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Introducing 'CAMS': A New Framework for Tackling Manipulation in Domestic Violence Family Law Cases

Updated: Jan 23


In an important article released October 22, 2023, ‘From ‘Parental Alienation’ to [Abusers’] Child and Mother Sabotage (CAMS) as a preferable term for how perpetrator fathers intentionally sabotage the child-mother connection,’ researchers Dalgarno, E., Meier, J., Ayeb-Karlsson, S., Pollack, D., and Katz, E. from the SHERA Research Group unravel the intricacies of family dynamics in the context of domestic violence. They introduce the term "Child and Mother Sabotage" (CAMS), a novel and necessary concept to understand and address the manipulation that occurs in family law cases when domestic violence is a factor, and a mother's relationship with her children is at stake. This blog post delves into the nuances of CAMS, discussing why it is a crucial term and how it stands as a beacon of change in addressing post-separation family dynamics in abuse contexts.

What is CAMS and when to apply the term?

The term CAMS stands for Child and Mother Sabotage and it describes a collection of behaviours used by abusive fathers to interfere and sabotage a child's relationship with their mother. CAMS becomes applicable after a couple has separated, and in situations where a father:

  • Deliberately attempts to sway a broad spectrum of people—ranging from the children and relatives to friends, neighbors, extended social circles, and professionals—towards viewing the mother in a highly negative and damaging light.

  • When the manipulation results in a collective and damaging change in perception and behavior towards the mother from third parties including severe consequences such as, losing custody or contact with her children, encountering setbacks in her career, losing educational opportunities, facing social isolation, losing friendships, experiencing defamation, and undergoing significant strains on her health and well-being.

  • When the father attempts to portray the mother as unstable, malicious, wicked, unreliable, unsafe, and dangerous.

  • When the father’s manipulative tactics exploit and amplify sexist stereotypes, particularly portraying the mother as irrational, aggressive, or spiteful, especially if she is vocal about her safety concerns or reports of abuse.

  • When there is a patterned history and substantial evidence showing a pattern of dominance and manipulation, also known as coercive control, exerted by the offending father upon the victimized mother.

  • When there are historical indicators that the abusive father aims to destabilize, manipulate, and dominate the interactions between the victimized mother and their children.

Why call it "Child and Mother Sabotage" and Not "Parental Alienation"?

CAMS offers an alternative narrative to the problematic terms ‘Parental Alienation’ (PA) and ‘Alienating Behaviors’ (AB), especially in contexts of abuse. Unlike PA, CAMS is distinctly gender-specific, linking the sabotage of the mother-child relationship directly to a pattern of gendered abuse. It is designed to resist manipulation by male abusers who might attempt to use it to portray themselves as victims—a tactic known as DARVO (Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender). This specificity addresses the need for a term that cannot be co-opted to perpetuate harm against women in legal battles.

Addressing the "What About Men?" Question:

While CAMS focuses on male-on-female abuse, this specificity serves several crucial purposes:

  • Counteracting Prevalent Beliefs: It challenges the widespread notion that “alienation” is a tactic mainly used by vindictive ex-wives against ex-husbands, highlighting that disruption in parent-child relationships more frequently stems from a broader pattern of male abuse against female partners. There is scant to no empirical evidence supporting the notion that numerous mothers intentionally estrange their children from their fathers out of a desire to cause the fathers harm (Trocmé & Bala, 2005).

  • Acknowledging Power Imbalances: It recognizes the societal and domestic power imbalances that leave women more vulnerable to abuse, given their generally lower physical and economic power compared to men (Stark,2007).

  • Tackling Biases: It addresses the pervasive biases against women, particularly when they report abuse, contributing to a more balanced and fair assessment of their situations (Epstein & Goodman, 2019).

  • Emphasizing Coercive Control: It underscores the reality of coercive control, a form of manipulation predominantly exercised by men against women, providing a framework to understand and address this specific type of abuse (Hester, Jones, Williamson, Fahmy, & Feder, (2017).

Child and Mother Sabotage" (CAMS) stands as a vital term, bringing clarity and insight to cases where domestic violence is a significant factor, and a mother’s relationship with her children is jeopardized. By explicitly addressing the gendered nature of domestic violence and the unique vulnerabilities of women in these situations, CAMS paves the way for a more informed, just, and much-needed approach to post-separation family dynamics where domestic violence is a factor.

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