National Child Protection Week 6-12th September


Child Protection - Abuse Prevention

What the FCA needs to do to 'get it right'

“Imagine a society afflicted by a scourge which struck down a quarter of its daughters and up to one in eighth of its sons. Imagine also that this plague…made (victims) up to sixteen times more likely to experience…life-threatening starvation, suicide, persistent nightmares, drug and alcohol abuse and a whole host of intractable psychiatric disorders requiring life-long treatment…

“….Child sexual abuse…has accounted for probably more misery and suffering than any of the great plagues of history, including the bubonic plague, tuberculosis and syphilis,” said Melbourne forensic psychiatrist Dr Bill Glaser at a criminology conference.

With three reviews of the Family Law Act and Court underway, the National Council for Children Post-Separation (NCCPS) is calling for sexual abuse allegations in custody cases to follow a special procedure. While the laws are being reviewed, more children are being exposed to violence and abuse but there is something that can be done now.

‘Child sexual abuse is the most difficult of allegations to prove,’ says Director of NCCPS Barbara Biggs.

“And yet Family Court experts typically interview children only once to determine whether or not disclosures have substance.”

If the abuse is not substantiated, often custody is awarded to the alleged perpetrator while the protective parent is only allowed a few hours of supervised contact until the child turns 18. The consequences of a wrong assessment are devastating for the child.

Child Protection Systems Expert, Charles Pragnell says children can take several sessions to disclose behaviour which may cause distress. “It takes time to build trust, especially between a young child and a therapist. To discover anything meaningful in one brief session in clinical surroundings is highly questionable.”

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse invariably deny sexual abuse of children and so definitive proof must be established to satisfy criminal courts. In Family court proceedings, children’s disclosures need to be assessed by therapists with professional expertise and experience in working with child sexual assault victims and/or perpetrators. Currently, Family Court experts assess children in a single session.

A mother of three, Carolyn Cassidy, said that after her daughter disclosed sexual abuse, she and her three children were assessed by a Court expert in 15 minutes each. The ‘expert’ said the father was no risk to the children and that the mother had ‘social dysfunction’. Six months later, the father killed his two boys in a murder suicide.

The NCCPS is calling for all parties involved in custody disputes, where there are sexual abuse allegations, to be required to each see a separate therapist, experienced in treatment of child sexual abuse. This will provide extensive and meaningful information to the Court, making it less likely to ‘get it wrong’.

Of all the measures NCCPS is calling for when the Act is reviewed, it has chosen this point to highlight during National Child Protection Week because it is the one most often ignored.

“Until now, child sexual abuse in our society has been hidden from public view excepting in cases of stranger pedophile abuse, yet statistics show that such cases are less than 5% of the total of reported child sexual abuse. The vast majority of incidents of child sexual abuse occur within the child’s family by someone known to the child,” said Ms Biggs.

Back to Top