The battle for fathers’ and mothers’ equality in family courts is partly about changing laws. Many laws overtly discriminate against fathers. Those include adoption laws and paternity fraud laws. Other laws are overtly gender neutral, but their application is misandric. There’s no custody law in the country that apparently treats mothers and fathers differently, but it’s no secret that fathers get the short end of the custody stick.
That strongly suggests that there’s something more than law that needs to be changed before fathers and mothers will truly be equal in child custody matters. That ‘something more’ is our cultural view of men and women, boys and girls. I’ve commented many times that our cultural tendency to see women as innocent and passive, and men as corrupt and active is not only sexist, but factually wrong.
But, as in so many areas, cultural mythology of long standing is slow to fall in the face of contradictory facts. We humans have a way of accepting a narrative as true and then turning a blind eye to facts that contradict the narrative. Hence the battle between science and mythology that’s been a fixture of human history since the beginning of the written word.
That battle is alive and well in the family courts of this and many other countries. One of the reasons fathers lose so often in family courts is the mythology that dominates our understanding of men and women, boys and girls. Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice; so, it seems are mothers in custody battles.
But, like waves against a rocky shoreline, the blows of science gradually erode the edifice of the misandric cultural narrative that pretends that women, particularly mothers, don’t harm children and that only men, particularly fathers, do. Until that science achieves some sort of critical mass, the behavior of our all-too-human family court judges is unlikely to change.
So we welcome every bit of science that gives us the truth about male and female behavior. We welcome as well, those journalists and commentators who are brave enough to speak that truth to the entrenched interests who would continue the radically sexist status quo.
Barbara Kay is one such journalist and here’s her latest (National Post, 10/12/11). Kay’s specific topic is the science on the sexual abuse of children. Many of her revelations are eye-popping.
Most rapists were subjected to some form of sexual abuse in childhood. A startling amount is perpetrated by females. Peer-reviewed studies conclude that between 60% to 80% of “rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men” were sexually abused by a female.
And yet it is commonly understood that, except in rare cases, women don’t harbour such impulses. As McGill professor of social work Myriam Denov, who did her PhD thesis on female sex offenders, notes, as recently as 1984, a study proclaimed that “pedophilia does not exist at all in women.”
It exists in spades. According to a 2004 U.S. Department of Education mass study of university students, 57% of students reporting child sexual abuse cited a male offender, and 42% reported a female offender. Interestingly, 65% of the survivors of female abuse who opened up to a therapist, doctor or other professional were not believed on their first disclosure. Overall, 86% of those who tried to tell anyone at all about their experiences were not believed.
According to a 1996 report from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), about 25% of child sexual abuse is committed by women, but that figure may be low, because survivors are far more conflicted and shamed in admitting abuse by their mothers than by fathers. In one study of 17,337 survivors of childhood sexual abuse, 23% reported a female-only perpetrator and 22% reported both male and female. A U.S. Department of Justice report finds that, in 2008, 95% of all youths reporting sexual misconduct by staff member in state juvenile facilities said their victimization experiences included victimization by female personnel, who made up 42% of the staff.
Public acknowledgement of female sex abuse remains a social taboo. BBC Radio 4 broadcast a film called When Girls Do It, following which a TV show, This Morning, opened its lines to survivors of female sex abuse. The studio was overwhelmed by over 1,000 calls, 90% women, none of whom had ever before disclosed their secrets.
Dr. Paul Fedoroff, a forensic psychiatrist and co-director of the Sexual Behaviors Clinic at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, says that “there are a lot of women who do sexually abuse children, but they get away with it.”
I would add that the same DOJ study of juvenile correctional facilities in the U.S. found that female inmates (11.2%) were four times as likely to report sexual abuse by another inmate as were male inmates (2.7%).
Her points are several, but most importantly Kay highlights not only the facts of female sexual aggression against children, but our resistance to acknowledging it. Like men and boys, the vast majority of women and girls don’t sexually abuse children. But, women and girls make up an astonishingly high percentage of people who do.
And as Kay points out, because we consign children to the care of women and girls far more than we do to men or boys, we’re essentially giving those who do abuse, easy access to their victims. We also give them a curtain to hide their abuse. That curtain is our own mythology, carefully perpetuated by pop culture and the news media, that “pedophilia does not exist at all in women.”
Clearly, that’s an anti-male bias that rears its ugly head in family courts as well as elsewhere. Mere allegations of child sexual abuse made against a father are sufficient to sideline him as a parent for months at the very least, while investigations are done.
Not surprisingly, when sexually abused children grow up, they tend towards sexual aggression themselves. And while sexually abused boys may grow into men who sexually abuse women, sexually abused girls seem to continue abusing children.
Obviously, there’s no reason for that to stop as long as we refuse to acknowledge the problem.
Even mental-health professionals and social service agencies avoid facing up to the phenomenon. I spoke at length with an adult survivor of a mother’s sadistic sex abuse. “Nina,” not her real name, told me that although she has attempted many times to deal with her past therapeutically, “I have never found any social service agency willing to acknowledge this or speak about it.”
Victorian chivalry and 21st-century feminism would seem to make strange bedfellows, but in their equally unrealistic characterization of women as the always “gentler sex,” they condemn both male and female victims of female-perpetrated abuse to silence and second-class social status.
To err is human. Are women fully human? Then stop treating them like saints or permanent moral infants.
Until we do, children will continue to lose their fathers to divorce in a process ballyhooed far and wide as being in “the best interests of the child.”
Thanks to Paulette for the heads-up.