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This paper will be delving into an evaluation on whether or not there is a significant level of frequency in regards to false child physical or sexual abuse accusations that stem from parent custody battles. And because of this, whether or not there can be damaging detrimental effects to the child’s wellbeing, mental health and also family life. Research into this topic has brought forward an understanding of false allegations, and that they are present whether or not in this type of context or another. This is suggestive of the idea that there must be some type of level of frequency in regards to divorce cases, whether or not the child, themselves, are the accuser or if it is one of the before mentioned parents and/or guardians. This is a topic worth investigating because effects of these conflict cases can be increasingly detrimental, to not only the child involved, but also a wide range of other people. Therefore, this paper will provide a review and attempt to answer the question on whether there is a high frequency of illegitimate abuse accusations in divorce cases by using current and reliable studies.
False allegations of child abuse during a parental/guardianship battle are something that can happen from a number of different and deceptive reasons. However, in light of this, there has been a lot of in depth research, both current and old, that has been put into addressing and understanding the nature of false allegations of this kind. The types of false allegations that are the most common are abuse of sexual assault accusations (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). These types of accusations get made moderately frequently by either party for many different reasons, for example, cases of these types can occur because of manipulation of the child, or because of legitimate worry, however, this will be looked further into later (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). These types of false accusations have been known to have detrimental issues for the child in question, and have also been seen to have damaging effects to the extended family. These issues are seen to be very controversial in the public’s eye, as it delves into an issue that is very questionable and unfortunate that it happens in society. It is known that reported false allegation cases are seen to be made for many different reasons, and they are not simply motivated by malice every single time (Howitt, 2015). It can be seen in cases like false child abuse allegations, that yes, they may be made from malice, but they can also me made from honest mistrust of the other person involved, and sometimes even believed that they are factual. Also, it could be a case of bad interviewing techniques that can lead to an accusation of this type. For instance, persistent leading questions can result in individuals falsely implicating someone of a crime they did not commit (Howitt, 2015). Therefore, it is seen that many false allegations of sexual abuse towards children can stem from the course of divorce proceedings, where also a parent influences the impressionable child to make false claims linked to abuse (Trocmé, Bala, 2005).
Research has suggested through many documented reports that in instances of intentional abuse allegations in cases such as these, they are most commonly made by mothers, or mothers that are manipulating their child into speaking out about these false truths (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). And because of this, it is seen that the father’s role in child abuse allegations, through this context of divorce and separation, has been that of the abuser stereotype which can be seen ranging back over the past several years (Brown, 2005). However, unconfirmed, unsupported and suspicious allegations must have investigations conducted, and to be differentiated from the intentionally false claims of child abuse. It is also seen that most uncorroborated investigations are actually made from the results of well-intentioned reports because of suspicious marks or injury to the child, or even a misunderstood story (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). Therefore, it is seen that there are mandatory laws in place to look into reasonably suspected child abuse or even neglect. Thus, intentionally made accusations are defined as the fabrications of stories created into the hopes of manipulating the system for an outcome that is desirable for the accuser (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). And, it is also necessary to understand the differences that lie between accusations in which an adult/parent is fabricating the allegations from the accusations in which there is no adult influence involved (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). Through this, it can be made easier for the people involved in these cases, to be able to distinguish whether or not the allegations of abuse are in fact true or false. However, Gardner (1999), is adamant of the idea that allegations of sexual abuse in divorce cases are frequent, and that it is mothers who are falsely accusing fathers, however, none of this is supported by scientific evidence, and his work is moderately discredited in the theoretical understanding of cases of this capacity (Gardner, 1999, Trocmé, Bala, 2005). Though it may be true that illegitimate cases of this nature are not frequent, they do happen moderately enough for it to be recognised as a problem in the criminal justice system, and also from a psychological perspective (Bow, Quinnell, Zaroff, Assemany, 2002). Assessment of sexual abuse allegations in child custody battles are seen to be difficult and complex, and it is noted that Family Court has become a major part of parts of the child protection system in Australia, and cases such as these are important to highlight and to understand in hopes of trying to prevent them from continuing into the future (Black, Schweitzer, Varghese, 2012). Therefore, false allegations of child abuse in family court cases are argued to not be frequent, yet they are still apparent and detrimental to the people involved.
It has been corroborated through many reports and cases that there is a known general belief of inaccuracy of a high proportion of intentional false allegations in accordance to child abuse. From this, cases have seen to become high profile and also high risk because of the abuse and sexual assault allegations, therefore, they affect not only the child that is primarily involved but also both of the parents/guardians and the entire family (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). Therefore, it is important to understand both the frequency of these cases, but also the entire effects it holds to the people involved. There has been a moderate amount of research that has been conducted by scholars and researchers into this argument; that false accusations of physical, mental and sexual abuse against children in high-risk parental custody, and divorce/separation battles. The term that was created by Gardner, (2002), Parental Alienation Syndrome is cited throughout much research on this topic. However, it is seen that studies of custody cases of this type of issues have found that allegations of abuse in separation battles are frequently rare in nature (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). Therefore, the rate of intentionally made false allegations are seen to be relatively low, however, accusations of this kind are seen to happen more frequently in settings such as divorce or separation causes then other contexts (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). It is also noted that noncustodial parents will fabricate allegations of abuse than custodial parents in order to gain the upper hand in custody battles in court (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). It is also important to understand the extent to which a child’s dishonesty may perhaps be affected by an adult’s influence or pressure (Lyon, Malloy, Quas, Talwar, 2010). Also how an adults influence may push alleged experiences to be reported and/or fabricated in cases where a child’s statement – especially concerning something as important and significant as physical or sexual abuse – have far-reaching implications and punishments (Lyon, Malloy, Quas, Talwar, 2010). Therefore, it is seen that a large number of allegations of child abuse that is made in the context of separation is unfounded and unsupported. It is even noted that in some cases of falsified allegations that it is unfounded and unsupported, therefore the frequency of these are low and still detrimental to mental health. It is even seen that in some cases a parent might be deliberately accusing someone, or in a more frequent number of cases, that the accusers believe in what they are alleging too; even if it is found to be unsupported and untrue (Bala, Mitnick, Trocmé, Houston, 2007).
There is controversy that surrounds the process in which a victim chooses to disclose the incident, particularly in regards to how a child victim will report an incidence of abuse but then later recant their statement (Malloy, Lyon, Quas, 2007). Because of this, the nature in which a child victim chooses to recant their statement of abuse creates questions about the thought on whether an incident truly happened. And through instances of this kind, time should still be taken into investigating whether or not the abuse is fabricated or truthful. There is also a significant amount of concern that is prevalent among the public, experts and also the justice system, on the topic of the likelihood of false allegations of child sexual abuse cases in Family Court (Black, Schweitzer, Varghese, 2012). However, there is still little understanding about this issue, and more research is still necessary in the further development of understanding. Family Court is seen to be obliged to protect children against risks of these types, and the verification of abuse allegations are difficult in any sense, but is increasingly difficult in custody disputes because of the stigma of false allegations of sexual and/or physical abuse of children that occur during custody battles and divorce settlements (Black, Schweitzer, Varghese, 2012). Whether or not these cases are frequently seen, it is still highly suggested and believed, more time and research should be put into cases of this type. Cases in which allegations of abuse happen are known to be high conflict cases and carry a weight with them in which allegations overshadow other considerations (Bala, Mitnick, Trocmé, Houston, 2007). Though, some cases of unfounded abuse come from emotional damage, custody battles are known to be emotionally charged and mentally difficult for the child or children, parents and family (Bala, Mitnick, Trocmé, Houston, 2007). Therefore, it is seen that there is an agreed level of low frequency in which false child abuse accusations happen in separation disputes, divorces and custody battles. However, cases that are of this nature, and contain false allegations of physical and sexual abuse against a minor hold major psychological effects on both the children involved and the family as a whole, even known to affect others involved such as the courts. Therefore, there is a damaging wellbeing to the mental health of child involved in fabricated allegations of abuse in divorce battles.
It has been seen through research that the question is only moderately supported by relevant information. Information suggests that there is in fact, a low level of frequency to which divorce cases contain fabricated abuse allegations towards a minor. However, it is supported that even though there is a low frequency of this, there is a large damaging psychological effect to the parties involved. Therefore, there is a low level of frequency of false allegations to which research has supported that fact, but more research should be conducted into the extent of how this type of issues truly affect mental health, and by how much. One limitation that arose from the research gathered, was the little amount of information about the way deliberate false allegations arise in cases. Research has suggested that there is little analysis done between cases where false allegations were purposely made and where they were not made (Trocmé, Balla, 2005). Also, in continuation of this, previous research has also been seen to be limited in understanding the difference between intentional false allegations and unintentional false allegation (Trocmé, Bala, 2005). Therefore, more research also needs to be conducted in understanding the way these types of cases arise, and the differences between them in hopes of limiting the already low level of frequency these cases have in our courts. However, there is also a large level of accusations of abuse that is sequential to parental separation that cannot be proven in court, whether or not these allegations are true, they bear no proof and are unable to support the fact that it occurred (Bala, Mitnick, Trocmé, Houston, 2007). There are also a number of cases in which cases of abuse are just plainly untrue. Also repeated questioning of a child in some cases may alter a child’s memory, and as a result of leading questions or suggestions, a child may honestly believe their allegation. Therefore, further precautions should be made in cases such as these, so outcomes like accidental leading questions can lower (Bala, Mitnick, Trocmé, Houston, 2007). Therefore, many older studies are only suggestive of certain things, and more recent and reliable studies seem to be leading down another understanding of the topic.
Also, studies into Australia’s legal process has suggested that there is a myth surrounding the idea that child abuse allegations that are made during a partnership breakdown or custody battle are weapons to gain advantage in a ‘marital war’ (Brown, Frederico, Hewitt, Sheehan, 2001). However, there is also little previous research that supports this idea that this is a continuation of divorce. Some children are also believed to be programmed by one parent to be alienated by the other; this is commonly seen in custody disputes. And this is said to be designed to strengthen and help the parent in court, and many terms surround the parental alienation syndrome (Garner, 2002). Also, research has suggested that high conflict families are represent at a low proportion which is incorrect, because causes such as these commonly include domestic violence, child abuse and even substance abuse (Bruch, 2001). Therefore, cases such as these, have seen to happen more frequently in high conflict families than others, because of their background (Bruch, 2001). Even in regards to this, there is still a low frequency level of falsification of child abuse allegations, though psychological factors are still significantly damaging. Furthermore, the nature of further research is important, and may be able to clear discrepancies, and lower the rates of intention false cases of abuse.
This paper attempted to analyse and evaluate the plausibility of there being a significant level of frequency of false accusations of child abuse and assault in divorce cases, and whether or not the outcomes of these cases affected the child’s wellbeing and mental health. However, through research conducted into this topic it is seen that there is actually a low level of recorded cases that pertain to illegitimate allegations of abuse in divorce cases, nevertheless, there is seen to be harmful psychological effects in regards to the children involved, but also other parties that are involved as well. Therefore, even though there is a low frequency of this cases, research should continue to be brought into try and understand further the implications of this type of issue.
- Bala, N. M., Mitnick, M., Trocme, N., & Houston, C. (2007). Sexual abuse allegations and parental separation: Smokescreen or fire?. Journal of Family Studies, 13(1), 26-56.
- Black, F. A., Schweitzer, R. D., & Varghese, F. T. (2012). Allegations of child sexual abuse in family court cases: A qualitative analysis of psychiatric evidence. Psychiatry, psychology and law, 19(4), 482-496.
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- Gardner, R. A. (1999). Differentiating between parental alienation syndrome and bona fide abuse-neglect. American Journal of Family Therapy, 27(2), 97–107.
- Howitt, D. (2015). Introduction to Forensic and Criminal Psychology (Vol. 5th ed). Harlow: Pearson. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1419334&site=ehost-live&scope=site
- Lyon, T. D., Malloy, L. C., Quas, J. A., & Talwar, V. A. (2010). Coaching, truth induction, and young maltreated children’s false allegations and false denials. Child development, 79(4), 914-929.
- Malloy, L. C., Lyon, T. D., & Quas, J. A. (2007). Filial dependency and recantation of child sexual abuse allegations. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 46(2), 162-170.
- Trocmé, N., & Bala, N. (2005). False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate. Child abuse & neglect, 29(12), 1333-1345.
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