COSA Casualties of Sexual Allegations Newsletter October 1994: Volume 1 No 6
Contents of this page:
Editorial: When Education becomes Indoctrination My Masters degree paper on Teaching and Learning. Entitled When Education becomes Indoctrination: dissemination of misinformation in the field of sexual abuse, it illustrates the processes whereby education within a particular field can be subverted for political or other agendas, and become the vehicle for indoctrination. I discuss how the use of selected or erroneous information, intolerance of critical appraisal, and lack of evaluation and accountability contribute to this process. I use the current proliferation of misinformation in the sexual abuse field as an example of this phenomenon, but also address more general implications.
Courts: Ellis loses Appeal
Media: Dr Patricia Crittenden – report on the visit of this American authority on sexuality and child development. She says feminist ideology and political correctness mean that "any questioning of current thinking is considered extreme".
Psychologist joins advisory board of the Australian False Memory Association
Literature: Prevalence of childhood sexual abuse experiences in a community sample of women – Otago study.
Magical thinking by NZ psychology students and graduates – onr third believe in alien contacts!
Clinical expertise and the assessment of child sexual abuse – clinicians studied often made assumptions and recommendations unrelated or contrary to the evidence presented.
Suggestibility and Repressed memories of abuse: a survey of psychotherapists’ beliefs
Offender recidivism statistics – Greg Newbold.
Sexual harassment and Academic Freedom – statement of National Association of Scholars, USA recognises that academic freedom and individual rights are being violated by misguided attempts to combat sexual harassment.
Features: Correspondence from Trevor Gibling, Vice President, Parents Against INjustice Society (NZ) Inc.
Political action group forming
Recent Events: Epidemiology of child sexual abuse – Otago Women’s Health Survey Child Sexual Abuse Study. Dr Jessie Anderson, Child Protection Seminar by Roland Summit.
Coming Events: Therapy for Sexually Abused Children by Jon Conte, Psychotherapy for patients with a history of childhood sexual abuse – Judith Herman Seminars, Can sexual abuse memories be repressed and accurately recovered in therapy? panel discussion with Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith and Ms Ondra Williams, International Conference on Memory and Reality: Reconciliation, Baltimore, USA.
When Education becomes Indoctrination: dissemination of misinformation in the field of sexual abuse
Thankfully I have now completed my assignment for my Masters degree paper on Teaching and Learning. Entitled When Education becomes Indoctrination: dissemination of misinformation in the field of sexual abuse, it illustrates the processes whereby education within a particular field can be subverted for political or other agendas, and become the vehicle for indoctrination. I discuss how the use of selected or erroneous information, intolerance of critical appraisal, and lack of evaluation and accountability contribute to this process. I use the current proliferation of misinformation in the sexual abuse field as an example of this phenomenon, but also address more general implications.
The literature review this month outlines 3 studies of mental health professionals’ ability to think critically and make reliable clinical judgements, all with somewhat damning results. Clinicians asked to assess the likelihood of a 3 year old girl having been abused by her father made recommendations and assumptions unrelated or contrary to the evidence with which they were presented. Undergraduate, and to a lesser extent graduate, psychology students demonstrated an alarming degree of "magical thinking" with beliefs in phenomena such as aliens, psychic powers and the ability to be able to see into the future. In another study, significant numbers of psychotherapists believed erroneously that memories obtained through hypnosis are more likely to be accurate than those simply recalled and that hypnosis can be used to recover accurate memories from as far back as birth. 28% even believed that hypnosis could be used to accurately recover memories of past lives.
Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC) continue to bring to NZ speakers who endorse the validity of recovered memory therapy, without the counter-balance of anyone who challenges this phenomenon. John Briere earlier this year and Roland Summit this month (see Recent Events) have both given seminars to our health professionals. Two other proponents of exhuming repressed memories are Jon Conte, due here in early October, and Judith Herman, scheduled here in March 1995. COSA will continue to inform the media of their visits (see Coming Events).
As well as being a believer in recovered memories, Summit invented the Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, which claims children typically deny abuse and will later retract their disclosures. Belief in this syndrome is demonstrated by the Appeal Court judges in Peter Ellis’ case. One of the complainants now says that what she had claimed was not true, "it started as a little story and just got bigger". Although acquitted on those charges, the court was "by no means satisfied" that her allegations were untrue and the result of the investigative process and family and peer influences. A classic example of "believe the child" unless she denies she has been abused.
Ellis loses Appeal
The major news for the month was the sad but not unexpected decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold Peter Ellis’ convictions and sentence. Where he can go from here is not clear. Taking his case to the Privy Council is still an option (although perhaps for not much longer in NZ). It is clear that many many New Zealanders see that there are too many anomalies in this case and that the likelihood that he is guilty is very low. Perhaps the ground swell will continue until there is call for a public enquiry into this and other cases where it is apparent that allegations have been created through the processes of investigation
Ellis was charged with a number of very bizarre crimes. Where children claimed the impossible, charges were dropped, but stories by the same children of unlikely but theoretically possible events were upheld. If some of the allegations are clearly fantasy, who could determine with any surety that others must have definitely happened? Add to this the fact that there are gross inconsistencies, with lack of corroboration from children named as present, and other creche workers having their charges dismissed whilst Ellis is convicted on the testimony of the same child. Surely this must throw at least a little doubt on the credibility of the evidence?
When I examine the interview transcripts, it is clear how initial denials later changed to more and more elaborate stories as the children’s claims that nothing had happened were not believed. Children who recanted during the trial (saying the interviewer "taught me what Peter did") or retracted at the Appeal were similarly doubted.
Examining the process whereby Christchurch professionals received training in how to detect ritual abuse right before the Civic Creche case surfaced, and then the potential contaminating influences of early professional interventions and parental alarm that abuse had occurred, must cast some doubt on the validity of the evidence obtained.
When these factors are taken into account, it is very difficult to understand how Peter Ellis’ guilt has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Dr Patricia Crittenden
This article reported on the visit of Dr Patricia Crittenden, an American authority on sexuality and child development. Dr Crittenden was a speaker at the NZ Psychological Society’s annual conference in Hamilton this month. Whilst neither condoning sexual abuse nor doubting its prevalence, she believes that it may not be as inevitably damaging as made out. She claims NZ’s reaction similar to that of the USA, tied to feminist ideology and political correctness, where "any questioning of current thinking is considered extreme".
Whilst believing that memory repression is a real phenomenon, she also admits that sometimes the mind can create a memory that cannot be distinguished from that which was experienced. Therapists with personal agendas may encourage women to think they were victims when they may not have been.
‘Where drama meets trauma’, Val Aldridge, the Dominion, 14 September 1994, 13.
Foster parents afraid
The Auckland Foster Care Association reports that potential foster parents are put off taking in children for fear that they will be falsely accused of abuse.
‘Foster parents fear abuse allegations’, Alison Smith (21 September 1994), NZ Herald.
Psychologist joins advisory board of the Australian False Memory Association
For the past 17 years Australian psychologist Merle Elson has always believed the stories of the incest and rape victims she worked with. However she refused to believe the accusations of a woman claiming to have recovered memories in therapy of having been raped by Elson’s husband. It later transpired that the woman’s complaints related to abuse experienced in a -past life.
Elson now acknowledges that recovered memories may be false and she has agreed to join the advisory board of the Australian False Memory Association soon to be established.
‘When therapy opens a Pandora’s box’, Virginia Trioli (31 Aug 1994), The Age.
Prevalence of childhood sexual abuse experiences in a community sample of women
Anderson, Jessie; Martin, Judy; Mullen, Paul; Romans, Sarah; Herbison, Peter (1993), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Dunedin study to ascertain the prevalence of sexual abuse in the community. Concludes that nearly 1 in 3 have been sexually abused before age 16 and the abuser is usually known to the child.
This is one of the better studies of this type, in that it attempts to survey a random sample of women and to define its parametres (such as what is meant by sexual abuse). However there are serious limitations and flaws which are not acknowledged in the study.
As the data is self-reported and retrospective without external corroboration, what this study really measures is reported incidents, not actual events.
It is very hard to understand how the figure of 32% reporting abuse is arrived at from the data given. Where there are discrepancies between abuse reported only in the questionnaire or only at interviewing, these are always assumed to be false negatives. It is never considered that some of the reports might not be accurate ie false positives. Factors which might contribute to this, such as reinforcement by the interviewer, are not discussed.
A more in depth criticism of this study available on request.
Magical thinking by psychology students and graduates
This reported the results of a survey conducted by Steve Humphries, psychology lecturer at Massey University. 160 1st year psychology students and a smaller number of graduates were surveyed regarding their predisposition to "magical thinking".
A third of undergraduates believed aliens have made contact with people on earth. 1 in 7 graduates agreed.
92% of undergraduates thought psychics were at least occasionally useful to police inquiries, despite Assistant Police Commissioner Ian Holyoake’s assertion that psychic information has never helped break a case. Almost 80% of graduates agreed.
A quarter of undergraduates and 1 in 7 graduates disagreed with evolutionary theory.
60% of undergraduates, and more than a third of graduates had experienced a coincidence that couldn’t be rationally explained.
Almost half of 1st-year students and 1 in 5 graduates believe that some people have mental powers which enable them to see into the future.
Mr Humphries registers concern that some psychologists are not using critical thinking skills enough to analyse situations in relationship to the scientific evidence available. Clinical decisions should be reached by weighing the empirical evidence and reaching for logical conclusions, rather than operating with unproved beliefs.
Matt Conway (21 Aug 1994). ‘Psychology students’ alien inclinations cause concern’, Sunday-Star Times.
Clinical expertise and the assessment of child sexual abuse
Horner, Thomas; Guyer, Melvin; Kalter Neil (1993), Journal American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 32 (5), 925-31 and
Yates, Alayne (1993). Discussion of "clinical expertise and the assessment of child sexual abuse", Journal American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 32 (5), 931-3.
129 mental health specialists were presented with details of alleged molestation of a 3 year old by her father and asked to estimate the likelihood that she had been abused and their recommendations regarding custody. The range of results was extreme, from certainty she had been abused to almost certainly not, and recommendations from her father to have no further contact with her to her father to have custody.
Clinicians often made assumptions and recommendations unrelated or contrary to the evidence presented. Alarmingly, most opted for the father’s contact with his daughter to be restricted even when the lack of data substantiating the abuse was discussed with colleagues. They continued to presume harm on the flimsiest of evidence.
Suggestibility and Repressed memories of abuse: a survey of psychotherapists’ beliefs
Yapko, Michael (1994). American Journal of Hypnosis, 36 (3).
869 American psychotherapists were surveyed about their views on memory and hypnosis. 98% held University degrees, nearly all post-graduate qualifications.
97% viewed hypnosis as a useful tool. Nearly 1 in 5 mistakenly believed that people cannot lie under hypnosis and nearly half that memories of a traumatic event are more reliable if obtained under hypnosis. Nearly a third believed that memories retrieved in hypnosis must be true, and over half agreed that hypnosis could be used to recover memories of actual events as far back as birth.
28% even believed that hypnosis can be used to recover accurate memories of past lives!
This survey demonstrates that an alarmingly high percentage of practising psychotherapists operate from their personal beliefs and not from a scientific consideration of the facts.
Offender recidivism statistics
Figures on re-offending depend on the definitions of sexual offending (does it include rape?) and residivism (how long is the follow-up?), and whether suspected re-offending, all reconvictions or just criminal reconvictions, or only reincarcerations are included.
Figures vary greatly depending on definition (which is often not made clear in reports).
National Parole Board figures indicate that for ALL parole releases, 20% are reconvicted of criminal offences within a year, 38.2% are reconvicted within 2 years and 49.4% are reconvicted within 7 years.
Parole data shows that sexual offenders serving finite sentences have a high risk of reconviction (of any offence): 35.7% within 1 year; 51.8% within 2 years; 62.5% after more than 2 years. Preventive detainees are also likely: nearly all reoffend, although the numbers are too small to produce useful figures. But this data relates only to parole board cases ie those involving sentences of 7 years or more. More general figures are much less clear.
I have one justice report dated July 1992 which states baldly that only 6.7% of sex offenders and 3.6% of rapists reoffend. I don’t know where those figures came from (maybe they meant 67% and 36%) because I have another report, dated 3 months later, which says almost half of child molesters reoffend, another published the same month which says 80% reoffend and a more recent one (June 1994) which says that without treatment, between 25% and 58% of child sexual offenders will reoffend within a 5 year period.
Kia marama is claiming huge successes in child sex offender treatment: so far, after an average of 2 years in the community, only 2 have reoffended out of 230 who have gone through the programme. But it must be remembered that Kia Marama only accepts those who demonstrate a willingness to be treated and thus is not a fully representative sample of the child re-offender community.
Greg Newbold, Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Canterbury
Sexual harassment and Academic Freedom
Statement of National Association of Scholars, United States
This statement condemns sexual harassment within an academic setting and reinforces that the coercing of sexual favours by faculty members must not be tolerated.
However, it also recognises that academic freedom and individual rights are being violated by misguided attempts to combat sexual harassment. Definition of harassment has been broadened to include opinions and attitudes perceived to be insensitive to women, regardless of the intent of the alleged harasser. Charges are often laid long after the alleged event, when memories have faded, motives changed, and evidence lost.
Charges of alleged sexual harassment can provide a pretext for the ideological persecution of people whose views are out of favour. This over-zealous approach encourages frivolous or self-serving charges from discontented or vindictive individuals.
Some colleges aim at thought reform through compulsory "sensitivity training" programmes which operate to humiliate those suspected of holding "incorrect views". They frequently suggest that being white, male or heterosexual constitutes a presumption of guilt.
The NAS calls for institutions of higher education to:
- define sexual harassment precisely, confining it to behaviour that is manifestly sexual and clearly violates the rights of others
- set a reasonable statute of limitations on bringing charges
- punish those who knowingly lodge false allegations.
Correspondence from Trevor Gibling, Vice President, Parents Against INjustice Society (NZ) Inc."
"This letter can be published in the next newsletter if possible.
The efforts of Felicity Goodyear-Smith and those responsible for setting up COSA are to be applauded as we clearly take the view that whilst sexual abuse does occur, there are an increasing number of innocent victims, both parents and children, being caught up in the system and in many cases the family units are being currently destroyed even if, in the end, it is finally accepted that abuse has not occurred. The mere suggestion or allegation that something has happened is enough to destroy a family unit.
Here in Christchurch, after the ward 24 affair, a group was formed back in 1988 to provide support for others who were facing the same crisis. The group was named PAIN after a national charity organisation was established in Britain for the same reasons. Our group was set up to provide advice and support to those mistakenly involved in investigations of alleged child abuse.
In 1993 we became an incorporated society but this has not been without its difficulties. Some friction developed within the group but we hope now that this has been resolved we can get on with our original intentions.
We note with interest that another group is being set up in Auckland to redress some of the wrongs and injustices (see COSA September newsletter page 5) regarding false allegations. We do not wish to dampen enthusiasm but we have being trying to lobby politicians for 6 years and have not succeeded. Even the George Balani talk-back show that covered 4 continuous nights some years ago when Dr Underwager was guest, did not sway politicians despite their promises to look at the issue.
It would seem to us that a combined effort is needed to formulate a strategy in this area and suggest that it may be worthwhile to arrange a conference of representatives from the various groups to discuss these issues and come up with some positive strategies.
Readers can make contact with us by writing to:
P.A.I.N. Soc (NZ) Inc
PO Box 9214
Always remember the old adage: "United we stand, divided we fall".
Trevor Gibling, Vice President, Parents Against INjustice Society (NZ) Inc."
An Auckland group is looking at possible actions to redress some of the wrongs and injustices regarding false allegations.
Epidemiology of child sexual abuse – Otago Women’s Health Survey Child Sexual Abuse Study
Dr Jessie Anderson, Co-Investigator. Community Health Seminar Series, 20 September.
Dr Anderson presented the results of this study. Further details of this paper are reviewed in the literature section. There was no time available for questioning or challenging of the data and its interpretations.
Child Protection Seminar by Roland Summit. 23 Sept 1994, Auckland.
Organised by DSAC the seminar was entitled "Once burned, twice careful" and addressed "current backlash issues affecting those working in child abuse including false memory syndrome, witch hunt, invasion of the child savers, parents against injustice".
In the past, Summit has been vocal in declaring that "Children never lie about abuse" and that false allegations rarely if ever happen. He has a reputation for believing that organised satanic ritual abuse is widespread and that repression of memories of sexual abuse is common and memories "recovered" by adults represent accurate accounts of what really happened.
Details are not available about the content of his seminar but in a TV3 debate with Felicity Goodyear-Smith later that evening Summit acknowledged that in fact children can be lead to make false allegations and may be frequently, and that we "should not jump to punish or challenge someone who is named in those early accusations".
2-day workshops on Therapy for Sexually Abused Children by Jon Conte
Auckland 3 – 4; Hokianga 6 – 7;
Napier 10 – 11; Dunedin 17 – 18 October.
Organised by DSAC – addresses:
- Validating allegations of childhood sexual abuse
- New concepts in the treatment of sexual victimization
- Counter transference in child abuse treatment
- Child abuse ethics
- An overview of issues facing professionals working in the area of child sexual abuse.
Judith Herman Seminars: Psychotherapy for patients with a history of childhood sexual abuse.
Wellington (1-18 March 1995), Auckland (23-24) and Christchurch (28-29).
Workshops will "review the long-term sequelae of sexual abuse and delineate symptoms frequently seen in patients with a traumatic history". Psychotherapy, group therapy self-help and social action will then be covered.
The advertised programme includes:
- limit-setting with the family of origin
- reconstructing a narrative of a traumatic event
- specialised techniques for recovery of memories.
Workshop costs $196 ($168 if paid before 1 Feb 1995) and prospective participants are asked to indicate if they do not want their names to appear on a registrants’ list (I wonder why psychotherapists would require their attendance at such a seminar kept secret?).
Can sexual abuse memories be repressed and accurately recovered in therapy?
Panel discussion with Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith and Ms Ondra Williams.
Professional Issues Forum, Psychotherapy Dept, Auckland Institute of Technology, Pacific Lounge, Akoranga Drive, Northcote. 7.30 pm 27 October.
Ms Williams considers repressed abuse memories and multiple personality disorder are valid diagnoses.
International Conference on Memory and Reality: Reconciliation
Baltimore, 9-11 Dec 1994.
Co-sponsored by John Hopkins Continuing Education Program and FMSF.
Scientific, clinical and legal issues of false memory syndrome.
This important conference will bring together many outstanding scholars and professionals in the field with retractors and families affected by the problem.
(Contact COSA for further details)
I would dearly love to attend this Conference as its speakers represent the leading edge of research in this field, but the costs involved are prohibitive. Should anyone be aware of any travel grants which might assist my getting there, please let me know as soon as possible.