An explorative study of false allegations of child sexual abuse in divorce and custody proceedings in South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

False child sexual abuse allegations in divorce and custody proceedings are a disconcerting problem in South Africa having devastating effects on the family unit going through a divorce, and on society as a whole. Limited research has been done in South Africa on the subject matter (Janse Van Rensburg, 2008; McDonald, 1998; Preller, 2014).This study utilize General System's Theory, the Theory of Reasoned Action, the Theory of Planned Behaviour and the Crisis Theory to explore the subject matter. An explorative qualitative approach with a constructivist epistemology was utilised. The participants in this study involved thirty key informants, who included social workers, psychologists, counsellors and other professionals who specialise in divorce, custody and sexual abuse matters. A further five falsely accused parents and five accusing parents formed part of the sample. The data collection method used was that of in-depth interviews and research assistants were trained and appointed to gather the information. Notes were taken and the interviews were recorded to enable the necessary data analysis. Content and thematic data analyses were used to analyse the data and obtain the necessary results. The research findings indicate that false child sexual abuse allegations have a detrimental effect on the accused parent and explain the agony, severe trauma and emotional distress the falsely accused parent go through. There are various factors contributing towards false child sexual abuse allegations and results show that the impact of such allegations is11detrimental to the family system, the child and the falsely accused parent and brings disequilibrium to the family system that is very difficult to restore post-divorce. The mental health perspective on false child sexual abuse paints a rather bleak picture of the legal and social system and on adequately addressing the social issues at hand. Results highlight that false allegations are a complicated phenomenon and not all professionals nor the courts have the necessary skills to deal adequately with these matters. Research recommends amendments to South African Policy and Legislation, changes to the South African court system, and capacity building of mental health professionals. As this research is a ground-breaking study in South Africa, as no scientific research has been published on the subject matter, this study should be used as a basis for future research studies.

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