The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

Law Reform Index

Law of Evidence - Section 23G

ZB Talkback
August 4 2003

Letter read out in full by Leighton Smith

The Toddlers Testimony
by Gordon and Colleen Waugh

We read with much interest the transcripts of the interviews with the Creche Children published in the Star-Times yesterday. They clearly show how those children were coerced into making outrageous and ridiculous allegations of abuse by Peter Ellis and others. This has been a common practice from the early 1990's and is still used today.

When we were operating COSA (Casualties Of Sexual Allegations Incorporated) from 1993 to 2000, we dealt with scores of similar cases, and thousands of cases of "Recovered Memory", all created by badly trained counsellors using unscientific, unethical, and unsafe methods. We still get calls for help today from people wrongly accused as a result of this destructive gobbledygook.

Many counsellors do not work from an evidential base or conduct external investigations, but rely on their assumptions, beliefs and opinions, and a presumption of guilt. If their call to "Believe the Children" is valid, it demands they must believe everything that children might say, not just the selected, convenient parts which supports their own opinions and preconceptions. They force children to grow up wrongly believing themselves to have been abused. That is a shocking imposition.

On a "No Names" basis, in a recent case, CYF social workers believed two young brothers had been sexually abused. They had no evidence, just a feeling. A female psychotherapist interviewed the boys. One boy didn't "disclose" any abuse, so she quickly bypassed him. The other boy was more suggestible, and she believed, without evidence of any sort, that he must have been abused. She had five interviews with him and wanted more. The boy ultimately made incredible allegations against his father, and the father was later charged. The interrogation method she used was virtually identical to what the Creche children were exposed to, and remains a standard practice.

Three main causes

Our experience suggests there are three main causes of this destructive problem. Firstly, no legislation exists to control the provision or quality of counselling services to the public. Any person can hang out their shingle and offer counselling services to the public - there are no limitations. What little training counsellors might have is a mish-mash of superstition, assumption, unproven theory and psycho-babble. They are not required to qualify by training or examination at recognised training institutions, be registered or licenced, or hold an annual practising certificate. The effects of untested and unproven allegations of sexual abuse made by them and their clients are widespread, and devastating to our society.

Secondly, Section 23AB of the Evidence Act was introduced, without good reason, to remove the requirement for corroboration in sexual cases, and to remove the time-honoured mandatory judicial warning of the dangers of convicting on the basis of uncorroborated evidence. The introduction of Section 23G, allowing so-called "experts" to give evidence, opened the door to belief and fantasy masquerading as evidence. Other sections are also flawed.

Thirdly, ACC methods encourage false claims of abuse. In claims for physical injuries, ACC demands the highest level of proof of injury, often referring claimants to specialists. But in sexual abuse claims, no such proof is demanded. Without external investigation, ACC relies heavily on the uncorroborated, untested narrative of the claimant and a counsellors opinion, beliefs and assumptions as to the psychological condition of the claimant. Sexual abuse claimants are not required to provide proof of abuse or of mental injury, or name an alleged perpetrator, or report such allegations to the police. Tens of thousands of such ACC claims were never tested by the Courts.

Despite Phil Goff's ostrich stance, a Royal Commission of Inquiry is needed to sort this mess out.