Insider released a new documentary on YouTube on the morning of November 4, 2023, ‘The Truth Behind The Experimental Therapy That Kids Say Starts With ‘Legalized Kidnapping’, which has had over 200,000 views since it’s premiere.
As stated in the Insider documentary summary: “Hundreds of children across the United States have been sent into controversial treatment programs where they’re cut off from the parent they trust and forced to live with the one they fear. This investigation explores how proponents of “parental alienation” theory have convinced family court judges to order children into these experimental reunification programs, usually during a custody battle in a divorce. The therapists claim their programs can repair broken parent-child relationships, but critics call them junk science and say they have traumatized kids.“
Claims of parental alienation in family court are not a new thing. For decades advocates have urged that family courts urgently disempower the “parental alienation” terminology (and similar concepts) designed as an abuser’s weapon to minimize child abuse and domestic violence claims in court and ensure that all those in power urgently refrain from perpetuating its intentionally destructive and traumatizing legacy — and the solutions to ensure that child safety is at the forefront of custody decisions.
The term “parental alienation” or “parental alienation syndrome (PAS)” was created by Richard Gardner in 1985 for the purpose of deflecting the court’s attention from child abuse claims against fathers, and instead attacks the credibility of the mother, allowing the abusive father to be perceived as the victim.
This weapon, disguised as a made-up concept, “could be used to distract the court from abusive behaviors and reverse the perception of victimhood in judges’ eyes away from children towards abusive fathers. The idea was to punish mothers and children for challenging male household authority by reporting child abuse.”
“The “genius” of Gardner’s tool was that the more a mother or a child insisted that abuse had taken place, the more evidence of the “alienating” syndrome. He designed a trap.” — Grant Wyeth in The Best Interests of the Abuser
This is a debunked concept, based on Gardner’s clinical observations, not scientific data, and is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the World Health Organization (WHO), or the American Medical Association.
The use of this concept has also been opposed by the Spanish and Italian Governments and has recently gained the attention of the United Nations, which issued a global call for inputs in December 2022 into child custody cases and violence against women and children. The specific purpose of the inquiry was to understand how the discredited concept of “parental alienation” has been advanced into custody proceedings worldwide and how it is undermining the welfare and safety of children.
As a result of this call for inputs, a report, ‘Custody, violence against women and violence against children‘ was published by Reem Alsalem, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, on April 13, 2023 and submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. This report was presented at the UN General Assembly UN Human Rights Council Fifty-third session on June 23, 2023.
In this report the Reem Alsalem stated:
“The report demonstrates how the discredited and unscientific pseudo-concept of parental alienation is used in family law proceedings by abusers as a tool to continue their abuse and coercion and to undermine and discredit allegations of domestic violence made by mothers who are trying to keep their children safe. It also shows how the standard of the best interest of the child is violated by imposing contact between a child and one or both parents and by prioritizing it, even where there is evidence of domestic violence.
Predominantly as a result of the lack of training and gender bias and of access to legal support, the custody of children may be awarded to perpetrators of violence, despite evidence of a history of domestic and/or sexual abuse. The risks of such consequences are compounded for women from marginalized groups in society. The report elaborates on systemic issues that lead to additional barriers to justice. Judges and evaluators need to move away from focusing on the identification of behaviours that are contested within the discipline of psychology and towards a focus on the specific facts and contexts of each case.”
Here’s How Claims of ‘Parental Alienation’ or ‘Alienation’ Work in Family Court:
This occurs, for instance, when a guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” attacks the accuser’s credibility, and blames the accuser for being the perpetrator of a false accusation.
DARVO “turns the true victim into an alleged offender.” — in this case, an “alienator.”
The goal of DARVO is to deflect the accusations and create uncertainty about the facts. When a cross-claim of alienation is made in family court, women (speaking on behalf of themselves & their children seeking protection) are only believed 23% of the time. (Meier) — When in fact those least likely to make false claims of abuse are primary caregivers; usually the mothers. (Pollack).
“Claims of “alienation” become the abuser’s weapon & legal strategy to deflect or minimize allegations of abuse in the family court system when it is their own behavior or actions that caused the children to reject them.” — Tina Swithin, Author, Founder of One Mom’s Battle and Family Court Awareness Month.
Once the court founds a claim of “alienation” the children are removed (sometimes violently) from their safe parent and forced to reunite with their alleged abusive parent via a reunification camp.
“There is actually a very predictable pattern: there’s the abuse allegation, there’s the alienation rebuttal, there’s the custody switch, and there’s the program.”Olivia Gentile
Tina Swithin, Founder of One Mom’s Battle explains reunification camps:
“In the family court system when a child makes allegations of abuse against a parent and expresses fear or resistance over the relationship, it is commonplace for the court to override the child’s wishes and force contact. In an increasing number of these cases, the court orders these children into experimental, unregulated and highly controversial reunification treatments or reunification camps. When a child physically resists going to these treatment programs, for-profit transport agents are utilized. We’ve seen numerous videos of children being physically restrained and at least one incident where a child was violently assaulted during the transport process. It is more common for children to be taken directly from the courtroom by transport agents which allows these things to be hidden from the general public.
Once the children arrive at the reunification program, they are threatened and coerced into recanting allegations of abuse. Some of the threats involve being sent to wilderness camps, foster care or institutional facilities and survivors describe feelings of hopelessness and defeat. These children are often told that if they do not comply, they will not see their preferred parent again or that their preferred parent could go to jail. Many of the tactics used in reunification programs earilly resemble mind-control techniques utilized in cults. Despite a lack of scientific evidence about the effectiveness of these programs, family court judges continue to order children into these programs despite the federal government and the United Nations calling for a ban on reunification camps.”
While the abusive use of claims of ‘parental alienation’ impact parents of all genders and their children, current research proves that mothers are losing custody disproportionately, by as much as 73% of the time, when mothers allege abuse and the accused party responds with an “alienation” claim when courts believe she is an “alienator.” — sometimes even when the courts acknowledge that the father has abused the mother and the children. (Meier)
Research also shows that a mother’s chance of losing her child to the alleged abuser doubles with a cross-claim of “alienation.”
There is no comparable loss rate when men allege abuse and women cross-claim alienation illustrating the presence of gender bias, which research also shows is exacerbated by court-appointed experts.
The outcomes are the consistent throughout the globe.
“Mothers are losing custody disproportionately, by as much as 73% of the time, when mothers allege abuse and the accused party responds with an “alienation” claim when courts believe she is an “alienator.” — Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations, Meier, Joan S. and Dickson, Sean and O’Sullivan, Chris and Rosen, Leora and Hayes, Jeffrey, Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations (2019). GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper №2019–56
“UN experts urge the new government to target violence against women and girls, repeal parental alienation law: “Today we call on the newly elected Government of Brazil to strengthen its resolve to end violence against women and girls, and we call for the end of the legal long-standing application of the concept of parental alienation and similar variations in cases of domestic violence and abuse, which penalize mothers and children in Brazil.” — Brazil: UN experts urge new government to target violence against women and girls, repeal parental alienation law (November 4, 2022)
Brazil is the only country in the world that has a Federal law specifically ruling on the concept of parental alienation and the Brazilian government is resistant to repeal such a law despite the recommendations from its National Council of Health and National Council of Human Rights demanding the repeal of the Parental Alienation Law and the ban of the terms parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome.
“We are deeply concerned that this is not an isolated problem, as we continue to receive information on cases in Spain and other countries of mothers losing custody, and sometimes even facing prison, for attempting to protect their children from abusive fathers.” — Spain: UN experts denounce child custody decision that ignores evidence of sexual abuse, February 22, 2022
“Abuse of the term “Parental Alienation” and of similar concepts and terms invoked to deny child custody to the mother and grant it to a father accused of domestic violence in a manner that totally disregards the possible risks for the child must be discouraged. Accusations of parental alienation by abusive fathers against mothers must be considered as a continuation of power and control by state agencies and actors, including those deciding on child custody.” — UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Procedures Experts — October 20, 2022
The barrister Charlotte Proudman says that parental alienation has become a “go-to tactic” used by alleged or found perpetrators of domestic abuse. “In some cases they call on a PA expert to assess the family dynamics before there is even a hearing to determine whether allegations of abuse are legitimate,” she said. “Once PA is found, any suggestion of domestic abuse is downplayed and it is very hard to turn a case around. I’ve seen a couple of cases where a mother has never seen their child again and must wait until they are 18.” — Parental alienation and the unregulated experts shattering children’s lives, The Guardian, June 12, 2022
“The study found that allegations of parental alienation were frequently being used during child arrangements proceedings to obscure and undermine allegations of domestic abuse. These findings are presented against a backdrop of a recent revival of ideas around alienation in the family court in England and Wales. The article highlights a growing body of evidence demonstrating the gendered assumptions underlying parental alienation as a concept, and argues that the concept should not be accepted without analysis and understanding of the harmful impact it has on survivors of domestic abuse and their children.” — “I was punished for telling the truth’: how allegations of parental alienation are used to silence, sideline and disempower survivors of domestic abuse in family law proceedings: Dr Jenny Birchall & Professor Shazia Choudhry, February 1, 2022
“The case law revealed a high incidence of domestic abuse perpetrated by parents (principally fathers) who were claiming that the resident parents (principally mothers) had alienated the children against them, which raises questions about the purpose of PA. More recently, a PA ‘industry’ appears to have amassed comprising experts, therapists and lawyers, advocating transfers of children’s care from ‘alienating’ mothers to non-resident fathers, as well as PA therapy for children and parents.” — A Genealogy of Hostility: parental alienation in England and Wales: Dr Adrienne Barnett (Brunel University London)
“Fears of false allegations of parental alienation are clearly a barrier to victims of abuse telling the courts about their experiences.” — Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases, Ministry of Justice
“Parental alienation is used as a strategy to conceal male violence, by violent men themselves, relatives or institutions, mainly. It reduces domestic violence to parental conflict and pathologizes women and children. This is linked to a wider problem of identification of domestic violence in France (mainly psychoanalysis based), and a tendency to undermine the credibility of abused mothers and their children.” — How Is Parental Alienation used Against Separated and Divorced Mothers in France? : Pierre-Guillaume Prigent (University of Western Brittany) & Gwenola Sueur (University of Angers)
“When mothers’ allegations of violence in the family are disbelieved, minimized or dismissed, they are transformed from victims of abuse into perpetrators of abuse — alienators of children from their fathers.” — A history of the use of the concept of parental alienation in the Australian family law system: contradictions, collisions and their consequences: Zoe Rathus AM (Griffith University)
“The findings reveal researchers’ and experts’ tendency to distance themselves from Gardner’s controversial work on ‘parental alienation syndrome’ and to address the critiques by proposing new approaches and new concepts. However, the terms ‘parental alienation syndrome’, ‘parental alienation’ and ‘alienating behaviours’ are often used interchangeably, and assessment practices tend to rely on similar indicators.” — The legitimization and institutionalization of ‘parental alienation’ in the Province of Quebec Professor Simon Lapierre, Professor Patrick Ladouceur, Michele Frenette (University of Ottawa) & Assistant Professor Isabelle Cote (Laurentian University)
“A close reading of those cases where both alienation and intimate partner violence claims are made reveals troubling patterns in how intimate partner violence is discounted in this context. We suggest that the rise of shared parenting as a dominant norm assists in understanding why alienation has achieved such unquestioned status, and call for greater focus on safety and women’s and children’s voices.” — Penalizing women’s fear: intimate partner violence and parental alienation in Canadian child custody cases: Professor Elizabeth Sheehy (University of Ottawa) & Professor Susan B. Boyd (University of British Columbia)
“While the public campaign slogan in New Zealand when referring to family violence, is ‘It’s Not OK’, many women in New Zealand report that the Family Court prefers the catchphrase ‘It never happened’. When women and children escaping violence and abuse reach out to the New Zealand Family Court for protection believing the justice system will help them, they often enter an alternative reality where they are not believed and are subsequently made less safe. This is particularly so for those women whose well-founded fears for their children’s safety get reinterpreted as evidence of a deliberate attempt to alienate the children from their fathers.” — ‘It’s Not OK’, but ‘It’ never happened: parental alienation accusations undermine children’s safety in the New Zealand Family Court : Deborah Mackenzie (The Backbone Collective), Ruth Herbert & Neville Robertson
“Women were often blamed and labeled as ‘engaging in parental alienation’ when they were trying to ensure their children’s safety. Children’s accounts were interpreted as being a result of their mothers’ manipulation. In contrast, fathers were treated as victims of vindictive women who want to keep children to themselves. Men’s violent behaviors were not considered, and their role as fathers was seen as ‘inviolable’.” — Parental alienation (syndrome) in child custody cases: survivors’ experiences and the logic of psychosocial and legal services in Italy : Mariachiara Feresin (University of Trieste)
A report entitled ‘Custody, violence against women and violence against children’ was published following a call for inputs by Reem Alsalem, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, on April 13, 2023. This report was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council and was presented at the UN General Assembly UN Human Rights Council Fifty-third session on June 23, 2023. You can read the report, related articles, press release and watch the #HRC53 session in which 50+ countries addressed this report here.
“The report demonstrates how the discredited and unscientific pseudo-concept of parental alienation is used in family law proceedings by abusers as a tool to continue their abuse and coercion and to undermine and discredit allegations of domestic violence made by mothers who are trying to keep their children safe. It also shows how the standard of the best interest of the child is violated by imposing contact between a child and one or both parents and by prioritizing it, even where there is evidence of domestic violence. Predominantly as a result of the lack of training and gender bias and of access to legal support, the custody of children may be awarded to perpetrators of violence, despite evidence of a history of domestic and/or sexual abuse. The risks of such consequences are compounded for women from marginalized groups in society. The report elaborates on systemic issues that lead to additional barriers to justice. Judges and evaluators need to move away from focusing on the identification of behaviours that are contested within the discipline of psychology and towards a focus on the specific facts and contexts of each case.”
"Within the context of child custody cases, there exists multi-layered violence that has yet to enter the collective conscience of the international community as a human rights issue"— United Nations Human Rights Council | #UPR44 (@UN_HRC) June 22, 2023
Reem Alsalem (@UNSRVAW) speaking at the @UN Human Rights Council.#HRC53 pic.twitter.com/UDN7Pp0kzR
This UN report was referenced as part of the findings in Senate Bill No. 331 aka Piqui’s Law: Keeping Children Safe from Family Violence Act. This bill was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom on October 13, 2023 making California the 2nd state in the U.S. to ban reunification camps (following Colorado in May 2023).
Piqui’s Law also now requires the Judicial Council to establish judicial training programs for individuals, including judicial officers and referees, who perform duties in domestic violence or child custody matters, including, among other topics, child sexual abuse and coercive control, as specified. The bill would require the Judicial Council to submit an annual report on these training programs, commencing on or before January 1, 2025, to the Legislature and relevant policy committees, that includes the titles of the training courses being offered and the number of judicial officers that attended each training.
The next step is ensuring that reunification camps and the use of parental alienation claims (and similar concepts) by abusive parents are banned in family courts in all 50 U.S. states and globally.
There is a global movement that is working to ensure this is the case, and media like the new Insider Documentary is the amplification that is needed to shine light on what advocates across have deemed the family court crisis.
Visit www.familycourtawarenessmonth.org to learn more about how you can raise awareness in your local community.