Protecting women and children from violence has priority in foster care cases

Protecting women and children from violence has priority in foster care cases

A European Parliament resolution calls for priority to be given to the protection of mothers and children. And dismantles the “parental alienation syndrome” theory still used in the courts

(photo: Piqsels) Can a violent person be a good parent? Can beating, denigrating and restricting a partner's freedom be a good role model for a child? To reiterate the obvious answer to these rhetorical questions, a resolution by the European Parliament was required, which underlines how domestic and assisted violence (i.e. that suffered by the minor who witnesses episodes of abuse at home) tend to disappear in the cases for the 'custody of children, especially due to secondary victimization and the use of the concept of parental alienation syndrome, and which asks member countries for "urgent measures to protect victims of partner violence in cases for custody of children".

This also considering Article 31 of the Istanbul Convention, which establishes that any episodes of violence should be taken into account in determining the custody and visitation rights of children. The text (Impact of partner violence and custody rights on women and children) was approved with 510 votes in favor, 31 against and 141 abstentions. For Italy they voted against the Brothers of Italy and the League. Forza Italia abstained.

Forms of violence not considered

The resolution (therefore a text of recommendations, but not binding on member countries) approved on 6 October recognizes that "disputes over the custody of children may constitute a form of gender-based violence "and be" used by abusive partners to continue harming their victims "and that" the protection of women and children and the best interests of the child must take precedence over other criteria when establish agreements for the custody of minors and access rights ".

In particular, in cases of foster care," the child must also have the opportunity to be heard and, in cases where the violence of the intimate partner, hearings must be conducted by professionals trained in a child-friendly environment ”. It then expresses "concern about the impact of gender prejudice and stereotypes, which often lead to an inadequate response to gender violence against women and a lack of trust in them, particularly with regard to allegedly false allegations of abuse on minors and domestic violence ".

Women, that is, are not always believed and are forced to undergo secondary victimization precisely by those institutions that should protect them and enforce the law. And it is precisely within the courts (and not only) that we continue to talk about the so-called "parental alienation syndrome" (Pas) or sneaky synonyms such as "malevolent mother" or "alienating mother", concepts that suggest that children who say they have witnessed violence or refuse to meet their abusive father would in reality be simply manipulated by a mother who wants to generate hatred and rejection towards the other parent. Well, the resolution of the European Parliament is also important because it states in black and white that the Pas falls within the category of "unscientific theories and concepts": that is, it does not exist.

Prejudices and lack of competence in the courts

The Strasbourg recommendations are "an important signal that shows that violence has become a priority on the political agenda of the European Union" explains to Wired Titti Carrano, DiRe's lawyer, Women in the network against violence, association which brings together almost half of the Italian anti-violence centers. And he continues: "We hope that the Italian Parliament will take this into account in the justice reform, since from our observatory we can say that our judicial system is not yet adequately equipped to deal with cases of violence against women and cases of assisted violence".

The weak points on which the European Parliament relies are in fact the same on which the anti-violence centers have been insisting for years, which DiRe, in July, explained in the survey The (non) recognition of domestic violence in civil and juvenile courts. The research, conducted thanks to the collaboration of 54 lawyers active in anti-violence centers throughout Italy, in the period from 1 January 2017 to 30 June 2019 (therefore before the entry into force of the Red Code) has shown that the Istanbul Convention is constantly ignored. , that secondary victimization is a more than concrete reality and that in this a preponderant role is played by the ctu (Office technical consultants), who do not have adequate specific training to deal with cases of gender violence. For example, in 74.1% of the cases followed by the lawyers the ctu refer to the Pas. And in 94% of cases they do not ask questions about the violence suffered and / or witnessed (because they are based on standardized questions that do not consider the specific case).

"They also tend to push the woman to find an agreement - Carrano accuses - carrying out de facto mediation in disguise, despite the Istanbul Convention expressly prohibiting the use of family mediation in cases of violence ”. This is because there is still confusion between conflict and violence. "But the difference is substantial: conflict presupposes an equal relationship, violence is prevarication, denigration and destruction of the other", adds Carrano.

In the courts, things do not change: in 88.9% of the cases in the ordinary court and in 51.9% of the cases in the court for minors shared custody was ordered between the parents even in the presence of complaints, reports, precautionary measures issued in criminal proceedings, indictment decrees , sentences of conviction and reports of the anti-violence centers. Even in the face of this documentation, only 22% of the lawyers state that the protected meetings between the abusive father and the children are organized in such a way as to protect the mother. All unforgivable flaws in the system, determined "by the prevalence of a family logic, which gives more space to the right to dual parenthood, than to the best interests of the child".

An opportunity not to be missed

In the midst of the justice reform, Italy is facing "an opportunity that should not be wasted", underlines Carrano: "But we need the awareness that every great reform is in vain, if not accompanied by a change of mentality to stop blaming women and restore their trust in the judicial system ”. A cultural change that puts an end to the confusion between conflict and violence, the institutional victimization of both women and children, and makes the observations reaffirmed by the European resolution truly its own.

Above all because, says Carrano, "the tools to recognize violence in courtrooms we would already have them: in addition of course to the Istanbul Convention, there are for example some judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, such as the recent JL against Italy (which condemns secondary victimization, ed) or the Talpis case against Italy (which establishes that the protection of women who are victims of violence must be rapid and effective, ed). There is a decree of the Court of Appeal of Rome in March 2021 which, among other things, establishes that in custody cases it is a priority to guarantee the safety and psychophysical safety of women and minors, which must be taken into account by all the documents produced to prove the violence that has taken place and which cannot be ignored by Article 31 of the Istanbul Convention. I could go on and on, but the question we have to ask is: why are all these tools still constantly being ignored? ”.

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