Gordon Waugh’s presentation at Victoria University

Address To Psychology Honours Students

Wednesday 13 September 2000


Thank you for your introduction, Dr Garry and good afternoon to you all. My name is Gordon Waugh, and I’d like to introduce my wife Colleen to you. We live in Auckland and came down for the day at Dr Garry’s invitation. We count that as a special privilege.

Dr Garry asked me to talk to you about "recovered memories" and left it to me to decide how best to tackle it. My background is in Physics and Engineering, not Psychology, so I don’t speak your specialised language. I could have come armed with masses of technical and scientific references and papers, but that would be far too clinical. What I’ve chosen to do is to give you a Worm’s Eye View, from the perspective of accused parents, so that you can see first-hand, the human side of the issues.

In this presentation, I’ll paint a broad picture of the scene in New Zealand over the last decade, tell you a little about our personal experience, and finish by applying an Engineer’s reasoning to the theory of "repression". With a bit of luck, this will take about 35 minutes, so there should be time left for your questions.

We know "recovered memories" is a very polarised issue, and it’s difficult to talk about without being provocative. However, I do not claim to be a Politically Correct, Sensitive New Age Guy, and as an accused parent, I have strong opinions and blunt words on this topic.

Colleen and I have been married for 43 years. We have three adult children, the eldest Jan (now 42), the middle one Megan (now 40), and the youngest one Simone (now 37). And we have five grandchildren.

1992 was our annus horribilus. Our two eldest daughters, Jan and Megan, then aged 33 and 32, attended counselling that year and "recovered their memories" of sexual abuse. Because we would not believe their unbelievable stories, they told us that as far as they are concerned, we are dead.

So here we are. … Dead people. … Talking to you !!

The General Scene

That event launched me unceremoniously – and unwillingly – into a field I knew virtually nothing about. In 1994, we helped Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith to establish an organization called COSA – Casualties Of Sexual Allegations. COSA was formed primarily to help families affected by the "recovered memory" fiasco, and to combat the causes. Our investigations unearthed all sorts of information, which gave a clear picture of what was happening.

As far as we know, there were no reported cases of "Recovered Memory" in NZ before about 1990. About 1988, ACC began paying compensation, of $10,000 per claimed incident, for mental injury suffered by victims of sexual abuse. Around the same time, theories about sexual abuse began to flow from the US into NZ. They included RMT, MPD, SRA, CSAAS, anatomically correct dolls, women and children don’t lie about abuse, and the like.

When those theories and practices spread across the country, there was a sudden epidemic of "recovered memories". The public was being bombarded by horrifying "statistics" about childhood sexual abuse. The belief was abroad that tens of thousands of ordinary New Zealand blokes – just like me – routinely rape their infant daughters, nieces and grand-daughters. A moral panic had begun. It was fuelled by the likes of Rape Crisis, Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care, the Help Foundation, various Church groups, and lashings of ACC money.

ACC claims, made through its hundreds of counsellors, are a useful source of data. There are many hundreds of other counsellors, not associated with ACC, who also produced allegations based on "recovered memories".

In 1988, ACC had just 221 sexual abuse claims. In 1992, they reached 2073. 1993 produced 13,500. They were receiving new claims at the rate of 500 a week. Claims continued at an average of some 10,000 a year for several years, and began to drop to around 8,500 a year in the late 1990’s. The cost to the taxpayer is measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. New claims currently lie around 3,500 a year.

In that 12-year span, almost 80,000 men have now been accused of sexual abuse in ACC claims. By way of contrast, Ministry of Justice figures on sexual crime convictions for that period amounted to about 8,466, an annual average of just 705. Some ACC claims were undoubtedly genuine, especially where criminal convictions occurred. But that only accounts for about 10% of them. The other 90%, some 72,000 of them, were untested in criminal courts – and that leaves a huge question mark over their validity.

How many ACC claims arose from "recovered memories" may never be known, but our documentary and anecdotal information, collected mainly from parents who contacted us, suggests they number in their thousands.

Families were shattered and destroyed. Some men lost their jobs. Others lost their lives. Some were charged and a few were convicted. Some were wrongly convicted. Many lost their children and grandchildren, and were financially, physically and emotionally exhausted.

If the 70,000 or so UNTESTED allegations affect a circle of family and friends of just 15 people – other countries use higher estimates – the adverse effect on the wider community is that as many as One Million people – roughly one third of our total population – have been touched by this epidemic – this tragedy.

Those are just a few of the effects of a moral panic, mixed with a deliberate mis-use of an Act of Parliament, and a very large dose of snake oil.

Personal Background

Against that background, I’ll now tell you a little of our personal experience. No discussion about the family side of "recovered memories" is complete without a mother’s point of view, so that’s why Colleen is here with me.

As a youngster, Jan was bright and did well at school. Here is a photograph of her, taken at High School, aged almost 15. Not long after that, she had a "hormonal hurricane" . Against our wishes, she left High School on her 15th Birthday in 1973. When she reached 16, she left home to live with a young man, in what they called a "trial marriage". She returned home again at age 17, and this photo of her, was taken then. Colleen might tell you more about this episode later.

What none of us knew then, was that Jan was developing a severe case of hypothyroidism. The psychological and physical burdens which accompany this are fully described in medical texts such as Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine, 11th Edition, 1974, Pages 642-643, and in Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. Some of them are in DSM-IV.

Jan’s first marriage in 1976 lasted just two years. She had only one child, Cathy. We raised Cathy ourselves, from when she was about 2 to age 15. Jan married again in 1986, and that lasted about 15 months. In between, and after marriages and other disasters, she always returned home. She was in and out of jobs, on and off the DPB.

In 1989, she had hypnotherapy to help her stop smoking. The hypnotist told her she smoked because I had sexually abused her. Colleen, Megan and Simone categorically and vehemently objected to this idea. The hypnotist felt the lash of Colleen’s tongue and immediately cancelled the treatment. Significantly, Megan declared she knew nothing of any sexual abuse in our family.

Jan continued to live with us for another two years, until she decided late in1991 it was time to stand on her own two feet. She found a Flat and later, Cathy (now 15), joined her. Jan tried to get a job, but it seems that didn’t work out too well, and she became lonely and very depressed. About March 1992, at the age of 33, Jan decided to get some counselling. Megan went with her, apparently to lend support to her sister in trying times.

On 6th May 1992, they both made horrendous allegations of sexual abuse which was supposed to have happened in Jan’s childhood, beginning more than 30 years earlier. Megan had suddenly switched and now gave full support to Jan’s astonishing range of new allegations.

Jan told us she had "been to Auckland’s top counsellor" and had "just begun to remember some of things that happened to her as a kid."

She said the counsellor told her she must confront me and give me back my secret, so she could begin to heal. If I confessed and had counselling, I could be helped. She would then forgive me and look after me in my old age. If we didn’t believe them, she and Megan would have to sever all ties with us, and surround themselves only with people who did believe. Without saying one word, I had been charged, tried, convicted and hung by a Kangaroo Court.

Their allegations were not all made at once. Over time, they grew in severity, and the content changed dramatically. They were detailed, graphic and lurid – a mixture of things and people.

I had committed incest with her. I had fondled her breasts. When she was a baby, about one and a half years old, an uncle had taken her on a trip from Auckland to Whangarei and had inserted his fingers into her vagina. The fact that we lived in Blenheim at that time, not Auckland, escaped her.

When she was four, I had taken her fishing at a public place and was molesting her. A stranger approached and began fighting with me, so I stopped molesting her. I had repeatedly raped her from when she was very young. Colleen did not protect her from my abuse. There were many, many other allegations.

She claimed I had arranged for a family friend to rape her when she was about 12 or 13. She clearly remembered she was a virgin at that time, and that she had an "out-of-body experience" during this rape. She said Colleen knew about the rape and condoned it. Megan first said she knew nothing of it, but later claimed to have been there when it happened.

Colleen challenged Jan about this rape. If she had been raped as a virgin at 12 or 13, why had she dramatically announced to the whole family, two years later, that she had just lost her virginity to her High School boyfriend. Jan’s explanation came from Alice in Wonderland.

She explained it away by saying she had "suppressed" her memory of the rape. Her boyfriend didn’t know how to perform intercourse, but she suddenly remembered what happened during the rape, gave her boyfriend instructions, then "suppressed" it for the next 20 years until she went to counselling. That is just one example of testing the allegations against family history and fact.

Jan has always been a first class Drama Queen, and we had always tried to help and support her. But after 20 years of her histrionics, enough was enough. Her allegations made the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I told her to leave the house and not return until she got her head straight.

A few weeks later in June 1992, Jan and Megan made complaints to the police. Their allegations were completely new. They were about Indecent Assaults on Jan, by me alone. There was no mention of incest, rape, conspiracy to rape, or any other men. Just me. Police investigated, but no charges arose.

In her statement, Megan, then a 32 year old, described an alleged incident, which she claimed occurred 30 years earlier. "My sister Jan was lying on her back on the floor, just to the left of the door. My father was straddling her on his knees. His two hands were on the floor by her shoulders. When I opened the door he turned around and yelled at me to get out. Jan turned her face to the left and looked at me. She looked scared. I quickly closed the door and went to my room and shut my door."

Other than by constant rehearsal, is it feasible to remember, with such clarity and precision, a scene from 30 years ago, when she was 2 years old? We actually returned to this house with a Private Investigator, to measure the room, and check the body positions she described. They were impossibilities.

It took me about 18 months to get over the initial shock and fury. I found that Jan had been paid thousands of dollars of lump-sum compensation by ACC, so I began an investigation through various Ministers of ACC, ACC itself, the Privacy Commissioner, the Chief Ombudsman and others. It took more than 5 years to get some of the paperwork and details.

The counsellor – who had never met me and refused to even talk to me – had written in her ACC Report "this…[event/situation]…. exacerbated the effects and feelings, largely suppressed, of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by her Father."

She also wrote that Jan’s second husband had sexually abused her during their marriage between 1986 and 1987. She had never met him either.

To top it off, there was at least one other man involved, who also allegedly abused her as an adult.

The NZ Listener published in November 1994 an award-winning article about our experiences. The journalist also interviewed Jan. Contrary to what she had told us on 6 May 1992, she denied having "recovered her memories" and told him "I haven’t forgotten anything". In a 1997 TV Assignment documentary, her counsellor claimed that Jan’s memories were intact when she began therapy – although she didn’t say how she knew this.

But in a Letter to the Editor of the Listener in January 1995, one of Jan’s High School friends, Christine, contradicted those claims. Christine claimed to have had a telephone conversation with Jan in late 1992, many months after counselling began. Amongst other things, she wrote :

"When Jan phoned me late in 1992, she had forgotten being physically abused by her father and that she had confided in me about his sexual touching. […during their High School time…] As we talked, she gradually remembered, because, although the memory wasn’t immediately accessible, it hadn’t disappeared entirely. This is an important aspect to remember when looking at recovered memories. That memory is not forgotten, but rather, is hidden from day to day access, therefore enabling us to survive the trauma."

Had Jan "recovered her memories", or was Christine concocting a story? Or both?

Over time, the allegations moved from infancy and childhood involving a number of men, to just me alone, and then into her adulthood with different men. Their content had dramatically changed at each stage. But the documentary and other testable evidence confirms the allegations are at best improbable, and at worst, impossible. There is no doubt in our minds that our children were persuaded to "recover their memories."

To give you an indication of the type of relationship we used to have, When our 30th Wedding Anniversary came around….[proceed to the inserts to photo album Jan made up……]

When our children were misled into making those allegations, it was very much like a death in the family – shock, dismay, grief, tears, anger. They broke the most sacred of trusts between parents and children. They trampled on our integrity, our honesty, and our love.

They converted ordinary, everyday things into sinister events, and completely re-wrote their childhood histories. They tried to put me in prison for things which we knew had never happened. They blamed us for all their wrong choices and unfortunate mistakes. And we lost two daughters and four grandchildren.


The claims made about "Recovered Memory" are extraordinary, and it goes without saying, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. In this final section, I want to comment on these claims. The best way I know how, is to give you an Engineer’s analogy.

You are all familiar with the saying about "Carrying the Can" – taking responsibility. If I’m expected to carry the can, I want to know to know a lot about it. What material is it made of, and how is it constructed. Is it rolled and clipped, pressure-moulded in one piece, or fabricated and welded. What sort of handle does it have? How many handles? Has it got legs? How many legs?

What are the intended contents – solid, liquid, gas? Hot or cold contents? What is its empty and full weight? Where is its centre of gravity? Does it leak? How many leaks ? How big and where are they? What are the consequences of leakage or spillage? Does it have a lid? How is it fastened?

All these questions, and many more, must be addressed in the design and specification for the can. Measurements, controlled observation, and professional judgement, give us evidence about, and confidence in, the suitability of the vessel for its intended purpose. Psychological theories are subject to the same rules, so let’s apply my Engineering rationale to the theory of "recovered memories".

There are two main opinions, and four groups of people involved. One group says it happens. The other three groups say it doesn’t. We have to look at the evidence both for and against the theory.

The FIRST group is made up of those who believe that massive repression and pristine recovery are valid constructs. Therapists claim to see it in their daily work, that it’s a special form of amnesia, and is distinct from ordinary forgetting. Some claim memories of traumatic events are stored in a different part of the brain from other memories. Some even say they are stored in the body.

Their claim is that children robustly and completely banish memories of childhood sexual abuse from their conscious minds and can recall them years later in perfect condition, as though they had been recorded on video tape. But in direct contradiction, it also seems there is a leakage mechanism involved, which produces "flashbacks" and allows the memories to permeate personality and behaviour. These factors led counsellors to believe they could detect the hundreds of supposed "indicators" of abuse.

In order to support the theory, it is vital that externally corroborated evidence be obtained that the reported abuse actually occurred. It must be proved that the subject had no conscious memory of such abuse. Memories recovered must be demonstrably uncontaminated. Credible and testable explanations for the leakage mechanism must be established. Now that’s a pretty tall order. It seemed to me that the theory required a breath-taking leap of faith, so I gave it the "Carry the Can" treatment.

It appears to be highly selective. If "repression" is a valid construct, why does it only seem to affect children in the age range of about 1 – 15 years. Why does it apply only to sexual abuse? Why don’t all victims of genuine acute abuse repress the memory? Why aren’t there scores of recorded cases of pregnancy from the apparently vast numbers of rape and incest events? Why are there no medical records of surgical treatment, required after full penile penetration of infants, by adult males? Is it feasible that tens of thousands of fathers routinely rape their infant daughters and leave no physical or medical evidence behind?

Does a child "repress" abuse memories during or after a single event? Or, if it’s done after a batch of events, what triggers the repression mechanism and when exactly does it kick in? What triggers the "recovery" process? How good are the legion of recovery methods?

If the theory is valid, I would expect to see a substantial world-wide history, of a fairly constant rate of new cases. That history is absent. Above all, I’d expect to see many examples of externally corroborated evidence which show the claimed abuse was indeed genuine. But none seem to exist. Why were there no reported cases in NZ until about 1990? Why have they dried up a decade later? None of those questions have been satisfactorily answered by those who believe the theory.>

Essentially, this group appears to have formulated a theory based on Sigmund Freud’s early work. From uncontrolled observation and dubious methodology, in literally hundreds of retrospective studies, they tried to find evidence and justification for their opinions. But none of that work leads directly to credible evidence of massive repression.

I’ll let you into a secret – I’ve seen plates of spaghetti with tighter structures than this theory.

The SECOND main group in the debate is comprised of seasoned academics and researchers with impeccable professional histories who, after decades of empirical study, cannot find supporting evidence, and say the concept has no sensible foundation. The theory simply does not meet the rigours of scientific testing and standards, let alone common sense ones. Professional bodies around the world urge caution, while Courts in many jurisdictions reject the concept. Fatal flaws in the theory have been exposed by good science and clear thinking.

Equally, the derivatives of the theory, such as the infamous Multiple Personality Disorder, are also fatally flawed. If MPD is valid in its own right, I would confidently expect to see thousands of people exhibiting obvious MPD behaviours before counselling. But they don’t. They only seem to develop them during counselling.

The THIRD group is vast. We are the parents and siblings of the adult children who recovered their memories. We have intimate and detailed knowledge of our children and their histories. Our verifiable, testable historical records about our families can clearly show whether the accusing child is relating historically accurate information, a form of narrative truth, or metaphors for other problems. We say our accusing children have been seriously misled as to the causes of their problems, and that the theory is rubbish. Therapists try to ignore us, but we are not about to vanish.

The FOURTH group is a recent and interesting one. It’s a mixture of post-event players. It includes former clients who later came to realise they had been misled by therapists. Some Insurance Companies in the USA ceased giving cover for treatment based on “recovered memories” or MPD. Many investigative journalists and authors are also part of this group, as are a growing number of academics and therapists who have changed their minds about the validity of the theory.

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In conclusion, the simple fact is that decades of research have failed to produce credible scientific evidence of massive repression and pristine recovery of memories, and until it does, the theory and practice of "recovered memory therapy" – and all of its derivatives and liposuction methods – are no more than destructive therapeutic folly.

I make no bones about it – those who choose to believe in "recovered memories", ignore logic, data, evidence, analysis, professional judgement and ordinary common sense. They have failed to take all the evidence into account, and failed to show proof for their extraordinary claims.

Their beliefs and practices damaged many thousands of people, and worse, misled and permanently damaged their our children.

I cannot imagine anything worse than being accused of sexually abusing my own child. Believe me – the label CHILD ABUSER is a truly LOATHSOME one. It should not, and must not, be hung around the necks of tens of thousands of men, on the basis of conjecture, belief, assumption and opinion.

Professional Bodies, practitioners and public administrators have a clear and compelling duty, to actively ensure that public health and welfare, is not jeopardised by snake oil, psycho-babble, or junk-science – of this, or any other, variety. They cannot EVER sit back and let another episode like "recovered memory therapy" happen again.

Dr Garry, I trust this presentation has given you all an insight into how accused parents see the "recovered memory" debate.

Thank you for the opportunity to present it, and thank you all for listening.

Colleen and I will try to answer any questions you might have.

Gordon Waugh

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