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Women who report abuse face losing their children

The feminist fix: Train police and social workers to protect abused mothers

“Women who report abuse face losing their children” is the latest article in Julie Bindel’s online column for The Critic, “The feminist fix”, which explores feminism’s answer to today’s challenges. The previous article, on the dangers of trans affirmation therapy, can be read here.

When it comes to domestic violence, it’s not just the criminal justice system this is at fault. The role of social services should be under much harsher scrutiny. When women with children report violence to police, social services are alerted, which of course makes sense. Children that witness domestic violence are often direct victims of that abuse.

‘Why was I blamed for the risk he posed to my children?’

But all too often, when women report violent partners to the police, they can end up in fear of losing their children. Only last month, Alice* wrote to me about her experiences. She told me, “I reported my abusive husband, who would beat me up, often in front of our two young children. The police decided there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him the last time I called them out, but the next day, social services turned up and lectured me for an hour and a half about how I was exposing my children to harm. Why was I being blamed for the risk he posed to my children? I wouldn’t dare ring the police again, in case I lose my kids.”

In a nutshell, this is the experience of many women who call the police on violent partners.

A personal note here: as I was writing this column, thinking how I regularly call the police to task, and how important it is to not let other agencies off the hook, two uniformed officers knocked on my door. I had been reported for a “hate crime” because I joked around on Twitter recently about the whole “aromantic”, “asexual” identities recently added to the already overcrowded LGBTQQIA2Spirit+ rainbow. I told them I was on deadline and to go away and lock up some rapists. I will keep you posted as to any developments. 

To get back to social services — a particularly horrific example of women being blamed for male violence is what happened to Amber*, one of the main victims of the Rochdale grooming gangs. Last week along with two other victims, Amber was given a public apology by the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester police, for their monumental failings in protecting vulnerable children from sadistic pimps and rapists.

Having been completely let down by police, despite giving hours and hours of evidence which enabled them to prosecute a number of the men, Amber was presented in court as though she had procured her friends on behalf of the perpetrators. In fact, Amber had been told by the men to bring her friends along with her. Abjectly terrified and just a child herself, she complied.

She was arrested in 2009 aged just 16, but no charges or further action were ever brought, for what the police considered to be her part in the grooming gangs. As a result, she was not supported as a victim, but instead labelled by social services as a perpetrator. Amber was judged rather than given protection.

In 2012, the trial went ahead. Nine men were convicted, but none of them for the abuse of Amber.

Social services continued their crusade to take her children away

Social workers began to pursue Amber after the trial with the aim of having her children removed. Just before the due date of her second baby, she was called to the family court where an application was made to remove both of her children on the grounds that she was a danger to them. She went to hospital to give birth with this hanging over her head. When the baby was born, she was kept prisoner in the hospital until the social worker had been contacted. The baby was even tagged, so that an alarm would go off if Amber tried to take her out of the hospital.

After three days of being unlawfully held, the horrified matron realised that there were no grounds to detain Amber and her baby. She removed the tag, telling her to take the baby and go home.

But social workers did not relent, turning up at her home to tell Amber she would be expected in the family court in a few days’ time. She was absolutely terrified, and told me, “I left my older child with his dad, but the social worker threatened me saying, ‘if you don’t tell him to come back with the child, they are going to put him on the news as a kidnap case.’”

As she was standing in court with a one-week-old baby, the judge decided there was no evidence that Amber was incapable of looking after her children. She was told to go home and look after her baby. But social services did not drop the case. Over the course of a year and a half, she was called up before the same judge many times, as social services continued their crusade to take her children away.

During this period, Amber was under a 6 pm curfew at her home. The social worker would knock on her door at all hours of the night to check up on her. Amber tells me, “I was in the bath with my son one day, and my partner answered a knock on the door. It was the social worker checking up on me. She actually came up and opened the bathroom door to make sure I was there.”

There was never any suggestion that the children were being neglected, abused or in danger. Eventually, the judge threw out the case, and Amber was given a belated apology.

The feminist fix for social service failures? Mandatory training in all forms of male violence towards women for social workers at every level. Social services are responsible for the safety of children, and it hasn’t, despite decades of feminist intervention and campaigning, quite grasped the fact that the best way to protect children is to protect their mothers. Male violence is the responsibility of the perpetrator, not the victim. If the men committing such heinous acts of cruelty were effectively dealt with, child protection would become a far easier job all round.

Julie Bindel’s latest book, Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation, was published in September 2021.

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