“Sanctioned by the legal system”: Women’s experiences of child contact in the context of intimate partner violence and abuse

Scally, Mia ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7301-4142 (2023) “Sanctioned by the legal system”: Women’s experiences of child contact in the context of intimate partner violence and abuse. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]

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Purpose: This thesis explores women’s experiences of the child contact process where intimate partner violence and abuse (IPVA) was a factor. The thesis builds on knowledge within England and Wales, as there is currently limited research exploring how survivors feel about the process and outcomes of such cases. The thesis adopts a feminist methodology and draws on systems theories to place survivor experiences in context to examine structural and system inequalities.

Background: Child contact where IPVA has occurred is both complicated and distressing, and professionals working within the courts often believe that one should have little to do with the other (Saunders, Faller & Tolman, 2012). Research suggests that IPVA should be given full consideration for child contact because of the implications and consequences of a formal arrangement on both mother and child (Chesler, 2011; Mullender, 2002). Despite this, survivor (Hunter, Burton & Trinder, 2020) and child experiences (Holt, 2018) highlight that this is rarely the case, with professional conduct and bias within systems contributing to further inequalities for women and their children (Barnett, 2020).

Methods: This thesis is based on three qualitative studies. Study one used thematic analysis to analyse online public threads detailing female survivors’ experiences of the child contact process where IPVA was present. Study two consisted of four in-depth interviews with women that had a contact arrangement in place for at least a year, adopting a case study design. The case studies were analysed using narrative analysis. The third study consisted of an active-learning training workshop with professionals working in the field of child contact/IPVA. Attendees developed ecograms depicting survivor resources and agency involvement. These were analysed visually, alongside practitioner discussions from the workshop.

Conclusions: Together, the three studies analyse the impact of the court process on both survivors and their children, highlighting economic, behavioural, and emotional consequences. The thesis identifies common myths held by professionals working in the field of child contact and IPVA, including the notion that anger is expressive and IPVA is a relationship problem. Gendered systems and gaps in the law allow for structural inequalities, exacerbating women’s experiences of victimisation and leaving them feeling unprotected and at-risk of further harm. Mothers were concerned that their children were forced into contact that could be harmful, leaving their children distressed and without a voice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Sustainable Development Goals:
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
B. > Theses
Item ID: 37763
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2023 13:36
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2023 08:28
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/37763

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