Written by Melanie Smith, UN Mothers
END VIOLENCE AGAINST MOTHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN CAMPAIGN
As many are aware, there is a silent genocide occurring against women. This is part of a major reason why women all over the world are united to end violence against women. What many do not know or connect is that a lot of women experiencing violence perpetrated against them are also mothers. Many ads on stopping violence against women portray women without children as a means to get the message across clearly; but they fail to represent the large proportion of mothers in this situation.
Experts in intimate partner violence have noted that there is a high correlation between abuse and pregnancy. Some scholars state that this is because they are envious of the relationship between the mother and the child. Using violence, coercion and control is often part of the effort to destroy these bonds. The problem then exacerbates when a mother tries to leave–often not to save herself but to save the child. Leaving is one of the most dangerous times for all women enduring intimate partner violence, and, accompanied with an inadequate system, the odds are stacked against her. With a community plagued by stereotypes on child custody cases, closed courtrooms and loopholes in laws compounded by pop-psychology, we have a situation where most mothers in this predicament are torn away from the children they tried to protect. In the 1980s, Dr Richard Gardner coined the term, “Parent Alienation Syndrome”.
This term remained a term only, because most of the scientific community rejected it. His literature promoted ideas that victims of abuse were mentally ill and deliberately raised concerns about the abuse as an act of hate. Dr Richard Gardner also testified in a homicide case where a mother was shot 13 times. Gardner claimed that her “alienating behavior” drove him to kill her. Although the scientific community rejected Parent Alienation Syndrome, the legal community embraced it. Carefully removing the word “syndrome”, the belief set remained. Whilst his work began in US, he traveled around the world promoting these ideas to court professionals and others who had a direct influence on child custody case outcomes. Some organizations that offer training for judges even held workshops on “maternal gate-keeping”, which trivialized the experiences of women and children leaving intimate partner violence. Whilst Dr. Gardner passed away several years ago, his doctrine lives on and others have polished up his work to continue its grave influence upon the legal community.
Mothers are often subjected to degrading treatment within the courtrooms where they are forced to deny their experiences and their need to survive and protect–or they will face jail. All legal avenues within this culture are blocked. This is why we have a battered mothers custody conference where mothers, professionals and young people unite to end violence against women and children through the system. It is why I traveled all the way from Australia to be there this year amongst others who have also traveled from other parts of the globe to attend. It is a global issue that affects many.