Dr Freda Briggs AO, Emeritus Professor in Child Development, University of South Australia.
Question: Why did you choose to participate in the National Child Protection Alliance and Justice for Children's event, The Silenced Epidemic?
Dr Freda Briggs: I was invited and thought it was worthwhile as we need to publicise what is happening to young children who have been sexually abused by their fathers and their mothers have sought help from the Family Court because the victims are too young to give evidence in the Criminal Court system.
Question: What results did you see from the forum?
Dr Freda Briggs: Nothing much because there were only two Politicians represented and what is needed is a massive reform which can only come from Politicians, many of whom (men) continue to believe that mothers concoct allegations of abuse to spite their former partners. This is despite research evidence to the contrary. Would any mother sell her house to pay legal bills, simply to spite the father? I don't think so… And yet, I have met dozens of women who have paid from $350,000 to over $1m to lawyers in their unsuccessful efforts to protect their children.
Question: Could you please talk about how the Family Law Courts have failed to protect Australian children from the exploitation of a $600 million Australian child pornography industry?
Dr Freda Briggs: I have been contacted by several mothers whose children have been used for the manufacture of pornography by their fathers and their friends. The children have given heart wrenching descriptions on tape; they have drawn pictures of themselves lying on beds surrounded by cameras with men standing watching. Quite simply state services don't want to get involved when there is a case in the Family Court or a court order exists.
In Sydney I met several state Politicians and Ministers who said that Doctors and Police are not allowed to investigate these cases and we should blame Canberra and Family Law. We went to see the Commissioner for Children who said that the belief is erroneous, so we then contacted Minister Pru Goward as this belief obviously needs to be rectified. The CEO of Families SA in South Australia told me that her department could only intervene if it was a matter of life and death. Some mothers take their children to small country hospitals where doctors are not qualified to assess child sex abuse cases. The consequences is that if no one at state level is confirming that abuse is occurring, the mother is labeled as delusional, suffering from Borderline Personality or Compulsive Disorders – she is then ordered to have treatment (even though she usually isn't mentally ill) and the children are handed to the father, who they reported for abusing them.
Question: What does the Australian Family Law Courts need to do, to make a change?
Dr Freda Briggs: In the first instance, dispense with the service of court advisers who are not qualified to assess mothers and children or diagnose mental illness. The court employs people as psychologists who, according to the authorities, would not be allowed to describe themselves as psychologists outside the court system. Some are only three year trained. One has a Post Graduate Diploma, one worked in Corrections as a Social Worker. Even a Policewoman wrote that the mother was delusional and that was accepted by the court.
The Clinical Psychologist' Association states that we have the lowest standards in the Western World. You would not be assessed as mentally ill from a one hour interview and even if you were mentally ill, your children would not be removed automatically, the courts argue that the mothers think their children have been abused when they haven't so they are causing emotional abuse. The trauma caused by sexual abuse and being abandoned by the one person who believed them isn't even considered and the children have no voice.
Second, Judges should be educated in the dynamics of child sexual abuse, the grooming methods used to seduce and control children and those responsible for their care. The effects of abuse on children, what constitutes normal vs abnormal development and much more. The result being that some are unable to differentiate good from bad advice. They are only educated in Family Law.
Third, Children's Independent Lawyers (ICLs) do not have to be independent nor do they have to even see the children they represent before they tell the judge what is in the children's best interests, they too only have degrees in Law. As a consequence some are blatantly on the side of fathers and mislead the court.
Fourth, successive Chief Justices have said that the Family Court was not indented to judge child abuse cases. It is not equipped to investigate them and yet much of the court's time is now spent on them. Chief Justice Nicholson is on record as assaying that there should be a special court. The National Child Protection Alliance agrees and suggests that cases should be heard by an expert panel assisted by a Legal Officer and all the evidence should be explored. Ironically that is the system I worked in, in London in the 1950's. Of course the legal profession would object because the Family Court is a gold mine.
Question: How can Australians support the National Child Protection Alliance?
Dr Freda Briggs: By lobbying federal politicans who appear to be blissfully unaware that there is a problem because the parents who lose their children turn to state politicians who can do nothing other than refer them to me. When I tell them to inform their Federal MP and Senators, most don't even know who they are.
Question: How can parents protect their children from the Australian child pornography industry?
Dr Freda Briggs: They can't if they are very young and the parent is the one involved because the Family Court won't protect them and police will only be interested if they have a search warrant and find the pornographic material. It is a highly lucrative business and especially attracts drug addicts.
Question: What are your hopes, for the future?
Dr Freda Briggs: Unless we can remove child abuse cases from the Family Court (in the long term) and educate Judges, only employ experienced Clinical Psychologists as assessors and get rid of Children's Independent Lawyers the future for these children will be bleak as there is a high correlation between sexual abuse and later mental illness, suicide, drug abuse, relationship breakdown and of course some of the children will become sex offenders and create another generation of victims.
Interview by Brooke Hunter