15-minute read (plus 1-minute supplementary case study)
The sexual abuse money trail.
Suddenly courage is everywhere. Not the kind that sees a helpless child piggy-backed to safety from an inferno but subtler social courage, the kind that impels people to do or say what they think is right in the face of hostility, ostracism or a career freeze.
Except that sometimes it isn't courage at all. Was Meghan Markle brave to suggest to Oprah Winfrey that she'd contemplated suicide? How about Josh Cavallo? In October 2021 the Adelaide United footballer came out as gay and was universally lauded as heroic. Professional Footballers Australia tweeted that "It takes a huge amount of courage to come out." Former Lionesses footballer Fara Williams said she expected no resistance from other players – so no bravery on that score – but "it's society, fans and social media and the backlash of that." Yet no such backlash occurred. The once thundering conservative anti-gays uttered not so much as a timorous peep of protest, and all I read or heard was enthusiastic support. This must prompt us to ask Meghan and Josh, if everyone calls you brave, how are you brave? You've exposed yourself to what potential social disadvantage?
That's the way it is for sexual abuse victims or complainants who go public. It wasn't once, but it certainly is now. In what follows I'll consider what really counts as courage in the realm of sexual crime. As with everything I've written on this site, I'll concentrate on the wrong side of the narrative: the falsely convicted and their loved ones, the retractors, the heretical writers and academics, even the thick-skinned nominal survivors. This doesn't mean I lack sympathy for those genuine victims of sexual violence who really have been irretrievably damaged. It just means that this article isn't about them.
About thirty years ago "Helen", the wife of a friend, confided to me that she'd been sexually abused by "Tom", a mutual acquaintance, when she was about ten and he was perhaps thirteen. This would have been in the 1960s. "Terrible," I said. "How did that affect you?" She shrugged and said, "I just didn't really know what he was doing."
Such a response is unthinkable now. Back then, children did receive the standard "stranger danger" warning, but it was vague and sanitised, so that most didn't know exactly what it meant. I'm sure I didn't. They weren't warned about any threat from members of their peer group or from lecherous adults in whose care they may have been placed. Helen's response suggested that she didn't tell her parents about the sexual assault. If she had, what would they have done? Phoned Tom's parents and demanded he keep his hands to himself, perhaps. It was technically a crime even then, but police would probably have laughed it off as natural – if slightly rogue – childhood sexual curiosity.
We can't and shouldn't go back. It counts as progress that even quite young children have been made aware of the need to stay safe from the predators who would take advantage of them. However, the pendulum effect has produced a grievance industry which has evolved to wring all it can from real and imagined harm from real and imagined sexual crime, especially connected to events from decades earlier.
On August 18 2021 Lesley-Ann Jones wrote an article in The Times (Rock's MeToo Moment has Arrived) about the brand new accusation that octogenicon Bob Dylan had sexually abused a twelve-year-old girl, referred to simply as JC, way back in 1965. Jones wrote that Dylan
is also accused of threatening violence, scarring the child emotionally and causing her psychological damage that she is still blighted with.
Her article is predictably clever in one respect – she works lyrics from Dylan's songs into her text – but in another respect less so: she's in thrall to the #believethevictim gospel, labelling false sexual allegations "extremely rare". This is nonsense, as I've already explained in A Lesser Tragedy and more specifically Figuring the Figures, on this site. Jones graciously extends to Dylan the right to be presumed innocent, but the prevailing tone of the article suggests he's almost certainly guilty – which, of course, he may be. She concedes incidentally that Dylan "is said to be sitting on £250 million" but she dismisses any notion that JC might have made the allegations up – or overplayed the effects – in order to claim a share. Yet even a tiny slice of that loot would transform any normal citizen's life, blighted or unblighted, so some skepticism is surely warranted.
Jones also says that JC has been courageous in making her claim in the face of inevitable accusations that she's a liar and a gold-digger. If that's the worst she has to fear, facing it isn't what I'd call courage. It's become normal for columnists and politicians to call sexual abuse claimants brave, especially if they waive anonymity. Yet I'm not convinced they are; at least, not in regard to reputation. She may be making it up, in which case she certainly isn't courageous. Neither is she courageous if it happened but she's exaggerating the effects in the way that my friend's wife Helen (above) had no motivation to do, because she had no recourse to compensation. The state didn't pay, and Tom's parents didn't have pockets as deep as Bob Dylan's.
If her claims are true, and if her experience was so traumatic that having to recount the details to a tribunal still causes her to shudder in horror, then JC is indeed courageous to pursue the case, but how can we know that's true? Granted, things were once different. Until a couple of generations ago, the taint of pre-marital sexual experience for any woman or girl was indelible, whether her participation was willing or unwilling. In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman's son Happy says of one of his romantic conquests, "I went and ruined her." Ruined. Some societies preserve this skewed and misogynistic attitude towards feminine purity: in rural Pakistan, rape victims can even be prosecuted.
In twenty-first century America, JC has no more to worry about in her country than gay Australian footballer Josh Cavallo in his. A few skeptics may vilify her, but vast numbers of #believethevictim sympathisers will enfold her in a warm blanket of support. If Dylan did indeed do these things, we can perhaps assume that JC is patient, tenacious, even principled – but not necessarily brave. In fact, this misperception of courage hampers our skepticism about the claim of victimhood. It gives us a further reason to be naive – to assume that she can't have made it up when the pain must be unendurable. Yet if it didn't happen there's no pain. In fact, there may be none even if it did happen. If a "survivor" like JC reports decades later, the reason may be political: perhaps she wants a trial to express solidarity with contemporary #metoo claimants. Her lawyers would have to downplay this in court, because any payment from Dylan would require emotional despair rather than commitment to a cause, however noble a compliant jury may consider that cause to be.
What did JC think of Dylan's actions at the time and in subsequent years, and how much does that matter? An article by David Accomazzo in Phoenix New Times after the death of David Bowie in 2016 reported that Lori Maddox (nicknamed Lori Lightning) was a groupie deflowered by Lord Stardust himself when she was fourteen. She and her friend Sable Starr almost came to blows over what they saw as the privilege of having sex with such an icon. The eventual threesome was a happy compromise that appeared to leave everyone satisfied. She said she saw Bowie several times over the next ten years – presumably for more sex – and "It was always great."
US law understandably calls the initial encounter statutory rape: the girls were under age and their enthusiasm is irrelevant. Yet we must be entitled to ask some questions here about trauma, compensation and the passage of time. Maddox appears to have no regrets at all – quite the opposite. If Dylan did indeed abuse JC, how do we know she wasn't similarly flattered by the great man's attention, not just at the time but for years after? If Maddox were to change her mind, redefine herself as a victim and seek compensation (and if Bowie were still alive), how genuine should we consider that redefinition?
Many countries have set up schemes to pay victims of sexual crime. For example, the UK has the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). A list of its available payments can be found near the bottom of its web page of a typical law company that specialises in "no win, no fee" claims. Here in New Zealand we have the ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation). It wasn't designed to play any role in this, but it has for some time. It was established in 1974 to compensate victims of accidental injury, and in effect to remove the need for lawsuits. Funding is derived from various sources, including general income taxation and a levy imposed on all companies and the self-employed. Its website (https://www.acc.co.nz/im-injured/what-we-cover/), explains that the ACC pays out for physical injury, not illness, and certainly not emotional issues.
Yet that isn't true. Anyone mentally harmed by sexual abuse can apply for compensation through its "sensitive claims" section. Forget about emotional damage inflicted by any of life's other slings and arrows. You suffered lasting social and economic impairment because your entrepreneurial spirit was shattered after falling victim to a nasty fraud? Or you weren't badly injured after that vicious and unprovoked assault in a bar, but the resulting phobia of even small crowds has affected your social interactions ever since? Forget it, because ACC will quickly show you the door. Beyond physical injury, the ACC pays out only for sexual abuse.
It's been generous with those payments. A "survivor" is entitled to fourteen free counselling sessions, and the bulging file of funded ACC therapy providers embraces fringe alternatives such as dance-yoga, day retreats, art sessions and "breath work". Providers increased from 719 to 2088 between 2014 and 2021. A claimant can also receive tens of thousands of dollars in compensation payments.
Unsurprisingly, there's pressure to keep the cash flowing. Sensitive claims have increased twenty percent per year, and the budget has been veering out of control. Nationally, 33,000 such claims are active in 2021 (from a total population of five million), and ACC paid out $156m in 2020, covering 9132 applications. Any open policy to restrict payment would take too much political courage. This means that, in the face of a budget blowout, ACC now seems to have resorted to bureaucratic obfuscation as a way of keeping a lid on payments. On May 18 2021 Radio New Zealand revealed (Only 5% of sexual abuse claims make it through ACC system | RNZ News) that "ninety-five percent of claimants for sexual abuse compensation are failing to get through the system." The report said that "The vast majority give up their claims for long-term support because they say the process is too traumatic." Only five percent (a total of 280 claimants) were approved in 2020.
When the original counsellor suspects sexual abuse (which they usually do, because that ensures funding), fourteen hours of therapy support are provided by ACC, which is generous enough in itself. Until about ten years ago there was no limit to the number of funded sessions, and of course the survivors tended to be close to total emotional recovery – but their counsellors unsurprisingly diagnosed that they always needed more sessions to get over that always receding finish line.
I remember the minor controversy when funding was pegged back, around a decade ago. Some correspondents wrote letters to the editor supporting reductions, but their adversaries branded them as no better than rape apologists. Yet such a system was clearly open to exploitation, because neither counsellor nor client had any incentive to stop the funded sessions. The counsellor kept plucking leaves from the money tree and the client loved the reassurance which came from the certainty that life would be perfect but for that stain from the misty past. I wasn't surprised to learn from my own false accuser's ex that chatting to her counsellor – partly bankrolled by my own tax payments, of course – was always the highlight of her week.
One advocates' group complains that in order to receive continuing payments in the current regime – not the minor payments for the counselling but the more lucrative ones for the effects of the abuse itself – applicants must have an independent mental health diagnosis confirming that they have the kind of condition which has likely been caused by sexual abuse. If the claimant comes from a generally abusive background, ACC will pay only if an "expert" can isolate the sexual element as the cause of her disaffection or depression (eighty percent of claimants are female).
In A Lesser Tragedy I referred to sexual complainant "Hannah" lambasting the investigation system which had her feeling like "a piece of evidence" despite her abuser eventually being convicted and sentenced. Stop doubting; just believe! Stop interrogating; just convict! This is more of the same but applied to compensation. The functionaries holding the purse strings should stop asking awkward questions and just hand over the money. In 2021 the Green Party launched a petition asking ACC to remove the barriers to compensation, in particular the requirement that after their fourteen free therapy sessions, to get an indefinite extension applicants have to supply an independent diagnosis that sexual abuse has caused their problems. Astonishingly, the Greens would prefer this diagnosis to be optional. They're clearly convinced everyone can be trusted.
Requiring claimants to retell their stories may be re-traumatising, according to Natalie Thorburn of Women's Refuge. "Victims know if they need support," she said. "It is rare for people to lie about abuse." This is a masterpiece of naivety. Thorburn is implying that the sole judge of whether someone should receive perhaps tens of thousands of dollars is the intended recipient. How many clients would have the courage and the scruples to say, "Actually, I've decided I'm not a sexual abuse victim, so keep your money"?* An initial reaction may be that Thorburn deals with abuse claimants all the time, so she should know if they're being honest, but I don't believe that's true. We're a bias-affirming species, and it's inescapably human to believe those with whom we have built up some rapport, with the result that we can't see the wood for the trees. Maybe Thorburn's front line experience has in fact turned her into a poor judge of who's telling the truth.
Some certainly aren't, and on rare occasions false accusers have retracted their allegations. In one New Zealand example, a Dunedin teenager in 2017 spectacularly admitted right in the middle of a trial that her allegations from 2013, when she was thirteen, had been fabricated during a time when she'd been having family troubles. The trial was of course abandoned. In A Lesser Tragedy I commented in some detail on ways the media, the judge and especially Dunedin Rape Crisis had missed the lessons that could have been learnt from the abandonment of this trial. The girl was brave to follow her conscience and bring the vast justice juggernaut to a screeching halt. How many other wrongful accusers lack this virtue?
There are two discrete reasons to be skeptical about compensation claims for sexual abuse. Question one is "Did it happen?" This is hard to answer, because sexual crime – like consensual sexual activity – obviously tends to occur in private. If a friend or relative claims to be a victim of sexual abuse, it's callous to challenge them on facts, but when the stakes ramp up – notably when a named suspect or a stash of taxpayers' money is involved – we must summon the courage to discard the now sacred #believethevictim assumption.
Some people simply lie about sexual crime – for revenge, for money, for a handy excuse, for leverage in a custody dispute, for a combination of reasons or for no apparent reason at all. A fuller list of reasons to make a false sexual allegation can be found in Bob Mellors' False Allegation Motives, on this site. Others sincerely believe they have been sexually abused when they haven't. This is especially common for those in therapy, after consulting a counsellor, who may have chosen that vocation because she is already one of the faithful. Her clients are disaffected people jostling each other on the platform, keen to get a seat on the victim express, which will take them far away from their despair into a nirvana where all the scum of their lives can be rebranded as someone else's fault. The benefits can be considerable. The late Barbara Hewson wrote in Ros Burnett's book Wrongful Allegations of Sexual and Child Abuse that self-defined victimhood "may include psychological, financial, legal, social and symbolic rewards."
I've read two other books that have dared to challenge the comfortable victim narrative. Richard Vos, in Dad, I wish I was Normal, records in unsettling detail the despair he endured from his wife's irrational insistence that their normal young daughter had been sexually abused. Meredith Moran, in My Lie, offered a poignant account of her time as a member of a group who were convinced they were victims of long-forgotten sexual abuse. Unlike Vos's wife, Moran came to see the truth and had the courage to admit it – hence the title. A woman I know through Twitter joined a Facebook group of people who were just itching for a certainty – in the form of repressed sexual abuse – which would explain away all their sadness and inadequacies. They expected nothing less than incest in their infancy and couldn't wait for this diagnosis – not for facts but for a Markle/Winfrey-style "truth" that would heal them.
Hard though it is to decide whether the abuse occurred, question two is even harder: “What were the effects on the victim?” Question one is about facts which can be verified, at least in theory, though usually not in practice. It either happened or it didn't. Question two drags us deep into the labyrinth of psychology. We live in an age in which it seems every other person's life has been destroyed. Nothing prolongs trauma more than the conviction that it's permanent. When claimants say they can no longer function socially or emotionally, how can we know it's true – just because they say so? Even if psychiatrists observe their behaviour and confirm their condition, how can they know that the cause of that impairment was in fact what the “victims” claim it was? Perhaps that sexual assault twenty years earlier didn't affect them profoundly until a counsellor convinced them that it did and attached a confected "survivor" label. Does all this mean I don't trust the experts to sniff out fake trauma? Quite right, I don't – just as James Randi, that famous magician and debunker of the paranormal, didn't trust scientists to detect charlatans. As he put it, scientists are used to dealing with mother nature, who doesn't cheat.
The unspoken assumption underlying the victim/survivor branding is that there can be no such thing as a minor sexual crime – one that is distasteful but not damaging. Yet there can be, and it takes courage to assert this, in the face of universal disgust at such a personal violation. Some victims have suffered terribly, and for them survivor is a fitting term. Others are exploiting a distasteful but venial offence. English actor and social commentator Stephen Fry said, rather provocatively, in an interview on The Rubin Report in 2016 that he had some sympathy for people who have suffered sexual abuse, but couldn't tolerate what he regarded as their lingering self pity. Stoicism is still a virtue.
In my book, Dry Ice, I mentioned the case of Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde. In her autobiography, Reckless, she recounts that decades ago she was sexually abused by a group of motorcycle gang members who said they would take her home. Instead they took her somewhere else and performed unspecified indecencies on her against her will. If she still has any anger, it is only with herself for her carelessness.
Hynde goes too far in taking full responsibility, but Stephen Fry would admire her gritty resilience. She obviously hasn’t forgotten the crime the bikers committed (no sign of a repressed memory here, then), but she seems to have shaken off its effects. "Survivors" would do well to respect her as a role model. She has been tough enough not to have let this incident define her as a permanent victim, or to become bitter about men or about life in general. She is in fact the strongest kind of sexual abuse survivor: the kind who dismisses it as just one of those volleys that life fires at all of us from time to time.
So far I've dealt with individual cases, but it's important to include claims of historical sexual abuse in institutions. These are similar in some respects, but numbers can be huge: with national investigations, tens of thousands of claimants are sometimes involved. Apart from the scale, the other notable difference from individual claims is that many more of the claimants are male. There's no question that terrible crimes have been committed in institutions, and they've been ignored or covered up. Consequences for some victims have been devastating, and it's appropriate to investigate and compensate.
However, this determination to right those wrongs has seen many blameless priests, carers and teachers imprisoned. Most prominently in the UK, police have been on a crusade for some years now to prosecute alleged offenders for historical sexual abuse, especially in institutions. In a process labelled "trawling", they interview potential complainants in the hope of uncovering an historical crime, which they can then "solve" and boost their crime clearance rates. In the worst examples, this is rather like a fire department starting fires and then getting praised for extinguishing them. One complaint of historical abuse with no corroboration may not be enough to get a conviction, so other potential complainants may leap on board, often with the lure of huge compensation. This isn't investigating crimes in the interests of justice. Rather, it's investigating institutions in the interests of convictions.
Imagine that the police track down and interview fifty former residents of an orphanage. Thirty say that it was a grim place and the discipline was harsh but, looking back, they now think the staff performed adequately. Fifteen are positive, some even enthusiastic, saying that they were provided warmth and security. Five are still bitter about their treatment and either were abused or are willing to claim that they were. That will do: police and prosecution will be happy that five former residents are willing to pursue the case through to trial, confident that's a sufficient number for quantity evidence to replace quality evidence. The jury members, caught up in the sexual abuse hysteria that has convinced them that children must be protected from these perverts who lurk under every rock, get a whiff of something resembling smoke, assume a corresponding fire and will probably convict. They will have no inkling of police trawling methods and will say of the complainants, "They can't all be making it up." Their sense of civic responsibility is too high to risk leaving a paedophile free to roam the streets.
I have no doubt that many genuine claimants have been profoundly affected. However, we should remember that many of them had already suffered in their early lives. They ended up in such institutions because they were orphans or had already suffered abuse or neglect. I doubt that even expert psychiatrists can isolate the effects of the sexual abuse and determine that as single or predominant cause of any later problems. It's hardly surprising that some adults, especially those whom life has treated unkindly, would look back on their childhood and want to get revenge on a strict schoolteacher, one who for example gave them detentions for not doing their homework – or worse. If the claims go back far enough, they may involve vicious corporal punishment.
Astonishingly, the police collectively see nothing wrong with such trawling. This ethical blindness, like sexual abuse itself, is an institutional crime that can have frightening consequences. The late campaigner for the wrongly accused, Richard Webster (author of that masterwork exposing false accusations in institutions, The Secret of Bryn Estyn), stressed the despair caused by police trawls. His article Do you care to go to jail (richardwebster.org) mentioned the case of the social worker "Jonathan Parkes". Parkes became the subject of a police trawling operation. His defence team tracked down a former resident of the home where he had worked. They intended to use this resident as a character witness because he "spoke highly of Parkes and praised the standards of care at the home." The witness then asked why former residents would make claims that weren't true, and was told about compensation of up to £10,000. Later that same day this former resident went to his local police station and lodged a complaint of historical sexual abuse against Parkes.
I thought of this as I read an article in The Times on October 5 2021 (French Catholic church covered up abuse of 330,000 children) about the just-released report led by ex-public servant Jean-Marc Sauvé on clerical abuse, reaching back to 1950. The numbers were higher and the suffering worse than expected. The cover-ups were, if anything, even more disturbing: Sauvé condemned the church for showing "profound and even cruel indifference" to the plight of the victims.
No doubt outrages happened, and possibly on an industrial scale. No doubt, also, the suffering of some victims has been so traumatic and their lives so badly affected that they deserve financial compensation. Yet these words from Sauvé niggle at me:
The church must financially compensate all the victims of the paedophile crimes, whether or not they could be proven and “must not view the payments as a gift but as a duty," he added.
"Whether or not they can be proven." The task of separating wheat from chaff among the 330,000 is so overwhelming that no one in the church or the government will even attempt it. The likely result is that a staggering billion or so euros will be paid out indiscriminately as an act of institutional contrition to deserving and undeserving alike. If there is any mechanism to prevent unscrupulous chancers from gaming the system, what could that mechanism possibly be?
The same has happened elsewhere. In Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse labelled all claimants as victims or survivors. It was decided not to question them, in order not to retraumatise them. The Commission recommended compensation of up to $150,000 each. Some payments already made in the USA have also been huge: the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $774 million to 508 victims of child sexual abuse.
It's become brave to challenge the compulsory superlatives. Sexual crime must be considered as devastating as a self-defined victim chooses to make it. Its effects are necessarily overwhelming, and always permanent without benign interference by counsellors and the state. Sexual predation must be seen as widespread and increasing. No matter how much of the iceberg we've seen, it will always be just the tip.
Mark Smith, Professor of Social Work at the University of Dundee (and former manager in residential child care), is one academic who's resisted this tide of automatic trauma acceptance. He directed me towards research questioning the assumption that sexual abuse necessarily has long-term deleterious effects. It's become unacceptable even to mention such research, as the Rind controversy (The Rind Controversy (mhamic.org) confirms. Yet the findings don't discard the conviction that sexual offences are real – they would still rightly be called abuse and considered crimes – but they nudge the emphasis away from inescapable lasting harm and towards the unethical and exploitative nature of the offence. This would be an enlightened shift.
What, then, counts as social courage when it comes to sexual abuse claims? In this article I've mentioned people on the unfashionable side of the narrative whom I'd consider courageous, in different ways and to various degrees. However, no one matches the courage of a New Zealand couple I've come to know, who have been made victims of victimhood. There are many such couples. They're the kind of true survivors the public sympathy radar never detects because theirs are stories no politician or journalist is brave enough to tell.
He's in a North Island jail, about halfway through a thirteen-year sentence for the historical rape of his daughter. He was convicted after a trial which lacked any evidence beyond the teary but contradictory testimony of the complainant herself – who was obviously put up to the allegation by her mother, the imprisoned man's embittered ex-wife. Some exculpatory evidence was ruled inadmissible, and the rest apparently ignored by the jury. He's almost certainly innocent. If he'd killed his daughter and admitted it he'd be free by now, but parole is unlikely because he takes the brave and principled stand of refusing to admit to a crime he hasn't committed. His second wife has stuck with him despite the forced separation and the financial ruin, and despite the terrible social and emotional damage from attitudes encompassed in that infuriating and condescending comment: "The wives are the last to know." It's insulting to assume her loyalty is a triumph of heart over brain: she supports him because every day she relives in bitter detail the plain facts of his trial and the many ways it was a miscarriage of justice.
Meanwhile, his daughter has no doubt received praise for her courage in pursuing the case through court. After all, she was supposedly the helpless one, on the weak side of the assumed power imbalance between predatory father and guileless daughter. She therefore belongs to the group we've become duty bound to label as victims of the patriarchy. In fact, the terrifying might of the state reversed these power roles. She may talk about trauma, but her father lives it.
As a bonus, she's also probably received tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, she'd say that no amount of money could ever undo the harm, but she'd be willing to give it a chance. It would be far less than the pot of gold Dylan's accuser JC stands to gain, but surely enough to show the naivety of assuming accusers have no incentive to fabricate the facts or hype the effects.
What's bravery? There are less comfortable kinds of martyrdom than being a self-declared victim of a sexual crime that never occurred. It shows courage to press on with life, even through sexual crime that has been real and damaging.
* ACC Case Study: "Andrea"
In around 2017 a father made contact with me to tell me the story of "Andrea", his adult daughter. She had struggled with debilitating panic attacks and depression. She was having counselling for this and PTSD was suspected. Andrea was highly anxious and, following leading questions, Andrea accused her father of historical and ongoing sexual abuse. However, she would not report this to the police.
Despite no evidence and glaring inconsistencies in her accounts, ACC "experts" accepted the sexual abuse diagnosis and paid out $37,000 over sixteen years. Over time Andrea’s guilt compounded and her self-worth deteriorated as therapy focussed on getting her to accept that her father was a paedophile. The reality was Andrea loved her father and his love and support for her was unconditional. She regretted ever making this allegation and on many occasions she attempted to retract it, but this was seen as her believing she was the perpetrator and not the victim, in a Kafkaesque debate.
Confirmation bias prevailed and the hole Andrea had initially dug only got deeper, with her mental health deteriorating further. She stopped ACC payment after a year due to compounding guilt and loss of self worth, but free ACC counselling and therapy continued for sixteen years. The family were falsely seen as dysfunctional and kept at arm’s length, with any input or history regarding their daughter ignored. Family members were never aware of this allegation, despite ongoing contact with Andrea, and to protect them she astutely deflected any questions relating to her care. ACC’s and Mental Health’s strict privacy policies enabled this, and acted as a "circuit-breaker" between reality and the increasingly improbable tales.
However, after eighteen years of declining mental health, Andrea courageously faced the fact that she had to do something to try to change the downward spiral her life was taking. She came to her parents and told them the whole shocking story. She didn't know what the future would hold and she was frightened of doing something wrong, but was still willing to navigate these uncharted waters. She was mentally drained but saw this disclosure as her last chance. However, she underestimated the reaction from Mental Health and ACC. They suspected coercion, even though the parents had no previous knowledge of this allegation. Andrea was devastated. What she thought was a positive step had now been complicated by Mental Health. The family were still marginalised and no family therapy or change in direction happened.
To be quite fair, it is now apparent that a very small number of clinicians over these sixteen years appeared to harbour reservations about the accusations, but no one ever explored the inconsistencies further. Most wholeheartedly accepted the accusations as truth.
In desperation, Andrea retracted her claim with ACC a year later and wrote a letter exonerating her father. ACC took no action because of her high anxiety and fragile mental health. Isolated and alone, severely depressed, having lost all hope of a better life, she committed suicide.
Sixteen years of a confirmation bias and extreme gullibility cost the country $37,000. Andrea was left with irreparable psychological damage and a loving family was traumatised, with no redress or accountability.