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Casualties of a Custody War

Gardner's controversial stance on incest

Many divorce lawyers and even some therapists who hire Dr. Richard Gardner, or rely on his ''parental alienation syndrome,'' are unaware of his most controversial writings -- on how to deal with incest in families.

If a sexual abuse charge is made in a custody case, Gardner usually dismisses it as false. But if such a charge surfaces in an intact family, Gardner believes that most of the time, the incest allegation is true.

But Gardner also thinks that society treats adults who have sex with children too harshly.

In his 1992 book, ''True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse,'' Gardner writes that pedophilia -- adults having sexual relations with children -- ''is a widespread and accepted practice among literally billions of people.''

While sexual activity with children is ''reprehensible'' and exploitative, he noted in another book, ''Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited,'' Gardner goes on to say:

''What I am against is the excessively moralistic and punitive reaction that many members of our society have toward pedophiles ... (going) far beyond what I consider to be the gravity of the crime.''

Such cases aren't always as damaging to the child as some believe, he wrote. If anything, he claims, ''legal process trauma'' -- children being interviewed by police, lawyers and therapists -- often does more damage than the abuse itself.

Reporting the abuse and punishing the pedophilic parent shouldn't be the first response, he says. Rather, the focus should be on treatment.

Even then, Gardner believes treatment is needed only if the child is having difficulties at home, in school and with friends -- and the whole family should see the therapist, who should not assume that the encounter was damaging to the child.

Gardner also contends that while ''the sexually abused child is generally considered to be the victim,'' children may sometimes ''seduce'' the adult into abusing them.

John E.B. Myers, a legal expert on child abuse evidence-gathering, said Gardner's attitudes were rooted in older views of incest and pedophilia.

Before the 1970s and the advent of child protection laws, sex researchers like Alfred Kinsey also said incest was not necessarily harmful. In many cases the mother was blamed for the problem: If she was frigid, hostile and unloving, it could drive the father to seek sexual satisfaction with the children, the theory went.

These days, most therapists and law enforcement officials take a much harder line toward child molestation. It's treated as a serious crime.

But Gardner has written that some judges and prosecutors who pursue such charges may be satisfying their own pedophilic urges.

Judges ''may have repressed pedophilic impulses over which there is suppression, repression, and guilt. Inquiry into the details of the case provides voyeuristic and vicarious gratifications,'' he wrote in ''Sex Abuse Hysteria.''

In fact, Gardner says, ''all of us have some pedophilia within us.''

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