The Family Court.: Complicit.
Photo Courtesy of: Hinch archives
THE NEWSPAPER HEADLINE sadly, but neatly, sums up a problem that is cruelly epidemic in this country:
SEX ABUSE CASE REVEALS FAMILY COURT FAILINGS.
That headline could apply to dozens of cases I have in my bulging ‘Cries For Help’ file. And I cringe at the number of times recently I have had to write to victims and explain that Family Court (and DHS) restrictions prevent journalists from giving names and details of specific cases where child sex abuse victims have been handed back into the care of convicted sex offenders.
I’ve managed to detail some of those cases and I know I sail close to the wind with my record of jail, fines and community service.
(Even in yesterday’s editorial on convicted sex offender Adam Wynne-Jenkins, who pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual assault charges involving a 13-year-old girl, I omitted to mention that the separated father of four still has supervised access to his young children and there are doubts as to how supervised that access is.)
That headline in The Australian concerned a tragic case in Western Australia where 17-year-old Abbey (last name withheld) committed suicide after her father, a convicted paedophile, was granted access to his children on his release from prison.
anorexic and self-harming
In 2002, Abbey’s father was charged with sexually assaulting Abbey’s best friend who was eight-years-old at the time.
He was convicted in 2005, sentenced to four years jail, served two and, on his release, brazenly demanded access to his children. The Family Court agreed. No probs.
It turns out that a troubled daughter, now anorexic and self-harming, wrote to her father in 2010 begging him to acknowledge that he had also done to her on sleepovers what he had done to her best friend, starting when she was three.
‘I cannot believe that my own father would lie to me for my whole life and just pretend like everything is OK. I will not wait any longer for my psychopathic father to tell the truth, I have already given you more than 10 years … I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t been destroyed by your lies’.
Abbey then told her mother. She went to the Family Court and the Police.
‘In my attempts to protect my children, I was treated as a hysterical woman by the Family Court, even though [the father] had been charged with child sexual offences at the time. I was made to look like a vindictive wife instead of what I was, a protective mother’.
finally believed her
That story sounds so familiar to me. It is shamefully prevalent in the Family Court and in the Department of (so-called) Human Services around Australia.
In Abbey’s case, somebody finally believed her.
Abbey was assessed by police and Western Australia’s Department of Child Protection and Abbey’s Mum received a letter which said in part:
‘The investigation has found that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that Abbey has been harmed and it is likely that [Abbey’s younger sister] has been harmed.
‘The investigation has also considered who may have harmed Abbey. The department has assessed that [Abbey’s father] has harmed Abbey and is at risk of harming [Abbey’s younger sister] if they were to have unsupervised contact.’
The letter was sent ten days after Abbey killed herself.
Abbey’s mother told the Weekend Australian: ‘I am very upset this letter came after Abbey’s death. I believe it would have helped if Abbey had received something like that showing that a person in an official capacity believed her, but nothing came before she took her life. It was very insensitive. The letter did not even acknowledge Abbey’s death’.
Some good may belatedly follow Abbey’s tragic death.
Bravehearts has launched a campaign in her name to encourage victims of Family Court callousness, neglect or indifference, to come forward.
Founder Hetty Johnston said: ‘The Family Law Court continually demonstrates profound ignorance and/or indifference in putting our children in danger so consistently’.
Called Abbey’s Project the campaign wants to collect detailed statements from people who have been through ‘instances where deficiencies in the Family Court practices, policies and procedures have resulted in children being assaulted and placed at serious risk of sexual harm.’
A report will then be submitted to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault.
Johnston hopes Abbey’s Project will spark a broader inquiry into the operations of the Family Court.
Like the Royal Commission, it is decades overdue