COSA Casualties of Sexual Allegations Newsletter June 1994 Volume 1 No 2
Contents of this page:
Editorial: First real newsletter of COSA– the fundamental issue at stake is recognition that false allegations of sexual abuse are a very real and significant problem.
Courts: Christchurch man charged after memories recovered during counselling – reported to be the first case of this type in New Zealand.
North Shore creche supervisor acquitted of 8 charges of ill-treating children in her care.
Wellingtoncreche worker Geoff Scott found guilty of sexually abusing pre-school children in his care.
Ex-leader of religious community found not guilty – of rape and indecent assault alleged to have occurred at his commune between 8 and 20 years ago.
Gary Ramona successfully sues his daughter’s therapists – awarded $500,000 (USA).
Retractor Kimberley Mark suing Laura Davis – author of Courage to Heal (USA).
Media: Inquiry concludes satanic abuse does not exist (UK).
Abuses of memory debate between the British False Memory Society and Accuracy About Abuse (UK).
Literature: Making monsters: recovered memory therapy Richard Ofshe & Ethan Watters.
Repressed memories – therapeutic recollection of childhood abuse: when is a memory not a memory? Elizabeth Loftus.
Correspondence: From a mother "Our (daughter) began to have psychotherapy, was given ‘Courage to Heal’.. and eventually confronted her father with her bewildering accusations".
From a distraught couple "My ex-husband and his new wife took my children to the police station and sexual allegations arose…My (current) husband was named as the main "offender".
From a distressed sister "my eldest sister …attends group therapy with Rape Crisis, has no contact with our parents…blaming them …. sexually abused by her grandfather.
From a father "(My ex-wfe) ended up with S, a hypnotherapist, remembed being sexually abused by her father, various doctors, medical people, and ministers during a satanic ritual. Then my daughter went along to S. who persuaded her she had been abused by me, by her grandfather, and by a teacher."
Recent events: Therapy for adults molested as children, John Briere, Working with memory, Heather McDowell, psychologist, Panel discussion on FMS organised by Dunedin Family Court Association, False Memory Syndrome Workshop Prof Campbell Perry.
This is the first real newsletter of COSA, following our launch last month. We have had a very pleasing response. I hope you will find our organisation of value to you, and encourage you to join.
COSA has been formed to address issues regarding false allegations of sexual abuse. The evidence is now overwhelming that our social services have entrenched beliefs and practices which are leading to a large number of false allegations. I must emphasis that in no way is COSA denying that sexual abuse is a very real and significant problem in our society, and can cause terrible harm to children. It does need to be detected, treated and prevented wherever possible. False allegations, however, especially when people come to believe they have been abused when in fact nothing happened, are equally damaging to all concerned: alleged offenders, victims, their family and friends. We must aim towards positively dealing with as many genuine cases as possible, while minimising the creation of false ones (and accepting that at times we will inevitably make mistakes).
The fundamental issue at stake is recognition that false allegations of sexual abuse are a very real and significant problem Many workers in the field still claim that this is a very very rare phenomenon, and anyone questioning the guilt of alleged offenders is simply labelled part of the "backlash" and accused of denying that sexual abuse happens or even of colluding with abuse. People challenging some of the beliefs and practices of sexual abuse workers may be accused of making it harder for sexual abuse victims to get the help they need. On the contrary, I believe that whilst we have systems operating where the accused are assumed guilty, and false allegations not acknowledged, the trauma and tragedy of genuine sexual abuse victims is trivialised, the resources available for their care greatly reduced, and the public credibility in our social and justice services seriously undermined.
The tide is starting to turn. Finally these issues are being seriously questioned by the media and the public. People are beginning to express their deep concern that men in our society are increasingly frightened to cuddle, comfort and toilet children for fear their actions later become misconstrued as molestation. The month of May has seen a number of landmark court cases, and there has been excellent media coverage of these.
In the United States, the Romana case has seen a father successfully sue his daughter’s therapists for falsely implanted false allegations. This is likely to lead to many other cases of therapists being sued, both by their ex-clients and by other affected parties. In another case underway in the States, the authors of the self-help book The Courage to Heal which encourages recovering "repressed" memories, are also being sued. In Christchurch, a man charged through the Criminal Courts solely on the basis of recovered memories was acquitted on 3 counts, and had the other 5 charges dropped. Media exposure has further highlighted the questionable and unscientific practice of "reclaiming" repressed memories.
Convictions based solely on the unsubstantiated stories of young children are still frequent however. Another creche worker has been found guilty following allegations based only on the evidence of very young children whom he had cared for and toileted. The processes whereby these children were questioned by anxious parents and subjected to hours of interviewing before coming up with their "disclosures" inevitably grossly contaminates, this sort of evidence, yet a jury found him guilty "beyond reasonable doubt".
I will watch with interest the outcomes of trials and appeals in the next few months.
Contributions to our next newsletter gratefully received.
Christchurch man charged after memories recovered during counselling
In March 1994 a 45 year old Christchurch man stood trial on eight charges of alleged sexual abuse of two daughters (now aged 19 and 21) during their childhood. The evidence was derived from memories recovered during counselling received for unrelated matters, reported to be the first case of this type in New Zealand.
A High Court jury found him not guilty on three charges and were unable to reach a verdict on five. The complainants were unhappy to proceed with a retrial, although they continued to believe their father was guilty. The five remaining charges were officially dropped in May and the man discharged by the Court.
This case received considerable media coverage, including interviews on Kim Hill National Radio and the Holmes Show on national TV. It has greatly assisted with bringing the validity of recovered memories to public questioning.
Complainant’s father kills 82 year old acquitted man
On 4 May an 82 year old Te Aroha man Mr John Burns was acquitted of sexually molesting a young girl. The next day he was assaulted by the complainant’s 38 year old father, sustaining head injuries. He was found dead in his kitchen the following morning. An autopsy found that he "did not die as a result of the assault" and therefore it was not a case of homicide.
The 38 year old man was charged with assault, granted name suppression and fined $1000. The judge found there were "special circumstances" for not sending him to prison.
North Shore creche supervisor acquitted
On 23 May a 33 year old North Shore creche supervisor was acquitted of all 8 charges of ill-treating children in her care. The jury clearing her recommended the court should consider paying her costs.
In this particular case, no allegations had been made by either children or their parents, and the evidence relied solely on accusations of former creche employees, which were clearly not believed by the jury.
The falsely accused supervisor criticised the police and social welfare inadequate investigation which she believed was "far too one-sided" in a climate where allegations against child-care workers were assumed to be true.
Wellington creche worker Geoff Scott found guilty
In May a High Court jury found Geoff Scott, a creche worker in Wellington, guilty on 8 out of 17 charges of sexually abusing pre-school children in his care. This case followed the familiar pattern of a child’s behaviour problems raising suspicions of abuse in an adult, and children subsequently undergoing repeated discussion and interrogation by parents and the authorities until they started to disclose stories of Geoff "yucky touching" them.
Contributing to this was the fact that the children had previously had considerable exposure to sexual abuse "prevention" programmes and books, which emphasis that no-one is allowed to touch their "private parts". As a creche worker, Geoff had in fact frequently touched them in the process of toileting and cleaning them.
Ex-leader of religious community found not guilty
At the end of May the ex-leader of a religious community was found not guilty of 6 charges of rape and 10 of indecent assault alleged to have occurred at his commune between 8 and 20 years ago. He was found guilty on 3 counts of indecent assault. One of these was washing his 11 year old daughter in the bath, which he did not deny. The daughter had admitted this to the police under intensive questioning, and is devastated that this became evidence in her father’s trial. Another of the charges was based on a memory of his eldest daughter which she recovered during therapy and after reading The Courage to Heal, and the third was an alleged incident with a 14 year old, which he completely denies.
Dr Diane Humenansky, has her licence suspended
On 18 Mar 1994, a Minnesota psychiatrist, Dr Diane Humenansky, had her licence suspended following accusations that she implanted false memories of sexual abuse and improperly diagnosed patients as having Multiple Personality Disorder. Five former patients are now suing her.
Gary Ramona successfully sues his daughter’s therapists
4 years ago Gary Ramona, California, was accused by his adult daughter Holly of incest in her childhood, based on memories she had retrieved during psychotherapy for the eating disorder bulimia.
Mr Ramona has successfully sued his daughter’s therapists for malpractice, claiming that false memories were implanted in Holly’s mind during therapy (including the use of the drug sodium amytal), and this has lead to the ruin of his family and the loss of his home, career and reputation. This is the first legal challenge to therapists who practise "recovered memory" techniques.
Mr Ramona had sued for $8m but was awarded only $500,000 compensation for lost pay, the jury rejecting his claim for emotional distress.
Retractor Kimberley Mark suing Laura Davis
Also in the US, a "retractor", Kimberley Mark, claims that the Courage to Heal Workbook is partly to blame for giving her false memories of sexual and satanic ritual abuse, and is suing Laura Davis, the author, for professional negligence and misrepresentation. This is believed to be the first case in which a writer is being held responsible for advice given.
Inquiry concludes satanic abuse does not exist
A 3 year inquiry by the British Government Department of Health has concluded that satanic abuse does not exist. After investigating 84 cases where children were alleged to have been sexually abused during satanic rites, Professor Jean La Fontaine found there was no evidence for any of the claims. He blamed the evangelical Christian movement and self-proclaimed "experts" from America and Britain for spreading the satanic scare. The alleged disclosures were influenced by adults, including parents on occasions, and subsequent interviews were poorly conducted resulting in misleading and contaminated evidence.
Abuses of memory
Article discusses the debate between the British False Memory Society, headed by Roger Scotford, and a newly formed group, Accuracy About Abuse, which believes that adults can repress memories of sexual abuse "in order to survive" traumatic childhoods.
Independent 1 May 1994
Sexual abuse compensation claims in Australia
Sex crimes and dollar signs: discusses sexual abuse compensation claims in Australia – "every complainant is a potential criminal compensation claim, not just by the victim but by a multitude of people" – other family members make secondary claims for pain and suffering.
NSW Victims Compensation Tribunal has paid out over $200 million since established in 1988 (currently more than $50 million a year). 18% of 6000 annual cases are sexual crimes, but receive largest payments (average $21,000 for adults; $16,000 for children). Active promotion of claims by sexual assault centres has lead to 4000-5000 police reports in last few years and if all these complainants are compensated, the current $50 million payout would double. In Victoria, the number of claims for sexual crimes has trebled from 8.6% in 1990 to 17.5% in 1993.
Concern is mounting amongst some professionals regarding the lack of corroborative evidence needed for the claims.
Weekend Australian Review 23-24 April 1994
Making monsters: recovered memory therapy
Ofshe, Richard; Watters, Ethan. Society, Mar 1993 30 (3), 4.
Excellent paper discussing the development of therapy based on recovered memory. Clearly explains the difference between memory "repression" and accepted memory phenomena such as ordinary forgetting, intentional avoidance of a subject and traumatic amnesia. Concludes there is no evidence to support the concept of robust memory repression, which they describe as "psychomagic". Claims "promoters of repressed memory therapy ignore reliable research, misuse their authority and techniques, and damage the lives of their clients and their clients’ families". Calls for practitioners to be held accountable for their actions.
Repressed memories – therapeutic recollection of childhood abuse: when is a memory not a memory?
Loftus, Elizabeth, The Champion, Mar 1994, 5-10.
Summary of some of the latest knowledge on the science of memory, including the reconstructive nature of memory and how false recollections can be induced by suggestive procedures. Explains there is no current means of reliably distinguishing true memories for false and states that "when uncritical acceptance of uncorroborated trauma memories fuels false allegations by alleged "survivors", the lives and reputations of innocent people are irretrievably damaged. families are wrenched violently apart".’
From a mother
"Our (daughter) began to have psychotherapy 6 years ago when she became depressed. After 3 years she stopped for a few months and got more depressed! So she started again and was given ‘Courage to Heal’…(She) became pitifully thin and uptight and haunted-looking and eventually confronted her father with her bewildering accusations…Its been a tough 3 years…
Knowing how these situations arise and that others too are caught up in this same lonely riddle has made a world of difference to how we feel. The heartache is still there, but a sense of freedom too. and no more do we fear that most insubordinate of all charges – being ‘in denial’!"
From a distraught couple
"1990 I went to court to obtain custody or access to my 4 children. My ex-husband and his new wife took my children to the police station and sexual allegations arose…My (current) husband was named as the main "offender"…We don’t know why this has come to allegations of sexual abuse, we are hurting still now because I can’t see my children with my husband at all…We wanted to go back to court to clear our names but we couldn’t because apparently because it was said in family court we can’t try to prove our innocence…The police never arrested us for those allegations…what can we do?"
From a convicted prisoner who claims his innocence
"There are victims and there is hopelessness on all sides of this awful scene and making some kind of sense of it all has to be important for all of us."
From a distressed sister
"Approximately 3 years ago my eldest sister …showed signs of depression after surgery…she was given counselling sessions by a lady in …18 months ago we were informed by her that ‘something terrible had happened to her as a child but she didn’t know what’…She (now) attends group therapy with Rape Crisis. She has requested no contact with our parents…blaming them for what has happened to her, saying that she had been sexually abused by her grandfather (he died 7 years ago) also that .the same abuse was given to my mother and eldest sister also other members of the family…About 1 month ago she left her husband and 3 boys…What can be done to help this situation?"
From a father
"(My ex-wfe) has for many years suffered from an increasingly disabling depression with many treatments at the (local) psychiatric unit. She then spent much time with various counsellors, ministers and church groups over a period of 15 years or so, eventually ending up with S, a hypnotherapist.
With his help she has been able to remember being sexually abused by her father, various doctors and medical people, and most of the ministers she had been to for help over the years. She has seen a man killed by having his throat cut during a satanic ritual.
Then tragically my daughter aged 29..who had a good job (but) was finding work stressful…was persuaded by her mother to also go along to S. Over a period he persuaded her she had been abused by me from age 2 to 16 years, by her grandfather and by a teacher at school.
She has now not worked for 2 years and has no contact with any members of the family apart from her mother. They have both received $10,000 from ACC…without any investigation.
My daughter’s life appears to have been destroyed, she now fears and avoids men."
Therapy for adults molested as children, John Briere
Psychiatrist from California brought to NZ by Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC). Three 2-day workshops given in Auckland, 24-5 March; Wellington, 28-9 March; Christchurch 6-7 April.
These workshops were apparently attended by large numbers of professionals such as doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors.
Briere is one of the most vocal believers in the validity of recovered memories, despite the absence of scientific verification of this phenomenon. He has conducted research (based on retrospective uncorroborated reports) which he claims proves half of his subjects had totally repressed memories of their childhood sexual abuse. He writes that ‘most who specialise in abuse have clients who they are relatively convinced were sexual; abuse survivors, despite their clients’ claims to the contrary’.
Working with memory, Heather McDowell, psychologist
Psychology dept Auckland University, 29 April.
This workshop was attended by about 60-70 sexual abuse therapists. McDowell supported ‘reclaiming’ repressed memories of childhood abuse as long as the therapist is well-trained and does not actively tell clients with no memories that they have been abused. Indicated that false allegations of abuse very rare but recanting likely because of desire to protect offenders. Claimed the FMS Foundation and recent media attention to recovered memory debate is part of the ‘backlash’ which tries to deny that sexual abuse is happening. Cited Briere and Conte’s anecdotal research and Linda William’s study as proof that childhood sexual abuse memories can be repressed and accurately recovered during therapy. Dismisses or ignores the large body of research demonstrating how memories can be distorted, exaggerated or confabulated by therapeutic techniques and other influencing factors.
Panel discussion on FMS organised by Dunedin Family Court Association
May 1994. Panelists: Karen Salmon, psychologist; Sue Bidnose, counsellor; Tim McKeagan, psychiatrist.
Attended by 60-70 lawyers, psychotherapists and social workers.
Reported to be a balanced discussion on the nature of memory and the dangers of suggestion within therapy.
False Memory Syndrome Workshop Prof Campbell Perry, Dept Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.
Psychiatry Dept, Auckland Medical School, 2-3 pm 13 May and 9am – 4 pm 14 May 1994.
Prof Perry is an internationally-aclaimed researcher in the field of memory, and is on the Board of Advisers for the FMS Foundation. He gave a very balanced presentation about false memories, in particular factors likely to contribute to their generation or reinforcement.
The workshop also covered Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). Large numbers of therapists in the USA are attending workshops which teach that this condition is common (eg 1:100) and is caused by severe childhood sexual abuse, all memories of which have been repressed. There is increasing professional concern that MPD is being wrongly diagnosed in many patients, whose induced "alters" are encouraged to recall memories of horrific sexual abuse by their parents. Typically such patients, who originally present with lifestyle problems such as relationship breakdowns or eating disorders, become increasingly dysfunctional, require hospitalisation and medication, and start to self-mutilate or attempt suicide. A number of former patients are now claiming that the therapy created their memories, and are suing therapists for malpractice.
There is mounting professional and public concern that a well-intentioned movement aimed at detecting, treating and preventing childhood sexual abuse is also generating increasing numbers of false allegations. This is sadly resulting in a society hysterical about sexual abuse, where adults are becoming fearful to cuddle or toilet children for fear their actions are misconstrued, and services offering assistance to genuine abuse victims are losing public credibility.
COSA is an organisation for anyone concerned or harmed by false allegations of sexual abuse, in particular cases involving:
- 1 custody disputes
- 2 children who undergo "disclosure interviews" where a concerned adult suspects abuse but the child has given no history of it
- 3 child care workers
- 4 adult children recovering memories of childhood abuse during therapy (the so-called false memory syndrome)
- 5 communities or religious groups.
Objectives of COSA:
- Provide people involved in false sexual abuse allegations a forum to communicate and share their stories
- Disseminate information regarding false allegations
- Co-ordinate actions to redress the problems, such as lobbying Members of Parliament and communicating with the media
- Collect and collate demographic information regarding false sexual abuse allegations in NZ