In my role as an Outreach worker, I see many of the pattern’s perpetrators use to exert power and control, for example, isolation techniques, gaslighting behaviours, and full denial of responsibility to name a few. Most recently, I have witnessed more victims being faced with another abusive tactic that fits under the ‘post-separation abuse’ umbrella. This is a newish term for the UK labelled ‘parental alienation’.
For those who may not have come across this before, parental alienation is not a concept easily evidenced through empirical studies and research, but it is increasingly a tool used by perpetrators of domestic abuse against their victims and their children to exert control over them in family courts. If you want to read more on its history and use in the family courts, we recommend Dr Adrienne Barnett.
In my experience, I have seen perpetrators are using it as another way of controlling the victim and convincing a judge to allow contact with them (the abusive parent) by labelling the survivor as obstructive. In fact, the non-abusive parent (usually the Mum) is just trying to protect the child/children from harm given the abuse they have been subjected to by the perpetrator.
Naturally, not wanting her children to be exposed to any further harm a Mum would of course stand in the way of abusive behaviour and protect her child, in fact it is exactly what is required of her by social care and the police, but ironically it is playing out differently and being used against many women in the family court system. It is increasingly frustrating to watch victims and survivors voice concerns about the safety of contact with an abusive parent, particularly when I share those concerns myself, to then witness some in the family courts having a problem understanding this.
Perpetrators of abuse will often use their children as a way of controlling their victim. Usually, this is through child contact. It can manifest in tactics like, never sticking to pick up or drop off times, dictating when contact will be, so the non-abusive parent has no freedom or choice, using handover times as their allotted time to continue abusing the surviving parent. I know many victims and survivors of abuse will be reading these examples and recognise these behaviours. This is only a few of the ways in which perpetrators will use their children as an excuse to continue being abusive.
The main reason for a perpetrator to use these behaviours is to continue exerting power and control, they are often continuously angry for having lost their control over their family when the abusive relationship ended. Parental alienation claims are just another tool in the abusive parents’ box, it is a skillful way of ensuring their ex-partner is labelled as in some way abusive, it discredits the domestic abuse claims they have made, and it places the perpetrator neatly in the victim box for the courts.
My advice to victims experiencing this form of post-separation abuse is to discuss this with your solicitor in the first instance if you have one. They should have the relevant knowledge on this subject, given that it doesn’t hold up in law. Liaise with your domestic abuse support worker – if you don’t have one you can contact your local service for advice; we are happy to assist in this or you can go to the Women’s Aid Website to find out who your local provider is.
I have helped survivors who have experienced claims of parental alienation by communicating with their solicitor and offering my knowledge on this topic, and I will continue to do this. I know all of us at Aurora will do all we can to ensure victims and survivors are supported through this as we know how stressful and emotionally challenging this situation can be.
My bigger problem as an advocate is what can the judiciary system do in response to Parental Alienation? Firstly, recognising it as a form of post separation abuse would go a long way in support of survivors of abuse. Survivors already feel that the courts don’t support them enough and don’t understand the dynamics of domestic abuse as well as they could, and parental alienation is another example of that. By enabling this discourse, particularly when there is a proven history of abuse from the perpetrator, this means the courts are colluding with and supporting a perpetrator to continue abusing their victim, and the children.
It is great that organisations like Aurora are becoming more aware of the tactics of Parental Alienation. In addition, many more legal professionals have an understanding of this abusive technique and are able to support their clients through the court process. The more services work together against abusers using parental alienation in court, the more awareness will be raised. This will ultimately support victims and survivors and limit the effects of post-separation abuse upon them.
Brianne – Outreach worker
If you would like to support the Aurora New Dawn charity and you are able to donate you can do so here:
If you would like to support our female only group work and you are able to donate you can do so here:
Do you want to get in touch with us?
Want to help us raise awareness?
Want to donate to our cause? 💜