The narrative of victimhood

family law

“The victim stance is a powerful one. The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable and forever entitled to sympathy.”

 – Dr Ofer Zur, “The Psychology of Victimhood”

As I said here just the other day, many of those who feel hard done by by the family justice system like to think it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the system, which they consider is at best biased against them, and at worst totally corrupt. In short, they are victims of the system.

Unfortunately, victimhood does not just attract sympathy. It also attracts those who seek to use its narrative to attract business for themselves. In just the last week I have come across two possible examples of this in relation to the family justice system.

I mentioned the first example in my post here last Friday. Academic research by Dr Angela Melville, senior lecturer at Flinders Law School in Adelaide, Australia, has found that ‘professional’ McKenzie friends associated with fathers’ rights groups play on their “uncertainty and sense of victimhood” to attract business. According to Dr Melville the fathers involved were frequently vulnerable, lacking in other means of support and poorly educated. She said:

“…some of these fathers may also feel that they have lost control over their ex-partner and children and believe that the family court and family lawyers are against them, and thus feel especially aggrieved and victimised.”

And so these vulnerable people fall for the victimhood narrative of unscrupulous and untrained McKenzie friends, who eagerly take their money. This is what can happen when the person offering legal help is not subject to proper regulation. (Note that I am not for one moment saying that all McKenzie friends are unscrupulous. As I have said here previously, there are some very good McKenzie friends out there.)

But regulation can be no guarantee that the offeror of legal help will not play the victimhood card when seeking business. In another story this week a lawyer who set up her own firm specifically to help men in divorce proceedings has reportedly said that men rather than women are often the “biggest losers” in divorce cases, both in terms of arrangements for children and finances. She is, of course, entitled to an opinion, but the clear implication, it seems to me, is that the firm is there to fight this injustice. I’m not suggesting that the firm are trying to take advantage of ‘victim’ husbands, but obviously such words are going to be music to the ears of potential clients who see themselves that way, and are likely therefore to attract business for the firm.

Now, whether or not the family courts are biased in favour of men or women is neither here nor there. It’s an argument that is likely to run and run with, as far as I can tell, a pretty much equal number of supporters of each side. What is important though, is that portraying a party as a victim from the outset is surely going to do them no favours at all. It is likely to encourage an aggressive adversarial outlook, seriously harming the chances of the matter being resolved amicably. Such an outlook is unlikely to meet with favour from the judge dealing with the case. And if matters go badly for the ‘victim’, then that is just proof to them that the system is at fault, rather than them. The aggrieved victim may then embark upon some fruitless attempt to circumvent the system, rather than engage with it.

The system is not going to change just because you think it will victimise you. The system will still deal with your case in the same way as every other case. Approaching the system with a victim mentality will make no difference to the outcome of the case in terms of the principles the court will use to decide it. However, it may make it more likely that the outcome will be unfavourable, and it is highly likely to make the proceedings more expensive because they cannot be resolved by agreement.

The system isn’t perfect, and it’s true that some people have been failed by it, but it also isn’t ‘against’ anyone. It tries its best to treat all who use it fairly and the best way to approach it is with that in mind. Surely, with such an outlook you are more likely to get the best from the system?

Photo by Blondinrikard Fröberg via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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18 comments

Charlie Foulkes - April 27, 2017 at 4:27pm

I think your stance on these “silly” people who think the Family Court is corrupt is a bit unfair. After all, there are several things that make it just such an environment:
– SECRECY
– use of “hearsay” evidence
– willingness to rely upon “experts” be they Social Workers or psychiatric professionals who are essentially paid to find fault with parents
Is it any wonder parents feel they have been unfairly treated? Doesn’t sound quite so crazy put like that, does it?

John Bolch - April 27, 2017 at 4:54pm

Oh dear. The courts are private, not secret (as I have explained here before), and your other two points make no sense, or are simply wrong.

Apart from that…

drmanhattan62 - April 27, 2017 at 6:46pm

Charlie i totally agree with you on this. but when you have hard line veterans of this very system commenting on here you can expect they will almost certainly be in defence of the arena from which they have made their living.
“Biased” i think they call it.

Rumble - April 27, 2017 at 4:39pm

In reply to ‘a fair system’

I can not help but wonder just how many wrong doings have occurred just in the last year in relation to 12 j finally being changed in the law ?

So mr Cobb has changed this as it was antiquated and some children lost their lives due to a regimented statement in these directions . 2017 the wording has finally changed . so what happens from here ? How does the ‘fair justice system’
Retract years of the old antiquated version
Allowing no real advocacy of a child due to
The old version , before June’s change . ? How much injustice was done before this change ? Who can put it right? And who can clarify to this audience what direction I’m speaking about with an answer to all those wronged by the old 12j direction to be withdrawn from June ? Any thoughts ?

drmanhattan62 - April 27, 2017 at 6:55pm

Antiquated is a very good word that describes the family court system today.
its so far out of date that Judges present like they are living in a charles Dickens Novel with their Law books sitting on a lofty shelf covered in dust and cobwebs.

John Bolch - April 27, 2017 at 5:30pm

*headdesk*

(Not for the first time.)

Rob Cheyne - April 27, 2017 at 6:11pm

I really don’t think I’ve heard so much twaddle in a long time. As someone who’s support equal rights for women in the workplace I was shocked how openly biased the system is against parents for no other reason than their gender. I’ve yet to meet a women solicitor or barrister who doesn’t accept the system is against them. I was successful in my case but the trauma of nearly losing effected me and, more importantly my children deeply. Indeed the system makes you a victim. I’ve never met professional advisors who were scared of the system and told me not to raise this issue, that event, don’t make the drinking / smoking whilst pregnant mother look bad than the solicitor and 3 barristers I had.

Nothing’s changed – if anything it’s got worse. We and are children are victims of the system – but the very fact we’re told not to complain is no different to the prejudice women faced in the 60s and 70s. People like you give succour to these awful, child neglecting idiots.

John Smith - April 27, 2017 at 6:13pm

Please explain the legal difference between private and secret. Whilst of course privacy is important such privacy is not given to criminals, as justice needs to be seen to be done. As highlighted before, professinals are human and mistakes are made obvious is the 20 dead children in the womens aid campaign putting children first. Thus if mistkaes can be made around abusive dads mistakes can be made around abusive mums.

What is the mechanism are in place to correct errors?[Best will in the world appeals often dont work due to the normal human subconcious cognative bias]

As for the article by the autralian you are right John, the journalist accidentaly gives it away when she mentions “some of these fathers may feel they have lost control over….” if a person needs control over… that is post separation domestic abuse. in this case we are talking about fathers… but im gender neurtal and the same would apply to women. In such cases McKenzie friends would be helping an abuser or potential abuser…. their first duty of care surely is to the children and safety of the other parent….

Cameron Paterson - April 27, 2017 at 6:23pm

John addressed the difference between privacy and secrecy here:
http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2014/07/02/the-difference-between-secrecy-and-privacy-by-john-bolch/
Privacy is emphasised in family courts for two reasons – firstly and most importantly, to protect the identity of any children involved, and secondly because participants in family disputes are not usually guilty of a crime

Stitchedup - April 27, 2017 at 8:35pm

“secondly because participants in family disputes are not usually guilty of a crime”
Unless you’re a man accused of domestic abuse / violence of course

John Bolch - April 27, 2017 at 6:29pm

* Dreams of a higher standard of comments…*

spinner - April 27, 2017 at 7:20pm

* Dreams of a higher standard of article that doesn’t repeat the same topics again, and again, placed into just different enough contexts to presumably warrant payment *

Stitchedup - April 27, 2017 at 8:23pm

Victimhood = feminism
Sorry John, but the idea that men and fathers are playing the “victim” card more than women and mothers is quite frankly absurd. Perhaps men should go one step further; so rather than calling ourselves “survivors” we should simply refer to ourselves as the “deceased”.

drmanhattan62 - April 27, 2017 at 6:40pm

“The system isn’t perfect, and it’s true that some people have been failed by it, but it also isn’t ‘against’ anyone.”

i would say this is simply not true.
we just have to look at what Justice Pauffley exposed in 2014 who stated secret clandestine deals are taking place between Social workers and Judges leading to children being Unlawfully removed from their parents. she went on to state this is widespread across the country.
then we have Judge Horton, Sir James Munby and others who have spoken out a number of times regarding dodgy case files and bad behavior by Social workers and LA staff and poor work by child Guardians and expert witnesses.
i would say this is enough evidence that the Family court system is absolutely rigged against parents.

John Smith - April 28, 2017 at 10:40am

thanks for the link but it doesnt shed any light on anything. Private because the parents arent guilty of anything…. then why cant they see their children 50/50 and 50/50 reponsibility. If there is docmestic abuse or mental health or anthing “dangerous” that should be dealt with in the criminal courts.. these days the criminal courts supposedly understand co-eorcive control etc so its possible to deal with DV of both sexes and by the way also same sex marraiges where there is dv.

As for privacy… Emperors new clothes comes to mind. With social media and kids on social media and multiculuralism and international travel, family court privacy is like Cnut holding back the waves. In anycase it all comes out once the children get to a certain age.

Domestic abuse [gender neutral] thrives behind closed doors in privacy. Abuse of children thrives behind closed doors, privacy… incompetence and mistakes… thrive behind closed doors, privacy…

Perhaps financial should be kept private – after all its only money. Children are far too important to be kept hidden behind a cloak of “privacy” after all it takes a society to raise a child.

joseph Alla - April 28, 2017 at 1:24pm

drmanhattan62 – April 27, 2017 at 6:40pm You hit on the nail my friend . Whenever I read this dude´s lines I am under the impression that Ihe thinks he has to pontificate to some retard people. You don´t have to be from Mckenzie friend to be a doogy lawyer. I have seen lawyers in my life time charging fathers thousends of pounds for just writing a letter or supporting statement and sending a barrister out to court to do a deal with the accuser,. it is all about the money and the system is corrupt? are you kidding me? family are being just procesed just like in an assembly plant. if is isnt against anyone, then why bother to claim that it need reformed?

BillyO - April 29, 2017 at 9:23am

Why are people walking away?
Why are they representing themselves or seeking a Mackenzie friend?

These people are not all “silly” and uneducated. Some like myself are Chartered professionals.
They obviously have no confidence in the system giving them a fair hearing while at the same time allowing the children to be used for financial gain.
The only “victims” are the children.

People like you Mr Bolch should hang their heads in shame.

Brian - April 29, 2017 at 1:44pm

The paradox of a narcissist is a huge problem. Insufficient court staff are aware of how devious narcissists manipulate people and the court. You make your case in frustration of the person controlling you via the children while they sit there and plead to be the victim. A normal person can’t believe a person can actually do all this stuff to you so they all think it is fabricated – bringing up instances of controlling behaviour to substantiate your claim while the court just thinks you are dredging. Social political agenda’s are on their side who are quick to jump to foregone conclusions – DV yada yada yada….
All you can do with a narcissist is expose the lies. But if a court thinks both sides are telling porkies, the narcissist has won by default.

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