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Dissertation

The Bridges Program: A transitional program for families with unresolvable allegations of sexual abuse

26 July 1994

Abstract

The literature on sexual abuse suggests that child sexual abuse is very prevalent and that substantiating allegations of this sexual abuse is a very complex and difficult task. This task is carried out in the adversarial system in which two equal advocates best present their version of events to the judge or jury who will then sift out the truth. In some circumstances the truth cannot be determined and the allegations become unresolvable. As a result some families become entrenched in the legal system. Thus, the problem becomes one of how to get these families out of the adversarial legal system and, at the same time, reducing the risk of sexual abuse occurrences so the family can continue with their development. The most frequently used method today is the supervised visitation process which may keep children safe, but does not provide opportunities for the individuals involved to learn and experience new, healthier ways of relating. This paper proposed a, unique way of moving these families out of the legal system while reducing the risk of sexual abuse occurrences as these individuals learn new ways to be in relationship with each other. This was accomplished by redefining the problem from the narrow entrenched version of focusing on the alleged abuse to a broader more flexible version focusing on the developmental needs of the child. The program was evaluated by illuminating and understanding the subjective experience of the parents involved using the phenomenological research design of hermeneutics.


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