Channel 4 Dispatches groundbreaking film ‘Torn Apart: Family Courts Uncovered’ revealed never-before-seen footage of the state acting violently to children. This film is a testament to tenacious, boundary-pushing journalism. It’s difficult to forget the harrowing screams of children and mothers torn apart from each other. That the state can do this without just cause is a truth that needs to be widely known. The establishment deserves to feel a shockwave, because this film is a public wake-up call to a brutal reality.
These children lived in safe homes. The mothers had all been in family court, expressing concerns about the other parent’s conduct. Alleging parental alienation was the accused parent’s response to those safeguarding concerns. The film showed the most pressing risk to children’s welfare was not the stereotypical ‘alienating mother.’ A parent willing to go to any lengths in a trigger-happy system is the greater risk to children. It’s a psychologically violent plan to misuse the relatively rare phenomenon of parental alienation as a blanket response to evidence of safeguarding issues.
Significantly, true cases of parental alienation are sporadic, estimated to be prevalent in only a tiny proportion of court cases. The definition states that parental alienation is when a child rejects a parent due to manipulation by the other parent for no good reason. It’s deeply problematic when those who have harmed others with physical, emotional or sexual abuse can turn the tables just by alleging parental alienation. In a case where abuse was present, children are usually justified in limiting contact with an unsafe parent. It is a natural reaction to the trauma of experiencing abuse.
The film demonstrates how the family court reacts to families at risk of abuse. We see a mother tortured for years in court about parental alienation by a convicted paedophile who desires contact with his children. We see children who wish to live with their safe parent brutally extracted to live with an unsafe parent. The children express resistance; the system frames their opposition as ‘evidence of alienation.’ Children become voiceless and parents powerless, even when genuine and well-documented concerns exist about the other parent.
What the court failed to consider in all of these cases were the child’s communicated wishes and feelings. They neglected to take into account the abusive parent’s conduct. They heard a child’s fear and reluctance, and instead of saying, “we will keep you safe,” they said, “your mother put you up to this.” Abusers weaponizing parental alienation enforce the translation of children’s voices; consequently, their well-founded fears are point-blank dismissed as foul play from (usually) the mother.
Intense lobbying by men’s rights campaigns and a ring of unregulated experts have ensured that parental alienation has become a ‘trump card’ in court, even for peadophiles and murderers. For an abuser concealing their conduct, it appears to be the magic words. It creates a twisted power imbalance where the abuser can successfully deflect and then punish their victims, having the state act on their behalf.
Ideological pushers of parental alienation’s misuse claim it’s necessary to snatch children from their beds. They describe using a team of police officers because it reinforces the court’s and the father’s authority. They openly admit to using extreme force against children. The exploitation of this concept has not escaped the World Health Organization, which has removed it from the ICD-11 as ‘Its inclusion … will not contribute to valid or meaningful health statistics.’ The Families Need Fathers website asserts that the WHO has agreed to recognise it. The misuse of the concept is now standard, and enforced removals are on the rise.
The vast majority of the British public do not know their hard-earned taxes are funding these vicious extractions. For the most part, people trust the justice system. But the blame lies with the court. They accept unregulated, ideological expert opinion as gospel. They are happy to facilitate an abuser for many years despite knowing that an abusive parent may directly harm their children. Ultimately though, the blame lies with one person.
It’s striking to note that the father could have requested the court not to act with force against his children during all of these cases. At any point, due to these being private disputes, the father could have said: “Stop.” The court should recognise this as a psychologically violent strategy and act to prevent it. The justice system should be where the buck stops for abuse, not a vehicle for it to continue.
Dispatches Journalist Louise Tickle outlines how Freedom of Information requests had gone out to all UK police forces. Asked to determine how many children endure this radical state intervention, they declined to answer, citing cost. Anecdotally we know this practice has become more widespread. With children brutally forced into living with or spending time with an abuser while the institutions responsible conceal its prevalence, a government investigation is imperative. The public needs to know how far the justice system can go in a private dispute. Parents need to know what’s in store for their children if they enter the family court.