COSA Casualties Of Sexual Allegations – Presentation to Australian False Memory Association:
Saturday, 18 September 1999: Melbourne
Note: Due to time limitations, the actual presentation differed slightly from the script below. This script, or any part of it may be reproduced, with the proviso that any quotations are directly ascribed to the personal opinions of the author.
Good afternoon Mr President, ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Gordon Waugh and I’m here with my wife Colleen. We live in Auckland, New Zealand, and have been foundation and executive members of COSA – Casualties Of Sexual Allegations – since it began in 1994. We count it a privilege to be here today, which we much appreciate.
I want to set the scene for you by telling you a little of our personal case, give you an insight into the climate of sexual abuse hysteria in New Zealand, and then describe how COSA fitted into that picture. I’ll finish with a few suggestions drawn from that experience. I don’t propose to pull any punches, so I’ll speak candidly, and at times bluntly.
Colleen and I have been married for over 40 years. We had three daughters. The eldest one decided in March 1992, at the age of 33, to go to a counsellor, who helped her to "recover her memories" of sexual abuse. She then took three significant actions, which really got my attention.
First, she told Colleen and me, and other people, about her allegations. They included incest, that I had repeatedly raped her, that I had arranged for her to be raped by a close friend, that Colleen knew of this rape and condoned it, and that other men had also abused her – all between the ages of one-and-a-half and about 14.
Secondly, with the counsellor’s help, she made a claim for lump-sum compensation on our Accident Compensation Corporation [ACC]. She was paid thousands of taxpayer dollars and the counsellor was paid to give her extensive treatment – for a condition she did not have. In true "recovered memory" fashion, her allegations began to change. We later found out that her compensation claim wasn’t based on childhood abuse at all. She had accused her second husband, and other men, of abuse as an adult in the mid-late 1980’s.
Thirdly, she made a complaint to the Police. Her allegations were totally in conflict with her earlier versions and her compensation claim. They were completely new allegations, about me alone, and only about her childhood years. They didn’t mention rape or incest, or alleged abuse by her second husband and others when she was an adult. The Police investigated, but no charges arose. There is much more to the story, of course.
My initial reactions were numbness and total disbelief. Colleen was devastated. Then the anger started. Anger that my daughter could be so damned stupid. Anger at being condemned as a sexual abuser, by a counsellor who attacked our integrity, and by a Government system which failed to examine the evidence. Anger at being declared "Guilty" without a trial and without an opportunity to defend ourselves.
To those of you who have also been accused in this manner, I understand precisely what you’ve been through. I’m sure you went on the same emotional roller-coaster.
When the anger abated enough, it allowed me to put my thinking cap back on. Rather than waste mental energy on corrosive anger, I decided to study the matter, find the source of the problem, and attack it. I made complaints. I wrote to Ministers, the Chief Ombudsman, ACC, and the Commissioners for Privacy, Human Rights, and Health & Disability.
That has taken seven years. Although they gave me some valuable and crucial evidence, they don’t have the courage to act on a monumental blunder. So three months ago, I took the bull by the horns and filed serious criminal charges against the counsellor and the daughter. At this point, I don’t know yet whether the Police will take action.
It was a great surprise to learn that our daughter, and the counsellor, had been paid by ACC, so we began to investigate.
Our Accident Compensation scheme was first introduced on 1 April 1974. It’s been re-cast on three occasions – 1982, 1992, and again this year. It provides compensation for all sorts of accidents – work-related, motor vehicle, sports, domestic, medical misadventure, and so on.
An accident claimed for under the 1974 and 1982 Acts had a time limitation of one year, but did not specifically include sexual abuse. The 1992 Act made sexual abuse a special category with no time limit. Abuse is deemed to have occurred on the day the claimant first obtained treatment – even if it allegedly happened 100 years ago.
ACC’s counsellors are allowed a paid, two-hour assessment period, to determine whether a client was sexually abused, and to recommend a treatment plan. They cannot be paid the $56 per hour beyond this, unless they declare that the client was abused. I’ve yet to see a case in which a counsellor declared a client had not been sexually abused.
Section 8(3) of that Act extended coverage to claimants who suffer nervous or mental shock as an outcome of a criminal sexual offence listed in the Crimes Act. The Minister for ACC, Murray McCully, has finally acknowledged in a letter to me last month, that claimants – and therefore counsellors – must provide genuine evidence of a criminal sexual offence.
But the Corporation does not seek any such evidence. It prefers to rely on the opinions of its counsellors. And it’s a secret process. The accused man has no input, no chance to defend his reputation, and no right of appeal. Claimants don’t even have to identify an alleged abuser. Some men accused in ACC claims are not even aware they’ve been identified.
The Corporation claims to use a "Balance of Probability" to decide eligibility for sexual abuse compensation. It is a practical impossibility to reach a "Balance of Anything" without access to at least two sets of differing information. By some magical process, they make decisions on just one set – the counsellor’s opinion. The reality is that in the absence of credible, corroborated, external evidence, it is impossible for a counsellor to know whether a client was sexually abused, and therefore impossible for ACC to know.
Those two systemic impossibilities disregard sensible policy administration, and ignore the fundamental need for EVIDENCE. They have had significant fiscal and social effects.
In 1988, ACC handled just 221 claims for sexual abuse and had fewer than 200 counsellors. By 1992, the number of claims had climbed to 2173. By 1993, they had about 1,000 counsellors, and claims skyrocketed to 13,500. Claim numbers held an average of nearly 10,000 for the next several years, and have now declined to about half that number.
ACC was typically handing out $10,000 for each incident of abuse claimed. Although the 1992 Act abolished the lump-sum compensation scheme, Government allowed a transition period of several years. ACC paid out close to $900 Million for more than 100,000 extra claims. Many of those were for alleged sexual abuse. It pays the counsellors between $6 and $9 Million a year. Those facts certainly got our attention.
The total number of sexual abuse claims from 1988 to 1998 is about 70,000, or some eight times greater than the total number of all convictions, for all sexual offences. If the allegations made by those 70,000 claimants adversely affected a circle of family, friends and relations of just 15 other people, then over one million of our small 3.7 Million population has been affected. And that doesn’t include any allegations made outside of the ACC process.
To put that in perspective, if those results were transposed into your 19 Million population, you would have some 400,000 similar cases, and have an affected population approaching Six Million.
How then, did counsellors decide that thousands of their clients were sexually abused?
I want to make it clear that I don’t think all counselling is bad. My comments and criticisms are specifically directed at Sex Abuse Counsellors who believe in "Recovered Memory Therapy" and similar constructs, but they are equally applicable to some Social Workers, Psychotherapists and Psychologists, as well as Rape Crisis, the medical practitioners called Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care [DSAC], the Children’s and Young Persons Agency, various training institutions, and our Accident Compensation Corporation.
In one camp, those debating "Recovered Memory Therapy" and its derivatives, are seasoned academics, researchers and practitioners with impeccable professional qualifications and track records. They argue persuasively and sensibly against it, from a base of reliable, impartial science and competent practice. We have heard from two such erudite speakers today.
The other camp consists of much less skilled therapists of one variety or another, driven more by ideology than science. They have done many retrospective surveys of allegedly abused women and claim to see the phenomenon in their daily work. But they choose to rely on untested, uncorroborated data, collected from disturbed clients. They argue from a base of uncontrolled observation and fatally flawed methodology.
It is a passionate debate over misinformation and the misuse of science. Absent from the debate are the people most affected by it – the accused parents and families. They provide a vast, but largely untapped, body of evidence to contradict the beliefs of therapists.
The only way to determine whether memories are true or false, is to examine tangible, corroborated EVIDENCE, but our facts, our evidence, and our decades of recorded parental and family history – and our integrity – have been largely ignored. Either we did abuse our daughters, or we did not. There is no Middle Ground, and that is a principal reason why we are here today.
Genuine sexual abuse is a reprehensible crime endemic in many societies. Even one case is too many, but when thousands of virtually identical allegations suddenly arise, from the same source, in a very short period of time, there is cause to doubt their credibility. Allegations in New Zealand reached epidemic proportions in the 1990’s.
We categorised the allegations as being made:
- By adult daughters exposed to counselling,
- By teenagers seeking revenge against strict fathers,
- By women seeking to avoid responsibility for rash behaviour,
- By female partners in child custody and access disputes,
- And for reasons of blackmail, extortion, or vindictive retribution.
Our Minister of Education, Nick Smith, has – only last month – publicly acknowledged that one of three major factors in male teachers leaving, or failing to join, the teaching profession, is the risk of false allegations of sexual abuse made by school children.
The common denominator was that most allegations are made after intervention by a counsellor.
I said I would speak frankly, so let’s get down to bedrock. The public has a right to expect that anyone dealing with the complex and emotionally-charged topic of sexual abuse has been trained with scientific, ethical and testable material, and will employ methods which are safe and effective. There is no place in this difficult area for junk-science or snake oil.
We found Counsellors in New Zealand had no national examinations, no License to Practice, and no accountability for their work. Their occupation is entirely unregulated.
There was no public or professional scrutiny of what counsellors were taught. They indulged in pseudo-science and belief-systems. They fostered the dangerous theories and methods expressed in "The Courage to Heal" and similar rubbish-bag books.
- Repressed memory
- Dissociation and Multiple Personalities
- Satanic Ritual Abuse
- Guided Imagery
- Journal writing
- Age regression….and so on.
Counsellors were guilty of using "advocacy research", and had free reign to indulge in an orgy of false and misleading information. They made outrageous claims:
- Thousands of cases of father-daughter incest (Rape Crisis claimed over 400 cases in 1997, but nationally, there were just five prosecutions and four convictions for incest.)
- Hundreds of thousands of New Zealand children sexually abused
- And, "Most sexual abuse is never reported". If such abuse is real but goes unreported, how do they know about it? Perhaps they are clairvoyant as well.
A particular claim was that "Only one in ten rapes are reported, and of those, only one in ten go to court, and only one in ten of them get convicted"
We challenged those claims. Our rape-capable male population is about 1.2 Million males. Taken over the 12-year period from 1986 -1997, Ministry of Justice statistics show that for the crime of rape, there were 2,912 prosecutions and 1,405 convictions (48%). The "One in Ten" claim means in real terms that NZ men supposedly committed over 1.4 Million rapes in that period.
A cornerstone of counselling is a belief that sexually abused women and children exhibit certain "indicators" as "proof of abuse." They’ve identified over 900 of them. Of course, any one of these "indicators" applies to almost every person on the planet. But the fact is that no reliable scientific evidence has yet been presented to show a causal link between sexual abuse and any specific psychiatric or psychological condition.
"It’s not our job to be Detectives", they say, and "Believe the client – women and children don’t lie about abuse." So the client’s metaphors and narratives are taken as historical fact.
However, Gentlemen, "Believe the client" also means "Disbelieve the accused man." No investigation, no due process, no witness evidence, no medical evidence, no documentary evidence. Instead, assumption and hearsay – belief and opinion. And that leads very directly to contaminated conclusions.
By deciding a father did sexually abuse his daughter – a serious criminal offence – they placed themselves above the Justice system, and assumed the mantle of prosecutor, judge and jury.
We asked ourselves what constitutional instrument gave counsellors the right, privilege or authority to make those decisions, to condemn people as sexual abusers, and to wield unbridled power to destroy families.
No-one gave it to them – they simply took it. They misled and damaged our children by creating false allegations through malpractice, ignorance and misguided ideology. For money, of course!
So there were the two main causes. The first was the misuse of our Accident Compensation legislation and the financial gravy-train it provided for counsellors and claimants. The second was the unfettered use by counsellors of unproven theories, misguided beliefs, and unethical methods. With a problem of this magnitude and nature, the best approach is to marshal the incisive and devastating weapons of science, facts, evidence, and social opinion.
So where does COSA fit into all this?
Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith, a medical practitioner and former Police Doctor, is a highly competent medical researcher and prolific author. She began to notice in the late 1980’s that an increasing number of allegations of sexual abuse were being found to be false. The theories and beliefs surrounding "repressed memory" and its derivatives, had begun to surface in New Zealand.
By the early 1990’s, she had been contacted by a growing number of people who claimed their adult daughters had been to counselling and had made false allegations. Colleen and I met her more or less by accident in late 1993 and had a meeting with her. She had so many similar cases from all over the country, that we formed the embryo idea of setting up an organisation to help such people.
COSA was established in May 1994. We began with about 20 Members. Only a few months later, we had grown to over 100, and then doubled and trebled. We were fielding calls from all around the country at the rate of a least one new call every day. This cauldron of emotive and irrational hysteria was being stirred by the counsellors. We set out to quell the fire with reasoned argument and informed public and professional debate. Sanity and balance were needed.
Our strategy was firstly to give immediate and ongoing help to our members. We decided to produce a Newsletter and began sending them out to members, politicians, lawyers, etc, and the news media. We mailed hundreds every month.
A key task was to educate the public, because they would become members of juries. We talked on radio, did TV documentaries, gave interviews and presentations. We wrote articles, Letters to Editors of newspapers and magazines, letters to Ministers and many others. We mailed COSA Leaflets out to every GP, every main Library, to criminal lawyers, and to every Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the country.
We did research. Felicity and her professional colleagues had papers published in some of the most prestigious international professional Journals. She made a submission on "recovered memories" to the Police, and attended local, national and international conferences on medical, psychological and legal topics.
Such was our workload, that in November 1996, we registered two Branches, one in Auckland, the other in Canterbury in the South Island.
Once in a while, we’d get a breakthrough. For example, the taxpayer-funded Mental Health Training Service was conducting training courses for Sex Abuse Counsellors under an approval from our NZ Qualifications Authority.
A student became alarmed by the nonsense being taught and loaned COSA the course material and personal notebooks. They contained some of the worst rubbish I’ve ever seen. Repressed memories. Multiple Personality Disorder. Dissociation. Radical feminist claptrap. Satanic Ritual Abuse – young girls ritually impregnated and the babies born and murdered, their blood being drunk, and so on.
COSA Members began a letter-writing campaign to the Unit Manager, and sent copies to the Ministers of Education, Justice, Health and ACC. I got together with Dr Greg Newbold, a Sociologist from Canterbury University, and we published an article criticising the course. Felicity and I had a meeting with the Unit Manager and persuaded him to make beneficial changes, and he did. We counted that as a major victory for common sense and science. But in the end, Health Department politics and finance got in the way and they closed the Unit for economic reasons.
Of course, similar problems exist in other training facilities, and we are still tackling those. However, students now have access to a wide range of credible literature, as a counterbalance to the junk-science of previous years. Our Qualifications Authority set up a panel of impartial professionals to review, monitor and adjust the content of their training.
I think it’s fair to say that counsellors in New Zealand are now very reluctant to even mention "repressed memory" these days. Our Courts now treat such matters with great caution, as do many in the Police. New cases of "recovered memory" are now very rare, and a few retractions are starting to occur. We would like to think that COSA has had a positive influence on restoring at least some degree of sanity.
Although our work in NZ isn’t over yet, we have made significant progress, so I’d like to close by leaving you with a few constructive suggestions, drawn from our COSA experience. They are:
First – Publicly challenge unproven theories and beliefs, flawed methods, and deficient public administration.
Second – Educate the lawyers, the doctors, the news media, and the politicians. And educate the public.
Third – Target the training, examination and regulation of counsellors by insisting on the transparency provided by public and professional scrutiny. They must be trained with scientific, ethical and testable material. They must pass rigorous national examinations. They must operate under a regulated, revokable, Licence to Practice. And they can only be allowed to use those methods which are proven to be ethical, safe and effective.
Lastly – Counsellors confuse narrative and metaphor with fact and reality. They are not diviners of historical truth, nor are they clairvoyant. Demand that those who make allegations produce tangible, credible EVIDENCE. In the vernacular, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a clear case of saying to the counsellors, "Put up, or shut up."
President Mike and Gail, and all of you present, thank you for your hospitality, and for allowing me to give this presentation. In particular, we thank Boz & Connie for their generosity in opening their home to us, helping with our travel, and for making us feel so welcome – you are truly wonderful hosts.
18 September 1999