Dr Norris said…
Opinion piece: Liz Gregory
Part way through the Girls’ Employment court hearing (Pilgrim case), it was proposed that the judge appoint a Court Expert to help assist her understandings in this unique case. Enter Dr Julie Norris. Forensic Psychiatrist. New Zealand.
She was asked to research and give her expert opinion on a collection of fascinating questions that relate to “High Cost” groups. Of particular focus was to be in the realm of consent, undue influence choice, decision-making, autonomy, capacity etc. and how this might link to a women’s choice to choose things – work life or to leave etc.
Dr Norris was not told the name of the community, but she was given parameters detailing a group that had the features of Gloriavale (a live-in community, wear same clothes, isolated, KJV Bible, educated in the system etc). She did a lot of research on similar groups and also mentioned the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, among others, displaying similarities. Norris called them High Cost groups.
It’s an excellent word to describe groups like Gloriavale. Others called them cults, high-demand groups, thought control groups, new religious movements etc. But High Cost was a new word to enter the cultisphere. And I like it. You see, with groups like this there is a high cost to join and a high cost to exit. These high costs impact the perceived choices and real choices.
Norris pulled together so much fascinating research and read her report aloud in court, before being cross-examined by all the lawyers. Ms Catran was the Govt lawyer who spent a lot of time asking questions, followed by Samuel Valor from Gloriavale. I hung off every word, while I am sure others may have found it a bit dry and academic. But my head just couldn’t stop nodding throughout! It was all very familiar – both from the vast amount of reading I have done on the topic, and lining it up with the lived experiences of people leaving Gloriavale, and friends who have left other high-cost groups.
Here are some new words to look out for: High Cost, Mormon Face, Social Entrapment, Sea Change, Exit Journey
Here are the discussions that I was particularly drawn to:
Decision Making Steps & Factors
Dr Norris presented the stages of decision making and Ms Catran asked whether members of a high-cost religious community are impacted in their ability to undertake some of these steps? Dr Norris agreed that influence and context can affect the range of choices that a person considers available and what they regard the risks and benefits. She agreed that Step One is understanding a choice needs to be made. But if there is no ability to make a decision, then it may not be a step.
(Liz note: This is key. If the levels of influence and control are so high, then you can’t rightly say there is even a choice. No decision is actually being made, or can be freely exercised. The choice is “illusionary” as the judge noted. )
Nature of Decision-Making and Context
In order to help people understand there is always a context for decision making, Dr Norris gave an example of choosing what you have for breakfast. She said, “There will be circumstances – are you in a hurry? Do you need to grab a coffee? Are you going to have the last muesli? That’s the kind of context, that choice. It’s quite a minor choice but when you’re making any decision you’re not going to be just weighing up usually simple factors. If I’m thinking about moving house, all the factors associated with it – impact on your job, family, neighbours, children, environment that they’re living in. It’s all the different aspects that a person has to consider and reject and prioritise to make that choice. It’s not just the place where the choice is made, it’s all the emotional and personal factors that are part of it as well.“
Is there really a choice?
Norris said, you need to look at whether the choices are freely available or is there actually no choice because there is no option for whatever reason, or factors exist to reduce that option.
Hot & Cold Decisions
Norris talked about the difference between cold decisions which are intellectual, and hot decisions which are more emotional. She noted that adolescents develop cold decision-making skills earlier but capacity for making hot decisions takes longer. She noted the role of undue influence and that adolescents are more susceptible to authority figures, parents or others. That does influence their decisions.
Ms Catran asked her what kind of influences could they be subject to or worried about? Dr Norris said in a general work context if there’s an authority figure telling you something to do, and you’re not sure about it, then it could be potentially more difficult for an adolescent to challenge that than an adult. It might involve more pushing back against authority or against your peer group.
Ms Catran and Norris has a discussion about bigger decisions – like career paths, job choice, asking to switch to a new job etc. Ms Catran gave an example about a woman assigned the job of sewing in the sewing room but she would like to become an ECE teacher. She asked if it would be hot or cold decision to make? Dr Norris said it would depend on what the experience has been of others who had made such a decision. If it had been a positive experience for that person or their peers and there were no negatives, or downsides, or even if it was something that could create debate but it was manageable and the person could work through it, she still believed there would be an emotional component to it because that’s quite a lot to consider. But if it was a situation where the person was seen to be challenging the values of the community, the person’s specified role, and there could be an impact on them or their family, etc then that would be a much more emotionally fraught decision.
Ms Catran asked what if there was nothing to compare it to? If no one had tried this before but you thought you might give it a go? Dr Norris said she believed these are the most challenging decisions for people to make. There’s a lot involved for anyone who breaks the glass ceiling – especially if they know there are risks.
Ms Catran said and taking it a step further, say they wanted to leave the sewing room and do a job which is not traditionally seen as a women’s job eg working on the farm. Would that be a hot or cold decision?
Dr Norris, replied, “If the woman felt there was no way she could express that in a way that was safe, that would be listened to, that would be respected, I guess that’s an example of the person maybe not feeling that a free choice can be made.”
Dr Norris in her report write, “There is often, in this kind of high-cost religious community, a minimal opportunity to test and learn from calculated but potentially risky choices if there is no exposure to an alternate setting and experiencing life outside.” Catran wanted to know if lack of experience of previous risky choices just means you don’t have the information required to make the decision? Dr Norris said if you have a limited situation or you’ve only got one particular experience, that might be the only experience that you can bring to that choice. Even if you’ve got a theoretical knowledge of other choices.
(Liz note: This helps us understand the belief of the people in Gloriavale who fully believe that they have the ability to make informed decisions in the group. They don’t have other experiences to bring to the table.)
Role of Women & Making Choices
Dr Norris’ commented about women in these groups and the impact that has on their ability to make choices on education, work, contraception and family etc. Catran wanted to know whether a womman in a high-cost religious community is unlikely to even understand that there could be a choice to do something other that the prescribed role? Dr Norris said she believed if you’ve only got one experience to draw on it’s going to affect whether you think a choice is needed, how that choice might be made, what you think that choice could be. It comes back to that concept of a perception of choice. If you only have one experience it could be difficult to look outside that experience.
Can you refuse work?
Dr Norris wrote, “In my opinion an individual living within a community with the characteristics identified is likely to struggle to refuse any aspect of the assigned role whether this is education and work options or relationship choices due to their lifetime experience of living within the values and rules of their community and their lack of experience living outside those values and rules.”
Prospect of Leaving and Ostracism
Ms Catran commented that one of the more difficult aspects of life in a high-cost religious community is the prospect of leaving or ostracism. She asked Dr Norris is that prospect of ostracism is likely to be in the background or in the foreground for some of these decisions that people have to make within the community? Dr Norris said if it’s something that is actually quite frequent, highly present, highly feared, very relevant, and of concern and has been witnessed or experienced by others then it would be a much higher, more present influence. If something is so high a threat that you think you might be thrown out of your community, separated from your family, isolated from everything you know, I think by definition it’s an emotional influence so it’s going to have that hot aspect.
Threat to one’s soul
Ms Catran said, “Taking it a step higher, in the community we’ve described to you there is a potential threat to one’s immortal soul if one does some things which are perceived to be highly sinful. Is this threat likely to be in the mind of a person constantly when making these kinds of decisions about work, or is that only really going to come into play for a much more serious decision or does it depend?” Dr Norris replied it would come down to if a person very strongly felt that their soul or their afterlife or their future was dependent upon doing what they were required to do.
Dr Norris was asked about the about the documents that people sign in the Community (eg Declaration of Commitment or Partnership). With the Commitment the members agreed they were willing to submit themselves to the community and to each other and to abide by the rules of the community, and that there was some ceremony around it and it and it was signed in front of the community. Norris said that somebody might be very happy to sign, that there might be others who feels that they must sign it because they must do so to stay, to be involved.
Independent legal advice?
Norris questioned whether the advice was independent if the lawyers were engaged by the community and noted that it could add to undue influence, and impact decision-making for someone who had doubts. She also noted others may not have felt like they needed legal advice.
Obedience and Unity
Ms Catran talked to Dr Norris about the requirement for obedience and unity and whether it would loom large in the mind of a person when making those kinds of day-to-day choices. Dr Norris said depended on the experience that’s gone before in that particular circumstance. If it’s been very negative or difficult or very challenging for that person or someone they knew, that would make it a harder decision to make.
Ms Catran suggested it was a kind of risk assessment where you look at all the possible outcomes of the decision. She wanted to know if the value of obedience or unity had been internalised, whether it would have a high impact on the decision? Dr Norris said she believed that would influence the person to think very carefully about the decision particularly if they felt that that obedience was somehow going to be challenged in their community, their place in the community, what they understood, and what they felt was right.
Leaving and Remaining Narratives
Ms Catran and Norris discussed the difference in narratives between leavers and people who remain. At the most extreme, each side could discount the other’s narrative using some heuristics. The leavers could say that the people who remain are either brainwashed or are putting on a face. The literature talks about a Mormon face where you’re hiding your true feelings and putting on a face, the outward appearance of obedience and happiness. The literature also talked about living dualistically where you have a cognitive dissonance between your actions and your internal processes. On the other hand the members who remain could say that leavers are affected by negativity bias and hindsight bias.
(Liz note: This was something that initially made the original investigations difficult. The narratives were so diverse from the current members and leavers. I believe this is why Dr Norris was brought into the court case, to assist the judge in her understanding of the evidence).
Exit Journey Steps
Catran & Norris had a discussion about the psychological processes people go through when making the decision to leave, and also the studies of leavers’ experiences of leaving and developing a new identity.
Catran said, “the process can start with something going wrong, either suffering or witnessing a traumatic event, or it might start with a simple disagreement on doctrine where the member just doesn’t agree with something that’s been said and that creates a cognitive dissonance for them. Then they progress along what is called an exit journey which has many stops and starts. It’s not a linear journey. It typically includes something jarring, either the traumatic event seen or experienced or the difference in doctrine which is then leads to a process of research and where the person investigates that jarring thing or that aspect of the religion, re-thinking the problem, scrutinising doctrine previously accepted and an in-depth process of analysis. Then there’s also often a feeling of guilt or backlash for having done that scrutinising, then disagreement which might mean the exit journey pauses for a bit and then it repeats. Something else might happen. Some other jarring aspect, another period of re- thinking, another period of pausing and that might happen several times over a long period and we’re talking years in some cases. Then eventually the disaffiliation is so strong that the person decides to leave. They may not do so immediately. There are many pull factors leading them to stay but eventually they leave and again sometimes those pull factors may cause them to return for a period and then they may leave again. Of course that is not a one-size fits all process but that’s my interpretation of those studies I just mentioned.”
Norris agreed and said some people are also directed to leave as well, which can make it psychologically more difficult because they may not have gone through that very complex personal journey. There may be more mental distress involved and it may be harder for that person to move on and move forward. But they could still come to that resolution point.
Catran asked whether choosing to leave voluntarily is easier than being thrown out, because the person leaving has been able to exercise agency over the decision. Dr Norris said she believed it may be easier if somebody’s gone through that journey where they finally can take that step, even though there may have been many feelings of regret and uncertainty, but they make the decision themselves. If they’ve weighed it up and made the choice – as opposed to a choice being made for you.
Norris agreed that for most people, that certainly seemed to be a very challenging choice to leave your community, potentially forever.
Themes for Leavers
They discussed that there are study limitations because it’s difficult to do studies on people thinking of leaving such groups. It’s always retrospective. Some people may be able to sit there and reflect clearly about how they felt, what they experienced, the challenges they have experienced . Common themes are anger, guilt, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts. But the final theme was around acceptance and that was spread across a wide variety of the studies.
Establishing a new Identity
Dr Norris said, “Whenever a person has left a high-cost religion, they are a huge part of a person’s identity. To leave something like that, any person would need to construct a new identity of friends, family, social world, etc.”
Catran notes that the studies talk about the process of establishing a new identity outside and that can take a long time and be very difficult. How long the transitional stage is depends on many factors – how they’re adapting, support groups, stressor management etc. How soon can people come to terms with the challenges? But there was a consistent theme that when they came to the end of that journey there was a sense of relief and personal gains despite the challenge associated with that journey.
Dr Norris said people from more intensive high-religious groups found it even more challenging to construct a new identity despite the choices they had made, especially if they hide things in order to maintain familial and friend connections.
Keeping Contact with Family – is it helpful?
There was a discussion around whether continued contact is helpful or not for the former member. Norris said the literature goes both ways. It’s easier if you can maintain your family connections rather than be ostracised, because you are maintaining a part of your life and the sense of loss is less. If you can still connect with a person, talk to someone, be with that person, talk to your family, visit your friends, you haven’t lost those people as much.
On the other hand if you still have contact with your family inside but they are judgmental of you or are trying to bring you back into the community or there’s some kind of pressure or shame going on there, then that could have a negative outcome. Or if the person went to visit someone and they couldn’t see them or weren’t allowed to, or the relationship was totally different, Dr Norris said there was a rejection aspect to it. You’ve lost the connection even though you still technically have contact. It impacts people’s feelings of how they are managing – have they made the right decision, second guessing themselves etc.
Catran and Norris had a quick discussion about how defectors (especially those in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon faith) are a group of people who exit, but they negotiate an exit role with the religious organisational authorities. They were people that were at risk of formal excommunication from family and friends in the community should they refuse to comply with the implications of the defector role and exiter.
(Liz note: In the context of Gloriavale this can be seen by some who “does deals” with the leadership and family in order to continue to maintain relationships. One such deal is that they won’t go to the media, or be involved in a court case or won’t receive help from the GLST)
Importance of a Support Group
Ms Catran said another theme that was identified was the importance of having a support group on the outside to recovery time. A support group with people who have shared experiences is key in helping people make sense of their situation. Supports group can also give you guidance about jobs etc, but it’s not going to fill the hole left if you’ve lost your family. However, it’s useful in helping a person adjust. Norris noted that more formal support services are more useful if they understand the environment someone has come from and that interfacing with unknowledgeable agencies or counsellors can do more harm.
People who Remain
Ms Catran wanted to discuss people who remain in the community. She noted that worldwide many intelligent women are members of high-cost religions and stay their whole lives. That includes women who convert to those religions and women who are born into those religions. She asked Dr Norris how we can we tell when these women are exercising agency and a deliberate choice to stay in those religions or how can we tell when they’re just subject to undue influence?
Dr Norris said “I guess that’s the million dollar question. I was talking about earlier that there will be some women who are happy with that situation, they don’t want to challenge it, that’s the place of society, it’s the only thing they’ve ever known. I think particularly those who have chosen to enter a group, that’s a deliberate choice in itself. So those in a former generation – forms the group or chooses to enter the group. It’s harder to answer for those who are born into the group or second, third generation from there because they don’t have all the other options that they’ve been able to consider and weigh up against their circumstances. They’re different. This is the reality. You cannot traverse all the literature in the world with regards to informed choice. You also cannot sit there and say if we work on a presumption of competence that women choosing to be there, they’re happy with that, they don’t want to challenge that, that that is not a choice, it is a choice. The challenge is more for those who don’t know the other choices are there or cannot feel that they can freely make a choice for some of those coercive aspects of potential coercion that I’ve outlined in my evidence.”
Undue Influence, Coercion, Real Choice & Autonomy
Norris said that the reproductive coercion, coercive control, and benevolent sexism aspects can affect a person’s ability to make the choice to work on the farm (scenario described earlier). If it isn’t there, how can you say it’s a choice. If it isn’t ever told you it’s actually available. That’s the challenge around what is autonomous and what is not.
Ms Catran said in the world view of some of these women, it is correct to deny the self and to do things you don’t want to do for the benefit of the wider community. How do we know when this is the exercise of agency by that woman or where it’s the result of undue influence or coercive control? Dr Norris said and that’s the balance in terms of how much does the nature of the community affect their ability to make a different decision or express a different decision. She said it’s difficult to counter someone who says they are happy in their role. She says the issue comes about in terms of where does that influence sit if you’re in a male hierarchy, that you cannot express something and if you could never even consider that you could freely choose to do something differently because it’s just been told to you, and that you’ve had engrained in you from childhood, that that is not your role. Where does that line sit with undue influence? If you’re told that there’s a physical punishment or psychological element that impacts your ability to say “yes I’m going to do that”, where does that cost become too high when you’re weighing that against your own circumstances? And that’s the challenge any individual will have.
Norris spoke about “social entrapment”.
Ms Catran asked Dr Norris about the environment of constant control (where to sleep, what to wear, with whom to associate etc) and asked if being part of a socially entrapped environment impacts on Step One of the decision-making process – ie the ability to understand there is a choice at all. Dr Norris responded saying the whole pattern of behaviour is important to understand and how it relates to social entrapment.
Norris said, “How can you apply choice to that situation if you’re not sure if what you can do is safe?”
Engagement with Government Agencies – Cultural Change and a Sea Change
Ms Catran told Dr Norris that in this community there was evidence of a previous culture or policy of dealing with all problems that arise within the confines of the community – bringing them to the leaders, or dealing with them individually, not taking them outside and that included not complaining to the police or other government agencies about wrongdoing. But that the community said this policy has been changing over the last several years. She said that this change in culture takes some time and that during that transition period some individuals will embrace the change in culture and some will have difficulty with it.
In Norris’ report she wrote, “A wider range of choices could only be considered available to community members if there was a change in the community values that was communicated by the leaders and widely accepted by the group.” Catran asked can this be applied to Government agency involvement? Are those the things that you think are necessary for culture change to be achieved? A change in the community values and that they are communicated by the leaders?
Dr Norris said I’m more referring to a sea change rather than something quite that narrow.
Norris said, “ I can’t comment on change that has happened over time. The sea change I’m talking about would be a change in roles available, a widening of experiences so people could make different choices, make them safely, freely without fear of issue or ostracism, those aspects that could potentially cause that influence, an opening of that environment. That’s more what I’m referring to there. So it is also true that culture change takes time, but I’m referring to more significant changes than just involvement through an external agency.”
Ms Catran said by sea change you mean a really fundamental change to the way the community works? Dr Norris said, “Significant changes or options being available and there is no concern around the perception that that choice was not available.”
(Liz note: Boom! This is the key here. A Sea Change is a substantial change in perspective, or a complete transformation, a radical change of direction in attitude and goals. When leavers talk about change at Gloraivale they’re not talking about one or two policy changes, or a half hour break for lunch or the new carrot-cutting machine. They’re talking about a fundamental change in direction, a challenging of the old norms, and a completely shift in the way their view and treat people. That’s the kind of change they’re fighting for. We suspect Govt has its sights set too low).
Gloriavale’s Push Back
Samuel Valor did the cross-examination of Dr Norris and I found it fascinating.
Mr Valor wanted to ask if there was any way that Dr Norris could clearly define which of the witnesses in this case did or didn’t have capacity? Dr Norris said she would work on the fact that there is a presumption of capacity and all the persons involved in this have capacity unless proven otherwise.
Can people be happy inside the group?
Mr Valor asked if there could possibly be a group of people within that community who were quite happy to be there? Dr Norris said that’s certainly likely, yes.
People on the exit journey
Mr Valor asked it there could also possibly be a group of people who were in their exit decision-making process and that it may be a long process (from months to years). Dr Norris said agreed. Mr Valor asked if there was any way to decide what proportion it might be without personally engaging with those people? Dr Norris said not without interviewing the entire community, but that’s where a broader look at the literature is relevant.
Stay or Leave
Mr Valor said if someone was unhappy about staying in this type of community and they were thinking about leaving, we might anticipate that there was quite a period of indecision and cold decision-making, up until something might happen to trigger it – like an emotional event.
Dr Norris agreed there may be an incident that triggers a person off, or a final realisation, or they’ve had enough, or it’s just time for a change, or they finally make that choice. But there will be some analysis of the situation for that person – how does it affect them, how does it affect their situation, how does it affect their family? She believes that the final choice to leave would be a very emotional challenging one.
Mr Valor said but that is very individualistic isn’t it? It depends on a whole range of things of the individual. It certainly can’t be just group attributed? Dr Norris said decisions aren’t made in isolation, they involve discussions with family, they look at the culture, what influences exists and what range of choices the person feels they can make.
Reasons to look back and be negative
Mr Valor asked it we could expect quite a lot of unhappiness or emotional stressors during that period of their life which could affect the way that they look back on their experiences in that environment? Dr Norris said it’s a bit speculative and the individual experience of a person is going to depend on what happens to them and what they decide. They might be pleased with their choice, they might struggle, the evidence suggests that there will be people have guilt, shame, that fear for the afterlife before they come to an acceptance phase.
Mr Valor said the bulk of the evidence that you’ve given is people that have not looked back on it in a very positive light? Dr Norris said when I went through and looked at the various studies I was trying to get a range of experience, but certainly those studies talk about people being distressed as well during that time. The evidence I have suggests that people come to that point of resolution but yes they may look back, be angry and frustrated and feel that they were subject to conditions or situations that they wish they hadn’t been.
Gloriavale also touched on whether Dr Norris knew about a condition called Chronic Embitterment. (I suppressed a giggle, then shrunk down into my seat and covered my face, so as not to distract anyone with my viseral reaction! I leaned over to Graham and said, “they’re going to regret asking that question”…). Samuel gave Dr Norris an article and she was able to read it over the lunch break. It was titled, “Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder”. (Google that). Norris said the article was only a proposal, but there hasn’t been enough work done in the area.
(Liz notes: PTED is listed as clinically significant emotional symptoms or behavioral problems, which commences immediately and without time delay after one singular negative, stressful life event, which – from the outside – appears to be no more than an everyday occurrence. It’s a pathological reaction to a negative life event, which those affected experienced as a grave insult, humiliation, betrayal, or injustice. Prevalent emotions of PTED are embitterment, anger, fury, and hatred, especially against the triggering stressor, often accompanied by fantasies of revenge.
However, the disorder requires that minutes prior to the triggering event, those affected were perfectly healthy, and minutes later they are ill and severely impaired. This does not line up with the experiences of leavers from high-demand groups. Former members are usually not perfectly healthy before they leave… If Gloriavale leaders want to attribute this condition to leavers, have they wondered who sets up the conditions for the traumatic events that would trigger such a pathological response?
However, in my experience leavers’ symptoms are far more congruous with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The long-term build up of living in a high-demand group, impacts mental health and well-being. The good news is the leavers do recover and “bitterness” is rarely the correct term to use. It’s a Gloriavale favourite (along with Exclusive Brethern and other simlar groups). but it’s a cop out. It’s just used to put the blame back on the person impacted by the failings of the group. It’s nothing but a cheap shot to deflect searching for the real issues why leavers are upset at Gloriavale. Seeking justice and accountability can have no link to bitterness what-so-ever.)
It’s easy to leave
Mr Valor challenged Dr Norris saying if over a period of ten years, 200 adults had taken the option of leaving and the population was 500, that perhaps those numbers suggest there isn’t significant barrier to leaving that community. But Dr Norris noted that the number leaving is almost irrelevant. The literature suggested that it’s not easy to leave high-cost religions.
Exercising their Right & Capacity
Mr Valor wanted to know if a women who choose to leave the community had capacity. Dr Norris said they start with a presumption of capacity, but it’s the undue influence question that will be the personal circumstance. She said we need to think about it being an autonomous decision for a person and the decision-making will be taken in the context of their environment, their family, their social circumstance, what they believe, what they believe is available to them.”
How much information do people need to make a choice?
Mr Valor asked how much information is necessary before you can make a decision? Dr Norris said that depends on the choice. For example the breakfast scenario. The only choice that you might struggle with is if you were the person using the last of the breakfast and that might lead you to some issue, but if you’re in a situation where you’re needing to consider your place in a community, your role, your job, your family, your partner, your children, and whether you can leave them, whether you can’t leave them, whether you’ve got the ability to do so physically, to be able to get out, the more complex the decision, the more factors that must be weighed.
Dr Norris said, “It comes back to the fact that if you don’t feel you have those options, ie there’s none available to you then is your choice as free as it could be?”
Role of the Bible
Mr Valor wanted to know how Dr Norris’ framework deals with information such as religious beliefs or facts that exist in places like the Bible? Dr Norris said it came down to a person’s values and what they believe are facts, and about weighing information & evidence, considering it to your personal circumstances, but also having the ability to bring in something that you may regard or disregard and give that the weight that it also requires.
Mr Valor said if you were a member of an organisation which was trying to live in accordance with the New Testament of the King James version, that information would be critical to their decision-making process wouldn’t it? Dr Norris said it’s the environment and culture that they’ve been raised in so it will be part of any decision.
Mr Valor said in the paper by Shietel it stated that, “The health of those in high-cost religious communities is better than in other communities.” They also spoke about the benefits of living in a tight-knit community. Dr Norris said I think I’ve addressed this in a few areas, but particularly those who choose to enter the community, that they might have quite different views. They’ve made that deliberate choice, But those who were born in there and are second generation they may have different choices, or thoughts.
Suggestion Dr Norris didn’t have enough information to come to a conclusion
Mr Valor said Dr Norris was supplied a list of questions which was quite a restrictive list as far as scope and said that even if those criteria or rules were enforced in a community, she has no indication of how those rules are applied in people’s lives. Dr Norris said agreed and said she was not given that information. Mr Valor said so it’s quite limiting to actually come to a conclusion because you’ve been given very limited information to work on?
Dr Norris said she was given quite a few characteristics of what a community could look like and was asked to look at the international and national literature of those that might meet that criteria and then it became an interpretive task.
Mr Valor replied that it was very hard to comment on the limited amount of information you were given. Dr Norris said in terms of the brief that I was given to consider with regards to choice and decision-making I feel the information gathered supported the opinions that I gave.
Mr Valor said in the paper by Scheitle there’s a mention of hostility of the outside world to those belonging in high-cost religions. He asked if this is this significant in preventing people from leaving a community? Dr Norris said she believed it would be part of the consideration in their choice to leave. How am I going to survive in a different world?
Mr Valor said the questions that were asked were very specific and they had a certain tenor about them. He asked if it could be considered by some to be a proof of hostility from the outside? Dr Norris said she personally didn’t see the questions as hostile.
The judge asked to Mr Valor is he was suggesting an inherent bias might have filtered through? Mr Valor commented that they were very specialised questions and restricted in the areas. He said, “She’s answered them, but the Community is more than a just a few questions. When there’s only one aspect that’s focussed on people can take an inference from that because there’s a focus on that one point, and they can read into it something that wasn’t intended. It can be perceived as something hostile?” Dr Norris said I don’t think I can comment on how others may perceive that. However, I am aware of the potential for bias which is why I very deliberately searched for articles that looked at the significant pros for people being part of a religious or spiritual group, trying to provide balance as well before needing to hone in on some of the characteristics that were asked.
Mr Valor tried again and asked if because the questions were so limiting and so exact, but all around the same tenor, could it be perceived as hostile investigation or hostile questioning? Dr Norris said felt it was more focussed rather than a hostile intent or a negative intent.
Support for Decisions & Collective Decision Making
Mr Valor asked Dr Norris whether it would be unusual in some communities to consult religious leaders or the leaders of the extended family, and commented that in the Maori community this would be a common paradigm. Dr Norris agreed and said it would be a common case of support and is recognised.
Mr Valor said so how do we know that’s not undue influence? Dr Norris said it’s a very key issue and noted there is significant discussion around supported or collective decision-making, consent and shared decision-making. When you’re assessing a person’s ability to make a decision, you will really start to drill down into what factors might be influencing this person. Is the person supporting them actually making the decision for them (which is something you see in intimate partner violence – you can’t get the person away from their partner to talk to them about a particular issue). That’s when there’s much more attention paid to the factors that could potentially affect this person’s decision.
Dr Norris said she thinks about where do those alarm bells ring? She says it depends on the concerns and the circumstances of the individual. If you see a pattern of presentations to an emergency department or a GP or the frequent changes of a will with a lawyer, something like that would raise concern that you need to consider this more carefully and give it appropriate time to do so.
Norris said we’re all subject to influence every day, but it’s the combination of factors or patterns of behaviour that would increase the chance that somebody has been unduly influenced, or their range of choices that they perceive to be available have been reduced or taken away from them.
Dr Norris said, “If the person feels like they cannot make a call. They may not feel that they can express their concerns or if they do there will be some form of punishment, ostracism, loss of something. Or if they feel that they can express them, be heard, be considered, changes will happen, it will be a positive experience, it will help a community change or grow, even if they’ve got anxiety about doing that, that might reduce the influence that person feels.”
Undue influence when it’s normalised
Mr Valor asked if someone was raised in a community came to understand the ways of living as normal, how can it be said to be undue influence? Dr Norris said there will be some people who are very happy in their circumstance and where they are. They accept their designated place in that community, how the rules run, and then there will be others that are questioning that and those are the people who may feel that they don’t have the ability to express that concern because of what they’ve seen, what they’ve been taught, what might have happened to others. She said it’s not necessarily that question of how undue is the influence, it’s also is there something there that’s affecting that person’s perceived ability to make a choice or decision to take that plunge, to challenge a system because that will be anxiety-provoking? So whether they are unduly influenced to stay or not might perhaps … do they feel like they have that freedom of choice?
Mr Valor said so when does that undue influence happen? Because it could be seen as a continuation of rearing of children – they’re raised in those practices, they’ve acclimatised to them, they understand that’s normal. So where does it transfer from a continuation of the rearing to undue influence over them?
Norris said, “When it becomes undue influence would be if that person feels like they cannot escape, they’re in that socially entrapped setting. They just don’t have that range of options available to them.“
Worldview & Philosophical Framework
Mr Valor said so how would you describe the world view of the discipline of psychiatry? What I’m getting at is there an assumption in psychiatry, that there’s no God and that religion is a man-made construct? Dr Norris said she is aware there is a growing and significant number of psychology and psychiatry colleagues who respect that people have very strong faiths and religions. She said she did not think it would be honest to say that psychiatrists think religion does not exist or is not a relevant thing for people.
Freedom of Religion
Mr Valor asked if it was relevant to evaluate a community using a framework which does not seem to acknowledge the right to religious freedom and worship? Dr Norris answered that there was no assumption from her that that people do not have a right to their religion or faith or spirituality. She was simply doing a literature review on pre-determined topics.
Mr Valor noted that we can’t afford to be judging one set of beliefs versus another. Norris said it wasn’t her place to judge somebody’s beliefs. The brief she was given was to look at the characteristics to see if they could affect the ability of a person to make a choice they perceive available to them and what may be the factors that could affect them particularly for women.
The leavers lawyers did not participate by asking questions of Dr Norris. They believed the report spoke for itself…
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to read Dr Norris’ report and the full notes of Dr Norris’ questioning in court.