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Mother blame

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.


Mother Blame
by Jill Burdett

Recent news stories involving acts of incest that produce offspring have sparked inquiry into the personality of accused perpetrators like Josef Fritzl and the psychological and physical effects on victims and their offspring. In considering the extreme and extended nature of these cases I believe it is fair to speculate on the mother’s role in the incest family dynamic.

Rosemarie Fritzl, the wife of Josef Fritzl, raised three of the seven children from the dungeon prison beneath the house, allegedly unaware of their biological parentage. The wife of a Polish man accused of imprisoning his daughter and fathering her two children has not been charged, despite having knowledge of the crime. The father and daughter incest story in Australia involving John and Jenny Deaves, who have produced two children together, also poses questions about the family environment.

A Department of Community Services worker and former Sexual Assault Counsellor, who wishes to remain anonymous, suggests that for outsiders who don’t understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse, it can seem a strange idea that the Mother has no knowledge of it. She says that “the really dangerous perpetrators can work on the whole family for years before they even lay a finger on the child”.

These men can include the whole community in the process. She says, “They portray the girl as deceitful, dishonest or paint her in a promiscuous light. They can set up a dynamic where she is not close to her mother. These perpetrators are very good at eroding anyone’s faith in the child.” She claims she does know of cases where mothers have known or have assisted the father in the sexual abuse of the children and “they are extremely rare and it’s not the norm”.

Dr Michelle Mulvihill, a psychologist and expert on child sexual abuse, says that the Polish and Austrian cases are extreme examples of what happens when a parent consciously or unconsciously colludes with a perpetrator. “We have to realise that the behaviour of the pedophile is very sophisticated. It’s very well researched in the way it grooms people over time. It’s suggestive, it starts very early in children’s lives, therefore often the other parent can become involved by learning to drop their defences and to not recognize signs.”

A 1997 study by Patricia Joyce in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse concluded that “clinical work with mothers frequently contradicts the accepted view of them as collusive”. The historical shortage of research on mothers themselves may have contributed to a skewing of our understanding of mothers, and has lead to a widespread acceptance of collusion as an explanation.

Legally it is possible to prosecute the mother in some cases depending on the degree of collusion and the type of criminal acts that can be proved. Dr Ben Mathews a Senior Lecturer of Law at Queensland University of Technology says that it is usually complicated. “Often, prominent factors in deciding whether or not to prosecute include what evidence is available and how likely it is that the prosecution will be successful.”

The horrific nature of this kind of incest, abuse and imprisonment within the home make a clear argument for further research into the incest family dynamic and the role of the other parent. Dr Mulvihill says that “our community services and welfare systems need to focus on the women as well as the perpetrator and the children because often they get left out”.

Dr Mulvihill also suggests that this idea of a ‘home prison’ may exist in many other ways and be more widespread than we know. Last week eight children were found abandoned in their own home and both parents have been charged. “It is very confronting to believe that women let children down. These questions have to be asked, however, if only for the safety of children.”

If you suspect or know of a child that is in danger please contact the New South Whales Department of Community Services (DOCS) helpline on 132 111.


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Motherless monkey mothers

Jill, ignore Malcolm, a curmudgeon (with me) and a classicist who knows his ablatives from pejoratives and gets the pip with badly constructed phraseology. You were not at fault here but a lightning rod. You made the mistake of not focusing on the psychological aspects of what is a rare social phenomenon. At this point I should add “morality”, a word that disturbs me because it is almost always associated with religion; unnecessarily so.
From the Ten Commandments to the Koran, it has always been about social order.

One incident of productive incest is neither here nor there but continuing incest throws up genetic aberrations from the village idiot to the genius. Thus the taboo.

Good luck in your endeavours, I hope this is helpful.

BTW "Google" the title. I haven't provided a link because there is so much material there. An unecessary, cruel experiment with totally predictable results.

Oh dear, here we go again

This article completely ignores the possibility of a mother committing incest. Accordingly, it lacks balance.

The relevant provisions in the NSW Crimes Act would apper to be ss 61I, 66B, 66D, 78A, 87, 347, and 347. But, of course, if the journalist had approached a real live lawyer instead of some bloody academic perhaps she would have gotten the practical advice: either you can prove incest through blood samples, in which case you know the date of birth through public records and you have the perpetrator bang to rights or you just charge an assault.

As far as the spouse goes, I find it difficult to understand how it is not amenable to the law as an accessory. Proving complicity in a lesser crime is much easier than a complex prosecution involving difficult questions of fact and relying on how well the accused lies in the box or decides not to give evidence.

Old Army rule: Keep It Simple Stupid. Most prosecutions go off the rails because the coppers are so bloody hopeless at their jobs and wouldn't know evidence or how to prove a case if they fell over it.

Bloody hopeless is right

Malcolm: "Most prosecutions go off the rails because the coppers are so bloody hopeless at their jobs and wouldn't know evidence or how to prove a case if they fell over it"

How right you are Malcolm. The Claremont Serial Killer investigation is a good example of police bungling and ineptitude. (I was working in Claremont at the time.)

Though no public statements have been issued by the overseas experts called in to assist WA police, it is well known that many of these experts were horrified by the lack of police process, diligence and expertise in the early stages of this investigation. (Many WA lawyers describe the legal system here as a joke.)

The police really seem to be out of their depth with regard to major criminal cases.

Shouldn't our detectives be required to complete a degree in criminology or forensics? Whilst some may have degrees, others just work their way up the ranks with no formal qualifications at all.

Think Think Think

The article is not about Mothers committing incest. It is about the Mother's role in a family where the father has committed incest. My aim was to provide a balance of information from different sources about the complex and insidious nature of the incest family dynamic.

Often society is left to judge women in these situations without sufficient details to make the call. Interviews confirmed that complicity and collusion with the perpetrator is not often the case.

Your cold and detached overview does not shed any new light on the angle I was investigating. Perhaps due to the word length and my lack of experience I failed to make the point of the article clear.

Nothing comes from nothing

No, it's not an article about mothers committing incest. On its face, it is an article about incest.

Therefore, either it needed to define its parameters more closely or needed to be more expansive.

Don't understand your comment about "word length". Is there a limit? if so, we have not been told about it.

I note that at least one Webdiarist thinks I am giving you students a hard time. You bet I am. I have nothing against students. It's journalists I don't like. Barristers and journalists are natural enemies. Then again, I give everyone a hard time: I'm a barrister.

From time to time, however, journalists, barristers and Webdiarists manage to maintain a sense of humour. No-one really likes to be criticised and we can all get prickly but it happens to be part of life. Just thank Christ I've never adjudicated you in a debate.

Oh I get it

My cliché joke was lost in translation and you were unable to laugh along with me. I do understand and appreciate the difference between a helping hand and the bold display of an inflated sense of self.

The students were given a word length.

I prey to the motherless monkey mothers that you won't be making my caffe lattes.

Fiona: Now you have me all worried, Jill - I'm not sure whether your "prey" is a typo or a pun ... shall have to plead flu in extenuation.


Frankly, I find it hard to accept that the mothers in homes where a senior male figure, often the father or step father, has been sexually abusing the female chilren of the house for years without the mothers having no idea whatsoever that it was going on.

Where do they think the male was at night if not in bed with them? Did they not note any change in the daughter's behaviour and reaction and attitude to the male parental figure?

I just don't buy it that they by and large had no idea there was anything untoward going on. No doubt some men can cover their tracks quite well, but I would believe they would be in the minority.

There are none so blind as those who do not want to see.

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