Here at Hoaxtead Research we’ve spent the better part of three years doing battle against various promoters of a particularly vicious and demonstrably false hoax involving allegations of Satanic ritual abuse against an entire school/church community. We’ve worked hard to research, analyse, and ultimately refute the claims of people like Abraham Christie and Ella Draper, Belinda McKenzie, Sabine McNeill, Deborah Mahmoudieh, Charlotte Alton Ward, Kristie Sue Costa, Angela Power-Disney, and many others.
These people, and many others like them, have used the trope of SRA as a weapon in a war which most people didn’t even realise had been declared, until suddenly children, families, teachers, social workers, clergy, police officers, and others had been swept up in it. Lives were damaged—sometimes irreparably—and the attacks just kept coming, seemingly out of the blue.
One of the tasks the volunteers who run this blog took on was identifying where the attacks were coming from, and why.
After all, it’s one thing to be accused of something you’ve actually done; quite another to be going about your daily routine and suddenly find out that millions of people on the internet now firmly believe that your children were victims of horrendous sexual abuse…and that you were the perpetrators.
One group of people we’ve tended to overlook, however, is the large number of well-meaning, well-intentioned people who have been duped and taken in by those who push the SRA myth.
We’re not talking about trolls or hoax promoters here.
Rather, we’re talking about people who might have attended training sessions about SRA in the 1990s, and have never had occasion to reconsider what they learned there.
Or perhaps they’re trained mental health professionals who were taught that SRA was not only real, but under-reported.
Maybe they were around when the idea of “false memories” began to be mooted about, and believed that this was just a blatant attempt on the part of abusers to cover their own tracks.
Maybe they’re volunteers at sexual assault support centres, who learned from their peers that SRA was real and should be considered in any adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Maybe they’re police officers who attended training seminars which taught them how to identify the tell-tale signs of SRA.
Or perhaps they’re members of the general public who watched Oprah, and trusted that those she interviewed on her popular TV show were telling the truth:
In 1989, almost 10 years after the publication of Michelle Remembers, Oprah Winfrey featured Smith as a guest on her show alongside Laurel Rose Willson, author of the equally fictitious Satanic ritual abuse survival memoir Satan’s Underground, which was published under the pseudonym Lauren Stratford. Both women’s experiences were presented by Winfrey as incontrovertible fact, and not once did she question the authenticity of any claim in either book.
The worst one can say about people like this is that they were gullible, or that they’ve failed to re-examine beliefs which seemed perfectly plausible back in the bad old days of the satanic panic. They aren’t trying to hurt anyone, they’re not out to monetise the idea of SRA by using it to manipulate others. They’re not unintelligent; they just haven’t been exposed to information which might help them understand that SRA is a fiction.
In fact, we could see them as more sinned against than sinning: in their own way, they have been victimised by those who promote the SRA myth for their own ends, whatever those might be.
Rather than blame such people for failing to understand that they’ve been led down the garden path, we prefer to take an educational role, and bring them up to speed on the reality of SRA.
‘A need to believe’
We’ve written about the myth of SRA here on many occasions, and recently one of our readers suggested that it might be a good thing to collate that material into the current SRA Fraud page on this blog. That’s a project we’re planning to tackle in the near future; but meanwhile, here’s some information about SRA from Kenneth Lanning, a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, who debunked claims of systemic ritualistic occult abuse in America:
“My role in the FBI Behavioral Science Unit was as a case consultant,” Lanning says. “Eventually I consulted on hundreds of cases, including some from outside the United States—far more cases than I could ever have personally investigated,” he says. “In my FBI position, I also became a kind of informal clearinghouse for most of the cases from their beginnings in the early 1980s until the growing skepticism took hold in the early 1990s. Before most professionals had seen their first case, I had consulted on and analyzed dozens of them.”
Lanning’s report critically examined the often-fluid definitions of Satanism that were used interchangeably by many law enforcement agencies, as well as debunking supposed indicators of Satanic crime highlighted during police training seminars such as symbolism in heavy metal music and fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Lanning also offered several alternative explanations for similarities among the disparate eyewitness accounts, including pathological distortions commonly observed in cases of Munchausen syndrome. It was the first time anyone had objectively challenged the commonalities in cases of ritual abuse that police forces across the country were taking as irrefutable evidence of Satanic cult activity.
“Generally, the response [to the report] was positive,” Lanning says. “Several law enforcement supervisors thanked me for bringing objectivity to the issue. Of course, nothing I wrote would reach or convince everyone of my point of view. I received several letters from some questioning aspects of what I had written or said. One officer wanted me investigated by Congress. Perhaps most upset were those law enforcement officers who were making money and getting status as experts in this area.”
In addition to questioning the criminal significance of occult symbolism, Lanning’s report also warned of the danger of reducing the complex issue of child abuse into a pat, simplistic narrative—a tendency that marred many cases of Satanic ritual abuse and raised the important question of why so many people accepted wild allegations about Satanic cults in the absence of any hard evidence.
“Although I did not realize it at first, I came to learn that the last of my key questions was actually the most significant. If something wasn’t happening, why do so many intelligent, well-educated professionals believe it is?” Lanning says. “Regardless of intelligence and education, and often despite common sense and evidence to the contrary, adults tend to believe what they want or need to believe; the greater the need, the greater the tendency. There was a need to believe. In my opinion, this concept, more than any ‘moral panic,’ was the foundation of Satanic ritual abuse allegations—the need to believe the children even without corroboration. If you do not believe everything a victim alleges, what do you believe?”
This need for belief complicated matters considerably for investigators handling already sensitive cases. As the burden of proof became irrelevant in cases of Satanic ritual child abuse allegations, Lanning noticed a gradual shift in the dynamics of victimology. Although impossible to prove, it is plausible that at least some of what children were claiming had been done to them was true. The difficulty, according to Lanning, was separating the truth from the fantasy.
“The focus on the Satanic or bizarre elements did not prevent investigators from doing their job; it just made it difficult to prove what actually happened,” Lanning says. “Most people would agree that just because a victim tells you one detail that turns out to be true, this does not mean that every detail is true. But many people–and the criminal justice system–seem to believe that if you can disprove one part of a victim’s story, then the entire story is false. I believe people should be considered innocent unless proven guilty, but I also believe that a certain number of these cases involved a seed of truth that got buried.”
We think it might also be useful for those who have been led to believe in SRA to consider what alleged SRA victims have had to say about the experience once they reached adulthood.
Commenter Justin Sanity—arguably our most experienced poster on the topic—points out:
We can only pray, that these self-professed SRA investigators are better at hearing what people say to them than Scotland’s #1 child protection academic – Sarah Nelson.
In 2006, the BBC ran this follow-up story about the Orkney abuse panic children – now fully grown & autonomous adults:
“Children at the centre of the Orkney abuse allegations in the early 1990s have spoken of their experiences for the first time…”
And they very clearly stated the alleged abuse never happened.
But that didn’t stop Nelson from publishing, two years AFTER that, her review of the case: “The Orkney Satanic Abuse Case: Who cared for the children?” in which she continued to insist that many things about the case were suspicious, and that the allegations of abuse were not properly investigated – asking: “what if some of those children DID need our help?”
The children, now grown, could have been standing right in front of her as she composed this essay, shouting:
“Our families cared about us, our community cared about us, and your storm-trooper social worker SRA investigators DID NOT! They were abusive to us”.
“There was NO sra abuse. We DIDN’T need your help!”
And Nelson would still be: “la-la-la! Those poor children…”
If you don’t live in the real world, how can you profess to help those who do?
If you’re a reader who’s come here to berate us for our lack of belief in SRA, stay tuned. We hope we’ll have enough information to help you change your mind.