It’s not the sort of website we at HR usually gravitate towards, but a reader recently sent us a link to a page by Bob and Gretchen Passantino of the Christian Research Institute, titled “The Hard Facts about Satanic Ritual Abuse”. Once we began reading, we found it hard to stop.
Since we began looking into the Hampstead SRA hoax, and examining claims of Satanic ritual abuse more generally, one common thread we’ve noted is that these claims seem to be spread by one of two groups: hard-line radical feminists like Beatrix Campbell and Judith Jones; and evangelical/fundamentalist Christians like Angela Power-Disney and Catriona Selvester.
So it came as a surprise to read Bob and Gretchen Passantino’s take on the subject. This married American couple worked together as Christian evangelists from the 1970s until Bob’s death in 2003; Gretchen died in 2014. In this position paper, written in the early 1990s, they offer not only a useful history of the emergence of the SRA narrative, but Christian theological reasons for disbelieving it.
While we take issue with some of their views, we still find it fascinating that this couple were able to see through the SRA myth and understand its destructive power.
The Passantinos suggested that four factors converged in the early 1980s to produce fertile ground in which the SRA narrative could thrive:
The decline of the two-parent family
First, cohabitation and divorce rates skyrocketed, producing fragmented family units, single-parent families, families “blended” by divorce and remarriage, and many families with no daytime adult supervision of children. This situation provided pressure toward dysfunctional behavior (e.g., neglect, abuse, incest) in intact families. It also created the setting in broken families for a significant rise in custody disputes, child abandonment, spouse and even child accusations against the nonsupportive spouse, and other manipulative actions.
Mental health workers as discerners of truth
Second, in the eyes of many people, the mental health community became an authoritative “discerner” of truth. This community also expanded during those years to include many different kinds of counselors, including licensed therapists, social workers, lay counselors, peer counselors, support group members and leaders, and pastoral counselors, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists. Many people assumed that any of these counselors, no matter what their training, should invariably be able to tell if a client is telling the truth.
Uniting feminist and evangelical activists
Third, an increased interest in women’s rights issues and in religious activism caused a greater awareness of, and vigorous opposition to, both pornography and the physical and sexual abuse of children. While women’s rights advocates and evangelical activists frequently opposed each other’s goals and beliefs, they united to protect the victims of pornography and child abuse. This heightened concern generated special interest groups and experts who — usually with the best of intentions — still needed to find a danger of sufficient depth and breadth to warrant large commitments of time, legislation, and funding for their causes.
Fourth, a significant segment of American evangelicalism developed a complex satanic end-times view, combining the 1970s “deliverance” ministries with “newspaper prophecy” theology. While the end-times speculators of the 1970s pointed primarily at the rebirth of the nation of Israel as a sign that Christ’s Second Coming was near, the speculators of the 80s also emphasized the rise of destructive occult activity as a sign that the end was imminent.
Adult SRA claimants
The Passantinos pointed out that adult SRA claimants tend to have a number of characteristics in common.
Stating that they had had conversations with dozens of “alleged adult survivors”, they said that while the vast majority sincerely believed their own stories, “sincerity cannot determine a story’s veracity”.
Common traits amongst adult SRA claimants included:
- Usually a white woman
- Between ages of 25 and 45
- History of non-specific psychological problems (possibly including suicide attempts)
- Either intensely religious, or from an intensely religious background
- Highly suggestible
- Intelligent, creative, well-learned if not formally well-educated
- First sought counselling for unrelated problem
The picture with children was not quite so clear, however:
Child victims are not so easily characterized, though most are highly motivated to please adults, intelligent, and loyal to the supportive [custodial] parent. Perhaps this lack of a consistent profile is because children’s disclosures of SRA almost always follow questioning by worried parents or mental health workers. (It is noteworthy that the supportive parent often has characteristics in common with the typical adult victim.)
If the child discloses SRA inflicted by an immediate family member, it is typically in a divorce or separation situation where the accused is the nonsupportive parent or one of the nonsupportive parent’s relatives.
Adult SRA claimants will usually implicate their own family members as the perpetrators.
For those familiar with the Hampstead SRA hoax, it’s interesting to note that the Passantinos wrote that in many of the children’s stories, the immediate family was not involved, but “caregivers in regular custody of the victim are seen as the perpetrators (e.g., preschool teachers, day-care workers)”.
The child who discloses an SRA story almost always does so at the prompting of a parent or mental health professional. Such disclosures most often come after frequent, prolonged questioning. And most frequently the child identifies the perpetrator as a day-care worker or other regular, nonfamily care giver. When family members are accused, they are most likely the parents of the spouse other than the one reporting the abuse, or a parent or stepparent who is estranged from the family. …
In an observation which seems prophetic of the way the Hampstead SRA hoax was reified and then quickly spread across the internet, the Passantinos stated,
Adults who suspect that they or their children may be SRA victims are urged by true believers to seek help and affirmation from therapists, friends, support groups, and family members who will believe them unconditionally. Whether their accounts are true or not, this reinforcement and isolation from critical thinking intensifies the victims’ beliefs concerning SRA.
Characteristics of alleged abuse
The ritual elements of the abuse are always satanic or occultic. Features of satanic ceremony folklore — such as the black mass, human sacrifice, drinking of blood, and satanic symbols — are common. However, victims typically cannot recount the intricacies of occult rituals beyond what is commonly found in satanically oriented material available in general bookstores, or what they have heard from other victims or therapists. [Emphasis ours]
Links to conspiracy community
The Passantinos noted the natural connection and mutuality between allegations of SRA and various conspiracy theories. Does any of this sound familiar?
The typical SRA story includes strong commitment to a conspiracy theory of history. That is, the victimization is seen not as the isolated action of a psychotic or sociopathic individual, but as part of a widespread, multigenerational, and nearly omnipotent satanic conspiracy.
This conspiracy involves anywhere from thousands to millions of cultists — many of them in the very highest levels of society, including government, law enforcement, mental health institutions, and even religious leadership. We have heard SRA stories accusing famous televangelists, police chiefs, FBI agents, the Pope, CIA leaders, U.N. diplomats, millionaires, philanthropists, pastors, school teachers and principals, psychiatrists, and others.
Such a conspiratorial view accomplishes two very important objectives:
(1) it accounts for the absolute lack of corroborative evidence of SRA; and
(2) it accounts for a number of popularly assumed social ills, such as thousands of missing children and rampant child sexual abuse in day care centers.
Lack of corroborative evidence
While the Passantinos acknowledged widespread early belief in the SRA narrative, they said that as the lack of corroborating evidence piled up, it quickly became clear to many people that scepticism rather than unquestioning belief was called for.
It’s difficult to get around the fact that no bodies or physical evidence of allegedly violent murders have ever been found. And it would be logistically difficult, if not impossible, to successfully commit the sort of industrial-scale criminal activity, such as organised kidnapping, baby breeding, or human sacrifice, which are alleged by true believers in SRA. Its difficult enough for two people to keep a secret, let alone hundreds or thousands.
True believers counter this argument, said the Passantinos, by citing these counter-arguments:
(1) all conspiracies are by definition secret and unknown;
(2) evidence against an SRA story actually constitutes proof for it, since Satanists plant false evidence as part of their conspiracy;
(3) only a conspiracy such as that described by true believers has the capability of destroying all the evidence; and
(4) the very people who should be fighting the SRA conspiracy are actually part of it.
(5) only therapists can determine whether victims are telling the truth;
(6) children (whether physiological children or the fractured “child” personalities of an MPD client) don’t lie about such things, and no one would make up such horrific tales;
(7) the accused perpetrators’ refusal to confess shows the depths of depravity to which they have descended;
(8) nondeterminative (i.e., inconclusive) evidence validates the conspiracy (e.g., what a true believer calls an abuse scar a skeptic calls an appendix operation scar);
(9) individual occult-related criminal acts validate the whole conspiracy scenario; and
(10) the conspiracy explains the purported abduction of thousands of children each year.
In addition, the Passantinos said, true believers will often demand that sceptics disprove the allegation of SRA.
We’ve seen this in the Hampstead SRA case: no matter what evidence we can provide which negates the hoax, the true believers will declare it insufficient to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that SRA did not occur, and that thus their view is the correct one.
Logical fallacies debunked
The Passantinos go through above 10 arguments and debunk them with logical argument; it’s well with reading their paper to get the full effect. However, here are a few highlights which struck us as particularly relevant.
For example, looking at the second argument, which states that “evidence against SRA actually constitutes proof for it, since Satanists plant false evidence as part of their conspiracy”, the Passantinos noted:
Evidence against a story, if gathered professionally and examined objectively, is just that: evidence against a story, not evidence forit. To offer only one explanation for contrary evidence is to commit what is known as the either/or (disjunctive) fallacy.
For example, if an alleged adult survivor’s story of being an only child is contradicted by proof that her older sister lived with her until she was a teenager, the true believer would have us believe that the contrary evidence can only be explained as evidence for victimization.
Perhaps (the true believer reasons) the victim was so traumatized that she repressed the memory of her sister, or perhaps the Satanists deliberately manipulated her memory in some way. The true believer will totally ignore the much more likely alternative that the SRA conspiracy scenario is just as untrue as the “only child” memory.
Without some objective proof for the story, suspicions of tampering with other parts of the evidence are groundless.
The Passantinos’ paper also foreshadowed an issue this blog and others who fail to believe in the Hampstead SRA hoax have faced since the inception of the hoax:
The fourth argument, which accuses those who disagree of being co-conspirators, stretches the true believers’ credibility and, without warrant for such charges, dwindles to paranoid name calling. Lanning described this vulnerability well, saying, “Another very important aspect of this paranoia is the belief that those who do not recognize the threat are evil and corrupt. In this extreme view, you are either with them or against them. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.”
They tackled the “believe the children/children do not lie” argument, as well:
The sixth claim, that children (or childlike MPD manifestations) don’t lie about abuse, gained popularity during the early 1980s as part of the child protection movement. This belief is heavily promoted by many of the most vocal child protection advocates, even though some, such as UCLA psychiatrist Roland Summit, admit that there are no controlled studies to validate it. …
No one wants to minimize the pain, trauma, and terror that child victims of any kind suffer. However, nonabused children become victims of misdirected intervention when they are treated as though they have been abused and so become convinced they were abused.
They pointed out that denial does not prove guilt:
Accused perpetrators are given a nonlethal form of the same kind of guilt-or-innocence test that was administered to suspected witches during medieval times. If the witch didn’t confess when charged, that proved he or she was unrepentant and should die. If one did confess, the punishment was the same. Today’s true believers don’t kill those they accuse, but they leave them with no way to establish their innocence. Indeed, a protestation of innocence becomes a tautological “proof” of guilt.
And describe the consequences of forcing children who were never abused to believe that they were actually victimised:
To treat a child as if satanic abuse were real….is to reify a child’s most terrifying fantasies and force a child to grow into an adult whose world remains at the level of a constant night terror. It is to run the risk of training a child to be psychotic, not able to distinguish between reality and unreality. It is to irrevocably and likely irretrievably damage a child and induce a lifelong experience of emotional distress.
Bearing in mind that the Passantinos were approaching the subject from a Christian perspective, we think it’s important to note that they stated that belief in SRA is not only illogical, but gives Satan more credit than he is due.
They concluded with a number of Biblical passages which they say mitigate against belief in the Satanic ritual abuse narrative:
The Bible tells us that we serve the God of truth (Isa. 65:16). Paul exhorts us to test everything, clinging only to what is good (2 Thess. 5:21-22), and commends the Bereans for testing what he taught by God’s Word; that is, by what was known to be true (Acts 17:11). Peter warns us by example not to be seduced by cunningly devised myths (2 Pet. 1:16). God commands us not to bear false witness against another (Deut. 5:20). In Matthew 18:15-19, Jesus warns us not to bring any accusation of sin against a fellow Christian without evidence and witnesses. God’s judgment against those who do evil is according to truth (Rom. 2:2). Should our judgment be based on fallacies, nonevidence, subjectivism, and worldly wisdom? Let us be committed to compassion for victims and biblical judgment for victimizers, but let us not become victimizers by faulty judgment and false accusations. With sound wisdom and biblically based discernment, we need have no fear of a monolithic satanic conspiracy (Prov. 3:23-26).
Are you listening, Angela?