National Council for Children Post-Separation
Media Statement

Monday, May 06, 2010

National Day to Remember Victims of Domestic Violence


The flickering flames of candles lit on May 8 are to remember those who have died or have been the innocent victims of domestic violence. This annual candle-lighting ceremony is being held in locations all over Australia.

While the gesture of the candle is to remember those who have died, the National Council for Children Post-Separation (NCCPS) hopes that it will also spark action by the Family Court of Australia to prevent further deaths.

The NCCPS recently called for the training of Judges and Court Officials in the various forms of direct child abuse and indirect child abuse by exposing children to intimate partner violence and intra-familial terrorism. This followed decisions by Judges of the family Court who have placed children in high risk situations with parents who are known physical abusers, pedophiles or convicted child sex offenders.

The NCCPS has very serious concerns for the health and safety of these children and that there are increasing numbers of cases where the Family Courts of Australia are failing in their duty of upholding the human rights of children to be protected from abuse and exploitation.

Research has consistently shown that exposure to domestic violence can damage a child's development and cause psychological harm that is just as serious as when the child is the recipient of physical violence.1 In some states this constitutes grounds for mandatory reporting to child protection services yet there is ample evidence that the Family Court of Australia continues to ignore and to disregard this form of child abuse despite documentary and testamentary evidence supporting serious allegations and frequently punishes or sometimes imprisons mothers for attempting to remove and protect the children who have made allegations that they have been abused.

Independent studies show that mothers (but not fathers) who try to protect their children from violence through the court are at risk of being labeled as mentally ill or vindictive and the children are removed and placed in the ‘care' of the violent parent. State court orders to protect these women and children have not only been ignored but in some cases, they have been quashed, federal law taking precedence over state laws.

Abuse suffered by children and their mothers has been ignored or minimised by the Family Court placing children at great risk through ordered custody arrangements.

"Violence against women is abhorrent but violence committed in the presence or hearing of children constitutes child abuse. It can be just as psychologically damaging to the child as being the recipient of the physical violence. For that reason alone, it has to be taken more seriously, especially by Family Courts," says Professor Freda Briggs, Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia.

Research cited by Dr Lesley Laing, an academic at Sydney University, also shows that exposure to domestic violence is associated with a range of emotional, behavioural and developmental problems in children and young people 2.

Perpetrators of domestic violence are using the Family Law Act to further intimidate, harass and punish their former spouses for leaving them. In her article, A Perilous Journey: Seeking Protection in the Aftermath of Domestic Violence, Laing writes ‘women who seek to protect their children from post-separation domestic violence undertake a perilous and largely unsupported journey in which their efforts to protect their children may be construed as obstructive and problematic, rather than as protective.3

Charles Pragnell, an expert in child protection work, states, "The health, welfare, and safety of Australia's children must be of supreme and paramount importance in legal processes and must be given absolute priority over a judicial and legal system which in our view has become dysfunctional and erratic in its decision-making processes regarding the future lives of children".

1 Stenberg et al., 2006: Type of Violence, Age and Gender Differences in the Effects of Family Violence on Children's Behaviour Problems.

2Margolin, G, 2005; Wolfe et al., 2003 Posttraumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents Exposed to Family Violence I: Overview and Issues.

3 Rathus, Z 2007 Shifting the Gaze: Will Past Violence be Silenced by a Further Shift of the Gazeto the Future under the New Family Law System? Australian Journal of Family Law.

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