Child sexual abuse allegations arising during divorce and custody disputes bring about many complicated challenges. An allegation of child sexual abuse is extremely serious and always will be treated as high priority.
In some cases it unfortunately happens that allegations of child sexual abuse are false or fabricated by one of the parents as a way to get custody or to punish the former spouse.
In literature the occurrence of false allegations is referred to as SAID, which stands for Sexual Allegations in Divorce Syndrome.
The following characteristics have been identified:
The accusations surface after separation and legal action begins. There is a history of family dysfunction with unresolved divorce conflict and hidden underlying issues. The accusing parent often is a hysterical personality or is angry, defensive and justifying.
The accused parent is generally passive, nurturing and lacks 'macho' characteristics. The child is typically a female under age eight. The allegations surface via the custodial parent. The mother takes the child to an 'expert' who confirms the abuse and identifies the father as the perpetrator. The court reacts to the 'expert's' information by terminating or limiting visitation. The 'expert' might not necessarily be trained sufficiently to assess and identify true child sexual abuse accurately.
Allegations of sexual abuse can become a powerful weapon in a divorce and custody dispute. In some cases the parent making the allegations might be obsessed with hatred towards the estranged spouse and want revenge.
In such a situation parental alienation syndrome can occur, with the child identifying with the vengeful parent and turning against the other parent by communicating absolute hatred and agreeing with the allegations.
False accusations of sexual abuse will develop in this situation.
However, false allegations also can occur in a case where a parent is hypersensitive to the possibility of abuse. In a bitter custody conflict, a parent may be ready to jump to premature conclusions when the child displays any suspicious behaviour suggesting the possibility of abuse. The parent may conclude easily that the other parent has abused the child sexually.
It is important to keep in mind that, according to literature, the symptoms of children whose parents are divorcing are often similar to the alleged behavioural indicators of child sexual abuse. Children who are distressed, whether by bitter conflict between parents, by physical or emotional but nonsexual abuse, or by any number of troubling events, may reflect their distress in many different ways.
In terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007, any person having knowledge of sexual offences being committed against a child must report this information to a police official immediately.
However, if the parent is overreacting or fabricating an allegation, the child's emotional health is threatened. Such a parent requires urgent intervention and should seek immediate help as his or her ability to offer the child stability and emotional security during the divorce is questionable.
False allegations of child sexual abuse can cause a lot of pain for all parties involved. Therefore I am urging parents to consult with an expert who is trained and registered to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse. Social workers and psychologist trained in forensic investigation will offer the most accurate assessment and can serve as expert witnesses in court.
Please contact SandriAppelgryn@gmail.com if you have any further questions on this matter.