Alienation watch: the abuse that children suffer when they make false allegations of sexual abuse

At the Family Separation Clinic we work with families where allegations of sexual abuse are made by children against a once loved parent.  These allegations, which are made by children against their mother or their father, often come at distinct places in the separation process.  They are also often a key feature of a particular configuration within the family, in which coercive control plays a major part.

Coercive control is most easily recognised when it is perpetrated by a man against a women. This is because the existence of coercive control patterns in relationships has been isolated by women’s groups, as being only about men’s patriarchal privilige and their exercising of power over women.  From a mental health perspective, this is a one sided and somewhat naive approach to understanding the very serious issue of coercive control.  Control which is exercised within families both horizontally, that is between people who are in partnership relationship together, or vertically, that is people who are in a familial relationship.  Horizontal lines of relationship can also include siblings, who can play a part in increasing the power of coercive control or be controlling themselves.  Children too can become controlling although the power that they hold to coerce that control is not as strong as it would be if they were adults.  When children withdraw from a parent however and are supported in that and elevated to the role of decision maker by an aligned parent, they become all powerful indeed.  This is where allegations of sexual abuse can give rise to the kind of power and control in the family that only kings can dream of.  Imagine a child who comes to understand this – one word from me and everything and everybody stops.  What greater level of power and control could anyone wield over any other human being?  And it is this power, which is conveyed to the child through the making of false allegations against a parent.  And it is not just the aligned parent who puts that power into the child’s hands.

The legal definition of Coercive control is – Any incident or pattern of incidents. of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse. between those aged 16 or over.  This definition, which is claimed by all of the women’s rights groups as being only about men’s patriarchal power over women, describes patterns of behaviours which, to the mental health professional are present in many families, particularly those where high conflict separation occurs.  Incidents of controlling behaviour, which include terrorising someone into believing that they will never see their children again, threatening to remove, harm or kill the self and children, reconfiguring past history to terrorise someone into believing that they are abusive, convincing others that they have done something that they have not and utilising external agencies to drive that person out of their home and the lives of their children, are all acts of coercive control, only they are rarely recognised as such.  Why not?

In the current climate, where once again we are surrounded by the hysteria of child abuse epidemics, there is a perfect opportunity for any parent seeking to utilise such coercive control as part of the separation process.  Act now, think about it later appears to be the watchword for most professionals, including the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.  Allegations made by children which are flimsy and which barely stand up to a first examination, are being put through to the criminal courts where parents will languish in absolute torment as they wait for their day in court.  Working in the toxic pot which has been caused by the over emphasis on children’s wishes and feelings, the needs of children not to be placed into such appalling abusive situations, has been completely overlooked.  As I wrote in my last post, causing a child to believe that they have been sexually abused is about as abusive as it gets and yet children in these circumstances are left by unaware professionals to the machinations of the alienating parent for months and sometimes years before a criminal case is heard.  And then they are surprised when new allegations are made, allegations which are immediately proved to be untrue because a child has not been near the parent they are alleging harmed them for many months and sometimes years.

Act now, think later mentality arises from several elements of belief in professionals combined with imperatives from society.

The use of feminist practice in working with families which teaches that women are inherently disadvantaged and men  are inherently advantaged.  This requires the practitioner to believe the woman is always acting in the her own and her child’s best interests against a dangerous man.

The over zealous reliance on children’s wishes and feelings as being the determinant of outcomes, coupled with the tendency to completely discard children’s needs for relationships with both of sides of their families.

The discovery that in the 1970’s children were very much abused but in that culture their voices were not heard and the desire to right that wrong by making sure that children in the 21st century are seen and heard in a way that over compensates for historical wrongs.  In essence, children’s wishes and feelings, beliefs and allegations are taken as being the gospel to both make reparation for the way in which children of the seventies were not seen and heard AND to demonstrate that such things could never happen again.

The fact that many of the practitioners working in the field of family support services were children of the seventies and as such are highly likely to be unconsciously repairing their own experiences of living in a culture where children could be abused because they were not seen and heard.

This mentality has permeated every level of the services that surround separated families and is held as being best practice within the women’s lobby groups such as Women’s Aid and Refuge who unashamedly speak of educating women and raising their awareness that they have been abused.  Such work may have a place in the world of fighting for rights, but does it have a place in supporting families through the difficult process of separation? Especially when children, the people who have to negotiate change the most, are in need of help which is not about their mother’s rights but about their emotional and psychological needs.  I would argue no, it does not have such a place.  In fact I would argue that it is in fact wrong to allow a political ideology that causes practitioners to believe that all women are vulnerable to dangerous men, to drive the practice of practitioners.  When this occurs, the real abuse that children suffer, that of becoming conduit to coercive control exerted by one parent against the other for example, is completely overlooked. Most often it is just not recognised  or believed in when it is control exerted by a woman against a man. Even when that woman is using children as the weapon to achieve the outcome desired, which is the eradication of the man in her life and that of her children.  If that happens the other way around and a man uses that level of control, it is much more readily recognised and acted upon (although not always).  Either way, the child who is being used as the conduit is being abused and especially so when that involves false allegations of sexual abuse.  But who knows that.  And more to the point, who even really cares?

Outside of the feminist paradigm, where analysis of coercive control does not depend upon believing that the world is run by the patriarchy and all women are subjugated under the rule of men, the reality of life is that patterns of coercive control are being played out up and down the family lines across the country.  And the holding of such power and control is equally likely to be by women as it is by men.  In this world, (that which I call reality), there are family patterns which can herald the likelihood of children being used to achieve desired outcomes.  One of these patterns is the fused dyadic relationship between a mother and her own mother and especially if that grandmother has herself been divorced or separated (and especially if that was a highly conflicted separation or the grandmother suffered narcissistic wounding)  In this scenario, mother and grandmother reconfigure the ‘true’ family as co-parents to the children and create a situation where the ousted father is the demonised representative not only of himself but of the absent grandfather.  This pattern can go back even further in time and there are incidences of mother, grandmother and great grandmother all fused into a suspicious, angry, vengeful coalition, which collectively projects blame and negativity on the ousted father in the present.  This kind of coalescence of fear, anxiety, blame and negativity can be impossible for children in their care to resist.  These are the children most likely to fall into a pattern of making false allegations, these are the children who are most likely to make escalating false allegations of child sexual abuse.

There are coalitions of this nature which involve grandfathers too, however, when a grandfather is present in such a dynamic he is often silent, emasculated, terrorised or simply absent in his mind if not his body.  Such men know their places and do not cross any boundaries.  Such men are likely to know that something is wrong but be unable to do anything about it.  Such men know that to speak the truth would be to cause such upheaval that they too would be ousted. In the sub and unconscious world of these coalitions, many imperatives not to speak are in place.  Men in this world are likely to do what they can where they can to ameliorate the worst but they are powerless in a strucutre in which the person perceived to be the weakest is crowned king or queen and given all of the compensating power for the wrongs exerted against the oppressed within the group.

And it is into this scenario that the alienation unaware professional enters when children make false allegations of child sexual abuse.  The arrival of the professional, which one would hope would help to illuminate the real problem, often acts swiftly to simply embed and entrench it making it impossible for the child to be liberated now and perhaps for a very long time.  The unaware professional, instead of seeking the objective truth, relies upon her (sometimes his) ‘intuition’ which is derived from a combination of belief system crossed with education, all steeped in the prevailing cultural attitudes of the time.  In the 21st Century this appears to be –

1.  Women and children always tell the truth.

2. There is no sexual abuse smoke without fire.

3. The child must be protected from the parent they are making the allegation against.

4. Children’s wishes and feelings are paramount, what they say must be believed.

Which, when I look at it, reads to me pretty much like some kind of superstitious hubble bubble that belongs in the times of witch hunts and mass panic rather than a properly thought out approach which is scientifically tested.

Surely, in any 21st Century society concerned with justice and equality and fairness the right kind of practice that keeps children safe would look something like this.

1. What are the circumstances surrounding these allegations?

2. What is the physical evidence that corroborates these allegations?

3. What are the gains for the family with whom the child resides when the child makes these allegations?

4. What is the loss for the parent with whom the child does not live?

5. What are the historical patterns of power and control in this family and how have they played out through the separation?

6.  If these allegations are proven to be untrue, who is actually abusing this child?

7. What must we do to protect this child from this in future?

As part of our work at the Family Separation Clinic we are developing assessment protocols that allow understanding of how and why a child is coerced into making false allegations of abuse.  We are also looking at the familial patterns that create the conditions in which such allegations arise.  In doing so we are mapping the experiences of parents who have been so accused and who have been proven to be innocent of such charges.  We are also looking at the outcomes for children in these circumstances and none of these are, at first look, pretty.  Children in such circumstances often lose not one but two parents.  The first because of the allegations made and the way in which delay in the criminal courts give the other parent ample time to complete the alienation project.  The second because the parent who is causing the child to make the allegations is unwell and when the turmoil of the separation is over and the battle is won in that the child is fully alienated, that parent goes back to focusing only upon their own needs, using the child to uphold and meet those.  Unwatched by professionals, unguarded by family and unable to prevent the damage being done, that child often crumbles into a replica of the parent they have been abused by.  And so the generational march of dysfunction goes on.  Unchecked by our family services because it is unrecognised.  Unrecognised by our family services because they are so steeped in political ideology that they cannot see the reality for the distorted beliefs they have been fed.

Children suffer when they are forced to make false allegations of sexual abuse.  They suffer because their childhood is taken from them along with a beloved parent by someone who is using them to exercise coercive control (which is often upheld by professionals around them).  Parents in these circumstances need help not consciousness raising, they need intervention not the upholding of their rights.

Children in these circumstances need saving but I doubt that they will be, anytime soon.


  1. Once again Karen you have eloquently put into words the maelstrom of jumbled thoughts and pieces of this ever changing jigsaw puzzle that I and many many others have had raging in our minds, this has been the case for me for eight years or so now. One thought that has remained constant in all of that time is “Why don’t these “professionals” actually step back and use some bloody common sense and objectivity???”
    Thank you for setting a whole bunch of ducks in a row for me and I am sure many others. Almost like in an exorcism,whereby in order to defeat a demon the exorcist must name hat malevolent entity, there are now several “names” beginning to become clear.


    1. Tony,

      There is no interest for the authorities to step back and use common sense. You seem to be assuming that they are guided by some moral code. They are not. They are guided by a hideous management structure, which is in turn guided by government, which is in turn guided by economic factors only. It is not in the country’s interest to have men taking care of children, as they would then be paying less maintenance to women, and women would be having to claim more benefits from the government.

      It is always wrong to assume that those officials who meddle in family life have any desire to make life better for children in any way. I cannot think of a single example.


  2. ‘Spot on’, although I feel it won’t be too long now before all this mad situation is out in the open and we can all collectively start rescuing our children.


    1. It is all out in the open Luke, and has been for some time. Just like other things are out in the open: torture, liar Blair, poverty, homelessness, criminal banking practices, drones, arms sales, government abuse of privacy, and so on ad infinitum. The fact is that it is so overwhelmingly out in the open, but it is less exhausting to turn a blind eye after we have put in our 10-hour shift for the day.


  3. So insightful Karen, recognised much of what you have written regarding the generational patterns of behaviour in my own situation. Often the grandfather is co-dependent in these situations and acts as the enabler, allowing the generational dysfunction to continue.

    Truly sad that another innocent child suffers.


  4. It is incomprehensible to me that a parent would go to such heights of abuse as to coerce their child to accuse the other parent of sexual abuse. I know it happens and I cannot fathom the mental instability of the parent doing this, nor the damage done to the child. I believe that my own alienating father had a “must win at all costs” attitude, and it paralyzed my mother into completely giving up custody. But I cannot fathom that even he would have stooped to such a tactic. He would have kidnapped me first, and in fact had his mother pack my bags in case she showed up in court and won custody. And that in itself is atrocious. But a false sex abuse accusation- just so deranged.


    1. I don’t think there is anything deranged about it. I think, on the contrary, that what we are dealing with is something that has become quite normal. These kinds of allegations need to be seen within the environment that enables and condones them, within a broader web of solicitors, judges, social workers and so on who are all virtually instructed to ensure that one parent is totally marginalized. What is deranged is not the parent making those allegations, but the state that authorises them. This is also, of course, a state that does an exemplary job of modeling the most atrocious forms of behavior – everything from the violence of war to the violence of criminalising you if you happen to be poor or homeless.


      1. I should have added that the family judiciary has been ingenious in normalizing this deranged behavior. The genius of it is that after the false allegations are made, a human being lies broken and children are iredeemably broken and likely growing up into a life of self-harm of all kinds. The genius is that nobody is to blame for all this. The person who made the allegations is just a ‘concerned’ parent, and excused for their behavior, and all the officials that stand to profit from a combative divorce system just get richer.

        Karen and others here are quite right to point out that knowingly making false allegations ought to be one of the most serious crimes. It is a kind of emotional murder that usually effects multiple family members and for generations.

        The thing is, though, that even the ugliest parent in the world would not stoop to this level of evil if it were not rewarded by current legislation, if it were made clear to parents from the start that they are both expected to be equally responsible for their children, and if there was nothing financial to be gained through the CSA from minimizing the other parent’s time with the children.


  5. The other word that also gives a child power is “if I have to see my dad/mum I will hurt myself/commit suicide”. That will also get contact stopped immediately and all focus onto the relationship between the child and the alienated parent and away from the relationship between the child and the alienating parent.

    The voice of the child in relation to historic allegations of abuse is an interesting perspective. However, taking the allegation at face value is equally not listening to the voice of the child. This is portrayed quite well in the Danish film the Hunt, where the little girl who has made an allegation of sexual abuse against a family friend, several times tries to explain what really happened, but no one is prepared to listen to her, neither the professionals nor her mother. The train of events once started is a runaway train that cannot be stopped. There is a scene in the film where the girl tries to explain to her mother and her mother’s answer is along the lines of: sometimes we prefer to forget things, but this really did happen, thus dismissing her daughter in a misunderstood assumption that her daughter is in denial.


  6. Karen, I truly wish that your latest blog will reach those people whom it really does need to reach: the people working within the family courts, CAFCASS, social services et al. Is there any possibility that the “Seven Questions” you pose can be included as a national standard in all family services and family law proceedings? Or are we dreaming an impossible dream? These questions are those of a reasonable and rational mind and are in stark contrast to the standard “wishes and feelings” gobbledegook we are familiar with.

    I recognise in my ex-wife the coercive control you mention, yet I am powerless to do anything about this, and so, more than four years on from our separation, our children (now 12 and 9) are still in their frozen state, rejecting me, the father they once loved.

    I am still being coercively controlled by me ex-wife in that, now, I have not received any photos of my children, despite the court order stating these should be sent every four months, and I am quite certain that if I ask for these to be sent, she knows she need do nothing. She may simply say that the children do not want me to have photos of them. It’s another step she is easily able to make with impunity. Court orders are flaunted by resident parents who are determined to maintain their single parent status and remove the other parent from their and the children’s world. The non-resident parent is an easily disposable commodity and can be replaced by another, if need be, and if the resident parent deems it fit. The resident parent has the power, the control and shares this with the children and you make this abundantly clear in your blog. Knowing this, what, if anything can be done to redress this imbalance?


  7. If there is anyone who will breakthrough to the truth it is you Karen. There are all those experts, but there is only one Karen Woodall.

    Everyday I and my Son rise to another painfull day, we wonder what my Granddaughter is being made to say and do. You pray that the day will come soon that I can cuddle my Granddaughter. To be illegally kept away from a Child you love and care for, drives you mad and the associated stress is indescribable.

    Due to all the disfunctional organisations that make up the establishment, they have probably caused my Family as much pain as the absence of my wee darling Granddaughter. I have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has been found guilty to a crime they did not commit. My Family have been honest and open about everything and yet we are made to feel like a criminal.

    It is so easy to be lost in your pain, grief and anger, I find that all very difficult to put behind me. It is a miracle that I have managed to keep calm, please believe me I want to punish someone for the way we have been treated as a Family. As each year goes on the pain does not get any easier, unlike a death of a loved one as time goes by the pain eases a bit.

    Parental Alienation roles of my tongue every single day, something I only previously new as Brainwashing. Please everyone, part of the problem is P.A. and PAS are not commonly disgust or known about. If I am on the telephone talking to someone I always encourage them to look at Parental Alienation on the Internet. Everyone I meet I discuss what is happening to innocent Children, the pain good Families have to endure as well as the anger for not being believed for telling the truth.

    The authorities have to raise their head above the parapet as the money that is being drained from the budgets of the NHS, Social Services and the Justice system should be better spent on supporting Families. So please let us all try to eliminate this cruel Child abuse by ensuring more and more people understand what our beautiful Children are subject to everyday.

    One day I hope to announce to the world I am Granddad again. I get annoyed when I am told one day my Granddaughter will come looking for her Parental Family. This is my biggest fear as my health and age is likely to risk a far off reunion with my Granddaughter. I ask other Parents and Grandparents to publicise their reunion with their Child in order to give others encouragement. We tend to concentrate on negative issues.

    Please never give up seeking contact with your Children, keep highlighting this evil tool Parents use to damage their partner and their Children.

    Good Luck and never, never give up fighting.


  8. Yep, Karen has always been fearless with the truth. What she does in standing up to power is truly admirable. The day that a toilet paper like the Guardian (or any other state propaganda machine) publishes something by her would be a day that inspires hope.


    1. you might like to click on the link to the Guardian Profile of me mirror. I still identified myself as a feminist then so I was of course acceptable to the Guardian but they did profile me and the work I do.


  9. Maybe I don’t talk enough about the things I am doing that are recognised, you can see an article by me in the Seen and Heard Journal from Nagalro which is the Independent Social Worker and Guardian Ad Litem Union. I am also about to start training the Judiciary in England on the work that we do and parental alienation. I will write more about that soon. The link to the article is here.


  10. A child who says he doesn’t want to go to school is compelled to do so but if he says that he doesn’t wish to see his parent/grandparent then the ‘Thoughts and Wishes of the Child’
    must be considered!
    Don’t even need the word ‘sexual’-just the allegation of ‘abuse’ coached by resident parent is enough to bring the full force of courts and Cafcass on the alienated parent. .


  11. Mothers are falsely accused of abuse, including false allegations of sexual abuse. Of course, there are times when mothers and fathers are truly sexually abusing their child — the controlling type of individual who would be so cruel as to cut a child off from his/her other parent may also be controlling and sick in sexual exploitation, too. One reason I moved away from my child was because her dad was constantly trying to bring her to court (taking her out of school) and involve her in the courtroom to testify against me with lies. I knew this would be harmful to her, regardless of whether they found me innocent or guilty. I also knew this would cause issues between her and her older brothers, not to mention going to court was too expensive for a mother of three! I had a responsibility to financially support my children. My daughter ended up running from her dad to the police, but child support still has to be paid him even though she refuses to live there and he is not supporting her in any way, shape or form. I also cover the health insurance, which she has had to rely on medications since living with him — the psychiatrist not talking to me, but the dad and stepmom.


    1. Psychologist are the biggest problem. One told my child to never talk to me. The “professional” belongs in jail. We need to reject these quacks and charlatans and bring new laws to return to normal.


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