Child sex abuse case prompts review call

Former Family Law Council chair Patrick Parkinson has called for an inquiry into the way the Family Court handles sexual abuse allegations.

The call, by former Family Law Council chair Patrick Parkinson, follows revelations that a girl was ordered to continue visiting her father in 2007 despite ­disclosing serious sexual offending by him.

Lucy, not her real name, is now 18. She has backed a review of cases handled by the Sydney-based child psychiatrist who assessed her allegations for the Family Court and found them to be “ludicrous”.

Lucy has ­alleged that her ­father sexually assaulted her from 2000-10, beginning when she was three. After learning protective behaviours at school when she was eight, Lucy made disclosures to a school counsellor.

The disclosures were assessed by a Sydney-based child psychiatrist who reported to the Family Court in 2007 that he found the child’s allegations of being “drugged, bound ... and ejaculated over by the father”, to be “ludicrous stories”.

He believed the child had been under pressure to report negative things about her father, and in this climate had “made statements which were interpreted by the mother as sexual abuse”.

On the strength of the report, her mother agreed to orders being made by the Family Court for Lucy to resume overnight ­access visits with her father. Lucy said after this, the abuse escalated in severity and continued for a further three years

The psychiatrist who made the recommendations, and who cannot be named for legal reasons, told The Weekend Australian the woman’s experience “sounds very distressing” but noted that “all complex assessments are done in good faith and it is the judge who decides what is best for the child or children”.

Australian of the Year and domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty said she believed “a complete review” was needed “of the way children’s voices are heard through the court process and that they are believed”.

She said “hundreds” of parents involved in family law cases had contacted her to raise concerns about their cases.

Professor Parkinson said the case was tragic. However, he said judges had to make very difficult decisions. “In my experience judges are extremely aware of the heavy ­responsibility placed upon them,” he said.

“If they allow a child to go to an abuser, they risk a number of years more of sexual abuse, or if they cut off contact between the child and a loving father, they also cause very significant harm.”

Professor Parkinson said he believed child protection services were best placed to assess sexual abuse allegations. Psychiatrists were very helpful in cases where there might be mental illness, but they were not necessarily the most qualified professionals in ­assessing abuse allegations.

Professor Parkinson said the changes were recommended by the Family Law Council in 2002 but had not been implemented by the federal government.

Medical Council of NSW president Greg Kesby said any complaint relating to a medical practitioner relating to child sexual abuse was “of the utmost concern to the Medical Council”.

Source : http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/legal-affairs/child-sex-abuse-case-prompts-review-call/news-story/05ceb89e96d2e2afae681395f7106043

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