March 31, 1995
Some issues an inquiry into the Civic Creche case could examine
by Professor Michael Hill
After the Employment Court
awarded more than $1 million to sacked Christchurch City Council creche
workers it was suggested an independent inquiry into the creche sex-abuse
case should be set up. Professor Michael Hill outlines some aspects of the
case an inquiry could look into.
The Police Complaints
Authority’s response to the Police Minister's referral of aspects of the
Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre case has been to complain that
"wider issues" are involved. This is indeed the predicament of any
single authority's attempt to evaluate what went; wrong in Christchurch, and it is on these grounds
that demands will continue to be made for a full public inquiry into the
Here I seek to review a small selection of those wider issues and to make
sense of a complex series of events which continue to perplex even those who
have observed them in an informed way.
At the widest level, and beyond detailed treatment in the confines of a brief
article, we are looking at the Americanisation of New Zealand culture. The
proliferation of counsellors, social workers, and therapists - expansively
funded by medical insurance or compensation schemes - has led to a cacophony
of fashionable psychobabble, even among those whose psychological training
appears to be rudimentary, and as a result there has been an expanding market
for the providers of therapeutic services. As an example of this I would
point to the March issue of "Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand", where
nurses are now claimed to be suffering routinely from the psychiatric artifact,
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." ACC take note!
Two other features of our Americanisation are related and equally important.
We live increasingly in a culture of complaint where personal malaise or
misfortune must inevitably be a source of blame. The politically correct
labels in this culture are those of "victim" and
"survivor" and our concept of citizenship is fast becoming one in
which everyone has rights and nobody has responsibilities. When this is
coupled with a third feature - the rush to litigation, which is headlong in
the United States and which shows signs of being imported to New Zealand - a
potent environment exists for well-paid witchfinders.
A review of the chronology of events which contributed to the initial
allegations in the creche case will identify some of the areas on which the
inquiry would need to focus. The satanic ritual abuse (SRA) scenario which
played such a central role in the police investigation was introduced to New Zealand
counsellors and therapists by American Pamela Klein in May 1990. Klein was
very much the evangelist.
In 1985 she had arrived in Britain
where she proceeded to introduce the satanic ritual abuse scenario to social
workers and therapists there. Despite having made a profitable business out
of the scenario she was dismissed from a ritual abuse case in Illinois in February 1991 by a judge who asserted that
"Pamela Klein is not a legitimate therapist as the term is defined by Illinois law."
Pamela Klein was only the first in a succession of true believers in the SRA
scenario to be brought to New
Zealand. Others included Pamela Hudson - a
Californian social worker who wrote books and articles on SRA which has
provided a "script" for subsequent investigators and believers. She
was invited to Christchurch
by the Campbell Centre in late 1993. Another Californian, Roland Summit (a
believer in the existence of tunnels under a California creche which suffered
a satanic panic - despite police failure to locate them), was invited to New
Zealand by Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care.
The inquiry would need to ask why only satanic ritual abuse supporters appear
to be invited to New
Zealand by the child protection industry.
In this connection, the question of expenditure of public money in pursuit of
satanic ritual abuse would also be legitimate.
And although in the current New Age, free-range environment of therapy in New Zealand the concept of credentials might
appear repressive, one of the findings of an enquiry into alleged satanic
ritual abuse conducted for the British Government, was that inadequate
scrutiny of credentials had played a significant role in the dissemination of
the idea in Britain.
So just how well-established are the credentials and experience of those who
have been disseminating the SRA scenario in New Zealand?
By 1991 the SRA scenario was being propagated by the Wellington-based Ritual
Action Group (RAG). As the "Sunday Times" has reported this group
was funded, somewhat liberally it seems, by the Department of Social Welfare,
another organisation requiring investigation by the inquiry. The expertise of
members of RAG requires especially close scrutiny.
Two "experts” in RAG played a particularly prominent role in the events
in Christchurch. Together they gave a workshop presentation on SRA to the
"Family Violence: Prevention in the 1990s" conference in Christchurch in
The workshop was very well attended and attracted media publicity - hardly
surprising in view of its content. Quoting from Californian material and from
the work of one of Klein's police associates, it gave a lurid account of the
satanic torture of children and asserted that such events must be happening
in New Zealand.
In retrospect, "The Press's" headline reporting the workshop was
prophetic: " 'Floodgates to open' on abuse" it announced.
Two months later the first complaints about Peter Ellis were made by a parent
identified as a "social worker". From that stage the involvement of
the police, ACC, Christchurch City Council, prominent members of the
counseling community, and the Campbell Centre began to escalate and to
intermesh. It will be a particular requirement of any inquiry to unravel the
networks of advice and information between these organizations, because it is
clear that the satanic ritual abuse scenario became firmly established during
1992 and was never seriously challenged.
The SRA scenario has seemingly, run its course in Britain and there is now
sufficient knowledge and scepticism to ensure that a new moral panic does not
arise out of it. In the United
States there are still clusters of true,
believers who clutch at any remotely relevant fragment of information and
attempt to reinterpret it as evidence of SRA. But they are largely reduced to
paranoid huddles muttering darkly of a supposed "backlash" against
their bizarre claims.
To complete the diagnosis of New" Zealand's
moral panic, and to provide guidance on how future panics might be avoided,
an inquiry is now needed. We need to be reassured about the expertise of
those to whom considerable power has been allocated in our society's desire
to protect children.
Essential in this process will be the input of overseas experts who have seen
the impact of this moral panic - and the role of people like Pamela Klein and
Pamela Hudson - in other societies. I am familiar with the complaint that
reliance on foreign expertise is a symptom of cultural cringe, but would
reject it in this case. The idea of satanic ritual abuse was imported to New Zealand
by foreign "experts": it will require foreign expertise of a more
substantial nature to lay these particular demons to rest.
* Michael Hill is Professor of Sociology at Victoria University of
Wellington. He is author of many books, chapters, and articles on the
sociology of religion and on deviance. In 1991 -92 he worked at the London
School of Economics with Professor Jean La Fontaine, who conducted the
official British Government inquiry that dismissed the idea that there was
any epidemic of satanic ritual abuse. His latest jointly-written book,
"The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore" was
published by Routledge on Thursday.