing domestic abuse, compounded with the struggles of ongoing family court litigation. PAK will also discuss and raise awareness about issues related to parenting children who have been abused, and often present with emotional and behavioral problems. Parenting Abused Kids is not affiliated with any professional group, political group, organization or religious affiliation. My sincere love and support goes out to abuse survivors and their children. I am so sorry for what you have endured, and pray your lives will be filled with the happiness you so deserve. Thank-you for visiting!
This entry was posted in Family Court, Legal and News, Parents in Family Court and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply: ALL Comments are public, plz post responsibly

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s