In 1993 alone, there were over 2.9 million reports of child abuse. Many of these were sex abuse allegations made by women who want to have the upper hand in divorce cases. It is estimated that there are now over ten million men in the US who have been accused of child abuse.
The following letter by Michelle Etlin makes the strongest possible case for keeping fathers accused of sex abuse away from their children.
Immediately following this letter is a response from Gordon S. Little, who makes a realistic and effective rebuttal to Ms. Etlin’s position. How many angry men does it take to change the system? Are ten million enough?
Judy Harrison, co-convenor of the Australian & New Zealand Association of Children’s Access Services asks to hear views about the possible roles and limitations of supervised visitation services in cases involving domestic violence or alleged or actual sexual abuse.
I would like to offer the powerful words of Michelle Etlin (Mothers Opposing Misogynist Systems Washington, DC) to the entire list (*starred text*=italics):
What is Visitation?
by Michelle Etlin
(Journal of the Child Custody Task Group of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism vol. 4, 14 (1992).
What are the dynamics of “visitation,” the various degrees of “visitation,” and “access” with respect to a child who has been molested? [I think the word “access” is more accurate, since it really does semantically imply the reality, that is, the adult has *access to the child,* much as if the child were a prostitute or a service-provider or a piece of property to which that adult has rights.] It is commonly assumed that a child *must* visit her father, even if he has molested her, perhaps with some safeguard in place (for a brief time, at least) to prevent him from molesting her again.
What happens in our courts in the general case of a father accused of sexual abuse of his own biological or legal offspring? First, perpetrators are routinely advised by their lawyers to immediately sue for custody of the child when an accusation is made, so they can cast the problem as a “false allegation made to gain advantage in a custody dispute.” The only reason this did not work for H was that he was the step-father, not the biological father, of D, so he couldn’t sue for custody. Still, it was essential for his strategy that he not only act as if his victim was his own child, but as if the accusation was precipitated by divorce. Most important, he had to visit the victim, for two reasons: one, he could make contact with D to intimidate her so she would recant her allegation; and two, as long as he acted like a father and the mother wanted to prevent him from visiting, the allegations could be blamed on the mother (part of a custody/visitation battle) and denied.
At any point between revelation of the abuse and the final outcome of all court proceedings, visitation between a child and her named molester is almost a guarantee that the child will recant and the molester’s version of the situation will dominate. Since, however, no charges have been proven against the molester during this period of time, access to the alleged victim is seen as his absolute right.
Let us examine the effects of visitation, unsupervised or supervised, upon a child who has been molested by a father or father figure.^1 First, I will consider unsupervised visitation. Even a five-minute unsupervised visit with the abuser (as long as he has denied the abuse) will be fatal to any attempt the child might make in the future to defend herself, in court, with social services, or in person. Obviously, since this visit has been permitted and she has been exposed to unsupervised contact with the abuser, there will never again be a guarantee that she will not be again turned over to his tender mercies, should she persist in pursuing her allegations. Any shred of trust she might have had in the system being able or even interested in protecting her is annihilated in an instant. All a molester needs to do with *one minute alone with that child* is to say, “see, you’re here with me alone. If you continue to *lie about me like your mother told you to do,* then next time we are alone — and there will be a next time — you’ll be sorry.”
If this scene seems extreme, ask yourself if a man who has already molested a child and called her a liar would have any problem inflicting this kind of intimidation on her. Ask also whether this kind of intimidation is believable when we think, for instance, about interactions between people involved in organized crime. They have no more to lose than a molester, if his victim is believed. Yet this sort of criminal coercion is believable to us when we attribute it to members of a brutal semi-foreign system we call “the family” — meaning the Mafia. We’re used to seeing them on TV intimidating and terrorizing their prey and each other. We are not used to seeing, on TV or elsewhere, a child abuser acting this way with his own biological child. But no member of the Mafia is under more control by his Don than a child is under control by her abuser parent.
What, then, can be expected from supervised visitation with a molester who does not admit what he has done, and thus wants his victim’s revelations to be disbelieved? First of all, supervised visitation sets up a paradigm for the child to follow. In the past, contact between the abuser and victim was unsupervised, and the abuser did something he made the child feel *part of.* The primary thought in a child’s mind when she is being molested is — *how should she act?* Then she must carefully design how she should act *every single minute after being molested, because she never feels normal and natural again.* Mark these words: nothing, nothing, ever feels normal and natural again for a child who has been molested. So, when a supervised visit occurs, the supervisor is seen as a powerful, authoritative figure defining — *not how the abuser should act but how the child must act.* This is the case because a child is not accustomed to anyone defining adult behavior (especially if she has been molested, and obviously adult behavior is completely unpredictable and uncontrollable and out of bounds) — she’s used to adults defining children’s behavior. Therefore, a visitation supervisor is perceived by a child as someone who lets her know what interactions are acceptable and valid — for her. Since the supervisor does not discuss the parent’s abusive actions with him and the child, the child learns they are not to be discussed. Since the supervisor does not display outrage and anger toward the adult, the child learns they are not acceptable. Since the supervisor covers over the reality of this enforced access, and pretends things are normal, the child’s reality is altered and her need to “pretend normal” is insidiously reinforced. Since the supervisor facilitates the availability of the child for the pleasant pastime of the adult, the child’s belief in her own status as a commodity — as a prostitute, really — is sealed.
Supervisors are often members of the abuser’s family, friends, allies, or other persons completely acceptable to and supportive of him. This reinforces in the child’s mind not only the father’s right of access to her but the apparent approval of the molester and his behavior by other adults. Visitation supervisors who are cordial, at least, and encouraging, at most, of the molester’s parental role with the child become major forces to be considered by her in deciding how to conduct herself. If the supervisors are not family and friends of the molester but, rather, official persons such as social workers, they are seen in the child’s mind as defining how she is to behave in the presence of other official persons (social workers, prosecutor-interviewers, police, judges, lawyers, courts). Since the visitation supervisors uniformly adopt a bland and *accommodating attitude* toward the molester, *as if nothing happened,* this is a powerful message to the child that when she is with such authoritative and official persons, she is required to do likewise.
Supervised visits with a molester also set up a clear preference for the *pretend good visit* interaction and the fake smile, something that causes rapid psychological deterioration in any child who has already suffered child sexual abuse. During visits, the supervisor acts as if nothing had happened wrong between father and child, and as if the father loves the child and the extra person is there to enforce a certain kind of protocol upon, and to bless, the interaction. The protocol is cool, dishonest, fraudulent and deadly. The supervisor invariably acts in a polite and *accommodating manner* to the father, setting an example for the child as to what is socially acceptable in the circumstances. What this does to the child’s fragile psyche is to remove permission from the child to be angry, withdrawn, afraid or honest about her feelings. She is supposed to, and does, act as if the offense had not occurred — returning her to the condition she suffered during the abuse. At worst, every supervised visit is an emotional replay of the disassociative feelings of being molested; at best, every supervised visit tells the child, very clearly: ACCOMMODATE THE ABUSE! You are to pretend nothing happened because Daddy pretends nothing happened and even this stranger who has authority agrees that *we all pretend nothing happened.* This is the correct way for everyone to behave.
Yes, *supervised visitation,* in its own subtle psycho-tyrannical manner, *is more invalidating to the child victim* than any other form of coercion.
Any clear thinker must realize that pleasant socially-approved contact with a person who has not only grievously injured a child but who also has denied he did so and called the child a liar, is contraindicated if we truly wish to support the victim-child’s mental health and emotional strength, and particularly if we look forward to her being able to testify, continue to heal, and/or defend herself in the future.
The only non-harmful supervised visit I can imagine between a molested child and her molester would go like this: the supervisor would first tell the child that nobody’s comfort or feelings are important except the child’s, and that if she is uncomfortable, the visit will end instantly. The molester would enter the room and the visitation supervisor would turn to the molester and say, “do you admit that you hurt [the child]?” If he denied it, the supervisor would turn to the child and say, “do you feel comfortable?” If the answer was no, that would end the visit. Anything else or further is invariably and undeniably invalidating, because the only real message that should be given to the molester in denial is this: your denial is not acceptable or accepted. The child’s revelation is 100 percent acceptable and accepted. She has every right to be angry and you have no right to interfere and most important, you have no *”right” of access to her.*
Incidentally, if we were not all half brain-washed by the nonsense that is published about children and best interests, we would realize that it would be crazy-making to entertain a child and her molester with a smile on, making small talk and not mentioning the little “problem,” rather than saying to him, in her presence, “HOW DARE YOU EXPECT HER TO PLAY WITH YOU WHEN YOU MOLESTED HER AND REFUSED TO EVEN APOLOGIZE! GET OUT!”
Therefore, any visitation with a molester is abuse of the child unless and until the child has healed from the trauma and genuinely *wants contact* for her own reasons, on her own terms, and in her own time. That would occur, if at all, completely outside the issue of “parental rights.” The only thing visitation can do, if it is requested by the parent rather than the child, is to oppress and psychologically damage the child. The only thing visitation between a victim-child and her perpetrator can do is to further empower the abuser to silence the child. Unsupervised visitation between an indicted molester and his named victim is a clear opportunity for the accused criminal to threaten the witness. *Visitation is the key to re- establishing control over the victim child and, in the context of a criminal proceeding, it is the key to breaking down the child witness.*
The dynamics of the H case illustrate the model for *litigation,* as a “custody battle,” *of the right to rape* — that is, the prototypical and omnipotent father’s right. A father, any father, has an undeniable, indeed inalienable right to access to his biological property. This case illustrates how paraphiliac convicted child molester H’s right to rape was litigated and enforced.
^1 I am aware that there are female molesters and male victims. The majority of cases with a single perpetrator, however, are still father/daughter incest cases. I am using this for ease of reference in this article, bearing in mind that our language does not at present have a means for me to express these ideas with greater gender neutrality without sacrificing readability.
——- A crisis line for men ——-
807 Brazos, Suite 315 : Austin, Texas 78701
Supervised by the Men’s Health Network : Washington, D.C. Response:
Date: Tue, 06 Feb 96 18:30:05 MST From: G.Little@az05.bull.com
Thanks for forwarding this. I certainly did find it of interest. The anti-male bias of Ms. Etlin’s article sticks out a mile. Bias is even embedded in the name of her organization, which labels anything it’s opposed to as “misogynist.”
The most glaring prejudice is that the article is about “allegations” of and fathers “accused” of child sexual abuse, but proceeds to a lengthy discussion where Etlin assumes without question that the allegations are true. This is in spite of the enormous prevalence of lying about “sexual abuse” by mothers in divorce cases, lawyers who condone the practice, and a whole bureaucracy set up to encourage it. All of them profit both personally and financially from false accusations. In Etlin’s mind, a mere allegation from a woman with clear incentives to lie is never challenged, while men by contrast are guilty until proven innocent.
Unlike Etlin, I will be fair and admit that a *few* fathers do sexually abuse daughters — though they still do it seven times less often than casual boyfriends introduced into a child’s home by the mother. So let’s consider first the case where the father is guilty. Even then, all of Ms. Etlin’s exaggerated and tortuous argument about “behavior defining” messages the child receives is insignificant against the fact that visitation is “supervised” in the first place.
This is simply abnormal, and the child knows it. Parents are trusted figures in the home who are routinely alone with their own children. The very presence of a “supervisor” who is there all the time, watching Daddy like a hawk, sends the child a clear message that “Daddy is not to be trusted” — whether or not this is an “appropriate” time to discuss why.
Notice how Etlin’s proposal for “the only non-harmful supervised visit [she] can imagine” is deliberately contrived to manipulate the child into saying something that can be further held against the father. Imagine a bewildered and frightened little girl (divorce itself is frightening to a child) whose father had never been anything but a normal loving parent to her. Substituting the word “father” for Etlin’s word “molester”:
The father would enter the room and the visitation supervisor would turn to the father and say, “do you admit that you hurt [the child]?” If he denied it, the supervisor would turn to the child and say, “do you feel comfortable?”
This is laughable. How “comfortable” could a child possibly feel in the face of such unfathomable, bizarre, and threatening goings-on?
Etlin shows an exaggerated concern about possible harm done to a child by even a few minutes of supervised visitation. She shows no concern whatever about all the rest of the days the child spends alone with her mother — months of opportunity for an unscrupulous or spiteful woman to poison the child’s mind against the father and plant false ideas in the child’s head. Or about the harm that can do to a child.
Etlin will surely agree that when children are sexually abused in the home, the psychological damage is greatly compounded by the conspiracy of denial that surrounds the child. The child is forced to sustain a false reality. Adults within the family who should be the most trusted protectors of the child appear as co-betrayers, distorting the child’s entire view of people, and of the world.
Yet only 3% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by biological fathers (which means far fewer than 3% of fathers are involved). Against this, consider the high rate of divorce. What is the prevalence of false abuse accusations within divorce — given the finding that nearly half of all formal complaints of rape are false? When a false accusation is made, a confused child is forced not only to deal with the torn loyalties of divorce, but to sustain another false reality. Not just her mother, but many adult authority figures outside the home, from doctors to lawyers to the “supervisor,” conspire to give spurious legitimacy to one woman’s tale of something the child knows never happened.
Against all this the falsely accused father stands alone, especially from the child’s viewpoint. It’s not only a gross injustice against many fathers. It’s also a severe form of emotional child abuse in itself, which cannot help but do lasting psychological damage. Its scope may even be worse than the problem we originally set out to solve. Although this form of child abuse is instigated chiefly by women, in a civilized society it’s all the more outrageous for being institutionalized by government.
I’ve discussed the case of accused fathers because that’s what Etlin did. We can decide for ourselves whether or not her final statement is just an excuse for anti-male prejudice in her language:
I am aware that there are female molesters and male victims. The majority of cases with a single perpetrator, however, are still father/daughter incest cases. I am using this for ease of reference in this article, bearing in mind that our language does not at present have a means for me to express these ideas with greater gender neutrality without sacrificing readability.
She’s quite right that gender neutral language sacrifices readability. And ease of writing, and brevity and clarity as well. I’m sorely tempted to take her excuse at face value, in spite of its patent flimsiness. If we all agree with her, we can all go back to saying “he” and “his” and “chairman” again. Millions of whiny voices complaining about purported “gender bias” in language will instantly and forever shut up. What a relief that would be!
Gordon S. Little (G.Little@bull.com)