National Council for Children Post-Separation 
Media Statement 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Child Experts Outraged over Decision to force Children to spend time with Sex Offender Father


Tasmanian children ordered, against their wishes, to spend weekends with their convicted sex offender father is yet another example that the recommendations from three major Family Law reviews need urgent implementation by the Attorney General.

All three reviews by the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Family Law Council and retired family court judge, Richard Chisholm, said under the current shared parenting Family Law Amendments of 2006, parents’ rights to have contact with their children is taking precedence over children’s safety.

Following the reviews, Federal Attorney General said bad decisions made under the amendments were all just a ‘misunderstanding’. 

“Why is it that laws in all states prevent convicted sex offenders from having contact with children in either a paid or a voluntary capacity but Family Court judges have been ignoring this and forcing children to live under the same roof as offenders, making the children responsible for their own safety with risks that are admitted by the judiciary,” said child sexual abuse expert Prof Freda Briggs AO. 

“Would Judge Benjamin want his children/grandchildren being cared for by a convicted sex offender? If not, why have different standards been adopted for other people’s children?” 

Briggs points out that the definition of child neglect includes persons placing children at risk of abuse and here we have a judge who has not only placed children at risk but admitted that they will have to be awake and on their toes to stay safe. Furthermore, Briggs says, the judge’s reported comments reveal an unacceptable ignorance of the methods used by child sex offenders and of the long-term harm to children’s development when placed in traumatic circumstances.

Briggs, who has written more than 16 books on the topic, was so outraged she wrote to her Federal Member asking why this is ‘still happening despite three reports and even the Chief Justice admitting that Family Courts are placing children in danger of violence and sexual abuse’.

‘If, as the Attorney General said, this is all a ‘misunderstanding’, what exactly is he doing to stop it?’ said Briggs.

The National Council for Children Post-Separation (NCCPS) has also written to the Attorney General asking why, if even his Chief Justice sees need for change, he has done nothing to ‘clear up’ the ‘misunderstanding.

‘The shared parenting amendments, which penalise parents for raising abuse allegations, according to the three reviews, have resulted in those parents being labelled as unfriendly or alienating,’ said Barbara Biggs, convenor of the NCCPS. 

“This latest decision is a blatant example of how little Family Court experts and judges understand about the emotional dynamics of child sexual abuse and the long-term effects of trauma on children. What could be more traumatic than having to remember to lock the bedroom door every night (as suggested by the Judge) to ensure that daddy doesn’t come in to rape you. The judge has virtually put the two children in the position of having to protect themselves from their predatory father”, added Biggs.

University of SA senior lecturer in Family Studies, Dr. Elspeth McInnes said, “This case illustrates the kind of values, thinking and beliefs of decision-makers in the family law system in Australia today. Even where the father is a convicted child sex offender AND where the risk is recognised, the children are forced against their will to be alone with him and made responsible for not being molested. Clearly there is no real understanding of child sex offenders’ behaviour or the severity of harm of child sex abuse. The message to incest victims is clear – you have no right to safety.”

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