Wednesday night's Greenwich Skeptics in the Pub talk was hosted by Professor Chris French himself. Which was good. Because as the regular host and organiser of the event I was aware that he was a more than capable public speaker, font of knowledge, and all round good guy.
The Truth about Satanic Abuse Claims didn't sound like a bundle of laughs and it wasn't. But it was a very fascinating, gripping, look into how these claims rose, why these claims rose, and what truth (if any) there is in them.
It being a Skeptical event you'll not be surprised to hear that the general feeling was that Satanic abuse of children does not take place. Abuse of children does, to a frankly terrifying degree, but none of it is carried out in the ritualistic Dennis Wheatley style that lurid headlines have sensationalist stories have proclaimed.
A lot of the claims that came forward during the seemingly ginormous increase in the 80s and 90s were down to being inspired by works of fiction prevalent at the time, the now hugely debunked recovered memory theory, and a small handful of unscrupulous mental health workers who sought to make a name for themselves on the back of it.
Generally speaking people who've undergone traumatic episodes in their life (and what could be more so than childhood abuse?) don't repress those memories. It's very possible they'd like to but the fact is, if anything, they can't get the memories out of their head. This is often why they need counselling. To learn to live with the horrors they've had forced upon them.
Some cases have come to light after children had been interviewed using highly unprofessional methods of suggestion and even, in some cases, offered some form of reward if they should speak about the events they hadn't actually been through.
If as widespread, and gory, as many of the believers suggest surely episodes of Satanic ritual abuse would leave a lot of blood behind - and there'd be a lot of children missing right now. A lot more than there are. Of course tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorists will tell you that if you can't find any evidence whatsoever of a conspiracy that only serves to prove how effective that conspiracy is. A load of bollocks quite frankly and no route for anyone with even the remotest interest in fairness or justice to go down.
There were lots of examples given, and a good few digressions, but I won't go into them all. You should attend the talks if you want to really get involved. Chris did speak a bit about the 1980 book Michelle Remembers written by Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his patient, and eventual wife, (can anyone spot a conflict of interests here?) Michelle Smith. The best seller was the first to look at Satanic ritual abuse and repressed memory.
After a miscarriage Smith had sunk into depression. After 600 hours of hypnosis and a 25 minute non-stop screaming session with Pazder Smith started talking in the voice of a five year old girl and recalling abuse as a child at the hands of her mother and several others. During the rites Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed murders, and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of murdered babies. In fact the devil himself even took part in some of the abuse. Which should've been enough to see it laughed off immediately.
Eventually yearbooks of Smith's time at school were retrieved proving that Smith could not have been at these events when she said she was as she'd been in school at the time. In fact there was no evidence whatsoever to back the claims. Just the words of a fantasist. Pazder then brazenly suggested it didn't matter if it happened or not. What mattered was that Smith thought it'd happened. A lie (sorry, alternative fact) craven enough for the current US administration.
The cat was out of the bag though. An idea had been released and, despite it having no basis in fact, it spread like wildfire. Another notorious case was the Little Rascals day care sexual abuse scandal in North Carolina. Between 1989 and 1995 seven people, including owners Betsy and Bob Kelly, were arrested, charged, and went to trial for Satanic abuse of children.
Ninety children, after many therapy sessions, claimed they'd been raped vaginally and anally, forced to perform fellatio, seen babies murdered, and thrown into pools of sharks (which they, bizarrely, survived). Several of the defendants served time in prison before the case was overturned and they were released. Again the fact that a number of the children said they'd been abused on spaceships should've set alarm bells ringing sooner.
Elizabeth Loftus is a cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory. When she used her expertise to prove how easily false memories can be implanted into people's minds and how malleable our memories and minds really here she was not just accused of being a liar but of being engaged in Satanic abuse herself by conspiracy theorist Diana Napolis. Napolis has had a restraining order put on her by Steven Spielberg who she believes is also a Satanic abuser and that he's planted a microchip called a 'soulcatcher' in her brain. She has also made several death threats to the actress Jennifer Love Hewitt. She doesn't appear to be a well person.
Not only do false allegations of Satanic abuse lead to innocent people going to prison or receiving death threats from conspiracy theorists. It also wastes the time of police and detectives who could be working on the all too real cases of actual child abuse that take place.
In London, in 2000, the eight year old Ivorian girl Victoria Climbie was tortured and murdered by her guardians. She was burnt with cigarettes and hit with bike chains and hammers. It caused an understandable outrage that this abuse had not been identified and dealt with before she died. There's plenty online you can read about that if you want to depress yourself further. Its relevance to the false claims of Satanic abuse though are that this clearly was a ritualistic abuse case. But it wasn't Satan ordering the abuse but, supposedly, God ordering the abuse because he felt Victoria was an agent of Satan.
It seems the best way of summoning a non-existent devil is by summoning God and trying to "drive out the devil" for the true devils are the people who carry out these acts. Whether they evoke Satan (which they don't) or God (which they often do) is totally irrelevant to preventing future child abuse and murder which must surely be more important than winning a silly religious battle.
Once again religion fails humanity.