From life in a children’s home, via Children’s Rights activism, a miscarriage of justice survivor to the Founder of ‘genderfreeDV’
They call it a “Looked After” childhood these days
My name is John and my family heritage is steeped in violence and abuse. On both sides. Mother a teen runaway. Father beat regularly by his Mother exited into the Army. They were a train wreck in the making.
I was exposed to both chaos and violence from an early stage, from my imploding family, my parents neglect and abuse, having been dumped into care, via institutions and from Social Workers to latterly – within my own personal adult relationship and from those whose job it is to enforce a victim orientated approach to DVA. But who in my case, and my own children’s, sadly failed to do so.
I was one of four boys brought up in a number of children’s homes. Abandoned by both parents, the idea coming my teenage Mother. But it was my alcoholic, delusional “Father” who, when he left me, left me also a parting gift; as my three younger brothers keeper. “Be like a Dad to them..” he told me, as he wasn’t able. Thus I became at 5 years of age, their “carer”. A cross I would later bear, as an adult too in my marriage. Natural “carers” can often make for prime candidates as victims from abusers.
Institutional life provided me my personal/political founding stage. The abuses I experienced and saw happen to others in care, my sense of injustice and abhorrence, hopelessness, formulating into the social advocacy and indignation that would lead into my maturity, the need to see fundamental changes, when I left care.
The period (60s-80s) I spent in care was very probably the most dangerous era a child could have negotiated. State sanctioned institutional child abuse. Staff were on a moving platform. It was a time of rampant (female and male) paedophilia. I was literally walking every day of my childhood through a minefield. No accountability existed for Residential Staff or Foster Carers as there was little in the way of training and even less instinctive caring. They considered the process of care as “sink or swim” – based on the mass of ex care that disproportionately make up the prison population, the homeless, the prostituted, suicidal, teen pregnant, addicted. What I think protected me (and through me my siblings) from the worst of the predator activities (night time visits, trawling celebrities, taxi cab outings to under-age parties) was my ability to speak out. I was an intelligent and vocal young person. And that made me a threat to those in the children’s home who found employment there just so as to target the vulnerable.
I lived for my own future escape and my brothers also. Leaving the children’s home after a life under supervision and abject abuse meant more than my freedom. However, I couldn’t turn my back on those I left behind even as my own star was rising. So as I started a degree in the media I also became a key player in the development of the National Association Young People In Care.
Children’s Rights Advocacy
I was NAYPICs development Officer and board member of the Children’s Legal Centre. Amongst my many unpaid voluntary tasks was developing groups locally. Through listening to young people I compiled a dossier of injustices and a series of demands. I videotaped young people across the UK. I filmed them, visibly moved myself at their stories; sad of eye and hunched in disposition, children broken and desperate to talk but voiceless about their abuses.
I advocated, organised and made more video. Interviewed countless young people who spoke about their abuse. Young women with backgrounds of sexual abuse experiencing the same in the home. I made the very first “Black and In Care” film that led to the formation of that group. Within a few years we had a London Office, created a national newsletter and created policy. I spoke at the parliamentary group on children in care and was commended by Renee Short for doing so, contributing to the 1984 Children’s Act.
Our key argument was that young people were legally required “to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives”. And I am glad to say that through child protection family and institutionalised abuse is now recognised as the scourge it is. That the inclusion of young people in the decision making process is the basis of all good practise today.
It was the loss of my children and there abandonment by Social Services to their abuser that spurred me to fight back for them. I met many such men through court processes, in Contact Centres and at Families Need Fathers meetings. Not so lucky.
It is the children who are losing out on our determination that gender be a specific factor in their care. That gender plays prime place in determining domestic abuse.
After I won both my appeals I put my activism behind me, my career as a TV Director, to become a family man. Now after many years of absence as an activist I am at it again. The Founder of a campaign called GenderfreeDV. A diverse alliance of survivors of domestic abuse, a conduit for all so called “silent” groupings unable or unwilling to speak up about the abuse they suffer. Both from within their personal relationships but just as worrying from those who experience a very poor institutional response to their victimhood that can also create secondary victims by stint of bad practise.
The reasons I have made this return to activism are the same as they were in my early life: the need to change a set of attitudes, policies and practises that are as corrupted as they are abusive – that literally are destroying lives. From its gender specific base has grown to become institutionally oppressive, unaccountable as well as wholly uninclusive. Within this unacceptable gender bias is an intolerance to voices other than those the practitioners want to hear.
And child protection concerns fall below our interest in developing more sophisticated ways of determining what constitutes gendered abuse. Leaving so called “silent groups’ from the picture.
So called “silent groups”
I dispute the Academic notion of “silent” groups – what I see are those who – existing outside of one end of the gender spectrum – are neither tolerated or believed. I see how child protection is wrongly placed below active support for victims of domestic abuse. And how those with child protection concerns are routinely treated, as children are themselves, with disrespect and with bias.
How would I know that? Because I know the system. I have stepped over the threshold from ordinary person to a dark unknown world.
As a convicted “perpetrator” for 12 months I experienced probation – where female perps do not exist and no programmes are available to them. I know the system from the inside out. I am a “client”, a “service user”, a “silent” survivor who saw a process that is rigged and a system that is bankrupt.
From the initial knock on my door – where four flack jacketed officers took me away from the two babies I was caring for; one on the potty the other on the sofa in need of a nappy change. From the one sided police investigation at two am in the morning, the false (wrongful) charge of assault – with no evidence – to the catastrophic expulsion from my home. Suddenly homeless, childless and facing the shame and disgrace and the loss of my role as family carer and my community position, my human and family rights violated via a secret (MARAC) court. Based on no actual evidence except the word of someone whose sole intention was my removal, her dominance of our home and financial income.
Police maximised charges against me based on historic accounts of abuse (no proof) so that Solicitor & Prosecutor could pincer me into accepting a plea bargain. And the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) could meet their targets of male persecutor prosecutions.
She was provided with an IDVA Officer. A woman who in the court room openly bad mouthed me; intimidated me from the back of the courtroom whilst I sat shaken and crying behind a separating wall of glass. Whilst the partner whose abuse, bulimia and criminal activities I had lived with was given her own “screen” around her to shield her from me – her apparent abuser.
“I wasn’t allowed to mention her violence” said my witless male Solicitor. Judges don’t like to see abused women put under further stress and he felt his questioning – if too forceful – would have led to me getting a worse punishment. He had a done a deal with their side anyway. Her own serious violent conviction would not be raised in court.
“Never get tried in a magistrates court” was the best advice a fellow “abuser” gave me when I found myself unbelievably sentenced “guilty” assault and serving a community service. Whilst the person who had abused me, using false allegations to further her control, was I our home I lived in the car, through the harshest winter. She maxed out my credit cards, the debt was overwhelming.
For two years the children were left with their abuser. Spartan visits with them in “Contact Centres” – terrible Dickensian places where Fathers like me (many not even found guilty in a court of law) were all trying desperately to maintain some sort of a relationship in two hours over two weeks.
The period in which I spent away from my children fighting for my rights and theirs, to be rejoined and to save them were the very worst. Unspeakably painful; worse even than the horrors of an abusive institutionalised childhood in care.
To hide myself away, to take to drugs, to kill myself, to forget about them, to just go.. But I would not, could not, give up on those children. I live now with the PTSD of the shame felt, the terrors at night, the humiliation and the degradation from ex neighbours and so called professionals (school, nursery etc). The judiciary and the CPS who tried and found me wrongly guilty – caught me in that Kafka-esque nightmare.
There are NO female perpetrators
For nearly a year I was on probation where I collected needles and nappies on a Sunday afternoon with other “wife beaters”. And the only thing that kept me going was seeing my children for two hours every weekend and the thing that nearly destroyed me was seeing the abuse from their violent Mother whilst not being listened to when child protection concerns were raised. Because Social Workers I met felt I was trying to get back at my ex partner. That my serious concerns were part of the same intimidation and control and abuse I had apparently exercised in our relationship. Because in their minds, as a guilty perpetrator – I was not to be believed.
So here’s a awful irony.
Having grown up in care. Working inside the Social Services to change things for children in care. Not feeling in anyway intimidated I thought I would be believed and find help in the Social Services. For me, for my ex partner and mostly for the children.
I arrived at my local Social Services Office to bring up child protection concerns that first time, after being wrongfully arrested for DVA but not having been legally found to be guilty. As I waited for the Area Team Leader I looked up at the wall and saw this:
A Charter For Looked After Children.
It was extensive. It was everything we worked for back in the day. It was a vindication. It included their right to be heard and to include them in decisions made about their lives.
It was sadly however also a symbol of the gulf that existed between myself, the Social worker (who had already determined I was a perp) and the Team Leader. These people knew nothing about me. About my past. The work I had done. They knew nothing either about the abuse within my family. The impact my ex partners or the effect of her abuse had on me and the children.
It did not stop him from following suit. Backing the Social Worker and bullying me into submission. Negating every point I made and all my concerns for my ex partner and worries for our children’s safety. It was his report that stayed with me throughout the two year trial that every other professional followed in suit. That i was a perpetrator, manipulating & deceptive and a danger to my children.
I was living in my car. Lost my focus for work. Unable to get clearance to work with children. I had been found guilty two counts assault against my ex partner with no evidence of any event except her word. It took me a year before I was cleared in a High Court. The Judge learnt that my ex partner had a serious violent conviction she had previously been imprisoned for. The police had failed to follow up on.
It took me a further year through a Family Court to prove serious child protection concerns were true and to be given sole residency my three children. Social Services were not reprimanded for supporting a child abuser for two years.
I have cared for my children full time as a single parent to this day. My ex is not allowed access.
Setting up GFDV has brought me into direct talks with the same police force that wrongly arrested me. Avon Somerset Constabulary with the help of a strong group of diverse survivors are now adopting a “genderfree” approach to domestic abuse.
The Council that established the gender biased policy that set the police against me, the Social Services that failed my children are yet to respond or to alter their practises.
Working together within practise
All of us are obliged – Council Service Staff, PCC’s, Constabularies, the social work profession, educators, neighbours, DVA practitioners, policy makers of all hues including Safe Lives, ACPO and the police, CPS, Judges, politicians, Legals, Health Care, Training Bodies, Researchers/ University Staff – to place our responsibility around child protection ahead of support for DVA victims.
It is clear to me that systems can change over time. Practise grow and learn from those who know it best. We seek an alternative, holistic and inclusive approach to domestic abuse; one favoured currently in the Isles of Scilly. Community based, family supporting that seeks to assist rather than be seen to ex communicate and/or penalise perpetrators of DVA.
In my more recent experience of supporting survivors through GFDV who are same sex, trans, disabled male, gender fluid etc. there are too many cases like mine. Where the simplistic notions that cement DVA policies and practises, the wider public’s attitudes also, need if not a total overhaul then a moving on, a development of support outwards to a broader more inclusive base. We need in essence, to be inclusive of all survivors of DVA and/or IPV as it says on the tin “across society, regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth, and geography.”
We are genderfreeDV. Join us. Make it happen.