COSA Casualties of Sexual Allegations Newsletter August 1994 Volume 1 No 4
Contents of this page:
Editorial: Progress in media on false allegation issues.
Peter Ellis Appeal The research evidence regarding memory and suggestibility clearly demonstrates how easy it is for children’s testimony to be distorted or fabricated by interview processes. It is time for the courts to recognise that uncorroborated "disclosures" obtained this way are not credible evidence.
Retractor – Donna Smith (USA).
Men Framed short article about COSA – counsellor John Crockett says he is appalled by Dr Goodyear-Smith’s stand.
Bad Memories recovered memory vs false memory debate.
Copy of Dr Goodyear-Smith’s letter to the editor NZ Doctor"We are witnessing a new form of abuse – one which is unwittingly being perpetrated by therapists, who are being paid – usually by ACC- to provide assistance and care to the very people they are damaging".
Literature: End Ritual Abuse Newsletter ERA is put out by some of the parents of the Christchurch Civic Creche, who believe that their children were ritually abused by Ellis and women daycare workers over 2 to 3 years. Michael Owen, a senior clinical psychologist at the Greenhill Child and Family Centre, Tauranga, writes in the June newsletter in eloquent support of the existence of satanic abuse, that the "dark son will manifest itself in destructive ways particularly in the lives of women and children".
Miscounting Social Ills – the basic principles of advocacy research.
Figuring out feminism Christina Hoff Sommers.
The trauma-memory argument in Consciousness and Cognition, special issue on ‘Recovery of lost childhood memories for traumatic events’.
Free to Fly Booklet: practical help for adults recovering from sexual abuse as children accompanied an eight-part radio series broadcast on National Radio in 1991. The programme taught that sexual abuse memories are commonly ‘repressed’.
Report on memories of childhood abuse – American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs.
Correspondence: Letter from daughter alleging sexual abuse in her childhood
Recent events: Overview of Child Abuse by Dr Robin Fancourt, Chair Child Protection Trust Advocacy Committee.
Coming Events: Child Protection Seminar by Roland Summit, Therapy for Sexually Abused Children by Jon Conte, International Conference on Memory and Reality: Reconciliation, Baltimore, USA.
The biggest news for last month is of a personal nature, with the birth of our daughter (Judith Ann Goodyear, 9lb 2oz) on the 20 July. All other events in our lives are eclipsed by her arrival, and she is the reason for the lateness of this month’s issue. It is amazing how one small person can engage the full-time attention of both doting parents in her care, and I can see our lives are irrevocably changed for ever. She is certainly a blessing and gives us great joy.
Progress in media
In early July a short advertisement in the Public Notice column of 3 key newspapers resulted in about a dozen people contacting COSA with stories of false allegations. A similar number made contact following a short article about COSA in the Sunday News later in the month. This includes one remarkable woman from Northland who runs a support group for 15 men involved in sexual allegations in custody battles. We will continue to run advertisements as funds allow.
False allegations of sexual abuse continue to be addressed by the media in a slow but steady fashion. In the last month there has been a 20 /20 item about Donna Smith, a retractor of recovered memories in America, and both Sunday papers have covered aspects of false allegations (see the media review below). Such a situation would not have occurred a year ago, and clearly the media and the public are gradually starting to see some of the terrible wrongs which have been inadvertently occurring through our misguided social welfare and judiciary systems.
Peter Ellis Appeal
The other major event in late July was Peter Ellis’ Appeal. This is on the grounds that there were gross inconsistencies in the evidence and that the bizarre nature of many of the allegations had not been addressed by the judge.
The sole evidence in the case is based on the interview results of 7 young children who had not disclosed at the time of the alleged offences and whose allegations became more and more bizarre and at times impossible as the interviews continued over the next 10 months. As the lesser allegations on which Ellis was convicted came from the same children and the same interview process, Ellis’ lawyer Graham Panckhurst, QC, contended that the Social Welfare disclosure interviews were flawed and that the children’s evidence was not credible. The hearing has been adjourned until 5 August.
I believe that the courts have been guilty of some terrible miscarriages of justice in the past decade. Belief in the dogma that "children never lie about abuse" has lead to special rules of prosecution in sexual abuse cases, and basic principles of justice have been eroded. Children are considered competent to testify in court; their hearsay evidence is often accepted, and they may not have to appear in front of the alleged offender in court. The belief that any allegation must be true, and that sexual offenders usually deny it, means there is a presumption of guilt in sexual abuse cases. A falsely accused father may be denied future access to his child unless he "confesses" and receives "treatment". If he continues to proclaim his innocence he is likely to get double the sentence.
The research evidence regarding memory and suggestibility clearly demonstrates how easy it is for children’s testimony to be distorted or fabricated by interview processes. It is time for the courts to recognise that uncorroborated "disclosures" obtained this way are not credible evidence.
The basic forensic evidence-gathering principles of objectivity and neutrality have been seriously contaminated by therapeutic practices of validating and supporting clients. The unreconcilable conflict between evidence-gathering and therapy has not been understood – it is not possible to serve Hippocrates, the Healer, at the same time as Hammurabi, the Law-giver. What we have is advocacy, not justice.
5 August: The Court of Appeal in the Peter Ellis case was told today by one of the complainants that in fact her original testimony was untrue and that Ellis never did anything to her. The eldest of the children, now aged 9, her allegations arose during 3 days of questioning about events that had supposedly happened to her several years previously while Ellis was caring for her when she was aged 3. Although she gave 80 items of information about Ellis and the alleged abuse which was supposed to have occurred over a 3 day period, she was unable to give any details about her 3 years at the Creche, nor name any other workers there. This fact alone should have alerted the investigators that her story was likely to have been fabricated.
Expert witness for the defence, Australian psychiatrist Keith Le Page, was interviewed by Bill Ralston on TV3 News. He said that parents were mislead by professional advisers, including the Crown expert witness Dr Karen Zelas, who attributed any sign of stress in a child as an indicator of sexual abuse, despite there being no scientific evidence for this misinformation.
Parents who believed their children had been abused by Ellis were interviewed on the Holmes Show on TV1. Their spokesperson, Wendy Ball, claimed that the retraction of one child in no way places the credibility of the other children’s testimony in question.
The defence is asking for an acquittal on the 3 charges based on the retracting girl’s testimony, and a retrial on the other charges. I await with interest the Appeal court’s decision next week.
Former police officer not guilty of sexually molesting his daughters
A Dunedin District Court jury found a 63 year old former police officer not guilty of 10 charges of sexually molesting two of his daughters between the mid-1960s and 1982. The newspaper reports did not reveal whether the daughters’ evidence was based on recovered memories or whether they alleged they had always remembered what they claimed had happened. The defendant however said on cross-examination that he believed his daughters’ allegations had resulted from "auto-suggestion from counsellors and from True Confessions books they had read". The circumstances under which they alleged the incidents had taken place "stretched credibility to the limits" as they were in relatively public situations (including the police station) where detection would have been very likely to have occurred at any time.
Otago Daily Times 28, 29 and 30 June 1994
Retired police officer found guilty of rape, indecent assault and attempted sodomy
Another retired police officer, aged 69 years, was found guilty in the Auckland High Court of sexually molesting his daughter and 2 grand-daughters over a period of 27 years. The jury found him guilty on 4 charges of rape, 5 of indecent assault and 1 of attempted sodomy, and he was sentenced to 6 years’ imprisonment. I do not have details of the circumstances leading to the allegations being made but I understand he is still maintaining his innocence.
NZ Herald 23 June 1994
Miscoding is seen as the root of false memories
Details the neurological and cognitive bases for memory that emerged at a recent conference on memory at the Harvard Medial School. Neurology head Dr Marsel Mesulam explained how memory is a fragile reconstruction of what the nervous system actually witnessed. There is a constant remolding of memory in the brain as older memories are redistributed by newer ones.
A major source of memory distortion is source defects (the time and place the event actually happened) and people can easily become confused as to whether they heard about, imagined or had something happen to them.
Memories are also subject to contamination by leakage from related bits of information. In recalling memories, people typically make inferences about what may have happened to fill in the gaps, and can then confuse sources, melding what they inferred with the actual memory. Just because a memory is vivid does not mean it is more accurate.
Dr Stephen Ceci presented his findings about the surprising ease by which children can come to believe in events happening which never occurred, simply by having fictional events suggested to them. "Each time you encourage a person to create a mental image, it becomes more familiar. Finally they see the imagined image as an actual memory, with the same feel of authenticity".
New York Times, 31 May 1994. by Daniel Goleman, C1 and C8.
Retractor – Donna Smith
A young American girl Donna Smith tells her story of "recovering" memories of sexual abuse by her father after ongoing pressure from her therapist to do so. It started with her attending therapy at age 12 for headaches. She did not improve and was to see 12 different therapists over the next 2 years. The last of these was Cathy Myers, who believed Donna’s problems were due to sexual abuse by her father. Over the next 2 to 3 years she would ask Donna about once a fortnight as what her father had done to her. Eventually Donna felt that she would only get better if she told Cathy what she wanted to hear, and so she said her father had molested her (which she now adamantly claims never happened).
Donna was taken from the family and placed in a foster home; later as her condition deteriorated, she was put in a mental institution and kept under strong sedation. She was diagnosed as suffering from bulimia and then multiple personality disorder, with at least 65 "alter" personalities. She attempted suicide several times. Her allegations proliferated to severe ongoing abuse throughout her childhood, and later involved satanic rituals. She also claimed her 2 brothers were similarly abused.
Her father was arrested and charged with incest, and her two brothers taken (in handcuffs!) for interviewing – they did not disclose any abuse. Donna says her therapist made her memorise her testimony for her father’s trial. At times she wanted to say that none of this was true, but the enormity of the situation prevented her speaking out. There was a hung jury and the prosecution decided not to retry, so her father was a free man although financially ruined by the legal process.
Donna was sent back to her foster family and once free from the influence of her therapist, realised how much she wanted to be back with her own family. They welcomed her back, saying they never blamed her for the tragedy which had devastated them all.
20/20 on TV3, 1 Aug 1994
Short article about COSA. A counsellor named John Crockett is quoted as saying he is appalled by my stand. He says I am too extreme and he "has no idea why" I am doing this. My guess is that he has never seen the terrible and far-reaching consequences false allegations have on entire families, none least the children.
Sunday News, 24 July 1994. Men framed: sexual abuse ‘liars’, by Neil Reid, 11.
Discussion on the "recovered memory vs false memory debate". Good overview and includes 3 men’s case stories. COSA briefly mentioned.
Sunday Star-Times, 31 July 1994. Bad memories by Matt Conway, C1-2.
Copy of my letter to the editor NZ Doctor 4 Aug 1994 Page 4.
"I am writing to endorse Juliet Broadmore’s article that "Sexual care therapists must be well trained" 7 July, page 28.
Just as it is very important to provide adequate support and counselling for genuine victims of sexual abuse, it is equally vital that our investigative and therapeutic processes do not create false allegations, and result in their coming to believe they have been sexually abused in the past when they have not.
In the past few years many have been "retrieving" memories through treatment from therapists who believe that a variety of symptoms of life problems indicate forgotten abuse in childhood.
Different techniques such as trance, dream work, journal-keeping or guided visualisation to assist them in uncovering memories of sexual abuse which are believed to have been blocked in childhood.
There is no evidence to support the concept of robust memory repression. Some recovered memories may represent accurate actual past events, but the evidence to hand indicates that at best this is a very rare phenomenon.
A considerable number of New Zealanders who now define themselves as sexually abused have only come to this realisation by recovering memories through therapy, "survivor" groups and self-help programmes.
We are witnessing a new form of abuse – one which is unwittingly being perpetrated by therapists, who are being paid – usually by ACC- to provide assistance and care to the very people they are damaging.
The danger lies when therapists take on a forensic role outside of the therapeutic relationship, endorsing their clients’ stories when they have no way of knowing whether these actually happened or not
Many of these families suffer extreme mental and emotional trauma and I believe they are victims of iatrogenic abuse by mental health professionals.
Professionals contributing to such abuse need to be held accountable.
I currently run an Auckland-based monthly support group for people falsely accused, their family and friends. I have also started a national organisation called COSA (Casualties of Sexual Allegations) with a monthly newsletter disseminating information to people concerned about or affected by these issues. COSA can be contacted at 51 Waimarie Rd, Whenuapai Village.
Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Auckland"
End Ritual Abuse Newsletter
1 (1) March 1994; 1 (2) June 1994
ERA is put out by some of the parents of the Christchurch Civic Creche, who believe that their children were ritually abused by Ellis and women daycare workers over 2 to 3 years. They have connections with the "Believe the Children" organisation in America, and believe that satanic ritual abuse is widespread throughout NZ and overseas.
Michael Owen, a senior clinical psychologist at the Greenhill Child and Family Centre, Tauranga, writes in the June newsletter in eloquent support of the existence of satanic abuse, that the "dark son will manifest itself in destructive ways particularly in the lives of women and children", even more so when the majority of people deny it happens. He decries the idea of professionals "applying the standards of scientific evidence" to prove ritual abuse, the reality of which is clearly a matter of religious faith to him.
The June issue also contains a reprint from Broadsheet magazine written by a ‘ritual abuse survivor’ who claims that survivors will only remember abuse ‘when they are ready’, and that ‘it’s harder to remember bizarre abuse because it’s harder to make sense out of such memories’. She claims that ritual abuse perpetrators are ‘part of the continuum of the patriarchy’ and that ‘every person in the patriarchy grows up in an abusive system’.
Miscounting Social Ills
Gilbert, Neil (Mar / Apr 1994), Society, 31 (3), 18-26.
This paper discusses how the basic principles of advocacy research, which combined unbiased measurements of social parametres with a committed expression of concern, have eroded since the 1960s. He states that the estimates of social scientists are of increasingly questionable accuracy, with a growing tendency to greatly magnify needs while asserting the scientific validity of these large numbers. This is at least partly fuelled by competition for funds by social welfare programmes. He documents how problems such as abductions by strangers, child abuse, elder abuse and homelessness and rape have been magnified by advocacy research over the last decade, and concludes that while forming sensational headlines, this creates an unreliable foundation for social policy and does little to advance the credibility of social science.
Figuring out feminism
Sommers, Christina Hoff (27 June 1994), National review, 30-4.
Another paper documenting the ‘provocative but inaccurate information being purveyed by women about women’s issues’. Describes how what she describes as ‘gender feminists’, who believe that American women live in an oppressive male hegemony, constantly seek evidence that women are victims of male brutality, and use grossly inflated statistics to gain support, vindication and ammunition.
Cultural assault; what feminists are doing to rape ought to be a crime
Bonilla, Margaret (1993). Policy review, 66, 22-9.
Discusses how feminists have expanded the definition of rape from a heinous crime committed by a violent individual against an innocent victim, to the victimization of all women by all men. Concludes that trivializing rape in this way affronts the real victims and may jeopardise the prosecution and conviction of those truly guilty of this crime.
The trauma-memory argument, in Consciousness and Cognition, special issue on ‘Recovery of lost childhood memories for traumatic events’.
Kihlstrom, John (1994). ed Pezdek, K; Banks, W (in press).
Examines the ‘trauma-memory’ theory that under certain circumstances, a child defensively invokes a mental process such as repression or dissociation, which results in amnesia for the trauma, but at some later time, this unconscious memory may be recovered spontaneously in response to certain environmental cues, or exhumed by means of therapeutic techniques such as guided interviews, hypnosis and barbiturate sedation. Documents that belief in this theory is based on retrospective self-reports (for example Briere and Conte’s study) or clinical studies which are methodologically flawed or do not consider alternative explanations. Concludes that there is currently no scientific evidence to support this theory.
Free to Fly Booklet: practical help for adults recovering from sexual abuse as children
Smith, Patsy; Stogre Power, Dianne. National Radio, Wellington.
Just come to hand is this booklet which accompanied an eight-part radio series called Free to Fly, broadcast on National Radio in 1991. The programme clearly taught that sexual abuse memories are commonly "repressed" – it claims that "one awful effect of sexual abuse is the sense of an unknown something" and lists large numbers of symptoms which indicate that a person might have been abused and not remember it. These are adapted from "Courage to Heal" and include being prone to nightmares, depression, panic attacks, difficulty trusting, being over-protective of one’s children, and the need to be perfect.
Anger is said to be pivotal to healing ("directing your rage squarely at your abuser, and those who didn’t protect you") but "forgiveness of the abuser is not an essential part of the healing process".
‘Recovered memories’: recent events and review of the evidence,
Pope, Harrison (July 1994). Currents in Affective Illness, XIII, (7), 5-12.
Dr Pope is Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston. In this interview he offers an overview of the current research regarding "traumatic amnesia" and memory recovery, and concludes that there is no scientific evidence to support the existence of these phenomena.
Femina et al study on non-disclosure of abuse
Femina, D et al (1990), Child Abuse and Neglect, 14, 227-31.
These investigators conducted a similar study to the Meyer-Williams one – they interviewed individuals with documented histories of abuse. Interestingly, they obtained very similar results – as in the Williams study, 38% did not disclose their history of abuse during the interview.
However, the investigators then conducted second interviews on some of the patients – this time they confronted the subjects with their known history of abuse. All those with a past history of abuse acknowledged that they remembered the abuse but had chosen not to tell the interviewer about it the first time. This demonstrated that what was happening was a decision not to reveal their past history, but not that they had forgotten ("repressed") it.
Report on memories of childhood abuse.
American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs 1994.
Concludes that "few cases in which adults make accusations of childhood abuse can be proved or disproved and it is not known how to distinguish true memories from imagined ones in these cases" and considers that "recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse to be of uncertain authenticity, which should be subject to external verification. The use of recovered memories is fraught with problems of misapplication".
Letter from daughter alleging sexual abuse in her childhood
A mother has forwarded us a letter sent to her and her husband from their 43 year old daughter D alleging terrible sexual abuse in her childhood. D lives overseas and this was the first they had ever heard of these claims. She writes "our other daughter is loving and supportive, as D used to be. Please use D’s letter in any way you wish, we just hope it may help someone else know that they are not alone when this happens".
D’s letter describes a series of offenders starting from the age of four and especially her father. Although addressed "Dear Mum and Dad", D’s letter then talks about her mother and father in the third person, and often in the present tense, as if the incidents described are happening currently.
For example, "My mother comes home. I pluck up courage to tell her the terrible things my father has done to me. She doesn’t believe me. She tells me that I don’t feel well and to take 2 aspirin and I will feel better in the morning. I now hate my mother" and "my father takes me to nursing school. The only thing I ever really wanted to do. He puts his arm around me. I want to be sick. He tells me to be good and pass all my nursing exams. I had already learnt not to pass School C on purpose was the best way to hurt you both and now he was screwing up my nursing as well. I decided not to pass anything".
D’s letter does not mention whether these memories have always been with her or whether they have been recovered, and of course without external corroboration, we can never know what did or did not happen in her childhood. She mentions that she is attending counselling but not when she started this. However, the strange way of describing her memories illustrated above bears all the hallmarks of a therapy journal-writing exercise, where someone uses a self-hypnotic technique of bringing a videotape-like image of her childhood to mind and writing down what she is visualising in her mind. Such a method is likely to create false memories which come to be believed as true events by the subject.
Grandmother arrested and charged with sexually molesting grand-daughter
"I am a 63 year old grandmother. Nearly 3 years ago I was falsely accused and then arrested by the police and charged with sexually molesting our 6 year old grand-daughter. The case against me was based on hearsay and a totally incompetent video interview between a young police woman and the child.
At the trial, the judge dismissed the case within minutes of the jury being selected. Afterwards, our son overheard one of the jurors say outside the courtroom "That poor woman, having to go through all that for nothing".
The comment was made without hearing one word from the defence. If the police had investigated the case throughly and more intelligently, they too would have come to the same conclusion as the woman on the jury. Instead they were hell bent on gaining a conviction.
The detective handling the case told me he is the top man in his field and that no-one knows more about these cases than he. He also said he is never wrong!
After living though 9 months of hell awaiting trial the loving and caring relationship my husband and I had with our grandchildren is over and we are left with empty hearts.
There are no winners in a case like this."
Overview of Child Abuse, Auckland Medical School, 21 July 1994 by Dr Robin Fancourt, Chair Child Protection Trust Advocacy Committee.
Discussed child abuse and neglect in general, stating that her brief was to provide the facts, although much of what she presented was in the realm of hypothesis. Concluded the main traumatic effect of child abuse is psychiatric. Theorised that abuse ‘harms the inner child’, over-evoking the fight or flight response and resulting in withdrawal from intimacy. Claims this results in the secondary effects of dissociation (the ‘psychological version of flight’), self-mutilation, prostitution and drug misuse, all mechanisms which ‘modulate and focus inner pain’.
Child Protection Seminar by Roland Summit.
1-5 pm, 23 Sept 1994, Auckland, $60.
Organised by DSAC to "anticipate and prevent opposition to child protection work".
Sexual Abuse Therapy by Roland Summit
Auckland, Sept 1994.
Organised by DSAC – includes False Memory Syndrome and Memory Repression.
I have grave concerns about Roland Summit being brought to New Zealand to teach professionals here. Summit is a prime believer in organised widespread satanic ritual abuse. Despite the complete absence of any objective evidence from police investigation of the McMartin Pre-school case, and the acquittal of all accused, he has published articles arguing that satanism really was practiced there, and that the tunnels existed despite the police’s inability to locate them. In the last decade he has been one of the primary professionals endorsing the viewpoint that "children never lie about abuse" and has close associations with the "Believe the Children" organisation. He also invented the "Child Abuse Accommodation Syndrome" in 1983, which states that children will always deny abuse, even once they have disclosed it. Although this may sometimes be true, he does not acknowledge the possibility that a denial might mean that in fact sexual abuse has not happened.
2-day workshops on Therapy for Sexually Abused Children by Jon Conte
4 workshops (Auckland, Pahia, Napier, Dunedin) in October 1994.
Organised by DSAC – addresses:
- Validating allegations of childhood sexual abuse
- New concepts in the treatment of sexual victimization
- Counter transference in child abuse treatment
- Child abuse ethics
- An overview of issues facing professionals working in the area of child sexual abuse.
I have similar reservations about Jon Conte teaching here. Conte, like Jon Briere (whom DSAC brought to New Zealand earlier in the year) represents the extreme viewpoint in believing in the validity of robust repression and memory recovery. Conte and Briere have published papers which they claim prove the phenomenon. However a recent report from the American Medical Association states that because their research is based on self-identified survivors of abuse, there is no way of determining the validity of their reports without external corroboration.
International Conference on Memory and Reality: Reconciliation, Baltimore, 9-11 Dec 1994.
Co-sponsored by John Hopkins Continuing Education Program and FMSF.
Scientific, clinical and legal issues of false memory syndrome.