Originally published: 15.06.15
It is pleasing that Background Briefing presented a critique of family law last Sunday.
In the child’s best interests
They were critiquing the way the family court in Australia deals with family law cases.
“Today, we look at some of the most vexed cases that come before the Family Court; those alleging child sexual abuse. Background Briefing has been contacted by numerous mothers who claim that the Court is biased against parents who raise abuse allegations, and disbelieving of the children who make them. It’s a claim the Family Court rejects.”
The programme highlighted the reliance that the judiciary places on expert evidence provided by single expert reports in assessing the credibility of the sexual abuse allegations.
As Professor Patrick Parkinson, a family law and child protection expert and former chairperson of the government advisory group, the Family Law Council points out…
“The judge has usually no training in child development, no expertise in child development, no expertise in child protection and may have no expertise in family law. Sometimes judges are appointed without any background in family law. The reality is they are highly dependent upon the expert evidence.”
Parkinson rightly talks of the hierarchy of experts where courts preference psychiatrists.
“At the bottom of the hierarchy there are social workers.”
One has to question our meaning of expertise in this context.
Why is this no surprise? In a highly hierarchical environment such as the law where white upper class men make judgements about all of us, it is not surprise they would preference white male upper class psychiatrists as having more expertise. After all they are likely to reproduce the ideology of class and patriarchal privilege.
The dilemma of course is that whilst there are no doubt problems with our current child protection system, this is where our current expertise lies.
In contrast, the father of child psychiatry, Sigmund Freud is infamous for his rejection of the notion of child sexual abuse. Whilst initially propositioning that many of his female clients were victims of child sexual abuse, under threat of ostracism from his professional colleagues, he developed the theory of child sexual abuse fantasies.
“In 1895, Sigmund Freud formulated what was perhaps his most profound theory: that emotional disturbances in adults stem from actual early traumatic experiences, the knowledge of which has been repressed. But Freud eventually renounced this theory in favor of a new view, that his women patients had “fantasized” their early memories of rape and seduction – a view on which the whole budding science of psychoanalysis would be based.” Jeffrey Masson
“As a result, most psychiatrists and psychoanalysts have in effect been reluctant to trust the memories of their patients, women in particular, about the traumas they experienced in childhood. Like Freud, they see such traumas as fantasy rather than reality. This cover-up of the truth, Masson asserts, has poisoned the entire profession.”
As Parkinson points out in the programme:
“…psychiatry does not provide necessarily very good training for identifying whether a six-year-old child has been sexually abused.”
The programme interviewed one such psychiatrist, Chris Rikard-Bell and he was true to form.
“One cannot just depend on what the child’s statements are.”
He also believes it is important to conduct joint interviews with child and her alleged abuser, the father. The image of a poor child having to face her abuser whilst detailing her abuse is profoundly disturbing. What trauma to put a child through!
Mr, Rikard-Bell also believes that 90% of allegations raised in family court proceedings are false. A belief he has based on his own biased experience – certainly not on reliable research.
As Carolyn Quadrio an expert report writer for the Family Court stated in the programme:
“…the research on false sexual abuse allegations made in custody cases shows that on average, they comprise around 10% of the total.”
Which means that 90% of sexual abuse allegations have some basis in truth.
This is supported by research evidence both in Australia and overseas.
The psychiatrist talked inexplicably about ‘parentification’.
Apparently it’s the new word.
When asked specifically about parental alienation syndrome, which appears to be the basis of his work:
“The concept of alienation, by which a parent consciously undermines the child’s relationship with the other parent, is still a valid concept.”
‘I refer to alienation if it specifically occurs and describe it but I avoid using the Parental Alienation Syndrome label, even though it is often useful, as it has now come under such scrutiny that it often creates more debate than is helpful.’
Apparently you can follow the principles of parental alienation – just don’t call it that.
Because Parental Alienation Syndrome has since been widely discredited, and is not recognised as having any scientific basis.
Even Chief Justice of the Australian Family Court, Diana Bryant agrees:
“there is no valid condition as Parental Alienation Syndrome.”
But they still use it. And in priority over forensic child sexual abuse allegations conducted (when they are) over child protection authorities.
I have written about these issues previously on this blog:
The Fault that is Family Law – Part 2 Child Abuse and the Family Law System
and about the problems with Parental Alienation and its cohorts:
The Fault that is Family Law – Part 3
The programme cited two cases where allegations of child sexual abuse were made against fathers during contact visits.
In both cases reports from the expert witnesses determined the outcome for the children.
In the first case, based on the expert’s report, the mother was advised by her lawyer that if she did not agree to unsupervised contact, she risked having the child removed from her care. The child visited her father regularly for the next 5 years where she was repeatedly and violently sexually abused. Due to the constraints of the court, neither her nor the child were able to raise child sexual abuse allegations.
In the second case, in an ex-parte hearing, the judge and an appointed children’s lawyer met and made a judgement, based on the single expert report, that the children should be immediately removed from the mother’s care to go to live with the father.
It is good that these issues are being raised in the media. However, women’s organisations in Australia (and overseas) have been raising these concerns for over 20 years.
It is difficult to believe that there will ever be a time when the judicial system will provide protection of children from child sexual abuse, a time when children will be believed, a time when men’s rights to abuse and violate women and children will ever be stopped.
MairiVoice: I am an Australian radical feminist. I have had my blog for over a year now and write mostly about feminist political issues in Australia.I also run a feminist facebook page giving voice to radical feminism by sharing articles and interesting news. I have been a feminist for over 30 years and have been an activist around issues such as child sexual abuse, domestic violence and family law issues. I also love to read women’s books – both fiction and non-fiction – interested in feminist theory – and sometimes write about the books I am reading on my blog