Charlotte Shane

28 June 2022

Failure to Protect

To accuse a father of incest or other forms of abuse proved disastrous for most mothers and children. Beyond the omnipresent influence of pre-existing, internalised sexism, new family court judges were sometimes explicitly advised by more seasoned colleagues not to believe women. Mothers were faulted for appearing angry or emotional, while a father’s even temper was proof of his innocence (and his anger showed how deeply he cared). With incest seen as a family problem not fit for criminal proceedings, custody battles became the primary method of redress, and they came with the imperative to keep the father in the child’s life at almost any cost. Women who denied their exes court-ordered access to children could be fined or even jailed, as in the highly publicised case of Elizabeth Morgan, who was imprisoned for two years in the late 1980s when she refused to disclose her daughter’s whereabouts to the father she accused of sexual abuse.

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