Rebuttals of “Satanic Panic” Theory and “False Memory Syndrome”
September 23, 2020 Comments Off on Rebuttals of “Satanic Panic” Theory and “False Memory Syndrome”
Rebuttals of “Satanic Panic” Theory and “False Memory Syndrome”
Judith Herman: “In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.” Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror
Flaws in satanic panic theory
In my book (Nelson, 2016), I describe numerous flaws in satanic panic theory which had to be either unnoticed or ignored. In summary:
• There WAS no widespread panic – most professionals and lay people remained unaware of these disclosures and behaviours. Only a small, often isolated minority of police, psychiatrists and counsellors, journalists, child protection professionals and foster parents had encountered them, and most of their own colleagues were sceptical of their belief.
• Nothing could be further from the truth than the claim that professionals and random feminists pursued satanic abuse theory with passion or zeal.
That anyone would actually want to find it, or would be pleased and zealous in pursuit, was bitterly laughable. Even for people experienced in working with CSA, it was the worst, most disorienting and traumatising knowledge in the world, challenging all your beliefs and your assumptions about human beings. Ritual abuse cases also brought many professionals considerable fears for their personal safety.
• The scapegoats and folk devils in classic moral panic theory (Cohen, 2002) should have been the accused adults. Instead they have been the professionals who took children into care, and/or publicly professed a belief that ritual abuse existed.
• Another essential feature of ‘moral panics’ in classic sociological theory is that these are promoted, carried and encouraged by the media. But most media, after a brief flurry of salacious interest, became not supportive but hostile in their coverage of ritual abuse. Most media have supported accused parents and adults with standing in their communities.
• The verbal disclosures, actions and behaviours of children and adults abused in ritual settings were so baffling, so esoteric and so unlike content previously heard that it would be incredibly difficult or impossible generate these words, actions and behaviour through pressured interviewing techniques by, for instance social workers. It was in fact the foster parents of children taken into care in both Nottingham (England) and Orkney (Scotland), not professionals, who produced by far the most evidence of children’s bizarre statements, drawings and actions. These were ordinary people who were baffled and disturbed by what they witnessed and heard from the children placed in their care.
• People, including journalists, lost their critical faculties. For instance, on Orkney claims were spread that one ‘born-again’ Christian basic grade social worker, CF, influenced Orkney and Strathclyde social work departments and police into jointly carrying out the dawn raids on four families with children. This was implied too in BBC Scotland TV’s ludicrous ‘faction’ drama Flowers of the Forest (BBC2, 1996). Both ignored the simple fact that a basic grade social worker had no power, influence or status to achieve this far-reaching joint action by police and social workers, which was authorised from top level!
Flaws in false memory syndrome theory
‘Satanic panic’ theory has an interconnection with the false memory movement. For Michael Salter, the rhetorical importance for false memory syndrome of ‘satanic ritual abuse’, and the chance this gave to ridicule allegations of CSA, is shown by the term being found in 140 of 144 newsletters of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (Salter, 2013). FMS has been one of the most influential backlash theories of recent decades. Uncritically promoted through most media for many years, it is still propounded today, even though the FMSF recently collapsed (see French, 2014).
• FMS was invented in the early 1990s, as a new psychiatric condition, by accused adults, mainly middle-class professional men whose adult children had accused them, sometimes after recovering memories. That in itself should have attracted the strongest critical scrutiny. Do we normally accept the theories of people accused of the very crimes they dismiss? I don’t think so!
• The alcoholic FMSF founder Peter Freyd had no qualifications or expertise on memory, trauma or psychology, while his daughter Jennifer was a respected professor of psychology. (Freyd, 1996)
• There was no scientific basis for false memory syndrome, no studies confirming it, yet there were numerous studies confirming that traumatic amnesia could occur, not just in sexual abuse but for instance in conflict trauma, and in concentration camp experiences.
• False memories of sexual abuse were allegedly put into the heads of gullible, mentally unwell women by therapists, using dubious techniques, unreasonable pressures or even brainwashing, though the techniques were not specified. These women supposedly found it comforting to blame their mental ill health, their troubles or inadequacies on the explanation of sexual abuse in childhood. However, disclosing sexual abuse is not easy or comforting at all. The experience of CSA exposes people to social stigma, shame, disbelief, deeply confused loyalties, the pain of betrayal, often by people they loved and trusted most, and possible court cases where they may be vilified and dismissed. Hence many survivors take decades to disclose, while others never do so. Instead, Harvey and Herman (1994) suggest that recovering memories is so agonising that survivors hold on to denial for as long as possible.
• Many of the accusers had retained memories of their abuse, or corroboration of their abuse, long before they went to a therapist at all.
Why were these fabrications so tempting to believe, so relatively easy for abusers and their support lobbies to erect them, and for them to remain potent?
The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children by Ross E. Cheit
The sexual abuse of children in the United States became national news in February 1984 with allegations about the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California. The case, once considered the largest “mass molestation” case in history, ended without a single conviction. Since then, it has become the conventional wisdom that the McMartin case, and hundreds of other cases in that era, were nothing more than witch-hunts. These cases are now seen as compelling evidence that children are “highly suggestible” and that society was in the grips of “hysteria.”
Based on a comprehensive examination of primary sources, The Witch-Hunt Narrative challenges the conventional wisdom about these cases. Ross E. Cheit uses trial transcripts and related court documents to demonstrate that many of the cases at the core of the witch-hunt narrative involved compelling evidence of abuse. He focuses on three major cases while also surveying dozens more, including some that involved injustice to the defendants. He finds that in many cases the conventional wisdom is significantly overdrawn.
Cheit’s years of research also revealed a history of minimizing and denying abuse, and a surprisingly lenient response to many child molesters. Those trends continue into the present, where there are pockets of; overreaction to sexual abuse in a sea of under-reaction. Cheit concludes with a consideration of recent events, including the Catholic Church cases, the Sandusky case at Penn State, and issues concerning sex offender, registration and civil commitment. He argues that progress in social responses to sexual abuse notwithstanding, there are still unjustified attacks on the credibility of children and on child-abuse ‘ professions, from forensic interviewers to pediatric child-abuse specialists.
This powerful book shows how a narrative based on empirically thin evidence became a theory with real social force, and how that theory stood at odds with the grim reality of sexual abuse. The Witch-Hunt Narrative is a magisterial account of the social dynamics that led to the denial of widespread human tragedy.
” Indeed, Scott (2001) notes with irony that the writings of those who claimed that ‘satanic ritual abuse’ is a ‘moral panic’ had many of the features of a moral panic: scapegoating therapists, social workers and sexual abuse victims whilst warning of an impending social catastrophe brought on by an epidemic of false allegations of sexual abuse.” Michael Salter, Organised Sexual Abuse
““Blaming therapy, social work and other caring professions for the confabulation of testimony of ‘satanic ritual abuse’ legitimated a programme of political and social action designed to contest the gains made by the women’s movement and the child protection movement. In efforts to characterise social workers and therapists as hysterical zealots, ‘satanic ritual abuse’ was, quite literally, ‘made fun of’: it became the subject of scorn and ridicule as interest groups sought to discredit testimony of sexual abuse as a whole. The groundswell of support that such efforts gained amongst journalists, academics and the public suggests that the pleasures of disbelief found resonance far beyond the confines of social movements for people accused of sexual abuse. These pleasures were legitimised by a pseudo-scientific vocabulary of ‘false memories’ and ‘moral panic’ “
― Michael Salter, Organised Sexual Abuse
“Calling something a ‘moral panic’ does not imply that this something does not exist or happened at all and that reaction is based on fantasy, hysteria, delusion and illusion or being duped by the powerful.”
― Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics
“The above is stereotypical FMS rhetoric. It employs a formulaic medley of factual distortions, exaggerations, emotionally charged language and ideological codewords, pseudo-scientific assertions, indignant protestations of bigotry and persecution, mockering of religious belief, and the usual tiresome “witch hunt” metaphors to convince the reader that there can be no debating the merits of the case. No matter what the circumstances of the case, the syntax is always the same, and the plot line as predictable as a 1920’s silent movie. Everyone accused of abuse is somehow the victim of overzealous religious fanatics, who make unwarranted, irrational, and self-serving charges, which are incredibly accepted uncritically by virtually all social service and criminal justice professionals assign to the case, who are responsible for “brainwashing” the alleged perpetrator or witnesses to the crime. This mysterious process of “mass hysteria” is then amplified in the media, which feeds back upon itself, which finally causes a total travesty of justice which the FMS people in the white hats are duty-bound to redress.” – Pamela Perskin Noblitt, Ritual Abuse in the Twenty-First Century: Psychological, Forensic, Social, and Political Considerations
An Empirical Look at the Ritual Abuse Controversy
Randy Noblitt, PhD
” I hypothesize that patients who make ritual abuse allegations appear to be genuinely traumatized. In a study comparing 34 adult psychiatric patients making ritual abuse allegations with 31 patients making no such allegations, I found that the group making ritual abuse allegations had significantly higher PTSD scores on the MMPI-2 (Noblitt, 1995). In their study of preschool ritualistic and non-ritualistic sexual abuse, Waterman, Kelly, Olivieri, and McCord, (1993) demonstrated that PTSD criteria were met for 80% of their sample of ritualistically sexually abused children as compared with 35.7% of the non-ritualistically sexually abused children.
The hypothesis that ritual abuse allegations are essentially false and the result of suggestibility and social influence has been propounded by a number of individuals (Mulhern, 1991, 1994; Ofshe& Waters, 1994; Spanos, 1996). However, this hypothesis appears to be based on subjective opinion and speculation rather than any research findings. It has never been shown that people who report ritual abuse are particularly suggestible. It has also never been demonstrated that therapists with such patients attempt to persuade their patients to believe that they were ritually abused.”
“Underwager, one of the founding members of the FMSF and an original Board member, who made substantial amounts of money acting as an expert witness for the defence in child sexual abuse cases, was arguably the most controversial. When he became involved in the formation of the FMSF, he was already well known for his views against child protection, as one of the founders of VOCAL – which stood for Victims of Child Abuse Laws, a support group for people who claimed to be falsely accused. He had already famously stated in the media and in court that 60% of women sexually abused in childhood reported that the experience was ‘good for them’.
Underwager gave evidence for the defence in over 200 child sexual abuse cases in the USA, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia. Psychologist, Anna Salter published a scholarly demolition of his published systematic misrepresentations on the subject. Underwager filed several unsuccessful law suits against Salter. Her exploration of the ethical issues surrounding the work of Underwager and Wakefield, and their harassment of her is well worth reading (Salter, 1998).
In 1993, together with his wife, Board Member Hollida Wakefield, Underwager gave an interview to the Dutch pro-paedophilia magazine, Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia.
Underwager famously proclaimed, “Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. I am also a theologian and as a theologian, I believe it is God’s will that there be closeness and intimacy, unity of the flesh, between people. A paedophile can say: ‘This closeness is possible for me within the choices that I’ve made.’”
As a result of the Paidika interview Underwager was forced to resign from the FMSF Board, but Wakefield remained as a Board member. “
“Doubtless, there will continue to be attacks on those who report child abuse, regardless of whether the memories are ‘recovered’ or not. While cultural and political pressure to doubt the testimony of women and children who report sexual abuse pre-dates the FMSF, it goes without saying that the ‘false memory’ movement enabled society to ignore a whole new generation of abused children. We do not want this to happen again and it is vital we reflect on our history and are well-prepared for backlash.”
The term False Memory Syndrome was created in 1992 by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF). It has been called “a pseudoscientific syndrome that was developed to defend against claims of child abuse.” The FMSF was created by parents who claimed to be falsely accused of child sexual abuse. The False Memory Syndrome was described as “a widespread social phenomenon where misguided therapists cause patients to invent memories of sexual abuse.” Research has shown that most delayed memories of childhood abuse are true. In general, it has been shown that false allegations of childhood sexual abuse are rare, with some studies showing rates as low as one percent and some studies showing slightly higher rates. It has been found that children tend to understate rather than overstate the extent of any abuse experienced. It has been stated that misinformation on the topic of child sexual abuse is widespread and that the media have contributed to this problem by reporting favorably on unproven and controversial claims like the False Memory Syndrome
Recovered memories have been defined as the phenomenon of partially or fully losing parts of memories of traumatic events, and then later recovering part or all of the memories into conscious awareness. They have also been defined as the recollections of memories that are believed to have been unavailable for a certain period of time. There is very strong scientific evidence that recovered memories exist. This has been shown in many scientific studies. The content of recovered memories have fairly high corroboration rates.
“The bottom line: Current evidence shows “false memory theory” to be “scientifically inaccurate, damaging to survivors, and unhelpful to the public.” Here’s why.
“False Memory Syndrome” has Never Been Ratified by the American Psychological Association or Any Other Mainstream Psychological Diagnostic System as an Actual Diagnosis
Never — not after 30 years of trying.”
““False Memory Theory” is a Tool to Discredit Survivors of Sexual Trauma
“False memory” gives a pseudoscientific name to the trope that survivors somehow develop entirely new memories of sexual assaults that never happened. That’s not how memory works — but it is how perpetrators of sexual violence have worked to deny accountability.
Pioneering psychologist Dr. Jennifer Freyd has found that perpetrators of sexual assault often “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender,” a phenomenon she calls “DARVO.”
“The reality is that most scientific research shows traumatic events of all kinds are often cemented in a person’s memory. And current research shows that memories of sexual assault are even more vivid than memories of other sorts of traumas, such as car accidents.”