Fractured Families, Fragile Children: The Sexual Vulnerability of Girls in the Aftermath of Divorce

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This article examines overwhelming empirical evidence in countries as geographically and culturally diverse as Costa Rica, Finland, South Africa and Taiwan confirming that divorce magnifies a girl's risk of molestation. This evidence shows that a female child faces a significantly elevated risk of being sexually abused after her parents divorce, either at the hands of a parent, a parent's partner or someone outside the home. Because courts have failed to grasp the extent to which girls in fractured families are at risk of sexual abuse, this article seeks to provide a framework for understanding the link between marital breakdown and subsequent sexual abuse. It explores ways in which this risk might feasibly be addressed in the United States. Essentially, this article argues that custody determinations may be used to raise parental awareness and encourage parents to take greater precautions against this threat to their daughters. The article discusses some potential drawbacks of a divorce-based approach, before finally concluding with a few preliminary thoughts about whether and how such a preventive approach might be implemented in the United Kingdom.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalChild and Family Law Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Child abuse and neglect
  • risk factor
  • child sexual abuse
  • Incest
  • stepparents
  • divorce
  • divorce education
  • custody determinations
  • judicial decisionmaking
  • social science evidence


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