COSA Casualties of Sexual Allegations Newsletter November 1997 Volume 4 No 9

Contents of this page:

Editorial: Accident Compensation Corporation COSA has documentation of numerous cases of children and adults receiving ACC-funded counselling, and ACC lump-sum payment and disability allowance, for alleged sexual assaults that never happened. As Richard Prebble, ACT leader, is quoted as saying last month "The whole question of fraud and accident compensation do appear to go together".

Courts: No further trials for Tony Guy

False rape claim by ex-wife A 23 year solo mother called her ex-husband over to her home to discuss custody of their son. The couple eventually had consensual sex. However, after he had left, Zarmani rang 111 and told the police that her husband had raped her.

Judge rules that complainant’s medical records should be seen by defence (Canada).

Wrongly convicted minister released after 10 years in prison (USA).

Judge strongly supports access demands by wrongly accused father (USA).

Rape shield laws prevent justice (USA).

Media: Worrying lack of general knowledge by NZ university students

Lying starts with talking Researchers studied 24 children and concluded that children learn to lie, although perhaps ineptly, as soon as they learn to communicate.

Glass doors in confessionals to prevent false allegations

Navy woman falsely accuses Solomon Island security guard of rape

Recovered memory techniques banned The Royal College of Psychiatrists have published their professional guidelines. (UK).

DNA Breakthrough (UK).

Cheryl Amirault LeFave seeks new trial (USA).

False allegation by topless dancer (USA).

Gender inequity in law and policy (Canada).

Literature: Reported recovered memories of child sexual abuse: recommendations for good practice and implications for training, continuing professional development and research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. These guidelines are firmly against the practice of "recovering memory". (UK).

Whores of the Court: the fraud of psychiatric testimony and the rape of American justice. Book by Margaret Hagen.

Keeping children safe from sexual abuse: a parents and caregivers guide to personal safety for children. This NZ book does not mention the possibility of false allegations.

The psychiatric patient’s right to effective treatment; implications of Osheroff v Chestnut Lodge.

Features: A Short History of Medicine

Social Security (Conjugal Status) Amendment Bill – Submission to Select Committee. COSA has strong objections to any reference to ‘Battered Woman’s Syndrome’ entering into New Zealand legislation.

Newsletters received by COSA

New Zealand Law Society seminars on ‘Expert evidence in sexual abuse cases’

‘Smiling though tears’, by Pamela Freyd & Eleanor Goldstein.

childrenz issues (Journal of the Children’s Issues Centre) 1 (2), 1997.


Accident Compensation Corporation

COSA has documentation of numerous cases of children and adults receiving ACC-funded counselling, and ACC lump-sum payment and disability allowance, for alleged sexual assaults that never happened. In some of these cases, sadly people have come to wrongly believe they are victims of sexual abuse and rape; in other cases, they have knowingly made false allegations and hence are guilty of fraud. As Richard Prebble, ACT leader, is quoted as saying last month "The whole question of fraud and accident compensation do appear to go together". Last year Jeff Chapman, former Auditor-General and prior to that the chief executive of ACC, was convicted of fraud, committed both at ACC and at the Audit Office. Chapman’s successor at ACC, Gavin Robins, has now also been charged with fraud. He has been dismissed by the board and is awaiting trial.

Over the years COSA has written to ACC Ministers Bruce Cliffe and Doug Kydd about our concerns (such as ACC not requiring any corroboration of a claim and the huge cost of ‘recovered memory therapy’ incurred by ACC). We also wrote to Gavin Robins when he was the Managing Director. We have received numerous polite responses effectively ignoring the issues and closing the debate. Now that ACC is undergoing a major shake-up, with a new Managing Director and Minister, and hopefully finally prepared to address the issue of fraud, we feel that it is time to start again.

The following letter was recently sent to the Minister for Accident Compensation, the Hon Jennifer Shipley. In the interest of space, the extensive reference list has been deleted (but can be made available on request).

"Dear Minister for ACC,

I have had ongoing concerns about ACC-funded sexual abuse counselling for a number of years now, and have written to previous Ministers for ARCI about these.

A primary concern is about the verification of sexual abuse allegations. While many ACC claims will relate to genuine events, I know of a significant number of instances where people have obtained lump sum and counselling payments for alleged events which never occurred. Untrue claims may be deliberate, but are more likely to be inadvertent, whereby someone comes to believe she or he has been sexually assaulted when in fact this has not occurred. This might be due either to frank psychotic illness or through the creation of pseudomemories. The latter is more likely to occur when recall is of long past events. There is a huge body of literature and research on this topic.

Pseudomemories may occur during the process of counselling or in other circumstances where past memories are cued. When some current happening triggers the retrieval from memory of long-forgotten event, there may be increased recall of the details of an actual sexual experience, but there may also be progressive confabulation related to suggestions of friends and family, a counsellor, the media, the hypersensitivity of sexual abuse in our community today, or the desire of patients to find an explanation as to why their lives are not going well for them. Without external corroboration, clinicians cannot tell the difference between believed-in fantasy and viable memory about the past.

A second concern regards the effects of sexual abuse. There are no specific indicators of a past history of sexual abuse, with the obvious exceptions of markers of past sexual activity such as pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Adverse events in childhood can result in emotional problems as an adult. Statistically, someone who has suffered sexual abuse in childhood may be more likely to develop some sort of psychological problem as an adult, than someone who was not sexually abused. However large numbers of studies have failed to demonstrate that there is any causal relationship between childhood molestation and any specific childhood or adulthood psychological problem.

Furthermore, most people who have been sexually abused do not appear to suffer either short-term or long-term harm (although this in no way condones such behaviour). The majority of people are hardy and demonstrate resilience; a minority are vulnerable and develop a wide range of problems, but their response is idiosyncratic and unpredictable.

Prof. Sarah Romans from the Dunedin School of Medicine reports that about 75% of victims of even most severe child sex abuse show no long-term psychiatric problems; most of those with problems also had histories of family violence or emotional neglect as well. She believes that the effects of child sexual abuse have been exaggerated, and many victims have not had life-long trauma as a result.

Her findings are supported by international research. A recent meta-analysis showed that only 10-15% of victims get worse over a 2 year period following victimisation. There is no way currently to identify the children who will develop problems.

There is also no evidence to demonstrate that recalling and reliving childhood trauma, either real or metaphorical, is beneficial. Most interventions currently offered have not been subjected to scientific scrutiny. Unfortunately, no beneficial relationship between treatment for child sexual abuse and outcome has been found.

Rather than treating the event per se (ie sexual abuse), when psychotherapy is used it should be directed at treating symptoms if or when they develop.

This view is endorsed by the American Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR). In their 1993 Specific Psychotherapy Practice Guidelines outlining the established standard of care, they recommend psychotherapy that is active, time- limited (brief), focused on current problems and aimed at symptom resolution.

Therapies that work best are ones which do not explore the past but which facilitate people to make changes to help them achieve their goals. The short-term therapies shown to be most effective are cognitive, behavioural or interpersonal. These therapies focus on helping people change the way they think about things, the way they act or the way they relate to others, in a direction designed to help them achieve their goals. An emphasis on clients’ histories in explaining their problems is an inefficient form of treatment. Delving into the past to come up with reasons as to why they have not achieved their goals will be singularly unhelpful. Dynamic psychotherapy which explores people’s childhoods, encourages them to experience their feelings (such as catharsis) and makes symbolic interpretations are likely to lead to the worst possible outcomes.

The claim made by many counsellors that sexual abuse counselling is a long slow process should be critically reviewed. The clear signal from current research is that preferable alternative interventions should be the use of brief, solution-orientated therapies which have been shown to be effective and safe by controlled outcome studies.

Not only has the approach of revisiting the past not been shown to be effective; when someone with psychological problems attends sexual abuse counselling, there is a significant risk that treatment for their presenting or co-existing problems, such as anxiety or depression, is neglected. Dr Romans recently reported that she had seen women have months of ineffective counselling for a sexual abuse history before assessment indicated depression, and once this was treated, worry about sexual abuse disappeared. The focus of therapy should be aimed at the wider contextual background of the client, not just sexual abuse and its assumed effects.

A further long-term concern of mine is that the problem has been compounded by the excessive broadening of the definition of child sexual abuse, which has inflated the prevalence figures, and hence increased expectations by some professionals that sexual abuse has contributed to their clients’ problems. Dr Romans recently shared this concern.

There is considerable scientific backing to the claims above, which I would be happy to provide.

ACC funds sexual abuse counselling but not mental health services in general. This situation has put pressure on both practitioners and their clients to report and focus on sexual abuse issues, to obtain funding support. This may lead to inappropriate treatment being provided which may be damaging and unhelpful for the client, as well as inefficient for ACC.

I submit that legislation should be altered to allow all New Zealand citizens equal access to mental health services, irrespective of the hypothesised cause of their current conditions. Would you please take these issues into account in any future review of ACC legislation.

Signed Felicity Goodyear-Smith"

This letter has been acknowledged but a response has not yet been received.

We are not alone in our concerns. Labour MP Mark Peck is proposing a private members’ bill relating to the regulation of counsellors and ways of holding them accountable for their actions. Phil Goff, Opposition Spokesperson on Justice, has recently written to Shipley about issues relating to alleged sexual abuse and ACC payments.

Be part of the solution

Last year we asked our members to write to the Mental Health Training Service about your experiences and concerns relating to recovered memory therapy, which their course promoted. Many of you did so; the course was inundated with letters, and in time a huge change was made and the course redesigned. Your action made a difference. We want your help again.

COSA would like all our members who have concerns about ACC, and especially those who know of complainants making false claims to ACC, to write to Shipley with your stories. You may wish just to send a brief note stating your concerns about ACC-funded sexual abuse counselling, or how such counselling has affected you, or you may wish to explain your own case in detail. Points to make might include:

  • who was accused by whom
  • the nature of the allegations
  • how the allegations came about
  • whether there was any opportunity to challenge the allegations
  • whether lump sum payments or disability allowance is involved
  • the role you believe ACC-funded counselling has played.

If necessary, you may wish to keep names and identifying details confidential, or you may like to give names to Shipley but request that she keep them confidential. Send your letters to The Hon Jennifer Shipley, Minister for ARCI, Parliament Buildings, Wellington. No stamp is needed (letters to politicians are free). If possible, please send a copy of your letter to the COSA secretary or president, or at least let us know that you have written to Shipley. Preferably, we would like you to do this within two weeks of receiving this newsletter. COSA can supply statistical and academic information, but it is our members’ personal experiences which will make the difference. Here is an opportunity to have your say.


New Zealand

No further trials for Tony Guy

The outcome of ENT surgeon Tony Guy’s 2nd trial (see last month’s newsletter here) was a hung jury. Guy had previously been found guilty on 6 counts of assaults on female patients between 1987 and 1991, but his convict had been overturned on appeal. The Solicitor-General has decided that he does not need to face a third trial.

In Jan 1995 the Medical Council found Guy guilty of disgraceful and professional misconduct. They fined him $1000 and struck him off the medical register. Guy is now appealing that decision, but it will be some months before his appeal is heard.

(NZ Herald (27 Sep 1997). ‘Anger, relief greet stay of proceedings’; Star-Times (28 Sep 1997). ‘Struck-off surgeon faces long wait’)

False rape claim by ex-wife

A 23 year solo mother, Lohenet Zarmani, called her ex-husband over to her home to discuss custody of their son. The couple eventually had consensual sex. However, after he had left, Zarmani rang 111 and told the police that her husband had raped her. A police investigation included interviewing, a scene examination with photos, and a $450 medical examination.

When evidence did not match her story, she admitted that she had made a false accusation to get back at him for the way he had treated her in the past.

(North Shore Times Advertiser (23 Oct 199). ‘Woman admits false accusation of rape’, p2)


Judge rules that complainant’s medical records should be seen by defence

A recent provision passed by the Canadian Parliament known as Bill C-64 has been struck down as unconstitutional by Ontario Superior Court Judge Madam Justice Sandra Chapnik. On 30 Sep 1997 she found that the new provisions violate an accused’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Toronto obstetrician Joseph Lee was charged with two counts of sexual assault on a former patient. He applied to the court to obtain her medical, therapeutic and psychiatric records from the college of Physicians and Surgeons, a staff counsellor at a family life centre and a North York (Toronto) Hospital. Judge Chapnik struck down the new law and ordered that the patient’s records be produced. After examining them, she ruled that some were likely relevant. Chapnik concluded the Crown had failed to show that the new restrictions were a reasonable limit on the fair trial rights of an accused. Chapnik’s decision binds the lower courts in Ontario and will be persuasive among other general division judges if no conflicting rulings are made.

The patient then indicated that she would drop the complaint if the defence gained access to her medical records. Faced with the loss of its key witness, the prosecutor, Rosemary Anderson, requested an acquittal. Chapnik therefore acquitted Joseph Lee of the two charges of sexual assault.

(London Free Post (8 Oct 1997). ‘Judge Strikes Down Recent Bill C-64 Amendment to Criminal Code: Therapists, hospital, and college of physicians and surgeons must produce records’; The Globe And Mail (10 Oct 1997). ‘Doctor Acquitted Of Sex Charges’, Thomas Claridge, Courts Reporter, Toronto.)


Wrongly convicted minister released after 10 years in prison

Nathaniel Grady, Sr, 59, was one of five men found guilty of sexually abusing children at a Bronx day care center in the mid-1980s. The convictions of the other four had been reversed in court earlier. Last week his conviction for sexually abusing six children was overturned by the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court. Grady had spent 10 years in prison before he was freed in July 1996 pending his appeal.

Grady, former pastor of a Yonkers church and a one-time chaplain with the Yonkers Police Department, said that even during the darkest moments of his imprisonment, he believed he would be vindicated. He was charged with the five others in 1984 of raping and sodomising six children at city-funded day care centers in the Bronx.

The trials occurred during a time of "hysteria" about purported child abuse at day care centers, which former Bronx District Attorney Mario Merola pursued zealously. It is contended that the police, prosecutors and mental health experts used unfairly suggestive methods to obtain testimony from young children.

(Associated Press, New York (29 Sep 1997) ‘Wrongly-convicted minister says he’s not bitter after decade in prison’, Timothy Williams)

Judge strongly supports access demands by wrongly accused father

George D was falsely accused of sexual abuse of his child in an access dispute. He was acquitted on all charges. An appeal court placed more legal hurdles in his attempt to gain access, using the fact that civil standard of proof is lower than criminal standard of proof.. Appeal court judge Neely came out very strongly in his dissent of the majority of the appeal court judges. He says:

"We now have a system in which a female parent need only scream child abuse in a loud voice to keep the male parent from seeing a child. Indeed, sexual abuse these days seems to arouse all the hysteria that was associated with witchcraft in yesteryear.

In fact, it has even spawned a witch-huntingesque cottage industry, to-wit badly trained, ideological rape trauma experts, rape counselors, bachelor level pseudo-psychologists, social activists, and other assorted species of jacklegs.

I am a firm believer that the best interests of the child are paramount, but that does not mean never allowing a father to see his children when the evidence preponderates on his behalf even though, like an accused witch, he cannot clear himself beyond any shadow of a doubt. Continuous yelling and screaming of an accusation does not make that accusation any more true."

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in the case of Mary D. v. Circuit Court, 438 S.E.2d 521 (W. va. 1992)(Neely, J., dissent at 529)

Rape shield laws prevent justice

Rape shield laws restrict the of an accuser’s sexual history in sexual assault trial. They were introduced as part of feminist rape-law reform in the 1970s. before then, some juries were instructed to consider a woman’s "unchaste character" (for example, going alone to bars, extramarital affairs or use of contraceptives) as a reflection on her credibility. This clearly made some women reluctant to report rape.

However the shield laws are now being used to deny a jury information critical to determining the facts of a case, including testimony that might exonerate the defendant. The reforms have been taken too far. As Cathy Young so elegantly puts it ‘Special rules related to a woman’s sexual behavior smack of neo-Victorian paternalism’.

Vanessa Perhach charged her ex-boyfriend Marv Albert (a popular American sportscaster) with forcible sodomy, assault and battery (specifically, biting her). After some days of testimony, he agreed to plead guilty to the biting (a misdemeanour) in exchange for the prosecution dropping the forcible sodomy charge. Because of US rape victim ‘shield law’, the judge had ruled as inadmissible evidence as to whether in their 10-year consensual relationship of allegedly rough sex, the Perhach had liked to be bitten and also ruled irrelevant any evidence that she had a past history of blackmailing previous beaux when the relationship seemed to be ending.

Another case where a jury was withheld information that could support acquittal because it related to the accuser’s sexual history is that of James Anderson. Anderson has spent 8 years in an Oregon prison for the alleged rape of a fellow patient at a substance abuse clinic. He claimed that they had consensual sex, and that the woman made up the rape to get help after the clinic kicked her out for refusing to commit to long-term treatment. The morning after the alleged rape, she did not tell clinic staff that she had been attacked. The prosecutor explained this by suggesting that she didn’t trust the counsellors enough to disclose such "intimate details", yet just the day before, the woman had discussed equally intimate details ( alleged sexual victimization by her brother and by a friend) with one of the counselors. But the judge ruled that this evidence was off limits because it concerned her sexual past. Nor did the jury hear about her history of drug abuse, her psychotic episodes or the contradictions in the different accounts of her previous sexual abuse she gave at different times to clinic counsellors and to the police.

In the 1990 Pennsylvania sexual assault trial of college student Robert Berkowitz, the judge would not let the jury hear that another man, the woman’s boyfriend, had been accusing her of being unfaithful. In fact, it was the boyfriend who called the police after she told him that Berkowitz had assaulted her. This information would have allowed the defense to argue that she had a motive to lie about a consensual encounter with Berkowitz in order to appease her boyfriend’s suspicions and get his sympathy. Berkowitz was found guilty of rape and indecent assault. His rape conviction was subsequently overturned on other grounds.

In the 1993 Wisconsin sexual assault case of Charles Steadman, the jury did not get to hear that the woman laying the complaint against him was herself an accused sexual offender, facing charges of sex with minors for which she was ultimately convicted and sentenced. Again, the jury was denied a chance to hear a challenge to her credibility.

In 1977 Columbia University law professor Vivian Berger warned that in trying to eliminate the sexist biases that rape victims then had to face in court, there was a danger of ‘sacrificing the legitimate rights of the accused person on the altar of Women’s Liberation’. Her warning has not been heeded, and a new form of sexist bias has emerged, based on the assumption "women never lie about rape’.

(The Washington Post (12 Oct 1997), ‘What Marv’s Trial Told Us: Shield Laws Can Hide Too Much’, Cathy Young, Section: Outlook, p. C01)


New Zealand

Worrying lack of general knowledge by university students

A survey of 446 students at NZ’s University of Canterbury demonstrated an alarming lack of general knowledge in a recent multiple-choice survey. One in seven did not know that the sun rises in the east, only 32% identified Ottawa as the capital of Canada, and 7% of females and 9% males had no idea what a fallopian tube was. 3% thought it was part of an underground railway system

(The Press, Christchurch (8 Oct 1997), ‘Which stop for the fallopian tube?’ Peter Mathias)

Lying starts with talking

Studies carried out by Dr Vasudevi Reddy of Portsmouth University and Dr Paul Newman have disproved the idea that children need to pass a test of understanding before they can tell lies. The researchers studied 24 children and concluded that children learn to lie, although perhaps ineptly, as soon as they learn to communicate. By the age of two and half to three they are telling quite complex lies. Lies reported by parents took many forms and were told for many reasons. They included hiding things and then denying knowledge of their whereabouts, and pretending not to know where commonplace objects, such as their pyjamas, are kept.

This study shows that children can lie deliberately as soon as they can talk, before they grasp the idea of truth and reality. Between the ages of 3 and 4, children learn that it is possible for the mind to harbour false beliefs. Before that, they tend to believe that the mind automatically knows the truth. It was previously believed that children were not capable of lying under this age.

(Christchurch Star (1 Oct 1997). ‘Children can lie very early’, page a6)

Glass doors in confessionals to prevent false allegations

The Australian Catholic Church is banning priests being alone with children, even at confession. Glass doors are being installed in Australian and NZ church confessionals, a move welcomed by priests to reduce the risk of false allegations.

(NZ Herald,(26 Sep 1997). ‘Fear of sex-abuse claims brings glass confessional’, Bingham & Reuters)

Navy woman falsely accuses Solomon Island security guard of rape

A male sailor and 2 women ratings from the frigate Canterbury had been attending a social function and were seen by a security guard on closed-circuit TV about 3 am in the Parliament grounds. He went to investigate; saw the sailor having sex with both women and was given the equivalent of about $NZ25 to keep quiet. When he did not, one of the women accused him of rape.

Solomons police detectives investigated and determined that the allegation was false. The three now face a disciplinary investigation into sexual misconduct.

(NZ Herald (29 Sep 1997). ‘New sex scandal probe for Navy’, Mathew Dearnaley)


Recovered memory techniques banned

The Royal College of Psychiatrists have published their professional guidelines about the use of ‘memory recovery’ techniques, after months of dispute about release of their report on recovered memories (see literature section here for guideline details). The full report will be published next year, not as a college document but as a paper signed by individual authors.

Members of the College who use these techniques will be sanctioned by actions including removing training status from senior psychiatrists, removing doctors from College membership and reporting psychiatrists to the General Medical Council for professional misconduct, said Prof Sydney Brandon, a fellow of the College and convenor of the report.

The Royal College guidelines say there is no evidence that recovered memory techniques can reveal memory of real events or accurately elaborate factual information about past experiences.

DNA Breakthrough

A British pathologist has developed a new method of obtaining DNA fingerprints from a single cell. This means that a criminal could be identified examining a fleck of dandruff, a smudged fingerprint, a strand of hair or a single sperm cell. The technique, called short tandem repeat (STR) profiling, was developed by Ian Findlay of the University of Leeds in northern England with the Birmingham Forensic Science Service, and takes about 6 hours. The chances of cell samples from two people producing an identical result are 100 million to 1.

It is hoped that the technique, which is still being perfected, will be available for forensic use in 2 years. Its availability will mean that there will forensic evidence identifying alleged assailants in cases where previously there was no corroborative evidence. As well as being able to positively identify more criminals and possibly collect new evidence on old unsolved crimes, hopefully this technique will be able to reduce the number of people falsely charged and convicted.

(ABCNEWS London (9 Oct 1997) ‘Interesting DNA Breakthrough This Could Shake Up Forensics: DNA Prints from a Single Cell’)


Cheryl Amirault LeFave seeks new trial

Cheryl Amirault LeFave, daughter of Violet Amirault who died last month (see Sep/Oct newsletter), is seeking a new trial. Convicted in 1987 of sexually abusing children at Fells Acres Day Care Center, LeFave’s application is supported by Maggie Bruck, a professor at McGill University who studies the factors that influence child testimony in sexual abuse cases. Bruck says that flawed investigative techniques like the repetition of misleading information and peer pressure created an atmosphere of fear which may have tainted testimony that sent LeFave, her mother and brother to prison.

The new hearing is scheduled for December but the District Attorney for the case, Thomas Reilly, is trying to block the new trial. LeFave was released from prison in May on appeal.

(Boston Globe (10 Oct 1997) ‘Child testimony eyed in Fells Acres appeal’, Jason Pring, page B08)

False allegation by topless dancer

In September 1997 Nina Shahravan, a 24 year old former topless dancer in Dallas, was found guilty of falsely accusing Dallas cowboys Michael Irvin, 31, and Erik Williams, 28, of sexual assault last December. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $1,500. Shahravan came to the United States from Iran when she was 5, and she faces possible deportation when she finishes her sentence.

(PEOPLE Magazine, United States, 29 Sep 1997)

Gender inequity in law and policy

Throughout the western world, women are now awarded special privileges and double standards which indicate that sadly our society is not evolving into a liberal society of equality but a matriarchy. The rape shield laws mentioned above are one example.

In England, a male features editor of a woman’s magazine was sacked by his female editor for being late for work. His 10 year old daughter had been hospitalised after sufffering a severe epileptic fit. The man, had a 12-year-old son who had suffered similar fits before being diagnosed with cancer. He rang to tell his office to say he would be late after he was "traumatised" by the news about his daughter. When he claimed unfair dismissal, the judge said that "while the sickness of your children attracts a good deal of sympathy, I cannot suspend the law or invent the law by reasons of such considerations." A woman in his position would almost certainly attract such sympathy and outrage on her behalf that the decision would be reversed.

In Canada, Ontario Judge Lynn Ratushny has reviewed 98 cases of women convicted of murder or manslaughter before 1990 as to whether they might have benefited from the Supreme Court ruling in 1990 that allowed the battered women’s syndrome defence (see Social Security (Conjugal Status) Amendment Bill article in this issue). Battered woman’s defence suggests that a woman could kill in cold blood, without immediate provocation or in response to any immediate danger of harm, because she is trapped in a psychological prison by previous actions of her abuser. It defends a woman killing or mutilating a sleeping or drunk abuser instead of leaving him or walking away not because she was temporarily insane, but just rendered into this peculiar helpless state. As Barbara Amiel writes: ‘It was as if abused women do not live in a land with buses, trains, telephones, women’s shelters, relatives, friends, but on a desert island in which their only choice in relationships with brutal men is to kill them when they are unaware’.

Judge Ratushny takes it even further. She recommends a woman be pardoned who had been abused earlier in her life, went to a bar, picked up a total stranger, took him to her apartment and because he evoked the same anxiety as in the previous pattern of abuse, battered him to death with a hammer. He had not displayed any violence towards her.

(Ottawa Citizen (4 Oct 1997). ‘Laws are mere trifles to feminists’, Barbara Amiel)


Reported recovered memories of child sexual abuse: recommendations for good practice and implications for training, continuing professional development and research

Royal College of Psychiatrists (1997). Psychiatric Bulletin, 21: 663-665.

These guidelines are firmly against the practice of "recovering memory" because of concerns that the techniques employed can give rise to strongly-held false memories and lead to false accusations. So-called false memory syndrome has led to adults making uncorroborated reports of childhood sexual abuse by fathers and other people years after the alleged events.

Psychiatrists should resist "vigorously" moves towards compulsory reporting by adult patients of their allegations or suspicions to the authorities. Patients should be encouraged to consider the possible consequences of confronting the alleged abuser or their families, or of instigating prosecution or litigation. It may be appropriate to encourage the search for corroboration.

Whores of the Court: the fraud of psychiatric testimony and the rape of American justice

Hagen, Margaret (1997). Harper Collins, New York.

Hagen rightly identifies that even though a large number of people might have been hurt by adults when they were children, and while many people are not happy with their adult lives, there may or may not be a causal connection between these things. When society tries to right past wrongs and compensate those perceived as injured, it accepts "wholesale an elaborate tissue of lies" which claims to have established psychological causes between an earlier event and a later condition. Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have largely been responsible for this travesty: "In our pursuit of justice, we have gone completely astray from the pursuit of truth".

While I would agree with Hagen that expert psychological testimony in the US courts is largely fraud, and she covers a comprehensive range of subjects including determination of competency, dangerousness, parental fitness, custody, personal injury, memory, sentencing and rehabilitation, some of the content of this book at times too globally sweeping and under-referenced.

Another review of this book is here.

Keeping children safe from sexual abuse: a parents and caregivers guide to personal safety for children

Witten-Hannah Caroline (1996). Waitakere Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre, Auckland.

Witten-Hannah is a sexual abuse counsellor at the Waitakere Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre. This book does not mention the possibility of false allegations. It promotes some of the slogans which developed in the 980s which COSA identifies as contributing to false allegations, for example: "Believe what the child says and tell him/her that you believe him/her" and teaching pre-school children "it’s my body and I’m the boss of it". The latter is a particular concern as it teaches young children that any touch they do not like is sexual abuse. They are not the boss of their bodies: responsible parents will ensure that their pre-schoolers wear appropriate garments, put on hats and sun-block, eat healthy food, wash, clean their teeth and have their wounds dressed, despite resistance from the children.

The book also contains a number of extremely ugly line-drawings of children and parents.

The psychiatric patient’s right to effective treatment; implications of Osheroff v Chestnut Lodge

Klerman G (1990). American Journal of Psychiatry, 147 (4): 409-417.

This paper discusses an important case in the US which has relevance to psychotherapy issues today. Osheroff was a successful doctor with good job, wife and family, when he developed severe depression. He was admitted to Chestnut Lodge where he received intensive psychotherapy. He got progressively worse until after 7 months his family removed him and had him admitted to another hospital. He was treated with the appropriate drugs and rapidly improved.

Osheroff initiated a lawsuit against Chestnut Lodge on the grounds that they were negligent in not giving him drug treatment which would have quickly returned to normal functioning. Because of this he lost his medical practice, his standing in the community, and the relationship with his wife and children suffered. Given that drug treatment has controlled trials demonstrating that it is effective treatment, and the psychotherapy used had no such evidence, he had a strong case. Although the case never reached final court adjudication because the parties settled out of court, it is a landmark case dealing with issues such as the need for psychiatric standards and the ethical and legal consequences of the absence of such standards.

A Short History of Medicine

I have an earache:

2000 BC -Here, eat this root.

1000 AD -That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.

1850 AD -That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.

1940 AD -That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.

1985 AD -That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.

2000 AD -That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.

Social Security (Conjugal Status) Amendment Bill

An Amendment to the Social security bill is about to go before Select Committee. The key objective of this Amendment is to allow for the granting of an emergency benefit "where battered woman’s syndrome is present or there are grounds for believing it is present".

While acknowledging that some provision should be made for the granting of an emergency benefit for a short period of time while someone is assisted in moving out of a violent relationship, we have strong objections to any reference to ‘battered woman’s syndrome’ entering into New Zealand legislation. While ‘battered woman syndrome’ is not directly about false sexual allegations, it is driven by the same gender-feminist ideology: ie that all men are potential aggressors and all women potential victims.

Our objections to the syndrome are on both scientific and ethical grounds.

Scientific objections

The concept of battered woman syndrome was invented by Lenore Walker in 1979. She hypothesised that women living in violent relationships suffer a cycle of violence and experience learned helplessness which prevents them from leaving the relationship. The theory is based on the observations of this sole researcher and subsequent research has not found any empirical basis for her claim. ‘Battered woman syndrome’ is a poorly substantiated hypothesis which has not been corroborated by serious rigorous scientific testing.

‘Battered woman syndrome’ does not meet the Daubert test for scientific reliability in the United States law courts. It fails to pass the four criteria for Daubert validity:

  1. Scientific testability: there has not been adequate testing of this syndrome
  2. Error criteria: criteria under which women suffer a violent relationship but do not develop the syndrome have not been established
  3. Peer review journal publication: the principal research projects on which battered woman syndrome expert testimony is based has only been published in the popular press, not in peer reviewed journals
  4. General acceptance test: while battered woman syndrome might be considered valid by clinical psychologists who work in the field of domestic violence (and hence with a financial vested interest), there would be few experimental psychologists who would consider it a valid entity.

Ethical objections

Walker claims that the syndrome is not a form of insanity, but a normal response of women in violent relationships. A woman is said to be suffering from the syndrome if she undergoes at least two cycles in her relationship of being repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behaviour by a man in order to coerce her do something he wants her to do. Hence a woman can be considered battered even if there is no physical violence.

Entering and endorsing the theory of ‘battered woman syndrome’ in our legislation undermines the principles of the neutrality of justice, equality before the law and individual autonomy. While the current amendment relates to social welfare payments, once established in our legislation it is likely also to become a defence for women who physically harm or kill their spouses. Certainly in cases of spouse homicide, it may be relevant for a woman to use a history of past violence, especially if her life has been threatened, as grounds for self-defence. However there is no reason why this needs to be labelled ‘battered woman syndrome’.

The women’s liberation movement of the 1960s fought for women’s emancipation, to achieve equal opportunity for both men and women, and for equality before the law regardless of gender. However the radical feminist legal theory which emerged in the 1980s (and which has brought us the battered woman syndrome) rejects the time-honoured principles of equal rights, justice and autonomy on the basis that these are patriarchal concepts. Ironically, ‘battered woman syndrome’ is a paternalistic theory which portrays women as weak, helpless and needing special privileges and protection. It denies women status as autonomous adults who are responsible for their actions.


The syndrome appears to be primarily an advocacy-driven construct designed to support justification claims by women who have killed their spouses, the product of political ideology rather than science.

All adults should have equal rights and responsibilities and women, or any other adult group, should not be assigned special status in our jurisprudence.

We are strongly opposed to the unsubstantiated concept of ‘battered woman syndrome ‘ entering our legislation. Such an action would be doing the women of New Zealand a disservice. We hope that the Social Services Select Committee avoids bowing to pressure groups in this regard. Given its lack of scientific basis, it appears to be an ill-conceived concept that is likely to be increasingly rejected by North American law courts, where it first emerged. Eminent legal commentators are predicting that the syndrome will soon pass from the American legal scene. Rather than learn retrospectively from their mistakes, we hope the Select Committee decides to act as vanguard in this instance.

MPD [Multiple Personality Disorder] is either a factitious diagnosis or a fictitious one… It is time to recognise that the MPD emperor is not wearing any clothes. Harold Merskey

Newsletters received by COSA

New Zealand Skeptic (Spring 1997), No 45

This issue includes an article by Michael Shermer ‘The Bible Code; one more weird thing to believe in’, condemning a book which claims that the Bible contains a numerical code for predicting the future. Shermer is author of Why people believe weird things, in which he writes that human beings are pattern seekers, looking for meaningful relations in the world, whether they really exist or not.

FMS False Memory Groups, Canada (Sep 1997) Vol 6, no 10.

News and views from the FMS group in Canada

Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC) Newsletter Oct 1997 No 34

This newsletter is dominated by reports of the recent ‘Sexual abuse of males – NZ’s untold story’ conference. See our last month’s newsletter (here) for COSA’s perspective on this conference.

FMS Foundation Newsletter (Oct 1997). 6 (9)

Recent events

New Zealand Law Society seminars on ‘Expert evidence in sexual abuse cases’

This series of seminars was held throughout the country in Oct 1997. The presenters were Philip Hamlin, Crown prosecutor; Gerald Nation, defence lawyer; Judith McDougall, clinical psychologist; and a DSAC doctor from each region.

While satisfied that the 2 lawyers would have provided a balanced legal perspective, COSA expresses concern about the psychological and medical input in these seminars. The presenters in these fields represent one end of the spectrum with respect to the topic of ‘recovered’ and ‘repressed’ memory, and are generally of the persuasion that false allegations rarely ever happen. Examination of the booklet and other material provided for this course supports this concern.

Smiling though tears’

by Pamela Freyd & Eleanor Goldstein (1997), Upton Books, Florida.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, thousands of people (mostly middle-class white women in their 20s to 40s) began to recover ‘repressed’ memories of childhood sexual abuse and cruelty. In 1992, the FMS Foundation (headed by Pam Freyd) was founded. By 1993, cartoons about repressed memories and false memory syndrome began to appear, a testimony to how well the Foundation was bringing these issues to public awareness.

Smiling though tears reprints about 125 of these cartoons, some of them devastatingly funny and cutting to the heart of tragic social phenomenon. They are accompanied by text which manages to pack a vast amount of useful pertinent information about the social, scientific and legal factors contributing to the ‘recovery’ movement, all explained in an easily understandable style. While there are now many other books recently published on this topic, none of them offer the material in such a concise, reader-friendly way, with of course the added bonus of hilariously funny cartoons.

If you are only going to read one book about recovered memories, make it this one!

childrenz issues (Journal of the Children’s Issues Centre) 1 (2), 1997

This is a biannual publication focusing on matters to do with children and aimed at a multidisciplinary audience. Each issue devotes space to a particular theme, and this one looks at what is in the best interest of children. It was pleasing to see a relatively strong emphasis on the importance of family , and that children do best with both mother and fathers.

The style is chatty and not especially academic, and includes articles by children.

COSA on the Good Morning Show, TV1

COSA President Felicity Goodyear-Smith and Liaison Officer Gordon Waugh will be interviewed about our organisation on the Good Morning Show, TV1, at 11am, Tuesday 18 November.

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