How to stop the satanic panic

Last week we mentioned a conference in Dundee, attended by über-fundamentalist Christians Thomas Dunn and Russ Dizdar. Speakers at that conference included Sarah Nelson, author of Tackling Child Sexual Abuse: Radical Approaches, who spoke on the topic of satanic panics. Actually, her topic was titled, “The Myth of the Satanic Panic”.

Ironically (or perhaps not), in 1996 Nelson spoke at a conference hosted at Warwick University by RAINS. Her topic: “Satanist Ritual Abuse: Challenges to the Mental Health System”. Extracts from that paper, published on the S.A.F.F. website, included these gems: 

I believe this issue needs much more attention, for the mental health professions may prove to be the major repositories of the “SRA secret”: just as they were of the “incest secret”. I believe new knowledge about SRA should now impel a radical, wide-ranging, top-level review of symptoms and treatments in many mental disorders. Those of us who are outsiders need to build alliances with courageous voices within those professions – in order to support them, to strengthen their demands for radical review, and to force the subject into the public arena. …

But my own discovery of SRA directed me, and I suspect many others, towards mental health as never before. A huge impetus is given to the questioning which is already taking place of diagnosis and treatment in mental disorder. This prompts whole chains of speculation. Puzzlement about specific behaviours or symptoms brings renewed doubt about the whole medical model of mental disorder, and leads to absorbed speculation on how massive a role life-trauma actually plays. SRA is, of course, only one extreme form of trauma, and all forms deserve urgent attention but given the extent of torture and privation it inflicts, we could justifiably expect that many survivors will have found their way into the mental health system, and that they will be a significant population within that system.

The key “dog-whistle” term here is “medical model”. One of the bugbears of a certain strain of mental health professionals in the 1980s and 1990s was the “medical model” of mental illness, which posits that mental illness, like physical illness, stems only from physical causes, and can be assessed, diagnosed, and treated using methods (such as medications) which affect certain bodily systems.

Those who opposed this approach to mental illness believed that other factors—environmental, social, traumatic, economic, and so forth—had much more direct bearing on mental health. They decried the use of drugs, such as antidepressants, anxiolytics, and anti-psychotics, advocating a “whole person” approach involving talk therapies, social interventions, and other non-drug approaches. 

At its extreme, opposition to the medical model is also associated with an anti-science, anti-rationalist approach, with a reliance instead upon emotion, intuition, and gut hunches.

In the above excerpts, Nelson is suggesting here that SRA, which creates extreme psychological trauma on its alleged victims, be privileged within the field of mental health, that it be addressed not via the traditional medical model, but via intuitive guesswork and gut hunches, and that alliances be built across the various professions in order to build this approach into a movement. 

Bluntly put, Nelson, who claims that satanic panics aren’t real, is advocating the genesis of a satanic panic, without actually naming it.

Using the threat of “Satanic paedophiles” whose dastardly deeds victimise vulnerable children and leave them traumatised and “broken”, Nelson seems to be suggesting that mental health workers band together, take action, and spread the word: devil-worshippers are raping our children, and it’s up to us to stop them.

Child sexual abuse is very real

As our readers know, we are acutely aware of the grim reality of child abuse in all its forms, and we know that child sexual abuse creates its own particular issues in its victims/survivors. 

In a recent article in Vice, author Mark Hay notes:

To many, (child sexual abuse) is a uniquely evil crime; someone who sexually abuses a child seems capable of anything. But fear of pedophiles can be weaponized and used to whip up mobs that don’t want to wait for solid evidence of wrongdoings to emerge, lest unspeakable horrors go unchecked. In many ways, it is an ideal tool for mobilizing small but highly vocal pockets of opposition against one’s enemies, as it can co-opt some people with genuine fears about child trafficking into perpetuating smear and harassment campaigns. It also offers those who are already predisposed to believing terrible things about the accused more license to hate. 

Hay draws a link between QAnon and Pizzagate—and we’d add the Hampstead SRA hoax—and a long tradition of accusations of paedophilia linked with devil worship:

(T)he flourishes of these theories—Satanic rituals performed on child victims by depraved cabals, cryptic symbols signaling dark intent or links to the occult, and secret tunnels under ordinary businesses used to abet villainy—actually connect them to a discrete, centuries-old lineage of satanic, or occultic, panics. Most notably, they bear striking similarities to the American “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s. Pizzagate, QAnon, and their modern ilk are “not as Satanic as the stuff in the 80s was,” said Margaret Peacock, an expert on propaganda and conspiracies involving children, but added there are clear “similarities in language and materiality between them.”

Hay states that some of the same anxieties which fuelled the very earliest conspiracy theories involving satanic paedophiles—first confirmed in 1428 in Valais, in what is now Switzerland—can be traced in the more recent iterations. 

Citing Mary de Young, a social psychologist who specialises in the study of moral panics, Hay says, “The roots are often anxieties about social change or strains, and especially the potential loss of power by an in-group. These worries are then projected on ‘folk devils’ who embody that stress”.

It’s long been suggested that the 1980s satanic panic arose at least in part out of the public’s fear of the changing role of women in society, and manifested as a fear of day nurseries, which had become a symbol of the “absent mother” who had abandoned home and children in favour of a career. 

However, it’s one thing to look back on a series of conspiracy-like allegations which seemed to arise organically in a certain time and place, in response to a certain set of social factors.

It’s another thing altogether to watch as a small, determined group of individuals work over a period of decades to intentionally push the “Satanic paedophile” narrative into the public consciousness, as we’ve been witnessing recently.

While we often moan about the internet’s role as a “disease vector” in the spread of conspiracy theories, it may also contain at least part of the solution. It does make it easier for those of us who oppose the satanic panic pushers to see who they are, to identify the links amongst them, and to counter their fear-mongering with facts and evidence. 

19 thoughts on “How to stop the satanic panic

  1. It sends shivers down my spine whenever I read about how mainstream and accepted the ‘satanic panic’ crap was back in the late 80s and early 90s. And it’s pretty worrying when it starts to sneak back into the public agenda (the recent Metro article springs to mind).

    Liked by 2 people

    • The problem with the media is that it accepts the word of “experts” all too readily, without really knowing whether their expertise is worthy of acceptance. Problem is, anyone can claim to be an “expert” in anything, and some will believe them.

      Liked by 3 people

      • There are a lot of self proclaimed experts out there. The “Royal Experts” who pop up whenever there is a royal wedding are always amusing, some are proper authors, others just own a nice blazer and tie – some have very strange personal histories.
        Real experts are probably too reticent for the media, they realise that the world is complex and nuanced. Rent-a-gobs will charge in and give strong opinions with no fear that being wrong will damage their credibility.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. How to stop Satanic Panic?.
    Well it’s that conundrum of how do you stop something that doesn’t exist?. Not the panic of course but the claim there are elite pedo cults all over the place & even in genteel London suburbs where the entire community from social workers, teachers, police, etc are all in the gang (except- no mention of doctors and nurses who routinely see small children as they have a habit of grazing knees, getting sniffles and so on but apparently never ever notice signs of abuse which are usually apparent in children).

    The fact no elite pedo Satanic cult is uncovered is used as proof they DO exist and are so clever at hiding the fact. Except from folk like Thomas Dunn in his basement. You can’t hide anything from him.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Child abuse is bad enough. Why do these clowns have to try and make is worse by adding SATANIC to it? Anyone who claims to gave been “satanically sexually abused” is the absolute worst kind of attention whore there is…..and they deserve just as much venom spitting as a child molester…..if not more so.
    Imagine countless vloggers and bloggers claiming they had had cancer but they were making that up! …..
    Or maybe claiming they had a family member knifed to death….just to jump on the latest knifecrime hashtag…..
    it really is beyond revolting…..and i wish nothing but pure misery on such pigs who spout this nonsense.

    When you have been sexually abused as a child…..the last thing you want to do is exagerate it for attention….let alone vlog about it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Interesting post.

    It doesn’t surprise me that there’s been a resurgence of extremist fundamentalist Christian groups in the UK, USA and elsewhere too. From what I’ve read whenever society is going through great changes cults emerge led by manipulative and/or charismatic preachers who prey on the population’s unconscious fears.

    You can see this in England during the transition from agricultural society to city/town living during the industrial revolution. History tells us there were 100’s of new fundamentalist religious groups in the UK at this time who believed all kinds of nonsense. It’s also happened in recent times in Ireland – the revelations about the RC church left many people feeling unsure of the world and wanting to grab onto something. Hence you get a range of con artists sucking people into whatever strange belief system they’ve concocted.

    You can see this extremist Christianity in many of the hoaxers with their bible thumping and narrow-minded cult-like beliefs. While they might hurl the word ‘cult’ around and accuse others of being ‘mind-controlled’ it’s actually them with the problem and they’re projecting onto other people.

    What do you do about that?

    You continue to write your blog EC and you stick to your guns.

    What do the rest of us do? A lot is going on behind the scenes to counter ignorance and nonsense.
    In the long-term ignorance and nonsense will not win.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Your analysis of what Sarah Nelson is up to, what she really wants, is bang on I believe ( “…an anti-science, anti-rationalist approach, with a reliance instead upon emotion, intuition, and gut hunches”).

    Practical steps I’d recommend, unfortunately best suited for sympathetic mass media (journalists) and since Scotland seems to be targeted it would be helpful if they were Scots.

    1) Talk more about the anti-Christian origin of the mythical sacrificial, baby-eating, orgiastic “cult” – as revealed by Justin Martyr.
    2) Emphasize Scotland’s proud tradition of rationalism, national heroes like David Hume. Not necessary to go into detail about his philosophy – suffice to discuss the numerous contributions that Scots made to the triumph of reason over superstition.
    3) Research and talk about the tragic murders of innocent Scots during the “witch-hunting” era – there were many Scots victims, and..
    4) Remind people about the on-going tragedy of child abuse & murder under the guise of “exorcism”.

    Ultimately, we can’t ‘stop’ people from promoting belief in irrational things.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve a lot of time for Keelan. This is his more general take on the SRA myth:

      This is a good one too, for anyone who’s never heard it:

      Liked by 2 people

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