Archives for posts with tag: domestic abuse

Things are getting a little complicated for GIRFEC (Getting it right for every child) and the prospects for the new Children and Young People Bill in the light of the Edinburgh social workers’ case, both highlighted in recent articles in SR. Readers may wonder…whither GIRFEC when it becomes formalised in the new bill? I fear the ‘best interests’ of the two children at the heart of the case are being lost in the deafeningly high dudgeon of all the grown-ups.

The Edinburgh social workers in this complex case were, more than likely, acting in their capacity as ‘lead professionals’ – GIRFEC-speak for the professionals leading a multi-agency team working with families in complex circumstances (this is not the same as the ‘named person’ discussed by Maggie Mellon in her recent SR article). The team is there to devise ‘early and effective interventions’.

GIRFEC principles are laudable. They aim to ensure that Scottish children grow, develop and learn in safety and good health and have all they need from those looking after them.

Some local authorities do get a bit carried away with high falutin’ research aiming to ‘engage with communities’ and identify children’s ‘needs’ for the delights available in ‘Serviceland’. However, some children and families do need the support of professional grown-ups to help them cope with difficult circumstances, abuse or neglect; and agencies are expected to intervene ‘in the best interests of the child’.

In Sheriff Mackie’s judgement the social work team involved had a less than comprehensive understanding of the complex dynamics of domestic abuse operating in this family. A child’s-eye-view may offer one way of unravelling some aspects of an almighty fankle.

It seems that AT (the children’s mother) experienced domestic abuse in her relationship with CP senior, who was denied contact with his children. AT had limited, regular, supervised contact with her children. The termination of this contact by the social workers is the key issue in this case.

In child protection circles, holding women responsible for protecting their children from the harms caused by abusive partners – ‘failure to protect’ – and blaming them for remaining in the relationship is now considered an outmoded and unhelpful response to domestic abuse cases involving children. The focus should rightly be on the behaviour of the abusive partner. The judgement in this case suggests that no attempt was made to address CP senior directly about his abusive behaviour.

Where the danger from an abuser is such that neither mother nor the children can be protected, there are times when removing the children from their mother’s care may be wise, until it is safe for them to be reunited. The adverse impact of domestic abuse on women and children is now well established. Witnessing the abuse of their mother can be equally damaging and potentially highly traumatic for children.

When they are safe, what children need most is the comfort of their mother’s care, with time and space to recover and rebuild a relationship so often damaged by the abuse. They may benefit from attending a specialist domestic abuse service. ‘Serviceland’ in Scotland, including Edinburgh, has many excellent services for women and children provided by organisations such as Women’s Aid.

Sherriff Mackie mentioned one – CEDAR (children experiencing domestic abuse recovery) – which is beginning to work wonders for many Scottish children in this situation after doing just that in Canada for the last 30 years. CEDAR works with children aged 5-16 years and helps them make sense of what has happened – in a safe and stimulating environment with specially trained workers.

The programme works in parallel with mothers and helps them to rebuild the relationship with their children, so often damaged by the abuse. With or without a programme like CEDAR, maintaining regular contact with their mother during a temporary separation is essential for children’s wellbeing.

Weekly contact was granted to AT by the Children’s Panel. Children often believe that the abuse is their fault and are afraid their mother will be harmed or taken away from them permanently. Separation from their mother can cause great distress and, in extreme cases, children may be further traumatised.

The biggest fear of many mothers who have experienced domestic abuse is that their children will be taken from their care permanently by social services. Mothers in this situation can become desperate. There was talk of ‘permanency’ in relation to AT’s children.

The new Children Bill strongly emphasises the children’s rights, enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and provides enhanced powers to Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner. The commissioner tells children and young people that ‘your views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting you’. GIRFEC and the new bill uphold these obligations and maintain that the child should be at the centre of the process.

So where were the views of AT’s two children in all of this? Did anyone ask them what they wanted or how they were feeling about it all? Were AT’s children removed from a risky situation at home and separated from their mum only to be faced with further uncertainties and risks created by the very services and procedures designed to protect them and their rights?

If you are confused by this case…think of the children.

Anni Donaldson is a writer, journalist and honorary research fellow


Why was the Sherriff in the Walker case so puzzled?

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Scottish Review 17 September 2013

Nick Smithers (SR 10 September) rightly highlights the plight of male victims of domestic abuse in Scotland, although I have never maintained that domestic abuse is exclusively perpetrated by men against women. While women comprise the majority of victims in Scotland and throughout the world, I fully acknowledge that men are also victims of domestic abuse (as the harrowing account by a male survivor, SR 12 September, showed) and that it can occur in same-sex relationships.

To suggest that the reticence of male victims to come forward is the result of a false ‘public story’ about women’s inequality in a service sector dominated by violence against women services is, however, stretching things a bit. The United Nations recognises that domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women are both cause and consequence of women’s inequality. The Scottish Government does too. The debate about male victims of domestic abuse needs to mature beyond gender mud-slinging around that tired old binary, ‘who is the most victimised – men or women?’. What is important is to understand what is going on and to prevent it.

The growth of specialist violence against women services in Scotland is due in the main to women’s public activism, campaigning for services and research activity over the last 35 years. In that time, workers and researchers have developed sensitive, ethical and robust methodologies which encourage women and children to come forward and tell their stories.

As a result of listening to women and children, we have a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of domestic abuse, its calculus of harms and its impact. This has been central to the development of specialist domestic abuse services, more sensitive professional practice and increased public awareness. Police and criminal justice services are now better able to disentangle exactly who is doing what to whom when attending domestic abuse incidents, to keep victims safe and prosecute perpetrators. More victims are reporting abuse and seeking support than ever before.

Substantial public funding for domestic abuse services has been available in Scotland since 2000 and is based on the provision of a strong evidence base of statistics, what is needed and whether services are working. If large numbers of Scottish men are currently living silently in fear in their own homes that is quite simply a national disgrace. More research needs to be done to better understand their lives and why they are unable to come forward.

The experiences of those working with other excluded and marginalised groups may have lessons for those seeking to end the isolation of abused men. As with domestic abuse services for women, the need for Mr Smithers’ organisation and for the Men’s Advice Line may continue to grow alongside an increased understanding of the extent of the problem among Scottish men and how they may be supported.

However, last year’s Scottish police figures still tell us an important public story. While 10,000 male victims is a shocking figure by any measure, we should not forget the remaining 50,000 female victims and the many uncounted and innocent children involved in those incidents and their aftermath. That’s a gendered crime story in my book.

Anni Donaldson is a writer and visiting research fellow at Strathclyde University

This may be a good time to reflect on some of our ‘cherished myths’ and draw attention to Scotland’s national tendency to construct misleading narratives about the kind of society we have. Kate Clanchy has argued that it is not true that ‘we’re all socialist in Scotland and we’re all terribly equal’.  Mike Small’s democratic testosterone courses through the limbs of Scotland’s own body politic. The term ‘patriarchy’ may be useful here.

The constellation of professional middle class networks operating within the Scottish political, legal, press and corporate establishments are essentially patriarchal networks which continue to be largely assymetrical in terms of the gender of the key players.

Viewed through the gender lens, male-dominated cartels are visible within the Scottish broadcast media, sport – especially football (spotted many women in the Rangers story recently – either as protagonists or analyst?) and golf (have women been admitted as members of the R&A yet?), organised religion (more of that later) and local government (only one in four Scottish councilors are women). Calling Scotland patriarchal could be a way of telling a different story about ourselves. Let’s look.

Formerly used to describe patrilineal clans or tribes, the term patriarchy was revised in the 1970s to describe social structures which maintain the dominance of the male gender. Patriarchal power was conferred through a matrix of substructures including gender, able-bodied masculinity, birth, inheritance, race/ethnicity, religion, heterosexuality, political, legal and economic power, military might, geography and so on. Patriarchy requires the cooperation of those privileged by association – including women. Patriarchal values were founded on 19th-century ideals of women’s place in the home and their role in society.

In Scotland a strong association grew up between national identity and a particular form of masculinity and continues in Scottish public and private life and culture. Although such notions were often at odds with the reality of most people’s lives, they persist in contemporary Scottish public discourse and private attitudes.

Since the 1970s, legislation and social policy have endeavoured to correct inequalities based on gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality, disability and faith. Meanwhile, Scottish corporate and municipal power structures continue to be male-dominated.

Equality for women in Scotland favours better-off, educated, full-time employed women. There remains a 14% pay differential between men’s and women’s full-time hourly pay and 35% between women’s part-time and men’s full-time hourly rates. Women’s employment remains largely concentrated in low-paid, part-time work. Occupational segregation persists. Women currently comprise two thirds of the total workforce in Scottish local government and to be under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and senior management in Scotland.

Patriarchy is also present in Scottish family and community life. Toxic masculinity remains an enduring Scottish stereotype bestowed with perverse celebrity. Violence in Scotland is essentially a ‘man thing’; men are its most frequent victims and perpetrators.

Violence against women is mainly a ‘man thing’ too. Levels of domestic abuse remain high with almost 60,000 incidents reported to Scottish police last year. The majority of victims were women. Most women murdered in Scotland are killed by a current or former partner. Estimates suggest that over 100,000 children in Scotland live with domestic abuse.

Worryingly high numbers of Scottish teenagers think that using violence in an intimate relationship is sometimes acceptable; 17% of the young women had experienced violence or abuse by a boyfriend. Scotland has a very low conviction rate for rape cases with only around 3% of reported cases resulting in a conviction. More than half of Scottish adults who had experienced serious sexual assault since the age of 16 were assaulted by their partner with over 91% saying the offender(s) was male and 7% saying the offender(s) was female. Studies indicate that 90-95% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by men, often someone known to and trusted by the child.

Our national churches struggle with challenges to patriarchal norms. The Church of Scotland’s collective knickers were in a right twist over the ordination of gay clergy, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland continues to be in a fankle about what to do about priests who are child sexual abusers (it was really very simple: this is a crime and should have been reported to the police); sexual shenanigans within its allegedly celibate priesthood (again, if it’s sexual harassment, assault or rape, these are crimes, report them. If it’s between consenting adults then Your Holinesses really do need to re-examine your rule of celibacy); past cruelties perpetrated by priests and nuns in children’s homes (the truth is thankfully coming out there in recent prosecutions). Oh, they don’t like same-sex marriage either.

According to the polls there is a substantial gender gap in support of independence with more men in favour than women. Groups on both sides of the independence debate campaigning to engage women are using gendered arguments which reflect the reality of Scottish society. Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson found that women need to know that there would be college places for their children and high quality care for older people and they deserve to know if there will be jobs for them and their families.

Jeanne Freeman of the Women for Independence Group wants to play her part ‘in persuading other women, that not only is an independent Scotland possible, but that it’s our best opportunity to realise our hopes and dreams for our families and communities’.

According to the Scottish Women’s Budget Group ‘women are frequently disadvantaged by policies that do not recognise their different realities and experiences, including unequal pay, roles at work and home, and gender-based violence’. Women are also more likely to be concerned than men about the effects of economic downturn on themselves and their families. Are men not concerned about these things too? If these concerns are marginalised as ‘women’s issues’ in the independence debate, post-referendum Scotland, whatever the outcome, is likely to be the same old patriarchal business as usual.

The personal is political and vice versa. For everyone.

Domestic Affairs.

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