This is Part 1b of 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.
“In a small number of child protection investigations in the 1980s, children reported ritualistic forms of sexual abuse, involving sexual assault and torture by groups of people within religious or cult‐like “satanic” ceremonies”.
This disingenuous misrepresentation: “…in the 1980s, children reported ritualistic forms of sexual abuse…” etc, is the bedrock falsehood propping up the entire rotten edifice of satanic ritual abuse mythology.
Children did not ‘report’ “ritualistic forms of sexual abuse, involving sexual assault and torture by groups of people within religious or cult‐like “satanic” ceremonies”. What really took place was this – adult persons, some of whom were caregivers for children who would be portrayed as complainants in child protection investigations in the 1980s, including; parents, grandparents, other relatives, child care personnel, doctors, therapists, social workers, clergy or other church functionaries, etc., claimed that children had told them stories about being involved in “ritualistic forms of sexual abuse, involving sexual assault and torture by groups of people within religious or cult‐like “satanic” ceremonies”.
Children did not start spontaneously complaining that they were being victimized by satanic ritual abuse cults, in the 1980’s. Rather, adult persons started claiming that their own and/or other people’s kids were being victimized by satanic ritual abuse cults, in the 1980’s.
This distinction is not trivial, it is of the utmost importance.
Organizations like “Believe The Children” ought more accurately have been called:
“Believe Us! and Whatever We Might Claim That Children Have Told Us”. Certainly it was adults – not children – holding press conferences, organizing speaking tours, running “SRA- Occult Crime Investigator” training sessions for a wide range of professionals, or expounding their personal alleged SRA victim narratives on Oprah or Geraldo.
In some cases, these adults claimed that their knowledge of children being abused in satanic cult “abuse rituals” was validated by children telling them about experiencing such abuse, or telling them about witnessing such abuse being perpetrated against other kids. Sometimes, in these cases, real children were eventually manipulated into reciting SRA allegations – which originated one way or another from adults in their lives – as though it was the child’s own story, in some public record such as testimony in a criminal court. In reality, however, most of these children were being exploited as “ventriloquist’s dummies” by adults in their lives - the children spoke the words and recited the fantasies, but the fantasies came from the minds of controlling adults – not from the child’s imagination nor from their real life experiences.
We know, from the accounts of some heroic persons who gave false testimony as a child but retracted that testimony once they were mature enough to run their own lives, that some children were manipulated into knowingly telling falsehoods and making up stories in relation to these “small number of child protection investigations in the 1980s…involving sexual assault and torture by groups of people within religious or cult‐like “satanic” ceremonies”, but those children are entirely blameless for any false allegations that came out of their mouths under those circumstances.
“I remember them asking extremely uncomfortable questions about whether Ray touched me and about all the teachers and what they did and I remember telling them nothing happened to me. I remember them almost giggling and laughing, saying, “Oh, we know these things happened to you. Why don’t you just go ahead and tell us? Use these dolls if you’re scared.”
“Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn’t like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. It was really obvious what they wanted. I know the types of language they used on me: things like I was smart, or I could help the other kids who were scared”.
“I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do. And I thought they wanted me to help protect my little brother and sister who went to McMartin”.
“Later my parents asked if the teachers took pictures and played games with us. Games like “Naked Movie Star.” I remember my mom asking me. She would ask if they sang the song, and I didn’t know what she was talking about, so she would sing something like, “Who you are, you’re a naked movie star.” I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I ever heard that: from my mom. After she asked me a hundred times, I probably said yeah, I did play that game”.
“My parents were very encouraging when I said that things happened. It was almost like saying things happened was going to help get these people in jail and stop them from what they were trying to do to kids. Also, there were so many kids saying all these things happened that you didn’t want to be the one who said nothing did. You wouldn’t be believed if you said that”.
It is adults in those children’s lives who are responsible for the lies, the fantasies and any false allegations arising from them. Adults were the only liars, fantasists and false accusers – any falsehoods told by children were either a reflection of the fantasies that adults had communicated to them, or a desperate strategy to escape controlling adult demands for the children to validate the lies, fantasies and false accusations postulated by those adults.
The story behind how and why some adults in these children’s lives exploited and manipulated the children in these cases is a long and complex one. Nevertheless, it has been analyzed & explained quite thoroughly in the past, so I don’t intend to reinvent that whole wheel in this discussion. Some of the better resources, related to the questions of how & why adults in such cases behave so irrationally;
Here’s the bottom line. Adults convince themselves that they ‘know’ something bad has happened to their child or other children in their community, something that the children have never directly disclosed to anyone. Sometimes, the adults convince themselves that they ‘know’ exactly what happened and exactly who was involved in this bad thing – even though they possess no direct knowledge by their own involvement, no witness accounts, nor any other form of proof that could validate their ‘hunch’ experience. Having granted themselves the conceit of “knowing what happened” without possessing any proof, such persons are unlikely to accept any information from the child which does not conform to and confirm “what they already know” – but they are highly likely to ‘decode’ and re-interpret contradictory information from the child so that it appears to validate what they believe they already know. Again and again in these “small number of child protection investigations in the 1980s…involving sexual assault and torture by groups of people within religious or cult‐like “satanic” ceremonies”, it is quite apparent that persons involved in questioning the children are convinced that they already know “what happened”, have no intention of allowing the child to ‘paint their own picture’ of the reality they have experienced, and are only interested in soliciting from the children validation of their own supposed ‘knowledge’.
One of the more common manifestations of supposedly knowing something without evidence or proof, is the delusional belief that a person possesses the magical ability to ‘diagnose’ events in someone else’s life history – events which the other person might not even have a conscious memory of – from some list of ‘symptoms’, characteristics or traits. A highly relevant example would be Catherine Gould’s “Signs and Symptoms of Ritualistic Child Abuse” checklist. Armed with this simple tool, a properly trained therapist ought to be able to diagnose that a child has been a victim of “ritualistic child abuse” – right? No, absolutely wrong!
The only context within which the concept of “diagnosis” can be said to have any validity at all, is in the assessment of physical ailments with a long, long history of specific symptoms being noted to correspond to specific ailments. “Ritualistic child abuse” would be a series or cluster of life experiences, it is not a physical ailment. Regardless of who might be using Gould’s checklist, such a ‘magical’ tome cannot ‘diagnose’ that a child, (or adult), has a history of ritual abuse victimization. Diagnosis of specific events in another person’s life history is simply a delusional concept, no person possesses such a power – with or without Gould’s checklist to aid them.
Many, many people belief that they do have such abilities, however. Often, this power is believed to be an inherent trait rather than a learned or trained ‘skill’ – a super-intuitive capacity to directly perceive “the truth” about some other person’s life history. Believers in this imaginary power run the gamut of citizens; from the least educated to some of the most educated, from Soccer Moms & truck drivers to psychologists, psychiatrists and all manner of persons employed in other “helping professions”. Even Sigmund Freud believed that he possessed such miraculous powers…at least, in the early days of his practice.
No surprise, then, to find that Dr Michael Salter apparently believes that he possesses the power to diagnose events in other people’s life histories. In a document titled: Bearing Witness To Ritual Abuse, Salter relates that as a mere teenager he was capable of accurately diagnosing a history of sexual abuse in other people’s lives – based on…the other person’s behavioural quirks?
Salter says: “I’ve known Alex for six years. I met her when I was still a teenager, living in a student share house. We got along well, but she was private and kept to herself. I couldn’t help noticing how little she ate, how little she slept, or the hours that she spent walking at night. One day, a flatmate told me that she could hear Alex crying herself to sleep every night”.
“The next night, when Alex set out for one of her long walks, I told her I was coming with her. We were barely around the corner when I confronted her with my suspicion. I told her that I believed she’d been sexually abused. I’ve never seen anyone look so terrified. I asked her who it was, and she told me. “A group of police officers.”
Wow! An apparent correct ‘diagnosis’, and immediately validated by the other person, to boot! So now we know that being private, keeping to yourself, eating little, sleeping little and crying yourself to sleep must be infallible symptoms for a history of sexual abuse. I suppose. Or not… I was actually able to find over 100 physical ailments for which loss of appetite combined with sleeplessness could by relevant symptoms. But, whatever. Sometimes a person just magically ‘knows’, with infallible accuracy and unshakeable certainty, what events have transpired in someone else’s life – without that other person needing to disclose anything about such events – I guess. Many people believe this to be true, with genuine fanaticism.
So, when a parent, a babysitter, neighbor, Sunday School leader, social worker, therapist, soccer coach or public health nurse experiences a sudden and soul-chilling moment of insight along the lines of: “Hey! That little boy/little girl must have been raped and tortured by a secret satanic cult operating out of their pre-school!”, that person could be capable of doing anything in pursuit of validation for their magical powers of intuitive life experience diagnosis. Including forging fraudulent ‘evidence’ intended to indicate that the child was abused, spreading false rumors, giving false evidence or false testimony, manipulating the child or other persons in the child’s life into making statements affirming the validity of the diagnosis, or even beating the child to death in a vain & desperate attempt to force the child to disclose the diagnosed “truth” – apparently. Rest in peace, Bobby Vernon.
Lies were told during the course of these early SRA allegation cases – there is no doubt of that – but the children involved were not the ones bearing responsibility for those lies.