For at least two reasons, the domestic violence establishment has always feared and loathed the concept of parental alienation.
First and most importantly, recognition of PA tends to devalue the coin of the establishment’s realm – power. Since the early 70s, activists have argued that only (or almost only) men are perpetrators of DV and only (or almost only) women are victims. Long before #BelieveWomen, they argued that, if a woman says she’s a victim of DV, she is. Period.
The acceptance of those patently untrue notions by policy- and law-makers conferred considerable power on women. Police were trained to, in any DV situation, see the man as the perpetrator and the woman as the victim, regardless of the objective facts. I have read police training programs that did exactly that. The power to have a man removed from his home, jailed, denied access to sources of money and personal property, to potentially lose his freedom, job and friends, all on the say-so of his wife/girlfriend is awe-inspiring. The loss of his children in family courts is even more so. Nowhere else in American or British jurisprudence do we give one private individual such unchecked power over another.
Naturally, that is all very heady stuff to DV activists as is the ensuing flow of money from both public and private sources. Therefore, anything that might diminish that power must be assailed and petty considerations of honesty, balance and the greater social good must take a backseat.
For decades, we saw that response when carefully-done social science pointed out hundreds of times that the most basic precepts of the DV establishment had little or no support in empirical fact. Indeed, women and girls are every bit as likely to commit violence against a partner as are men and boys. But, rather than admit the truth, DV activists resorted to false justifications for continuing their opposition to the facts and informed public policy about DV. Remember when they claimed that all female perpetration was actually just defensive?
Like the DV establishment’s response to the empirical science on intimate partner violence, the concept of parental alienation has been met with enraged denial and the distortion and even fabrication of “facts.” That’s no surprise. PA too holds the potential to diminish the power of the establishment and of mothers in family courts. After all, alienating parents often try to cover their behavior with false claims that the targeted parent is an abuser, either of the child or the alienator. This is a well-known, if fairly rare, occurrence in family courts.
Second, according to the DV establishment, one of the great sins of those who promote recognition of PA is the fact that alienation is itself a form of child abuse. So anti-PA advocates use the establishment’s own rhetoric and concepts against it. Hoist on their own petard, DV activists have become very, very uncomfortable. The only strategy available to them is to peddle the empty notion that PA is just a cynical ploy by abusive fathers to wrest custody from “protective mothers.”
The utter bankruptcy of that claim, plus the fact that DV activists don’t hesitate to entirely fabricate “facts” and make up “definitions” to make their points are salient features of public discourse on the issue. Courtesy of The Guardian, here’s a good example, a thin tissue of intentional misinformation, unsupported assertions and the occasional outright lie.
The writer, Charlotte Proudman, “is a human rights barrister specialising in violence against women and girls.” In other words, she’s a card-carrying member of the DV establishment. Of course she is.
What is parental alienation? According to Proudman, it’s “the idea that one parent brainwashes a child to distance it from the other parent, who is blameless.”
No, that’s actually not what PA is. PA contains no concept of either parent as “blameless” and never has. In a nutshell, parental alienation is a campaign of denigration to the child by one parent about the other parent and the child’s rejection of the targeted parent that’s not warranted by anything that parent has done. The true definition of PA can be found in countless publications, many of which are online and can be easily located by anyone with Internet access. Proudman’s misrepresentation of PA can only be called intentional.
(As an aside, out of all the dozens of articles I’ve read attacking the idea of PA, not one of them correctly defined the term. That even includes academic studies.)
But Proudman’s far from done peddling falsehoods as facts. Consider this claim:
Parental alienation can happen, but it is extremely rare, as a Cardiff University review concluded.
Memo to Proudman: if you’re going to lie about a review of literature, don’t link to it. Readers just might, as I did, click on the link and read the review. Here’s what it actually says about the prevalence of PA.
The lack of a single definition makes determining the prevalence of parental alienation a complex task. The diversity of associated behaviours and the complexity of assessment mean there is little to no reliable data within existing literature [citations].
The extent of the authors’ conclusions on the frequency of PA is this: we don’t really know and figuring it out is hard. Did Proudman even read the review?
Recall that I earlier said that one bête noire of the DV industry is that anti-alienation advocates use industry rhetoric to attack PA. Sure enough, Proudman’s johnny on the spot.
When the domestic abuse bill was before parliament, some mens’ (sic) rights groups fought for parental alienation to be defined as domestic abuse. Claire Waxman, the victims’ commissioner for London, experienced a backlash from this lobby after she opposed their plan, and said parental alienation campaigners were attempting to thwart her efforts to help victims of abuse. Unfortunately, parental alienation is still defined as controlling or coercive behaviour in the draft statutory guidance.
Yes, the DV industry has for years demanded that a whole range of non-violent behavior (“financial violence” comes to mind) be defined as violent in law. So now, British law defines “violence” to include “controlling or coercive behavior,” and the concept has come back to bite its advocates. That’s because parental alienation can indeed be “controlling and coercive” to a child and therefore violate the law. So DV advocates find themselves in a pickle: they want the broadest possible definition of DV, but, when it comes to PA, bridle at its evenhanded use.
What to do?
As we’ll see next time, if you’re Charlotte Proudman, continue making up “facts” to suit your narrative and hope no one notices.
This article originally appeared at The Word of Damocles.