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Sole Custody and the increased risks of child abuse


Broad international studies underscore the importance of Shared Care as a protective measure against the child abuse risks associated with Sole Custody care
The recently revised 2006-2007 homicide report published by the Australian Institute of Criminology  “now states that 11 homicides involved a mother and 11 homicides involved a male family member. When the category of ‘male family member’ is broken down, we see that only 5 perpetrators were fathers, while another 5 were de-facto partners of the mother who lived with the child (one father murdered two children)” (Men’s Health Australia 2009).1
“Of the offenders who committed suicide following the homicide incident four had child victims.  In all four cases, the offender was the custodial parent of the murdered child (two mothers; two fathers).”  (2006-07 National Homicide Monitoring Report at p 10) 2
Further, according to a 2003 Australian Institute of Family Studies paper mothers ‘were responsible for the physical assaults of children in up to 50% of cases; 50% of recorded infanticides and up to 7% of sexual assaults on children.’ (Fitzroy 2003). 3 Other earlier data showed mothers perpetrated the majority of emotional abuse and neglect of children (Tomison 1996). 4
With these recorded results, it is somewhat surprising that the factor of sole maternal custody is not considered in much of the literature on child abuse. Although a number of Australian studies have considered the effects of the family structure on child victimisation, most merely refer to structure as part of the family demographic information, noting the over representation in their sample. However, results are not reported that would indicate whether mothers were more prone to child abuse than fathers, or if sole maternal custody––as compared to joint physical custody (i.e. equal time shared care arrangements), sole paternal custody, or intact family status––contributed to an increased risk for child abuse. These are simple questions. Yet these fundamental questions are not being addressed.
Inside the boundaries of child abuse reporting by government agencies often a gender-neutral term such as ‘parent’ or ‘caregiver’ is used and there is no further discussion as to whether it was a father or mother who perpetrated the assaults.  With this in mind the decision taken in 1997 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Broadbent & Bentley 1997) to no longer publish data indicating the sex of child abuse perpetrators must be reversed. The action was taken just one year after the figures were first published in 1996 (968 men and 1138 women). 5 The omission was justified on the wobbly basis that only one state (WA) and two territories (ACT & NT) had furnished statistics and a lack of publishing space. I was also advised by the then Health Minister Michael Wooldridge that interested parties could obtain the information under a Freedom of Information request at a cost of $200.
Interestingly, these lame reasons did not stop the publication of the statistics in 1996. In fact, Angus & Hall (1996) observed that the information base provide an extra dimension to data previously presented.6
Clearly, the non-publication of these important figures can negatively impact on child abuse policy and the allocation of resources. If the AIHW decision does indeed represent bias reporting then such slanted views clearly have no place in scientific endeavours.
As to the question of spiteful false child abuse allegations a 1999 NSW magistrate’s survey found that 90 per cent of male and female magistrates believed false AVOs were used as a tactic in family law cases “to deprive partner’s access to children” with a number maintaining that many women were improperly advised by their solicitors to apply for orders. 7 
Ann Lewis in her 2000 M.A. thesis submitted to the University of Western Sydney wrote—“From several sources I heard that there were a number of practitioners, known to lawyers, who could always be relied upon to supply whatever evidence was needed to support a woman’s claims of violence against her or of sexual molestation of her children. The Court rarely imposes penalties on a woman who makes false allegations, even when she does this repeatedly. Each time a sexual allegation against children is made, the man is usually denied access until such time as the Court resolves the matter.”  8

Local studies document that many custodial mothers unjustifiably frustrate contact between children and their non resident fathers (Gibson 1992; McMurray & Blackmore 1992; Jordan 1996). 9, 10, 11 Self reports by the victimising mothers suggest this to be so in 40%-50% of cases (Fulton 1979, Wallerstein & Kelly 1980). 12, 13 Anecdotal reports internationally from criminal defence lawyers refer to interference in child contact as one of the most common triggers in domestic assault cases.

For the reason that parental loss injures the child in terms of post-divorce adjustment, contact denial may be viewed as one form of emotional abuse in a large percentage of sole custody households. It would seem reasonable that curtailing the relationship between the non-resident father and his child, would also victimise the non-resident father, grandparents and other extended family members who may wish to stay involved after the divorce. 

Finally, compelling findings from meta-analytic studies show that violence among adult intimates is committed by both genders at the same frequency (Archer 2000)14 According to local and overseas research the most common form of domestic violence is by and large bilateral (British Home Office 1999, Headey & colleagues 1999,  Fergusson et al 2005; Whitacker et al 2007; Dutton 2007). 15, 16,17,18,19 Only a minority of cases fit a profile of self-defence in response to female intimate terrorism (Straus 1993; Sarantakos 2004). 20, 21 
The gold standard Personal Safety Survey (ABS  2006) found that 30 per cent of women assaulted in the last 12 months were assaulted by either a current or previous partner (pp 30, 33) while 20 per cent of males were victims of violence perpetrated by a former or current partner (p 15). 22 However, despite this evidence the male experience of domestic violence is minimised if not ignored by official government policy.
Violence in lesbian relationships occurs with about the same rate of occurrence as in heterosexual relationships and lesbian batterers “display a terrifying ingenuity in their selection of abusive tactics, frequently tailoring the abuse to the specific vulnerabilities of their partners” investigators report (Lie & Gentlewarrior 1991; Renzetti 1992; Renzetti & Miley 1996). 23, 24, 24, 25 Due to concerns on homophobia the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities have refused to organise around the issue and this has suited the agenda of hostile anti male ideologues.
1. Men’s Health Australia 2009.  Latest Child Homicide Statistics: Only 24% of Perpetrators are Fathers
2. Dearden J & Jones W (2008) Homicide in Australia: 2006-07 National Homicide Monitoring Program annual report. Monitoring reports series, no. 01 ISBN 978 1 921532 07 8; ISSN 1836-2095 Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology at p 10
3. Fitzroy L (2003). ‘The Violence of Women: Making Sense of Child Abuse Perpetrated by Mothers’, Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, February 2003
4. Tomison A (1996). “Protecting Children: Updating The National Picture” in Child Abuse and Neglect Australia 1994-1995, Child Welfare Series No.16, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, AGPS, Canberra
5. Broadbent A & Bentley R (1997). Child Abuse and Neglect Australia 1995-1996. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Catalogue No CWS 1. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Child Welfare Series No 17)
6. Angus G & Hall G (1996). Child Abuse and Neglect Australia 1994-1995. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Series; no 16) at p 22
7. Judicial Commission of New South Wales (1999). Apprehended Violence Orders: A Survey of Magistrates (Monograph Series no. 20). Sydney, Australia: Judicial Commission of New South Wales
8. Lewis Ann (2000). An Enquiry into the Adult Male Experience of Heterosexual Abuse. Unpublished dissertation University of Sydney
9. Gibson J (1992). Non-Custodial Fathers and Access Patterns: Family Court of Australia. Office of the Chief Executive. Summary of Key Findings. Research report No. 10. Australian Government Publishing. Service Canberra).
10. McMurray A & Blackmore A M (1992). Influences on Parent-Child Relationships on Non-Custodial Fathers. 14(3) Australian Journal of Marriage and Family.  pp 151-159 at p 153.
11. Jordan P (November 1996). The Effects of Marital Separation on Men: 10 Years On. Research Report No 14, Family Court of Australia, Canberra
12. Fulton J A (1979). Parental Reports of Children’s Post-Divorce Adjustment. 35 Journal of Social Issues pp 126-139
13. Wallerstein J S & Kelly J B (1980). Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope With Divorce. Basic Books, New York
14. Archer J (2000).  Sex Differences in Physically Aggressive Acts between Heterosexual Partners: A Meta-Analytic Review.  Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651-680.
15. Mirrlees-Black C (1999).  Home Office Research Study 191, Domestic Violence: Findings from a new British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire. A Research, Development and Statistics Directorate Report; London: Home Office.
“Within the twelve months previous to the survey, 4.2% of both women and men aged 16 to 59 said they had been assaulted by a current or former partner.”   p 20
Available at
16. Headey, B., Scott, D., & de Vaus, D. (1999).  Domestic violence in Australia: Are Women and Men Equally Violent?  Australian Social Monitor 2:57-62
17. Fergusson D M, Horwood L J & Ridder E M (2005) “Partner Violence and Mental Health Outcomes in a New Zealand Birth Cohort. “ Journal of Marriage and Family 67 pp 1103–1119
18. Whitaker, Daniel J, Haileyesus, Tadesse, Swahn, Monica, & Saitzman, Linda S (2007).  “Differences in Frequency of Violence and Reported Injury between Relationships with Reciprocal and Nonreciprocal Intimate Partner Violence,” in American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 97, No. 5 pp 941-94
19. Dutton D. G. (2007).  Female Intimate Partner Violence and Developmental Trajectories of Abusive Families. International Journal of Men’s Health, 6, 54-71 (Female violence towards intimate male partners is just as severe and has similar consequences as male violence towards women.  However, most criminal justice interventions and custody evaluations assume that males are more likely to be inter-personal violence perpetrators).
21. Straus M A (1993). Physical Assaults by Wives. In Current Controversies on Family Violence, Richard J Gelles, & Donileen R Loseke (Eds). Sage Publications, Newbury Park, California
22. Sarantakos S (2004).  Deconstructing Self-Defence in Wife-to-Husband Violence.  Journal of Men’s Studies, 12 (3), 277-296. 
Also see; Lewis, A. & Sarantakos, S (2001).  Domestic Violence and the Male victim.  Nuance, #3 (The refusal to examine the prevalence of female violence against males is a “disempowerment” of men and that official policy should be changed to provide help for abused men);
See also; Linda Kelly (2003).  Disabusing the Definition of Domestic Abuse: How Women Batter Men and the role of the Feminist state.  Florida State Law Review, 30, 791-855.  (A scholarly examination of the issue of male victimization that is critical of feminist perspectives.) 
Amendt, G (2008).  I Didn’t Divorce my Kids! How Fathers Deal With family Break-Ups.  Campus Verlag Publishers (In Chapter 5 the author presents data from an internet survey of 3600 divorced German fathers.  Results reveal that 1/3 of men reported episodes of physical violence during the divorce process and 2/3 of these were initiated by ex-partners).
23. Lie, G. Y. and Gentlewarrier, S (1991). Intimate Violence in Lesbian Relationships: Discussion of Survey Findings and Practice Implications. Journal of Social Service Research, 15(1/2), 41-59.
24. Renzitti C M (1992). Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
25. Renzetti, Claire M. and Miley, C. (1996). Violence in Gay and Lesbian Partnerships. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 14(1), 1-116 (“The myth that lesbian relationships are more peaceful and egalitarian than heterosexual unions has been shattered by the reality of lesbian battering”).___
Source: Joint Parenting Association