Ralph Underwager and the Cleveland child abuse inquiry

Most people’s memory of the Cleveland child abuse scandal in 1987 would be of a nationionwide media storm involving ‘falsely accused’ parents whose children had been taken away by over-zealous social workers who had misdiagnosed child sexual abuse.

But the truth was much darker. The majority of the children had been sexually abused and many were subsequently made to return to the homes they were abused in. The Department of Health “actively withheld and concealed” evidence from an independent panel which showed that 93 of the 121 Cleveland children had been found by the courts to be at risk of abuse. In 1989, the Department of Health destroyed all records relating to the children. Within two years of the original controversy, many of the children had been re-referred to social services.

Frank Cook, Labour MP for Stockton on Tees, said: “I’m astonished and dumbfounded. Had we known what I have only just now learnt, then it would have made a major difference to the Children’s Act and to attitudes to abuse”.

The Butler-Sloss inquiry into the Cleveland case heard evidence from an American ‘child abuse expert’ called Ralph Underwager. He spoke out on behalf of the ‘falsely accused’ parents and many of his recommendations made their way into the Butler-Sloss report. The Butler-Sloss report, as Frank Cook pointed out, went on to influence both Children’s Act and also the subsequent handling of countless child abuse inquiries.

Examples of evidence submitted by Ralph Underwager that ended up in the Butler-Sloss inquiry report:

12.32 p207 Dr Underwager provided the Inquiry with his experience in the United States and warned of the preconceptions and biases of adults. He said  that children were vulnerable to adult influences  and suggestions and as such from leading and suggestive questions. He warned that one should recognise the power of the interviewer compared with the child and commented that those who interview seem to ignore their own behaviour. He suggested that in the USA some interviewers ‘lie, threaten, fabricate’. the method of assessment contaminates and reduces the reliability of the childs statements. he felt that small children were abused by the interrogation.
12.16 p 205. Dr Underwager cautioned about the interpretation of childrens drawings.

12.9 p 205  Dr Underwager warned us of the risks of children being fed with information provided by adults. he told us of the incidence of false allegations by children in the United states and suggested that 65 percent of all reports were unfounded. he also suggested that they were not the result of most children telling lies but the effect upon children of the information derived from adults, sometimes as a result of the method of imterviewing. research, particularly in the USA has shown that the incidence of false accusations appears to be sustantially higher in custody and access disputes than in other cases.

Underwager_RalphA few years later, Ralph Underwager was exposed by an interview he gave to a European paedophile magazine called Paidika, in which he said child sexual abuse was “God’s Will”.

Here are some extracts from the interview, which can be found here:

Underwager: Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love….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: Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individuals?

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).

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.

The Daily Mail, who led the way with the ‘falsely accused parents’ narrative and hounded the paediatricians who had disagnosed sexual abuse, published an interview with Underwager (who they called “a huge genial presence”) when he gave evidence to the Butler-Sloss inquiry.

Daily Mail, 14th December 1987

Mail141287“The tragedy of Cleveland, whether mistakes were made or not, is that where social workers and doctors were attempting to tackle the problem, suddenly this great attack was unleashed upon them. The message to other doctors and social workers….is don’t get into this. The popular press will go for you and, sadly, a Labour MP will go for you and attack you in the House of Commons.” – Clare Short MP

Cleveland abuse children ‘were sexually assaulted’ (25.05.97)
Into the arms of the abusers (25.05.97)
Tim Tate’s documentary: Cleveland: Unspeakable truths
Child abuse expert says paedophilia part of ‘God’s will’ (19.12.93)

An Australian TV documentary ‘Witness for Mr Bubbles’ gives a good idea of the type of ‘falsely accused’ people that Underwager was paid to defend.

Tim Tate’s ‘Unspeakable Truths’ documentary on Cleveland. Read accompanying article here:

  1. Reblogged this on cathyfox and commented:
    Great article by murun. The Cleveland child abuse scandal was much misunderstood by the public due to the conflicting press coverage at the time. I recommend Beatrix Campbells Book Unofficial Secrets. It is tragic that the Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council choose to hide behind an exemption to not publish the Butler-Sloss Report, so unfortunately it is still not easily digitally available to everyone, including victims. Shame on you.

  2. Troyhand said:

    The Canberra times – Thursday 5 May 1994 Login to create lists
    The doubters of child-abuse claims come under scrutiny
    False memory syndrome gained ground partly as a backlash against therapy,
    says LINDA GRANT. Now there is a reaction against its proponents.

    THE THEORY of the false memory syndrome says that some psychotherapists are implanting in the minds of their female patients the idea that the patients were subjected to sexual abuse in childhood. But others who doubt the false memory syndrome have recently gained ground. At stake is a vital question: how frequent is the sexual abuse of children? Also at stake are the reputations, happiness, and livelihoods of the parents who are accused.

    A well-known British psychiatrist, Dr Anthony Clare, says, “The distressing thing .about false memory is that it gets
    the whole area of child sexual abuse a bad name. People think the whole thing is a hoax, that child abuse does not exist and we can relax.” Others are concerned about FMS being placed in the hands of unscrupulous sexual offenders to unfairly undermine the testimony of genuine complainants.

    “Child abuse is a minefield. Gary Ramona, who lost his $US250,000-a-year ($A350,000) job with a Californian winery, is suing his daughter’s psychotherapist, accusing her of implanting false memories of childhood sexual abuse. Inconsistencies have begun to emerge in the testimony of the daughter, 23-year-old Holly Ramona. And the evidence of her 22-year-old sister Kelli, that she believed Holly, was thrown out as hearsay.

    The FMS theorists are about to step on another bomb. An organisation, Accuracy About Abuse, is being launched in Britain to counter claims that many allegations of incest are the result of brainwashing by irresponsible therapists who have “implanted” memories under hypnosis.

    The organisation has gathered damaging information about the founders of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in the US, which coined the name for the phenomenon and brought it to public attention 18 months ago. In the past six months the credibility of FMSF has been undermined, firstly by the forced resignation of an executive director, Dr Ralph Underwager, and by a lecture given by Jennifer Freyd, daughter of Pamela and Peter Freyd, who started FMSF, in which she gave her own version of her family life.

    Many articles about FMS have included an interview with “Jane Doe”, mother of a 33-year-old who has accused her father of abusing her for 13 years. “Reason and love dictated that something was obviously wrong with Susan,” Jane Doe asserted. “A sudden switch in her behaviour seemed to reflect some kind of breakdown. She had experimented with drugs as a teenager. Could that have caused memory confusion? Could my husband have a side to him I didn’t know about? That wasn’t possible.”

    Some journalists (myself included) knew that Jane Doe was Pamela Freyd, The Freyds are both academics; Peter is a mathematician, Pam has a PhD in education. Their oldest daughter Jennifer (“Susan”) is a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and their younger daughter is also an academic. Like most parents accused of incest, the Freyds claim that theirs was a happy, almost idyllic, family until it was wrecked by therapist-induced fantasies.

    But in a lecture last August, at a hospital conference on false memory at Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jennifer “outed” herself and her parents.

    When he was nine, Peter had a sexual relationship with a male artist. “He was a pedophile, I was a kept boy,” Peter has admitted. “I never repressed a thing. What happened is certainly abusive.” By the early ’80s, Peter had been admitted to hospital for treatment for chronic alcoholism.

    “For many years our “family life was dominated by the dynamics of my father’s drinking,” Jennifer says. “My father was an active alcoholic during most, if not all, of my childhood and that alcoholism was denied until after I was no longer in my parents’ house.” Whether or not one believes Jennifer’s allegations, the picture that emerged of the Freyds’ home life from her lecture was one in which sexual boundaries were constantly blurred. When, she was 11, Jennifer appeared in a play directed by her father, who taught her, “how to kiss like a grown-up”. He sat around the living room in a dressing gown with his genitals exposed, a habit which her mother described as “annoying”.

    She cited visiting her father as a young adult, after giving him a present of a pin mould, a gadget that makes replicas of anything you rest on it, such as a hand. Peter Freyd showed his daughter how he had made a replica of his penis and testicles.

    As far back as 1988 the. New England Commissioners of Child Welfare Agencies commissioned a study on the accuracy of Dr Ralph Underwager’s testimony in child sexual abuse cases: by his own count he had appeared as a defence witness more than 200 times in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain. He claims to have advised lawyers preparing Woody Allen’s defence’. The study’s author revealed serious misinterpretations of the research literature Underwager cited in court.

    At the end of last year, long after the study was completed, an interview with Underwager appeared in Paidika, a Dutch pedophile magazine. Asked what he thought American pedophiles should do about negative social attitudes to wards them, Underwager replied: “The solution that I’m suggesting is that pedophiles become more positive. They should directly attack the concept, the image, the picture of the pedophile as an evil, wicked and reprehensible exploiter of children … Pedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that pedophilia is an acceptable expression of God’s will for love and unity among human beings.”

    Underwager went on to blame radical feminism for the assault on pedophilia: “The woman is jealous of the connection,” he said. “She says, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not going to let you do that’.” The Freyds reluctantly asked Underwager to leave the board of FSMF but his wife remains a member.

    Why has the media taken up the case of FMS with such enthusiasm and so little scepticism? In part, the therapeutic community has brought it on itself.

    The recovery movement is a closed system: either you are in recovery from something or you are in denial. When the media did start to make complaints, the response was outraged defensiveness.

    Jennifer Freyd has herself admitted: “There are some horrible excesses in the therapeutic world — if there were not, FMSF would probably never have got ten off the ground.” There is another reason for FMS’s good press: it arrived on the scene at the right time for the anti-PC backlash. FMS allows one, once more, to counter the extension of feminist ideas beyond their immediate constituency, to speak, yet again, of “hysterical women”.

    In the notorious Mr Bubbles case in Australia, the evidence of 15 young children, who claimed they were sexually abused by the husband of their kindergarten teacher, was thrown out on the expert evidence of Ralph Underwager. The accused man was subsequently found to have had proved charges of child abuse laid against him in 1972 in Papua New Guinea.
    — The Guardian

    • For many years now we have the also discredited PAS theory from pro pedophile Richard Gardner. It is used for over 20 years and many children all over the world have been court ordered to live with their abusers.
      Gardner said it was almost always mothers who fabricated the abuse- even though the children disclosed to others.
      So lawyers have been advising clients – victims of abuse- not to dare mention domestic violence or child abuse in court or loose full custody. This way the children have no one to tell, are called liars. Even when the physical evidence of rape is present most courts will not listen.
      The notion that all children make up child abuse is ridiculous.
      On reading Underwager and sexual abuse being god’s will. Just perfect in Roman Catholic Ireland where this theory is being used and children harmed.
      In Ireland though we go one step further- and try and get an order for Electric Shock Therapy for abused children who cannot be broken by social workers etc.
      ECT burns out all memories of abuse and then the zombie victim can be placed with real abuser.
      Witnesses to the abuse are not allowed in courts. We have the secret courts and all parties do not have full disclosure- no matter if you quote the law or not- the excuse is “all Irish mothers are feeble minded, Eve ill liars and their Evil children are also liars.
      Nice way to support real abusers.!

  3. Troyhand said:

    The Canberra Times – Thursday 29 October 1987
    Child-abuse doctor under attack by police surgeon

    LONDON, Wednesday (AAP). — A senior British police surgeon launched an attack yesterday on Australian paediatrician Dr Marietta Higgs.

    Giving evidence to a judicial inquiry into allegations of widespread sexual abuse of children, Dr Alistair Irvine said Dr Higgs’s methods were “verging on the incompetent”.

    The inquiry was called after Dr Higgs diagnosed unprecedentedly large numbers of cases of child abuse in Cleveland in northern England.

    Dr Irvine told the inquiry Dr Higgs and another social worker had under taken a campaign to get rid of him because he was the “one dissenting voice” against her claims. He said he had checked 10 suspected victims and found no sign of sexual abuse.

    He felt the children had suffered a painful and humiliating experience when examined by Dr Higgs.

    The inquiry continues.

  4. Troyhand said:

    The Independent – 4 May 1994
    Where Satan goes unseen
    Beatrix Campbell

    IN these pages last week, Bryan Appleyard seemed reassured by Professor Jean La Fontaine’s purported proof, in a leaked report yet to be published, that sadistic satanic sexual abuse does not exist. Appleyard and Professor La Fontaine prefer notions that videos, social workers and foster carers are the new devils to the other possibility that children might be recounting real events through their tormented behaviour and their stories of satanist experiences.

    Such a conclusion also averts our gaze from an insidious campaign to discredit the children and their advocates. Within two weeks of the first published report of the first discovery of alleged satanic abuse in Britain, an organisation of satanists circulated chief constables, directors of social services and the Home Office with reports that tried to undermine the credibility of the care workers involved in the case. And they have responded similarly to subsequent controversies.

    Professor La Fontaine, an anthropologist who specialises in cults, is aware of this organisation.

    Yet there has been remarkably little curiosity about this crusade to stifle professional debate. Judith Dawson is the child protection consultant who was involved in Britain’s first satanic abuse case in Nottingham, which, despite its success in the courts in 1989, has been the object of a critical crusade. She says: ‘Never in my career have I been subjected to such an organised and personal campaign of disinformation and discrediting, by occult groups, supported by advocates of paedophilia, and given authority by academics who are so disrespectful of carers and specialists struggling with this problem.

    ‘What matters now is that Professor La Fontaine doesn’t appear to address why people organised a campaign against the children’s evidence.’

    Valerie Sinason, a consultant psychotherapist at the Tavistock Institute, recently published a collection of clinicians’ painful encounters with evidence of satanic sexual abuse.

    ‘I was shocked to receive sceptical questions from journalists treating my clinical work with enormous doubt, whereas in all the other areas of my work questions would have been put with courtesy and respect,’ she says.

    ‘I’ve been asked, ‘What do you say to all the people out there who don’t believe a word of what you’re saying?’ I reply that I wish I was one of them.

    ‘I find it disturbing that one anthropologist’s readings of transcripts are being listened to more seriously than 40 senior health service clinicians.’

    Professor La Fontaine’s orthodoxy on this issue echoes the views of well-known promoters of paedophilia. Although not relying on his work in her recent findings, she recommended writing by Benjamin Rossen, among others, in a letter to the leading professional journal, Child Abuse Review, this year.

    Rossen has another patron in Professor Elizabeth Newson, the Nottingham child development psychologist, who has become one of the main architects of the notion that children have been brainwashed by foster carers and social workers.

    Though she had never worked on child abuse, she appeared as an expert witness in the Rochdale controversy. Her report cited Rossen – without guiding the court to his critics.

    Who is Rossen, and why are people interested in his work? He was useful because he rubbished Holland’s first satanic sexual abuse case in May 1987.

    Rossen says he defends the accused. He himself has been accused: he revealed in a public lecture in 1992 that he had been arrested in Australia after a 12-year-old boy, who had lived with him, made allegations to the police of sexual abuse. He said: ‘I was ruined, financially, morally and physically.’ He went to Holland hoping for a more commodious culture, but regretted that it seemed ‘as severe’.

    Rossen is a member of the editorial board of Paidika, Holland’s ‘Journal of Paedophilia’. He told the publication Het Parool in January 1989 that ‘paedophilia is not necessarily harmful to a child’.

    When I asked Professor La Fontaine about Rossen, she said she had been in correspondence with him about adults’ sexual interest in children. When asked about his reputation as a promoter of paedophilia, she said: ‘One would have to be aware of who was accusing him.’

    But no one is accusing him, he freely admits it.

    A Paidika coup was an interview with the granddaddy of the counter-revolution against children’s evidence, Ralph Underwager from Minnesota. Underwager, who was given a favoured place in the Butler-Sloss report on the Cleveland controversy, has been the main protagonist in campaigns against evidence of sexual abuse, satanic abuse, and has latterly been a promoter of false memory syndrome.

    Like Rossen, he describes the new awareness of abuse as ‘hysteria’. Paedophiles, he tells Paidika, ‘can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose’. They should become positive and attack their image as exploiters.

    Child protection professionals are warning the Department of Health and the Home Office that, if the professor is lending support to Rossen, her entire report needs to be put under scrutiny.

    ‘I don’t want to make a fool of the woman,’ says Judith Dawson, ‘but everybody working for child protection knows about Rossen’s advocacy of paedophilia. That calls into question La Fontaine’s whole attitude to adults’ sexual interest in children. Anyone who regards Rossen as helpful on these issues cannot have any credibility in this debate.’

    No wonder folks like Appleyard are muddled.

    • There is a pattern here. the media distract from the truth in real cases of sexual abuse, ridiculing facts.
      First, there is no Satan. Has anyone seen him? No.
      So its not Satan doing the abusing but humans.
      Judges etc being trained to believe that child rape does no harm to children?? and only us adults making a big deal of it should read this account from a professional who has full experience.


      Sexual abuse: eclipse of the soul

      The trauma of childhood sexual abuse is almost incomprehensible. Here, Michael Corry and Aine Tubridy explain some of the consequences

      I’ve come to realise that sexual assault is an imposed death experience for the victim.

      That is, the victim experiences her life as having been taken by someone else.

      — Evangeline Kane

    • What matters now is that Professor La Fontaine doesn’t appear to address why people organised a campaign against the children’s evidence.’

      Well got to keep the abuse hidden lest people realise truth.

  5. survivorsjustice said:

    Reblogged this on survivorsjustice and commented:
    Hats off to Cathy Fox for another excellent article, well done my friend. Indeed pedophiles and those who wish to say there is no damage done to children during sexual abuse, are simply defending the adults power over children and manipulation to take away their innocence. Kudos for your ongoing work!!

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