The online magazine 100 Reporters recently published an article that addresses one of the most underestimated problems in the US Family Court system. According to an investigation covered by the article, sexually abusive parents receive custody or visitation rights of children in legal battles far too often.
The investigation gathered interviews from 30 different families in nine different states over the course of two years.
Additionally, the article reveals terrifying statistics showing that from 2008 to 2016, “58 children were killed by custodial parents after family courts around the country ignored abuse allegations,” based on a compilation of news articles by the Center of Judicial Excellence (CJE).
Kathleen Russell, executive director of the CJE, states “Protective parents are asking the authorities to step in and protect their children and they’re not.” Instead, Russell claims, “The authorities are blaming the protective parents and pathologizing them, and their kids are ending up dead.”
The Specific Problem in Courtrooms
The article analyzes courtroom methods that may lead to such cases of child endangerment. The court is supposed to address what is in the best interest of the child when such abuse claims are made. However, according to former Louisiana special district attorney assistant Richard Ducote, courtrooms have become focused “with the reduction of conflict [within the family] and getting along, which is good unless there is someone you need to protect the child from.”
Ducote claims that courtrooms sometimes ignore evidence of abuse to have a case come to a quick resolution. “You can take the same amount of evidence to criminal court and a jury will convict beyond a reasonable doubt, and the appellate court will uphold the conviction and the sentence.”
The problem goes heavily under analysed, according to the article. No federal agency tracks the number of children that are subjected to custody or visitation from their abusers, and court records are often sealed in such cases which causes the public to be largely unaware of the problem. Although the article refers to a statistic generated from the Journal of Family Psychology that shows that “anywhere between 10 and 39 percent of abusers are awarded primary or shared custody of their children.”