- promoting a clearer understanding of men's experience -


MENZ.org.nz Logo

Dr John Read and Murray Hahn interviewed by Kim Hill

Radio New Zealand August 7, 2000

Kim Hill:
(Elizabeth Loftus) is a world authority on the memory capabilities of children and in fact she was one of the first to question the belief of child abuse therapists and counsellors that adults could recover memories of sexual abuse inflicted on them at a very young age. Now, she’s been invited to address the NZ Psychological Society’s annual conference. Dr John Read is a senior lecturer at Auckland University’s psychological department and he has resigned from the psychological society in protest at it’s refusal to revoke it’s invitation to Professor Loftus to speak at the conference. In a moment I’ll talk to Dr Read and also to Murray Hahn, who is chairperson of the conference organising committee. Dr Read however joins me now. Good Morning.

John Read:
Good Morning Kim

Kim Hill:
Let’s start off by your resignation. Is it a fact that you’ve resigned in protest at the Society’s refusal to take back it’s invitation to Professor Loftus?

John Read:
Well first off, I haven’t resigned from the society. I’ve resigned merely from the role of the Director of Scientific affairs

Kim Hill:
Yes

John Read:
Yes, that is directly related to the decision to invite Elizabeth Loftus and the important thing here is that the last thing NZ needs at the moment as it is grappling with a horrific stories of abuse sexual and physical that we’ve been confronted with over the last few weeks is a leading member of that movement which minimises abuse – Which says that it isn’t happening at the extent to which it is – That says that children make it up.- That’s not exactly going to move us forward in our moment of national crisis. And, I’ve got no problem with her coming and speaking. It was the prominence to which we were going to give her – to have her be a keynote speaker and not to have anyone representing the children who have been abused and those who work with them to put the opposite side. Something we did propose to the conference committee. That’s their right to decide that. I do believe in academic freedom. I also believe that there are some issues where you have to take a stand and this is an issue I’m fully prepared to take a stand. My concern is the thousands of children who are being abused in New Zealand and the hundreds of mental health professionals, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, who work with them who are constantly being belittled by the False Memory Syndrome brigade of whom Loftus is a leading member.

Kim Hill:
I don’t think that Professor Loftus has ever denied that child abuse takes place, however, has she?

John Read:
She hasn’t said it takes place, but by arguing consistently in the court that children make up child abuse on a massive scale hardly makes it easy for people to either disclose abuse for fear of being disbelieved, nor does it make it easy for people whose job it is such as GP’s and mental health professionals and social workers to ask properly about abuse. People are being scared off at the moment by this sort of propaganda from asking about abuse. Our research shows that the more professionals believe that false allegations are rampant, which they are not, the less likely they are to ask. So we now have a situation where people whose job it is to find out whether their clients and patients have been abused are scared to do so because of the very effective and powerful propaganda of this organisation.

Kim Hill:
However, her main interest of course and her main speciality focusses on the recovered memory syndrome so called – Not whether children make it up or don’t make it up but whether years and years and years later people can, under therapy, recover a memory of child abuse and that leads to court cases of course as we’ve seen in the United States primarily

John Read:
Precisely, and that’s where she’s doing the damage. Of course people can forget about their abuse. It’s such a painful thing that people regularly, and research documents this quite clearly. People who have been abused regularly have periods of their lives where they forget about the abuse. It’s adaptive and functional to forget about such horrific things happening to you and if years later when somebody asks you about it you manage to remember it , I think that’s a good thing, and it happens frequently, and the idea that there is no such thing as repressed memory is absolute scientific nonsense.

Kim Hill:
You have, according to reports, been offered an hour after Professor Loftus’s speech for a forum to comment. In other words there may be some vibrant discussion no doubt, some kind of rebuttal, whatever. Is that not sufficient?

John Read:
The many many people who were opposed to Loftus being a keynote speaker, and I stress we have no problem with her being just an ordinary speaker, but the prominence being given to her that we objected to … did not feel that it was appropriate for us to debate on her territory around her research. We want time to raise the real issues which is about the underfunding of child abuse police teams, the underfunding of CYPS, the need for more training for psychologists to know how to ask about abuse. The sorts of things that I spend my time doing, training mental health professionals. I don’t want to spend my time actually debating Loftus’s research which is actually irrelevant to the issue of abuse. It’s analogue research which means it’s research several times removed from the real situation. It has to be because it is unethical to actually produce trauma in children or adults and then see what they can remember

Kim Hill:
Of course that highlights the difficulty, that highlights the difficulty of finding out …

John Read:
Absolutely

Kim Hill:
…. the truth of whatever, doesn’t it?

John Read:
No, it highlights the difficulty of researching, of demonstrating the claim made by the false memory syndrome people that people never repress their memories of abuse. You can’t research that ethically and Loftus hasn’t done, yet she stands up in Court on a regular basis in the United States, makes a huge living out of doing so – out of discrediting people who have been abused. In fact when several people complained, several abuse survivors complained to her professional organisation, the American Psychological Association about what she was doing and how she was misrepresenting them, she rather than face those complaints, she resigned from her professional organisation. Now in NZ that is not acceptable practice. If there are complaints made against you must stand and face them. You cannot resign because you are being accused of unethical practice. You must stand and face them Loftus chose not to do that.

Kim Hill:
You have no objection to her speaking. You just don’t want her to be a keynote speaker.

John Read:
I don’t want her to be a keynote speaker

Kim Hill:
In effect what is the difference?

John Read:
There is a huge difference because she is a very skilled propagandist and she and her few supporters here in New Zealand will take the fact that she is a keynote speaker at our conference and use that to add credibility to the cause

Kim Hill:
So she can get up and deliver the same speech, but if she’s not called a keynote speaker, then that’s OK?

John Read:
Well the issues around the conference are not the real issues. The issues are the damage that Loftus and her brigade will do …

Kim Hill:
No, I understand that and I think

John Read:
But that’s what I want to talk about. It’s not my dispute with NZPS They have done an awful lot and will continue to do an awful lot for abused children and for those who work with them

Kim Hill:
I understand that. I’m trying to explore the interesting dilemma really in your position, in that you don’t object to her coming and you don’t object to her speaking

John Read:
Oh, I’d much rather she stayed in America. She’s doing enough damage over there. We don’t actually need … New Zealand is in a crisis over abuse. We are trying to deal with find some proper solutions to reduce the amount of murders of children and and sexual abuse of children, and we’ve got a lot of moral outrage at the moment. All the newspaper editors are saying the right things. The politicians are saying the right things. We need to move on from that and find some actual positive solutions. To have Loftus arrive and stir up all this nonsense about people don’t repress their memories and counsellors and psychologists are planting these memories is not going to help us. I mean, we have enough to do without sitting around persuading people that they’ve been abused. We are dealing with genuine abuse cases in their thousands and the public is asked to believe that we’re actually creating more abuse. It’s just nonsense. Just to make one point in NZ you have to have disclosed abuse to somebody else before you gain access to an ACC counsellor. Do you understand the point I’m making?

Kim Hill:
Yes I do

John Read:
Because they are claiming that all this abuse is merely the fabrication that comes about from counsellors and psychologists telling their clients that they’ve been abused. You can’t get access to an abuse counsellor in New Zealand until you’ve disclosed to somebody else

Kim Hill:
Look, I can understand why you think that it’s kind of unwise, or off the game if you like to invite her to talk, because the issue in New Zealand at the moment is not the issue of recovered memory. The issue in New Zealand at the moment is the very real maiming and killing of children, about which there can be no debate. All right?

John Read:
It’s the same issue. Every time someone who stands up as an adult and says these horrific things happened to me as a child and then they are discredited by lawyers. It’s their job to do that. I respect the lawyers who stand up and do that It is the psychologists who are providing pseudo research to support the discrediting of people who are trying …. it is a very brave thing to do to go to Court, to take an abuse case to court, and when you get there and you are faced with so-called experts saying that you’re making it up, or your counsellor told you that it happened. I find that distasteful. I find it really painful, because my job, and the job of all the people who have protested against Loftus, and there is many of us, Our job is trying to make it safe for people to disclose abuse, to get them to where they can get some help. It is the same issue, Kim, because every time a genuine abuse victim is discredited in the press or in Court and made out to look like they’ve made it up or were so stupid that they’ve let a counsellor convince them that they’ve been abused. That moves us backwards into the dark ages again where no one wants to talk about abuse. No one will disclose abuse for fear of being disbelieved.

Kim Hill:
Does the very painful, does the very undoubtedly painful reality of child abuse mean that it has to be treated in a way that is quite different from the normal robust academic debate?

John Read:
No absolutely not I’m now talking to you. I’m having that debate with you, and this debate will go on while Loftus is here. I will be at the forefront of that, and so will many other people. Abuse survivors will be speaking out. People who work with abuse survivors will be speaking out. The debate is on.

Kim Hill:
But the debate is on in a way in which you have already demonised one of the leading proponents of somebody of a case that’s happens to be at odds with what you believe.

John Read:
How have I demonised her?

Kim Hill:
Well, for heavens sake,

John Read:
I disagree

Kim Hill:
You’ve just spent the last ten minutes calling her unprofessional to say the least.

John Read:
I have reported some facts about her not being willing to face complaints to her professional organisation. Yes, all right if that’s demonising her, then that’s demonising her.

Kim Hill:
And given the very very politicised nature of this debate

John Read:
Yep,

Kim Hill:
It’s unexpected …It’s not natural to expect her to deal with those kind of complaints in anything other than the way she’s done, is it? I mean she’s been demonised here, She’s been demonised in the United States. She for her part may well have demonised other people. This is the state of the debate. But it’s not freedom of expression, and it’s not an academic rigour is it?

John Read:
Why isn’t it freedom of expression?

Kim Hill:
Because you are saying this woman is causing damage to something I believe in. Therefore she is wrong. Aren’t you?

John Read:
No, I’m saying she is wrong because her research doesn’t relate to the issues. It’s pseudo research in terms of whether it’s actually relevant to whether people can remember whether they can repress or forget their abuse memories, and I am saying that the backlash. Look it was 25 years ago when, only 25 years ago when leading psychiatric textbooks said that the incidence of incest was one per million. We have clawed our way forward with some excellent New Zealand research for instance showing that the rate of sexual abuse of women in New Zealand as children sits around the 20-30% mark. We have clawed our way forward. We have a backlash

Kim Hill:
Isn’t that still arguable though, Dr Read. Those statistics are still in debate.

John Read:
No, we have research from all over the world producing that sort of incidence, and I do understand that it is very very hard for people to take that in. It is such a painful thing to take in. It’s as painful as taking in what we’ve seen over the last two weeks in our newspapers and people understandably will cling onto anything that will help them believe that we are not treating our children so badly. One of the things that people wish to cling onto is the sort of propaganda that is produced by those people who wish to, for whatever reason personal, political or whatever, wish to minimise the extent of abuse and we cannot afford to do that in New Zealand at the moment. We now have a momentum. For the most horrible of reasons we now have a momentum where people are all together as a nation facing in the right direction. What we’re looking for is some answers as to what to do about that rather than to go backwards into a debate about whether people are having these ideas of abuse planted in their heads by counsellors and so forth. I mean when this little kid that we just heard on the news a few minutes ago in thirty years time tells someone about what happened to them, someones going to stand up and say “Oh well your counsellor just convinced you that happened” and I find that very sad, Kim. I really find it sad and I am comfortable taking a stand on those sorts of things.

Kim Hill:
What little kid? No but hang on Dr Read. What little kid are you referring to?

John Read:
On the news just a while ago

Kim Hill:
Hine?

John Read:
About the

Kim Hill:
Well its going to be extremely unlikely that that child is going to be able to be contradicted by anybody. That’s not what we’re talking about.

John Read:
That’s a very rare case when it gets that amount of publicity. There are hundreds of children where that’s happening to them right now around New Zealand where it will be covered up in silence in all our communities, not just Maori. In all our communities and then later on somebody might ask that child why they are in such a bad state as a 20 or 30 year old. And that person might then remember. People do, you have to to survive. Many people do put behind them literally put into their unconscious. Bury those very painful memories.

Kim Hill:
Look, I absolutely understand.

John Read:
So many people ask them later what’s going on, and I think it’s a shame that’s so often discredited. That’s all I’m saying

Kim Hill:
I absolutely understand what you’re saying. However, and I don’t want you to be offended by this, but it’s the only comparison I can grab at short notice. What makes you think that you are different from the Spanish Inquisition at the time of Galileo?

John Read:
Oh, Kim

Kim Hill:
No listen. Listen. Galileo for all they knew was telling the truth, but the truth was going to be more damaging and so it was necessary to get rid of it. Now I’m not suggesting that kind of extremity, but you know what I mean

John Read:
I know. I know what you mean. It is a fair point. People do get very heated over this issue, myself included. When you have sat and listened to hundreds of people as adults tell you about what happened to them as a child, and then tell you that nobody has ever asked them about that for years, they’ve had no support for years and they are terrified of going to court because somebody is going to stand up and accuse them of lying, of making it up. Of course you couldn’t have forgotten it for all that time, could you? They’re going to lose the case. They’re going to be retraumatised. It is, It is an extremely sad situation. And yes I think that when people bring over these so-called experts from America, to promulgate that position, I think that sets us back, and I and all the other people who have protested about it are quite happy to stand up and say so.

Kim Hill:
And what’s going to happen when she arrives?

John Read:
She’s going to say what she has to say.

Kim Hill:
And is there going to be a protest? Are you going to turn your back?

John Read:
I shant be there

Kim Hill:
You wont be there?

John Read:
No. I shall be going down two days later to present my research about the link between child abuse and psychosis and schizophrenia.

Kim Hill:
Right. So you don’t even want to hear what she says?

John Read:
I know what she says. I’ve read what she says. I don’t want to hear it again.

Kim Hill:
And so you will deliberately boycott her presentation?

John Read:
No. I wasn’t planning going that day in the first place.

Kim Hill:
All Right. Murray Hahn is also with us. He is chairperson of the conference organising committee. Morning, Mr Hahn

Murray Hahn:
Good morning Kim.

Kim Hill:
Was it inept? Was it inappropriate? Was it deliberately provocative to invite Elizabeth Loftus to come and give a keynote address here?

Murray Hahn:
It was none of those things, Kim

Kim Hill:
What were you thinking of then?

Murray Hahn:
Um, well, personally and the committee was.. we were unaware of this controversy that was actually raging

Kim Hill:
You were unaware! Hello! You were unaware that Elizabeth Loftus was a controversial figure?

Murray Hahn:
We knew that there was some controversy. We didn’t know about the sort of strength there of feeling that some members of the society had.

Kim Hill:
Good Lord! I mean she is controversial wherever she goes. She is an absolutely lightening rod figure in the world of psychology!

Murray Hahn:
Well, I think there are people who see differences but she has research that she has undertaken that is significant. She has had awards for that research. Seems appropriate that someone who has those sorts of views should be allowed to voice them and I wasn’t aware that we should not have people speaking because they are controversial, or people disagree with those particular views.

Kim Hill:
How many of you were on the committee who decided that she should be invited not only to speak but to be keynote speaker?

Murray Hahn:
Oh, hang on, I’d have to count up, but there is about eight of us

Kim Hill:
And it was a unanimous decision?

Murray Hahn:
It was unanimous, and it was also discussed with the President of the Society who thought that it was an appropriate action to take.

Kim Hill:
Now, Dr Read has argued eloquently that at a time in New Zealand where we are grappling with the very real incidence of child abuse, the very real dreadful injuries that are carried out on our children by the, you know, close families it is inappropriate to say the least to invite somebody like Elizabeth Loftus over to take a position which risks diluting concern about child abuse.

Murray Hahn:
Well, first of all, Kim, Elizabeth Loftus has come into the country before and anyway and it was an offer made to us about her to come and speak, which we took up

Kim Hill:
She was coming to the country anyway?

Murray Hahn:
She was coming to the country anyway…

Kim Hill:
Ok

Murray Hahn:
… to meet with colleagues of hers in Victoria and Otago Universities, so we didn’t invite her. She was there. We took the opportunity to have someone who was in the country to provide what we thought was a talk on the research, not on the controversy.

Kim Hill:
How many keynote speakers have you got?

Murray Hahn:
We’ve got six keynote speakers.

Kim Hill:
And, so, she is not the keynote speaker, she is a keynote speaker.

Murray Hahn:
She is one keynote speaker, Kim

Kim Hill:
Do you accept that, if you didn’t make her a keynote speaker, you just made her another speaker, and lowered her status, you may be able to defuse an argument without impinging on academic freedom?

Murray Hahn:
Um..

Kim Hill:
Or is this now a matter of principle for you?

Murray Hahn:
I don’t think it is a matter of principle. I mean, we made an invitation to go and speak. Whether she was called a keynote speaker or did a speech in another position I think people would still have the same objections. We made an invitation. We don’t see that is appropriate to withdraw that invitation. It sort of, it then starts sort of smacking of censorship, I would have thought, in terms of taking away, I guess, the status of the speech.

Kim Hill:
Well, censorship law is an interesting issue. Ok. If we accept what Dr Read has said. Then perhaps some things ought to be, lets choose a word other than censored, given less prominence – not taken notice of…

Murray Hahn:
Well, maybe. But the committee’s view and certainly mine, was that whether we had her as a keynote speaker, or just as another speaker, she would have still attracted some controversy, because there are people who position and who make others sort of feel differently and we’ve had other speakers talk to the conference who have had views that have been quite different to Dr Loftus’s and views that other people haven’t agreed with. I mean, it is one of the parts of, I guess, academic freedom is that people have an opportunity to express things, and that they should actually be able to be heard.

Kim Hill:
Is there any kind of forum at the conference for Professor Loftus to debate with people who do actually support the concept of recovered memories?

Murray Hahn:
No. There is no forum. We had offered a forum. It was decided .. the people who we were trying to provide this sort of opportunity chose not to have that particular forum.

Kim Hill:
You are referring to the offer to Dr Read of a full hour after Professor Loftus’ speech for a forum to comment?

Murray Hahn:
That’s right. We thought that might give that particular group of people, and those of us who sort of sit somewhere in between, who have no fixed view an opportunity to hear both sides.

Kim Hill:
The problem, is of course, is that this is not science. It’s politics, right?

Murray Hahn:
I think that’s a good way to put it, and I suspect that some of this is about politics, yes..

Kim Hill:
Well, you knew that Professor Loftus was a political figure, when you invited her to give the keynote speech.

Murray Hahn:
I found out afterwards, she was a political figure, yes.

Kim Hill:
I can’t believe ….

John Read:
Can I chip in there, Kim?

Kim Hill:
Yes.

John Read:
Because I fully accept Murray’s position on it and the position of the committee and I fully believe that they genuinely weren’t aware of extent of politics around that issue, and it was only afterwards that we raised the concerns that none of us were actually in the picture at that point. So I’ve got no beef with the NZPS as an organisation. Murray’s got a difficult job. He’s had people blasting his ear from both sides and they’ve taken the position that they don’t want to go down the line of anything that could look like censorship.

Kim Hill:
Which you can understand.

John Read:
I’m saying, I fully accept that.

Kim Hill:
Ok

John Read:
I will, in my slot at the conference deal with the issues in the way that I choose to. Loftus will have a chance to do that in her session, and so be it. That’s ok. All I want to is stay focussed on the issues of child abuse, and under resourcing of child abuse services.

Kim Hill:
All Right.

John Read:
And I think Murray and his committee have made a decision, and that’s the end of that, now we’ve to get on and try and do something about child abuse.

Kim Hill:
It doesn’t leave the public with very much to go on now though does it? Because we are talking about politics. We’re not talking about science.

John Read:
I’m afraid it is somewhat naïve to believe that science exists somewhere separate from politics. Science is not some sort of pure objective thing that happens in a vacuum. The issues that scientists deal with certainly in our field of psychology, and clinical psychology and child abuse are full of politics, and I don’t see how it could be any other way. It’s a very emotive issue. Child abuse always will be an emotive issue. I hope it’s always an emotive issue. People do take sides on it. There are people who do wish to minimise it. I think that’s a political position, and we have to try and bring our scientific research to bear on those issues. But you can never separate out science from politics.

Kim Hill:
Because it’s such an emotive issue, however, do you accept that some times people end up being convicted of things that they did not do, because nobody is prepared to stand up, as for example Elizabeth Loftus has stood out in the United States, and say hang on a minute, What is the evidence for this?

John Read:
Yes, I do believe that happens, and I think that’s absolutely tragic and devastating for the individuals and to the families when that happens. For every one case where that happens, there are probably several hundred cases of genuine abuse that never get reported to anybody, and of those few that get to court, I mean it’s so tiny the number that actually get to court. So yes, there are false, there are are false allegations of everything, burglaries, rape, you name it, and it’s tragic when that happens. What I object to, is people taking those individual tragic cases, and using them to claim that there are many many other cases like this where in fact it’s genuine abuse. So it’s hundred times greater the number of genuine cases of abuse that are not getting dealt with at all, because there are practically no child abuse police teams in this country, because CYPS is so massively underfunded. So I wouldn’t for a second take away the awfulness of when somebody makes a false allegation. If there are professionals that are asking about abuse in an unprofessional, leading and repetitive way that’s equally unforgivable. We haven’t any evidence of that in New Zealand but it does happen occasionally in America. When it happens it’s seized upon, by the media, and Loftus and her crew make sure it’s seized upon.. That’s their job. That’s their job. They do it well, and they will do it well while they are in New Zealand. Our job, those of us who are genuinely concerned about child abuse and the people who work with them, who are constantly denigrated and called the sexual abuse industry and so forth – Our job is to stand up to those people and to keep it in perspective. To point out for every case of false allegation there are hundreds of genuine cases of abuse that are not being reported to anybody

Kim Hill:
It’s nice to talk to you. Perhaps we’ll speak again closer to the time. Dr John Read of Auckland University, and Murray Hahn who is chairperson of the conference organising committee. The conference in question of course is the Psychological Society’s Annual conference later this month. And I can tell you that we’ll be talking to Professor Loftus on August 29th.

More on this controversy on John Read page

Kim Hill interview with Dr Maryanne Garry

Powered by WordPress

Skip to toolbar