Child abuse at Lake Alice in New Zealand is one of the topics the Age reported about in 2008. “Disgraced former psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks” had lost his appeal against a former patient. Leeks had to pay $55’000 in damages for sexual assault.
Leeks had been under investigation for using electric shock aversion therapy in the 70s to punish children. The damages were awarded in August 2006 by County Court Judge Jim Duggan who found that Leeks had taken advantage of his patient for his own sexual gratification. Duggan called Leeks’ behaviour “reprehensible and a gross dereliction of duty.”
Leeks escaped further disgrace and trials by promising not to practice ever again when he was faced with the long-awaited investigation by the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria. The board spent eight years investigating Leeks’ treatment of children at the notorious Lake Alice Hospital near Wanganui.
In the 70s, Leeks was in charge of the child and adolescent unit. His punishments included pain-inducing injections aside from electro shock therapy (ECT). He moved to Australia in 1978 after two inquiries into his use of ECT.
In a 2001 class action suit, approx. 100 ex-Lake Alice patients were awarded $NZ 6.5 million ($AU5.57 million) in compensation. They also received a public apology from Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Paul Zentveld was one of Lake Alice’s victims. He was admitted to Lake Alice five times as a teenager. He stated that he “was one of several males at the child and adolescent unit who were punished by being given electro-convulsive “therapy” on their genitals.”
Paul was punished for bed-wetting with electro shock therapy. A urologist later found out that his bedwetting was actually a medical condition and not a result of misbehavior. Paul said that he was punished on eight occasions each involving three separate shocks without anesthetics.
Electric shock therapy or low-level electric current therapy (ECT) was used as “aversion therapy” to treat behaviour disorders. The definition is as follows: electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure, done under general anesthesia, where small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses.
However, ECT was never been medically approved for this purpose. Furthermore, applying ECT at genitals or knees could be harmful causing long-term psychological problems and would not meet the brief seizure as described.
An inquiry by retired New Zealand High Court Judge Sir Rodney Gallen found that the Lake Alice children were controlled by “aversion therapy,” were forced to help move the ECT machine into the room where it was used, and were made to watch as it was administered to other children. All former patients at the inquiry spoke about the screaming which other children could easily hear.
New Zealand police claimed for years to be investigating the complaints to see if any criminal activity occurred that would call for criminal charges. But in 2009, they ended that investigation and nobody of the Lake Alice staff was prosecuted. “The UN’s committee against torture has raised concerns and sent the Government a please-explain letter over the stalled police investigation into claims of child torture at the former Lake Alice psychiatric hospital.”
On the blog Kiwi Justice, we see that in 2015 “the board had been investigating Dr. Leeks for seven years. Last week it wrote to the complainants, saying that after receiving Dr. Leeks’ undertaking, it had decided not to proceed with a formal hearing into his professional conduct.” As mentioned above, he stopped his practice.
This is disturbing.
A medical professional violates his oath and the law by exposing children to torture. But when he promises he will never play doctor again, he does not need to be put on trial. What kind of justice is that? If I torture a child I will go to trial. If I promise that I will never do it again I will still go to trial. This proves there is justice for a select few and then there is justice for the rest of us.
This whole story centers on lack of impartiality and impunity. The government polices itself and as long as some promise to never do it again, they are let off the hook. But the victims still suffer.
I’d like to introduce you to “Malcolm“. He was admitted to Lake Alice when he was a child. ECT has caused memory loss. In Malcolm’s words: “The following are some of the things I forget: the names of people and places. When the title of a film is mentioned I may have a vague idea that I have seen it, but cannot remember what it is about.
I don’t like reading much as by page 2 or 3, I start to lose what is happening in the book and have to reread it just gets to frustrating. My family tells me the outlines and I am able to remember other things at the same time 70 % of the time and the rest just can’t recall any of what they are saying.
I forget to post letters and to buy small things such as toothpaste, I put things away in such safe places that when they are needed it takes hours to find them.”
You can read more about the history of Lake Alice here. If you wish to see photography of the inside of the hospital, check out Nathan’s blog. For more posts about child abuse especially for the United Kingdom go to the blog Researching Reform from Natasha Phillips.