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December 12, 2022

Three Planets Model

Professor Marianne Hestor, is internationally recognised for her research on domestic violence and abuse. She developed The Three Planet Model to try and explain the contradictions that exist between the law and professional practices.

Domestic violence and abuse is an extremely complex issue which many people do not understand. Although it is accepted by most people that domestic abuse is experienced by both men and women, for the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the abuse of women.

Historically, the abuse of women and children were often treated as very separate issues. If you have read my other blogs, you will recall me saying that when I first started out working in the domestic abuse sector, information sharing was not ‘a thing’! The different groups and organisations that worked with domestic abuse cases, did so pretty much in isolation of each other. This made it very difficult for women who were experiencing domestic abuse – as if it could get any more difficult!

Now, of course, we have a much better understanding of the complexities and challenges that exist with domestic abuse. We know that experiencing domestic abuse, in any of its forms, can impact on a mother’s parenting. We also know and understand that children do not have to experience physical abuse directly to be impacted by it, and the phycological and emotional damage can be severe, long lasting and life changing. Marianne Hestor felt that the agencies and organisations working with women and children experiencing domestic abuse, were faced with difficult challenges and contradictions between themselves, which ultimately meant that it was difficult to keep women and children safe. To explain this better, she developed ‘The Three Planet Model’ to break down and explain these contradictions.

The Domestic Abuse Planet

On the domestic abuse planet reside professionals who are mostly trained in the dynamics of domestic abuse, i.e., IDVA’s, and their focus is on protecting the women/mothers, and by virtue of the fact that the mother is usually the main carer, her children. However, they may not actually have much to do with the children on a day-to-day basis. Domestic abuse is a crime, and the perpetrator is held responsible for the abuse and can be prosecuted for his ‘crimes’ against the victim. The perpetrator may also have a protective order (Non-Molestation Order) or Restraining Order against him. The domestic abuse organisations who live on this planet focus on safety for the victim and their children. The perpetrator of the abuse must be held accountable and ideally brought to justice and the women and children must be supported and protected at all costs.

The Child Protection Planet

On the Child Protection Planet, a different group of people live! These too are professionals, but their focus is not on the women/mothers. Social workers live on this planet, and they are trained to put the children first. They have a statutory duty of care to children and the laws on this planet are very different to the ones on the domestic abuse planet. On this planet public law deals with child protection and so the resulting emphasis is on the children.

To protect the children, social workers will often insist that the mother removes herself and the children from the home, go into a refuge, or move many miles away from family and support networks. If the mother does not do that, she is seen as ‘failing to protect’ her children and in worst case scenario’s, the children can be removed from the mother. This causes women to distrust social services. They feel they are being blamed and being labelled as bad mothers. At the same time, it is very difficult to get the perpetrator to engage with professionals. As it is usually the mother that is the main carer of the children, she is held responsible, and the perpetrator often disappears with no consequences to his actions. I have seen this so many times in cases I have worked with. A woman is told she has ‘a choice’. She can either leave home, leave the area, go into a refuge with her children, or she risks them being removed. Women have said to me – “this is not a choice” and of course, they are right, it isn’t. However, because the perpetrators rarely engage, they are effectively ‘given up on’ and are basically left to live their lives with no repercussions, often moving on to do the same thing to the next partner. In the words of many women, I have worked with “Why have I been punished when I am the victim?”

The Child Contact Planet

On the child contact planet there is yet another set of professionals with different laws to the first two planets! This law is private law. Traditionally, CAFCASS (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), focuses neither on the woman/mother nor the child/ren. The inhabitants of this planet believe children should have two parents, a mother and a father. They may believe that even if the father has been violent and/or abusive, they still have a right to have contact with their child/ren. They may even believe that the father should have custody.

So, the women who have tried to protect their children by calling the police and supporting a criminal prosecution on the domestic abuse planet, doing as she is told and leaving him and her family, friends and support network, on the child protection planet is now being told by the family court on the child contact planet, that she has to give the abusive person contact with her children.

Confusing, isn’t it? Imagine how this must feel for the victim/survivor of this abuse?

How can the planets be aligned?

It is now more understood and accepted that a co-ordinated approach is needed when working with cases of domestic abuse. Information sharing and working in partnership is vital if we are to protect the victims and survivors of domestic abuse and their children. It is also key in holding perpetrators of domestic abuse accountable and changing societal beliefs around gender stereotypes.

Domestic abuse is not only dangerous and potentially life threatening. It is expensive. The social and economic cost of domestic abuse, in England and Wales, in the year ending 2017, was approximately £66 billion pounds.

The three planets need to align in order to ensure the safety of victims, survivors and their children. There needs to be a better understanding of the complexities of domestic abuse, in all of its forms. We need to work together, not in isolation but in partnership if we are to gain the trust of victims of domestic abuse and encourage the perpetrators of it to change their behaviour. The victims/survivors have been living with control and confusion with their abuser. The last thing they need is to be controlled and confused by professionals. It is also important to close the gap between abusive men and fathers! They are one and the same thing! Just because they may not have been abusive to the child directly, we know that the emotional impact of a child witnessing abusive behaviour to one parent by another can do lifelong damage and the cycle of abuse is potentially ongoing as a result.

If the cycle of abuse is never broken, domestic abuse and its effect on women, men and children will continue.

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  • I first met Sharon back in 2000 when I went into a refuge she worked in after fleeing a violent relationship. I had two babies and virtually just a bag of clothes and a few toys with us. She helped me with appointments with the police, solicitors and..

    A survivor of domestic abuse.
  • I was fortunate enough to meet and work with Sharon when she was the Advocacy Manager at Woman’s Trust and I was working for Westminster City Council. During this time Sharon developed and managed the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service..

    Ainslie O’Connor – Principal Advisor for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet – Adelaide, Australia.
  • Thank you so much for all the support you have given me. You really have been amazing, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with Child Protection without you. The amount of strength you have given me is totally priceless, even with..

    A survivor of domestic abuse.
  • I knew Sharon as a work colleague over ten years ago. At the time, she was supporting vulnerable people, some of them were homeless due to domestic abuse and substance misuse. For me, assisting such people was what anyone in her role would be expect..

    Ted Chanza, Head of Market Operations, Airtel Malawi Ltd, Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa.
  • I have known Sharon for 6 years and have had the pleasure of working alongside her when I chaired the Westminster MARAC. Sharon is a committed, empathetic supporter of women who are or have experienced domestic abuse. She regularly goes the extra m..

    Former Chair of The Westminster MARAC.
  • I was fortunate to have had Sharon as my support worker after 17 years of domestic violence and 4 children that had witnessed and gone through it with me. I was finally strong enough to stand up and protect myself and my children. Without Sharon’s ..

    A survivor of domestic violence.
  • Without the support and constant reassurance of Sharon, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am forever grateful to her. She is extremely dedicated and knowledgeable, having her on my side when dealing with someone as persistent..

    Anonymous survivor of Domestic Abuse.
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