As a child psychologist who treats abused children, I have become familiar with dozens of children who have been ordered by courts to live with or spend significant time with parents who are sexually abusing them. In addition, a growing number of parents desperate to protect their children are contacting the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence, where I serve as executive vice president. In case after case, the parent who brings the allegation to light is accused of making it up, the child not believed, and in spite of compelling evidence along with numerous disclosures to multiple professionals, the children are forced against their will to live with the abusers. These children suffer the deep demoralization of knowing that there is no one they can count on, no one who will protect them from violence and exploitation.
As one 11-year-old girl said to me in a particularly poignant therapy session, a year after achieving safety from years of sexual torture at her father's home, “We don't need to work on anger towards my father, I know he is a child molester, but what about my anger towards the Judge who made me live there after I told him in chambers how bad it was! How will I ever get over that?”
While the problem has been covered by the occasional newspaper article, the book From Madness to Mutiny is the first scholarly and comprehensive study to date of the phenomenon. The book documents case after case where accusations of sexual abuse resulted in forced contact with the alleged abuser, and sometimes complete termination of parental contact with a loving parent who seeks only to protect the child.
The book's authors, Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher, make this madness comprehensible by exposing the system of closed logic, self-reinforcing ideas, and the scientific fallacies employed to justify placing children with the person they most fear. The authors also examine the professionals who have betrayed their ethical responsibilities by joining in the madness. For instance, chapters are devoted to the judges (Robed Rage), the law guardians (Lawless Law Guardians) the social service agencies (Anti-Social Services) and the mental health professionals (Mental Health Quackery) who collude either wittingly or unwittingly in this conspiracy against abused children.
Neustein and Lesher describe how rather than being rescued by the social agencies mandated to care for them, abused children were instead further victimized. As a result, from the child's viewpoint, the criminal acts of his or her perpetrator are now sanctioned by societal authority figures including lawyers, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and judges. In some cases court orders were written that expressly interfered with the possibility that any help could ever be received. For instance, some judges enacted orders forbidding any professionals from contacting social service authorities to report new allegations of abuse.
As someone who has long struggled to understand how family courts in our nation could fail children so completely, I found the book very helpful. I was particularly intrigued with the authors' explanation of how “maternal fitness” takes on a new definition within the family court context and comes to refer to the mother's behavior as a “litigant” rather than her ability to parent. The authors also provide a new perspective on judicial court orders noting that they are often used as “explicative transactions” that serve to bolster the role or authority of the judge rather than to mete out justice.
The book closes with the authors' recommendations for how to reform the family court system. Recommendations include increasing the status and importance of family court, emphasizing the importance of due process rights, improving judicial understanding of child sexual abuse, and avoidance of mental health labels that obscure the truth.
For abused children and protective parents, the reforms needed cannot come quickly enough. This book is essential reading for any health or mental health professional or legal advocate for children. Only by understanding the complexities of court sanctioned child abuse, can we work together as a society to stop it. I have begun to send the book to colleagues, friends, and professionals, and I urge every professional dedicated to child welfare to read this book and share it with professionals and lawmakers within your own jurisdiction.
Dr. Joyanna Silberg is the Executive Vice-President of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence <>. She is also co-editor of Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors (Haworth Press), and editor of The Dissociative Child (Sidran Press). She presents workshop nationally and internationally on treating traumatized children and protecting children in the court system. She has a private practice in Baltimore, Maryland.