The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

News Reports Index


The Press
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 case.

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 September 1991.

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.