Also joining the SRA movement in the early 1980's were many psychologists,
psychiatrists, therapists, counselors -- particularly feminists. Leaders were:
Kee MacFarlane of Children's Institute International. Her agency
interviewed hundreds of children involved in the McMartin Preschool
investigation. Her agency introduced some new techniques to child interviews
including anatomically detailed dolls and hand puppets. Such methods were
later shown to be dangerous, as they often led to disclosure of imaginary events that
Roland Summit who wrote a paper in 1978 called "The Child Sexual
Abuse Accommodation Syndrome" (CSAAS). He promoted the concept that
children's stories of sexual abuse must be totally believed, even though
they sounded incredible or would have been physically impossible. However, children were not
to be believed if they later retracted their stores of abuse. 1 It was only later that researchers proved that young children can
easily be influenced to describe events that never happened, in response to
direct and repeated questioning.
Pamela Hudson wrote a list of satanic symptoms and types of ritual abuse
which became very widely used among social workers and counselors working in
the SRA area. "These included being locked in a cage, being buried
in the ground in a coffin or box, being tied upside down or hung from a pole
or hook, participating in a mock marriage, seeing children or babies killed,
having blood poured over them, and being taken to churches and graveyards
for ritual abuse." 1
Various investigators believed that sexual abuse of children could be
detected from minute irregularities in the hymens of girl victims, or the
response of the child's anus to stimulation These methods were based on
examinations of children who were known to have been abused. It was only later that the studies were
expanded to include children believed to have been free of abuse. The latter studies
proved the techniques to be without merit.
Various medical labs reported STD bacteria growing in the throats
of children. Many results were later shown to be false positives, triggered
by benign, non-STD bacteria often found in children's throats.
The 1980's were a time when fundamental knowledge was inadequate in the field of human
memory, childhood interviewing techniques, physical signs of child sexual abuse,
the reliability of STD bacteria testing, and the frequency of child ritual
abuse and sexual abuse. A new social problem was "discovered" --
multiple victim, multiple offender (MVMO) sexual abuse. This took the form
of many abusive
pedophiles abusing dozens of children in a single day-care center or preschool.
It frequently involved a large percentage of female perpetrators -- an almost
unheard of factor in previous studies. Hard data was absent. Beliefs, unverified
techniques and impressions by popular speakers and writers were claimed to be "gospel truth"
and were accepted as such. Later, as
research findings became available, the SRA movement began to collapse.
TV shows including Geraldo, 20-20, Sally
etc. gave an immense
boost to the SRA movement. Many fraudulent authors and seminar leaders were guests on
these programs. SRA books, seminars and TV programs combined to develop a low level of
public hysteria which continued into the late 1990s. A simple rumor of SRA often triggered a
full-fledged "Satanic Panic". 62 such local panics were documented by one author in
North America from 1982 to 1992. 2
A number of Americans played a major role in spreading concern about Satanic
Ritual Abuse among English-speaking countries:
Pamela Klein, a rape crisis worker from Illinois created a list of satanic
abuse indicators which she believed were present in child SRA victims. They
included "bed wetting, nightmares, and a preoccupation with feces,
urine and flatulence." 1 She moved to England in
1985 and became a frequent lecturer at social worker and police conferences.
In 1990, the Bishop of Oxford told Radio 4 listeners on the BBC that by
the year 2000, Satanists would be sacrificing one baby a minute. "Another
informant revealed that satanic MPs [Members of Parliament] were carrying out human sacrifices
in the House of Commons." 3 Author Gareth Medway
demonstrated that in England, "religious fundamentalists have done
far more practical harm than satanists, with low-church exorcists having
a particularly bad record." 4
In 1990, Klein spoke to a sexual abuse conference in New Zealand. Ray Wyre, an
associate of Klein helped spread the topic into Australia and New Zealand.
Mitchell Whitman, a Christian sexual abuse therapist from the U.S.,
visited a number of New Zealand agencies in 1991.
Pamela Hudson was invited to Christchurch New Zealand by the Campbell
Centre in 1993.
Roland Summit was invited to New Zealand by the Doctors for Sexual
Summit, MacFarlane and others visited Australia in 1986 to give papers at
the Sixth International Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect. This
conference helped to kick-start the SRA movement in Australia. Within two months,
the famous Mr. Bubbles case emerged; it bore many
similarities to the McMartin case.
These appearances in England, Australia and New Zealand led to the formation
of national ritual child abuse groups which promoted the SRA movement in their
countries. Many were government funded.
Governments became alarmed at the level of public fear about SRA. During 1991, the
State of Virginia investigated SRA and found none. During 1994, the Federal
Governments of Great Britain and of the Netherlands conducted extensive inquiries and also
found none. Most recently, a US government study
obtained input from over 10,000 therapists, social workers, police offices, DA offices and
social service agencies. They uncovered one possible case of SRA.
It was allegedly abusive, although not physically so. It did involve rituals and was perpetrated
by Satanists. However, it had few points of similarity to classic SRA stories.
It is approaching four decades since the panic began in 1980. Many lurid headlines have been published;
many disturbing books have been written; many seminars have been held. But no hard evidence has been discovered that shows that a Satanic
conspiracy actually exists.
However, the occasional case involving Satanic symbolism does surface:
A very few child molestors will adopt the trappings of Satanism in order to gain control over their victims, even though they are not Satanists.
Some mentally disturbed individuals have also been known to abuse people in scenarios involving Satanic symbolism. However, they are motivated by their mental illness. They do not have any detailed knowledge about Satanism.
In the meantime, researchers into the processes of human memory have
determined how false memories can be created in adults during therapy when it employs
unreliable methods for memory recovery, including hypnosis. Also, researchers
found that by asking young children direct questions repeatedly, they would
disclose abuse that never happened.
A search of the Medline and PsycINfo data bases for articles (both
credulous and skeptical) for the acronym "SRA" yielded the following total number of articles by year:
1984 1 articles
1986 1 articles
1987 1 articles
1989 3 articles
1990 22 articles
1992 36 articles
1993 21 articles
1995 16 articles
Unfortunately, we currently don't have access to either Medline and PsycINfo data bases. We would appreciate receiving more recent data from someone who does have access.that will extend this timeline,
It would appear that at least professional interest in SRA peaked about 1992 and that
interest has since dropped of considerably.
Many advocates of SRA realized that there simply are not enough Satanists in North
America to account for all of the abuse that they believe is happening. They
expanded their accusations by blaming ritual abuse on secret cults, criminal gangs, self-help groups, mutual support
groups, Christian, Jewish and Pagan religious groups, secret Government agencies, the CIA,
etc. The fear and harm generated by promoters towards innocent, helping groups
was immense. Meanwhile, some governments became involved in the promotion of public hysteria
and intolerance. The Ontario Government in Canada, for example, funded many SRA seminars during the
mid-1990s. Some professional organizations gave credits to their members for
attending these seminars.
2017-AUG: Recent development: An innocent couple was released after 22 years in prison:
During 1992, Dan Keller, now 75, and Fran Keller, now 67 were convicted of Satanic Ritual Abuse which they were believed to have committed in their day-care in Austin TX.
A 3-year-old girl was the first to accuse Dan Keller of abuse. Many of the other children at the day-care were sent to therapists where they developed false memories of horrendous abuse. Included were stories of a dog being cut with a chain saw, a policeman throwing a person in a hole who Dan shot and chopped up with a chain saw, etc.
The children had accused them of:
"... serving blood-laced Kool Aid; wearing white robes; cutting the heart out of a baby; flying children to Mexico to be raped by soldiers; using Satan’s arm as a paintbrush; burying children alive with animals; throwing them in a swimming pool with sharks; shooting them; and resurrecting them after they had been shot." 5
Unfortunately, at that time, the public believed strongly in widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse. Also child therapists were unaware of how easy it was for them to implant memories into young children of events that never happened. The result was false memories which some of the children still suffer with.
After a six-day trial, each was given 48 year sentence. They were sent to different prisons, and in an unusual display of cruelty, not allowed to see each other, ever.
The couple served a prison sentence of almost 22 years. They were finally released in 2013, after a group of journalists, lawyers, and the National Center for Reason and Justice had worked for years to expose how baseless the case against them was. Their release was opposed by several of the children, now adults, who had testified against the Kellers in the original trial. During 2017-JUN a district attorney ruled that they were innocent. In August, they were awarded $3.4 million dollars from a state fund for improperly convicted persons. That works out to about 77 thousand dollars per person-year in jail, a standardized amount.
After being told of the award, Fran Keller said:
"We can start living. No more nightmares."
One wonders how many other innocent individuals were convicted of Satanic Ritual Abuse in the 1980's or 1990's, and are still rotting in jail!
Current status of belief in SRA:
Belief in SRA by professionals is currently quite rare everywhere in English
speaking countries, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.
By 2010, it became essentially defunct worldwide, except:
victims of recovered memory therapy who are still plagued with false memories of
abuse that almost certainly never happened.
In some third-world countries where belief in evil Witches and Satanists continues to be widespread.
Specialists know today a great deal more about conducting proper child
interview techniques, inaccuracies of physical examinations and lab testing. It
is unlikely that the Satanic Panic will reappear in the future. However,
something similar may surface in its place.
Meanwhile, the topic refuses to die completely. Books on SRA continue to be written and older books continue to be sold. A search on Amazon.com for "satanic ritual abuse" found 184 results of which a few dozen were published since 2010. A Survivorship Ritual Abuse and Mind Control Conference is held anually. The Ritual Abuse, Ritual Crime and Healing web site lists 41 web sites dealing with ritual abuse as of late 2012. Many of these sites are no longer active, but have been archived.
A search at Amazon.com for books about false memories:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Various authors, "Journal of Psychohistory", vol. 24, #4,
(1994-Spring). The journal has one skeptical article followed by a series of
articles by believers in SRA.
Jeffrey Victor, "Satanic Panic: The creation of a contemporary
legend," Open Court, Chicago, 1993 (examination of the satanic cult
hysteria; how rumors become publicly accepted fact; documents dozens of
Satanic panics) Review/order
Phil Baker, "A walk on the dark side: Think satanism isn't serious?
Phil Baker finds out the awful truth," The Guardian (London), 2001-OCT-6,
Saturday pages, P. 10