Tuesday, November 07, 2023

The strange rise of 'Satanic ritual abuse'

Those strange days in the later Eighties and early Nineties when social workers took children into care to protect them from 'Satanic ritual abuse' (SRA) are revisited in the December issue of Fortean Times.

The magazine reprints an article on the subject by Mike Dash that, judging by the references, first appeared in 1991.

It takes us through the various alleged outbreaks of SRA, including Rochdale, Nottingham and Orkney, before looking at the factors behind the rise of the concept:

The key role in convincing social workers of the reality of SRA* seems to have been played by three tiny fundamentalist Christian groups forming the Evangelical Alliance. 
They believe implicitly in the existence of Satanism as a real force for evil, and can marshal an array of witnesses including adults who have allegedly been saved from the clutches of Satanic abuse networks. 
With missionary fervour, they have organised seminars and conferences on SRA and co-ordinated the dissemination of the so-called 'Satanic indicators' used extensively and (apparently) uncritically by social workers and police. 
These groups ... were certainly present in Nottingham, Rochdale, Congleton, Kent and Manchester, and may well have played a part in promoting other cases.

It seemed to me at the time that the ease with which the idea of SRA leapt from the wackier fringes of US Evangelical Christianity to the centre of social work profession in Britain told us something worrying about that profession.

Mike Dash's conclusion in 1991 was:

The Social Services Inspectorate has circulated SRA 'indicators' to every social services department in Britain. Yet not a single documented case of ritual abuse has been unearthed and police say they have no evidence to bring charges against any of the adults who have come under suspicion. At present Satanic ritual abuse is of greater interest to folklorists than to criminologists.

* Dash starts off using the term 'Satanic child abuse' (SCA), but I have preferred 'Satanic ritual abuse' (SRA), which he uses later in the article himself, as my memory of editing psychology texts in those years is that this became the standard term.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is *not* my Mastermind subject, but perhaps I might be allowed a few observations.

The Evangelical Alliance is a lot more than “three tiny fundamentalist Christian groups”. It’s quite a large umbrella group for a number of Free and non-Conformist Churches, as well as some Anglican parishes.

They are not alone in believing implicitly in Satanism – or, perhaps more accurately, in the existence of Satan. But it should be noted that the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches also have formal strategies and liturgies for dealing with the subject.

I wasn’t aware that the SRA phenomenon of the late eighties and early nineties was instigated or driven forward by Christian groups – I must look into that. But there’s one very strong counter-indicator or exception to that thesis, and that’s the goings-on in Orkney. In the Orkney case, the supposed Satanists were a group of Quakers who had adopted several children. The Social Services Department there was spectacularly ignorant of the practices and beliefs surrounding the Society of Friends. In particular, they thought that the practice of sitting in a circle and maintaining silence – which has taken place in almost every Quaker service since the seventeenth century – was in itself some form of devil worship. In that case, the people of faith were definitely the victims, not the perpetrators.

It was an extraordinary state of affairs, though – and it’s fascinating that it died out just as swiftly it arose.