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In Family Courts, It Is Still Absolutely Routine for Domestic Abuse Survivors to Be Cross-Examined By Their Abusers

20/04/2016 12:00

Imagine for a moment that your house is burgled. Everything of value to you - gone. Imagine then, going to court, a victim of this traumatising crime - and being questioned by the person who stole all of your treasured possessions. Did you lock your door? Can you be sure your stuff was taken, what with your questionable temperament? Aren't you unnaturally attached to your possessions? Isn't this all your fault?

It's unthinkable that this would be allowed to happen in a criminal court. Imagine the unbelievable trauma and stress you would experience, how belittled you would feel, how frightened. In the criminal courts, a rapist would not be allowed to question his victim. In the criminal courts, a person accused of trying to kill someone would again not be allowed to question the alleged victim.

And in the criminal courts, victims are allowed this protection when the defendant has not yet been found guilty.

But, in the family courts, it is absolutely routine for survivors of domestic abuse to be cross-examined by their abusers, many of whom have already been convicted of crimes against them. In some cases their abuser was also their rapist. He may also have seriously assaulted them. He may have abused the children. He may have committed all of these atrocities, both physical and emotional, against his former partner, the mother of his children, and his children as well - but he is still able to question the survivor.

This lack of basic protection in the family court should shock us all. It impedes justice to place such pressure on a victim of crime that she may be unable to explain herself effectively. This is no more just than it would be in a criminal trial. In January, Women's Aid launched the Child First campaign, calling for children's safety to be put back at the heart of all decisions within the family courts, and for survivors of domestic abuse to have access to protection measures when on the family court estate.

This includes an end to cross-examination of a survivor by their abuser. Survivors frequently report to Women's Aid that cross-examination by their perpetrator is stressful, frightening and can ultimately put children's lives at risk. This is because in most cases, the survivor is the resident parent, and the trauma of cross-examination by their abuser makes it impossible to advocate effectively for the safety of their child. In the very worst cases, as detailed in the Women's Aid report Nineteen Child Homicides, children have been killed as a result of unsafe contact decisions. The desire of a perpetrator of domestic abuse have to wield power over his victim have trumped the best interests of the child - with fatal results.

Today, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic Violence launches the report of its parliamentary hearing on the family courts, written with Women's Aid. The report highlights the urgent need for an end to cross-examination of survivors of domestic abuse by their abuser in the family court. Supported by both Jess Phillips MP and Maria Miller MP, it marks the next phase of the Women's Aid Child First campaign. If you haven't yet, please sign and share the Child First petition, and join our call to protect women and children in the family courts. A Women's Aid survey of survivors of domestic abuse with experience of the family courts found that a quarter had faced direct questions from their abuser. This is happening day in and day out. Justice is not being served. Children are not being protected. With your support, aligned with that of our parliamentary champions, we can change it.

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