Thanks to Jo D Baker for pointing out this excellent two-part Radio 4 series on so-called satanic ritual abuse. Presenter David Aaronovitch describes how various professionals have made lurid claims about supposed rings of Satanists abusing and murdering children. Some of these claims were utterly bizarre: babies being conceived for sacrifice, ritual altars, organised conspiracies dedicated to Satan. If that sounds implausible, there’s a simple reason for that: the claims were cobblers.
Not entirely cobblers. Pseudo-satanic abuse does exist, where paedophile rings have used talk of the Devil and rituals to frighten their victims and make their claims implausible. However, in such cases the perpetrators weren’t motivated by a love for Satan: they just wanted to have sex with kids. There have been criminal convictions for pseudo-satanic paedophile rings, but none for acts by genuine Satanic cults.
The programme mentions psychotherapist Valerie Sinason, a believer in satanic ritual abuse who has been at the centre of controversies over alleged “false memories”. The idea is that psychotherapy can inadvertently trigger memories of a trauma that never actually happened – particularly if the therapist is a fervent believer in the presumed trauma and goes digging for it.
On that note it’s worth mentioning that Sinason is up before a UKCP complaints and conduct hearing in September. They seem to have scheduled the entire week for the hearing. It’s taken them long enough to investigate her practice, given that way back in 2002 the anthropologist Jean la Fontaine said of Sinason, “”It’s depressing to find someone who has a position at leading London hospitals who is so cut off from what research methodology is, and what rational evidence is.”
It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of the UKCP hearing.