Malignant trauma and the invisibility of ritual abuse, Origins of Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist Terms, Neighbors of polygamist cult issue – FLDS
February 12, 2019 § Leave a comment
– Malignant trauma and the invisibility of ritual abuse
– Origins of Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist Terms and Symbols – A Glossary
– Neighbors of polygamist cult issue warning to Minnesota – FLDS
Malignant trauma and the invisibility of ritual abuse
Salter, M. (2019) Malignant trauma and the invisibility of ritual abuse,
Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 13(1), forthcoming.
This paper draws on psychoanalytic understandings of malignant trauma to explain the invisibility of ritual abuse. Ritual abuse refers to the misuse of rituals in the organized sexual abuse of children (Salter, 2012). Ritual abuse is typically practiced in extended family networks and criminal groups that participate in the production and circulation of child exploitation material (CEM).
Despite claims that ritual abuse is a hoax or a product of false memories, cases of ritual abuse have been substantiated in child sexual assault prosecutions since the 1980s, including major cases in Canada (Steed, 1995), Belgium and England (Kelly, 1998), the United States (Ellzey, 2007) and Wales (Morris, 2011). Invisibility is a consistent theme in the lives of victims and survivors of ritual abuse. While there is now a considerable literature on the therapeutic treatment of ritually abused children and adults (e.g. Badouk Epstein, Schwartz, & Wingfield Schwartz, 2011; Miller, 2012; Schwartz, 2013), ritual abuse is largely unrecognized outside of the trauma and dissociation field as a distinct form of exploitation. International efforts to develop a coordinated response to the ritual abuse of children in the 1990s in countries such as Australia, the UK and USA were halted or reversed in the face of a media-driven backlash (Salter, 2017).
The invisibility of ritual abuse remains as a doubled trauma for survivors, who endure the effects of past or current abuse amidst the denial of that abuse (Matthew & Barron, 2015), and a vicarious trauma risk for therapists, who treat a profoundly vulnerable and needy client group against a backdrop of professional uncertainty and skepticism (Scott, 1998). This paper uses qualitative data from interviews with ritual abuse survivors and mental health practitioners to argue that the trauma of ritual abuse and its invisibility are co-constitutive. Cultural and familial environments shaped by an infantile dread of human vulnerability are the primary conditions of possibility for ritual abuse, as this dread prompts enactments of traumatized cruelty within contexts with scant capacity to acknowledge or address this form of violence. The mechanisms for the reproduction of ritual abuse are thus submerged within psychosocial structures of normalization, exploitation and dissociation.
The article begins with an explanation of malignant trauma and its applicability to ritual abuse, before examining the social and psychological processes within which ritual abuse victimization is rendered undetectable. The article discusses the enforced disappearance of ritual abuse from public policy and how the provision of care to ritual abuse survivors has become contingent on its denial and erasure. The article closes by reflecting on the role of therapists and others in interrupting the malignancy of ritual abuse, and the possibilities of crafting cultural resources and moral frameworks to transform the dread at the core of ritual abuse….
Theories of malignant trauma offers solutions to the gordian knot of ritual abuse, and the specific dilemmas and paradoxes that it poses: How could parents commit such atrocities on their own children? Why would paedophile rings engage in bizarre ritualistic behavior? And how could networks of child torture flourish amidst the surveillance of the contemporary state? This article illuminates the psychosocial structures within which ritual abuse is concealed and reproduced, in which the intergenerational transmission of ritual abuse is secured through projective cruelty in the embodied resolution of autistic-contiguous anxiety. While the ritual and religious dimensions of ritual abuse channels the vitality of the autistic-contiguous mode into atrocity, it remains concealed within the collective dread of perpetrators, victims and bystanders.
This study of ritual abuse provides further evidence for the critical importance of addressing the mechanisms and contexts within which familial sexual violence is intergenerationally transmitted. Gentile (2017) observed the focus of psychoanalytic scholarship on trans-generational trauma on the Holocaust and other forms of mass genocide. Despite the existence of “only a handful of articles that describe sexual violence through the lens of trans-generational trauma”, she notes that the majority of cases she observes in clinical work involve “generations of domestic violence, sexual violence and profound neglect” (p 170). With between 10% and one third of therapists reporting contact with survivors of organised and ritual abuse (Salter & Richters, 2012), identifying and treating familial cultures of sexual violence is vital to the disruption of malignant trauma.
This article argues that ritual abuse survivors are victims of a persistent failure of cultural memory, in which the evacuative responses of perpetrators to dread are reproduced by bystanders and larger systems and processes. The invisibility of ritual abuse is guaranteed by social structures and systems that deny the possibility of the ritualised violation of children, and that refuse to attribute reparative meaning to the struggles of survivors to speak and be heard. In such a context, the malevolent expulsion of dread is multiply determined at the intra-psychic, interpersonal and collective level, of which the dissociation and reenactment of ritual abuse is the inevitable result. The framework of malignant trauma points towards the intersection of forces that are at work in the disappearance and invisibility of evils such as ritual abuse; forces that are grounded in human subjectivity and relationality, and thus present in us all. Indeed, Alford (2016) argues that trauma is irreducibly social and psychological, in which the risks, impacts and understandings of violence and loss are mediated by cultural and political processes.