Opposing paradigms in child contact and domestic violence

I came across a neat summary today of the key debates between fathers’ rights groups (FRGs) and men’s rights activists (MRAs) versus DV advocates/feminist researchers in the field of child contact and domestic violence.

The messages of FRGs and MRAs have been incredibly influential in the media, with the public and in the family courts, of course. It is now a common perception in the family law and child protection arenas that mothers routinely fabricate reports of DV (and child sexual abuse) in order to alienate fathers who are unfairly treated in the family courts.

Table 1 by Jaffe, Lemon and Poisson (2003) shows two sides of an academic divide with FRGs and MRAs on one side and researchers and activists working to end men’s violence against women and children on the other.

Issue Fathers’ Rights Groups Domestic Violence Advocates
Post-separations parenting arrangements Shared parenting is best Shared parenting endangers abused women
Prevalence of domestic violence Domestic violence is exaggerated Domestic violence is underreported
Nature of violence Women are as violent as men Male violence is more severe, more injurious, and causes greater risk to life
Allegations of domestic violence Allegations are false, used to bolster custody claims Mothers are punished for raising allegations and counter-accused of being alienators
Family court bias Bias against men Bias against women and domestic violence

Table 1. Fathers’ Rights Groups and Domestic Violence Advocates (from Jaffe, Lemon and Poisson 2003: 12)

Sexist and misogynistic practice by men and women alike is an unfortunate reality in many spheres of work. Some workers may be operating under misguided notions of addressing the balance of alleged bias against fathers when they are influenced by the key messages of FRGs and MRAs. But there is no bias against men and fathers in the family courts as shown recently in a study by Maebh Harding at University of Warwick.

Jaffe, P. G., Lemon, N. K. D., and Poisson, S. E. (2003) Child Custody and Domestic Violence. Thousand Oaks: Sage

About Dr Laura Monk

I am a researcher and counselling tutor based at University of Nottingham. My doctoral research investigated how to improve professionals' responses to mothers who become separated from their children. I developed a training workshop for the professionals who mothers come into contact with - largely at the intersection of health and social care, the family courts and domestic abuse services. I am also a counsellor and psychotherapist and offer feminist therapy for survivors of domestic abuse - especially coercive control. I am a Women's Aid domestic violence prevention advocate.
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