False allegations of family violence and child sexual abuse potentially mislead family violence protection services and Family Law in cases of parental alienation. They create significant child safety concerns in parental alienation cases. Alienating parents risk losing parental care and responsibility for their children when the forensic investigation and judicial processes discover their false allegations.
This article argues that there should be no presumption that claims of parental alienation, family violence or child sexual abuse are valid and true and happened as claimed. Each allegation should be investigated on its individual merits. Leaving a child in the care of an allegedly abusive parent who is then exonerated is just as harmful to the child and their other parent as a truly abusive parent. The pursuit of safety leaves abused parents and children at risk. Harmful and abusive parents masquerade as protective parents and manipulate legal and protective systems already biased in their favour.
Parental Alienation: Child Psychological Maltreatment and a Form of Family Violence
Parental alienation is a form of child psychological abuse and coercive family violence (Haines, J, Matthewson, M & Turnbull, M 2019; Harman, JJ, Kruk, E & Hines, DA 2018). Family violence and sexual abuse are significant considerations in resolving disputes over children’s best interests (Jeffries, S. 2016). Parents claiming to be the target of alienation may face allegations of family violence and child sexual abuse. False and misleading claims against alienated parents are one of the hallmark indicators of parental alienation and child psychological maltreatment (Haines J et al, 2019; Lorandos, D et al, 2020).
Some parents use coercive and controlling forms of family violence and sexually abuse their children. Women and children are especially vulnerable and take protective action to ensure they and their children withdraw from legitimately harmful situations (Jeffries, S. 2016). Both mothers and fathers alienate children using specialised forms of coercive control (Harman, JJ et al., 2018).
Legal Bias: No Reciprocal Presumption about Parental Alienation
Responders to family violence and child sexual abuse argue that most such claims are valid and true (Ferguson, C., Wright, S., Death, J., Burgess, K., & Malouff, J., 2018). They, therefore, promote the policy that authorities should first take a protective position and treat such claims as though they happened. The result is punitive action against a parent claiming to be targeted for alienation ostensibly to protect their child from them. There is no reciprocal presumption that a claim of alienation is valid and true.
Many alienated parents find that police, family violence and child protection authorities refuse to take their claims of parental alienation seriously. The same authorities will take immediate action on the counter-allegation that they have perpetrated family violence and child sexual abuse even though many such claims prove to be false and deliberately misleading.
The Devasting Effects of a False Allegation
A false claim of family violence and child sexual abuse is devasting. It usually results in the immediate end to the targeted parent spending time with their children for several years, if not the end of their parent-child relationship (Haines et al., 2019; Lorandos, D & Bernet, W (eds) 2020). Targeted parents can overturn false claims, reveal the underlying alienation processes, and obtain reversal of care and responsibility at enormous cost.
Inducing Children into False Memories and Beliefs
Parents can induce children into false memories (Bernet, W, Verrocchio, MC & Korosi, S 2015; Loftus, EF 1997). Alienating parents then induce their children into making false allegations that vilify the targeted parent. Vilification isolates that parent from their social support. It constructs a criminal, violent identity in the children’s minds to influence Family Violence legislation and Family Law against the target parent (Baker, AJL, Bone, JM & Ludmer, B 2014; Baker, A. J. L., & Eichler, A. 2016; Haines, et al. 2019). The alienating parent then exploits child protective legal measures to prevent the targeted parent from spending time with their children.
What is a False Claim?
Not all claims of violence and abuse are false. A high proportion of such claims is valid, even if there is little evidence to substantiate them (Ferguson, C., Wright, S., Death, J., Burgess, K., & Malouff, J.,2018; Webb, N., Moloney, L. J., Smyth, B. M., & Murphy, R. L.,2021).
Webb et al (2021) studied 521 cases between 2012 and 2019 in which child sexual abuse was alleged. They found that in 403 contested cases where child sexual abuse could not be substantiated, judges considered 23% of the cases were “deliberately misleading”. The judges found the balance of cases to be genuine but mistaken.
False Allegations and Misleading Family Law as a Significant Alienating Behaviour
Webb et al. (2021) cited parental alienation as a factor occurring in unsubstantiated and possibly false and misleading allegations of child sexual abuse. Still, the association between parental alienation and false allegations was outside the scope of the study (Webb et al., 2021). Yet, the significant proportion of false and deliberately misleading claims cited in Webb et al., (2021 )is one of the hallmarks of alienating behaviours (Haines., J et al., 2019; Lorandos, D et al., 2020). Manipulating legal systems with false allegations and vilifying, defaming, and devaluing a parent to induce irrational fear and rejection are known parental alienation behaviours (Haines, J et al., 2019; Lorandos et al., 2020).
Family Violence and Child Sexual Abuse: Protective Parent or Alienating Parent?
Research supports the view that women and children are at greater risk of physical injury, death and psychological harm from violent, coercive and controlling forms of family violence than men. Children are especially at risk from sexual abuse. Another common view is that most perpetrators of sexual abuse are men.
The risks to women snd children are deemed to be so significant that legal systems such as Family Violence legislation and Family Law are biased toward protecting women and children as a priority over the harmful impact of a false allegation. Yet, the incidence of false and misleading claims of family violence and child sexual abuse exposes women and children making such claims to losing parental care and responsibility for their children.
In recent Family Law cases (Hadcraft & Hadcraft  FCCA 836 (16 April 2020) and MILTON and MILTON  FCWA 152 (2 September 2020), the mothers claimed to be victims of family violence. They prevented their children from spending time with their fathers, claiming they protected them from child sexual abuse. Nevertheless, the Family Court considered these parents psychologically harmful and perpetuated family violence against both child and the targeted parent. The Family Court reversed parental care and responsibility to the fathers.
Using False Beliefs and Allegations to Construct False Memeories
Inducing children into false beliefs or constructing false memories of abusive events are known examples of parental alienation behaviours (Baker, AJL & Darnall DC 2006; Baker et al., 2016). Lorandos et al. (2020) provide examples of false allegations in family law cases in the USA that induce an unfounded belief about a parent in the children that psychologically harms their children.
In Hadcraft & Hadcraft  FCCA 836 (16 April 2020) and MILTON and MILTON  FCWA 152 (2 September 2020), Family Law considered that the mother’s belief that the fathers were dangerous, violent and had sexually abused the children’s were false and exposed the children to the ongoing risk of psychological harm.
The Gender Dimension to False Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse
In the cases cited here, the judges determined that the mothers are alienating, abusive parents and the fathers and their children are alienated and subjected to family violence. The judges dismiss claims of family violence and child sexual abuse and asses there is no risk to the children.
Webb et al (2021) address the perception that “vindictive mothers” make allegations of child sexual abuse because they are “determined to remove fathers from the […] lives of their children”. This description fits the parental alienation definition insofar as research supports nearly equal levels of alienating behaviours by mothers and fathers. Most, but not all, such allegations are made by mothers claiming to protect their children. Most of these claims are valid even if unsubstantiated, and it is possible to be mistaken about a genuine claim (Webb et al, 2021).
Nonetheless, Webb et al (2020) concluded that judges found a significant proportion (23% of contested claims) of child sexual abuse claims were “deliberately misleading”. The meaning of “deliberately misleading” is a claim designed to influence judges to exclude innocent parents from their children’s lives. It is a form of abuse and a legal process of abuse.
False Allegations as a Factor in Reversing Parental care and Responsibility
A deliberately misleading and false claim of child sexual abuse may influence a judicial decision to reverse parental care and responsibility to the accused parent when it is discovered. Webb et al (2021) found that “deliberately misleading” allegations of child sexual abuse were the reason Judges cited to reverse care and responsibility in 42% of studied cases (Webb et al, 2021).
Alienating fathers also falsely claim that mothers have serious mental health issues that make them dangerous and neglectful to their children (Hains et al., 2019;Lorandos et al., 2020). Such claims may also be without foundation and have similar harmful effects on children. So far, there is no study about false and deliberately misleading claims that fathers make.
Some fathers deny verified claims of family violence and child sexual abuse, despite evidence that supports the claim. These fathers do not present as authentic or genuine and may remain dangerous to their children. Regrettably, it is a similar story to women in some cases.
Parental Alienation is a Narrative One Parent Controls
Alienation is a class of narratives that unjustly stigmatise a parent without foundation as the basis to exclude them. These narratives are then normalised in family relationships as a condition of family membership (Korosi, S. 2021). For example, calling a parent by their first name becomes an accepted family culture.
Both mothers and fathers who alienate their children fabricate an alternate reality into which they coerce their children. They induce the children into accepting it as truth and a condition of having a relationship with them.
Alienating parents in these cases discussed here went beyond protective parenting. They devalued and stigmatised the rejected parent, encouraged the children to reinterpret innocent events as abusive, made them deny any history of a loving relationship with their rejected parent, and corrupted the parent-child relationship (Haines et al., 2019; Korosi, S. 2021).
Narrative Credibility as a Factor
Forensic detail, facts and independent witness accounts may be scarce in claims of family violence, child sexual abuse and parental alienation. The nature of the evidence for these presentations may lie in narratives and behavioural presentations (Haines et al., 2019; Harman et al., 2018; Korosi, S., 2021)
Parental alienation is a unique form of discursive abuse delivered by narratives entraining vilification and exclusion (Korosi, S. 2021). Investigators must rely on such narratives, which are especially vulnerable to the credibility of the person giving them. Claims of family violence and child sexual abuse occurring together with alienating behaviours on the part of the alleged victim also raise immediate concerns about the credibility of the victim and their claims.
Equal Presumption That All Claims Should Be Investigated
Investigators should equally consider claims of family violence, child sexual abuse and parental alienation substantiated with narrative and behavioural evidence as serious matters affecting children’s safety and warranting investigation. Even unsubstantiated claims should be investigated because of the challenges in identifying harmful and abusive narratives. An unsubstantiated claim does not mean it is a false claim. When such substantiated or unsubstantiated claims occur without identified alienation behaviours, they should be investigated as possibly valid claims.
A reversal of care and responsibility is likely where a judge decides that a claim is false or deliberately misleading or where an alleging parent rigidly maintains an allegation despite a finding against its truth.
Conclusion: Factors to Consider about Possible False Allegations
A significant proportion of unsubstantiated claims of child sexual abuse may be false to mislead legal processes and to alienate a child from an innocent parent.
Assuming that a claim is true simply because a parent or a child says so, risks exposing the child to a harmful, abusive parent disguised as a protective parent. Similarly, one parent’s unsubstantiated claims of parental alienation occurring with substantiated family violence or child sexual abuse claims should also be considered as possibly false, misleading allegations of parental alienation to defeat valid violence or abuse claims.
Family violence and child sexual abuse claims that occur together with validated parental alienation behaviours warrant consideration as possible false allegations for the purpose of alienation (Haines et al. 2019; Lorandos, D & Bernet, W (eds) 2020; Saini, M, Laajasalo, T & Platt; S 2020). False, malicious or deliberately misleading claims are examples of alienating narratives and behaviours designed to vilify a targeted parent and eliminate them.
Without triaging the possibility of psychological maltreatment by alienation, child protective action risks harming the children by preempting the rupture of their relationship with a possibly beneficial targeted parent. This type of presentation warrants further research.
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