Blog: ‘Coercive control’ should include denial of contact

Families Need Fathers Scotland discuss the perils of a gendered definition of domestic abuse.

The Scottish government recently sought views on proposals to change the law on various aspects of domestic abuse and sexual offences. The proposals, entitled Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls were published last summer.

The proposals set out in the recent consultation focus on specific offences concerning domestic abuse and the non-consensual sharing of private, intimate images, the introduction of statutory jury directions in sexual offence cases, the extra-territorial effect of the law concerning sexual offences committed against children and the circumstances in which a court can grant a non-harassment order.

Of course, none of these are experienced only by women and girls.

The overarching question posed in the consultations is “whether the current criminal law reflects the true experience of victims of long-term domestic abuse,including coercive control, and whether a specific domestic abuse offence would improve the ability of people to access justice through effective prosecution ofdomestic abuse”.

We believe the current ‘gendered definition’ of domestic abuse is in danger of painting law and policy in Scotland into a cul de sac. Gendered analysis can be and often is a useful tool for interpreting issues in our society - in the same way as can analysis by age, class, race or sexuality - but it is not the holy grail. Even the statistics presented in the Equally Safe guidance in support of the proposals hardly sustain the heavy interpretation placed on them.

Both police recorded statistics and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey over many years have shown a consistent trend in which the domestic abuse is not exclusively experienced by women. The proportion experienced by men and boys has grown steadily over the 20 years in which statistics have been gathered.

However, FNF Scotland does not wish to stray beyond the limited area of our own casework and we focused our submission on the questions referring to ‘coercive control’. The full text of our submission will appear on the consultation website in due course but the main points are:

* Our casework reveals to us the wilful disruption of meaningful contact between a non-resident parent and his children is a form of coercive control that is currently overlooked, virtually never recorded and appears to be inconvenient to the prevailing narrative. It is overwhelmingly experienced by male non-resident parents. The further victims are a generation of Scotland’s children.

* A high proportion of the non-resident fathers who contact us report that they experience the restriction or outright denial of parenting time with their children by their former partner as a form of domestic abuse.

* We hear repeatedly of occasions where the non-resident father has arrived to pick up his children for agreed contact and has been told “they’re no coming – and there’s nothing you can do about it”! This happens even when there is a court order for the contact to take place as well as when there is an informal agreement for contact. In the latter case the entire control of whether to fulfill the arrangement is in the control of the parent with care. We know that some non-resident parents (approximately 90 per cent of whom are fathers) have attempted to report these incidents to police as instances of domestic abuse but are invariably told that this is a “civil matter”. One father was simply told by the desk officer to “go away and grow up”.

* Our experience, drawn from extensive casework, is that control of a non-resident parent’s time with his children covers a spectrum from a casual cultural presumption that “it’s a mother’s right to give or withhold” to examples of overt intention to break the relationship entirely. This is a scenario that is happening daily across Scotland and is a brutal form of coercive control that is used with impunity against former partners. It is also a form of child abuse in the damage it may do to the wellbeing of the children involved.

* The legal remedies for failure to comply with a court contact order are at present slow, expensive and ultimately unsatisfactory because they require the victim of coercive control (the person whose contact is denied) to raise an action that may damage the relationship with the children if it is seen as the father threatening the mother with punishment.

* We feel that unfounded and unjustified denial or control of the opportunity for a non-resident parent to fulfil his Paternal Rights and Responsibilities (as encouraged in other areas of Scottish government policy) should be included explicitly as an offence within domestic abuse.

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