The mainstream view is that some time ago, in places like Orkney and Nottingham, large numbers of children were taken into care by over-zealous social workers obsessed with the idea the children were the victims of ‘satanic abuse’.
It is now widely believed that there is no such thing as ‘satanic abuse’, that innocent families have had their children taken from them, and that innocent people are now being subjected to similar ‘witch hunts’ on the basis of false allegations of abuse, encouraged by deluded child protection workers.
How did this come to be the mainstream view, and is it correct?
Let’s look at the claims in more detail:
-The claim that social workers working with children during the Nottingham child abuse proceedings invented the term ‘satanic abuse’.
According to Beatrix Campbell:
It wasn’t social workers or foster carers who decided that there was ‘satanic’ abuse, it was the judges in 1988.
Mrs Justice Booth, in her judgement, described the culture of the abuse as ‘satanic’ – her word. In July 1988 three Appeal Court judges endorsed that conclusion and Sir Stephen Brown, in an unusual public judgement…said that children ‘had been subjected to gross sexual abuse at the hands of adults, sometimes at parties, where full intercourse had taken place in the presence of a number of adults and other children’. He said that there were instances…which could only be described as ‘satanic’.
-The claim that social workers pressured children into making allegations of non-existent abuse.
In the UK this claim seems to be largely based on the Joint Enquiry Team (JET) report, commissioned after the Nottingham criminal trial, which proposed that foster carers and social workers had ‘created’ the evidence and encouraged the children to believe it.
What is not generally known however is that this report’s findings were highly controversial and in fact were rejected by every judge in the Nottingham case. According to the Director’s report on 7 November, Judge Morrison, in a satellite case, found it ‘ludicrous’ to suggest that a foster carer had ‘led the children or put ideas into their heads’.
Since the JET report all reports of ritual or satanic abuse have been suppressed and derided as ‘satanic panics’ or ‘moral panics’. According to journalist Tony Gosling’s article ‘West Yorkshire police The Cook Report and Savile’s ‘satanic rituals,’ this is how Jimmy Savile was able to remain unchallenged – despite widespread rumours – for decades:
Psychotherapist Valerie Sinason…interviewed two of his victims …who told her at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire that they had been repeatedly sexually abused in horrific rituals they described as ‘satanic.’
Wearing robes and masks in the hospital basement and to Latin chants of ‘Hail Satanus’, the idea, it seems, was two-fold: for Savile to ‘share’ his victims with other abusers and also to so deeply traumatize the children with supernatural threats of demons and devil masks that, through fear, they would never dare breathe a word to anyone. They were being groomed, as so many children are in government ‘care homes’ for serial abusers, and for pimps, heading down the lonely road to a life of abuse or prostitution.
Sinason has not been the only one to talk of satanic ritual abuse in connection with Savile. Britain’s most popular TV journalist ever, Roger Cook, also exposed what he believed was a satanic ritual abuse ring in Savile’s home town of Leeds, Yorkshire. During the airing of an edition called the ‘The Devil’s Work’ on 17 July, 1989 (…‘Cook Report’ series), witnesses told Cook that a certain ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice shop’, run by one Chris Bray, was connected to a ritual abuse ring in the city. Post-transmission threats by Bray to prosecute Central TV proved empty.
Ironically, in 2000, it was Rupert Murdoch’s now infamous News of the World that destroyed The Cook Report by printing three weeks of double page spreads strewn with lies about Cook ‘making up stories.’ By the time Roger Cook had beaten Murdoch back in the courts, a new boss had arrived at ITV and Britain’s most successful and popular ever current affairs series was dead.
Unfortunately, the program, made with the help of courageous ritual abuse victims, literally went up in smoke when it was destroyed in a fire at a warehouse run by ‘secure storage’ firm Iron Mountain, along with the entire archive of Central TV’s Cook Report.
-The claim that therapists encouraged children to ‘recover’ false memories of non-existent abuse.
The notion of implanted or false memories is put forward as a scientific fact, when in fact it is highly contested and controversial. This notion was first proposed by an organisation called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF).
According to Wikipedia and other sources listed below, the reasons for the controversy are as follows:-
- The FMSF was founded by a couple – Pamela and Peter Freyd -whose adult daughter accused the father of sexually abusing her when she was a child, and a psychologist – Ralph Underwager – who has been published in a paedophile journal arguing that sex with children ‘could be seen as God’s will’.
- Underwager’s writings concluded that ‘most accusations of child sexual abuse stem from memories implanted by faulty clinical techniques rather than from sexual contact between children and adults.
- Underwager sued when his conclusions were reported as inaccurate, but the US Court of Appeals found against him.
- Neither the term ‘false memory syndrome’ nor ‘recovered memory therapy’ is acknowledged by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – they are not scientifically recognised conditions.
- The FMSF has been criticised for describing itself as a scientific organisation while undertaking partisan political and social activity.
- The FMSF has been accused of misrepresenting the science of memory, protecting child abusers and encouraging a societal denial of the existence of child sexual abuse.
The claims made by the FMSF for the incidence and prevalence of false memories have been criticized for lacking any evidence, and disseminating inaccurate statistics about the alleged extent of the problem. Despite claiming to offer scientific evidence for the existence of FMS, the FMSF has no criteria for one of the primary features of the proposed syndrome – how to determine whether the accusation is true or false.
Most of the reports by the FMSF are anecdotal, and the studies cited to support the contention that false memories can be easily created are often based on experiments that bear little resemblance to memories of actual sexual abuse. In addition, though the FMSF claims false memories are due to dubious therapeutic practices, the organization presents no data to demonstrate these practices are widespread or form an organized treatment modality. Within the anecdotes used by the FMSF to support their contention that faulty therapy causes false memories, some include examples of people who recovered their memories outside of therapy.
With thanks to:
Analysing Aaronovitch – Part 1 – Has the scourge of ‘conspiracists’ become one himself?
Part 2 – A sceptical narrative
- Jimmy Saville: ‘It couldn’t happen again.’ Yes it could and it’s probably happening right now – 27th June 2014, by Tony Gosling
- Crisis or Creation: A systematic examination of false memory claims. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse – 2002, by Stephanie J. Dallam
- Memory and Abuse: the recovered memory controversy