Families Need Fathers, in a similar vein, observes
Allegations of domestic violence towards the mother are frequently made in response to a father’s application for a Contact Order. Many children lose contact with their father as a result, irrespective of the truth, for such criminal allegations are rarely examined properly in family cases . . . An unsubstantiated allegation of domestic violence is therefore a key weapon for those wishing to obstruct contact.
It is suggested by Families Need Fathers that women are fuelled by bitterness and motivated to lie by the benefits to be gained by denying contact to a ‘hated ex’, by gaining control of housing and by the prospect of ‘improved incomes’. What is more, it is these women who are portrayed as dangerous, not the accused men. Along with the denial of violence comes an attempt to shift the focus of blame and to establish a new form of victimisation: ‘There are also victims, adults and children, of false allegations.’
Yet another strategy is to deny any risk to children, even when there is evidence of violence against women. Men’s groups seek to draw a clear distinction between woman abuse and child abuse, indicating that the former is irrelevant to the latter. It is irrelevant because it is in the past or because it does not affect the children. Men’s Aid, for example, recommends that ‘perpetrators found guilty of domestic violence [be] permitted child contact’, although they might have to be kept from direct contact with the victim. They also suggest that children should not necessarily be placed with the victim of domestic violence rather than the perpetrator: ‘Being a victim of domestic violence does not assume that person to be a better parent, as being a perpetrator does not automatically assume that individual would do anything to harm the children.’ Families Need Fathers is adamant in its defence of contact between fathers and children: ‘[W]e believe that the removal or restriction of a parent’s contact with his/her child is a draconian measure which should only be taken when there is a demonstrable risk of direct harm to the
It seems that, with assertions like this, Families Need Fathers is attempting to counter the thinking that has since led to the amendment of the definition of ‘harm’ in the Children Act 1989 to include the harm caused by witnessing domestic violence. It is also seeking to break the links forged by feminist research between woman abuse and child abuse. Indeed, Families Need Fathers manages both to break this link and to impugn women’s credibility at the same time:
The claim is often made that there is ‘an association’ between violence inflicted on partners and violence and other ill-treatment inflicted on children. . . But how strong is the association is highly problematic. It is based primarily on reports of residents of women’s refuges, highly likely to hate their ex’s.
And even if children are harmed by witnessing violence, women’s bad behaviour also exposes children to risk. While Families Need Fathers concedes that equivalence in terms of severity of violence cannot be asserted, there is equivalence in relation to harm to children, irrespective of whether there is actual violence or there is family conflict:
[T]here is no reason to think the all harm (sic) to children is when there is violence and none occurs when there is hostile and aggressive behaviour of other sorts. The pattern asserted below – that extreme behaviour is often more male on female than the other way around, but affects a small minority of families, but that other undesirable behaviours are more common but more equally balanced by gender, applies here too.
Having downplayed the risks posed to children by violent men, Families Need Fathers goes on to stress the importance of fathers to their children’s well-being. The harm that we should be concerned about is the harm to children and to society should children’s links with fathers become attenuated:
There would be nothing less than tragedies in individual cases if a child were effectively orphaned from a loved and loving father on false on insufficient (sic) grounds. It would cause general social damage if this happens on any significant scale, granted the impact on children and society.