Stop Legalizing Incest

By Barry Goldstein, NOMAS Task Group on Child Custody.

District Attorney Bill Delahunt put together a group of best practices from the late-1970s to the mid-1990s that dramatically reduced domestic violence, particularly homicides.  Bill understood that incest was far more common than most people realized and included a special office to respond to this heinous crime.  The successful practices became known as the Quincy Model.  If this was a Hollywood movie, the successful practices would have been copied throughout the country and children would have become much safer.

Instead the leaders of Quincy and other communities with successful programs retired or moved to other positions and many of the successful approaches were abandoned.  Professionals who are supposed to protect children and the general public looked away not wanting to believe those who are supposed to protect children instead betray them in the most harmful way.   Sexual predators and the professionals who earn large incomes protecting them reasserted control over the response to child sexual abuse.  The result of this failure is that a definitive study by the CDC which eliminated any possible issue of false reports established that about one quarter of children in the United States are sexually abused  by perpetrators before the children reach 18.

Please stop everything and be disgusted by the outrageous torture we put our children through and then make sure we take action to prevent this intolerable mistreatment of our children.

Standard Practices Favor Risking Children

It is no accident that children are left unprotected.  Our standard flawed practices make it easier for the offenders and harder for anyone trying to protect children.  The fact is this country only takes child sexual abuse seriously when it is committed by a stranger and this represents less than 15% of child sexual abuse.  When the suspect is a stranger, the investigation is led by law enforcement.  They focus on gathering evidence and seek to quickly interview the suspect and pressure him to take a lie detector test.  The purpose is to bring criminal charges.

But when the alleged offender is someone the victim knows, particularly a close relative, the investigation is led by a social worker.  They give notice to the family so that the offender has time to destroy evidence and silence the child.  The purpose is reunification so they do not focus on saving evidence or prosecuting the criminal.  And then the lack of evidence is treated as if it proves the report was deliberately false.

Parental Alienation Syndrome, often called by other names like alienation or parental alienation is not based on any research.  Instead it was concocted by Richard Gardner based on his personal experience, beliefs and bias.  His beliefs included many public statements that sex between adults and children can be acceptable.  Gardner and his supporters use this bogus theory to earn large incomes helping abusive fathers win custody from safe, protective mothers.  He introduced a poison into the custody court system that has not been treated even after it was again denied inclusion in the DSM-V which includes all valid mental health diagnoses.

The preliminary findings of a study led by Professor Joan Meier for the National Institute of Justice confirms the widespread failure of custody courts to protect children and helps explain why the courts so often side with dangerous abusers.  Although mothers make deliberate false reports of abuse less than 2% of the time, fathers win 69% of abuse cases and 81% of sexual abuse cases.

One of the preliminary findings that help explain the failure is that when courts credit reports of abuse and allegations of alienation, the courts give more weight to alienation.  This gives a big advantage to abusive fathers who routinely claim alienation as their defense to reports of domestic violence and child abuse.  This is a huge problem because exposure to domestic violence or child abuse reduces the length of children’s lives and causes them a lifetime of health problems.  Alienation does not create health or safety problems unless it results in ending the relationship.

Many judges avoid the legal requirement of scientific reliability for research or theories by claiming that it is not based on science.  Instead they rely on the fact that obviously parents make negative statements about each other that could undermine a relationship.  The problem with this approach is that if you remove the science there is no reason to listen to mental health professionals.  The behavior in question is simply bad behavior that courts would be qualified to determine based on the actual evidence.  Removing the science also removes any proof that what the courts call alienating behavior has serious long-term consequences.

This exposes a major problem with court procedures in that they routinely rely on subjective opinions that don’t need to be supported by any evidence or research.  This probably occurred because there was little research available when courts first developed responses to domestic violence.  This makes it much easier for evaluators and other court professionals who can just state their personal opinions without a pesky need for research or evidence to support it.  It also helps them avoid any accountability because they are merely stating their personal opinions.

The use of personal opinions often negates good scientific research that demonstrates catastrophic consequences from exposure to abuse.  Other research proves that the court professionals routinely fail to believe true reports of abuse based on mistaken assumptions.  Accordingly the discretion to rely on subjective beliefs instead of objective and provable research and evidence explains why courts cannot protect children.


The ACE Research demonstrates it is a mistake to ask children exposed to one or more adverse childhood experiences to just get over it.  Each category of ACEs is not equally harmful and there is probably none more detrimental than sexual abuse.  A recent CDC study found the lifetime costs from each rape of a woman is $122,000.  The health and other costs from a sexual assault of a child are likely far greater because children would be less prepared to cope with the trauma and have more years to suffer.  Of course the human costs are even worse.  The frequent failures of authorities to believe true reports of sexual abuse are catastrophic because it exposes the children (and other children) to additional abuse and prevents the victims from receiving the therapy and treatment they need.

It is no accident that society only takes child sexual abuse seriously if it is committed by a stranger.  We don’t want to believe that such an outrageous violation could be committed by a father or other close relative.  Many people, even professionals assume someone who is successful in other parts of their lives would not abuse children.  Many professionals routinely discredit abuse claims that occur during custody disputes.  Many of the professionals investigating sexual abuse do not have the specialized expertise that is needed.  Bogus alienation theories often short circuit investigations.  Play therapy is particularly useful for young children and eliminates issues of coaching, but many reports are discredited without using best practices.  Other reports are discredited based on information that is not probative.  It is easier for officials to silence victims than to respond to the offender’s abuse.  Many states continue to use Statutes of Limitation that limit the risk of offenders and keep them available to abuse more children.

In the Hollywood version, society would respond to the worst possible violation of children with the most effective response.  In this society, however the hellish experience of rape is followed by the hell of being disbelieved and the trauma of not being protected.  When courts use the worst possible practices and believe only 6% of child sexual abuse reports it is more than mistakes being made.  The United States has in practice legalized incest.  The research must open our eyes and we cannot continue to look the other way.