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Changes in working with nonoffending guardians in sexual abuse

Changes in working with nonoffending guardians in sexual abuse The two most important recommendations regarding nonoffending guardians are: (a) to stop charging mothers as co-offenders when they do not physically perpetrate the sexual abuse; and (b) to remove the burden of protection for abused children from their shoulders. First to be discussed is the need to consider guardians as nonoffenders rather than co-offenders. Because nonoffending mothers continue to be charged at an astounding rate for a crime they did not commit, nonoffending guardians may require legal intervention. First, it is recommended that the legal definition of an offender be clarified so that only those who physically perpetrate the sexual abuse can be labeled or charged as offenders, and thus potential felons. This definition should apply not only to the legal system but also to child protective services. Second, it is recommended that failure to protect be redefined so that it can only be applied when there is court-admissible evidence that the nonoffending guardian knew about the abuse before it was officially disclosed and did nothing formally or informally to stop it. Evidence of formal or informal protective measures could be waived if guardians feared that initiating such measures would jeopardize their or their children’s safety, such as for victims of domestic violence. Third, nonoffending guardians should be provided the right to legal representation and to appeal to a body independent of child protective services if they believe they are falsely charged as a co-offender or with failure to protect. If these rights were enacted within CAPTA, all states would be obliged to enact them as well. Fourth, it is recommended that all child protective services staff receive basic training or retraining to dispel the myths concerning nonoffending mothers and to provide them with a view consistent with the empirical literature. This retraining should be initiated will all due haste. Finally, it is recommended that all cases in which mothers were charged as co-offenders within at least the last five years be reviewed by independent panels of experts so that reparation can be made to mothers who were wrongly charged and who suffered grievously from this practice. Children of mothers falsely accused also need to be returned to their mothers unless convincing evidence of further danger to the child exists. These measures may seem harsh, but falsely charging mothers with a crime they did not commit Is also harsh. Finkelhor and Hotaling first documented this horrendous problem in 1984, at which time they noted that 46% of offenders in the NIS-1 (done in 198 1) were listed as females (mostly mothers and mother figures). In 1993 the rate for abuse by females had dropped to 28% (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). Conversely, 0.5% of all abuse is actually committed by females, and only 0.05% is committed by mothers (Table 12-1). As a result, within the 18-year period between 1981 and 1998, more than 500,000 women have been falsely charged as offenders.1 Most of these women have been mothers of the child. This is an extraordinarily large population of females suffering exceptional losses because of institutionalized biases. At this rate, it will take many years before the rates of identified abuse by mothers and females are comparable to the rates of abuse committed by mothers and females. Other than immediately targeting the reduction of false allegations against nonoffending mothers made by child protective services workers, another important recommendation is that the burden for the protection of the child be removed from nonoffending guardians. First, doing so will reduce the temptation by child protective services to make the mother the scapegoat. As importantly, however, by no longer having the burden for providing physical protection, these nonoffending guardians can then focus their efforts on providing a more emotionally supportive environment to the child. Methods for removing the burden of protection from the nonoffending mother are discussed in the next section. Other recommendations, while important, do not have such a great sense of urgency. First, we need to consider moving the focus from the nonoffending mother to the supportiveness of all nonoffending guardians, for the supportiveness of the environment is surely more important than that of any single person. Allowing other nonoffending guardians, especially nonoffending fathers, to share in this responsibility will ease some of the discriminatory behaviors against nonoffending mothers, while providing a richer and broader environment of support for the children and recognizing the important role of nonoffending fathers. Another recommendation is to create safe houses supported by communities that can provide further protection to children and their families on a temporary basis. Alternately, shelters that have separate living quarters for families can be created for those families needing either further protection or more time to reconstitute. Shelters such as these can be designed after state-of-the-art shelters used in domestic violence cases such as that at The Family Place in Dallas, Texas.Next, we need to make more physical resources available to nonoffending guardians after disclosure. It is highly likely that some of their diminished coping strategies after disclosure are a result of the stress of the disclosure and even the systemic interventions. Bringing needed resources to these nonoffending guardians can increase their coping capabilities and allow them to be more emotionally supportive to their victimized child. Finally, many nonoffending guardians are also traumatized by the abuse, or perhaps have problems before the disclosure that decrease their ability to adequately support their children. It is important that these guardians have access to strengthsoriented treatment provided by clinicians specializing in this type of treatment and who endorse no serious biases about nonoffending guardians. The treating clinician also needs to be employed outside child protective services. As discussed in Chapter 10, goals of this treatment are to increase resources, decrease stressors, increase guardian support, and provide a working-through environment in which guardians are allowed to access their evocative and confusing emotions concerning the abuse. With this more strengths-oriented approach, perhaps the phrases collusive mother, incestuous mother or family, and mothers who fail to protect will disappear from our professional lexicon.

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