Felicity Stryjak's Speech to the FACT Spring Conference 2023
Forgotten Inmate (2018) by Sean Bw Parker
When I was asked by Brian to give a talk here today I was surprised, then flattered and then terrified. I still am all those things. The last time I spoke in front of more than about 4 people it was to a classroom full of difficult to motivate teenagers. This is far more scary! It added more fear when Brian told me to ‘just talk about whatever you feel passionate about. Any of the articles you’ve written as a base is fine by me’. Thanks Brian! I needed some direction!
I realised that I’ve started all my written articles so far with a personal anecdote so I’m going to keep to that tradition and tell you a little something – when my boys were teenagers and we were chatting one day, I commented on how the house was often full of them and their teenaged friends and how lovely that was. They gave each other a look and then the elder one said (with a smile on his face), ‘You know, Mum, most of our friends think you’re a bit intimidating.’ I must have looked horrified because he quickly added ‘It’s not a bad thing, not really!’
He went on to explain that I wasn’t like the other parents; that when someone did something that they shouldn’t do, as kids are wont to do, I didn’t tell them off particularly, and I certainly didn’t yell at them as other adults often did. Oh no, what I did was much, much worse. I TALKED to them and I made them THINK.
Both boys giggled as they went on to say that their friends had told them that they wished sometimes that I would just yell and get it over with so they could get on with whatever they’d been doing, and they ended with ‘It’s ok Mum, we’re used to you!’
So, not one for breaking the habit of a lifetime, I’m going to talk to you today about a subject that’s dear to all our hearts – children – and hopefully give you all some food for thought. I’m probably not going to tell you anything you don’t know already, but I hope it will be useful to bring it all together.
We all know that FACT began as a place for teachers and carers to get together and exchange experiences regarding false allegations of hurting children in various ways. It’s anathema to us that anyone would accuse us or our loved ones of such a thing, or that anyone would even do such a thing. The focus has understandably been on us and the devastating effects that such an accusation can have.
For the next 15 minutes or so I’d like to change that focus. Why? Because several things have happened recently, that I think are of great import.
1) We are beginning to see the media reporting on false accusers more frequently,
2) FACT has, as I was reminded at the last conference, been going now for over 20 years. 2 DECADES.
3) At the first Bristol conference last month organised by Dr Michael Naughton, he spoke of his frustration that, having been doing his work regarding false accusations and wrongful convictions for more than 20 years he still had the sinking feeling that no-one is listening, and,
4) at that same conference, Joel Hicks spoke movingly and inspirationally on his journey through a false allegation and his belief in the need to speak out. (Brian, you may want to invite him here). Our esteemed friend Jonathan King is just as vocal on this point and would have been again, I’m sure, if he’d been able to be here today.
It’s said that a sign of insanity is to keep repeating the same actions while expecting a different result. I think we need to do something different and I’d like us to start thinking about the children from the point of view of the damage that false accusations especially, but genuine ones as well, do to them when it’s their parent, most often their fathers, who is accused.
What are we doing to our children when we, (society, which is still ‘us’), rip loving fathers from them? – I’m going to just use ‘fathers’ here because it happens overwhelmingly to men, but mothers are affected too I know. Men who have been accused, falsely or otherwise of inappropriate behaviour with adults, are not, by default, a danger to children, but such is the gross exaggeration of ‘danger’, the children can be left bereft, losing a parent at a moment’s notice and not knowing when or if they may see them again. Could anything be more traumatic to a child?
Parental death, I would argue is less traumatic, given that it has a beginning and an end if not always an explanation. Even so, we know that parental death can cause tremendous emotional damage to a child - feelings of abandonment, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, feelings of lack of control to name but a few. This of course is in addition to all the aspects of ‘normal’ grief such as sleeplessness, changes in memory and brain function, the ability to function generally, stress-induced health issues.
How DARE we visit this on children when it’s not absolutely necessary for their well-being? How DARE we have a situation whereby, Social Services and Family Court , with their lower far bar for proof, (some would argue that they require no proof whatsoever), can refuse children the right to an unrestricted relationship with their father? They can and sometimes do this, even when the police have closed a case with NFA (No Further action) and there is even compelling evidence to demonstrate manipulation and lies by the complainant. What useful purpose does this POSSIBLY serve? The abundance of ‘caution’ (and arguably, abuse of power), causes untold and unremitting damage.
Then of course, there is the situation in the Family Court, where a mother can and many do, manufacture allegations of abuse in order to secure Legal Aid, (and who can blame them when money is tight and lawyers tell them it’s the only way to get financial help?), and the automatic reaction of the court is to ban the child from seeing the other parent. Given that cases can now take years to resolve, the results for the children is catastrophic, never mind the financial burden on the father, who in addition to providing a home for himself, is expected to pay child support AND whatever legal bills he requires to fight the allegations. It’s no wonder that parents, overwhelmingly fathers, commit suicide given the emotional and financial pain they are suffering. What could be more catastrophic to a child to not only have their father removed from them forcefully by a false accusation, but to then lose that father to death?
In 2023, fathers can effectively be removed from the family on the simple say-so of the mother. It happens to mothers though much less frequently as they are overwhelmingly the resident parent, but that is somewhat irrelevant when the child suffers irreparable damage at the loss of either parent; they need both. Children can also be removed from the family if the father is accused by anyone else and the mother supports her children’s father, believing in his innocence, so distorted has the task of protecting the children become.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, the balance of almost everything has been skewed in the favour of girls, which is not good for them either. It begins at birth when they are dressed in onesies that proclaim ‘Mummy’s (or Daddy’s) Little Princess’ and it continues through to the other end of the educational system when children have been taught almost exclusively by women (75%+ of teachers are women), treated by women if they are sick enough to be hospitalised (almost 90% of nurses are women and 47% of doctors are women), they outnumber boys in higher education (56%+) and more will get a 1st at university. There are single sex professional spaces for women, affirmative action programmes for women and if they need residential care in later life, they will be cared for by women (80% of all jobs, 85%+ of direct care jobs).
Where are the men in a boy’s life? Where can he find a father figure if his father is missing? Or a girl’s for that matter? I cannot imagine having lived a life without my father.
I don’t deny that things were weighted too much in the other direction. Balance needed to be brought, and women deserved to have a place in the working world if they wanted it. I suggest, though, that the pendulum has swung too far and we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and the world we have created for our children.
Women have never been absent from children’s lives. A mother was either at home or she outsourced mothering to another woman. Men are often absent but not by their own behest. Children need balance and it’s arguable that too much mothering is as bad as no fathering.
We are in danger of creating a self fulfilling prophecy – by claiming that all men and therefore boys are potentially dangerous and ignoring the vast amount of good men do in the world, we are creating young men with no sense of purpose, belonging or value; angry men who have no real idea of why they are angry, but nonetheless desperately looking for an outlet for that anger which is dangerous and damaging to themselves and others. Only last week an 11-year-old was tazed by police barely an hour from where I live for brandishing a knife and filming himself doing it.
Conversely, we are creating young women with an over inflated sense of importance, value and victimhood, with all the privileges of life and none of the responsibilities. They THINK they have all the responsibilities because so many of them are choosing to be sole parents, by accident or design, but they are often failing in the responsibility to allow their children to have a loving relationship with their fathers and even the rest of their extended family.
The authorities THINK they are doing right by women by allowing affirmative action and giving them places in the world wherever they want. What started as a genuinely needed quest for equality and balance has become a train wreck on and of our society.
In actual fact, it all couldn’t be more wrong. The damage we are doing to children and our future society can hardly be over-estimated.
That is why I’m suggesting we need a change of focus and instead of saying an entirely valid, ‘What about me? My life has been ruined. I’ve lost everything by this false accusation.’ How about askinga different question? Not instead of but alongside that one. How about asking ‘What about the children so drastically affected and damaged by not only false accusations but even genuine ones?’
The politicians and authorities blithely dismiss every single point that we make about our broken justice system by repeatedly quoting policy and theory at us. It might just be a little harder for them to dismiss us if we start pointing out the terrible toll that we are placing on our children and their futures and the fact that currently, ‘safeguarding’ (creating a world where they are almost exclusively raised by women) is really ‘dangerguarding’, costing the country millions if not billions of pounds each year and damaging society for the foreseeable future. I honestly don’t believe that the dangers can be overemphasised.
That was where I thought I was done for the purpose of today until 3 days ago such is the speed at which things are changing at present. It was earlier this week that I became aware of the 10 changes that the London Victims Commissioner, Claire Waxman, is pushing for in the Family Court. While some are reasonable , for instance publishing all Family Court judgements is probably not a bad idea, others range from wanting a presumption of no contact with an abusive parent – and I’ve already outlined how alleged abuse is barely scrutinised in the Family Court as it is - to medical records being off limits, (phone records have already been deemed ‘a digital stripsearch’ and ‘a fishing expedition’, though it seems that accusers in the Family Court and police or the CPS in the criminal court can go on whatever fishing expedition that they like), to the accused not being allowed to ‘seek findings that the complainant has lied’ if the complainant has alleged rape, domestic abuse or coercive control, thereby giving the green light to allegations being unscrutinised officially.
Effectively, it’s a sanction to do what is done already but unacknowledged – complainants saying what they like without scrutiny or proof and the accused and the children simply having to deal with the consequences, which, when abuse is alleged will automatically mean ‘no contact.’
It’s difficult to put into words the many ways in which all that tears up whatever tattered remains of a justice system we have at present; how enshrining it all in law will give official sanction to the shattering of the lives of children and play into the hands of abusive parents alleging abuse in the Family Court.
We already have boys as young as 10 and 11 years old and through their early teens being accused of rape and sexual assault. When those boys become men, if they ever recover enough from the trauma of being falsely accused to form a relationship and have children of their own, they are still at risk of being traumatised by a legal system that is becoming a vehicle for breaking up families and nothing whatsoever to do with justice. Falsely accused men need protection and support, but our boy children need it even more.
I haven’t come with a checklist of things to do or any suggestions at all as to how this might be achieved, or with any intention of sending you all off with a ‘to-do’ list. As I said in the beginning, I wanted to give you food for thought. There’s no magic formula or bullet and no one way to go about dealing with all of these issues.
This is the start, I hope, of a conversation and from here-on-in, it’s over to you – the group of people, teachers and carers, whom nobody disputes have the welfare of children at their very heart, to decide what you as individuals can do.
Thank you for listening.
By Felicity Stryjak