Children’s Voices in Cases of Sexual Abuse

How Children’s Voices Were Heard ‘Above the Din’ in Family Court Proceedings in Cases Where There Were Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: The Importance of Judicial Orientation and Professional Evidence in the Discernment of the Child’s Voice (2011, Australia)

This article examines how children’s voices can be heard in Family Court hearings when there are allegations of child sexual abuse.

Using a case study approach, three judgements are examined to see how judicial determination centralised the information from and about children. In these three purposively selected cases the voices of children was identified from conflicting evidence presented by professional assessors and counsellors. These three cases were selected because of the primacy given to evidence that was presented from and about children. In these cases allegations were not assumed to be artifacts of a parental dispute, instead, the Judge who heard them worked actively to discern the child’s voice within the conflicting evidence. Further, these three cases were also distinguished by the range of evidence available that included family reports and assessments from professionals as a result of Court Orders, but also evidence from those who had ongoing involvement with the children in counseling roles.

These counsellors were located outside the Family Court, in the child protection sector. The evidence from counsellors was preferred by the Judge as it provided a higher level of detail about the children and their allegations.

The ‘voice of the child’ was constructed by the Judge in their interpretation of professional evidence.