Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cleveland – 20 Years On

The Cleveland child sexual abuse scandal was re-examined in a Radio 4 program earlier in the week (RealPlayer format)

For those not familiar with the details of the case, it was briefly as follows. In Cleveland, in 1987, a local paediatrician, Dr Marietta Higgs, began to diagnose large numbers of children as having been sexually abused. Whenever a child was referred to her for an unrelated problem such as asthma, she took the opportunity to perform an ‘anal dilatation reflex’ test. This involved parting the child’s buttocks to see whether the child’s anus dilated. If it did, she took this as a sole indicator of sexual abuse – in effect, she assumed that the father was sodomising the child. She did not seek any corroborating evidence.

There was no scientific basis for this test’s reliability. In fact, "…the test shows positive in the normal child if a stool is present". Reference

Higgs was motivated not by science, but purely by ideology. She believed that child sexual abuse is rampant, a kind of hidden holocaust taking place behind every suburban net curtain. She set herself the goal of uncovering it.

It is obvious that she also believed that only men were committing these acts even though the evidence that women commit child sexual abuse is well documented.

Higgs, ostensibly a trained medical scientist, is not interested in the facts.

She also has a strangely narrow concept of what constitutes sexual abuse. What if the father was forcing the child to perform fellatio for example? This would not show up in an anal dilatation reflex test. Basing a diagnosis on this test alone is patently absurd.

The total referrals to Cleveland Social Services for all forms of child abuse during the period January to July 1987 were 505 referrals compared with only 288 referrals in the equivalent period in the previous year. Reference

All of these referrals were made by Higgs, assisted by a colleague, Geoff Wyatt.

Once these allegations had been made, social workers were removing the children from their families on Place of Safety Orders, often in midnight and dawn raids on the family home where children were taken from their beds and placed in foster homes and residential homes. The initial crisis came when there were no more foster homes or residential home placements to accommodate the numbers of children involved and a special ward had to be set up at the hospital to accommodate the children who continued to be diagnosed as having been sexually abused.

Increasingly the diagnosis using the anal dilation test was being challenged by the police surgeon, who questioned the validity of such a test, and the police gradually withdrew their co-operation in the cases referred by the consultant paediatricians. Relationships between the police, social workers, and the paediatricians broke down as the dispute in medical opinions escalated.

In the early months of the crisis, the allegations involved working-class families, who were confused, bewildered, and angry at being accused of sexually abusing their children, but they were powerless against middle-class professionals with the authority, power, and legal sanctions to support their actions. Gradually, however, the allegations began to involve middle-class families who were highly educated, employed in professional occupations, and with access to legal and political advice and to the media. They were to use such powerful allies to considerable effect. From a sociological perspective, therefore, the events in Cleveland could be seen as a punitive form of middle-class oppression of working-class families by middle-class professionals and an imposition of middle-class values on the working classes".
(My emphasis) More especially, it can be seen as an imposition of middle-class women's arrogance and neuroses towards working-class men. The source continues: "Some aspects of the Cleveland Child Sexual Abuse Scandal have been likened to a mediaeval witch-hunt by at least one author (`When Salem came to the Boro' - Rt. Hon. Stuart Bell, Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough - 1988).

In the initial months of the crisis, public sympathy and concern was strongly in support of the social workers and paediatricians and the media, pursuing their simplistic analysis of all situations as having `goodies' and `baddies', also supported the social workers. Several social workers and managers within the Social Services had serious doubts about what was happening, but although they voiced their concerns to senior managers, they too were powerless to change events.

Public concern centred on the removal of children from their beds at all hours of the night and fear spread among the local population…The turning point of events came in late May on the day that the parents decided to march from the hospital where their children were being held to the offices of the local newspaper, and they began telling their versions of events, which of course varied considerably from the narrative constructions of the paediatricians and social workers. Gradually, the media turned to support the parents, and the social workers came under intense public and political scrutiny, which eventually led to the setting up of a Public Inquiry led by Justice Butler-Sloss.

The Inquiry examined the cases involving 121 children where sexual abuse was alleged to have been identified using the anal dilation test and the actions of the paediatricians and social workers involved. Of these 121 cases where sexual abuse of the children was alleged, the Courts subsequently dismissed the proceedings involving 96 of the children, i.e. over 80% were found to be false accusations".
In the remaining 29 cases, a medical panel found that 25% of these had not been abused either. The remaining cases require further examination.

"One of the major findings of the Butler-Sloss Inquiry was that children had been removed precipitately by social workers who had failed to seek corroborative evidence to support the allegations of the paediatricians and had failed to carry out comprehensive assessments of the children and their families. Consequently a requirement was introduced that social workers should not act solely on the basis of medical opinion.

Concerns were also expressed at the Inquiry regarding the use of video-recording equipment for surveillance of interviews with children and the use of anatomically-correct dolls in the questioning of children where sexual abuse was alleged. During such video-recorded sessions, social workers were seen to threaten and attempt to bribe children in order to bring pressure on the children to confirm the social worker's views that they had been abused and leading questions were asked of the children which would not have been permitted in courts. The interviews of the children by the social workers also confused the investigatory nature of such interviews with a therapeutic purpose. Where interviews containing a therapeutic element with children where abuse is alleged are conducted before trial, courts could take the view that such interviews contaminated and corrupted the children's evidence…One of the key issues in the Cleveland Child Sex Abuse Scandal was the power of professional groups in U.K. society, and how those powers can be misused and abused in the absence of accountability in law and for professional practice.


Higgs and Wyatt were banned from child protection work. They got off too lightly. At the very least, they should have been struck off the medical register.

Since 1987, the people of Cleveland have sought to move on from this unsavoury episode in the area's history and to gradually remove the slurs and scars to the reputation of what has always been a vibrant industrial and commercial community.
Perhaps the most lasting effect has been the climate of fear which was created and engendered in the parents of young children by events in Cleveland in 1987, not only in Cleveland but the rest of the U.K. In the 1980s male parents were becoming more accepting of their role as direct carers of their children and to share roles with their female partners, commonly referred to as the `Sensitive New Age Guys' [SNAGs]. This involved the male parent in bathing and dressing their children and performing other acts of personal care. Following Cleveland, many male parents withdrew from these activities from fear that their actions might be seen as unhealthy by social workers and might be misinterpreted by social workers as having an unnatural interest in their children, and they feared allegations of child abuse could be made against them…
Reference

The Radio 4 program carefully avoided condemning Higgs and her fellow witch-finders. From the opening seconds, the poignant piano music, the female voice saying “I was aged nine. I was taken to hospital and examined”, this program seemed to go out of its way to suggest that there really had been child sexual abuse going on in Cleveland. It sounded to me like obfuscation. It was a program that was hiding something.

The fact that the police eventually refused to co-operate with the witch-hunt was represented by the program as a 'professional turf war'. It was no such thing. It is not the case that everyone agreed that abuse was taking place, but they argued over who had the right to deal with it, in order to advance their own careers. That would be a turf war. In fact, the police surgeons simply didn't believe what Higgs was saying. And they were right. The program seemed to be condemning anyone who stood in the way of the witch-hunt, effectively accusing the police of incompetence and obstruction. The opposite is the case. The police surgeons were the ones acting professionally.

The BBC program interviewed Beatrix Campbell, of all people, who was introduced as ‘having written about abuse from a feminist perspective’. No mention of the fact that she grossly distorted and exaggerated the issues in order to promote her radical lesbian feminist political agenda. No mention of the fact that her partner Judith Jones was one of the witch-finders in chief.

An article by the British False Memory Society states:
“Ms Jones, together with her partner, journalist Beatrix Campbell, has been a longstanding opponent of the BFMS. As part of a campaign to uphold 'recovered memory' theory, both Campbell and Jones have sought to blacken the name of the BFMS over many years. The most flagrant example of this was in their 1999 co-written book Stolen Voices which sought to portray, through misinformation and misrepresentation, the BFMS and other critics, as part of a 'paedophile's lobby'. Unsurprisingly, the totally unfounded slurs in the book resulted in a queue of people intending to take legal action. Responding to the first of many potential claims, the publishers withdrew the book the day before publication.

One facet of Ms Jones' campaign against the BFMS was the setting up of a group of therapists and 'recovered memory' clients, Daughters and Their Allies (DATA). Based in Newcastle, the group's specific object was to discredit the BFMS and promote 'recovered memory' claims. However, very little is known about this shadowy organisation.

Ms Jones was also, under her married name Judith Dawson, an instigator of the 'satanic abuse' scare in Nottingham in 1989. Her pivotal role in disseminating false information fuelled the Rochdale and Orkneys abuse fiascos. The reckless approach adopted by Judith Dawson/Jones in investigating these cases was identified by a joint police social services inquiry in the JET report. However, having been accepted by the police, and social services director, David White, planned publication of the summary final report was successfully blocked by Ms Dawson and her team who waged a campaign of slur and innuendo against the authors of the report. The upshot was that belief in satanic abuse and the unsound methods of investigation continued to permeate the world of welfare professionals and activists, with Ms Dawson retaining unjustified influence for many years.”


Campbell’s main contribution to the program was to argue that, as a result of the Cleveland case, child protection agencies have been ‘disempowered’, that they are ineffectual after having had their wings clipped. She does not make the effort to ask herself why this happened. The tacit implication is that it is some kind of evil conspiracy. The fact is, these so-called professionals showed themselves to be hysterical, gullible, power-mad fools. If they have had their powers limited, it is their own fault.

The program clearly stated that some children had been abused, but did not provide any grounds for the claim. It radically underplayed the fact that most of the children involved had not been abused. It failed to tell the listeners the fact that Cleveland was an anti-family, anti-male witch-hunt, orchestrated for political reasons by radical feminists. It failed to point out that law-abiding families were torn apart, and that dozens of innocent fathers were accused of anally raping their children under the noses of their wives.

The BBC is not the only mainstream media outlet which continues to defend the witch-hunts. An article (originally published in 1989) in Health Matters, which bills itself as ‘Serious coverage of today's health service and public health issues’, states: “The concentration on how professionals handled the situation they found themselves in does nothing for the Rape Crisis movement or for Women’s Aid groups which are still getting on with the business of dealing with the same problems as ever - problems rooted in male attitudes to women… For all his outrageous behaviour, MP Stuart Bell still command (sic) massive support in his Middlesborough constituency”. Unbelievable. The ‘Rape Crisis movement’ and ’Women’s Aid groups’ are the very source of the problem. These people are motivated by a radical ideological agenda which seeks to destroy the family and demonise men. Stuart Bell enjoys the support of his constituents because they enjoy his support. He was brave, honest and intelligent enough to stand up to the anti-family witch-hunt destroying his community. The Health Matters article is a disgraceful piece, dripping with feminist ideological dogma and anti-male bias. The author has the gall to suggest that the people are wrong to support their Member of Parliament; that by defending the interests of his constituents, he is somehow unfit for office. Thus we see the feminist contempt for democracy laid bare. It concludes, “Cleveland will not easily lose its association with the ‘unmentionable’ crime. But the chance to become known for bringing a new approach to male violence seems increasingly remote”

A more balanced approach is taken by The Sunday Sun, a local paper from the north-east.

What is never mentioned by these various sources is the effect that the case had on the fathers who were wrongly accused. No-one speaks for them.

The message is clear: Those responsible for the Cleveland witch-hunt still believe that they were right, and that the system failed them. They are waiting in the wings for another opportunity to destroy families, and separate children from their fathers by using false accusations. These people will not stop until they are forcibly stopped.