Saturday, February 4, 2012


Family courts across the continent are continuing to operate largely disconnected from the last four decades of research and clinical writing on incest perpetration, including the stories of survivors. The unfortunate result in many cases that I have researched is that court and court-appointed personnel are basing their decisions on myths and misconceptions that went out long ago, sometimes leading to disastrous results for children and their non-offending parents. Here are some of the key points that family courts are often missing (I use "he" for the suspected perpetrator and "she" for the alleged victim, since this is statistically the most common scenario):

* A child's relationship with a parent that is sexually abusing her will often have some positive (or at least positive appearing) aspects.

Courts in some cases stop looking carefully at evidence of sexual abuse by a father if they get reports that the child is sometimes happy to see him, is physically affectionate with him, or expresses interest in seeing him. The reality is that incest perpetrators typically develop a bond (though not a healthy one) with their victims through doing favors, giving positive attention, expressing love (and even describing the sexual abuse as proof of that love), and buying gifts. This is extremely confusing for the child and tends to leave her with powerful ambivalent feelings and adds to the difficulty she faces in making the hard decision of whether to disclose his behavior, and then whether to testify against him.

Furthermore, incest perpetrators do profound psychological damage to their victims without being horrible to them all the time. In fact, survivors say that the positive-appearing aspects of their relationships with their fathers made the emotional wounds in many ways deeper and harder to heal from.

I have been involved in a number of cases where court personnel acknowledged that the sexual abuse had occurred or had probably occurred, but then have gone on to state that the child's relationship with the father has some positive aspects, and therefore is very important to preserve in an extensive form. This conclusion does not follow from the research evidence regarding harm and is specifically contradicted by survivors' stories; contact between an incest perpetrator and a victim should occur only with highly-trained and vigilant supervision, and should stop any time the victim wishes it to or starts to show significant emotional deterioration following visits.

* It is common for a victim to recant disclosures of sexual abuse some time later, and even more so in cases where she has continued to have unsupervised contact with the suspected perpetrator.

Incest perpetrators are known to control and intimidate the victim in various ways following a disclosure; commonly reported tactics include threatening to harm the child or actually doing so, telling the child that he will go to jail if she doesn't recant, threatening to harm the mother, telling the child that she will never get to see him (the father) again if she doesn't recant, promising her purchases, vacations, or other rewards in return for recanting, and promising her that the abuse will stop in return for recanting. Obviously the more extensive access the suspected perpetrator has to the child through visitation, phone calls, texting, and email, or if the child is continuing to live with him, the greater the risk of a forced recantation.

* The suspected perpetrator will make angry, outraged, and hurt-sounding denials in close to 100% of cases. A correctly-accused perpetrator will be very difficult to distinguish by his public behavior, including his behavior at court, from one who is false accused. The perpetrator is often a respected and successful member of the community.

Courts have to rely on the evidence, not on how the suspect presents himself or what his public reputation is like.

* Incest perpetration is almost always surrounded by a other behaviors by the man that violate the child's boundaries in subtler, less overtly illegal, ways. These behaviors usually begin well before the outright sexual abuse begins, and then continue along side it.

Courts sometimes make the mistake of discounting evidence of boundary violations toward a child "because they don't rise to the level of sexual abuse." Such boundary violations need to be taken seriously always, but in a case where there are other indications of sexual abuse -- such as a child's disclosure, for example -- such lower level boundary violations should be treated as evidence pointing to the likelihood that the outright sexual abuse being disclosed did in fact take place.

* It is virtually unheard of for children younger than teenagers to make up reports of sexual abuse, and even in teenagers it is very rare.

Mistaken reports of sexual abuse do not come from children making them up. They come from one of the following sources: 1) A statement by the child that was misinterpreted by adults; 2) The child having been manipulated or intimidated into making the false allegation. Proper unbiased investigation makes it possible to find out if one of these two is functioning in a case.

* Most sexual abuse allegations that are brought to the attention of family courts are brought in good faith, not as a "tactic."

Every large-sample study that has been done has found that true reports of sexual abuse are substantially more common than mistaken ones even when they occur in the context of child custody litigation. Further, the research has found that even most mistaken allegations are brought in good faith, meaning that the parent heard a disclosure or witnessed behaviors that would have worried most responsible parents. And finally, the research shows that sexual abuse allegations that are deliberately false are made equally by fathers and mothers; there is no basis for the belief that women are especially likely to make a false sexual abuse report during litigation.

* Domestic violence perpetrators (specifically, men who batter women), have been found in study after study to commit a far higher rate of incest than non-battering men do.

You can read a review of many studies on the subject in Chapter 4 of my book The Batterer as Parent. When there is persuasive evidence of a history of domestic violence, courts should make sure to investigate sexual abuse disclosures, and reports of lower level (not illegal) boundary violations, by that father with even more care and diligence.

* When a child discloses sexual abuse to a parent (by anyone), the parent needs to believe the child and take every possible step to protect her.

It may seem odd that I have to say this, but it is regrettably common for mothers in family courts to be criticized for believing the child, particularly if other systems such as child protection or the family court have declared that they cannot find enough evidence to restrict the father's visitation. If a mother persists in believing her child, and tries to explain the different ways in which systems failed to make a properly thorough and unbiased investigation, she may have various negative labels attached to her by court personnel or may be threatened with having the child removed from her even if any other responsible parent in her position would also remain concerned, given the facts of the case.

Everything I wrote above remains true if the child making the disclosure is a boy, by the way.
It is my fervent hope that family courts across the continent will take rapid steps to get themselves in alignment with the research and with the published accounts of survivors. A tremendous number of lives are in the balance.


  1. Thank you Lundy for informing us of what happens in cases of sexual abuse and the true facts that are involved in all of this. My heart aches for the victims that will not be heard by the courts or by anyone who is not familiar with this devastating evil. The lives of these victims may be traumatized forever. The lives of these little ones are at stake. Thank you for being an advocate for them. Every person in the judicial system should read your book and see what really is happening in the lives of the innocent children. May GODS will prevail!

  2. Well, this absolutely matches up with our experience. The CPS executive director of southern Indiana said there were no experts who could question the children to see if they were making up allegations or not. Apparently, Lundy disagrees. We could use information along those lines Mr. Bancroft, if you could provide it. Evidently, our professionals are sorely in need of education. Meanwhile, the abuse goes on, and on, and on...

  3. Thank-you Lundy for this information. It is too bad all attorneys and Judges that work in family court are not trained in sexual abuse as it seems to be growing at a rapid rate. This could apply to a couple of cases in Ottowa County that Judge Hulsing is involved with and he continues to make the children go with the abusive parent even when the children do not want to go. We need to make the public more aware and thank-you for doing your part of sharing valuable information. How can we get court system to deal with these various abuse situations as CPS or police do not seem to want to do anything with the perptrators.Look at the number of Priests, ministers, coaches, and teaches are now being caught abusing children. Who can protect them other than good responsible parents and no one wants to believe them either. The perptrator who almost never admits or takes responsibilty for his horrible behavior seems to get away with his crime. What can we do to change the system? Thank-you for these blogs. We need to spread them to as many people as we can. Thanks again Lundy!!

  4. Agreed. Any Law Student going into the Family Law arena as a profession should be required to take courses that fully cover all types of abuse, including how smooth and deceptive the perpetrators will be in these cases. Lundy's books, blogs and seminars would provide the perfect curriculum for those courses.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing that. It is very hard for a child who suffers abuse to go through the court process. It would also be great if you could also talk about a child rejected by both mother and father after disclosure and the court process. Having to defend yourself on the stand to a barrister after your parents have tried to gather every shred of possible evidence against you is devastating.

  6. This is exactly what I see when I go to court to defend my daughter. no one cares that she was abused, no one will look at the facts, and they are so concerned to "preserve" visitation rights for my daughter's father, her molester. Makes me sick.

    Help my 6 yr old daughter, a victim of sexual abuse. Please share, and get the word out. Keep us in your prayers.

  7. Thank you for the work you do, Lundy! It is such a challenge getting the mental health profession (of all people) and CPS to set aside their own personal histories and paradigms to look objectively at each case. It seems that they are very eager to want to preserve time with the abusing parent, particularly if the "evidence" isn't perfectly clear. There are so many adults that have suffered sexual abuse as a child - so clearly it's (unfortunately) not such a rare experience. Judges & everyone in the family court system need to act more cautiously and stop visitation until they can figure out what's really going on instead of waiting until they have more evidence.


  9. Many people tell me they think 'they'd kill themselves' if their child died--whatever the cause. They don't take that detour to consider WHAT IF the father abused the child sexually, or even physically in a rough way? No one wants to consider the MORE LIKELY EPIDEMIC of ABUSE of children..they can't overlook a death, and don't know how they'd cope. How many are in the storm or will be and they don't realize there are 'no lifeguards on duty' to save their children even if they dedicate their lives, funds and hopes to rescuing their child?