Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Visit violent dad in prison---or join him" (Australia)

Very good article from Australia.

‘Visit violent dad in prison - or join him’ 

The Sunday Telegraph May 17, 2015 12:00AM

AT the age of five she watched her father stab her mother in a carpark as horrified bystanders struggled to subdue him.

In the years since the terrifying attack in 2007, the girl’s mother, who almost died of her injuries, says her daughter has been forced to make regular visits to him against her will.

“She doesn’t see him as her father, she sees him as the man who tried to kill her mother,” Victims of Crime Assistance League vice-president Howard Brown said.

The girl and her traumatised mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are now on the run from authorities for failing to appear at custody hearings because they fear for their lives, Mr Brown said.

According to victims’ groups and experts, their story is just one of hundreds in which children are being forced by the courts to visit violent and abusive parents.

“There’s this belief that the father is more important than the worst of his behaviour.” VOCAL chief executive Robyn Cotterell-Jones said she handled such cases “every single day” and in some cases the children were so distressed that they became suicidal.

“They don’t want to talk to anyone because no one seems to help them. They start to struggle at school and start to get aggressive with mum because she’s the only one who’s safe to do that with,” Ms Cotterell-Jones said.

“They’ll come home after two or three weeks with the father and they bash into the mother and hate her because the father has told them to.

“I’ve had cases in which a psychologist has recommended the child stop seeing the father but the court order still forces them to.

“There’s this belief that the father is more important than the worst of his behaviour.”

University of Sydney Faculty of Education and Social Work Associate Professor Lesley Laing said although laws were amended in 2011 to put children’s safety above equal parenting rights, it was not being put into practice in the courts.

“The law has changed to say that exposure to domestic violence and child abuse should be the top consideration, but for many women that’s very hard to prove,” Ms Laing said.

“There’s no onus on men to prove the kids are safe, he doesn’t have to prove that he’s changed.”

“As soon as the woman alleges the children are unsafe, the spotlight then turns onto her and her emotional health. Very little is asked of the fathers.

“There’s no onus on men to prove the kids are safe, he doesn’t have to prove that he’s changed.”

“I spoke to women who have had to drag screaming children to meetings with their fathers but are worried if they don’t do that then they’ll lose the children altogether for defying court orders.”

The issue has long been a concern, according to Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia executive officer Karen Willis, who said it was another example of courts “favouring the offenders”.

“The trauma impact of witnessing domestic violence has terrible impacts on the subsequent adults, and the idea that offending behaviour between parents has no impact on the children is just wrong,” she said.

“The thought of having to visit someone who has traumatised you is traumatic.

“We see plenty of matters where women are forced to hand over their kids to people they know are violent.

“The kids need to come first.”

Dr Laing said all the women she interviewed during her research into the topic had been abused, often physically, in front of the children, and had all experienced failings in the system.

One woman said the Family Court told her the children’s father, who was charged with several assaults and breaching AVOs, “has to see his children” — despite them witnessing him “knock her to the ground with a baby in her arms”.

Another woman told her: “I had already made up my mind that I didn’t want the sleepovers because I really didn’t think it was safe for the children, but my lawyer convinced me that if I wouldn’t do it the judge would probably even now give me a slap on the wrist and give my ex more than I would be willing to give, so he really strongly recommended me to do this otherwise it would all blow up in my face.

“I didn’t feel like I had a choice.”

“Often the kids have witnessed the violence themselves. They’re victims too.”

Mr Brown said children were often ordered by the court to visit their abusive fathers because family psychologists believed it would help the offender’s rehabilitation and the court was promoting “equal parenting rights”.

“Then mum is forced to drag the kids in kicking and screaming to see dad because if she doesn’t she’s worried she’ll be held in contempt of the family court,” he said.

“Often the kids have witnessed the violence themselves. They’re victims too.”

The five-year-old girl who saw her father repeatedly stab her mother ultimately refused to see him.

“In that case the child put up such a fuss at the prison about seeing her father that the prison stopped her from being able to visit,” Mr Brown said.

The man was sentenced to four years non-parole for the attack, which left the girl’s mother with horrific scarring, nerve damage and emotional trauma.

Mr Brown said once the man was released from prison the mother decided it was too dangerous for them to risk another court hearing, so they went on the run.

“It is a tragedy that has happened too often and will occur again.”

For NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch, it is clear the judicial system should be doing “everything it can to protect those young people”.

“There have been numerous cases of domestic violence where the husband or the male partner has killed the children because he can’t get at the woman and it's the ultimate act of power and control over the female partner,” Mr Murdoch said.

“It is a tragedy that has happened too often and will occur again.

“In these types of instances, the safety of the woman experiencing the violence is paramount, but if anything can be placed above that it’s the welfare and safety of the children.”

Mr Murdoch said witnessing domestic violence severely affected children.

“We know that emotionally it has a very significant impact on kids and a lot of the time they are collateral damage in the domestic violence between their parents,” he said.

The best interests of the child were the paramount consideration in family law, federal Attorney-General George Brandis said.

“Because every family and child is different, family law matters are considered on an individual basis, considering the child’s best interests in their particular circumstances, including where family violence or child abuse is alleged,” he said.

“Where there is family violence or child abuse, the Family Law Act prioritises the safety of children in parenting matters over a meaningful relationship with both parents.”

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is due to report on the impact of the 2012 family violence changes to the Family Law Act in August this year.

My view: Howard Brown

WE need the Family Court to stop ordering victims of domestic violence to take their children to visit the abusive partners in jail after they have been convicted of very serious crimes.

This only allows the cycle of abuse to continue, with a court’s sanction.

We also need our police to use their checklists when at the scene of an incident, so that full and proper evidence is compiled and then presented to our courts.

You cannot blame judges and magistrates for failing victims, if all the evidence is not put before them.

We cannot just blame politicians either because we are all to blame and that is what needs to change.

We all have to stop turning a blind eye when we know that something is wrong.

We have to tell our mates that their attitude to women is wrong and they will no longer be our mates if they continue in that vein.

But above all we have to tell it as it really is: This is not “domestic violence” — it is plain, ordinary old “violence”.

We don’t tolerate it on our streets, we impose lock out laws and other measures to make our streets safe.

Violence should never be tolerated just because it occurs in the privacy of our own homes and if we don’t all stand up and say NO, it will continue unabated and the cost to us all is horrifying.

We damage our loved ones by abandoning them at their time of greatest need and normalise violence.

I for one don’t want to live in a society that tacitly accepts it as a fact of life.

It can be stopped. It must be stopped, so step up and just say “no, not on my watch”.