CHILD protection campaigners say women who accuse their former partners of sexually abusing their children are being unfairly labelled as mentally ill in the Family Court.
Child sex abuse researcher Freda Briggs and child protection advocate Charles Pragnell say recent cases show the emphasis on shared parenting responsibilities is putting children in danger.
Professor Briggs and Mr Pragnell are part of the Safer Family Law campaign and argue that amendments to the Family Law Act in 2006 were geared towards the rights of parents rather than those of children.
Professor Briggs, from the University of South Australia, specialises in research into child sex abuse. Mr Pragnell is from the National Council for Children Post-Separation, which is part of the Safer Family Law campaign. He has been called as an expert witness in child sex abuse cases in Australia, Britain and New Zealand.
They cite a Sydney case of a child who was allegedly put at risk of danger by being forced to live with her father.
An interim decision was made to order the six-year-old to live with her father, at whose house she was photographed in pornographic poses by one of his friends.
A court counsellor alleged the girl’s mother was manipulative and might suffer from a mental illness.
“The courts should focus on the needs and wants of the child, and the rights of a child to be protected from abuse,” Mr Pragnell said.
“Too often we see that a parent’s right to contact is given at all costs.”
Amendments to the Family Law Act in 2006 emphasised “co-operative” parenting and shared responsibilities.
In January, Attorney-General Robert McClelland released three reviews into these amendments.
A review by the Australian Institute of Family Studies accepts that some of the consequences of a focus on shared parenting responsibilities have been “less than favourable”.
Child Abuse Prevention Service manager Karen Craigie said women and men contacted the service regularly after raising concerns of sexual abuse and being labelled mentally ill.
“We get lots of calls about this. It is common. Women involved are often subjected to domestic violence and are very traumatised,” Ms Craigie said.
“I have heard of cases where women are so afraid of losing their children and solicitors will advise them that raising concerns of sexual abuse will make them look like they are being obstructive.”
Angela Lynch, a solicitor for the Women’s Legal Service in Queensland who has advised women in these situations, said the family court system was too “pro-father involvement”.
“In a nice family, that is a great thing. When there are issues of abuse and domestic violence, it is a huge problem,” Ms Lynch said. “If you raise sexual abuse in court, you are seen as an unfriendly parent, which is the worst thing you can be in family court.”
The Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court of Australia would not comment.
Source: The Sun-Herald