COSA Casualties of Sexual Allegations Newsletter March 1996 Volume 3 No 2

Contents of this page:

Editorial: Niece awarded half estate after un-corroborated sex abuse claim In 1991 a woman claimed to the police that her uncle had sexually abused her over 20 years ago. She said she had always remembered some of the abuse, but her recollection had been enlarged as the result of counselling. The man denied his niece’s allegations (and swore an affidavit to this effect); there was no corroborative evidence; and the police decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. In 1994 he died and the woman made a claim against his estate for compensation for the alleged abuse. Justice Morris upheld her claim for exemplary damages and has ordered the man’s wife and family to pay her half of the estate, $50,000.

Courts: Important judgement regarding evidence in a sexual abuse case Psychiatrist Karen Zelas’ evidence on Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome ruled inadmissible. "Before a psychologist or other similarly qualified person can be allowed to give evidence that a particular child has exhibited traits displayed by sexually abused children generally, it must be demonstrated in an unmistakable and compelling way and by reference to scientific material that the relevant characteristics are signs of child abuse".

Man pleads guilty to extortion charge

Man discharged of daughter rape charges

"Camp dad" acquitted of indecent assault charges

Man found to have made false confession

Man acquitted of raping teenage girl

Doctor accused of raping patient (Australia).

Counselling notes for court ruling (Canada).

Social workers found not accountable in civil action (USA).

Man acquitted of being "Monster of Florence" sexual serial killer (Italy).

Literature: When Salem came to the Boro: the true story of the Cleveland Child Abuse Crisis

Another participant in the clinical game of "I can spot the abuse victim"

Media: Past life therapy

Criticism of psychiatrist Karen Zelas’s advice to police on recovered memory issue

Girls recant abuse charges (USA).

Features: Adam and Beth – case history.

Newsletters received by COSA

Research request


Request to members: attend the AGM

Coming events


Niece awarded half estate after un-corroborated sex abuse claim

The last month saw an alarming judicial decision in an Auckland High Court case (Star-Times, 18 Feb 1996; The Dominion, 19 Feb 1996). In 1991 a woman claimed to the police that her uncle, then in his 50s, had sexually abused her over 20 years ago. She said she had always remembered some of the abuse, but her recollection had been enlarged as the result of counselling. The man denied his niece’s allegations (and swore an affidavit to this effect); there was no corroborative evidence; and the police decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

In August 1994 he died of complications from diabetes, having been hospitalised for 15 months before his death.

The woman made a claim against his estate for compensation for the alleged abuse. Justice Morris upheld her claim for exemplary damages and has ordered the man’s wife and family to pay her half of the estate, $50,000.

There are a number of issues here with serious implications. Firstly, this man has been effectively convicted and sentenced without a trial. There has been no way to establish whether the alleged crimes ever took place, and he has had no opportunity to defend himself. The statement that the niece has had her memories "enlarged as a result of counselling" indicates that memory recovery techniques have been used, which are potential contaminants of her entire evidence (being effectively hypnotic in nature and extremely likely to create believed-in false memories).

Secondly, the people punished are not the alleged offender but his grieving widow and children, who do not believe the offences ever occurred. They are forced to hand over half of what their loved one has left them to someone who is destroying the reputation of their late husband or father. Even if the allegations are true, it appears unjust for children to have to pay for the sins of their father in such a way.

Thirdly, the judge accepted psychiatrist Margaret Honeyman’s evidence that the woman was "severely impaired" by the stress of her abuse, and that there is a real likelihood she "will be unable to form a meaningful relationship with a man, and this possibility will remain with her for the rest of her life" because she was abused by her uncle from the age of 7. This flies in the face of the scientific evidence of the effects of sexual abuse. Despite popular beliefs to the contrary, there is no psychological or psychiatric condition which has been proved to have been caused by sexual abuse, and in fact there is even very little correlation between specific psychosocial problems and childhood molestation. That is not to say that some people who have been sexually abused do not have problems in later life; however a number of people who have been abused live happy functional lives with no ill-effects.

I must emphasis that this fact in no way condones or justifies sexual abuse of children, which is clearly both morally and legally wrong. There is however no way for clinicians to know what the causes of their patients’ emotional and psychosocial problems might be, or to predict an outcome like this. It is therefore very misleading for a doctor to make such a statement to the court.

This case appears to be another nail in the coffin of that basic tenet of justice "innocent until proven guilty".

Felicity Goodyear-Smith

A minor correction to this story was published the following month.


New Zealand

Important judgement regarding evidence in a sexual abuse case

May 1995 No T164/94

This judgement relates to evidence presented in a case where a young woman claimed that a man who befriended her had later sexually abused her. She had first met the accused when she was 16 (13 days short of her 17th birthday) but they had not developed a friendship for another year. She alleged that he had sexually assaulted and violated her on several occasions between the age of 18 and 19. He completely denied the charges and had considerable evidence to demonstrate how she became infatuated by him, and constantly hounded him at work, to the extent that he would get staff members to say he was not in, and would leave the building by a back route to avoid her.

The Crown attempted to introduce the evidence of psychiatrist Karen Zelas, who claims to be an expert in sexual abuse of children. Zelas’ evidence was that the complainant was suffering from the "Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome"(CSAAS), and this explained why the woman would continue to voluntarily seek the company of someone who was abusing her.

Justice Rabone referred to the following passage from a previous judgement:

R v Accused (CA174/88) 1 NZLR 714

"Before a psychologist or other similarly qualified person can be allowed to give evidence that a particular child has exhibited traits displayed by sexually abused children generally, it must be demonstrated in an unmistakable and compelling way and by reference to scientific material that the relevant characteristics are signs of child abuse".

Justice Rabone ruled that the complainant in question was a 17 or 18 year old, not a child, and therefore outside the description of "child or young person" referred to in the CSAAS. He also ruled that Zelas’ had expertise in child but not adult abuse. He felt that a jury might be influenced by the evidence of a highly qualified and very experienced psychiatrist, and consider it a powerful corroboration of the complainant’s testimony. He therefore ruled her evidence inadmissible.

In his subsequent trial, the man was acquitted on all charges (see "Senior public servant cleared of sex abuse charges", COSA Newsletter, Dec 95, 2 (10), p3).

Man pleads guilty to extortion charge

A 21 year old man pleaded guilty in the Masterton District Court to the charge of threatening to make a disclosure about a man of sexual indecencies to extort $25,000 from him.

NZ Herald 17 Feb 1996

Man discharged of daughter rape charges

A 49 year old Greymouth company executive faced charges of indecent assault and rape of his daughter from 1979 to 1983.

At the age of 15 the girl had become involved in alcohol and drugs and was treated by a clinical psychologist when she was 17. During this therapy she disclosed a history of her father touching her vagina when she was 9, and escalating to full intercourse at age 11.

The man denied all allegations. During his High Court trial, the daughter’s story became increasingly inconsistent and improbable under cross-examination. She made a rude gesture at the defence lawyer, became very angry and refused to continue. The judge stopped the trial and discharged the man on all counts.

Christchurch Press, 31 Oct 1995

"Camp dad" acquitted of indecent assault charges

A Nelson District Court jury found 26 year old "camp dad" Paul Lester not guilty on all charges of indecent assault of three 11 year old girls at a summer camp in Dec 1994. There was no reliable evidence to support the allegations, the girls had disliked Lester, and it was suggested that the allegations had gown from discussions the girls had had in spare time at the camp.

Christchurch Press, Feb 1996

Man found to have made false confession

Judge Stephen Erber discharged Christchurch man Ronald Woods on charges of sexual intercourse and indecent assault of a 7 year old girl. The only evidence for the allegations had been that of suspicions of lay witnesses that the girl had been abused.

However Woods had undergone a "more than prolonged and persistent" videotaped interview by Detective Bruce Houghton, at the end of which Woods made admissions on which the allegations were based. The judge noted that during the interview the detective would not accept any answer inconsistent with the allegations he was putting to Woods (he uttered at least 15 expressions of disbelief and 25 urges to Woods to tell the truth); and the content and vocabulary of the criminal acts to which Woods finally assented came from the detective not the accused.

The judge said that when Wood’s intellectual and social deficits and his biddable nature was taken into account, the "confession" was so unfairly obtained it was not admissible as evidence.

Christchurch Press, 14 Dec 1995

Man acquitted of raping teenage girl

A Christchurch District Court jury found a man not guilty of raping a 14 year old girl in 1994. The girl had a history of non-conforming behaviour, there was evidence that she had told her mother lies, stolen, run away, and was considered untrustworthy. There was no medical evidence of sexual activity. In his summing up, Judge Holderness referred to the inconsistencies in her evidence and questioned the credibility of her testimony.

Christchurch Press, 1 Feb 1996


Doctor accused of raping patient

Journal of the Medical Defence Union, 1995, 9 (2)

A doctor working in a hospital outpatients was accused by a 60 year old woman of having raped her in the outpatients department 3 years prior to her allegation. Her complaint was accompanied by a letter from a counsellor at a crisis centre. The counsellor did not doubt the woman’s allegations, and expressed concern that it was highly probable that the doctor had continued to offend.

There was documented history that the woman had previously accused several other doctors of raping her in the outpatients department, and a legal adviser from the crisis centre had told her not to proceed with her accusations.

The doctor concerned was outraged and took out defamation proceedings against the counsellor and the centre. The matter was settled in his favour for $30,000 inclusive of costs and agreed apologies. All concerned agreed that the story of rape in a busy outpatients was intrinsically improbable.


Counselling notes for court ruling

In the case of R V O’Connor, a Roman Catholic bishop was charged with 4 counts of alleged sexual assault in the 1960s when he was principal of a residential school for native Indians in Williams lake, Canada. One of the issues in his appeal was whether the accused is entitled to disclosure of the complainants’ medical, counselling and school records. The defence argued that the accused should be entitled to disclosure of these documents, even if they are confidential, because they might contain evidence which would help his case.

In Dec 1995 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that confidential counselling notes may be relevant to the court for the following reasons:

  1. they may contain information concerning the unfolding of events of the alleged criminal act;
  2. they may revel the use of a therapy which influenced the complainant’s memory of the alleged events; and
  3. they may contain information which bears on the complainant’s credibility.


Social workers found not accountable in civil action

The Court of Appeal ruled that department of Social Services (DSS) workers could not be sued for unjustly removing a child from its home. The court threw out a law suit by Michael and Cynthia Martin, who sued for damages after their 13 year old daughter was placed in foster care in 1984 because workers suspected abuse. The child spent nearly 4 years with foster parents until it was demonstrated that she suffered from brittle bone disease and her parents we able to regain custody.

In a similar case, Ahmed and Rehab Amer were acquitted of child abuse in the death of their son, who doctors believed died of brittle bone disease, but DSS removed their 3 other children and terminated their parental rights.


Man acquitted of being "Monster of Florence" sexual serial killer

This month the Florence Court of Appeal cleared 70 year old Petro Pacciani of 14 grisly sexual murders between 1974 and 1985. Pacciani had been arrested and jailed on circumstantial evidence in 1993, and started a life sentence following his conviction in November 1994. He has always maintained his innocence.

Serious doubt was cast on the initial verdict last week when a public prosecutor said he believed it was unlikely that Pacciani was guilty.


When Salem came to the Boro: the true story of the Cleveland Child Abuse Crisis

Stuart Bell MP (1988) Pan Books, London

An excellent and detailed account of how a 197 Cleveland children were taken from their families during a six week period in 1987 on allegations of sexual abuse based on faulty medical "indicators".

Another participant in the clinical game of "I can spot the abuse victim":

Dr Elinor Knapp, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with a special interest in art history, published the following comment in the Psychiatric Bulletin about a portrait of Elizabeth I painted in the last year of the reign of her father, Henry VIII, when she was 13:

"Her eyes are candid but the set of her head on the neck and the folded lips show a wariness that gradually, as one studies the picture, becomes the most striking thing about it. There is a haunting loneliness about its reluctant but obsessive secrecy… a frozen watchfulness that recalls to me countless victims of deprived or abused childhoods".

As my British counterpart Roger Scotford (Director of the BFMA) commented: "I think if my father had be-headed both my mother and my step-mother, I would be a bit watchful and wary!!".


New Zealand

Past life therapy

The Christchurch Press recently featured a couple of advertisements about this. Visiting English therapist Moira Midgely claimed that people can relive past experiences through guided regression therapy, and a Sharon Cairns offered a course in "meeting spiritual guides, past lives, aura cleansing and increasing psychic abilities".

Criticism of psychiatrist’s advice to police on recovered memory issue

In 1993 the police charged an elderly Rangiora man with sexually abusing two daughters during their childhood. The allegations were made on the basis of memories recovered in adulthood. One daughter pulled out of the prosecution and the man was acquitted of all charges relating to the other daughter by a Christchurch jury last year. The man is now applying for costs against the police.

The police used the advice of psychiatrist Dr Karen Zelas in deciding to lay the charges. In assessing the complainants’ credibility, she had relied essentially on the statements they made to her and did not suggest to the police that they should proceed with a degree of caution and conduct an inquiry into the origin of the memories.

The counsel for the man, Les Atkins QC, said that Dr Zelas should have informed the police that at least one of the daughters had undergone hypnotherapy and one had had memories emerge during rebirthing, and she should have made the police aware of the controversy about recovered memories.

Mr Brent Stanaway, for the Crown, claimed that the professional debate about recovered memories and the advances in the psychiatric community’s knowledge, did not develop until after Dr Zelas interviewed the complainants.

Christchurch Press 6 Feb 1996


Girls recant abuse charges

Chicago couple Gerald and Barbara Hill made international news last month when they were jailed following allegations of horrendous abuse of their 3 daughters. The girls, aged 10, 11 and 12, claimed their parents had sexually abused them and their 5 year old brother, injected them with drugs, and forced them to eat rats and cockroaches.

The tree girls have now confessed that they concocted the story under pressure from an adult sister-in-law, and that none of it ever really happened.

To date, their parents remain behind bars awaiting trial.

Adam and Beth – case history

We plan to have a case history as a regular feature of the newsletter. Names and details are changed to avoid identification of those involved. Please contact the Editor if you would like to have your case presented.

Adam met Beth in 1986. They began a relationship which was volatile and marked by several split-ups. She became unexpectedly pregnant in 1988 and went to live on her own. One week before her delivery, she returned to Adam saying she wanted to be married, and he agreed to marry her. Their daughter Cindy was born and for the next 1½ years they lived together although there were a number of arguments and break-ups.

By early 1989 they were living in the same house but in separate bedrooms. Adam always bathed Cindy at Beth’s request, to give her some "time out" from child care.

Soon after this Beth left Adam, taking Cindy with her. Later that year she made an allegation to the police that Adam had sexually abused their daughter. The police decided there was not a case to answer but these allegations later formed the basis of an access dispute in the Family Court in 1991. Unbeknown to him, Beth had concealed a video camera in the bathroom and videotaped the bathing sessions for 3 evenings in a row. This videotape was one of the prime pieces of evidence she put forward.

The judge concluded that on the basis of the evidence, there was no indication that there had been any sexual abuse whatsoever. With respect to the videotape, he said it was "testimonial of the husband’s ability to cope with this lively child over what became extended periods of bathing of½ to ¾ of an hour" and that "Cindy is a lively and alert child and was an enthusiastic participant in these bathing sessions". Adam was granted full access for 2 days a week.

Beth later brought another charge of sexual abuse against Adam, but again the police concluded that there was no evidence that any abuse had occurred.

Despite the police findings, Beth continued to accuse Adam. She made a claim to ACC and received compensation for her daughter.

Adam found the continual allegations and threats from his ex-wife extremely hard to handle. He found the ongoing situation very stressful and developed difficulty sleeping, loss of energy, depression and suicidal thoughts. He was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the stress of being falsely accused. Adam lodged a claim with ACC for mental trauma caused by these allegations. ACC accepted his claim and he was compensated for his injury.

Despite the decisions of the family court, Beth still makes it very difficult for him to have any access to Cindy.

Newsletters received by COSA

New Zealand Skeptic Dec 1995 No 28

This issue is dominated by a further discussion of the domestic violence debate. Both men and women engage in abusing their partners and/or children. This point is not acknowledged or redressed by the Justice Department Hitting Home survey, the TV advertisements portraying men beating their wives and children, or the agencies aiming to prevent domestic violence.

FMS Foundation Newsletter 1 Feb 1996 5 (2)

Details a number of recent court decisions in the United States on recovered memory issues and includes an excellent article by Harold Merskey on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) including its DSM IV diagnostic criteria.

Research request

A New Zealand researcher has contacted us to ask if any COSA members have "before" and "after" notes and letters they could make available. These are messages from family members or partners which show a huge change in the way they feel about the recipient. Typically this is a card or letter from a loving and appreciative daughter and then a subsequent message (usually following "recovered memory therapy") expressing anger and hate. Similarly, loving notes and letters from spouses or partners, with subsequent hostile ones following separation, are sought. Complete confidentiality is assured.

Anyone who is prepared to share such material is asked to send it to COSA to forward to the researcher. Thank you.


"It would be very interesting for someone to do a study on the cost to the country of false allegations. Not just in money terms but emotional terms as well. In my case the lawyers cost $68,000 but that was my cost but there are so many costs that the state pay: consultants, psychologists, social workers, CYPS, police, judge, witness fees and other so-called professionals that are used. But there is a much more sadder side to these false allegations and that is the emotional side. The families that are destroyed, the innocent children that are emotionally torn apart and used by these so-called professionals as emotional footballs in an appalling situation that they are unable to handle.

In my case the 2 children that had been living with me for over 2 years were taken by police from school to live with their mother. They were not allowed any contact with me not even to say goodbye. They took no clothes, toys or pets. Both children were told they were not safe with the father they loved. Both children ran away from their mother but couldn’t understand they weren’t allowed to be with me. My son was taken back by police to his mother and 2 days later ran away again. He was then placed in a foster home by CYPS. He was not allowed any contact with his family for 6 weeks. He then went to live with his grandfather. Later my daughter went to live there as well.

Both children still have nightmares and are still upset. They visit me every weekend and we are trying to mend.

How many more families are being ripped apart the way mine has been by false allegations? When it is all over the cost still goes on for these families. Sadly some are so badly hurt they are unable to come together.

We read and hear so much about the victims of abuse but there is also other victims – victims of false allegations. I believe they need more support as they are put through the mill and then left to fend for themselves.

We need all the publicity we can get for these people. We need to be yelling it from the roof tops."

Falsely accused father

"There have now been 3 falsely accused fathers in Christchurch who have succeeded in obtaining compensation from ACC based on "wrongful allegation of child abuse". It doesn’t right the damage caused but at least it indicates that they are recognising publicly that false allegations have been made and that evidence of this is being presented in support".

COSA Member from Christchurch

Request to members: attend the AGM

Our AGM will be at 2pm, Sat 20 April, at the Awa Taha Marae, 58 Akaranga Drive, Northcote, Auckland. Members should have a slip on AGM details enclosed with this newsletter.

Please could you make every attempt to attend – we would love to be able to meet with our members in person. We appreciate the difficulties for those who do not live in Auckland, but we will organise billets for those who will travel here and require accommodation.

Auckland members, please contact Colleen if you can offer a billet.

Hope to see you all there!

Coming events

Please notify COSA if you know of any recent or coming workshops, seminars and other relevant events.

Wellington COSA meeting 28 March

Felicity Goodyear-Smith will conduct an evening meeting for all interested COSA members when she is in Wellington next month.

DSAC Multi-disciplinary Conference: Rape: 10 years’ progress?

Wellington 27-30 March

Topics include: A survivor’s perspective; Maori perspective; Marae justice; a look at reforms in the last 10 years – are the scales of justice fairly balanced?

NATO International Scientific Meeting Recollections of trauma: Scientific research and clinical practice

June 16-26, 1996 Port de Bourgenay, France

I will be attending this conference – further details later. Felicity Goodyear-Smith

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