For years fathers’ groups have complained that whenever they request that fathers should have more time to spend with their children after divorce, feminist groups argue that those children will be exposed to more violence.
Contrary to social evidence, feminists think males raised without fathers will treat women better. And yet, most of the male perpetrators of domestic violence are the products of what once was called a “broken home”. They have been denied a meaningful contact with their biological fathers, and, as a result, denied experience of traditional fatherhood.
With first-hand experience of the great damage caused by divorce and family disintegration, these children have seen their fathers banished from the family home and their own contact with them greatly (if not entirely) reduced. Many have seen their fathers’ intense suffering and despair. Too young to understand, they are often left emotionally confused and their sense of security is severely damaged. And it is always important to consider what the best empirical research available unquestionably reveals: the absence of the biological father is directly associated with the rise in juvenile violent crime, child depression, child eating disorders, and teen suicide and substance abuse. 
This essay appears in the May edition of Quadrant.
Click here to subscribe
Arguably, the arrival of easily obtainable divorce led not only to the breakup of families but also to a pandemic of fatherless children. In the lives of most of these children, fathers are largely if not completely absent. And yet, hostility to traditional marriage is one of the hallmarks of modern feminism. Martha Nussbaum, a liberal feminist scholar, writes: “A woman who accepts the traditional tasks of housekeeping and provides support for her husband’s work is not likely to be well prepared to look after herself and her family in the event (which is increasingly likely) of a divorce or an accident that leaves her alone”.
There is obviously some truth in such an argument. The question is what to do about the problems Professor Nussbaum describes, particularly when it is broadly recognised that feminists like her have decisively co-operated in supporting “no-fault divorce”. And yet the institution of marriage acts as a culture’s chief vehicle to bind men to their children and raise them with the mother in a stable family home.
One of the most disturbing trends in contemporary society is the increasing distance, if not separation, of fathers from their biological children. Radical feminism inflicts great damage on children in its reckless attempt to insist the differing roles of father and mother are not essential to the whole enterprise of raising a child. In feminist terminology, the idea of “reproductive freedom” means not only abortion-on-demand but also artificial insemination for lesbians who want to bear and raise fatherless children.
Ironically, contrary to common perception (and the wild claims of the powerful feminist lobby), the most likely abuser of a young child is not the biological father. As noted by US sociologist David Popenoe, one of the greatest risk factors in child abuse, found by virtually every investigation that has ever been conducted, is children living in a “female-headed single-parent household”. Although it is appalling that a child might grow up in a home terrorised by a violent father, according to US sociologists Murray Straus and Jan Stets “women not only engage in physical violence as often as men, but they also initiate violence about as often as men”.
If our political and intellectual elites were really concerned about the protection of children and breaking the cycle of violence, they should at least be able to recognise that child abuse by mothers is part of the story of violence in the home. In the United States, statistics reveal that mothers are almost twice as likely as fathers to abuse their children. An official report released by the US Department of Justice found that mothers account for no less than 55 per cent of all child murders.
In a well-known study using a sample of 718,948 reported cases of child abuse, the US Administration for Children and Families concluded that biological mothers (58 per cent of the child abuse perpetrators) are 1.3 times more likely to abuse their children than biological fathers. When acting alone, mothers are twice as likely to abuse their biological children as are fathers, and mothers are also the main perpetrators of infanticide, or child homicide.
The evidence that biological mothers can be more abusive to their children is undeniable. It is confirmed by the US Department of Health and Human Services in its comprehensive report Child Mistreatment (2006). While fathers (including stepfathers) were involved in 36 per cent of all the mistreatment cases, mothers were involved in 64 per cent of them. Further, while the father was the sole perpetrator in 18 per cent of these cases, in 40 per cent of them the mother was the sole perpetrator, with the mother acting with someone else besides the father in 6.2 per cent of those cases. The Department concludes:
On average, fathers who live in a married household with their children are better able to create a family environment that is more conducive to the safety and necessary care of their children. Consequently, children who live with their biological father in a married household are significantly less likely to be physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected than children who do not live with their married biological parents.
The reality is remarkably similar in Canada, where a study of 135,573 child maltreatment investigations carried out by Health Canada, and published by the National Clearing House on Family Violence, was able to examine all the cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment and other subcategories. The empirical investigation concluded that, compared to their biological fathers, biological mothers were considerably more likely to physically abuse their children (47 per cent, compared to 42 per cent), to neglect their children (86 per cent; 33 per cent), to engage in emotional abuse (61 per cent; 55 per cent) and to contribute to multiple other categories of abuse and neglect (66 per cent; 33 per cent).
These statistics are similar to those obtained in the United Kingdom, where it has been demonstrated that fatherless children are substantially more likely to experience all sorts of physical abuse and neglect; that these children are less likely to live in homes that provide satisfactory levels of support, protection and stability. The British data on child abuse reveal that rates of serious abuse are lowest in family units where the biological father is present, in particular where both of the biological parents are married and live together. By contract, the incidence of child abuse and neglect is thirty-three times higher when the biological mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend who is not the child’s biological father. What is more, children whose mothers cohabit with a non-married partner are seventy-three times more likely to suffer “fatal abuse” than those living with their married biological parents.
In Australia the statistics are remarkably similar. It has been reported that “around the country there are government departments struggling to cope with daily reports of child abuse, most often by their mothers”. For example, data gathered in Western Australia by its Department of Child Protection reveals that the number of mothers who are responsible for “substantial maltreatment” of their children rose from 312 to 427 in less than a ten-year period. In that same period the number of fathers reported for child abuse dropped from 165 to 155.
The problem has not been restricted to English-speaking countries. After all, a comprehensive analysis of child abuse cases across forty-two nations of the Western world found that children raised in single-parenting houses are considerably more likely to become victims of physical violence and sexual abuse. By contrast, a father’s involvement in the life of a child has been proven beyond doubt to be directly associated with much lower levels of child abuse and neglect, even in families having to endure problems such as male unemployment and poverty, which could place the child at some risk of maltreatment. Compared to their peers living with both of their biological parents, children raised in single-parent homes have a:
- 77 per cent greater risk of being physically abused;
- 87 per cent greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect;
- 165 per cent greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect;
- 74 per cent greater risk of suffering from emotional neglect;
- 80 per cent greater risk of suffering serious injury as a result of abuse; and a
- 120 per cent greater risk of experiencing some type of maltreatment overall.
As can be seen, child abuse occurs disproportionately in non-traditional families. So it is quite extraordinary that the subject of family breakdown has failed to receive proper political, media and academic attention. While it is widely recognised that a positive relationship between a child and his/her biological father “contributes to the child’s development and may lessen the risk of abuse”, studies also confirm that children living in single-mother households have a considerably greater lifetime exposure to sexual assault and mistreatment than those living with their biological parents. Sociology professors Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew from the University of Virginia attempt to provide an explanation for these findings:
Mothers living in a married household are less likely to be abusive or neglectful of their children because they enjoy more support from a spouse. Fathers help mothers be better parents in a variety of ways. First, fathers can directly care for their children, thereby providing mothers with a break from the challenges and stresses of parenting. Second, by engaging in housework or other tasks associated with running a household, fathers can help decrease a mother’s stress, thereby lowering the risk of child maltreatment. Third, fathers can monitor a mother’s parenting, stepping in when she could be on the verge of engaging in abusive or neglectful parenting. Finally, married fathers can offer emotional support and advice to their wives, and both parents can strategize together about parenting. Such support is invaluable in reducing the odds that a mother ends up abusing their children. For all these reasons, then, mothers who are married to the father of their children are less likely to neglect or abuse their children, compared to single mothers.
Whether or not this might be true, decades of research indicate that family breakdown makes society much less equal in areas such as health, education and employment. For example, single-parent households are substantially more likely to have incomes below the poverty line. Although it should be noted that most people living in poverty do not harm their children, “lower income, the increased stress associated with the sole burden of family responsibilities, and fewer supports are thought to contribute to the risk of single parents maltreating their children”. A study carried out in the US about a decade ago concluded that 33 per cent of children in single-mother households had at least once lacked food or gone hungry, whereas only 11 per cent of their peers in married households had ever lacked food at home—a nearly 300 per cent difference.
Above all, decades of research show that children who do not live with both their biological parents are at significantly higher risk of being sexually abused, especially by men living in their homes who are not their biological fathers. According to Jeremy Sammut of the Centre for Independent Studies, “girls living in non-traditional families have been found to be sexually abused by their ‘stepfathers’, either the married, cohabiting or casual partner of a divorced or single mother, at six to seven times the rate girls are sexually abused by their natural fathers in intact families”.
The same conclusion has been reached by Robin Fretwell Wilson. She is the Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, where she directs the Family Law and Policy Program and the Epstein Health Law and Policy Program. After carefully analysing more than seventy representative research papers on the subject, Professor Wilson concluded:
There is little doubt that the risk is indeed real. As difficult as it is to accept, a girl’s sexual vulnerability skyrockets after [her parents] divorce, with no indication that this risk will subside. As marriages continue to collapse at an extraordinary rate and the number of single-parent and remarried households soars, the number of girls put at risk can only increase.
Professor Wilson also questions the abject failure of our legal systems to properly acknowledge the extent to which the children of divorced parents, particularly girls, are at a greater risk of sexual abuse. She writes:
The law has failed to grasp the extent to which girls in disrupted families are at risk of sexual abuse. In the custody arena, judges base their decisions primarily on the past and present conduct of each parent. Consequently, courts examine whether a parent has molested, or is molesting, his or her daughter before awarding custody to that parent. However, courts generally fail to consider the equally important question: could a daughter be molested after her parents part, either by them or by someone who enters her life after divorce? This failure on the part of courts highlights a glaring inadequacy in the law: a nearly universal absence of approaches designed to prevent, as opposed to remedy, a known repercussion of parental separation, sexual abuse.
These findings in no way imply that all stepfathers are potential abusers. Sexual abuse may occur in all kinds of family arrangements and configurations. It may be perpetrated by a multiplicity of offenders, including relatives, neighbours and family friends. Indeed, as explained by W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Rosenberg in their seminal work on the importance of fathers in the healthy development of children, “there are … countless stepfathers who step into the role of dad with both competence and caring. And many live-in boyfriends provide both love and structure for the children in the household.”
Bradford and Rosenberg note that children raised by loving married parents can better learn how a man is to treat a woman in the context of a healthy relationship. They also note that children who see their fathers treating their mothers with love and respect learn that they are supposed to treat individuals of the opposite gender with love and respect. These children learn that behaviour towards the opposite gender that is not respectful is simply not acceptable. 
Above all, the undeniable fact remains that only a tiny proportion of sexual abuse is committed by biological fathers, although government statistics often lump in the statistics with stepfathers so as to make it appear that incest has become widespread. For instance, statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) fail to distinguish between biological fathers and non-biological fathers. This is extremely unhelpful, “given the scholarly interests in the relationship between non-traditional families and child sexual abuse, and the good international evidence that family breakdown is a major risk factor”. The child protection data which is publicly available in the United States is far more comprehensive. The 2010 National Incidence Study of Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) reached the conclusion:
Children living with their married biological parents had the lowest rate of abuse and neglect, whereas those living with a single parent who had a partner living in the household had the highest rate. Compared to children living with married biological parents, those whose single parent had a live-in partner were at least 8 times more likely to be maltreated in one way or another. They were 10 times more likely to experience abuse and 8 times more likely to experience neglect. 
Patrick Parkinson is a professor of law at the University of Sydney and a specialist in family law and child protection. He was President of the International Society of Family Law from 2011 to 2014. His books include Australian Family Law in Context, Family Law and the Indissolubility of Parenthood, The Voice of a Child in Family Law Disputes and Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches. After carefully reviewing the relevant statistics from Australia and overseas, Professor Parkinson concluded:
Children whose parents live apart are exposed to a greater number of risks and difficulties than children in intact families. They are significantly more likely to be subject to reports of abuse and neglect than intact families. Two of the most significant reasons for this are the presence of new partners who are not biologically related to the children, and the financial and other stresses of lone parenthood. Girls in particular are at much greater risk of sexual abuse from the mother’s new partner than from their own father. Single parents, and especially those who are working to support the family, also have less time to monitor and supervise their children. 
Although the media, government inquiries and pronouncements by influential public figures appear to suggest that domestic violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men, the disintegration of the traditional family (and the devaluation of fatherhood) is one of the leading causes of the growth of domestic violence. Such a breaking down, at least in great part, is directly caused by the state’s influence and intervention. Unfortunately our political class has hugely betrayed its constituency by utterly ignoring the massive role of state-sponsored initiatives in instigating family breakdown and fatherlessness, and how such factors directly contribute to the growth in domestic violence. From a classical liberal perspective, most of the existing laws in Australia are gender-biased and they have made marriage a remarkably bad deal for men. As noted by Patrick McCauley in an article in Quadrant about three years ago:
marriage failure for a man means losing the role of day-to-day fatherhood, his home, a big part of his income as mandated by the divorce settlement and enforced by the courts … The injustice is both palpable and bound to make an impression on men who have witnessed in childhood the disintegration of their own parents’ unions. 
Child abuse and neglect overwhelmingly occur in households from which the biological father is absent or removed (often as a result of involuntary divorce or restraining orders that violate even the most essential elements of natural justice and due process of law). Mothers who kill their children are usually single mothers. And since the biological father is precisely that person who the “domestic violence industry” wants to remove from the family unit, countless children have become the primary victims of an unjust legal system which often makes then unable to develop a meaningful relationship with their fathers, in such a way that could reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.
Sensible people would see these factors as pointers to the protective nature of the bond between a child and his/her father. Nonetheless, defending the important role played by fathers in the protection of their biological children is not part of the prevailing agenda, especially of the lobby groups that have sought the obliteration of fatherhood through gender politics and gender fluidity.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor of Law at Sheridan College in Perth, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is president of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association and a former commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia.
 David Popenoe, ‘Life with a Father’, U.S. Department of Education, Educational Resources Information (ED 416 035), November 2000.
 Martha Nussbaum, ‘Justice for Women’, The New Review of Books, October 8, 1992, p. 43.
 Donald S. Browning, Marriage and Modernization: How Globalization Threatens Marriage and What to do About it (Grand Rapids/MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p 18.
 Patrick Fagan, ‘The Child Abuse Crisis: The Disintegration of Marriage, Family, and the American Community’, Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, June 3, 1997, p 16.
 Popenoe, above n.2, p 12.
 Murray Straus and Jan E. Stets, ‘Gender Differences in Reporting Marital Violence’, in Murray Straus and Richard Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families (New Brunswick/NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990), p.154.
 Bettina Arndt, ‘Flirting with Confected Outrage Fails to Impress Women’, The Australian, 7 January, 2016, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/flirting-with-confected-outrage-fails-to-impress-women/news-story/13b5e0c486c037fce7f0a3fd625f801b
 Michael Weiss and Cathy Young, ‘Feminist Jurisprudence: Equal Rights or Neo-Paternalism?’, Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No.256, June 19, 1996, at http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-256.html; See also: Murray Straus and Richard Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families (New Brunswick/NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990). See also: W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew, ‘Protectors or Perpetrators? Fathers, Mothers, and Child Abuse Neglect’, Center for Marriage and Families, Institute for American Values, Research Brief No.7, January 2008.
 ‘Murder in Families’, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mf.pdf
 Dutton & White, above n.37, at 13.
 ‘Child Maltreatment’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Washington/DC: GPO, 2007). The mother acted together with the father as perpetrator in 17.3 per cent of the cases.
 Jeffrey Rosenberg and W Bradford Wilcox, ‘The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006, at 16.
 N Trocme, B MacLaurin, B Fallon, J Daciuk, D Billingsley, M Tourigny, et al., ‘Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (No. H49-151/2000E), Ottawa/ON: Health Canada.
 Fagan, above n.84. See also E. Thompson, T.L. Hanson, and S.S. McLanahan, ‘Family Structure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources versus Parental Behaviors’ (1994) 73 Social Forces 221-43.
 Patrick F. Fagan, PhD and Kirk A. Johnson, PhD, ‘Marriage: The Safest Place for Women and Children”, Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder N.1535 (April 10, 2002), p 3.
 Ibid., p 4.
 Bettina Arndt, ‘Flirting with Confected Outrage Fails to Impress Women’, The Australian, 7 January, 2016
 Bettina Arndt, ‘Flirting with Confected Outrage Fails to Impress Women’, The Australian, 7 January, 2016
J Goldman, M K Salus, D Wolcott and K Y Kennedy, ‘A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003, p 31
 Jeremy Sammut, ‘The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse’, Centre for Independent Studies, No.142, 30 January 2014, at 4. See also: Diane Russell, ‘The Prevalence and Seriousness of Incestuous Abuse: Stepfathers vs. Biological Fathers,’ (1984) 8 Child Abuse & Neglect 1, pp 15–22.
 J Goldman, M K Salus, D Wolcott and K Y Kennedy, ‘A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003, p 30.
 For instance, research carried in the mid-1980s by Drs Daley and Wilson revealed that pre-school children who live with one parent and one stepparent are 40 times more liked to become a victim of abuse than were children living with the biological mother and father. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, ‘Child Abuse and Other Risks of Not Living with Both Parents (1985) 6 Ethology and Sociobiology 197-210. Michael Stiffman et al, ‘Household and Risk of Fatal Child Maltreatment’ (2002) 109 Pediatrics 615-21; William L. Mac Donald and Alfred DeMaris, ‘Parenting Stepchildren and Biological Children: The Effect of Stepparent’s Gender and New Biological Children’ (1996) 17 Journal of Family Issues, 5-25; Alan Booth and Judy Dunn (eds.), Stepfamilies: How Benefits? Who Does Not? (Hillsdale/NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994). David Popenoe observes: ‘Stepfamilies typically have an economic advantage, but some recent studies indicated that the children of stepfamilies have as many behavioural and emotional problems as the children of single-parent families, and possible more … Stepfamily problems, in short, may be so intractable that the best strategy for dealing with them is to do everything possible to minimize their occurrence…’. David Popenoe, ‘The Evolution of Marriage and the Problems of Stepfamilies: A Biosocial Perspective, in Alan Booth and Judy Dunn (eds.), Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who does Not? (Hillsdale/NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994) at 5 and 19. See also: Heather A. Turner, David Finkelhor, and Richard Ormrod, ‘The Effect of Lifetime Victimization on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents’ (2002) 62 Social Science and Medicine 13-27.
 W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew, ‘Protectors or Perpetrators? Fathers, Mothers, and Child Abuse Neglect’, Center for Marriage and Families (Institute for American Values), Research Brief No.7, January 2008, p.5. See also, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson, ‘Household Food Security in the United States 2004, ‘Economics Research Report No.11, Washington/DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2005. See also: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, ‘The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect’, Washington/DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.
 Jill Goldman, Marsha K Salus, Deborah Wolcott and Kristie Y Kennedy, ‘A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington/DC, 2003, p 27.
 Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson, ‘Household Food Security in the United States 2004, ‘Economics Research Report No.11, Washington/DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2005.
 Jeremy Sammut, ‘The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse’, Centre for Independent Studies, No.142, 30 January 2014, at 4.
 Robin Fretwell Wilson, ‘Children at Risk: The Sexual Exploitation of Female Children After
Divorce,’ (2000) 86:2 Cornell Law Review 251, at 256.
 Ibid., at 57
 Rosenberg and Wilcox, above n.12, pp 35-6
 Stephen Baskerville, ‘Divorced from Reality’, Touchstone Magazine, January/February 2009, at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=22-01-019-f
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey Australia 2005, Cat. No. 4906.0.
 Jeremy Sammut, ‘The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse’, Centre for Independent Studies, No.142, Sydney/NSW, 30 January 2014, p. 4.
 Diana Zuckerman and Sarah Pedersen, ‘Child Abuse and Father Figures: Which Kinds of Families Are Safest to Grow Up In?’, National Research Center for Health Research, Washington, DC, 2018, at http://www.center4research.org/child-abuse-father-figures-kind-families-safest-grow/
 Patrick Parkinson, ‘For the Kid’s Sake: Repairing the Social Environment for Australian Children and Young People’ (2011) 32 (3) The Australian Family 23-32.
 Patrick McCauley, ‘The Broader View of Domestic Violence’, Quadrant, no.5, 2015, at https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2015/05/broader-view-domestic-violence/
 Patrick Parkinson, Judith Cashmore and Judi Single, ‘Post-Separation Conflict and the Use of Family Restraining Orders’ (2011) 33 Sydney Law Review 1, 32-33. See also: Patrick Parkinson, Judith Cashmore and Atlanta Webster, ‘The Views of Family Lawyers on Apprehended Violence Orders After Parental Separation’ (2010) 24 Australian Journal of Family Law 313, p.315. See also: Jennifer Hickey and Stephen Cumines, ‘Apprehended Violence Orders: A Survey of Magistrates’ (Sydney/NSW: Judicial Commission of New South Wales, 1999), p.37.
 S Hatters Fridman, DR Hrouda, CE Holden, SG Noffsinger, et al., ‘Filicide-Suicide: Common Factors in Parents Who Kill Their Children and Themselves’, (2005) 33 (4) Journal of American Academy of Psychiatric Law 496-504.
 Angela Shanahan, ‘Domestic Violence Beat Up’, The Spectator, November 10, 2015, at https://www.spectator.co.uk/2015/10/domestic-violence-beat-up/