We were as surprised as anyone yesterday when readers told us that The Sun had published a feature on ‘Satanism in the Suburbs’, profiling the Hampstead hoax along with another tragedy wrought by SRA true believers, the Carol Felstead story.
The common thread between the two stories, of course, is that certain people who are all too eager to believe in the myth of the ‘Satanist paedophile cult’ set out to prove its existence. As a result, a lovely young woman died, her family was devastated, and a community is struggling to come to terms with a seemingly never-ending assault by people they don’t know, for crimes they didn’t commit.
According to Nick Harding, the article’s author, belief in the myth of the child-raping Satanist cult is endemic:
Ella’s accusations were totally untrue, yet allegations of organised satanic ritual abuse (SRA) have surfaced periodically in the UK since the 1980s. In 1994, Jean La Fontaine, a retired professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics, investigated the phenomenon. Her subsequent report to the Department of Health found that in the 84 cases in England and Wales that were the basis of her research, there was no evidence for the existence of any satanic cults.
Even so, hundreds of self-proclaimed victims come forward every year and thousands believe them when they tell their stories. But why?
“The myth of satanic abuse cults is on the same level as moon landing conspiracy theories,” says sociologist Dr David V Barrett. “People can’t help but be fascinated by it, as it brings the trappings of horror films into real life. What makes it even more appealing in cases like the Drapers’ is the idea that behind net curtains something bad is going on. People are always shocked when it’s respectable middle-class people.”
We would add that class plays an important role in the Hoaxtead case. This reflects the widening gap between rich and poor in David Cameron’s England, and plays on the general public’s growing dislike and mistrust of ‘élites’, whom they perceive as hogging all the country’s resources for themselves. This makes it easy to think of Hampstead residents as ‘other’, and therefore as legitimate targets. It’s almost impossible to find a Hoaxtead pusher who fails to note that the community is well-heeled, wealthy, or ‘full of VIPs’. (Oddly, they never seem to point the same thing out about Belinda McKenzie, who has promoted the hoax from the beginning.)
The internet also offers the perfect environment for conspiracies to grow. “Although it’s incredibly useful, the web is also a channel for absolute rubbish,” says David. “Once you start following the trail of anything, you can end up deep in a maze of utter twaddle and conspiracy theories. The arguments appear convincing, but they’re just make-believe. What’s worrying is that children are being abused, but that fact gets lost when people start wailing about satanic cults. That’s what’s really horrific.”
We’ve been saying this all along: the more people waste their time and energy trying to ‘join the dots’ and uncover make-believe Satanic baby-murder cults, the less attention they pay to the very real and painful problem of child abuse.
It’s all too easy to get swept up with spine-tingling stories of secret child-eating cults, and pseudo-scientific notions such as ‘repressed memories’:
Professor Chris French of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths University adds that unfortunately, the existence of satanic abuse and the basic notion of repressed memories is widely believed by members of the public.
“We’ve all seen it in films: the trauma that comes back over time,” he says. “It’s a great plot device, but in reality there isn’t a shred of forensic evidence to support claims of SRA.
“Cases such as the one in Hampstead get taken seriously initially because we know childhood sexual abuse happens. But in terms of satanic ritual abuse, it’s an ongoing battle to educate people. In some ways, people like to believe the stories because they are almost exciting – it’s the classic battle between good and evil.”
It’s a fascinating article, well worth a read—we’ll be interested in your comments!