CESSNOCK sexual abuse centre Heal for Life has admitted there was ‘‘excessive discussion’’ of ‘‘cults’’ during a damaging period that included satanic ritual allegations, and founder Liz Mullinar’s claim that 500 people had reported being victims of satanic ritual abuse.
In a letter last week, the Heal for Life board told a former staff member, who left in April last year because of serious concerns about the handling of the matter, that ‘‘management will in future try to put a dampener on any such discussions’’.
‘‘Such discussions have never been a feature of healing programs themselves, and that obviously continues to be the case,’’ Heal for Life chairman Richard Harper wrote.
But the former staff member, psychologist Di Frost, and former Heal for Life board member and benefactor Graham Oborn, said they remained concerned about the centre and dismayed at the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission’s refusal to investigate Heal for Life’s response to the satanic ritual allegations.
In July this year, the commission confirmed it would not investigate the handling of a number of allegations that were based on the ‘‘recovered memories’’ of a sexual abuse survivor who became a staff member, who alleged other sexual abuse survivors who were also staff members had engaged in satanic ritual abuse involving people staying at the centre.
At least one staff member was made redundant after the allegations.
The commission acknowledged the ‘‘abuse was alleged to have involved satanic ritual abuse, which included the murder of babies, coerced sexual activities and cruelty to animals’’.
‘‘The complaint stated the volunteers were encouraged to recover those memories and that this posed a serious mental health issue for those concerned,’’ the commission said.
It acknowledged Ms Frost’s complaint was accompanied by eight letters of support from people formerly associated with the centre. But it confirmed an earlier decision not to investigate because the Health Care Complaints Act requires complaints to be about conduct affecting a client, and not staff.
The commission acknowledged Ms Frost’s concerns that volunteers and staff members were vulnerable because they were also former clients, but it said Heal for Life ‘‘makes a clear distinction between the services it provides to the public, and its relationships with paid and voluntary employees’’.
In his letter to Ms Frost last week, Mr Harper said Ms Mullinar and the Heal for Life board shared Ms Frost’s concerns about the way satanic ritual abuse allegations against one staff member were handled. The staff member was made redundant after the allegations.
The board did not accept that the allegations were true, and it was not the reason the staff member was made redundant, Mr Harper said.
In a letter to the Heal for Life board in June, Ms Frost said she would ‘‘love to see Heal for Life restored to a healthy, professional organisation running amazing programs for survivors of childhood trauma’’.
She endorsed a letter by Mr Oborn to the board in July, in which he called for workers to be registered with national professional bodies.
In a letter in response last week, Mr Harper said Heal for Life’s ethos of ‘‘healing by survivors, for survivors’’ was at odds with Mr Oborn’s view that ‘‘professional organisations’’ were needed to help run the centre.
Mr Harper said the centre had 176 adult guests in 2013. He said 64.8per cent rated the program “life changing”, while 29.5per cent said it was “very positive”, and 5.7per cent “positive”.
FORMER Heal for Life board member Graham Oborn will sever his links with the centre by removing his mother’s name from the cottage he helped establish at the Cessnock site.
Mr Oborn has registered the trademark ‘‘Eva House’’, and will advise the Heal for Life board he will accept its offer to remove the name.
‘‘I’m very saddened because people have given so much to the centre, and there’s been a lot of people getting benefit from it, but I want to distance myself from it,’’ Mr Oborn said.
Eva House opened in 2006 as a place for female sexual abuse victims to live and heal for up to three months.
Mr Oborn rallied business people and the community to build the centre in honour of his mother, who was 19 when her mother died. She was left to raise her nine brothers and sisters on an isolated farm.
Her father died two years later.
Despite the difficulties, Eva Oborn provided her siblings with a safe home.
‘‘That was my aim, to provide a safe home for people who had probably never known one,’’ Mr Oborn said.