Apolitical Disbelief vs Michael Salter’s “Politics of Disbelief” – Part 1

This is a review & response to:
‘Organised abuse and the politics of disbelief’, The 2nd Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference, Sydney, by Dr Michael Salter.
Quotations from Salter’s article appear as italicized paragraphs.

“Since the 1980s, disclosures of organised abuse [cases of child sexual abuse that involve multiple perpetrators] have been disparaged by a range of activists, journalists and researchers who have focused, in particular, on cases in which sexually abusive groups were alleged to have behaved in ritualistic or ceremonial ways”

Critical analysis by activists, journalists and researchers, leading to expressions of disbelief, have been focused specifically on allegations of ritual abuse, and especially on allegations of satanic ritual abuse. No one is disputing the entire concept of “child sexual abuse involving multiple perpetrators”, as Salter has attempted to insinuate here.

critical analysis of SRA "disclosures" by police experts
critical analysis of SRA “disclosures” by police experts

“Whilst these authors claimed to be writing in the interests of science and social justice, what has emerged from their writing are a familiar set of arguments about the credibility of women and children’s testimony of sexual violence; in short, that women and children are prone to a range of memory and cognitive errors that lead them to make false allegations of rape”.

Nonsense. Critical analysis of ritual abuse allegations has included observations that patients of certain ‘therapeutic techniques’, and very young children, are vulnerable to memory and cognitive manipulation by men or women in positions of power and authority over them – such as doctors, parents/grandparents, social workers, therapists or child abuse investigators, who are determined to solicit false allegations of rape from them.

critical analysis of SRA "disclosures", by scientists
critical analysis of SRA “disclosures”, by scientists

“This paper argues that this body of literature has systematically misconstrued allegations of organised abuse, and used organised abuse as a lens through which the debate on child abuse could be re-envisioned along very traditional lines, attributing victim status to accused men and constructing liars out of women and children complaining of sexual abuse….In particular, by framing allegations of organised abuse as bizarre and beyond belief, they sought to reassert an older politics of disbelief that contests the notion that women and children are reliable witnesses.”

Allegations of ritual abuse are disbelieved, not because they are “bizarre” but because they are demonstrably false - such as Michelle Smith’s allegation that she had been imprisoned by satanic cultists and subjected to an 81-day long ritual of abuse when her school attendance records showed not one day of absence during that time- and not because they are “beyond belief”, but because they are impossible – such as her allegation that Satan had manifested “in the flesh” to rape her personally at the climax of this imaginary 81-day ceremony.

critical analysis of fraudulent SRA testimonialists, by honest Evangelicals
critical analysis of fraudulent SRA testimonialists, by honest Evangelicals

For much of the 20th century, women and children’s disclosures of sexual violence have often been contested by drawing on entrenched cultural beliefs about women and children; namely, that they lack a firm sense of identity and memory, and are thus prone to confabulation and wilful falsehood.[Salter recounts the history of sex offence laws and child protection services, from a specific ideological perspective.]

By the early 1980s, significant gains had been made in relation to the public awareness of incest, sexual abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence.”

Dramatic social change often prompts a response from those threatened by the emergence of new meanings, understandings and practices. In the early 1980s, a nascent political movement developed in the United States, constituted of people who objected to the rise in state‐sponsored interventions in family life and parent-child relationships.”

Yes, a movement composed overwhelmingly of “born-again” Evangelicals, Southern Baptists and traditionalist Catholics opposed to secular laws prohibiting child-battering, who claimed that God commanded them to beat their children for the sake of their children’s souls.

This movement was largely a piecemeal and ineffectual effort until the first prosecutions for organised abuse provided them with a key opportunity to centralise and politically mobilise

False. It was neither piecemeal nor ineffectual “in the early 1980’s”. James Dobson’s “Focus On The Family” organization was already one of the most influential and politically powerful groups in America , successful in opposing state initiatives to outlaw corporal punishment as well as obstructing, appealing and overturning court orders to remove children from the homes of Christian parents accused of child battery. Ritual abuse allegation cases had nothing to do with the political mobilization of religious social conservatives in America, which is what the “no one but God can tell me how to raise my kids” movement was largely a manifestion of.

critical analysis of SRA "disclosures", by academic experts
critical analysis of SRA “disclosures”, by academic experts

In 1984, the community group Victims of Child Abuse Laws (or VOCAL) was formed in the aftermath of a collapsed investigation into allegations of organised abuse in Jordan, Minnesota. VOCAL was formed by two parents acquitted in the case, and Dr Ralph Underwager, a Lutheran minister and psychologist who acted as an expert witness in their defence.In court, Underwager had claimed that the children’s disclosures of organised abuse were the product of brainwashing by social workers, who, he testified, used Communist thought reform techniques to force the child witnesses to invent allegations against their parents. These dark intimations of a conspiracy of female professionals strong‐arming children into destroying their families would be a feature of Underwager’s activism over the next few decades.”

Presumably, Salter’s only objection to Underwager’s “dark intimations of a conspiracy” is that the conspirators are alleged to be female professionals employing Communistbrainwashing’ techniques upon children – since Salter shows no objection to “organized abuse” victim narratives depicting a conspiracy of male professionals employing Satanic-Nazi Imperialist brainwashing techniques upon children…?

critical analysis of SRA "disclosures", by Women journalists
critical analysis of SRA “disclosures”, by Women journalists

Ostensibly, VOCAL was formed to advocate for the rights of parents with complaints against the child protection system, but it attracted a range of other people, including anti‐feminists, father’s rights activists, convicted sexual offenders and pro‐paedophile advocates. Within a year of it’s establishment, VOCAL claimed three thousand members in one hundred chapters across forty states, providing an expansive platform for the promulgation of a position on child sexual abuse that harked back to views more prevalent in the early‐to‐mid twentieth century: child sexual abuse is infrequent and not necessarily harmful, children cannot tell the difference between fact and fantasy, and social workers and others who investigate child abuse are obsessive and hysterical.”

This obsession that Ritual Abuse-Mind Control ‘victim advocates’ including Salter demonstrate, for characterizing organizations that advocate for persons claiming to be falsely accused of sex crimes – such as VOCAL and FMSF (False Memory Syndrome Foundation) – as somehow being inherently nefarious and illegitimate undertakings that should not even be permitted to exist, is very revealing.

I’ve been involved in lobbying governments for improved child protection, sexual violence and victim’s rights legislation for many decades – with a particular focus on mandatory reporting of child abuse and on Dangerous Offender designation for the most violent or chronic sex offenders. It is very apparent to me, that advocating for these improved prosecutortial tools incurs an obligation that I also support efforts to ensure that these tools are not misused and abused. If I lobby for increased reporting of abuse, prosecution of more abusers and longer sentences for convicted abusers, I have an obligation to support efforts to prevent and correct convictions based on false allegations of abuse. Conversely, if the focus of my advocacy efforts involved  defending persons falsely accused of sexual abuse, that advocacy would incur an obligation for me to also support efforts to ensure that genuinely guilty persons do not evade the just consequences of their criminal acts. Rational people understand that these things are not antithetical to each other, that they have a necessarily reciprocal relationship, and that both are necessary for a just society.

So, when I come across people engaged in demonizing organizations such as VOCAL and FMSF, attempting to portray them as inherently nefarious and illegitimate undertakings that should not even be permitted to exist, I know that I am looking at the rantings of vengeance-crazed zealots engaged in a mindless witchhunt.

critical analysis of SRA "disclosures" by rationalist truth-seekers
critical analysis of SRA “disclosures” by rationalist truth-seekers

Underwager believed that “hysteria” about child sexual abuse was being fuelled by “radical feminism” and women’s jealousy of the intimacy between men and boys. In one instance, he accused “feminists in America” of waging a campaign of libel against him, following widespread criticism over his claim that “[p]aedopihles need to become more positive and make the claim that paedophilia is an acceptable expression of God’s will for love and unity among human beings

Here once again, we have the inevitable repitition of the same intentionally misrepresented remarks made by Underwager in the Paidika interview, that are mindlessly recited by every Ritual Abuse-Mind Control victim claimant, advocate and conspiracy theorist. They are intended to cast Underwager as believing, and professing, that sex between adults and children is totally acceptable and even “God’s will”. Of course, this is not at all what Underwager actually said and certainly not what he believed or advocated. A complete reproduction of this infamous interview can be found here:


The first thing to note, is that there are two people being interviewed; Ralph Underwager and his wife, Hollinda Wakefield. Both were legitimately trained & qualified professional psychologists involved in treating sex offenders at the Institute for Psychological Therapies in Minnesota, and members of organizations dedicated to promoting children’s rights and the prevention of child abuse. They co-edited the volumes: “Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse” and “The Real World of Child Interrogations”.

When you read the whole interview, you will find that the context of these famously misrepresented remarks is that of encouraging pedophiles to “grow beyond the limits of their condition and reclaim full lives”, to  “broaden or change the stories that they tell themselves about themselves, which shape their lives” – exactly the same advice given to chronic mental health patients diagnosed with long-term disorders such as MPD-DID, through the Narrative Therapy described in my previous article “Re-storied Survivors: Are They Trapped In Limbo?”

Underwager said: “…people who choose paedophilia…let themselves be too much defined by other people. That is usually an essentially negative definition. Paedophiles spend a lot of time and energy defending their choice. I don’t think that a paedophile needs to do that. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love…Paedophiles are too defensive. They go around saying, “You people out there are saying that what I choose is bad, that it’s no good. You’re putting me in prison, you’re doing all these terrible things to me. I have to define my love as being in some way or other illicit.” What I think is that paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness, they can say, “I believe this is in fact part of God’s will.” They have the right to make these statements for themselves as personal choices. Now whether or not they can persuade other people they are right is another matter (laughs).” [i.e., pedophiles have – like everyone else – the existential freedom to “choose their own reality”, but they can’t expect anyone else to agree to live that reality with them]

and later he said:

I was urging earlier that you make the loving image clearer to the outside world. What appears to the public is not the picture of a loving man but rather the picture of the dirty old man lurking in alleys, waiting for nice innocent young lads to come by, grabbing their genitalia and hustling them off and sort of casting them aside and waiting for the next one”.

This is the same philosophy of “questioning and reformulating one’s life story”, “deconstruction and reconstruction of one’s personal narrative” or “restorying the life project”, found in the feminist-social constructionist theory of Narrative Therapy. This philosophy argues that, persons who are marginalized by dominant patriarchal paradigms in our society which define them as hopelessly dysfunctional, “crazy”, “dangerous”, “freaks”  or “monsters”, accept and incorporate these negative terms into their self-definition and subsequently behave in ways which validate these negative assessments of them. People who are defined as “insane” by society constantly tell themselves that they are “insane” and subsequently manifest “insane” behaviours. People who are defined as “sex criminal monsters” by society will constantly tell themselves that they are “sex criminal monsters” and subsequently behave like “sex criminal monsters”. This Narrative Therapy philosophy suggests that if pedophiles were to re-story their life narrative, rejecting society’s negative definition of them  as criminal monsters with no conscience, empathy or remorse, motivated solely by insatiable lusts, and instead asserted to themselves and others that they genuinely desired the same intimacy and love that all other persons desire, they would be less likely to engage in callous exploitation of children and more likely to find positive, non-abusive ways to express their “loving feelings” for children. This is what Underwager is talking about in the interview, it appears to me.

Underwager’s remarks in this interview are not an expression of patriarchal indifference to the exploitation of the powerless, they are an expression of social constructionist principles taken to the point of lunacy.

I’m horrified by the possibility that Underwager might actually have counselled child sex abusers in therapy with such dangerous nonsense. Persons who experience feelings of  sexual attraction for minors should never be encouraged to believe that it is possible for them to sublimate their sexual impulses and express their “love” instead through socially normal, constructive relationships with children. Persons who experience feelings of sexual attraction for minors should be advised to scrupulously avoid all contact with minor persons, period.

I don’t agree with or condone, everything that Hollinda Wakefield or Ralph Underwager said or did, but no one can deny that this couple attempted to tackle the problem of child sexual abuse on multiple fronts. For years, as members of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and other children’s rights organizations, they had advocated for better child protection agencies, programs and laws. Through their journal on child abuse issues and Ralph’s legal advocacy work, they attempted to expose and correct what they perceived to be misuse and abuse of child protection agencies, programs and laws. Furthermore, through their clinical practice they attempted to treat child sex abusers and stop the cycles of abuse at their very root.

So, my question for these persons who take such delight in misrepresenting Underwager as “pro-pedophile”, would be – is there balance to your own advocacy? Or is it simply mindless zealotry?


  1. BD

    Plain Speaker,
    This is a wonderfully thoughtful response to a barrage of “Straw Man arguments” presented by Salter.
    I’m particularly delighted to see you point out that in demanding the harshest penalties for sexual crimes, it naturally follows that we must also be vigilant about distinguishing the innocent from the guilty. Those two goals are not mutually exclusive – they are necessarily connected. It would be difficult to find any who abhors a rapist more than someone who has been falsely accused of being one.

    In regard to the Underwager interview, there are a few points which I think should be addressed:
    As you mention, Dr. Underwager attempted to tackle the issue of child sexual abuse on many fronts. While many will claim that pedophilia is incurable, Dr. Underwager hoped to establish proactive treatments for those with a predilection towards children – a primary prevention approach. One of the difficulties in doing so was in finding subjects for research. He needed to find research participants who were willing to admit, and defend, their desires and practices. Because in the U.S., any expression of a sexual desire for minors (even possessing cartoon images which portray such) is criminal – he sought to find admitted pedophiles in the Netherlands who claimed to have had mutually beneficial relationships with minors. He was NOT looking for violent offenders – those who would use physical force in a sexual attack – but for those who “groomed” their targets into acquiescing.

    What I don’t see in articles which discuss the Padika interview, including yours, is any meaningful reference to the Underwager/Wakefield response:
    http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume6/j6_2_5.htm . “We do not believe sexual contact between an adult and a child is ever acceptable nor can it ever be positive.” “… the effects are apt to range from neutral to seriously damaging” “We have never accepted or condoned sexual acts between adults and children as positive or acceptable.” “[Dr. Underwager] never has approved or condoned a sexual offender’s behaviors…” “…the theory we advance about the effect of adult-child sexual contact enables us to maintain it is always harmful…”

    When this controversy first arose, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) was less than two years old and didn’t take a stance, but simply broke ties with Dr. Underwager, offering his direct phone # for those with questions. Today, the Padika interview is the most commonly cited disparager against the FMSF, even though the interview had nothing at all to do with the subject of recovered “repressed” memories or the science associated with that phenomenon.

    I have no doubt that some have taken “delight in misrepresenting” Dr. Underwager – but I suspect that most who have written on the subject were well-intentioned but still offended by the comments viewed without context.

  2. Plain Speaker

    BD – thank you!

    I didn’t bring the Underwager/Wakefield response into my discussion, because Ms Wakefield makes many of the same point WITHIN the original interview. There was a powerful woman in that relationship, bringing a well-grounded counterpoint to her husband’s more philosophical musings. :)

    Which leads to one of the many points I will cover in Part 2 of this discussion. The first warning bells about Satanic Panic were not rung by VOCAL, nor by FMSF, nor by any persons accused or on trial for allegations of satanic ritual abuse – they were rung and rung with passion by FEMINIST WOMEN, many in the Women’s Spirituality movement.

    And you’ll be chilled to the marrow in Part 3, when I discuss John Bunting and incitement to murder in Australia…
    [to hear this ad again, stand on your head and press qwertibu on your keyboard]

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