It's a story about a mother "lying" about sexual abuse; "turning her son against his father" and Judge Boshier awarding sole custody to the father, reluctantly, but because he knew it was best for the son.
Is this case the real outline of what happened in that family? Who knows?
I can't even begin to tell you how many women and children I've worked with for whom trying to talk about sexual abuse has been near impossible. Near top of the list would be the woman who was concerned about her children in the care of her ex-partner, a dentist. She had seen him drug his dental patients in order to sexually assault them, so had a laboratory run blood tests for her children after a visit with their father. The tests confirmed the presence of drugs. Of course, that wasn't considered "evidence" in the Family Court, because there was no proof the father had administered the drugs and the children were both young and in one case, learning disabled, so their views did not count. After a year and a half in court, she won sole custody, when the court appointed psychologist finally stopped blaming her for the fact her children were absolutely terrified of their father. Last time I saw her, she was still picking up the pieces.
So excuse my scepticism of Judge Boshier's understanding of this case - I'm just aware of how many times the Family Court gets it wrong, particularly in terms of sexual abuse.
Actually though, what bothers me most about this article is not whether or not that particular story is accurate. It's the fact that in eight years worth of Family Court chiefdom, the story Judge Boshier has chosen to tell, or that Stuff have chosen to report on, is so wildly misrepresentative of what happens in Family Court.
This is the kind of reporting which reinforces ideas that sexual abuse is made up, and women lie. We lie. We cannot be trusted.
I get that reporting on the soul-destroying slew of misery that is the Family Court - violence perpetrated within families mostly by men who may well not want to live with the consequences of what that has done to their relationships with their ex-partners and children - is not sexy. Or, when violence is not a factor in relationship breakdown, trying to decide how to resolve custody to ensure children have all they need to flourish. Also, not sexy.
That's why when the Family Court was opened to the media at the beginning of Judge Boshier's tenure, the actual reporting of cases did not increase. Because despite the claims of Men's Rights groups in the 1990s, the Family Court isn't a haven of militant feminazis. From one of the reporters in this research:
This sense of unease is evident in others, such as Martin van Beynen of The Press: “An hour in Family Court in Christchurch and I already have pages of misery, dysfunction and dislocation in my notebook.”Back to the wild misrepresentation from Stuff and Judge Boshier. Men's Rights groups have campaigned outside judges and lawyer's houses, parliament and courts for a number of years. Their central argument is that the Family Court is tough on them because it stops them seeing their children for unfair reasons like domestic violence:
More specifically, before 2004, men’s groups contended that the Family Court operated to disadvantage fathers after a separation, especially regarding custody of the children. The regulation of domestic violence was also seen by these groups as a particular feature of gender bias perpetrated by the Family Court. They argued that the Domestic Violence Act 1995 “isolat[es] children from loving fathers because the child is automatically included in the order.”It's been a very effective argument. The climate created by Men's Rights groups has put the Family Court under pressure when this so-called "gender bias" - the idea that it might not be ideal for men who use violence towards women and children at home to automatically have access to parenting - is actually just good, clean, proven-by-research how-we-bring-up-healthy-children stuff.
How effective it's been can be seen in a number of research papers produced over the years exploring mothers experiences of the Family Court by Auckland academics. Their research shows that mothers have pressure put on them because "shared care is inevitable"; that even when the custody situation appears to be just being used to provoke further torment (he doesn't turn up), Courts continue to insist on shared care; that children's wants and needs are frequently assumed to have been manipulated by mothers when those wants and needs include less contact with a father who has been violent or neglectful.
The single most salient point in this for me is that in all the years of working with women who have experienced domestic violence, I've only known a handful of women who didn't want their children to have some kind of relationship or regular contact with the children's father. The vast majority of the women wanted their children's father to parent well - because parenting alone is hard work. Yet for many of those mums, that's not what has been on offer. It's a flaming shame that Stuff and Judge Boshier are contributing to public misinformation. I bet the Men's Rights groups will be posting this up with glee.