A tough situation

Domestic violence is an issue that requires more attention

“I encourage you to join us in a province-wide effort to raise awareness about domestic violence and the resources available to families affected by this issue. ... We all have an important role to play in preventing domestic violence in our families and in our community.”

So reads a letter to the public signed by the Provincial Minister of Family Services and Consumer Affairs Gord Mackintosh on the occasion of Domestic Violence Prevention Month. The letter points to a government website that outlines the critical importance of escaping an abusive situation and getting help.

On the site, a red and black logo reads: “Domestic Violence: Without help, abusive situations only get worse.”

It is generally assumed that human rights and protection of women and children in abusive relationships can and are being satisfactorily addressed and resolved by State authorities.

Indeed, there are those who think our society may have gone overboard in its efforts to attend to concerns about the rights of women and children faced with abuse.

It might surprise a lot of Manitobans, as it did me when I first started hearing about it from a friend a couple of years ago, that the existing child protection services are not only failing to protect the young from domestic abuse, but in the case of joint custody arrangements, may even be exacerbating it.

Consider the following scenario: a child comes to the mother complaining of abuse by the father. The mother then reports the abuse to the General Child and Family Services Authority (CFS). After an extensive investigation, CFS is unable to substantiate the abuse allegations made by the child. In effect, it is CFS’s word against that of the child.

The agency’s assessment notwithstanding, the mother believes the child and in a desperate attempt to escape the cycle of abuse, files for separation from the father.

Under the Divorce Act, joint 50-50 custody is mandated. Family Court is the main arbiter when it comes to these sorts of decisions and breaching custody orders can cost a parent all access to the child.

Now consider that during a visitation with the mother, the child pleads with her not to be sent back to the father because of fear for his or her safety. The mother then does not force the child to go back to the father against his or her will.

Consequently, the mother is found in breach of a Court of Queen’s Bench order and loses all custody of the child to the alleged abuser who is then accorded full custody.

A common defence for parents accused of abuse is something called Parental Alienation Syndrome. The idea being that a child, due to a number of factors, is indoctrinated by a parent into belittling or spurning the other parent.

This psychological malady, coined by Richard Gardner, has not been substantiated in peer-reviewed literature.

No professional organization, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association recognizes this syndrome, nor is it listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Statistical Classification of
Diseases and Related Health Problems of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Yet Family Court routinely makes use of this “disorder” to discredit the testimonies of children who express fear or even blatant accusations of abuse by a parent.

The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence is an organization made up of experts from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds whose mission is to promote the ethical application of psychological science to human welfare.

Their website contains a compilation of a scholarly articles on this glitch in the system that an abuser and in fact a predator could potentially exploit.

With activists exhausting their righteous indignation at SlutWalks and “Down with Judge Dewar” rallies, perhaps women and child advocates may want to take some time addressing this concern that holds the welfare of thousands of vulnerable children in the balance.

Michael Anthony Welch is News Director of CKUW and co-host of ALERT Radio. Universal Children’s Day is Nov. 20, and International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is Nov. 25.

Published in Volume 66, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 23, 2011)

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