Children at risk: The sexual exploitation of female children after divorce

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The continuing growth of nontraditional families in the United States presents unique problems for family law courts. Concerns regarding the welfare of children in nontraditional families loom larger in light of considerable evidence demonstrating that a female child, after her parents divorce, faces a significantly elevated risk of being sexually abused by either a parent, a parent's partner, or a person outside of the home. In this Article, Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson addresses whether the law can effectively mitigate the risk of child sexual abuse by considering it in custody determinations. After dispelling common misconceptions about the nature of sexual abuse, Professor Wilson marshals overwhelming empirical evidence - more than seventy social science studies - showing a connection between family disruption and child sexual abuse of girls. Professor Wilson argues that family law deals inadequately with this disturbing phenomenon because courts in custody proceedings generally neglect to address the increased statistical probability of sexual abuse after divorce. She then maps out three possible routes to prevention of sexual abuse by using custody determinations to increase parental awareness and encourage parents to take affirmative steps to mitigate the risk to their daughters. Professor Wilson recognizes that acting in anticipation of risks - rather than after demonstrated conduct - is not without controversy. She examines, therefore, whether tailoring prevention efforts to children at divorce will stigmatize single parents, discourage remarriage or encourage non-custodial parents to later fabricate charges of abuse. Professor Wilson concludes that integrating the increased risk of child sexual abuse in custody proceedings is ultimately a commonsense way to address a pervasive problem. More broadly, Professor Wilson contends that judicial decision makers can intelligently address the challenges facing fractured families only if guided by substantial evidence of how these families function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-253
Number of pages3
JournalCornell Law Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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