Sexual Abuse Allegations in the Family Court

Dr Chris Lennings1, Dr Katie Seidler1

1Lsc Psychology, Sydney, Australia

Family Court mental health professionals face a dilemma when responding to terms of reference that require the analysis of claims of sexual abuse. There are two primary contradictory forces in play. On the one hand, our professions require that children be believed, and we know that children are often voiceless in their victimisation and we should not ignore or downplay such claims. Related to that concern is the knowledge that high rates of family violence occurring in separating families and abuse and violence can go hand in hand. The alternative view is that within separating families one party seeks a strategic advantage over another and may make claims of abuse or family violence to advance their position. Claims can be mistakenly made or mistakenly denied. In some cases the claims are justified, but may not receive appropriate investigation because Child Protection systems are State based and the Family Court is a federal system, and communication between the two can be fraught. The papers in this symposia attempt to tease out the issues faced in Family Court matters, both by reference to relevant literature and clinical practice. The papers discuss risk assessment, strategies for assessing claims, management guidelines for practitioners in both assessment and referral/treatment of such claims, and uses both clinical experience and a review of research to suggest best practice principles.


Christopher J. Lennings is a clinical and forensic psychologist and has worked as a clinician, academic and researcher in psychology for the past 42 years. He has published over 100 refereed articles and has presented as many conference papers and conducted more than 50 workshops, mostly on forensic issues. He is an experienced expert at all levels of the State and Commonwealth Court system. Over the years he has provided professional training in expert evidence to psychologists and allied professions and lawyers on multiple occasions. He is a Fellow of the Clinical and Forensic Colleges of the Australian Psychology Society, a member of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and the Law, the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Treatment of Sex Abusers, and of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. He was awarded the NSW Forensic College award for Research Excellence in 2008 and for psychological practice and professional work in 2017. In 2013 he was awarded an OAM for his services to psychology and the community and in 2014 made a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society.

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