Australian Psychological Society under fire for 'disturbing' response to Bob Montgomery child sex prosecution


Key points:

  • The APS was flooded with hundreds of complaints from its own members
  • Montgomery was president of the APS from 2008 to 2010.
  • Montgomery pleaded guilty to abusing 12-year-old boys while he was a scoutmaster in Sydney in the 1960s

A peak psychologist's body, once led by paedophile Bob Montgomery, has come under fire for noting the "impact" of criminal prosecution on him and urging he seek support from "long term friends" in its ranks.

Montgomery pleaded guilty to abusing 12-year-old boys while he was a scoutmaster in Sydney in the 1960s and will be sentenced later this month.

The ABC revealed he was also used as a Family Court report writer — a role that can include assessing the credibility of child sex abuse allegations in custody disputes.

The ABC has been told the Australian Psychological Society (APS) was flooded with hundreds of complaints from its own members over its response to Montgomery's guilty plea to child sex offences.

"We acknowledge that some APS members may be long term friends and supporters of Bob Montgomery and his family, prior to this case emerging," APS president Ros Knight said in an email to members last week.

Heidi Smith, a psychologist in Western Australia, said the APS response made her feel "ill for several hours".

"I cried with frustration for all the child sexual abuse victims and the struggles they face with institutions supporting child sex offenders," she said.

"At no point during this email does the APS mention that this man was the president of their prestigious society [or] that you cannot be a psychologist if you are convicted of a crime such as child sex abuse," she said.

"It says he resigned, like it was his choice. At no point [did] they make any statement in relation to ethics or his role as a psychologist."

Montgomery was president of the APS from 2008 to 2010.

A senior psychologist, who asked not to be named, said the response was "disturbing" and members were "disgusted".

Ms Knight in her email also indicated the APS had not expelled Montgomery, who was awarded life membership in 2016, but that he had "formally resigned".

The psychologist said the APS response highlighted "the impact on his mental health and that of his family — yet no mention about the mental health of Montgomery's victims for which he plead[ed] guilty to, nor for mental health of other victims".

"Members are so disgusted that reputations of psychologists will be tarnished by association, and that importantly, the current president of the APS, as a clinical psychologist, has ignored the impacts of the abuse on the immediate victims of her former colleague," the psychologist said.

Dr Bob Montgomery talking in front of a graphic of an eye with the Big Brother reality TV show logo.
Bob Montgomery was a consultant for the first season of reality television show Big Brother.(Supplied)

A well-placed source told the ABC that "many hundreds of members contacted the APS", prompting Ms Knight to respond.

In an email the next day, Ms Knight said she "received and appreciated your heartfelt feedback to this communiqué".

"Our position remains that all forms of child sexual abuse are a profound violation of the human rights of the child, and a crime under Australian law," she said.

"We extend our deepest acknowledgement of the pain and suffering experienced to the survivors of these traumas and their families.

"Psychologists should be the providers of comfort, support and healing, not the cause of pain. We hope that the survivors are receiving the assistance they need and deserve."

The senior psychologist said this was "still a horrendous reaction".

"It seems in these statements the victims of Montgomery have been ignored, and just lumped into general victims of sexual abuse – whereas Montgomery was specifically mentioned and considered in relation to the impact on his mental health, it seems above the interests of his victims."

In 2014, the APS made Montgomery a "new honorary fellow" to recognise his "extraordinary and distinguished contribution".

He was president the same year the professional regulator, the Psychology Board of Australia, adopted its code of ethics from the APS.

In a statement, the APS said "on reflection, the original email from the APS could have been worded differently in two areas".

It said the email was an attempt to convey a "neutral, or non-biased judgment towards the matter" which was done with "the best intention".

The APS said this was in line with the fact that "psychologists frequently find themselves dealing with complex matters [and] often psychologists work with both survivors and perpetrators of crimes".

"All forms of child sexual abuse are a profound violation of the human rights of the child … [and this] was not communicated clearly in the original email," the statement read.

The APS said it had received a "small number of complaints" from its 25,000 members and took those concerns seriously.

"The APS's follow up email to members extended the Society's deepest acknowledgement to the survivors of trauma and their families, generally, and child sex abuse, specifically."

It said that "to the best of the APS's knowledge, Mr Montgomery did not contribute" to the code of ethics adopted by the professional regulator.

(Since)


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