Jul 29 2004
With Claire J Paczko
Every week thousands of young children are required to spend time with men known to be violent and abusive within the family.
Sometimes, contact for children takes place in a supervised setting, but sometimes it is entirely unsupervised and involves an overnight stay.
This is what happens in cases of domestic violence when contact orders are granted by courts to abusive men.
If the mother removes herself and her children from an abusive relationship by either fleeing the house or indeed, the area, within a few weeks she may have to come face to face with her abuser in court to respond to his application for a child contact order.
Contact orders are awarded to men even if they are known to be violent in the family.
There are strong links between domestic violence and child abuse, but all too often courts fail to recognise the danger.
The number of contact orders granted nationally has risen considerably in the last few years.
We often hear our clients say, "he would never harm the children", however, it has been shown that in 90pc of domestic abuse incidents, children are in the same or the next room.
The President of the Family Division, Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss, says that family judges and magistrates need to have a heightened awareness of domestic violence.
In 1999, a survey of 130 abused parents found that 76pc of the 148 children (most of whom were under five) ordered by the courts to have contact with their estranged parent, were abused either physically or sexually as a result of this.
Figures show 26pc were abducted or involved in an abduction attempt, 36pc were neglected during contact and 62pc suffered emotional harm
At present, applying for a contact order is the easiest way for an abuser to track down and harass his victims. This is because the child's address is often disclosed accidentally or by order of the court.
We have all seen the recent Fathers 4 For Justice campaigns, where grown men climb on top of churches and bridges and storm local courts in an attempt to prove they are responsible fathers.
But Fathers 4 Justice do not seem to acknowledge safe contact and there appears to be an underlying presumption of automatic entitlement to contact.
At what point does Fathers 4 Justice acknowledge that some men are abusive, controlling and violent?
At what point does Fathers 4 Justice say that contact should be safe contact?
Last week, the Gazette reported a case of a father denied contact with his young daughter who believes parents and grandparents have a legal right to see their children and grandchildren.
Matt O'Connor the founder of Father's 4 Justice says he would like to see both parents treated equally in the eyes of the law.
Even if they are violent, abusive and controlling? Even if there are serious concerns about the father's ability to care for the child?
In my mind, there is absolutely no dispute that children benefit from both of their parents having an active and healthy participation in their upbringing.
However, what happens when that participation is or has been unhealthy or inappropriate or against the law?
This is not about father's rights, it's about the rights of children. And the need to ensure they are safe.
OttawaMen'sCentre 613-482-1112 Email OttawaMensCentre@hotmail.com