Allegations of child sexual abuse: An empirical analysis of published judgements from the Family Court of Australia 2012–2019




Webb, Nola
Moloney, Lawrence J.
Smyth, Bruce
Murphy, Robyn L.

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Australian Council of Social Services


Allegations of child sexual abuse pose agonisingly difficult issues for families, family law professionals and the courts. We present data from the population (N=521) of Family Court of Australia judgements containing allegations of child sexual abuse published in the Australasian Legal Information Institute's Australian database. Our data cover all in-scope judgements published between mid-2012 and mid-2019, of which 71 dealt with cases that were uncontested. A further 70 were contested but the allegations were abandoned before the end of the trial. We classified the remaining 380 cases as “fully contested”. Of this group: (a) in 14% of cases, judicial officers expressed a direct or clearly implied belief that the allegations of child sexual abuse were true; (b) risk of sexual harm to a child was found in 12% of judgements; (c) when no risk of sexual harm was found, judges were more than twice as likely to regard the allegations as genuine but mistaken rather than to have been deliberately misleading; (d) just under two-thirds of allegedly unsafe parents had the time they spent with their child(ren) increased by the court; and (e) in 17% of judgements, children's living arrangements were changed to the allegedly unsafe parent.



child sexual abuse, decision making, family law, social policy, social welfare



Australian Journal of Social Issues


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Open Access

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License



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