The Christchurch Civic Creche Case
IPT Journal -
Volume 10 1998
"The satanism scare," which began in North America in
the early 1980s, arrived in
I preface this paper with a quote from a seventeenth century skeptic who was responsible for bringing an end to a witchhunt:
I have observed that there were neither witches nor bewitched in a village until they were talked and written about (Alonso de Salazar, quoted in Geis & Bunn, 1991, pp. 41-42).
In the latter part of the 1980s, first in
What I hope to do in this paper is to show how these claims
originated and how they were disseminated in this part of the world. To do
this I need to examine the role played by a key network of American
claims-makers who brought the Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) scenario to
I will preface this account with two important qualifiers. First, there is no intention in what follows to question the existence of child abuse, which has been increasingly recognized as a problem of considerable proportions since the recognition of a "battered child syndrome" in 1962 (Best, 1990). Quite the contrary, my concern over alleged SRA is partly motivated by concern that the pursuit of a mythical form of child abuse diverts resources from the genuine cases.
Second, there is no disputing the existence of people who label themselves satanists-there were just over 900 of them in the 1996 New Zealand census. But as Jean La Fontaine points out in her study of the British allegations, "the existence of satanists does not prove that they abuse children in these rituals; it merely means that care must constantly be taken to emphasize that the actual practices of occultists, witches and satanists are different from what is being recounted as satanic abuse" (La Fontaine, 1998, p. 41). Her own work (La Fontaine, 1994, 1998), the firm conclusions of an FBI specialist in sexual abuse (Lanning, 1992), and the results of a very large study in the United States (Goodman, Qin, Bottoms, & Shaver, 1994) all amount to the same result: "no bodies, no bones, no bloodstains, nothing" (Waterhouse 1990).
Though there are a variety of historical antecedents to the satanism scare, the year of its origin can be established fairly precisely as 1980. The publication of two very different books in that year laid the basis for an escalation of claims about satanic ritual abuse throughout the 1980s. The first was a book called Michelle Remembers, by a claimed "survivor" of SRA, Michelle Smith, and her therapist-later husband-Lawrence Pazder (Smith & Pazder, 1980). In it Michelle recalls as a five-year-old "being tortured in houses, mausoleums, and cemeteries, being raped and sodomized with candles, being forced to defecate on a Bible and crucifix, witnessing babies and adults butchered, spending hours naked in a snake-filled cage, and having a devil's tail and horns surgically attached to her" (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 45). At one point in the account there is a personal appearance of the Devil, complete with tail, and when Jesus and Mary emerge to give support to the victim, there is an epic battle with sound effects between the forces of good and evil. Michelle's Christian faith finally defeats the satanists, who release her, whereupon she completely forgets her experiences until 20 years later when she is in therapy with Dr. Pazder.
However, there has been no verification of these events, and it has been discovered that the alleged victim was attending school regularly, and was even photographed for the school yearbook, at a time when she was supposedly locked in a basement for months. Pazder had an interest in exorcism and had studied West African witchcraft rituals, some of which involved being buried in a pit - it is worth noting that burial or entombment was to become one of the frequently reported components of the SRA scenario. The book was a bestseller and it was not long before other women began to recover "memories" of similar satanic events. Incidentally, it was Pazder in 1981 who coined the term "ritual abuse" (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 50).
The other publication in 1980 that contributed to the satanism scare was the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-III), which for the first time included the categories of "Multiple Personality Disorder" - later to be relabeled "Dissociative Identity Disorder" - and "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." These were to become the most common diagnoses applied to those thought to have been the victims of satanic abuse, and very soon a group of prominent American psychiatrists who specialized in hypnotism had established an organization to advance the treatment of Multiple Personality and Dissociation. Its spread has been described to me as much like a process of pyramid selling (Sherrill Mulhern, personal communication). In this way a phenomenon which had initially been the preserve of fundamentalist Christians began to be validated by a group of secular professionals.
Pazder's influence was soon to be exercised in raising the
satanism scenario in one of the most notorious investigations and trials in
Two central figures in the group were social worker and interviewer Kee MacFarlane and psychiatrist Roland Summit. MacFarlane was working at the Children's Institute International, a nonprofit child abuse facility. Aware of the problems of interviewing small children, she introduced novel procedures, such as using hand puppets in the interviews, wearing colorful clothes, and making use of anatomically detailed dolls. Given the growing interest in multiple personality and ritual abuse, children were told that if they did not remember incidents at the preschool this was because they were dissociating, and that the job of the interviewers was to help them remember.
This led to a form of insistent interviewing, in which denials of abuse by children were discounted in the search for "truths" which the interviewers believed were being suppressed. The original mother's complaints became increasingly bizarre and improbable, but they were taken literally by police and therapists, who failed to notice their delusional nature: in fact, the mother was eventually diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and died shortly afterwards from alcohol poisoning. The significance of this will be considered later.
Roland Summit's ideas provided a pseudoscientific rationale which underpinned the approach taken by the investigators. He had written a 1978 paper outlining what he termed "The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome" (CSAAS). This paper was widely distributed prior to its eventual publication in 1983. In that paper he argued that children never fabricated accounts of sexual abuse and thus were to be believed when they disclosed them, regardless of how incredible their accounts were. However, children who had been victims of incest would often retract in order-as he claimed-to maintain family equilibrium.
Here were two components which were to be reiterated by many of
those involved in subsequent investigations, and they became enshrined as
dogma in the phrase "Believe the Children" - and in the maxim that
children never lie about sexual abuse unless they are recanting. Because of
this, it is extremely important to note that
As a major protagonist in the satanism scare, it is also worth
Eccentric, alienated, unsocialized and paranoid personality types are needed to ferret out allegations of child sex abuse in the face of lack of evidence and conventional, well-socialized parents and professionals (who reinforce denial for their own mutual belief) It takes somebody paranoid to continue to express suspicion and to take the child from doctor to doctor until somebody confirms that maybe there is abuse (Summit, quoted in Earl, 1995, pp. 90-91).
In a further piece of innuendo,
Two other figures who were involved in the McMartin case, one of
whom has considerable importance in
The book's introduction begins with a discussion of the McMartin case, and skeptical reviewers immediately sensed its potential to fuel the satanic panic. In the opinion of one of these:
This is a truly remarkable book, primarily because of the monumental irresponsibility of the authors, who have taken public monies . . . and used it [sic] to compile statistics based on nothing more than opinions of a few beleaguered investigators. The wasted money will be the least of it, however, for this book promises to do much harm (Coleman, 1989, p. 46).
Though his previous research into child abuse might have made him skeptical of the large percentage of women among those accused in this new form of child abuse, Finkelhor disposed of this problem by arguing that a new type of woman had emerged from the sexual revolution of the 1960s - one that was so obsessed with power and control that dominating men was no longer adequate: the "mortification" of innocent children was now the goal (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 133). It is more than a little curious that Finkelhor became a champion of the SRA scenario which was to be taken up so enthusiastically by some radical feminists.
Dr. Astrid Heger was the fourth McMartin investigator to popularize a diagnostic technique which became influential in other parts of the world. In particular, under the tutelage of her colleague Bruce Woodling (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 78), her investigation of children's genitals, and especially her belief that sexual abuse could be detected by the size and shape of young girls' hymens, became an abuse indicator in the Christchurch, New Zealand child abuse investigation at the Glenelg Health Camp, while the related anal wink, or dilation test which was supposed to indicate molestation, triggered a major sexual abuse investigation in Cleveland, Britain, in 1987 (Pendergrast, 1998, pp. 413-414). Evidence gradually accumulated to show that these alleged stigmata of child sexual abuse were meaningless, and, although Heger was aware of these studies, she still persisted in maintaining her original diagnoses when the McMartin case came to trial in 1987 (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, pp. 197-198) .
By the time the case came to trial, charges had been dropped against five women defendants, and, after a 28-month trial (the longest criminal proceeding in American history), there was an acquittal of the remaining woman defendant and not guilty and hung verdicts for the remaining male defendant. There was also a hung jury at the second trial and the charges were finally dismissed, allowing the male defendant to be released from jail after a year-year imprisonment (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 92). Despite this outcome, the satanic claims-makers have continued to insist on the reality of the McMartin abuse, and subsequent allegations have closely paralleled the McMartin pattern.
Two other American figures, both social workers, were to have a
significant impact on the dissemination of the satanism scenario. First,
Pamela Klein, a rape crisis worker from
Pamela Hudson is the other key figure. She, too, produced a list of satanic symptoms and forms of abuse which had wide distribution among abuse workers. Of particular importance was her list of 16 reported forms of physical and psychological abuse. These included being locked in a cage, being buried in the ground in a coffin or box, being tied upside down or hung from a pole or hook, participating in a mock marriage, seeing children or babies killed, having blood poured over them, and being taken to churches and graveyards for ritual abuse. Hudson had a particular interest in the robes and masks which perpetrators were alleged to wear, and the cover of her book, which received wide circulation, shows just such an image which a child had supposedly drawn (Hudson, 1991). As Jean La Fontaine has pointed out, "it looks more like a cross between a ghost and a Ku Klux Klan figure" (La Fontaine, 1998, p. 54).
In August 1986
In October 1988 a woman in
The link between this investigation and the earlier McMartin one is provided by a note in police files containing the McMartin address, and the parallels are striking. It later became apparent that the mother who initially complained to the police was psychotic, in both cases a children's game was investigated as a possible case of ritualized sex, and the medical examination of the children included a search for anal and genital stigmata of the type Heger had relied on. Another feature, which would appear elsewhere, was that some of the parents began to present those investigating the case with publications on ritual abuse. When the case did come to court in August 1989, it was dismissed by the magistrate on the grounds that the children's testimony "had been contaminated by excessive and leading questioning by police and parents" (Guilliatt, 1996, p. 35).
Also involved in interviewing some of the children in the Mr.
Bubbles case was a
Satanists all around the world are reported to have declared the eighties "The Decade of the Destruction of Innocence" . . . an horrendous reversal after the goodwill and progress of the International Year of the Child in 1979 (quoted in Guilliatt, 1996, p. 90).
Her speech was titled "Nursery Crimes-A Perfect Little Holocaust in the Suburbs," showing the affinity of her claims with the work of Finkelhor. Schlebaum has continued to investigate alleged cases and give seminars on SRA, and her most recent involvement will be discussed shortly.
The Mr. Bubbles case generated a great deal of media attention and, within a short period of time, police in Western Australia, Victoria, the ACT, Queensland and New South Wales were investigating allegations of bizarre satanic cult crimes involving sexual abuse of children, the sacrifice of humans and animals, rituals in which blood was consumed, and black mass rituals. Among specific allegations were those that could be found on the lists of satanic "indicators," which had been devised by American "experts," - children being locked in coffins became one of the common claims in a number of investigations.
One of the most substantial satanic cases to emerge in
One of the several therapists involved, John Manners, worked for a psychotherapy practice called Christian Psychological Services (Guilliatt, 1996, p. 58) and held views on memory recovery which may help to explain his role in the Bunbury case. In one interview he is quoted as saying, "In reality the details of the trauma are more accurate if they've been repressed and brought back" (Who Weekly, 1994, p. 69). Thus, it is not difficult to understand why Manners should state that he had no intention of following the Australian Psychological Society's new guidelines on repressed memory, which stipulate the need for outside corroboration of such memories. The Bunbury case ended in December 1994 with a mixture of not guilty and undecided verdicts on the 42 charges faced by the accused (Guilliatt, 1996, p. 216).
What is of considerable interest in the Australian dissemination
of the satanic scenario, and something which will also be found in
Finally, in examining the penetration of the SRA scenario into
the highest levels of decision making in
In response, in October 1997, an inquiry was set up (the Nader Inquiry) to investigate her claims. Despite the appearance before the inquiry of an alleged adult "survivor" of satanic abuse, the inquiry concluded that Arena had no evidence of such a cover-up and had essentially used parliamentary privilege to launch a malicious campaign. Indeed, it was precisely the evidence of the satanic survivor, claiming incidents which were alleged to have happened between the ages of 3 and 11 and recalled when she was aged 24 in 1992-which had been given to Arena by the psychiatrist who was treating this person, which undermined the MP's credibility.
In a Privilege Committee hearing in March 1998, Arena was questioned at great length on the credibility of the satanic survivor and on the reliability of the therapist. In her evidence to the Committee, she asserted that she relied a great deal on the advice of the therapist to validate the so-called survivor's claims. In view of this, it is important to examine just what it was that was being alleged. Here are two extracts from the statement of the survivor:
Judge B then dragged me downstairs to the basement. There were bodies strung up around the walls. He took me around to all the dead men and made me suck all the blood off their penises. I was later taken to the furnace room where they had a big incinerator and a stainless steel table where they were burning all the bodies. They quite often burned bodies there. There was a pipe which went to the outside of the building and up past the roof level. It made me sick whenever I saw smoke pouring out of it because I knew they were burning some bodies (NSW, 1998, p. 88).
My mother grabbed me by the hair and shoved a penis in my mouth that she cut off one of the bodies. It had blood all over it. I gagged and nearly threw up. I shook my head to try to get it out. Judge B was holding down my arms and body. He yelled, "You little bitch," and took the penis off my mother and turned me on to my stomach and pushed the penis into my anus. He said, "See how you like that." He left it there and dragged me outside the room. He then took me into the bathroom and I just stared at the bath. Someone had filled it with blood and body parts. There were arms and legs and a head. I pulled the penis out of my bottom. He said, "What are you doing?" He picked me up and threw me in the bath. I was horrified. He then took off his clothes quickly and got into the bath with me (NSW, 1998, p. 89).
When asked by a member of the Privileges Committee, "Do you believe that nonsense?," Arena's reply was "I do not know," but she went on to quote the opinion of the psychiatrist, who wrote:
I have been seeing "A" [the "survivor"] once a week, at times more often, for two and one-half years. During that time I have become very familiar with her character and personality. During that time her behaviour has been consistently that of a highly ethical and scrupulously truthful person in all areas of her life. She has a very strong religious faith and tries to live by those principles. She has at times been severely depressed but never been delusional (NSW, 1998, p. 90).
Eighteen years since the first publication of Michelle
Remembers, the same kinds of Gothic atrocities are being elicited by
therapists and presented as valid accounts. They form the basis for
widespread folk myths about satanic activity which can be tapped by the media
when they are in search of a grabbing headline. In the Australian press in
June and July 1998, for instance, there was an alleged "satanic
beheading" (Sydney Sun-Herald, June 14, 1998), in which the
investigating detective refused to comment on "reliable reports that the
word Satan was smeared on the wall in blood." And the teenagers involved
in the attack on a
The satanic cult scenario was introduced to
Early in the following year, 1991, the Ritual Action Network -
later to be called Ritual Action Group (RAG) - was established in
The group received public funding from the Department of Social
Welfare through the Family Violence Prevention Coordinating Committee.
Indeed, it seems that the funding of the group was lavish because in 1994 an
internal audit spoke of "grandiose" overspending, "including
'well catered' breakfasts, lunches and dinners, uncontrolled use of taxi-chit
books and wrong accounting practices" (Dominion, April 7, 1994). And
Jocelyn Frances was convicted in 1993 of benefit fraud, having defrauded the
Social Welfare Department of $30,000. In 1991, however, the group attracted
considerable credibility and was able to propagate its views among social
welfare staff, police, and staff from other government departments (Dominion,
November 28, 1993). But the main focus of satanic allegations was to be
[I]t had been
found in the
One of the claims reported by the speaker was that a child had been made to eat feces during a particular ritual. The Commissioner for Children was quoted in the same news item as saying that the phenomenon of satanic worship was worldwide, but "whether it related abuse of children or just mass hysteria, was another matter" Christchurch Press, August 27, 1991).
The issue was made more concrete six days later at a Ritual
Abuse Workshop presentation in
The paper continues:
Not much is
known at this time in Aotearoa/New
The sources quoted in this section of the paper are the same Ritual
Abuse Task Force Report as that cited in
A child who has been ritually abused will have been subjected to a systematic process of dehumanisation - their bodies invaded through their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, vagina/penis and rectum. They will likely have been forced to have sex with animals, had their bodies smeared with excrement, drink blood and urine, forced to watch and participate in the sacrifice of animals, eaten the flesh and organs of animals, often their own pets, and seen photographs of themselves doing all of this (FVPCC, 1991, vol. 2, p. 9).
The paper further comments on types of cults, including fundamentalist Christian churches, Freemasons and cults of a satanic kind. Ritual dabbling in particular is presented as a source of recruitment to satanic cults, and the following scheme is offered as a means of identifying individuals who are progressing to "higher rituals":
· bitter hatred towards family and religion
· drop in grades
· cuts to the body
· increased use of illegal drugs
· use of satanic nicknames
· use of various alphabets (FVPCC, 1991, vol. 2, p. 16).
Parents, it is suggested, should be looking for the following items:
· a black covered book or computer counterpart that
has types and locations of rituals and contracts
for suicide or homicide
· ceremonial knives
· photos and/or videos
· books about belief systems, eg. satanic
· animal bones and human bones, especially skull, right
upper leg, rib and upper portion of right arm.
(FVPCC, 1991, vol. 2, p. 17).
The social workers' presentation had already been featured in
Sunday newspapers before it was presented in
With the credentials the RAG network claimed for itself, their reports gained credibility with a wider audience. In turn, this wider audience may also have become predisposed to accept even more bizarre claims. Claims about child pornography, and about the existence of organized sex rings and cults which practiced ritual abuse, had featured prominently in media reports prior to the September conference and were to reappear subsequently.
The linkage between child pornography and ritual abuse had been
an important feature of the satanism scare in the
The extent to which a SRA scenario was involved in the
Christchurch creche case has been somewhat masked by the Crown prosecutor's
successful suppression of the more bizarre allegations which emerged in the
children's later interviews, but it was undeniably part of the beliefs of
some parents and formed a significant element in the police investigation.
Indeed, according to David McLoughlin (1996), whose excellent article on the
case makes it unnecessary to review it in detail, comments: "Anyone
familiar with the American day-care cases would immediately recognize the
Civic scenario as a carbon copy of numerous scandals in
The mother of one child, whose reported abuse managed to list
all 16 of Pamela Hudson's satanic indicators, demanded at the depositions
hearing that Hudson be brought to New Zealand as an "expert"
witness. Her son, for example, had told of how he had been "forced to
kill a boy and animals" (Christchurch Press, November 13, 1992). Further
On one occasion, children had been taken to an address in
The same mother later ran a newsletter called "End Ritual
Abuse," with funding from the Lotteries Commission, and in it she
reprinted claims which originated in an American publication, "Believe
the Children," a movement that arose out of the McMartin case. In her book
on the creche affair, the mother discourses on the nature of SRA, once again
Hudson was indeed invited to Christchurch in 1993 by the Campbell Centre (Presbyterian Support Services), whose Director in 1992 - Rosemary Smart -had written a damning report on the Civic Creche which assumed that Ellis was guilty: this was a year before his trial (Smart, 1992). This report was very influential and led to police investigation of the women creche workers (McLoughlin, 1996, p. 65).
A further indication of the American influence on the case is
the fact that New Zealand's Commissioner for Children's Ian - Ian Hassall was
then Commissioner - had sent Smart the Executive Summary of David Finkelhor's
book, Nursery Crimes (Office of the Commissioner for Children, letter March
8, 1994), and in the report she cites him as an authority on child sexual
abuse in child-care settings. Clearly, Finkelhor is regarded as a substantial
The influence of Klein, Hudson, and Finkelhor has been noted,
but it is interesting to note that other participants in the original
McMartin debacle have had a continuing influence on the
It is not uncommon for child complainants in sexual abuse cases to withdraw their allegations or claim they were lying . . . We are by no means satisfied [the girl] did lie at the interviews, although she may now genuinely believe she did (Court of Appeal, 1994, p. 33).
One should remember the pseudoscientific status of the so-called
Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome when opinions such as that are
stated as established principle. Another McMartin protagonist, Astrid Heger,
was invited by DoSAC no fewer than five times between 1989 and 1996. DoSAC
has also invited the SRA believers Arnon and Marianne Bentovim to
As long as such lack of balance persists in the sexual abuse
industry, there remains a possibility that the SRA scenario will persist.
Satan's excellent adventure is currently a lively feature in
Michael Hill is Professor of Sociology,
Copyright (c) 1989-2001 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.