Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The devil on South Ronaldsay

Last night BBC2 showed Accused - a remarkable documentary on the Orkney "Satanic Ritual Abuse" case of 1991. I cannot find a page on the BBC site devoted to it, but this news report includes some of the material from the programme.

Although it included dramatic reconstructions of some of the interviews social workers conducted with the children, what was most impressive about Accused was the way it allowed all the participants in the affair - including the children, who are now grown up - to speak for themselves. In the case of the social workers this ultimately involved giving them enough rope to hang themselves, but they cannot claim that they were unfairly treated.

The obvious question to ask is how it could happen. The answer lies in the nature of social work, which has the appearance of a profession but lacks the body of theoretical knowledge that a profession needs. Clinical psychologists, for example, apply the knowledge gained through psychological research, but social workers have no equivalent body of knowledge to apply. Sociology certainly does not supply them with technical knowledge that the rest of us lack.

So there is a vacuum at the heart of social work. When you add to this the fact that the people attracted into it are, for the most part, well meaning but of no particular intellectual accomplishment, then it is not surprising that they come to hold strange beliefs.

At one time Marxism filled the vacuum, at least to some extent, but its influence had been on the wane for a decade before the Orkney affair. Accused emphasised the feminist roots of the belief in Satanic Ritual Abuse amongst social workers, and it certainly had roots there, but the concept was also strongly influenced by American Evangelical Christianity.

Again, the fact that those who think themselves politically radical can be so easily influenced by the most reactionary movement in the Western world shows there is something odd about social work. It sounds fanciful to say that the raids on homes in Orkney were a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of Marxism, but there is probably something in it.

Social workers are easy targets for public scorn, but some of the practices revealed in Accused would raise serious questions about the competence and morality of those involved even if you believed that the devil had been walking on South Ronaldsay. In particular, there was the endless browbeating of children in the guise of skilled questioning and the inexplicable decision to send one of the boys lifted from Orkney to a unit for young offenders. As his mother was only too well aware, he really was at risk of sexual abuse there.

With her bovine complacency Janette Chisholm, one of the social workers shown, made an easy hate figure. She refused to entertain the thought that she might have been wrong, and treated the parents' protestations of innocence as proof of their guilt. But then in America people used to argue that the lack of evidence that Satanists were murdering children in huge numbers was proof of how powerful their conspiracy was.

The other social worker interviewed came over as a more sympathetic figure. Yet at the end, when describing the way the children had been flown back to Orkney, he claimed that he had heard them use language that proved they had been abused.

So there are words whose use, by themselves, constitutes proof that Satanic abuse has taken place, and social workers can recognise them and no one else can? You only have to type that out to see what nonsense it is.

There were heroes in this case. One was the Sheriff David Kelbie, who recognised the evidence for the mumbo jumbo it was and threw the case out at the first opportunity. Never underestimate the importance of an independent legal system to the maintenance of our freedom.

But the real heroes were the people of South Ronaldsay, who stood by the families involved even though they were not from Orkney and one of them was difficult to deal with. As one of the parents said, if it had not been for the support of the community, they would not have got their children back.

The press played a part too. Journalists arrived in Orkney thinking they were there to report a particularly juicy kinky vicar story, but had the sense to realise what was really going on.

Socialists and liberals tend to see progress as consisting in professionals (and pseudo-professionals) supervising more and more areas of our lives. The Orkney case should remind us that these people can sometimes be wicked or stupid or just disastrously wrong and that the people often show far better judgement.

That is a lesson we should never forget.

Later. I wrote another short posting on the Orkney affair.


dearieme said...

At the time, I was told that no-one involved - victims or social workers - was Orcadian; they were all incomers. You've told us that was true of the families; do you know if it's true of their persecutors too?

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. See also the article on Heretical Sex, a men's movement blog.

Anonymous said...

I do not think that the lack of 'professionalism' and intellectual rigour found in social workers explains enough of what happened. I have seen many highly educated professionals promote the view that Satanic Ritual Abuse is rampant.

Anonymous said...

I think it a bit mean to criticize social work for lack of theoretical knowledge (an oxymoronic term anyway) when it has been the theories of others behind the childcare scandals of recent years. It was Reflex Anal Dilatation, an idea created by Paediatricians which lay behind the Cleveland affair. It was another Paediatrician who invented Munchausen’s by Proxy Syndrome which sent innocent mothers to prison. Psychologists, whom you admire, have their Attachment Theory. This categorises attachments between children and parents as Secure, Disorganised or Insecure. Apply this in court and you separate already emotionally insecure children from the only carers they know and place them with complete strangers. It was also a Psychologist who invented the child sexual abuse Accommodation Syndrome. This stated that children accommodate emotionally to repeated sexual abuse so that if asked they will claim that they have not been abused. Ergo, a denial of sexual abuse by a child is proof positive that they have suffered such abuse.

There are, of course, able and less able social workers and sometimes some of them succumb to accepting and even applying simplistic and theoretical (i.e. untested) explanations of complex human behaviour. But, on the whole, a practical profession such as social work, which did not create these bizarre ideas should not have to bear the patronising criticism of being “well meaning but of no particular intellectual accomplishment …”. It seems to me the evidence is that it is within the professions which do claim superior intellectual gifts and possession of great bodies of knowledge, where the barmy theories hatch and grow.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Liz McLean and her notions were the main factor in the evolution of this tragic piece of nonsense. Remember though that someone in Orkney decided to call her in. Probably the then Director of Social Work, advised by his Team Leader. Remember also the Police were heavily involved, and heavily criticised by the Clyde Report.

For your correspondant who asks if the staff involved were "ferry loupers" too, well I think most of them were, but Janette Chisholm sounds at least vaguely Nothern Isles to me, and I lived up that way for years.

But it IS unfair to blame the developement of the "philosophy" behind Liz, Janette et al's abusive behaviour on Social Work alone. There is a cult-like group of believers in satanic ritual abuse, drawing members from a wide range of professional backgrounds, including psychologists, psychiatrists and police. Try Google on "santanic ritual abuse" and "rains abuse", and...erm...enjoy.

I write as an ex-social worker (two degrees, post-grad diploma and various other bits of paper, so I must be right...) who strongly supected at the time what was unfolding. And if the ex Strathclyde social worker who mentioned the kids' language on the flight back to Orkney can't work out why they would do and say that, well he may be a more sypathetic figure than Nursey (out of Blackadder - thank you the Herald) but oh deary me....

Anonymous said...

"It sounds fanciful to say that the raids on homes in Orkney were a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of Marxism, but there is probably something in it."

Even more fanciful than saying the kids concerned were victims of satanic abuse.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the children uplifted in the case and I can asure you that the issue is not a matter of (however poor at the time) social worker standards. The issue was that a tory MP and a few of his chums were convinced by a group of fanatical believers in satanic ritual abuse. They'd recently come back from America, where in the late 80s there was a wide spread 'satanic panic,' in the media and stories about satanic abuse within our own communities. Oddly enough many of these same tory MPs who backed RSSPCC's envolvement, were members of child abuse rings of their own.
I hated social workers at the time, but they were pawns, and ill equiped, often well meaning pawns.
It was RSSPCC who made up all the false alligations and forced them out of my brothers and sisters, who were sexually nieve and didn't even understand what these RSSPCC interigators were talking about.
The truth is much more than this, but if you waste your time taking abourt social workers, you're missing the truth. That is all I can say right now.