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Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA)

An Introduction (Part 2)

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This essay is continued from Part 1

Start of the SRA movement, early 1980's (Cont'd):

Also joining the SRA movement in the early 1980's were many psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors -- particularly feminists. Leaders were:

bullet 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 never happened.

bulletRoland 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. 

bulletPamela 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

bulletVarious 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.

bulletVarious 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

Spread of the SRA Movement:

A number of Americans played a major role in spreading concern about Satanic Ritual Abuse among English-speaking countries:

bulletPamela 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

bulletIn 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.

bulletMitchell Whitman, a Christian sexual abuse therapist from the U.S., visited a number of New Zealand agencies in 1991.

bulletPamela Hudson was invited to Christchurch New Zealand by the Campbell Centre in 1993.

bulletRoland Summit was invited to New Zealand by the Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care

bulletSummit, 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.

Decline of the SRA movement:

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.

Close to three decades have passed 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 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:

bullet1984 1 articles
bullet1986 1 articles
bullet1987 1 articles
bullet1989 3 articles
bullet1990 22 articles
bullet1992 36 articles
bullet1993 21 articles
bullet1995 16 articles

Unfortunately, we currently don't have access to either Medline and PsycINfo data bases. We would appreciate receiving more recent data that will extend this timeline from anyone who has access.

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, for example, funded many SRA seminars during the mid-1990s. Some professional organizations gave credits to their members for attending these seminars.

Current status of belief in SRA:

Belief in SRA by professionals is currently almost non-existent everywhere in English speaking countries, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.

By 2010 it will probably be essentially defunct worldwide, except:

  • Among 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.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 this book
  3. 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
  4. Gareth J. Medway, "Lure of the Sinister: The Unnatural History of Satanism," New York University Press, (2001) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

Copyright © 1995 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-JUN-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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