From: Craig Young
Subject: The Ellis Controversy: Problems With Lyn Hood's Book.
I have some grave misgivings about Lynley Hood's book on Christchurch during the Peter Ellis controversy if her Sunday Star-Times article is anything to go by. Here are my chief problems:
Lynley Hood provides a caricature of feminism during the eighties and early nineties. It's the sort of interview-your-typewriter drivel that characterised Metro coverage of feminism during that period. Specifically, it pays little attention to the improvement in abortion access, specific developments within rape and incest law and professional practice during that period, as well as the incorporation of liberal feminist perspectives during the Lange and Palmer administrations of that period. I found her anti-lesbian outburst about child sexual abuse prevention to be ad hominem and little else. Please, could we have some factual focus on what really happened in public policy and professional practice during that period?
As a matter of fact, there were two separate positions within the believe- the-children camp during that period. Either one accepted SRA, or viewed it as a Christian Right attempt to divert attention from the reality of widespread child sexual abuse within families. I tended to accept the latter.
2. Religious conservatism:
You wouldn't know from Hood's article that religious conservatism had lost key court and legislative battles over abortion during the early eighties, homosexual law reform (1985-86), censorship policy, the 1987 General Election, and the debate over addition of HIV/AIDS status and homosexuality to the Human Rights Act 1993.
Hood also erred in characterising the Christian Right as denominationally
or philosophically homogeneous. It is not true to state, as she does, that
the Christchurch Christian Right endorsed satanic ritual abuse or stronger
child protection laws.
Rather, what happened was this: The Pentecostal Churches, including the New Life Centre, endorsed a worldview of pervasive supernatural influences that included the possible presence of SRA. Admittedly, I remember talking to one of the Kate Shepherd Women's Bookshop collective members about the presence of a conservative Christian SRA book within their child abuse section, and I also saw one in a since-closed Palmerston North feminist bookstore. But it is important to remember that Pentecostals are not usually professionals and do not operate well within formal organisations, so it is unlikely that there was an organised Pentecostal presence that advocated for SRA.
However, there has always been another tradition of strong opposition to child protection laws from the militant fundamentalist community. Take a look at Challenge Weekly, the NZ fundamentalist newspaper, and you'll find a schizoid approach to the issue. On the cover of one recent issue, it talked about the importance of protection from SRA and child porn. Yet, Challenge has run articles that oppose social worker intervention within abusive and dysfunctional families that perpetrate child sexual abuse and child battery. The Christian Heritage Party ran John Tonson, a PN rabble-rouser against CYPFS as their local candidate at the 1999 General Election. Auckland conspiracy theorist and Radio Pathetic talkback harridan Mrs. Barbara Faithful is of this persuasion as well. I submit that these non-Pentecostal networks would tend the other way and prevent religious conservative acceptance of the existence of SRA as they would view it as "anti-family."
3. Child protection:
I'd be far more impressed by this if it told the full story. Fact is, as I note above, there was an orchestrated Christian Right campaign against stronger child protection laws during the eighties and early nineties from some quarters of the conservative Christian community. These people endorsed the efforts of Felicity Goodyear-Smith, COSA and other anti-feminist organisations that campaigned against feminist child protection efforts. And remember, Goodyear-Smith is liable to conflict of interest concerns given her Centrepoint connections. In one recent issue of the New Zealand Womens Studies Journal, there was an interesting professional exchange over the content of her polemic against feminist child protection efforts.
So...was Peter Ellis wrongly accused? Therein lies the controversy. Was SRA as strong a component of the accusations against him as Ellis supporters make out? If so, I believe that the Privy Council should hear all the relevant evidence. Was the investigation a straightforward examination of child sexual abuse against an individual who may have had a painful and dysfunctional past?