Date Published: 12 November 2005

Paternity Secrets: Why Women Don't Tell

Health News from Australia.

According to recent research conducted in Australia, mothers caught up in situations where paternity is misattributed are ordinary women caught in a real-life nightmare, not women deliberately setting out to defraud either men or the system.

As part of a bigger study into the experience of paternity testing and paternity uncertainty for men and women, sociologist Dr Lyn Turney from Swinburne's Centre for Emerging and New Technologies and Society interviewed a group of 15 women who had experienced paternity uncertainty about why they kept their potential or actual secret.

"The study revealed a variety of reasons why women kept quiet, with children being one of the main reasons," said Dr Turney.

"Many women interviewed showed enormous guilt and self-blame for their situation, with the expectation of harsh moral judgments of them and their children from friends, family and other people preventing them from revealing their paternity secret.

_ Family values and the fear their current relationship would break down also played a part. The older the child got the more difficult it became to tell their secret because of the disruption to the established father-child relationship and the effect it would have on the broader relations with the extended family.

_ Similarly, some women were concerned about the disruption to the biological father's life and to that of his other family and they believed that not saying anything was often the fairest and easiest option."

Most participants were involved in 'one-off' encounters that took place during or just before a stable long-term relationship. Other women who spoke about the circumstances surrounding their confusion over paternity were young, sexually nave and caught up in sexual episodes and events over which they had little control.

Dr Turney said the study clearly shows that paternity secrets are deeply held, complex, and difficult to disclose.

"The rates of misattributed paternity and paternity fraud have been blown way out of proportion with incorrect figures of 30% far exceeding the real figure of 1 - 3%." Dr Turney said.

" Fathers as well as mothers are disadvantaged by the moral outrage about paternity fraud because they are cast as victims and unable to forgive the wrong that has been done to them, which in turn affects the way they are able to relate to their child.

_ These findings are important as they do not claim women are always blameless but they do show the reasons and circumstances behind the making and keeping of paternity secrets and are important in providing a balance to current public debates on the issue.

_ These women did not seem any different from any other random group of women, except that they were caught in a real-life nightmare in which they had made errors of judgement that had devastating and enduring consequences for themselves and others close to them."

Source(s): Swinburne University, Australia.

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