Community Care, 1st May 1997
by Beatrix Campbell
The headline summed it up: “Is this the film that should never have been made ?”.
Just as telling was that the article under it – in the TV Times – was the only national press coverage of the film. Ten years after the Cleveland Child Abuse Crisis not a single newspaper reported on a documentary which told – for the first time – the truth about what had happened to the children at the heart of a “scandal” which had gripped and divided the entire country. Not for nothing was the film called “Cleveland: Unspeakable Truths”.
For those too young to recall it – and for those who still do – it’s worth recalling the events as they unfolded.
In the spring of 1987, 121 children from the (then) county of Cleveland – an area of some 583 square km and including the economically depressed towns of Hartlepool, Redcar and Middlesbrough – were taken into temporary local authority care on suspicion of having been sexually abused. Many – in fact the majority – of the children were very young: most were pre-pubescent and in some cases so young (or developmentally delayed) as to be pre-verbal.
This was not just the biggest sexual abuse case Britain had then encountered but the very first involving multiple victims and multiple perpetrators. Others – Rochdale, Orkney, Broxtowe – would follow on in quick succession, but Cleveland was the first and it set the template.
Newspaper coverage that spring led readers to believe that the children had been “snatched” from their parents as the result of a new and untested physical diagnosis – Reflex Anal Dilatation. The press – led by the Daily Mail – reported that two paediatricians, Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt, who had recently arrived at Middlesbrough General Hospital had begun using RAD to diagnose sexual abuse on children who had been brought to the hospital for petty and unrelated problems – “a child with a sore finger” became the familiar trope of these stories.
Worse, or so the papers claimed, RAD involved looking up inside children’s bottoms and was a new and “experimental” technique. Cleveland’s senior police surgeon – a local GP called Alistair Irvine, made a series of statements to the media in which he damned both RAD and Drs Higgs and Wyatt. He was backed by local MP Stuart Bell who gave a succession of highly inflammatory interviews to local television stations.
The media response was swift and overwhelming. Reporters from national newspapers, radio and television descended on Middlesbrough. The Daily Mail alone sent seven. And what were these journalists looking for ? One thing and one thing only – “innocent parents” wrongly parted from their children. And these parents – aided by Stuart Bell who had become their self-appointed champion – quickly told (and frequently sold) their stories. In a matter of weeks Cleveland went from being a small local story to a national “scandal”. All the papers and broadcasters repeated the parents claims and Stuart Bell’s allegations, and viciously attacked the paediatricians. They, along with Cleveland Council’s most senior child abuse advisor Sue Richardson, were ordered by their employers not to give any interviews or make any comment to the media.
The Tory government set up a judicial enquiry under Lord Justice (Elizabeth) Butler Sloss. The enquiry sat for a year, heard evidence from parents, social services, police, doctors, nurses and – without any apparent unease – from a champion of paedophile rights, Ralph Underwager. It cost £5 million.
But there was one very odd aspect to the enquiry. Its remit from Whitehall prohibited it from asking – let alone answering – the most important question of all: how many of the 121 children at the centre of the crisis had been abused ?
By the time the enquiry report was close to publication I had made a high-profile documentary (and written a book) about child pornography. I approached Marietta Higgs to ask if she would, on the day of publication, be interviewed by me for ITN News. After a week of negotiation it was agreed that she would do one television interview (with me), one radio interview for Woman’s Hour and speak to one newspaper (The Guardian).
I was freelance and arranged to do the interview at the studios of Tyne Tees, ITV’s franchise in the north-east. It would be quicker to feed the piece down to ITN from Newcastle than to film it and bike the tape down to London.
I read the Butler Sloss report from cover to cover. I was – given the prevailing public story – surprised to see that it did not suggest anywhere that Drs Higgs and Wyatt had wrongly diagnosed the 121 children, nor that RAD had been the sole medical evidence in most cases. The report also made clear that no child was recorded as a suspected victim of sexual abuse on medical evidence alone: Butler-Sloss had heard a wealth of testimony from social services indicating that in the vast majority of cases, there were serious concerns about the children’s welfare long before they were seen at Middlesbrough General Hospital.
The report did criticise the doctors for the problems their diagnoses caused at the hospital which had been overwhelmed. It placed restrictions on them working on child abuse cases. But it reserved its most serious and stinging criticism for Stuart Bell MP, who it found had made false ad inflammatory statements about the parents, the children and the doctors – and refused to correct them even when presented with the evidence. It also strongly criticised Alastair Irvine, the police surgeon who had been instrumental in sparking the crisis.
The headlines that afternoon (and the next morning) were extraordinary: they bore no resemblance to the findings of the report. “Sack Her” [Marietta Higgs] was one of the more moderate. I interviewed Dr Higgs – calmly and politely for half an hour. I put to her all the criticism in the report and the complaints made by the parents. She answered honestly and frankly.
While the tape was being fed to London, I was approached by Tyne Tees news journalists and by the news anchor. The former screamed at me that I had “let Higgs off the hook”; the anchor threatened to beat me up. ITN ran the interview that evening.
Eight years later I was working at Yorkshire Television’s documentaries department – the best place in the world to make serious and important films. I had produced one such film two years earlier about a major child sexual abuse network in the United States [Conspiracy of Silence – there are references on this site to this] which had been pulled by its funder, The Discovery Channel. Perhaps that should have warned me.
I happened to meet Sue Richardson at a child abuse conference during the summer of 1996. In passing she mentioned that she was very concerned about what had happened to the Cleveland children. For the next six months I quietly spoke to as many people involved in the crisis as I could. A picture quickly emerged: many – probably most – of the 121 children had been returned to their parents, even where there was clear evidence of sexual abuse. In an alarming number of cases there was a convicted sex offender living in the house – one of the trigger factors for Sue Richardson’s initial concerns. The court system had broken down under the weight of hostile news reporting: one judge refused to allow evidence “relating to children’s bottoms” in his court room. Children had been sent back to parents about whom there was a lengthy history of concern. And then there was RAD itself.
It turned out that this was not some new and experimental technique, as alleged by the police surgeon and Stuart Bell, but was more than 100 years old and was formally included in the Association of Police Surgeons’ own manual as a diagnostic tool raising suspicions of sexual abuse and requiring further enquiries if it was observed.
Late in 1997, with the wholehearted agreement of Yorkshire Television’s Head of Documentaries, I pitched the idea for a documentary about Cleveland to Channel 4. It agreed to commission the film and we went into production: Channel 4 was to pay to Yorkshire TV the sum of £150,00 to produce it and a first instalment was transferred to the company’s coffers.
My colleagues and I spent nearly three months researching and investigating. We met and informally interviewed everyone who would speak to us. Stuart Bell MP and Alastair Irvine refused point blank.
We also advertised for parents who had been caught up in the crisis. Only two came forward: a mother whose children had been sexually abused by their father (he was convicted of the abuse) and ho had tried – in vain – to get her story heard by reporters back in 1987, and a couple whose children had been among the first to be taken into care. We were also contacted by a young woman from the area who had been sexually abused by her father at the time but who was not part of the 121 taken into care.
At some point a large brown parcel arrived for us at Yorkshire TV’s studios. Anonymously-sent, it contained all the social service evidence relating to the 121 children which had been presented in camera to Butler-Sloss. This posed a dilemma: although the children’s identities had been hidden by code letters in these documents, simply by receiving them – let alone broadcasting their contents -we were committing a serious offence. Yet the evidence in the documents clearly answered the question Butler-Sloss had been forced to duck: had these children been abused ? The papers showed that the children had long histories of involvement with social services and painstakingly documented injuries. In many cases a convicted paedophile was living in their houses, and many had made very convincing disclosures of sexual activity with adults. In the end, and with Yorkshire TV’s backing, we decided they were too important to throw away.
We drove to Northallerton on a Wednesday evening, ready to begin filming the following day. At 6pm I was phoned by Yorkshire Television’s Head of Documentaries: the company’s Director of Programmes – essentially his direct boss – had issued an instruction that we were to abandon all filming and that I was to tell Channel 4 that Yorkshire TV would not make the documentary. It turned out that Stuart Bell MP had leaned on the Director of Programmes. It was a surreal – and deeply disturbing – moment. When I spoke to Channel 4 its commissioning editor couldn’t believe his ears.
Happily, Chanel 4 was then a far more serious broadcaster than it is now. Within days it had brokered a deal whereby my own production company would make the film; I would take leave of absence from Yorkshire TV to do so, and – under pain of having its lucrative daytime Countdown quiz-programme terminated by Channel 4 – Yorkshire TV would then take me back on a longer contract. The row even made the front page of the industry’s trade magazine.
But our troubles were nothing compared to those of Drs Higgs and Wyatt or Sue Richardson. The health authorities for whom the paediatricians worked refused them permission to be interviewed, and Sue Richardson was informed by her then employer – a child welfare charity – that if she appeared in it she would be dismissed. She resigned instead – and her interview was vital in conveying the truth about Cleveland.
Two telling sections of the film summed up the entire crisis. The first was a section which showed file footage of one of the Cleveland parents making an emotional appeal on a breakfast television programme: in it – and egged on by host Anne Diamond – he said he had never abused his children and demanded they be allowed home. Yet the truth was that he had been convicted of buggering his children – sometimes in front of his wife: apparently that truth was ignored by Ms Diamond and her team.
The second was the discovery that in the wake of the Butler-Sloss enquiry, the Department of Health ordered all records of all the children as a group to be destroyed. When we asked for an explanation, the Department refused to comment.
Just what was Cleveland really about ? For me it was clear: it was about the plight of children – some just toddlers – who were abused and – briefly – rescued; then re-abused by a child protection system which could not bear the pressure from politicians and press. The truth of what happened to those children was too difficult to hear. Which is why we called the film Cleveland: Unspeakable Truths.
by Tim Tate – Producer/Director of Cleveland: Unspeakable Truths
Ralph Underwager was a prolific defence expert for people accused of child sexual abuse, and helped countless abusers walk free. By the late 1980s, he had appeared in court on behalf of defendants in child sexual abuse cases more than 200 times in the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain (including the Cleveland case). In court and in the media, Underwager claimed that 60% of women sexually abused in childhood reported that the experience was good for them,he characterized child protection investigations as nothing less than an “assault on the family as an institution”and he alleged that 75% of mothers alleging sexual abuse in custody proceedings suffered from a “severe personality disorder” that prompted them to manufacture false allegations.
In 1993 he gave an interview to a pro-paedophilia magazine called Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia, along with his wife, Hollida Wakefield, also a psychologist. The interview caused a huge controversy and he was forced to resign from the board of the False Memory Foundation.
This interview was conducted in Amsterdam in June 1991 by “Paidika,” Editor-in-Chief, Joseph Geraci.
PAIDIKA: Could you describe your views on paedophilia, from your prospective as psychologists in the U. S.?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Our main idea about paedophilia is that it’s learned behavior. We don’t think it’s inborn, genetic, or hormonal. Like homosexuality, we believe it’s learned at a young age and that the person has the subjective reality that they’ve always been this way.
There’s an absence of anything in the research to show that paedophilia is anything other than learned. Such things as sexual orientation are an interaction. There may well be more of a propensity among some people to be affected by learning of various types. At the American Psychological Association’s 1989 annual conference, we went to a presentation on homosexuality. The research was reviewed and the bottom line was that nothing biological had been established.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: We’ve been heavily involved in dealing with issues of child sexual abuse for a number of years. We’ve also been involved for a number of years in providing therapy for a variety of sexual dysfunctions, dysphorias, and paraphilias.
To our knowledge, there has not been any convincing research that suggests there is a hormonal component, a hormonal involvement to sexual orientation. There’s also nothing we know of that suggests there’s a genetic component. As psychologists, we’re more persuaded that behavior patterns are learned, rather than influenced by genes. We’re also aware that the Minnesota twins studies are demonstrating a significant genetic component to some behavior, though I don’t think they have come up with any data about paedophilia.
PAIDIKA: Is heterosexuality for you also learned behavior?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Yes.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Yes.
PAIDIKA: What do you mean when you say sexual orientation is learned behavior; where do you go from there?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: It means that a person has more freedom. There is an element of choice for someone not happy with whatever their sexual life is. They can learn to improve it. If it’s a sexual dysfunction, somebody who’s a premature ejaculator or impotent for example, they can learn something different. If a homosexual did not want to be homosexual, really wanted to be a heterosexual, there would be techniques that would have a decent chance of allowing that person to change. I’m not saying the person should want to change. I’m only saying that there is an element of choice. A person can determine their own sexual direction, and there are many behavioral techniques available that would allow the person to change.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: The theory of learned behavior permits individuals to take personal responsibility for their own behavior. We find it difficult when people try to place the responsibility for their behavior on something else. In the great American game, the blame is placed on bad parents who make bad kids. Explanations for homosexuality and paedophilia center on some kind of parental influence: mothers who are castrating, dominant, controlling, and hostile; fathers who are weak, and insipid. To say that my sexual responses at some level are learned is also to say that I am responsible for them.
Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love.
PAIDIKA: Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individuals?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Certainly it is responsible. What I have been struck by as I have come to know more about and understand people who choose paedophilia is that they let themselves be too much defined by other people. That is usually an essentially negative definition. Paedophiles spend a lot of time and energy defending their choice. I don’t think that a paedophile needs to do that. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. I am also a theologian and as a theologian, I believe it is God’s will that there be closeness and intimacy, unity of the flesh, between people. A paedophile can say: “This closeness is possible for me within the choices that I’ve made.”
Paedophiles are too defensive. They go around saying, “You people out there are saying that what I choose is bad, that it’s no good. You’re putting me in prison, you’re doing all these terrible things to me. I have to define my love as being in some way or other illicit.” What I think is that paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness, they can say, “I believe this is in fact part of God’s will.” They have the right to make these statements for themselves as personal choices. Now whether or not they can persuade other people they are right is another matter (laughs).
Positive and Negative Views of Paedophilia
PAIDIKA: You’ve said that paedophiles speaks negatively about themselves; they are defensive; they act negatively. Paedophiles are a disparate group, like any human group, so what kind of individuals are you talking about, and with whom are you having contact?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Well, they are paedophiles I have come to know, to talk with as patients while providing treatment. But my contacts have not been limited to the therapeutic setting. I’ve also met others in a general context, here in the Netherlands, and in the U. S., and I’ve read some of the literature.
Let me give you another example. The paedophile literature keeps talking about relationships. Every time I hear the word “relationship” I wince. It’s a peculiarly bloodless, essentially Latin word that may have a lot of intellectual or cognitive content, but has little emotion. I think it would be much more honest to use the good old Anglo-Saxon four letter word “love,” more honest for paedophiles to say, “I want to love somebody.” Not, “I want a relationship.” I mean, what the hell’s a relationship?
Paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness they can say, “I believe this is in fact part of God’s will.
PAIDIKA: You say that paedophiles should affirm the fact that they believe that paedophilia is a part of “God’s will.” Are you also saying that for the paedophile to make this claim about “God’s will, is also to state what God’s will is?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: (laughing) Of course, I’m not privy to God’s will. I do believe it is God’s will that we have freedom. I believe that God’s will is that we have absolute freedom. No conditions, no contingencies. When the blessed apostle Paul says, “All things are lawful for me,” he says it not once but four times. “All things are lawful for me.” He also adds that not everything works.
PAIDIKA: Hollida, I can see you want to say something. Do you have a different point of view from Ralph’s?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: I’d add one qualification to what Ralph has just said about there being no conditions or contingencies to the freedom given us by God. I would add, you have to take the consequences of this freedom. That said, well, I guess I do feel differently about some things. For example, I find it difficult too envision how a paedophile relationship can have the potential of being the type of close, intimate, constantly developing relationship that would be possible in more traditional relationships, whether in heterosexual marriages, or a committed adult homosexual relationship. Speaking only about men and boys at least, what I have seen is that once the young man gets to be a certain age, the paedophile is no longer interested in the young man sexually. These relationships start at around the age of eleven or twelve, and then by sixteen, seventeen, the paedophile is ready for a new one. The old relationship is, if not thrust aside, at least radically changed. It’s hard for me to see that is a deep, meaningful relationship, even if I’m using the word Ralph doesn’t like. It doesn’t have the same bad connotations for me.
I’m no expert on the way these relationships develop or on what happens to them when the boy turns seventeen, eighteen or twenty. I can’t imagine it just stays the same. It poses certain questions for me. Do paedophiles retain a close, intimate relationship with the boy, although the sex ends? Did they then add another boy while keeping the first boy, and then later repeat the pattern and add another and just keep adding new boys until they have a whole harem, ranging in age from let’s say twelve to forty? Or perhaps the paedophile doesn’t keep the first boy around. Perhaps he disappears out of his life altogether only to be replaced by the next? If that is the way it is, which seems from my observation to be the case, then I don’t understand how there can ever be a close, intimate, constantly progressing and developing relationship. Perhaps it is possible. I’m not saying it is not possible, but it does strike me as being a limitation of these relationships.
There’s also a second set of questions I have around a completely different matter. The problem, as I would state it, is that in the United States, paedophilia is viewed so negatively that I think the possibility of harming the young man would be very real. I don’t know if a positive model is possible in the United States. The climate is such in the United States that it would be very, very difficult for a paedophile, even with the most idealistic of motives and aspirations, to make his relationship actually work in practice.
Even if the boy at some point viewed it as positive, after coming into contact with the way the society as a whole viewed it, the very real danger would be created of making the experience harmful. Relationships and societal attitudes are, of course, two completely different areas. In such a negative climate, I don’t know if it would be possible for the relationship to be good for the parties involved when the entire society is so negative.
When I think about paedophiles, these are some of the theoretical difficulties I have with it. In practice, how these relationships turn out is a totally different issue. It might be that the relationships continue to grow but change in form and become positive. They might also develop negatively. As I said these are theoretical problems. For example, if the sex continued, we would have to call that male homosexuality, not paedophilia. If a relationship started when the individuals were respectively twenty-two and twelve, and they stayed together until they were forty-two and thirty-two, we would not define that any longer as a paedophile relationship.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I think that Holly and I agree that sexuality is a smaller part set within a large whole of our humanity: our capacity for love, our ability to approach some form of unity with another person. Sexuality takes place within this larger context, but it is not exhaustive, nor necessary, nor sufficient as a cause unto itself. The necessary and sufficient cause of sexuality for us is the unity, the wholeness, the intimacy.
The history of human behavior surely demonstrates that sexual behavior can become a very volatile, explosive part of intimacy and closeness, such as in jealousy and possessiveness. There is, in other words, a potential for sexuality, even if it is a small part of the whole, to erupt into what can be pervasive, cataclysmic experiences. When the sex ends abruptly and the man has been saying to the boy, “I love you, I care for you. You and I are one in mind, body, spirit,” and then suddenly says, “That’s all fine, but we ain’t gonna do it no more.” What happens then?
PAIDIKA: Perhaps a loving friendship continues. I’ve certainly encountered relationships where it has. Aren’t you saying that we should define relationships in terms of love?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I was urging earlier that you make the loving image clearer to the outside world. What appears to the public is not the picture of a loving man but rather the picture of the dirty old man lurking in alleys, waiting for nice innocent young lads to come by, grabbing their genitalia and hustling them off and sort of casting them aside and waiting for the next one.
PAIDIKA: Perhaps the question is, should we only define paedophilia or paedophiles by the worst examples of individual behaviors?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Well these terrible examples exist. We have to take them in. There are very negative aspects of paedophilia that we see from our experience in the United States. We saw a priest, for example, who started having sex with a child when the boy was nine. He told the child that he loved only him. But, in fact, at the same time, he was also involved with half a dozen other nine-and-ten-year-olds. He had had anal sex with the kid. And then he cast him aside at age fifteen. The boy was totally and hopelessly screwed up, his whole sexuality in confusion. Worse, the story leaked out, so the child was mercilessly teased at school, called a homosexual and gossiped about. There are children who have been abused, raped, and dropped on the side of the road.
I want to be clear though. Nobody has talked to us in the U. S. about their paedophilia who’s engaged in an on-going relationship, just individuals who were ordered into therapy. You have to remember, if somebody in the United States talked to us and said, “You know, I’m a paedophile and I have a sexual relationship with this boy and it’s good,” we would have to call the police and turn him in. We would turn him in too, because we would be in jail if we didn’t. So, when we say we’ve talked to people, we mean individuals sent to us for therapy.
The climate is such in the United States that the discussion would have to be carefully sanitized, completely abstract. There couldn’t be any reference whatsoever to somebody who might be in an on-going relationship, because we would have to call the police and say, “That person has been sexual with minors,” and if we didn’t do that, we would lose our licenses as psychologists, face a fine of $5,000, and six months in jail.
PAIDIKA: There is research and some scientific opinion that demonstrates that more positive examples and personal experiences exist. Theo Sandfort’s research, cross-cultural models, the writings of the German sexologist Bomemann. Shouldn’t we be putting positive views into the picture in order to come to an understanding?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: We don’t know about The Netherlands. Our impression is that it’s somewhat easier here than at home.
But your point is that potentially there can be good, healthy, positive relationships between men and boys. It would be difficult to come up with sexual research for that in the United States because it would frankly be suppressed. When I did a review of the literature on boy victims of child sexual abuse, some of the studies show not just negative effects in some of the boys. The authors try to explain this away. Their rationale is that because they didn’t find negative things in their study, does not mean there are none. They just haven’t shown up yet! If anyone in the United States were to do a study that showed positive outcomes and then wrote it up as a scientific paper, they probably would not succeed in getting it published. It could only be published if they found a way to explain away any positive findings. They would have to make it look like they found something other than what they found. They would be entirely vilified.
PAIDIKA: Doesn’t your book, Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse, suggest that all sexual relationships between adults and children in the United States are abusive relationships?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: No. I think we would claim that these sexual relationships, in the U. S., at least, could range from neutral to harmful. We don’t envision or hypothesize that they could be positive, but at best neutral.
PAIDIKA: You are speaking mostly about paedophiles in the U. S. What tack should they take given the societal attitudes? What solutions do you envision for their lives?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: The solution that I’m suggesting is that paedophiles become much more positive. They should directly attack the concept, the image, the picture of the paedophile as an evil, wicked, and reprehensible exploiter of children.
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: The United States is really pretty schizophrenic right now in its attitudes. On the one hand it glorifies sex in things like underwear advertisements, or James Bond movies. On the other hand it’s very puritanical. You don’t have good sex education in the schools, just these ridiculous prevention programs.
Let me give another example. Video recorders and video cameras are in right now. Couples are making their own pornographic movies. The comparison is on the one hand people running around making their own pornographic movies but on the other hand reacting hysterically to child sexuality issues. There was actually the case of a man who had had the nine-year-old son of a friend spend the night at his house. He kissed him on the neck, patted him on the rear, told him good-night, ad was later sentenced to two years in prison for these acts. They were labeled sexual abuse. The child later told his mother that it made him uncomfortable when the man kissed him on the cheek.
Given this schizophrenia and these hysterical attitudes about childhood sexuality, it’s going to be difficult for paedophiles to appear more positive, to start saying they’re not exploiters of children, that they love children, the sexual part included, even if it’s a minor part. If they made such statements, they would be arrested.
What we see going on in the United States is the most vitriolic and virulent anti-sexuality I know of in our history. It may take people being arrested. Revolutionaries have always risked arrest.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I was in the courtroom for the case that Holly just cited and I actually heard the prosecution say, “No man should ever be permitted to claim as an excuse that he was just being affectionate when a child says they were uncomfortable.” I don’t know; I don’t think we can just label these attitudes “hysteria.” Perhaps “madness” is better, or “pathology.” What we see going on in the United States is the most vitriolic and virulent anti-sexuality I know of in our history. It may take people being arrested. Revolutionaries have always risked arrest.
PAIDIKA: In your book, you said that there was “a matter of national interest and a focus of federal interest in child abuse in 1974, but then in 1984, it seemed to suddenly shift and become more hysterical.” What reasons do you see for the outbreak of a child abuse hysteria, or pathology, in the mid-80’s America?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: I think that what we meant in that passage was that we had personally been observing a steady progression of awareness about actual child abuse up to around that period, 1984. We had routinely been dealing with sex offenders and cases of incest. Around the mid-80’s, we began to see cases of false accusations to a degree we had not seen before. it was the rise of this incidence of false accusations that led us to use the term “hysteria.”
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Child abuse around that time became more a matter of attention and discussion. There had been child abuse before but the earlier focus was on rehabilitation and treatment. In the early 80’s, this focus shifted to prosecution. As more federal money became available, child protection teams and child molestation units were set up in every county in the United States. As this structure was put into place, the emphasis changed to prosecution. This is where it is now, and as a consequence, there is very little interest in treatment, rehabilitation, or healing. The emphasis is: punish the bastards, put them in jail, hang them up by their toes, or other appurtenances, get rid of them.
PAIDIKA: You seen to be saying that the shift to prosecution, and the sexual hysteria, are connected. Could you clarify how such a shift might make a country pathological about sex?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I believe these shifts happen when the social contract in a given country or culture breaks down. What is happening in the United States is that the populace no longer has the sense that the country knows what it is about. During the Second World War, when I was about fourteen years old, it was a great time to live in America. We stood together. Everybody knew and understood what we were all about, what we were doing in the world. Beginning in the 60’s and through the 70’s into the 80’s that confidence disappeared. We became fractionalized into smaller and smaller groups, each group fighting for its own to the point where we have now evolved a political system of special interest groups. There’s no longer consensus politics in America.
The result of the breakdown of the social contract is that people do not have sufficient ego to handle or tolerate the ambiguity in their society. They don’t have the inner resources. What they must do, then, is find something outside of themselves, something external, to give them shape and identity. Sex throughout history has played a specific role. It has allowed people both to define themselves and to locate an enemy. A sexual minority becomes a scapegoat. Whenever there has been social upheaval, whenever the social contract has disappeared, there has always been violent anti-sexuality outbursts.
The breakdown of the social contract and anti-sexuality outbursts are interconnected because there is in times of social instability, a need to say that someone else is evil, wicked. The blame for everything gets put on the so-called deviants, while the true American remains at home, pure, probably mortifying the flesh, crucifying the body, being a good citizen. The citizen becomes the knight riding off into the sunset victorious, leaving behind him a trail of battered and beaten people that they have judged bad. And the citizen feels justified.
In a society in turmoil, people can’t tolerate anything that is different from whatever the myth of that society is. The society holds on to the myth, the belief. The myth is what they must believe. There’s not enough strength in the society to deal with the facts.
PAIDIKA: Why is sex the focus of the hysteria in that situation, why not something else?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Sex has always been the penultimate answer to the ultimate question, which is unity and wholeness. In theological terms, sex has been the way that human beings have tried to avoid dealing with the mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of Unity. Sex is penultimate. This is why the root cause of sexual dysfunction is always some form of genitalization of sexuality. Sexuality has become, in the dysfunction, limited to genital tissue. It is not unified.
PAIDIKA: Would you say that the sexual hysteria is a kind of mystical or religious dysfunction?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Yes, I would.
PAIDIKA: Your scenario for the child sexuality hysteria is the breakdown of the social contract and a religious/mystical dysfunction. Do you recognize other causes than these?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I would add radical feminism, which includes a pretty hefty dose of anti-males. I think in a very real way, these women may be jealous that males are able to love each other, be comrades, friends, be close, intimate, work cooperatively, function in groups. The point where men may say that maleness can include the intimacy and closeness of sex may make women jealous. This would hold true for male bonding, and paedophile sex too. The woman is jealous of the connection. She says, “Wait a minute, we’re not going to let you do that!”
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: I would disagree with that one hundred percent. That women are jealous because men have close bonds with one another doesn’t seem to me to make sense. The common wisdom, whether one agrees with it or not, is that a man is handicapped in a divorce more than a woman, because the woman has female friends she can talk to. Women are socialized for relationships more than men. For women to become close and intimate is easier than for a man. Men can’t express feelings. These are the common beliefs. And, after all, some of the most hostile, enraged people about sexual abuse are males. Jim Peters of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, for example.
I think the radical feminist opposition to paedophilia comes out of the general perception of men as aggressive and dominating. They use sex to dominate the weak. The weak would be women and children. That the opposition comes out of women’s jealousy because men can have meaningful paedophile relationships, and they wish they could, I don’t agree with it.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Certainly some men aid and abet the hysteria. They are opportunists. They have opportunistic rage. What I am proposing is that there is an aspect to femaleness that is hardly ever discussed. I believe that women also are violent, cruel, and hostile. Possibly more so than men. The radical feminists only express that side of femaleness against paedophilia.
Among certain Indian tribes, the people who did the torture were the women. A sociologist in Milwaukee who studied the records of domestic violence found that women are much more violent in domestic disputes than men, and paedophilia can be thought to be a domestic matter. My argument is that the radical feminist position arises more from women’s nature than from a politics. That has been overlooked.
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Well, I wouldn’t agree with this point of view at all. All statistics, history too, show that violent crimes are committed more by men than by women. Violence, cruelty, hostility have been much more male domains. THE QUESTIONING OF CHILDREN
PAIDIKA: The main purpose of your book, it seems to me, is to devise a method for determining the facts when there is an allegation of child abuse. This has sometimes put you in opposition to the official system. How much have your methods been adopted at this point, and how much are they being opposed?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Our main effort has been to develop methods that avoid suggestive questioning, that lead the child on. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that what we are proposing is the right way to go. what we have suggested, other people are also suggesting. There is a developing consensus that this is the way to do it.
Not many people any more are advocating suggestive or leading questioning. The problem is still that people who say they agree with us still go ahead and do leading questioning anyway. They don’t know they’re doing it. As you know, the main reason for the acquittals in the Mc Martin case is that the interviews were so terrible that the jurors said, “You can’t tell what went on at all because the interviews are so suggestive.”
Unfortunately, there are still very few people thinking about what happens to the child if the adults make a mistake. The worst result of bad questioning for the child is that if it is not abused, and is taught through suggestive interviews that she has been abused, that is extremely harmful. It runs the risk of making children psychotic.
Take the Mc Martin case. I think we can assume that nothing happened to them. But now these children who are fourteen, fifteen years old believe that they were subjected to horrible, bizarre, ritualistic abuse. That’s now part of their reality. How are these teenagers going to turn out as adults?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Holly and I can demonstrate two basic things. We were the first people to publicly say, “Let’s be more cautious, there’s a better way to do this, we should be doing it differently.” We’re finding now that there is a growing concensus joining us. We can be more accurate in making discriminations between real abuse and false abuse.
In August, 1990, when we were at the American Psychological Association convention, the majority of the programs were in the same direction that we have been talking about. There were two or three programs that were still saying, “Children must be believed at all cost, they can’t talk about things they haven’t experienced.” The audiences at those symposia were violently critical of that approach. Four years ago that would never have happened. When you get to the people who are doing the actual taped interviews, though, it is another story.
We’re urging caution because of the child, as Holly pointed out. What you do, when you require a child who has not been abused to engage in repeated statements about having been abused, is blur, if not destroy, the capacity of that child to distinguish between reality and unreality. When a child is reinforced by adults to repeat over and over accounts of having been abused, of having been violated in these strange, bizarre ways, children come to believe it. It becomes subjectively real. You end up with, say, a sixteen year old who was never abused but who now has a subjective experience of being abused. The person becomes convinced that all these terribly bizarre things happened. I was led into a tunnel; I was undressed; I was placed on an altar; I was drenched in sacrificial blood; I have observed people cutting the heart out of others and eating it.” That is now subjectively real for that child. But, the person who’s taught them to believe that is the one who actually abused them. They’ve distorted their reality. They’ve made them pathological.
PAIDIKA: Are you describing a distortion of reality that occurs because of ignorance or because of malice and evil?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: I think ignorance is a big part of it. These aren’t evil, wicked people who are purposely setting out to make children believe they were abused when they weren’t. They see themselves as child advocates, child savers. They’re more or less convinced they’re doing a good thing. Ignorance is a very large part of it.
We have no experimental verification of this, but our suspicion is that the front-line people are young and have no children of their own. They’re not trained in child development. The social workers who do the initial interviews just don’t know about what a normal child is like, how suggestible they are, how they behave.
Ignorance leads to a lot of things. ordinary exploratory sex play between children is often misunderstood. It is seen as indicative of a child sexual abuse, and can therefore result in false accusations. Say a parent walks in and a four year old has a three year old’s clothes off and they’re exploring. The parents becomes upset, angry. “Who taught you this? Where’d you learn how to do that?” If it’s a divorce and custody case, they might say, “Did Daddy ever do this?”
You get bizarre things. For example, we consulted in a case of a three year old child who reported that a four year old had poked her in the genitals with a stick. This was in a pre-school. The social services were called, and the first thing they did was go to the four year old’s house to see if the four year old was being sexually abused. Their reasoning was that if the four year old poked the three year old in the genitals, he must have been sexually abused, or where would he have learned to do this?
There was also the incident of a ten year old girl and a twelve year old brother who were discovered fooling around with each other. The girl was put in a sexual abuse victims treatment program and the boy was put in a perpetrator’s program. Seriously, these things are happening. The underlying feeling is that if you see children being sexual, they must have learned it from some adult who abused them.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I agree with Holly. Ignorance is a very large part of hysteria. Almost all the people we encounter who are involved in the system of dealing with child sexual abuse allegations, have no knowledge, no sophistication in developmental psychology. At most they have been given, one, maybe two, weekend workshops. You can’t make an expert in a weekend. They form something called “multidisciplinary teams,” which is one of the favorite ways that abuse is somehow supposed to be controlled. Multidisciplinary teams do not result in any increase in the effectiveness of the decision. What it results in is a pooling of mediocrity and ignorance. of course, the APA code of ethics maintains quite clearly that both ignorance and ineptitude are unethical (laughs).
The dilemma, the reality is that we do savage things to our children; we brutalize them. Children do require the protection of society, and the protection of the law.
We’ve had a certain concept for a number of years. Simply stated, it is that whenever two or more human beings get together and attempt to accomplish some joint task, one of the first things they do is to set up some rules. Now generally this works. You get the joint task accomplished. Rule-making is rewarded. As you add more than two people and you increase the resources and the complexity of whatever the joint tasks are, rule-making does permit more effective functioning, and that’s how making laws get reinforced.
However, there is a finite number of laws in proportion to a given population that work effectively. Any law above this number results in an increment of ineffectiveness. Let’s say the number of laws necessary in the U. S. is 13,246. Law number 13,247 would then be over the threshold. Each law you now add divides your society. People now begin to exploit. There is more and more opportunity for malice, evasion of responsibility and so on. The next effect is to begin to destroy that society. However, nobody realizes or understands it so they keep on making laws. You have now reached the point at which there is some form of revolution required to start the process all over again.
PAIDIKA: one of your goals in formulating questions for the child about possible abuse is to avoid distorting the child’s reality. In your interrogation methods, do your questions presuppose for the children that they themselves see the sexual relationship as abuse?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: No, no. Not our methods.
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: No. What we would do is get the child to use free recall, to describe what took place. As scientists, our goal would be to get as much information from the child about what happened and what took place as possible. We would see it as somebody else’s responsibility to interpret this, or see whether it’s legal or illegal.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: We don’t tell children things like, “Well, it’s all the other person’s fault, you were helpless, you were powerless, and you’re not responsible.” Some people are now saying that this is the best thing to tell children. If you tell them they were powerless, it gives the children more power. We don’t do that.
PAEDOPHILIA AND SPIRITUALITY
PAIDIKA: We spoke at the beginning about paedophilia and spirituality. This is not an issue that is very often discussed. Given the opposition to and oppression of paedophilia in American society, how would you describe a spirituality for paedophiles?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: For me, the beginning of spiritual life is in knowing that God is gracious, knowing that it is God’s purpose that we have a good life, knowing that it is God’s purpose that we be free. The freedom that God intends for us to have is absolute. The only thing that can match absolute killing, and judgments that condemn us, such as St. Paul’s, “You have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” is the absolute, “You are free.” You are free, that is, from all accusation, nothing, no one can accuse you.
The issue is never what is right or wrong. That’s mistaken question. Paying attention to what is right and wrong is, I think, a penultimate goal because the issue is not right and wrong but good and evil. That’s totally different. Right and wrong has to do with whether or not you hit the mark, whether a given behavior matches a certain standard. If it doesn’t, then it’s wrong.
Good and evil only pays attention to outcomes. You can never know the outcomes until you have already acted. Spirituality that attends to the issue of good and evil must always be courageous, bold, operating always with incomplete information. You never know, so you are continually making a responsible choice about which there’s always risk. You can only know if something is good subsequent to having acted, and observing the outcome.
As with all human behavior, I would suggest that paedophiles can’t say, “I have chosen; I choose; I will act in this fashion. I believe that the outcome will be good. I will pay the price for that act, whatever that price may be.”
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: The price might be the difficulty of integrating oneself into one’s society.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Or, going to jail, certainly. As I said before, it may take people being arrested. In a sense, what is, well, I guess I can say this, what is offensive about what I know about paedophiles is their intention to be able to do what they choose without paying the price. “I want to be able to do this, but the society should let me do it without exacting any kind of price from me.”
PAIDIKA: Is it reasonable for paedophiles to want and to work for the decriminalization of what they believe is right?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: It’s not reasonable if the goal is “I want to do it, and I don’t really care what other people tell me. I’m not going to engage in the attempt to communicate or to talk to people.” It’s like saying to somebody, “Accept me because after all, I’m really the same as you are.” That’s what tolerance is supposed to be, and that’s why tolerance always falls short. It is never to me, acceptable.
I don’t think it is honest to tolerate somebody only because they are saying, “At rock bottom, I’m really the same as you.” or, conversely to say, I can tolerate you, I can accept you, because you are the same. I think it is much more honest and direct to say, “Yes, we’re different. You’re black, I’m white, you’re smart, I’m not. I’m paedophile, you’re heterosexual.” Those are real differences, real differences. Paedophiles should point out how different they are, what the difference are.
PAIDIKA: Still isn’t it a reasonable wish for paedophiles to want to see paedophile sex decriminalized? It may not be realistic right now in the U. S., but does that make it less legitimate a goal?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: oh yes, sure, sure. I mean Jesus said, “I really don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go up there onto Calvary.” But when it came down to it, he said, “Well, okay, I’m going to walk the steps.” As for decriminalization, the question is really if you’re not there, how are you going to get there?
PAIDIKA: Any advice?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Take the risk, the consequences of the risk, and make the claim: this is something good. Paedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that paedophilia is an acceptable expression of God’s will for love and unity among human beings. This is the only way the question is going to be answered, of whether or not it is possible. Does it happen? Can it be good? That’s what we don’t know yet, the ways in which paedophiles can conduct themselves in loving ways. That’s what you need to talk about. You need to get involved in discourse, and to do so while acting. Matthew 11 talks about the wisdom of God, and the way in which God’s wisdom, like ours, can only follow after.
Paedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that paedophiles is an acceptable expression of God’s will for love and unity among human beings.
I think the paedophile movement makes a mistake when it seeks to label the church as the instrument of repression, and in a sense, the enemy. I’m certainly aware of the accusation that it’s the church that represses sexuality. I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I believe that the repression of sexuality begins with Greek thought. People who want to deal positively with human sexuality will do best to see the church as an ally, and to elicit from the church the positive responses about sexuality that are there.
PAIDIKA: You spoke about the need for paedophiles to engage in a discourse. What should that be?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: We can’t presume to tell them specific behaviors, but in terms of goals, certainly the goal is that the experience be positive, at the very least not negative, for their partner and partner’s family. And nurturing. Even if it were a good relationship with the boy, if the boy was not harmed and perhaps even benefited, it it tore the family of the boy apart, that would be negative.
It would be nice if someone could get some kind of big research grant to do a longitudinal study of, let’s say, a hundred twelve year old boys in relationships with loving paedophiles. Whoever was doing the study would have to follow that at five year intervals for twenty years. This is impossible in the U. S. right now. We’re talking a long time in the future.
Ralph Underwager: Witness for Mr Bubbles (Australian ’60 Minutes’ TV feature, 1990):