United Kingdom: A three-year enquiry funded by the Department of Health has concluded that Satanic ritual abuse does not exist.
The report by Jean La Fontaine, Emeritus Professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics and a renowned expert on cults and child abuse, was commissioned in 1991 after a number of well publicised cases where allegations had been made of child abuse and sacrifice by groups of witches. These included cases in Rochdale and the Orkney Isles, where nine children were snatched in dawn raids.
Professor La Fontaine had access to all relevant files held by those police forces and social services departments which had investigated allegations of Satanic ritual abuse. She found no evidence to substantiate any of 84 cases in the period 1988-91 where children were alleged to have been abused during black magic rites.
The report also provides the first official definitions of Satanic and ritual abuse, and clearly differentiates between them.
Rites that allegedly include the torture and sexual abuse of children and adults, forced abortion and human sacrifice, cannibalism and bestiality may be labelled satanic or satanist.
Their defining characteristic is that the sexual and physical abuse of children is part of rites directed to a magical or religious objective.
She found three cases which could be classed as ritual abuse but
In these cases the ritual was secondary to the sexual abuse, which clearly formed the primary objective of the perpetrators. the rituals performed in these cases did not resemble those that figured in the allegations in the other 81 cases.
Children had genuinely been sexually abused in some of the cases studied, but did not involve the alleged Satanic abuse. In these situations, treating the case as Satanic had caused further problems.
Professor La Fontaine also examined the origins of the scare, and the manner in which it spread.
The Evangelical Christian campaign against new religious movements has been a powerful influence encouraging the the identification of satanic abuse. Equally, if not more, important in spreading the idea of satanic abuse in Britain are the 'specialists', American and British. They may have few or even no qualifications as professionals but attribute their expertise to 'experience of cases'. Their claims or qualifications are rarely checked.
She suggested that social workers were inclined to believe in the Satanic abuse myth because it offered an explanation of why parents could harm their own children.
In examining the disclosures allegedly made by young children, she found they were influenced by adults and that some had been pressured or coached by their mothers.
The report condemns the interview techniques used to obtain evidence from the children.
The interviews during this period were frequently poorly conducted. Too-frequent interviewing, leading questions, contamination, pressure and inducements to agree to suggestions, may have resulted from the anxiety of the interviewers to find out what happened.
As a result of the way in which it was collected, recorded and transmitted, the evidence said to represent children's disclosures was unreliable and misleading. What is defended as 'what children say' may be nothing of the sort.
The report was submitted to the Department of Health in early March. A publication date has not been released, but it is expected to be some time in May.
Source: The Independent on Sunday, 24th April 1994, p1