Against Satanic Panics > SRA
The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare
(and the larger child sex abuse panic)
of the 1980's and early 1990's
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- Brief introduction
- What was the SRA scare? Some introductory articles
- Information about specific alleged cases
- The "West Memphis Three" case
- "Recovered memory" retractors
- Some scholars and psychotherapists on "recovered memories" and child abuse accusations
- Some scholars and psychotherapists on Satanism scares and Satanism's criminal fringe
- Other informative websites
- Legal resources for those accused
- Still-ongoing general cultural paranoia
- A note to those whose web pages are listed here
- Commentary by the founders of Against Satanic Panics
- Brief introduction
Below are links to sites debunking the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) scare of the 1980's and early 1990's. Most of the sites listed below are concerned, primarily, not with the SRA scare itself but with a larger child sexual abuse panic, of which the SRA scare was the most sensationalistic part.
The SRA scare was exceedingly harmful to many, many innocent people. The harm was by no means limited to law-abiding Satanists or adherents of other nonmainstream religions that are sometimes confused with Satanism, such as Wicca. In fact, to a far greater extent, it harmed lots and lots of ordinary, mainstream folks who were accused of horrific crimes based on exceedingly flimsy evidence. The vast majority of the falsely accused, like most Americans in general, were Christians.
Both the SRA scare itself and the larger larger child sex abuse witchhunt took three main forms:
- "Recovered memories" of horrific child abuse. In many cases the "memories" were "recovered" in psychotherapy using questionable techniques such as hypnotic regression.
- Many multiple-victim, multiple-offender child abuse cases where the "evidence" consisted primarily or exclusively of testimony by small children who had been coached inappropriately by therapists. Most of the alleged perpetrators were female daycare center workers.
- Accusations by divorcing parents in child custody disputes.
By the mid-1990's, both the SRA scare and the larger child sex abuse panic had been largely discredited. Unlike SRA, child sex abuse is a genuine, serious, and widespread problem. What was discredited was child abuse accusations based on "recovered memories" or on the testimonies of children who had been asked lots and lots of leading questions.
Yet some of the accused still languish in prison due to lack of money for appeals. Others were never imprisoned but had to deal with the heartbreak of being shunned by their own adult children thanks to "recovered memories."
The SRA scare was also part of another larger panic: about "Satanism," "occult crime," and the occult in general. To this day, there are quite a few fundamentalists who warn about all sorts of popular children's and young people's activities (rock music, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and even reading Harry Potter books) allegedly leading kids into "Satanism" - which is, of course, allegedly criminal. And beliefs in SRA and Satanic conspiracies still flourish in the minds of a lot of uneducated people.
Note: A listing on this page does not imply endorsement or affiliation. This page is intended only to be a fairly comprehensive listing of resources on the SRA scare and on the related larger child sex abuse panic of the 1980's and early 1990's.
- What was the SRA scare? Some introductory articles
- Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) in The Skeptic's Dictionary
- Two articles by Debbie Nathan: The Ritual Sex Abuse Hoax, The Village Voice, January 12, 1990, on the website of The National Center for Reason and Justice; and Inside the "Satan Scare" Industry - The Devil Makes Them Do It, In These Times (no date given; apparently early 1990's, judging by the mention of Robert D. Hicks's book which was published in 1991), on Rock Out Censorship.
- The "Ritual Abuse" Panic, including Michelle Remembers: Fiction, not Fact, on Imaginary Crimes
- The Debunking of a Myth - Why the original "ritual abuse" victim may have suffered only from her childhood fantasies - by Denna Allen & Janet Midwinter, The Mail on Sunday, London, England, September 30, 1990, Page 41
- Satanism: Skeptics Abound by John Johnson and Steve Padilla, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1991
- Giving the Devil More Than His Due by David Alexander, from The Humanist, March/April 1990
- Report by FBI agent Kenneth Lanning - 1989 edition (on the Temple of Set site; another copy in the Skeptic Tank Text Archive) and 1992 edition (on the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance site)
- Satanic Cults: A Skeptical View of the Law Enforcement Approach by Robert D. Hicks, 1989 (another copy here)
- Satanic Child Abuse Hysteria in Britain 1990-1991, by Donald Rooum, 1998
- Satan in Suburbia by Gareth J. Medway, Fortean Times, November 2001
- Salem's Shadow by Bob Chatelle & Jim D'Entremont, The Guide, January 1999
- None Dare Call It Reason: Kids, Cults, and Common Sense by Robert Hicks
- On Witches and Witch Hunts: Ritual and Satanic Cult Abuse by David Lotto, on Free Bernard Baran!
- From McMartin to Rochdale, Satanic Panic Reckoning Underway, in the blog Bartholomew's notes on religion, 09 January 2006
- The McMartin Postscript, in the blog The Y Files by Cathy Young, Monday, October 31, 2005 - contains overview of some of the history of the SRA scare
Information about specific alleged cases
- Imaginary Crimes: Real Life Cases of People Sent to Prison for Crimes That Never Happened, including Timeline of the Ritual Abuse Panic and Other cases
- Witchhunt Information Page by Jonathan G. Harris
- Doug Hill's list of Links to Information on Alleged Witchhunt Cases
- 42 Multiple-Victim, Multiple-Offender Cases on the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance site
- The National Center for Reason and Justice
- Innocence Lost the Plea (about a case involving the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, N.C.) and Other Well-Known Cases on the PBS site
- McMartin Preschool Abuse Trials of 1987 to 1990 in the Famous Trials seminar taught by Doug Linder at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law
- Satanic abuse and McMartin: a global village rumour by Richard Webster - see left-hand column for links to articles on some British cases
- Escondido case arose from story of Satanic threat by Mark Sauer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 2, 2000
- Bakersfield cases on injusticebusters
- Recovered Memories in the Courts on the False Memory Syndrome Foundation site
- Bob Chatelle's Home Page, including: (1) The Day Care Child Sex Abuse Phenomenon; (2) The Innocent and the Damned by Gary Cartwright, Texas Monthly Magazine, April 1994 Issue; (3) The sad case of Michael Parker by Geoffrey King; and (4) Please Write to a Prisoner
- Dubious Accusations and Convictions on Free Bernard Baran!
- Abusive justice: the child-abuse craze has passed from the media spotlight. But many innocent people are still fighting for their lives. by Rael Jean Isaac, National Review; 6/30/1997
- The Shame of Lorain, Ohio by Lona Manning
- On the "What's the Harm?" site: Fearing Satanic Ritual Abuse and Trying to recover lost memories. This site also has a section on today's more literal witchhunts, titled Believing in witchcraft.
- Cases on the Satanic Media Watch and News Exchange site
See also Recent retractions and other recent news on some older alleged "Satanic" crimes.
The "West Memphis Three" case
This section has been moved to a new page devoted to the West Memphis Three.
Although not an SRA case per se (it's a murder case, not primarily a child sex abuse case, real or imaginary), I've singled out the West Memphis Three case for extra attention because it's the type of case I think we're most likely to see more of in the future.
- In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult by Robert D. Hicks (on Prometheus Books and Amazon; reviewed on Books for Skeptics and in IPT Journal)
- Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend by Jeffrey Victor (on Open Court and on Amazon; reviewed by Hollida Wakefield and Books for Skeptics)
- The Satanism Scare by James T. Richardson, Joel Best, and David G. Bromley (on Amazon)
- Satan's Silence by Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker (on iUniverse and Amazon, reviewed by Philip Jenkins and on Books for Skeptics; profile of Debbie Nathan here)
- Victims of Memory by Mark Pendergrast (on Upper Access and on Amazon, review on Books for Skeptics, online excerpts here)
- Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria by Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters (on Amazon)
- Selling Satan by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott (on Cornerstone Press and on Amazon; reviewed on Books for Skeptics and on The Skeptical Inquirer; the book is expanded from a series of articles in the evangelical Christian magazine Cornerstone) - expose of one of the first and best-known Christian professional "ex-Satanists," whose tall tales preceded the SRA scare proper
- The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial by Paul Eberle and Shirley Eberle (on Prometheus Books and on Amazon)
- Remembering Satan by Lawrence Wright (on Amazon), about the case of Paul Ingram
- True Stories of False Memories by Eleanor Goldstein and Kevin Farmer (on Amazon, reviewed in IPT Journal)
- Spectral Evidence by Moira Johnston (on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell's Books; reviewed by Edward Greer; see also Moira Johnston's website) - detailed account of a lawsuit by Gary Ramona (of Napa Valley, California) against a psychiatrist, a marriage counselor, and a hospital for inducing "memories" of child rape in his daughter Holly
- No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times by Dorothy Rabinowitz (on OpinionJournalBookstore and Amazon; interview with Dorothy Rabinowitz on injusticebusters.)
- Remembering Trauma by by Richard J. McNally (on Barnes & Noble; review by Frederick C. Crews)
- Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media by Bill Ellis (on University of Kentucky Press and on Amazon; reviewed on satanservice.org; see also the article The Devil and Bill Ellis by Scott McLemee, in The Chronicle of Higher Education). Ellis has also written Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture (on Amazon; see also How Satan is propping up Bush's war on terror by Andrew O'Hehir).
- Pillar of Salt: Gender, Memory, and the Perils of Looking Back by Janice Haaken (on Rutgers University Press and on Amazon) - about the "recovered memory" issue among feminist psychotherapists
- Lure of the Sinister: The Unnatural History of Satanism by Gareth J. Medway (on NYU Press, on Barnes & Noble, and on Amazon; reviewed on Supernatural San Diego and in Fortean Times)
- Devil's Knot : The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt (on Amazon)
- Legal defense support:
- The National Center for Reason and Justice (sponsors some legal defense funds)
- VOCAL (Victims of Child Abuse Laws) - chapters in Washington, Missouri, Montana, and New York
- False Allegations Support Organisation (FASO), in the U.K.
- Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers (FACT), in the U.K.
- False Allegations Action Scotland
Against "recovered memory" therapy:
- False Memory Syndrome Foundation
- Illinois/Wisconsin False Memory Society
- British False Memory Society
- Australian False Memory Association
- Parents Against Cruel Therapy
- Concerned citizens for legal accountability (Wenatchee, Washington)
"Recovered memory" retractors
- Pages about retractors on the False Memory Syndrome Foundation site: (1) Retractors speak: The Therapy, (2) Retractors Speak: Reconciliation, (3) Research About Retractors, (4) Articles About Retractors, and (5) Legal Issues Pertaining to Retractors
- Recovered Memory Retractors by Laura Pasley (another link to the same site), including her personal story
- The Retractors (excerpts from Victims of Memory by Mark Pendergrast), plus essays The Candy Cane and the Bear by Deborah David, Retractor, and Quotes about The Courage to Heal from Retractors, on Stop Bad Therapy
- Forward, by Melody Gavigan, to Victims of Memory by Mark Pendergrast
Some scholars and psychotherapists on "recovered memories" and child abuse accusations
- Institute for Psychological Therapies (IPT), including their journal Issues In Child Abuse Accusations
- Elizabeth F. Loftus
- The Great Incest War by Diana E. Russell
- Focus on Science, Therapy topics, and Key Concepts in Hypnosis on the website of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation
- A Psychoanalytic Look at Recovered Memories, Therapists, Cult Leaders, and Undue Influence by Lorna Goldberg
- Untrue confessions by Edward Humes, Orange County Register, Oct. 10, 2004
- Collection of articles on Lost or False memories
- More later
Some scholars and psychotherapists on on Satanism scares and Satanism's criminal fringe
- The Devil Made Me Do It: Adolescent Attraction to Satanism by Lawrence C. Trostle & Melissa S. Green(in Sharon Araji, ed., Society: An Alaskan Perspective, revised printing. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 1996, pp. 201-218), on the website of the Justice Center of the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
- Satanism Scares and Vampirism by Massimo Introvigne, on the website of the Center for Studies on New Religions
- The Satanism Scare by Gerry O'Sullivan, Postmodern Culture v.1 n.2 (January, 1991, on Virtual School
- More later
Other informative websites
- Ontario Consultants on Religious tolerance pages on Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA), Ritual Abuse (RA), Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT), Parents victimized by children's protective services, and Frauds in religious books
- A Rumor of Devils: Allegations of Satanic Child Abuse and Mormonism, 1985-1994 by Massimo Introvigne, presented at the Annual Conference of The Mormon History Association (MHA) - Park City, Utah, May 21, 1994. Includes history of Satanism scares over the past few centuries.
- Stop Bad Therapy - see especially this site's page on The Myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse
- Satanic Media Watch and News Exchange (large collection of articles in Danish, Norwegian, and English)
- False Memory Syndrome, Satanic Panic files and Additional False Memory Syndrome text files at the Skeptic Tank
- Satanism and SRA on Answers In Action -- an evangelical Christian site, hostile to Satanism, yet honest enough and courageous enough to have made some significant pioneering contributions to the debunking of the more outrageous witchhunt propaganda. (But this site also contains some questionable allegations of its own regarding Satanism; see my comments on my Theistic Satanism site.)
- The Satan Sellers on Loompanics Unlimited
- Media Constructions of 'Satanism' in Norway (1988-1997) on Norwegian Skeptics
- False Allegations of Child Abuse on Truth in Justice
- The Broxtowe Files, including The JET Report: Nottinghamshire County Council, Revised Joint Enquiry Report, Nottinghamshire Social Services, 1990 (another copy here and another copy here)
- PBS Frontline: The Child Terror
- Occult Crime - Research Update, Winter 1989-1990 by Hayle Olson-Raymer, Office of Criminal Justice Planning, State of California - electronic version prepared by David Rice on Holysmoke
- Satanism and False Memories on The Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups, and Movements
- Research resources on Satanic and/or Ritual Abuse and related issues on Apologetics Index, an evangelical Christian site
- About.com on the Satanic Panic (See also What the Hell is Satanic Ritual Abuse? by Leonard Holmes.)
- Sexual Fascism in Progressive America: Scapegoats and Shunning by "PARIAH" in CounterPunch, Mar 4, 2006
- Satanism and the Satanic Panic - Articles by G.M.Kelly, a Thelemite. Contains a lot of typical Pagan/occultist misrepresentations of Satanism, but nevertheless some good critique of some of the scaremongers.
- Government Studies of Childhood Ritual Abuse on the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
- Seeking Justice for Peter Ellis, including Satan's Excellent Adventure in the Antipodes , by Michael Hill, IPT Journal - Volume 10 1998
- "The Courage to Heal and Memories of Abuse," Part 1 and Part 2 - debate in a women's studies forum, in 1998.
- The Stepford Whores: Project Monarch and Mind-Controlled Sex Slaves by Tracy R. Twyman (unedited version of an article originally printed in a 2001 issue of Hustler Magazine). See also Michael A. Aquino's Letter ti Ted Gunderson.
- Recovering Memory by John Frow, Australian Humanities Review
- Serial Murders & the Satanic Ritualistic Crimes Myth by Charles Nemo, 1991, updated 1994 - contains extensive bibliography
- Doug Hill's list of Links to Witchhunt related articles and WWW sites
Legal resources for those accused
The SRA scare was pretty thoroughly discredited by the mid-1990's. Yet some of the accused are still in prison due to lack of money for appeals. And many parents must still deal with the heartbreak of being forsaken by their own children due to probably-false "memories."
- National Child Abuse Defense & Resource Center
- A resource center to help the falsely accused by Patrick E. Clancy, an attorney in California, including Attorneys and Experts
- Child Abuse Defense Kit by Clara A. Thomas Boggs
- Abuse Excuse by Dean Tong
- Simpson & Stacy - handled some of the first lawsuits against "recovered memory" therapists
- Fighting Child Protective Services False Accusations
- How to Fight False Allegations of Abuse and Neglect and What to do if the DSS Comes to Your Door on Mass Outrage
- Falsely Accused - A Resource Center for Laymen and Attorneys
- Support for People Accused of Abuse
- Kim Hart - Trial Support Services
See also the Organizations section of this page, above. See especially the National Center for Reason and Justice, which has a legal defense fund.
Still-ongoing general cultural paranoia
Although the SRA scare has been discredited in the eyes of the people who matter most (e.g. most police departments, social workers, psychotherapists, and relevant academic experts), there are lots of uneducated people who still do believe in SRA and Satanic conspiracy theories - which still do give rise to quite a bit of general cultural paranoia. Below are some examples:
- I Was a Teenage Devil Worshiper: A Harry Potter adventure - sort of... by Tim Mitchell, on the American Atheists site
- More later.
A note to those whose web pages are listed here
It has been brought to my attention that at least one person is worried that "most people" following the links from this page would assume that the websites are owned by Satanists, and that this, in turn, will result in great harm to the anti-"recovered memory" cause. I simply do not agree that "most people" who would be reading my website in the first place are likely to draw such a conclusion. To anyone worried about this sort of thing, here is my response:
- On several pages here on this site, including both the main page and the page you are reading now (see the Brief introduction at the top), I've clearly stated that the majority of the falsely accused were ordinary, mainstream people. I briefly discuss a few of the sociopolitical implications of this fact on the following two pages: "Satanism" scares and their debunking - A brief introduction and To Pagans and occultists.
- To anyone who actually bothers to read all the many sites linked here on this page, it will be abundantly clear that the vast majority of the falsely accused were ordinary mainstream folks.
- The idea that the anti-"recovered-memory" movement consists largely of Satanists is just plain ridiculous and can easily be shown false, as follows: As I've explained in the section on Key points to be made when debunking "Satanism" scares on my page about "Satanism" scares and their debunking, a high estimate of the total number of Satanists in the world is 60,000 to 70,000. (It is far more likely that there are no more than 30,000 Satanists in the entire world.) And the vast majority of Satanists are young people, so the number of middle-aged or elderly parents who are Satanists is miniscule. And, of these, the vast majority don't get accused of child sexual abuse, whether by their own children or by anyone else. On the other hand, the major anti-"recovered-memory" organizations have been in contact with tens of thousands of affected families.. The idea that all, most, or even a significant percentage of these families could be Satanists is not just unlikely, but statistically impossible.
- Given the above, anyone stupid enough or paranoid enough to draw the conclusion that you are a Satanist, based on a listing of your site here on this page, is not likely to be reading my site long enough to get to the links pages in the first place. Such people are likely either to have a too-short attention span or to be too afraid to read my site, out of fear that a demon will leap out at them from the screen, or something. As a general rule, "Satanism" scaremongers are so willfully ignorant about the Satanist scene that they don't even know who our real criminals have been; it never ceases to amaze me that certain names don't show up on SRA scaremongering websites.
- My website is targeted at an audience of deep-thinking, well-educated people. My website has a deliberately plain-Jane design, for the specific purpose of being off-putting to people with short attention spans, since I'm simply not interested in receiving email from idiots. My website is aimed primarily at relevant scholars, journalists, and sympathetic political activists. As part of my appeal to that audience - and in order to be genuinely helpful to that audience - I aim to provide comprehensive listings of resources (which is one of the reasons why I've listed your site).
- Although Satanism may be a thoroughly scary topic to many people, it isn't such a terrifying topic to the intelligentsia, and especially not to the kinds of people (other than the accused themselves) who are most likely to lend active support to the anti-"recovered-memory" cause. Many of the earliest debunkers of dubious child sex abuse accusations (including both those based on "recovered memories" and those based on inappropriate questioning of alleged child witnesses) also debunked some myths about Satanism.
Even those evangelical Christian writers who were among the early debunkers of "recovered memories" did so in the context of debunking the SRA scare, and thus have displayed a non-panicky attitude toward Satanism too. (See Christian writers and the Satanic Panic on my Theistic Satanism site.) And there are now quite a few conservative Christian pastors, theologians, apologists who regard the likes of Bob Larson as outright frauds. These Christians do not approve of Satanism, but they aren't likely to be paranoid about it either - or, at least, they aren't likely to be so paranoid as to believe that a link from my website constitutes proof that someone is a Satanist.
- For all of the above reasons, the listing of any given website on this page is not likely to result in any unwanted attention to that site. It is far more likely to draw the attention of a few favorably inclined scholars or journalists.
- In the unlikely event that my listing of your website does result in anyone saying you are a Satanist, well, you can easily point out how uninformed and/or paranoid that person is.
- The anti-"recovered-memory" movement has already pretty much won the war. The idea of accusing people of child abuse based on "recovered memories" has long since been discredited in the eyes of most of the people who matter most, including the vast majority of police departments, psychotherapists, scholars of nearly all relevant kinds. Even Theophostic Counseling, a Christian-oriented form of counseling which has been criticized on many Christian websites as (among other things) a revival of the ills of "recovered-memory" therapy, appears to have backed away from its "recovered-memory" component. The work of the anti-"recovered-memory" movement is by no means completely finished: there is still controversy, among psychologiists and psychotherapists, about such ideas as the repression of traumatic memories; and a lot of people outside the affected professions are still unaware of the issues. And a lot of alienated daughters (and some alienated sons too) have yet to be reunited with their families. But the movement's many victories will not be erased by a few loonies pointing to my website, if indeed such loonies ever get around to reading my site at all.
- Ditto for the movement against inappropriate questioning of children. Most child protection agencies are now more cautious in their methods. What remains now is to free the remaining wrongly-convicted defendants who are still in prison. Those inclined to contribute money to their legal defense funds are unlikely to be swayed by a few loonies pointing to my website, and neither are the judges.
As a theistic Satanist who aims to promote tolerance toward nonmainstream religions, I have a legitimate need to point to the debunking of the SRA scare, and hence to provide an extensive list of resources to that end.
I have no wish to harm either the anti-"recovered memories" movement or the movement to free the wrongly convicted. I'm willing to consider reasonable measures to counteract any perceived harm, such as adding disclaimers.
But please do not ask me to remove a link from this page unless you live in some hick town in the buckle of the Bible Belt and you're terrified you'll be lynched if anyone notices the link to your site on this page. But, if you're really in that much direct personal danger, I hope you'll consider either moving to a safer place or asking some big-city friend to substitute for you as the official owner of your website; because, if the people in your town are really that prone to a lynch mob mentality, you're already in serious danger simply by virtue of running a website sympathetic to even a few people who have been accused of child sexual abuse. The anti-"recovered-memory" movement has many supporters who live in safer surroundings than you do, some of whom, I'm sure, would be proud to lend their names to your website. (Legally, by the way, I do not need anyone's permission to link to a public web page. I would need your permission to quote extensively from your page, but not just to link to it.)
Commentary by the founders of Against Satanic Panics
- "Ritual abuse" and "occult crime" witchhunts by Diane Vera - comments about various writings on the Internet, including writings by some SRA scaremongers
- The Satanism Scare: Witchhunt Mentalities in Modern Times by Geifodd
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