Tuesday, 5 June 2018

What does 'home' mean for children whose parents have separated?

Associate Professor Kristin Natalier from Flinders University, Australia, currently visiting CRFR provides a summary of the research she presented at a recent Informal Seminar.
 
Home is a familiar yet complex idea. Its meaning extends beyond a physical dwelling to include a feeling of comfort, a sense of control over space, connections with family and other important people, and a site in which rituals and routines create feelings of belonging. A sense of home can be important in helping people build their identity, psychological wellbeing and trust in the constancy of people and things. It follows, then, that children will likely suffer when their needs for home are overlooked. Yet so far, very little is known about children’s experiences of home when their parents separate. 
 
Failing to focus on home is a lost opportunity to address an ongoing challenge in post-separation parenting laws and processes: how to prioritise children’s, not parents’, interests when determining care arrangements. Family law and international law emphasises a child centred approach but post-separation parenting arrangements are still largely determined with reference to parents’ needs, and linked to clock and calendar time. A focus on home shifts the emphasis towards children’s feelings and experiences. It can help us to ‘stand in children’s shoes’, to borrow a phrase from Carol Smart, and see post-separation parenting arrangements from the perspective of children. It draws attention to the matters children consider necessary to create a context that allows them to feel at home, and flourish. 
 
Our initial analysis of interviews with 22 children suggest that home matters. For example, Zac described what he liked about being at his father’s house: “Just being with my dad and just having fun with him, working on my car and just doing boy things”. His comment highlighted how children can feel at home when:
 
  • there was an atmosphere of ease and comfort;
  • their relationships with others signalled they belonged in that space;
  • they spent time with parents and other meaningful people in ways that reflected shared interests and experiences; and
  • they could do and have things that mattered to them.
 
When children felt at home, their experiences might seem unremarkable. However, they are a reminder of the importance of relationships and often mundane family practices in children’s post-separation lives. The times and dates children stay with a parent were not as important as what my colleague Bruce Smyth has called ‘being in the moment time’ – those unstructured and intimate experiences that build connection with others.
 
Some children described feeling not at home at a parent’s house. An equal shared care arrangement did not allow Benjamin to build two homes; rather, it removed him from his home (his mother’s house). He said of his father’s house, “I feel like I’m on an involuntary holiday, like I’ve been taken away from my home and I don’t want to be there”. Benjamin dreaded going to his father’s house, which he found oppressive and which brought him face to face with large and unwelcome changes in how his father lived his life. His mental health and relationship with his father eroded as a result.
 
Benjamin’s parents were responsive when he talked to them about his feelings, and changed the care arrangements so that Benjamin no longer had to stay at his father’s house. His family’s emphasis moved from nights spent at each parent’s home to Benjamin connecting with his father in different ways – away from the place where he did not feel at home. Importantly for Benjamin, they developed routines and a meaningful connection that were not rooted in a place, but in an activity: football. Benjamin’s father attended every practice session and game and in doing so, rebuilt a meaningful relationship.
 
The idea of home can sensitise parents to the importance of attending to children’s lived experience of time– how they feel on a Thursday night, not whose house are they sleeping at on a Thursday night. In emphasising children’s experiences, home might decouple relationships from parental residence, and instead highlight the alternative ways and places in which meaningful relationships can be built – a sense of home, away from home.
 
 
 
Professor Belinda Fehlberg (The University of Melbourne), Associate Professor Bruce Smyth (Australian National University), and I have received funding from the Australian Research Council to explore these ideas further. We have undertaken some initial analysis (here is a summary: https://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/children-s-experiences-of-home-after-parental-separation#.Ww6GM2eWyUk) and are about to talk to a much larger group of children and their parents about what home means when parents separate. We are aiming to understand children’s experiences of home after separation as a means of promoting new ways of attending to children’s voices when their living arrangements are decided post-parental separation.
 
 
Associate Professor Kristin Natalier
College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (Sociology), Flinders University, Australia.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Who matters, for better and for worse? Personal networks in an international perspective

Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, currently visiting CRFR from the University of Lausanne, summarises the research he presented at a recent CRFR Informal Seminar.

What do we know about the conditions that favour or hamper the ways in which individuals get connected to each other in a significant way? Are personal networks influenced by life course transitions such as marriage and parenthood (or their absence)? Do they change from one country to another?  

A recently published book (Wall, Widmer, Gauthier, Česnuitytė, & Gouveia, 2018) based on a study carried out in Lithuania, Portugal and Switzerland offers some new insights on these issues by asking the question Who are the individuals who, over the past year, have been very important to you, even if you do not get along well with them? First, despite variations over time and place, the research underlines that close relationships continue to form the base of personal networks, challenging the idea of a global decline of the family through the process of individualisation.

This study shows that the closeness between individuals is the result of multiple influences. It is often built over time through co-residence, couple and intergenerational relationships. It also depends on the way cohabitation, birth outside wedlock, childlessness or same sex-marriage are socially perceived and by the place given to friendship and colleagueship. More generally, gender, generation and social class remain influential regarding how close one feels to somebody else. An additional effect may be also attributable to welfare states when considering how their singular historical, social, and normative contexts influence the construction of their citizens’ personal networks.

In Switzerland, long-term stable and wealthy living conditions are associated with liberal policies and ideologies supporting individualised behaviours. At the same time, enduring conservative forces support a rather traditional dynamic of family life and gendered division of labour. Hence, high importance is attributed to friendship and colleagueship within more traditional interdependencies associated with marriage and parenthood.

In Portugal, a long period of low welfare provision associated with a right-wing dictatorship favoured strong intergenerational solidarities and patriarchal models of the family, later thoroughly transformed by the emergence of new family forms and more gender-equal representations. As a result, personal networks are now more adaptable and differentiated. While open to friends, kin and non-kin relationships are combined in a much less exclusive way compared to the other two countries.

In Lithuania, personal networks reflect the hardship and uncertainties associated with the former Soviet occupation and its aftermath. Political instability and economic unrest lead to mass migration and day-to-day struggles, favouring new normative frames focused on pro-traditional family values and policies. Compared with Switzerland and Portugal, personal networks in Lithuania are smaller and less open to non-kin relationships. Despite their smaller size and strong kin orientation, they provide weaker emotional support, which makes them also less cohesive.

The book sheds new light on the complexity of the contexts and conditions potentially influencing the ways in which personal networks are constructed. In particular it shows that their diversity is predominantly shaped by historical and social factors on which private individuals have only a limited influence. 

Jacques-Antoine Gauthier
Universities of Lausanne and Edinburgh

 Jacques-Antoine.Gauthier@unil.ch


Reference

Wall, K., Widmer, E. D., Gauthier, J.-A., Česnuitytė, V., & Gouveia, R. (Éd.). (2018). Families and Personal Networks An International Comparative Perspective. Palgrave McMillan. 
Full text version available at: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1057%2F978-1-349-95263-2





Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Time to abandon prevalence studies of childhood sexual abuse?

CRFR Associate Researcher Dr Sarah Nelson reflects on the problematic issues around prevalence studies of childhood sexual abuse.

The wealth of prevalence studies of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) continue to display wildly differing results. Yet the impetus to carry out more studies continues, nationally and internationally. These studies are driven by the demands of commissioners and funders to ‘prove’ need before services are provided or expanded, but also by professional ambition among researchers to be the ones producing a definitive study.

Neither of these is a child-centred approach, especially when basic services – as for instance an NSPCC Scotland report recently demonstrated - remain inadequate for the minority of sexually abused children we do know about. I suggest that conventional prevalence studies are largely fruitless, and that greater accuracy about prevalence will come about as a by-product of ethical, child-centred practice against sexual abuse.

First of all, while factors like safety and confidentiality, follow-up, inclusion of stigmatised subgroups, and description of acts rather than terms like ‘abuse’ or ‘rape’ will produce more accurate survey findings, we will never approach anything like total accuracy about a secretive, often organised crime overlaid with coercion, shame and silencing.

Crucially, recent revelations, such as professional footballers in their 40s reporting abuse for the first time, support research findings that a majority of children do not tell, and sometimes never will. Officially recorded cases always understate: Stoltenborgh’s examination of hundreds of prevalence studies, for instance, found self-report rates 30 times higher than authorities’ reports. Another problem is that CSA and child sexual exploitation (CSE) overlap in their characteristics, and increasingly now in their official definitions. Do we count them together, or separately?

Even more to the point, there has never been any evidence that studies suggesting higher prevalence rates have led to any increase in services, nor to greater action against abuse. Unpalatable as this may be, public scandals exposing shameful practice have been far more likely to do so, just as they have been in other public services. For example, action against child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, Rochdale or Greater Manchester did not belatedly take place because someone conducted a prevalence study of CSE, but through exposure of disgraceful practice towards young victims.

Commissioners and funders are better directed to the results of good practice in investigation as a demonstration of significant prevalence figures. Many ‘searchlight’ or ‘snapshot’ investigations have uncovered that over decades. Back in 1984 for instance a single, active police investigation unit uncovered ten sex rings and 175 victims in one area of Leeds alone. Peter McKelvie’s proactive social work/police investigations between 1988 and 1995 closed several abusive schools and convicted dozens of perpetrators while Professor Alexis Jay’s Rotherham investigation, reported in 2014, found at least 1400 girls had been sexually exploited over 16 years.

However, ethical good practice in enabling abused children and young people to speak out may in future have the single greatest impact in uncovering a greater accuracy of prevalence. Again, it will do so as a by-product of that good practice.

 For example, the Barnahus Children’s Houses, now spreading across Europe from Scandinavia, provide a reassuring child-centred ‘one stop shop’ for enabling children to tell, for interviewing, for preparing court cases and for therapeutic work. They are being actively considered by the Scottish Government for adoption here. The Confidential Space model being piloted in several Scottish local authorities at present aims to slow the investigation process to an abused child’s pace, increase their support, and build knowledge and confidence among staff who work with young people.

There is another alternative way to persuade commissioners and funders to increase CSA/ CSE services and prevention work - to show them that while results of prevalence studies vary greatly and will continue doing so, a substantial, more consistent body of research on negative effects of abuse has demonstrated over decades that survivors are at higher risks than others of mental and physical ill health, addictions, homelessness, very young pregnancy, suicide, self-harm, offending, and distressed acting-out behaviour by young people.

 As a result of this, current costs and ‘revolving door’ usage continue to be high in many hard-pressed services - including mental and physical health, prisons, social work, addiction services and homelessness projects. Future resource savings, through investment in support and prevention projects, can thus be emphasised to funders and commissioners.

...And of course these negative effects, most of all the suffering survivors face, in themselves suggest the importance of a major investment in prevention.


This is a summary of Sarah Nelson’s presentation to the Connect 2018 conference in Cardiff, 3/5/18 (available on request). Prevalence and disclosure issues, and official statistics, are analysed in detail in Nelson, below:
Nelson (2016) Tackling Child Sexual Abuse: Radical approaches to prevention, protection & support Bristol: Policy Press, Chapter 1

Stoltenborgh M, van Ijzendoorn MH, Euser EM, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ. (2011) ‘A global perspective on child sexual abuse: meta-analysis of prevalence around the world’, Child Maltreat. 16(2):79-101.

NSPCC (2017) The right to recover: Provision of therapeutic services in the West of Scotland for children and young people following sexual abuse  https://www.nspcc.org.uk/services-and-resources/research-and-resources/2017/right-to-recover-sexual-abuse-west-scotland/


 

 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

In a search for competence? Children’s participation in family law proceedings

CRFR Co-Director Professor Kay Tisdall explores why we find it so challenging to involve children and young people in decisions that affect them.

I have been on a journey for the few past months, in terms of exploring the underlying reasons why we find it so challenging to involve children and young people in decisions that affect them. Involving children and young people is required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and is frequently promoted by policy, institutional leaders and key practitioners. And yet adults find it so challenging when making decisions, particularly in formal decision-making about the child’s wellbeing.

In particular, I have been considering family law proceedings in Scotland. At least in legislation, Scottish provisions are very strong in terms of children’s rights to have their views duly considered in disputed parental responsibilities cases (technically Section 11 cases under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995). But from the evidence we have, children’s views seem to be even less considered now than they were ten years go. Why would that be?

One reason may be the pervasive nature of adult decision-makers’ views of children’s competence and capacity. If such a decision-maker considers children in general, and a child in particular, as incompetent and incapable, does that result in children’s views either not being ‘allowed in’ to the decision-making, let along being given ‘due weight’ by the decision-maker?

I went to look at the relevant literature and case law, supported by what evidence we have in Scotland about children’s views being considered in disputed parental responsibilities cases. I asked three questions: What are meant by competence and capacity? How are they used? Do the concepts enhance or detract from children’s participation rights?

While competence may be very well defined in certain professional arenas, it is not in key children’s rights resources (like the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment on Article 12) nor in family law literature. Competence is often mentioned – but casually, with little precision or definition. Alternative terms are used in Scottish reported case law, such as maturity. Across these sources, judging capacity remains problematic in both law and practice.

As concepts, both capacity and competence seem to be detracting rather than supporting children’s rights to participate. The concepts are being used as if competence and capacity are inherent qualities of the child, rather than something a child expresses in context and in relationships. To be honest, I am not sure if they are helpful at all, given their problematic use and historical baggage. But if these concepts are to be used, I would recommend they are subject to far more critique and precise definition. Perhaps fresh ideas from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities might help the children’s field? The Convention has been radical about moving away from a best interests test, to emphasising the support needed to ensure people can express their legal capacity.

Then the courts system would spend less effort assessing whether a child’s views should be allowed into the proceedings and more on the information children need to participate. We would have to invest in supporting children to develop and express their views. We would have a radical form of child- inclusive proceedings, where we do not use concerns about a child’s welfare as a reason to ignore the child’s rights to participate. Instead, the focus would be to make proceedings as constructive and supportive of children as possible, perhaps requiring radical changes in what are currently adversarial and formal approaches. An opportunity for us to consider in the forthcoming family law review of the 1995 Act in Scotland?

This blog is based on a longer article recently published in the International Journal of Children’s Rights, Challenging Competency and Capacity? (2018, Vol. 26(1): 159-182). This article follows on from the earlier exploration in Tisdall, E.K.M., “Subjects with Agency: Children’s participation in family law proceedings”, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 2016a (38(4)), 362–379 (see blog here) and has learnt from collaboration with Carine Le Borgne

See also our previous blog by Dr Aoife Daly ‘Prioritising Children’s Autonomy is Prioritising their Best Interests’


Kay Tisdall is Professor of Childhood Policy and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh. She is Programme Director of the MSc in Childhood Studies.





Thursday, 29 March 2018

Children’s Participation in Decision-Making: Questioning Competence and Competencies

Carine Le Borgne asks if we need to be more challenging in recognising children’s competence to contribute to decision-making.

Children’s participation rights remain highly dependent on adults, who in one way or another, hold powerful positions such as legal guardians, administrative or political decision-makers, or front-line professionals. The attitudes of such adults towards children and childhood strongly influence whether or not the adults recognise, facilitate and support children’s participation. One of the most persistent adult concerns is whether children are competent enough to participate in decision-making. Thus, power - and particularly the power of adults - is key to children’s practical achievement of competency.

My research on children’s participation[1] at the community level highlights the challenge of adults’ perceptions of children’s competence and competencies. The research focused on why children are often seen as ‘incompetent’ and how that translates into a lack of participation. Based on the findings, in collaboration with Professor Kay Tisdall, I wrote an article on Children’s Participation: Questioning Competence and Competencies.[2]

Our article recalls the memorable phrase coined by Hinton[3] - ‘the competence bias’. This phrase captures how the use (and misuse) of a child development paradigm leads to perceiving children as starting from a position of limited competence and emphasising their evolving capacities. The ‘competence bias’ then is applied to exclude children from participation. Children’s exclusion is furthered when competence is presumed to be individualised and intrinsic, rather than recognising competency as contextual and relational.

Through my research, we trace evidence from local participation projects, of the continuing power of the competence bias. We consider how staff members can validate and enhance children’s competence and competencies, and thus recognise children’s participation rights. The analysis identifies that perceptions of children’s competence were both facilitators and inhibitors of children’s participation. The research was undertaken in Tamil Nadu (South India) and Scotland (UK), with two non-governmental organisations (NGO) supporting children’s participation.

The research highlights the key role of NGO staff members in contributing to children’s social competence. The NGO activities in this research increased children’s knowledge, which they not only used in their communities but were able to transfer to school and family contexts. The NGO staff members were key to providing the link between children and adult decision-makers in their communities, though this was done less successfully in Scotland than in Tamil Nadu.

The findings also indicate that, without NGO support, children were limited in expressing their social competence. This leads to two conclusions. First, strengthening the role of the staff members in children’s participation is worthwhile because they can play key roles in developing and validating children’s competence and enhancing children’s competencies. Staff members’ own perceptions of children’s competences and competencies influence how well they support children and children’s influence on decision-making.

Second, the competence bias remains pernicious and often unhelpful to children’s participation. The bias can mean that participation workers, as key intermediaries, may be necessary to facilitate children’s participation rights. It may also mean that children’s competencies are under-recognised, as children only achieve participation through ‘borrowing’ NGO power and not power or influence in their own right.

All this leads us to conclude - do we need to be more challenging yet in recognising children’s competence to contribute to decision-making?

Carine Le Borgne was an affiliated PhD Student with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) and is now Senior Policy Adviser at World Vision UK. Kay Tisdall is Programme of the MSc in Childhood Studies[4] at The University of Edinburgh and Co-Director of CRFR.


References

1 https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1842/21025/CRFR%20Briefing%2087.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

2 https://www.cogitatiopress.com/socialinclusion/article/view/986

3
http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/157181808x311141

4 http://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/gradschool/prospective/taught_masters/a_g/msc_childhood_studies

 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Prioritising Children’s Autonomy is Prioritising their Best Interests

Dr Aoife Daly argues that when judges make decisions about children’s best interests in courts, they often think that they are protecting children by taking decision-making from them, but this fails to acknowledge that children are experts on their own lives.

In my recently-published book Children, Autonomy and the Courts: Beyond the Right to be Heard, I look at cases where courts decide children’s best interests (for example about parental contact) to see how much influence children themselves have on decisions. I examine cases from liberal democracies all over the world and 11 countries in detail, including Scotland, England and Wales.

It seems that children in these cases find their wishes easily overridden. Common decisions from around the world include children being forced into contact visits with estranged parents (sometimes with the threat that the police or court staff will physically force them). In one case a 16 year old was not allowed to give video testimony in care proceedings; and in another a 15 year old was compelled to have inoculations against her will because her father wanted it. Compare these scenarios to adult ones: adults are never forced into relationships or non-essential medical procedures ‘in their interests’.

The instinct of adults, including judges making best interest decisions, is to protect children. This approach is well-intentioned and it recognises rightly that children’s capacities are developing and that they are lacking in experience relative to adults. They may need time, support and information to form an opinion. Sometimes they might not want to give an opinion at all and that should be respected too.

Yet in many cases, children have unmistakable wishes about a situation. An inquest opened recently into the murder of Ellie Butler. The six year old had been living almost all of her life with her grandparents, but was sent by a family court in 2013 to live with her violent father though it seems that she had begged not to be returned. She was beaten to death by him within a year. Adults often ignore that children might well understand their own best interests. It can be very difficult for children to be taken seriously when their wishes incline against strong societal assumptions, such as the need to prioritise the position of birth parents. Younger children find it particularly challenging to get adults to take their views seriously.

I argue in 'Children, Autonomy and the Courts' that it is illogical and unjustifiable that children do not have greater influence in court decisions determining their best interests. In liberal democracies, autonomy is held as the most important characteristic for the individual. It is prioritised in medical law for example, and increasingly is upheld to the extent possible for adults with cognitive disability (which demonstrates that decreased ‘capacity’ need not prevent prioritisation of someone’s wishes). Yet judges can make decisions about children without having to prioritise autonomy. Children’s wishes can be treated as just another factor and overridden with ease.

In my book I argue that a ‘right to be heard’ does not go far enough for children. I propose that a children’s autonomy principle, respecting children’s wishes unless significant harm would likely result, would ensure greater support for children in proceedings, and greater obligations on adults to engage in transparent decision-making. It would also mean better best interest decisions, because it is only by giving appropriate priority to children’s own wishes that we can make good decisions on their behalf.


Dr Aoife Daly is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at The University of Liverpool. She has worked and researched widely on children's rights and has held a number of NGO and academic positions. She also has teaching and research interests in a number of other areas including family law and civil and political rights. She researches human rights issues through the lenses of social justice, gender and psychology.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Red Flags Are Everywhere, but Nobody Can See Them

Dr Emma Katz argues that Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ glamorises the controlling behaviours used in domestic abuse.

Coercive control is a harmful criminal offence, yet it hides in plain sight. Sitting front and centre within our culture, it is performed routinely before our eyes. Coercive and controlling behaviours are glamorised in plotlines where abusers are sexy and romantic bad boys, and women enjoy being dominated and suppressed. It is vital that we challenge these representations, in order to tackle coercive control effectively.
The UK has recently taken the bold step of making coercive or controlling behaviour within intimate relationships a criminal offence. This is a breakthrough in our efforts to tackle domestic violence and abuse.

Perpetrators can now be prosecuted for controlling their partner’s activities, damaging their partner’s confidence and self-esteem, and isolating them from family and friends.

But prosecutions and convictions have so far been disappointingly low, and the majority of police officers have not received training on how to identify coercive and controlling behaviours.

This lack of action is partly fuelled by the representation of these behaviours in mainstream Western media.

A prime example can be found in the critically-acclaimed Netflix series The Crown, and its depiction of the relationship between the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and Antony Armstrong-Jones, later Lord Snowdon (Matthew Goode), in season 2, episode 4, ‘Beryl’.

As a researcher of domestic abuse who focuses on coercive control[i], I watched this episode with horror, seeing how Antony Armstrong-Jones’ controlling behaviour is portrayed as pulse-racingly hot.

Antony (a professional photographer) first meets Margaret at a party and offers to photograph her in his studio on the condition that she does everything he says for the duration of the session. He tells her she is ‘dying to be a supplicant’ – someone who behaves humbly towards a powerful figure.

This introduces a clear controlling dynamic – Antony will have the power in their interaction, and Margaret will submit her will to his. Margaret cannot complain, Antony asserts, because this is something she secretly desires. This is a classic example of how perpetrators of domestic abuse manipulate victims into thinking that they are to blame for their own abuse, creating a feeling of shame that often prevents victims from seeking help.

At his studio a few days later, Antony begins their session by ordering Margaret to wait downstairs. He then goes upstairs and calmly topples chairs and bangs on tables to make as much noise as possible. Margaret sits downstairs listening to the noises, unsure of what is happening. Having established his dominance and potential to use violence, Antony returns downstairs, offering no explanation of his actions. The message is clear – he can behave in a bizarre and violent way at any time and Margaret is not to challenge him.

Many more ‘red flags’ of abuse appear as Antony begins taking Margaret’s photos. Antony tells her she has ‘no idea who she is, not the faintest idea’. This comment attacks and destabilises Margaret’s self-confidence[ii]. He suggests that Margaret’s family doesn’t treat her well – laying the foundations for isolating her from them and setting himself up as ‘the only one who really loves you’.

At one point, without warning or consent, Antony pulls down the straps of Margaret’s top to expose her bare shoulders – beginning to establish the sexual coerciveness and sexually assaultive behaviour that is common in abusive relationships.

At the end of the session Antony becomes light-hearted and cheerful, as though his behaviour had never happened. Such abrupt changes of mood[iii] are commonly used by domestic abuse perpetrators to confuse and Gaslight victims by invalidating their experiences of reality. Victims are left thinking: ‘If he’s acting like everything’s alright now, then what just happened to me can’t have been that bad. I must have overreacted. I must be too sensitive’.

 How is Margaret depicted as reacting to all this? Does she run a mile? Is she outraged? Is she afraid? No – she goes home to her bedroom in a state of utter joy. She plays the song ‘I only have eyes for you’, which begins with the lyrics: ‘My love must be a kind of blind love. I can't see anyone but you.’ She smiles, dances, and is thrilled to have met such an exciting man. Viewers are encouraged to share her excitement.

What about the media reaction? Did they notice that this episode shows almost every red flag for an abusive relationship? No – much of media commentary described it positively. The photography scene is ‘when they fell in love’, Antony is ‘dashing’, ‘handsome’, ‘hip’, and ‘someone to get excited about’, the storyline is a ‘magnetic flirtation’ and a ‘red-hot romance’.

Given this glamorisation, it is unsurprising that the police may struggle with the idea that coercive and controlling behaviour is part of an offence they should be tackling. How can it be wrong, a police officer may wonder, if it is depicted as so thrilling, and as something that women are enjoying so much?

The grim reality is that such behaviour is rarely enjoyable. Most women whose partners are coercive and controlling experience a nightmare of abuse and manipulation from which they may need considerable support to escape (and the same is true for male victims of coercive control).

If this episode of The Crown is anything to go by, it may be a long time before controlling and coercive behaviours are seen not as the actions of sexy ‘bad boys’, but as the repugnant acts of domestic abuse that they are.

Dr Emma Katz is a Lecturer in Childhood and Youth at Liverpool Hope University and a member of the Gender Based Violence Research Network. Emma researches the impacts of domestic violence and abuse on children and mother-child relationships. Her work explores coercive control, agency, resistance, recovery and mother-child mutual supportiveness in domestic abuse contexts. 

References

[i] Katz, E. (2016) Beyond the Physical Incident Model: How Children Living with Domestic Violence are Harmed By and Resist Regimes of Coercive Control. Child Abuse Rev., 25: 46–59. doi: 10.1002/car.2422

[ii] Matheson, F et al (2015) Where Did She Go? The Transformation of Self-Esteem, Self-Identity, and Mental Well-Being among Women Who Have Experienced Intimate Partner Violence. Women’s Health Issues 25: 561-569 doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2015.04.006

[iii] Enander, V. (2011) Leaving Jekyll and Hyde: Emotion work in the context of intimate partner violence. Feminism & Psychology 21(1) 29–48 doi: 0.1177/0959353510384831