Archive for March, 2021

COURT OF APPEAL MISSES OPPORTUNITY TO EFFECT CULTURE CHANGE NEEDED IN FAMILY COURTS

This morning the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in what could have been a landmark case challenging the family court’s attitude to domestic abuse and sexual violence in child contact cases.

The appeals were brought after the family court was heavily criticised following a judgment highlighting a judge’s sexist views about rape and a report published by the Ministry of Justice (the Harm Report) which concluded that there are systemic problems with how family courts deal with domestic abuse and other risks of harm.

The case concerned four joined appeals from mothers who had experienced minimisation and dismissive attitudes to the abuse they had experienced. Three of the four appeals were successful and the court did not determine the issues in the fourth case.

A group of leading women’s rights organisations (Rights of Women, Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis England and Wales) intervened in the ground-breaking Court of Appeal case. They raised the ways in which the family court is failing to protect victims of domestic abuse and their children due to outdated views of male violence against women, particularly where rape is concerned.

The Court of Appeal has given guidance that old fashioned views about controlling and coercive behaviour are no longer acceptable in the family court and that judgments that fail expressly to consider the relevance of coercive control may be appealable.

However, the Court of Appeal failed to use the opportunity given to address the deeply entrenched pro-contact culture identified in the Harm Report and send a clear message that culture change is necessary to protect women and children from the cycle of abuse that can have life-long and sometimes deadly consequences.

The Court also failed to grapple with the procedural flaws in the way victims of sexual violence are treated in the family court stating this was “beyond the scope of this judgment”. This response leaves victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence to continue to face the same sexist attitudes that have been in place for decades.

Olive Craig, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women said today:

Male violence against women and children is frequently ignored or minimised by the Family Courts and a culture change is long overdue. The Court of Appeal’s judgment goes some way to highlighting the importance of family law professionals identifying and understanding coercive control. But we are saddened that the Court does not appear to have listened to the resounding message from the Harm Report and the women we support that culture change is needed. The cases the Court heard are clear examples of the minimisation by family judges of male violence against women. As a frontline women’s charity, we hear every day about the failings of the court to protect women and children. The Court of Appeal could have used this rare opportunity to send a clear message about the importance of protecting women and children but instead prioritised concerns about workloads and court time over the safety of women and children.

Despite sexual violence being raised in the appeal cases, and the Court hearing submissions about the importance of procedural fairness in these cases, the Court’s response avoiding responsibility for this issue was completely inadequate.”

Lucy Hadley, Head of Policy & Campaigns, Women’s Aid Federation of England:

“Today the Court of Appeal has made clear that family judges must see domestic abuse as part of their core business. We hear daily from survivors who tell us that abusers use the family courts and child contact arrangements as weapons to continue control after they’ve escaped. We welcome the conclusion that family judges must do more to investigate patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour, and examine what harm this has upon a child. The courts must recognise that abuse does not end when a relationship ends.

But we are severely disappointed that the Court of Appeal did not call for an end to the ‘contact at all costs’ approach, which is putting women and children experiencing domestic abuse in danger. From our work with survivors, we disagree that the ‘vast majority of judges and magistrates’ had adequate training and understanding about the harm that domestic abuse causes. We fear this judgment has not recognised the urgent need for wholesale reform to make the family courts safe for survivors. We will continue to fight for a change to the presumption of parental involvement in domestic abuse cases – for good.”

Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

“The Court of Appeal’s recognition today that understanding of coercive control and the harms it causes must play more of a role in family courts proceedings is really positive. We are nonetheless extremely disappointed that the ruling declined to tackle the significant problems of victim-blaming rape myths, lack of understanding of the law on sexual consent from Family Courts judges, and the overall minimisation and dismissal of sexual violence and abuse in Family Courts. Through our frontline work at Rape Crisis, we know the significant harm and retraumatisation these attitudes as well as the pro-contact culture in Family Courts can and do cause survivors. With our partners, we will continue to highlight the real and urgent need for culture shift in the Family Courts.”

Sara Kirkpatrick, Welsh Women’s Aid, said:

“This appeal was brought in order to highlight the systemic failings of the family court, the judgment today while reiterating the need for better understanding of coercive control and all forms of domestic abuse which is most welcome. Still sadly falls short of addressing those systemic issues. If our civil justice system is not able to protect adult and child survivors of abuse from further harm then it is sadly not a delivering ‘justice’ merely process.

ENDS

Judgment available here: https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/re-h-n-and-others-children-domestic-abuse-finding-of-fact-hearings/

We express deep concern over plans to introduce police officers in pubs, bars and clubs in a bid to tackle violence against women

Against the backdrop of police brutality at the vigil for Sarah Everard, Rights of Women is deeply concerned to read the proposals of the Government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce to deploy both uniformed and plain clothes officers being in pubs, bars and clubs, ostensibly to protect women from violence.

This move represents a further and highly unwelcome expansion of police presence into our everyday lives – despite a sorry history of violence against women at the hands of the police.

Hannah Couchman, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women, said:

“The vigil for Sarah Everard is the most recent example of the state’s role in violence against women and girls – it is unconscionable for the Government to suggest that the solution to the harassment and violence women face on a daily basis is to introduce more police. Black and minoritised women already experience intrusive over-policing, and it is all too well known that plain clothes can afford the police cover to abuse their powers. For many women, the police do not represent safety or reassurance – instead, oppression and brutality.

At Rights of Women, we regularly hear from women who have been let down and re-traumatised by their contact with the police and the wider criminal justice system. Rather than extending the power and presence of the police – as we are seeing here and under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – the Government needs to devote resources to empowering survivors to access justice and safety, and to addressing the structural inequalities that lie at the heart of endemic violence against women and girls.

For decades, frontline organisations supporting women who have experienced violence have been subject to deeply damaging underfunding – particularly those services run by and for Black and minoritised communities. The call from the women’s sector is not for the gimmicks we have seen proposed by the taskforce, and it certainly isn’t for more police – the solutions are far more complex and they start with listening to the needs of survivors”.

ENDS

Notes

  • The proposals for the Government’s Criminal Justice task force were announced on 15th March 2021, details of which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-moves-to-provide-reassurance-to-women-and-girls-15-march-2021.

POLICE, CRIME, SENTENCING AND COURTS BILL DISMISSES THE REAL NEEDS OF SURVIVORS

Against the backdrop of police brutality at the vigil for Sarah Everard, today sees second reading of the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

This Bill contains a raft of oppressive powers which crack down on our right to protest, bundled together with draconian criminal justice ‘reforms’. The Bill is a further dangerous extension to police powers that exemplifies the rolling back of our human rights and ignores a history of violence against women at the hands of the police.

When it comes to addressing the needs of survivors of VAWG, this proposed legislation offers “ineffective technological and punitive measures dressed up as cure-all solutions”. The Government’s proposals, set out in the Bill, ignore calls from the sector for real change to the systems that perpetuate VAWG, and do nothing to address decades of underfunding for the VAWG sector, and particularly organisations run by and for Black and minoritised women.

Frontline women’s rights charity, Rights of Women, is calling for an approach to criminal justice that empowers survivors and protects their ability to express their dissent.

Hannah Couchman, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women, said:

“Far from reforming our broken justice system and supporting survivors of violence against women and girls (VAWG), this Bill entrenches a reliance on powerful institutions with histories of discriminatory approaches and weak accountability mechanisms and does nothing to address the underlying causes of offending – all while threatening our ability to express dissent about the state’s complicity in VAWG by fundamentally undermining their right to protest.

The introduction of polygraph or ‘lie detector’ testing for those convicted of domestic abuse demonstrates the Government’s failure to address this deep-rooted problem. At best it is a deflection from the lack of investment in improving the justice system for victims and survivors – at worst, it risks further embedding highly controversial technology in our justice system. We seek explanations as to why these proposals have been put forward at the expense of proven and established measures to support the real needs of survivors in relation to safety, justice and accountability.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill offers ineffective technological and punitive measures dressed up as cure-all solutions – measures which will not remedy decades of under-funding for the VAWG sector which has particularly undermined the essential work done by organisations run by and for Black and minoritised women.

Violence against women is endemic in our state and society, and further enabled by systemic racism. This month, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill passed into law, providing state agents with a lawful basis to undertake the most serious forms of violence, including sexual violence, without fear of prosecution – and the Home Office is once again attempting to extend police powers and encroach on our basic human rights.

The Government should not rush through legislation which exacerbates inequality and contains only tokenistic gestures for addressing the real issues. In a society where women are disbelieved and shamed within a criminal justice system which is supposed to protect them, we demand better – an approach to VAWG built on a rigorous evidence base which centres and empowers survivors.”

Notes

  • The Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill is a Government Bill introduced to Parliament on Tuesday 9 March 2021.
  • The Bill’s second reading is scheduled for Monday 15 March – Tuesday 16 March 2021.
  • A copy of the Bill and other Bill documents can be accessed at: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2839/.

Our statement condemning police brutality at the vigil for Sarah Everard

We are appalled by the scenes of police brutality at last night’s Clapham Vigil to remember Sarah Everard.

It is sickening and disturbing to see this use of force against women gathering in solidarity to peacefully mourn and oppose male violence against women.

We echo Reclaim These Streets in condemning the Metropolitan Police for failing to work with them to ensure a safe vigil and instead choosing to put women’s lives at risk.

We extend our support and solidarity to Sisters Uncut who have spoken out against the intimidation and violence used by the police.

The statement from the Metropolitan Police about their policing of the vigil is deeply disappointing and fails to acknowledge or take any responsibility for their heavy-handed approach.

We stand with all those demanding accountability for the failed senior leadership decision-making and actions of officers at the vigil.

We will not be silenced.

Our Statement on the death of Sarah Everard

March 12th, 2021

We, at Rights of Women, extend our deepest condolences to the family of Sarah Everard following the devastating news today that her death has been confirmed. We cannot imagine the pain of her loss to those who loved her and we are heartbroken by the news.

We are mindful of the history of institutional failures that have denied victims, and their families, justice. It is critical that the current investigation meets the highest standards of accountability, to deliver justice for Sarah and the full truth for her family. This is of critical importance as the investigation has involved the arrest of a serving police officer. We, alongside countless others, will be keeping a watchful eye on developments to ensure Sarah’s grieving family can have faith in the process.

Male violence against women and girls is an endemic crisis. Whilst there is a stronger media and public focus on its prevalence surrounding International Women’s Day, it is prevalent all year round. We stand in solidarity with all the women who have, and continue, to participate in the outpouring of their personal experiences of abuse and living with the continual threat of harassment and violence from men. We join our voice with yours and share your demands for equality, safety and justice.

It is intolerable that in 2021 we as women are still forced to adapt our lives to try and ensure our safety, and that this is seen by many as an acceptable solution to male violence. There must be an end to the culture of victim-blaming – when the victim is blamed for the actions of the perpetrator – it is reprehensible and has no place in a society built on fairness and equality. It is the responsibility of government, and of all our society, to hear the voices of women, take action to address these injustices and challenge the culture that puts us at risk in the first place.

Posted in News on 03/12/2021 07:37 pm - No comments

#ChooseToChallenge domestic abuse by donating to our fundraiser

March 9th, 2021

On International Women’s Day we launched a Crowd Justice fundraiser to raise money to help women secure safety from domestic abuse during the pandemic.

The domestic abuse crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has made women increasingly vulnerable to violence and abuse as perpetrators can close the curtains on potential onlookers in the outside world and shut the door on life-saving support for their victims.

We have heard from many women experiencing domestic abuse whose abusers have taken advantage of social-distancing measures so the abuse can go unnoticed and the abuser can evade justice. For many of these women, our services are a lifeline.

“I feel confident now that I can survive and be safe with my children, and I am so, so happy!”

RoW service-user


It is estimated that at least 40% of all women survivors will need legal advice, and we are the only frontline women’s legal rights charity in England and Wales who can offer them this support.

It is not surprising, therefore, that we saw a 200% surge for online support at the start of the pandemic and a constant increase for our helplines since the first lockdown.

Domestic abuse is an epidemic in England and Wales, and the pandemic has enabled it to reach tipping point. Now, more than ever, we need your support to help meet the demand for our services and provide a lifeline for survivors.

How you can help

Please make a donation (any amount helps!) and share our fundraising page with friends and family via social media, WhatsApp and email: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/rights-of-women/

We have been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received since launching our fundraiser. On behalf of the women this will help: thank you, please keep giving and sharing, it all makes a difference.

Posted in News on 03/09/2021 05:35 pm - No comments

 
 
 
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