Research on the LEBZ superficial and inadequate

Werner de Jonge, Friends of Esthers, May 2023

It recently published the report 'Investigation into tasks and task performance National Expertise Group on Special Vice Cases[1]", a report by agency Breuer & Intraval that was commissioned by the Scientific Research and Documentation Centre (WODC, the knowledge institute of the Ministry of Justice and Security) to investigate the functioning of the LEBZ. It was prompted by a motion adopted by the House of Representatives on 5 October 2020[2] in which was asked:

" commission an independent investigation into the scientific underpinnings and vision, role and mission statement, official and unofficial objectives of the LEBZ, working methods and results of recent years, and to inform the Chamber accordingly."

The reason for this motion included articles by Argos raising critical questions about the functioning of the LEBZ[3] and about its interference in the creation of the first Dutch care standard for dissociative disorders. Six months after the motion, there were again parliamentary questions about the LEBZ, this time about the role of LEBZ members in the media circus surrounding the case of Griet op de Beeck[4].

Findings - content and design of study do not correspond to motion

The first fundamental point that stands out is that the design of the study differs from what is called for in the motion. Page 18 literally says: "The WODC commissioned research and consultancy firm Breuer&Intraval to conduct research into the aims, tasks and task performance of the LEBZ." This is a different question from the one articulated in the motion. This should immediately raise Parliamentary questions!
Moreover, is the requested independence of this research guaranteed with this set-up? The WODC is the research institute of the Ministry of Justice and Security. The LEBZ falls under the same ministry. The research thus has the appearance of an internal party. Friends of Esthers previously warned about this[5].  

Findings - analysis of scientific evidence is lacking
What is further striking when reading Breuer & Intraval's report is that the 'scientific underpinning' requested in the motion is not addressed. Indeed, the 2017 incident in which members of the LEBZ interfered unsolicited in the adoption of a new standard of care regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DIS) is omitted altogether. Given the impact of that intervention at the time, an in-depth analysis of its scientific basis and legitimacy was in order. The (alleged) one-sided exposure of the subject of 'recovered memories' also remains virtually undiscussed. Only the fact that this one-sidedness is mostly experienced by victims and practitioners is discussed. Given the impact on victims and on the judicial process - but also the danger of tunnel vision in general - a thorough, deeper analysis of the scientific approach to recovered memories would be in order.
The names of the advisers involved by the LEBZ are not publicly known, nor have they been made public with the publication of this report. In any case, as Friends of Esthers, we think it is a very bad thing that this is not disclosed. After all, it is essential to know from which vision of DIS the advisers involved work, in order to assess whether reports of organised sadistic abuse are investigated objectively and with sufficient commitment. The Argos article (see note 3) on the LEBZ's interference in the standard of care does mention quite a few names of (former) members of the LEBZ. Checking the publications of these (ex)LEBZ members, it is striking that many of them have publications to their name on DIS or memory research, among other things, in which they question the existence of DIS or the possibility of repressed memories. In short, they suggest that clients make up their DIS or therapists talk them into it, which they say apparently happens on a considerable scale. The approach that DIS is a result of very severe and prolonged trauma at a very young age, a view that has by far the strongest papers internationally, is not even represented in the LEBZ as far as we have been able to find out. Let alone that this vision sets the tone, which it should. As a result, accusers of organised sadistic abuse, especially those with DIS, are put at a 2-0 disadvantage. After all, if your case is assessed by psychological counsellors who look at your story with distrust in advance, how much chance do you stand? And if serious effort has to be made by the judiciary to investigate for facts, supporting evidence or clues: how likely is this to happen if biased experts have already consigned the testimony to the dustbin, whether wrapped in fancy terminology or not?

In summary, the report fails to answer the question raised in the motion about the scientific basis for the LEBZ's approach. Why is it that no one reacts indignantly to this?

Findings - modification of objectives of the LEBZ condoned
The 'unofficial objectives' asked for in the motion remain completely out of the picture. While there is talk of the official objectives, any attempt to explore the more informal ones is omitted.
Zooming in further on the study of objectives, there is also much to criticise. For instance, the chapter "Goals and tasks" (pp. 33-35) reads:

"Furthermore, the successive 2005, 2008 and 2010 Instructions on Investigation and Prosecution on Sexual Abuse several additional goals of the LEBZ formulated. All three Directions, referring to the 1999 Designation, stated that: 'the implicit objective of the designation was preventing people accused of sexual abuse from being arrested too lightly'. Furthermore, the 2010 Designation formulates a new purpose not found in previous Designations, namely that the LEBZ: 'may be called in by the prosecutor to assess the veracity of certain operational vice cases at a relatively early stage'. [...]
No mention of the LEBZ and its tasks and goals in the 2016 Vice Designation, as from then on these were laid down in the PIZKK[6]. From this PIZKK, one concrete goal of the LEBZ is to generate the assessment of vice cases by the LEBZ should make a sharp distinction between allegations and facts.
The LEBZ's most recent research report from 2022 arrives at two slightly different but more concretely defined goals, namely: 1) to provide insight into the value of statements and behavioural science relevant to evidence, and 2) to contribute to a more likely trial and prevent an accused from being arrested in a case where there is more support for an alternative scenario, and prosecution is unlikely to result in conviction."

Objectives (or their wording) have apparently been changed several times. It is unclear why this has happened and how this has been justified to the environment.
In addition, where at its inception in 1999 there was explicit talk of building knowledge and expertise and supporting the prosecution in these complex vice cases[7], the objective now seems to have shifted entirely towards preventing false accusations. This is confirmed by the implicit objective present from the LEBZ's inception: 'to prevent people accused of sexual abuse from being arrested too lightly'. Isn't this a one-sided goal that ignores the seriousness of the cases and their huge impact on victims?

As far as we are concerned, the seriousness and nature of the issue of sexual abuse in general, and ritual abuse in particular, require careful consideration and decision-making when making changes to the objectives of the LEBZ. Why has this not been done?

Finally, a thorough evaluation of objectives (e.g. after several years of operation) would be appropriate. However, there appears to have been no evaluation at all in its 25-year existence.

Findings - noticeable changes in organisation and tasks are assessed mildly
Since 2016, the prosecutor's office is no longer obliged to submit complex vice cases to the LEBZ, it is optional[8]. Also, the so-called "external effect" has since been dropped. With the change from an OM instruction (read: independent task force) to a Police Instruction, citizens can no longer derive rights from the aims and tasks of the LEBZ. In other words, it can no longer be invoked. Everything takes place behind closed doors. The picture that emerges is that of an internal club with no accountability. It has not improved transparency and accessibility, the report also confirms[9].

The transition to a Police Instruction in 2016 raises eyebrows anyway: why did this happen and how were the consequences weighed and assessed? Who decided on this?

As far as we are concerned, the seriousness and nature of the issue of sexual abuse in general, and ritual abuse in particular, require careful consideration and decision-making when making changes to the LEBZ's working practices. Why has this not been done?

Findings - failure to transfer knowledge and expertise judged very leniently
We read, "The second objective of the LEBZ, to build knowledge about special vice cases, has been [...] implemented. The transfer of this knowledge and expertise has, however, succeeded to a lesser extent. The last report of the LEBZ was published in 2008 (the most recent publication is not publicly available). Independent and reliable information on, for example, the tasks or terms of reference of the LEBZ is not available to outsiders. In addition, knowledge about the LEBZ within police vice teams appears to be limited and feedback on investigative actions from LEBZ advice does not reach the vice teams or only partially. In other words, the second objective has not been implemented entirely as intended, and improvements are possible." (pg. 16). In other words, the LEBZ has failed in its objective of sharing knowledge and being transparent. Public, factual information about the LEBZ and its functioning is not available.
In such a complex and precarious field where victims are very reluctant to speak out about their experiences, this really cannot be. Under these circumstances, how can a victim (survivor) of ritual abuse have confidence in the authorities and take the difficult step of reporting?

Findings - curious choice of research timeframe
When it comes to the overall design of the study, it is notable that the study focuses exclusively on the period 2016-2021. This a relatively short time frame for a thorough investigation into the functioning of an organisation (the LEBZ has been in existence for almost 25 years). It is also an arbitrary selection, which gives a distorted picture because of the specific time frame. For instance, the 2015 Lisa case, which made the news extensively and is still a topic of discussion in the Lower House, among others, is skillfully left out of the picture. While this very case was reviewed by LEBZ and raised many questions, among others:

  • In the Lisa case, certain facts were not included (such as gynaecological examination), while the LEBZ is so insistent on basing its opinion on facts and not on testimonies[10]
  • This is the only case reviewed by the LEBZ that we, as the public, have been able to hear about through other sources. This case rattles on all sides; what about cases that we as the public are not told about?

Findings - victims and those directly affected hardly heard
Similar to the final report of the Hendriks Commission from December 2022, in our opinion, this study also turns the main issue into a side issue: victims of serious sex offences are hardly given a voice (less than 10% of those interviewed for the purpose of this study). The collection of practitioners and victims as a whole is a limited group (25%)[11].
Many other things (the side issues so) such as opinions, reflections and considerations are instead given full space and discussed in detail.

Findings - report's conclusions and recommendations are seriously flawed
The report's conclusions and recommendations are mild and hardly substantiated. Some minimal areas for improvement are mentioned - such as increasing transparency and awareness.
It is all the more striking given that Breuer & Intraval itself describes a number of curious findings that are, in my view, rather alarming (see, among others, in the summary on pages 12 and 14), including that there has been no reporting on cases handled by the LEBZ since 2008. While not all points are in the interest of victims nor are they identified as important by Friends of Esthers, one would expect that inconsistencies or shortcomings would lead to a robust assessment, resulting in consequences or at least follow-up investigations. Nowhere in the report, however, is this mentioned.

Also missing altogether is the more fundamental question about the function of the LEBZ in itself. Given all the findings from the study, surely the question should be asked what the added value of the LEBZ has been over the past 24 years? Is there really a need for an LEBZ as it is currently functioning? Are better alternatives not conceivable?

Finally, the risk of infiltration (by members of sadistic offender networks) at the LEBZ is completely ignored, even though this is very real: this is where almost all reports end up with ritualistic features, and with the right person in the right place, offenders can stay out of harm's way. The Hendriks commission recently concluded that organised sadistic abuse exists; crawling into the skin of a perpetrator (network): where would you rather be than in a body like the LEBZ?

Our conclusion - new independent investigation into LEBZ needed!
There is plenty to criticise about the research commissioned by Breuer & Intraval for the WODC. The report is not only superficial and far too lenient in its conclusions and recommendations - it does not answer the question: the research question deviates from the content of the original motion. The question is also to what extent the independence of this research was guaranteed. Did the WODC indeed commission this research disinterestedly and without bias? Was the research firm not at all hindered or influenced by the client? Given the WODC's position as an independent entity under the Ministry of Justice and Security, this is highly questionable. Nowhere, however, is this discussed or hinted at. As Friends of Esthers, we have serious doubts whether the research was conducted independently, especially given the outcomes described above.
As Friends of Esthers, we call on the House of Representatives not to stop there and to demand a more thorough investigation, taking into account the points we have highlighted above:

  • The research must be conducted independently of the Ministry of Justice and Security (i.e. not by or commissioned by the WODC)
  • Taking into account the possibility of infiltration of perpetrator networks in both the LEBZ and an investigation team investigating the LEBZ, it is essential that a sounding board group of survivors, through a careful procedure, contributes to the composition of the investigation committee and has a right of veto in this
  • Research also the vision, role and mission statement, official and unofficial objectives of the LEBZ, its working methods and achievements in recent years and whether members are objective and independent in their judgements.
  • Highlights the scientific underpinnings of the LEBZ
  • Let victims speak at length
  • Include 2015 Lisa case in investigation
  • Assess the lack of transparency, the removal of the external effect and amended objectives properly

Concluding remark
Friends of Esthers has not received any signals from the field that the LEBZ has added value in situations of organised sadistic abuse. Indeed, the LEBZ has negatively affected victims' cases. In the enquiry, we sorely missed the critical questions in this area, and the appeal that results.
We would encourage investigators, when reporting organised sadistic abuse, to conduct their own investigations and not be influenced by the LEBZ.

[1] abbreviated LEBZ

[2] Motion 35 349 No. 16 by van Nispen et al.

[3] and

[4] See

[5] See , under "21 March 2021 - Status of investigations: stagnation and confusion", last paragraph; and:

[6] Police Instruction on Vice Child Pornography and Child Sex Tourism

[7] The LEBZ was established in 1999 with the primary aim of "objectifying (statements and

evidence in) special vice cases and provide insight into the value and

behavioural science aspects of these cases" and as a second goal "to build knowledge about special vice cases" (p. 16)

[8] In the 1999 OM Directions, the use of the LEBZ was mandatorily prescribed by the prosecutor when cases showed aspects with: 1) pre-third birthday memories, 2) ritual abuse and 3) refound memories. This requirement lapsed in 2016

[9] Among others, in the Executive Summary (page 16), where it says: "More transparency in the goals, tasks and task performance seems to us a first step in the right direction [...]. More information and openness about the tasks performed focused on needs and expectations is required."

[10] see page 20 of report of Abused!

[11] 4 and 11 out of 45 interviewees, respectively