• 01Oct



    Chief Justice is asking that lawyers not pressure women into making agreements where there are concerns about violence and abuse.
    Of course what she is doing is deflecting responsibility from the court which we know is just as likely to order unsafe arrangements for women and children.

    And women face the possibility of punitive measures by the Family Court for raising allegations of abuse and violence.

    Abbey’s mother said this in response:

    “However, Abbey’s mother said she had spent 11 years navigating the family law and child-protection systems and did not give her consent willingly.

    She said she could not afford to challenge final orders in court, ­especially when she would have to fight the recommendations of the psychologist.”

    In May last year, Abbey (surname withheld) disclosed to her mother that her father sexually assaulted her repeatedly between the ages of three and seven.

    At 17 this Western Australian girl took her own life.

    Her father had just been released from jail after having been convicted of abusing her friend during sleepover visits. He was granted access visits to his children upon release from prison.

    “In my attempts to protect my children, I was treated as a hysterical woman by the Family Court, even though [the father] had been charged with child sexual offences at the time,” Abbey’s mother said.

    “I was made to look like a vindictive wife instead of what I was, a protective mother.”

    “Every week in Australia, the Family Courts are ordering children into contact with, and even into the custody of. parents who are dangerous, toxic and abusive because Family Courts do not have the powers, expertise, and resources to competently investigate allegations of child abuse,” Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston

    Tragically there exists within the family law system, within child protection systems and in our community more broadly the belief that women vindictively make allegations of both domestic violence and child abuse, either to punish their ex-partner or to gain some kind of advantage in the family court.

    This has consistently been disseminated widely –  at the time of the Federal Parliamentary Inquiries into Family Law in 1996 and 2006.

    It is not based on reality.

    Numerous studies, both in Australia and overseas have unswervingly found that false allegations of child sexual abuse are rare indeed. (See also ‘Child Sexual Abuse Allegations and the Family Court‘)

    Let us look at some of the reasons why child sexual abuse allegations may arise following separation.

    1. Sexual abuse occurs after separation.

    Sexual abuse may occur when an abuser has unconstrained access to children, without the restrictions of the mother being present.
    The abuser may also sexually abuse children in order to punish the mother – as a result of his anger at the separation and loss of control over the mother.

    2. Disclosure of abuse following separation

    There are several reasons abused children may be more likely to disclose abuse and to be believed by the other parent.
    Children who are sexually abused sometimes experience a sense of responsibility for keeping the family together, and can be coerced to do so by the offending parent. This pressure lessens when the family splits.
    There is also diminished opportunity for the abusing parent to enforce secrecy, and increased opportunity for children to disclose abuse separately to their mother. The child may feel safe to report because the perpetrator is out of the picture and no longer able to punish her for disclosure.
    A child may disclose abuse when she realises that despite the separation she will continue to have unsupervised contact with the abuser during contact visits.

    3. Disclosure leads to separation

    A significant proportion of mothers on learning that their partner is sexually abusing the children will separate from him.
    It is likely that the sexual abuse, for a number of reasons, will not be revealed to any authorities, and it is only when the offender seeks contact with the child that the mother discloses the sexual abuse.

    The structure of the patriarchal family can be a perilous place for women and children.

    And the patriarchal systems – our legal systems and our child protection systems – are not going to seriously address this. Dealing with the reality of child sexual abuse confronts the whole ideology of patriarchy, the institution of the family, and male control.

    Bravehearts has launched a privately funded inquiry titled Abbey’s Project to uncover and reflect the experiences, testimony and outcomes for families and other stakeholders in their dealings with the Family Courts (and related child protection agencies) to better protect children against child sexual assault.

    “The community has had enough of these courts ignoring the testimony of children, banning access to all support to the families and children making allegations of harm for fear of the courts retribution, demonising the credibility of protective parents and destroying the lives of children.

    “We have seen the courts continually put the rights of repeat, dangerous and /or violent offenders and child sex predators above the safety of the most vulnerable members of the community.”

    For information on Abbey’s Project and how to make submissions to the royal commission, visit www.bravehearts.org.au

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