I have had a number of emails in the last week from women whose ex-partners are turning their children against them. These emails are in response to a presentation that I gave at the WMSDAC conference in Birmingham last week on coercive control through the use of children and the ways that abusive men target the mother-child relationship.
What I recommend to anyone in this situation is to understand how strategies involving children, directly or indirectly, particularly those that target women as mothers, and interfere or seek to destroy the mother-child relationship are part of a pattern of coercive control. We now have a law in the UK to address coercive control and I urge anyone experiencing this range of tactics to pursue their abuser using this law.
Understand what coercive control is. There is much information on the internet, e.g. Rights Of Women have a good info page:
It is vital that you visit your local DVA services asap to explain that you are experiencing post-separation abuse and that your ex-partner is continuing to control, abuse, threaten, intimidate, frighten and punish you through your children. Women’s Aid have a wealth of information about where to find help and support.
If your abuser is one who threatened you with loss of contact with your children (as is very common), explain that your children don’t want to see you because he has carried out this threat, and this is the consequence of the coercive control that you experienced during your relationship. It is important that you engage with your local DVA services to build a paper trail of how you have reported the abuse over a period of time. You will be asked to keep a detailed diary of all the ways in which your partner is coercively controlling you. I advise that you record in as much detail as possible how this started before your children were turned against you or stopped seeing you, describing the grooming and alienating strategies that led to your separation from each other. This paper trail is important in order for you to apply for legal aid. You might be able to get legal aid if you have evidence that you or your children have been victims of domestic abuse or violence and you can’t afford to pay legal costs.
Many abusive men have engineered a situation through the family courts where women have lost contact with their children when the abuser has used the concept of parental alienation syndrome to claim that reports of DVA and CSA are fabricated and are really attempts by ‘malicious mothers’ to prevent contact between loving fathers and their children. This is often a very successful strategy of abusive men who use the family courts to continue abuse and control because this narrative has become embedded in the national psyche through decades of promulgation by fathers’ rights activists. It is virtually an article of faith now in the family courts that reports of DVA and CSA are likely to be false allegations. So much so that women who make such reports at the time of divorce and separation are often advised by their solicitors to keep quiet about these because they are likely to be disbelieved and their abusers even more likely to be awarded greater contact.
In contrast, family courts rarely recognise the abuse that women and children experience when abusive men use alienating strategies themselves; when they target the mother-child relationship. This is because these tactics form part of a continuum of violence against women that are denied, minimised or ignored by courts – largely because of the parental alienation syndrome concept. This concept, therefore, has become a powerful tool for abusive men to simultaneously deny their abuse and commit further abuse through using alienating strategies, refuting alienating strategies and accusing women of alienating strategies. All of which are more likely to be believed by professionals in family courts then women’s own accounts of abuse perpetrated towards them and their children.
It is important to understand how abusive men co-opt professionals into abusive strategies using children by overwhelming services with their versions of events, claiming that they are the real victims. They use the same tactics with professionals as they do with their victims – either to charm or elicit sympathy, or to threaten and intimidate. They manipulate workers and exploit systems, by capitalising on victim/mother-blaming discourses that are embedded in patriarchal institutions. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ mothers, mothers who ‘fail to protect’, the ‘unfit’ mother are all examples of such myths that perpetrators use to their advantage. Many women who are victims and survivors of abuse find that when they seek help through the normal channels the gaze of services focuses on them as mothers, scrutinises their behaviour and blames them. Simultaneously, men’s abuse becomes invisible when the abuse is denied and reframed as lies by ‘implacably hostile’ mothers. These same men are then viewed as ‘good fathers’ and ‘caring dads’ when they ‘symbolise family values’ within the paradigm of ‘shared parenting’.
Seek out professionals who understand coercive control and ask them to help you challenge it. Find support from other women in similar situations so that you don’t feel so alone in what you are going through. MATCH mothers is such an organisation. Many of their members are unfortunately very attached to the concept of parental alienation syndrome and spend time promoting it through awareness-raising and activism and this is unhelpful. That aside, most members understand the pain and suffering of being separated from their children by their abuser and can help with that feeling of universality – that you are not the only woman in the world to experience the anguish, isolation, humiliation, blame and self-blame of being a mother apart from her children.
Good luck and stay strong.