Child Abuse and the Role of Parental Denial
I recently had the opportunity of revisiting a question that I have struggled to find answers to for many years. The question is, why, in the face of a parent sexually, physically or verbally abusing a child, does the other parent remain silent?
This is a phenomenon I have been aware of in countless numbers of cases reported to me by patients who are now adult and clearly recall not only the abuse but the fact that the other parent offered no safety.
The question others have asked me and that I ask myself is, how or why would a parent remain silent in the face of children being abused. Here a few hypotheses.
1. Denial is a powerful and primitive defense mechanism. Someone who is dependent, frightened and themselves the victim of abuse, can remain silent and not even see or hear the abuse in order to maintain the desperately needed relationship with the abuser. In a way, it is a variation of the old saying, “Hear no evil, see no evil.” Well, people do hear it and see it and fail to act.
2. Both abuser and spouse can be mentally ill people who collude out of mutually shared sadism. In others words, there are a few people who can get a sense of pleasure out of treating children abusively.
3. Over the years, I have known a few cases in which the wife has such a deep need to avoid sexual relations that they prefer their husband engage in Oedipal relations with a daughter. This is usually unconscious with full denial in operation.
4. Chronic and severe drug and alcohol abuse loosen inhibitions that otherwise sober and sensible people do things that would shock them if they were not under the influence of certain types of drugs.
5. There are parents who, having been raised in strict and abusive environments, then repeat the pattern once they are parents. The vicious cycle of abuse is probably the major cause of domestic violence in the United States.
One of the distressing and utterly frustrating and despairing things that survivors of abuse discover as adults, is that their parents deny that anything ever happened.
Patients have reported to me that parents, when confronted by their adult child with the abuse they committed, tell their son or daughter that their memory is wrong.
It is natural to ask why an adult would now confront their parents about abusive acts that happened during childhood? Apparently, the answer is that these survivors are seeking an apology and an affirmative statement admitting their wrong doing. This is what makes the discussion so filled with despair for so many survivors.
The despair results not simply by the refusal of an apology, but the complete denial that anything happened. This is further exacerbated by the fact that neighbors and friends of the parents think them very “nice people” who would never do such a despicable thing as abuse a child.
When Joan Crawford’s daughter published the story of her childhood, a story that depicted Crawford’s cruel and outlandish acts of abuse, there was a public outcry that this never could have happened. Later, the outcry vanished when the truth and accuracy of the story emerged for the public to see.
It is the responsibility of neighbors, family, friends, teachers and school officials to report suspected abuse to the authorities who will then conduct an investigation. Do not play the “hear no evil, see no evil” game. Act on what you know or have good reason to suspect.
Your comments, experiences and questions are welcome in relation to this important issue.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
Excerpt from ex wife’s letter to Family Court Judges:
“… a devoted and loving Father and has enjoyed liberal timesharing with our son since our divorce. He takes excellent care of our son and I encourage that they spend as much time together as possible. During the school year our son resides with me and during the summer school break our son resides with his Father. Our son has traveled extensively with his Father on cruises, road trips and annual skiing trips to Utah.” ~ ex wife
A denial of visitation rights by the custodial parent to a non-custodial parent, absent a change in an existing court order for visitation rights, is illegal. This is true both in situations in which the parents have agreed on a parenting plan outside of court, and in situations in which scheduled visitation has been ordered by the court.
The legal phrase for this scenario is called frustration of child visitation rights, and in many states this can be cause to change the court-ordered child custody arrangement and hold the custodial parent in contempt of court.
Can a Custodial Parent Ever Deny Visitation?
Visitation rights are taken seriously by courts, as it is generally felt that it is in the best interest of the child to spend time with both parents. Because of the importance that courts place on the child’s best interest when determining custody arrangements, child visitation rights can rarely, if ever be legally denied by the custodial parent.
A typical example of this scenario would be when a mother, who has full custody of her son, refuses to let the son get into his father’s car when his father comes to pick him up for his visitation period. However, visitation rights can also be illegally denied in more subtle ways. For example, it is also illegal for a custodial parent to refuse visitation rights on the basis that they don’t like the non-custodial parent’s significant other; the child is sick; the child is visiting relatives; the child is out of town or at another scheduled activity; or for almost any other basis. Further, in cases where there is an emergency just before a scheduled visitation, such as when the child must be taken to the hospital, the noncustodial parent should be notified so that they may visit the child there.
What if the Non-Custodial Parent is Behind on Support Payments?
Most of the time, the bad acts of a non-custodial parent do not give a custodial parent a legal basis for denying the parent his or her visitation rights. For example, even if the non-custodial parent has defaulted on child support payments, this is not a basis for the custodial parent to deny visitation. Even in cases in which the non-custodial parent is incarcerated, there is generally only a basis to deny visitation where visits are harmful to the child, and this suspension of visitation must still be court-ordered.
If the custodial parent suspects that the non-custodial parent is abusing the child, or putting the child in danger, then the custodial parent should report this immediately, and act through legal venues to get the current visitation rights changed. In these cases, the non-custodial parent will likely be denied visitation by a court order. It is important to know however, that if a custodial parent makes unsubstantiated abuse allegations solely in an effort to deny the noncustodial parent his or her visitation rights, they could risk losing custody to the noncustodial parent.
Another possible scenario is where the custodial parent has reason to believe that the non-custodial parent is drinking or using drugs during visitation periods. If a custodial parent ever suspects that the non-custodial parent is drinking or under the influence when the parent arrives to pick up the children, the custodial parent may want to consider calling the police. However, as with abuse charges, a custodial parent who asserts that the non-custodial parent is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and calls law enforcement should use caution not to make frivolous accusations. If the police arrive and determine that the non-custodial parent is under the influence the custodial parent will have prevented the child from being placed in danger, but if not, the false accusations and trauma caused could be reason for a court to find harassment by the custodial parent or other reason to change the custody arrangement in favor of the non-custodial parent.
When Visitation Rights are Denied
When a noncustodial parent is repeatedly denied his or her rights to visit their child, it is important that the parent document each denial. A good way to document a denial of visitation rights is to file a police report. Filing a police report will ensure that the noncustodial parent has proof of the denial when reported to the court, and will also show the court that the noncustodial parent takes the denial of these rights seriously.
A custodial parent who denies the noncustodial parent his or her visitation rights may be held in contempt of court, and be fined and/or jailed. If the custodial parent has been found to be in contempt of court, the court may also choose to adjust the custody arrangement to make it more favorable to the noncustodial parent by either giving them more visitation rights, or giving them full custody of the child.
Source: CONTACT DENIAL IS CHILD ABUSE
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