Trigger Warning for discussions of child pornography and child sexual abuse.
In Hobart, Australia, a family court has made a truly confounding and infuriating decision to require two girls to visit their father every other weekend, including an overnight stay — even though the father has been convicted on child pornography charges, the ruling also acknowledges the need for a lock on the girls’ bedroom door, and at least one of the girls is very much unwilling to go on such visits:
A Family Court judge in Hobart has ruled that the girls must visit their father every second weekend provided another adult is present in the home overnight.
The father involved in the case has been convicted of accessing child pornography and possessing child abuse products. He will remain on the sexual offenders register for at least another year.
But the judge has declared that it is in the best interests of the girls, aged eight and 10, that they spend time with their father, who cannot be identified.
He says there needs to be a lock on the girls’ bedroom door as the “father acts impulsively from time to time and that the children need some protection from him, especially at night”.
The mind absolutely boggles.
As some commenters have noted over at Hoyden About Town, it’s absolutely true that there’s no indication that the girls have ever made allegations of abuse against the father. (ETA: Not exactly true. See update.) Possessing child pornography is not the same as abusing one’s own children.
But I think it’s also important to explicitly note that child pornography charges should not ever be construed as “non-violent.” Possessing child pornography does not involve physically enacting abuse yourself. But child pornography involving actual children is by its very nature violent, since what is depicted in child pornography is always abuse. The creation of child pornography requires the rape of children. The ability to possess child pornography requires the rape of children. The act of watching and enjoying child pornography requires watching and enjoying the rape of children and condoning the rape of children. Possession of child pornography inherently requires violence. And while not only condoning but enjoying that violence is not necessarily evidence that one is willing to personally inflict similar violence with their own body, it is a pretty big risk factor.
And so is so-called impulsive behavior that requires little girls to lock their bedroom door every night to make sure that daddy doesn’t get in. The fact that such a requirement exists isn’t evidence that the judge considered all angles to the situation and made a nuanced decision based on all of the facts available — it’s evidence that all of the facts available showed considerable reason to believe that the girls would be unsafe around their father, and that the ruling wholly disregarded their safety by trying to present it as something open to compromise.
How is a second adult in the home at night supposed to protect against abuse? A great deal of child rapes take place with a second parent in the home, fast asleep in bed, unaware of what is being committed down the hall. Is the second adult required to stay awake all night and sit in a chair outside the girls’ room? If so, is the knowledge that it is needed supposed to make the girls feel safe? What if the girls — again, they’re 10 and 8 — forget to lock the door? What if their dad sneaks a moment with them and assures them that it’s really unnecessary? What if the lock is easy to pick or break? (Have you seen the kinds of locks that usually come on bedroom doors? They’re not exactly high security.) And who are these girls to trust and turn to for help if one of these things happens and the father does something abusive? The same adults who put them in an abusive situation to begin with?
Further, it’s impossible to argue that the decision was made with the children’s best interest in mind when (at least) one of the children disagrees with it herself.
Former magistrate Barbara Holborow is upset by the decision and says one of the girls said she did not want to visit her father.
“That view should be respected, no matter what the age of the child,” Ms Holborow said. “And unless you’re doing that, you cannot say it is in the best interests of the child.
“She doesn’t want to be there. That’s in her best interests. Don’t let her go. If she doesn’t go, unless another adult is accompanying the other child, she shouldn’t go either.”
Ms Holborow says it is not enough for the judge to place conditions on the visit and think nothing untoward will happen.
“My goodness it’s not as simple as that,” she said.
“As for the children staying over there? No. School holidays? No. Visits? Yes – a trip to the zoo or to some other entertainment, but never sleeping over at this stage of their lives.”
“We’re treating him as though he’s entitled to this, to visitations, but I don’t believe he is.
“I think you just need common sense. You cannot get over the statement by that little girl. She doesn’t want to be there.”
It would seem that the father has likely either done something directly to one or both of the children to make the girl uncomfortable or afraid around him, or that the girl is very reasonably afraid of him after learning that he was convicted on child pornography charges. There are of course other possibilities, but these seem the most probable. And explicitly ignoring the girl’s own autonomy and personhood simply because of her age not only puts her physical safety at risk, it’s also an emotionally abusive action in itself.
Unsurprisingly, fathers’ rights activists — who always say that they do not support abusers or unsafe situations for children — are hailing the decision as the right one:
John Abbott from the fathers’ rights group Blackshirts says the court has taken all precautions to protect the children.
“What we have here is a situation where there’s no real allegation that the court has found against the father molesting his own children,” he said.
“And we have to keep in mind that alienating children from parents is a very serious matter.”
Much more serious, it would seem, than forcing children against their will into a situation with their father so unsafe that they shouldn’t be allowed to be alone with him, and cannot sleep in their own beds without first ensuring that the door is locked.
It’s true that parental rights should be terminated with the utmost care and hesitancy. Historically and currently, the right to remove children from the homes of their parents and deny parents access to their children has been used as a misogynistic, racist, classist, ableist, homophobic and transphobic tool of oppression. And separating children from their families without due cause can itself be a highly abusive act.
But while the right to parent one’s own children is an incredibly important right, it’s not a right that should ever come before the safety of children. Rights are only rights until they infringe upon the rights of others. And the father’s right to parent in this case most certainly, as the ruling itself even acknowledges with all of its stipulations, infringes on the right of the girls to safety and to choose whether or not they must interact with someone who they explicitly do not wish to interact with. It does not work the other way around.
The idea that a parent’s ties to their children are more valuable than the children’s safety is one that frequently ends in abuse and trauma, and sometimes ends in even worse tragedies. I hope with everything I have, for the sake of those little girls, that I and so many others are worried over a possibility that will never materialize. In the unspeakable event that we are not, the father will be 100% responsible for his actions. But the judge will also bear some of the liability and guilt for whatever happens to those girls. And taking responsibility after the fact simply isn’t good enough.
UPDATE: This article states that there are indications of abuse allegations, namely that “the father had invited one of the girls into his bed, and had ‘demonstrated affection toward her in a way that was, in all the circumstances, inappropriate for a child of that age’.” Even worse, the court actually heard these allegations and believed them. This of course only makes the situation all the more troubling, and validates my inclination to believe that the father had done something to frighten and/or traumatize the oldest child. Thanks to Akeeyu for the link.