Against Satanic Panics > SRA

The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare
(and the larger child sex abuse panic)
of the 1980's and early 1990's

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. Brief introduction
  2. What was the SRA scare? Some introductory articles
  3. Information about specific alleged cases
  4. The "West Memphis Three" case
  5. Books
  6. Organizations
  7. "Recovered memory" retractors
  8. Some scholars and psychotherapists on "recovered memories" and child abuse accusations
  9. Some scholars and psychotherapists on Satanism scares and Satanism's criminal fringe
  10. Other informative websites
  11. Legal resources for those accused
  12. Still-ongoing general cultural paranoia
  13. A note to those whose web pages are listed here
  14. Commentary by the founders of Against Satanic Panics

  1. Brief introduction
  2. Below are links to sites debunking the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) scare of the 1980's and early 1990's. Most of the sites listed below are concerned, primarily, not with the SRA scare itself but with a larger child sexual abuse panic, of which the SRA scare was the most sensationalistic part.

    The SRA scare was exceedingly harmful to many, many innocent people. The harm was by no means limited to law-abiding Satanists or adherents of other nonmainstream religions that are sometimes confused with Satanism, such as Wicca. In fact, to a far greater extent, it harmed lots and lots of ordinary, mainstream folks who were accused of horrific crimes based on exceedingly flimsy evidence. The vast majority of the falsely accused, like most Americans in general, were Christians.

    Both the SRA scare itself and the larger larger child sex abuse witchhunt took three main forms:

    1. "Recovered memories" of horrific child abuse. In many cases the "memories" were "recovered" in psychotherapy using questionable techniques such as hypnotic regression.
    2. Many multiple-victim, multiple-offender child abuse cases where the "evidence" consisted primarily or exclusively of testimony by small children who had been coached inappropriately by therapists. Most of the alleged perpetrators were female daycare center workers.
    3. Accusations by divorcing parents in child custody disputes.

    By the mid-1990's, both the SRA scare and the larger child sex abuse panic had been largely discredited. Unlike SRA, child sex abuse is a genuine, serious, and widespread problem. What was discredited was child abuse accusations based on "recovered memories" or on the testimonies of children who had been asked lots and lots of leading questions.

    Yet some of the accused still languish in prison due to lack of money for appeals. Others were never imprisoned but had to deal with the heartbreak of being shunned by their own adult children thanks to "recovered memories."

    The SRA scare was also part of another larger panic:  about "Satanism," "occult crime," and the occult in general. To this day, there are quite a few fundamentalists who warn about all sorts of popular children's and young people's activities (rock music, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and even reading Harry Potter books) allegedly leading kids into "Satanism" - which is, of course, allegedly criminal. And beliefs in SRA and Satanic conspiracies still flourish in the minds of a lot of uneducated people.

    Note:  A listing on this page does not imply endorsement or affiliation. This page is intended only to be a fairly comprehensive listing of resources on the SRA scare and on the related larger child sex abuse panic of the 1980's and early 1990's.

  3. What was the SRA scare? Some introductory articles

  4. Information about specific alleged cases
  5. See also Recent retractions and other recent news on some older alleged "Satanic" crimes.

  6. The "West Memphis Three" case
  7. This section has been moved to a new page devoted to the West Memphis Three.

    Although not an SRA case per se (it's a murder case, not primarily a child sex abuse case, real or imaginary), I've singled out the West Memphis Three case for extra attention because it's the type of case I think we're most likely to see more of in the future.

  8. Books

  9. Organizations
    1. Legal defense support:
    2. Against "recovered memory" therapy:
    3. Other:

  10. "Recovered memory" retractors

  11. Some scholars and psychotherapists on "recovered memories" and child abuse accusations

  12. Some scholars and psychotherapists on on Satanism scares and Satanism's criminal fringe

  13. Other informative websites

  14. Legal resources for those accused
  15. The SRA scare was pretty thoroughly discredited by the mid-1990's. Yet some of the accused are still in prison due to lack of money for appeals. And many parents must still deal with the heartbreak of being forsaken by their own children due to probably-false "memories."

    See also the Organizations section of this page, above. See especially the National Center for Reason and Justice, which has a legal defense fund.

  16. Still-ongoing general cultural paranoia
  17. Although the SRA scare has been discredited in the eyes of the people who matter most (e.g. most police departments, social workers, psychotherapists, and relevant academic experts), there are lots of uneducated people who still do believe in SRA and Satanic conspiracy theories - which still do give rise to quite a bit of general cultural paranoia. Below are some examples:

  18. A note to those whose web pages are listed here
  19. It has been brought to my attention that at least one person is worried that "most people" following the links from this page would assume that the websites are owned by Satanists, and that this, in turn, will result in great harm to the anti-"recovered memory" cause. I simply do not agree that "most people" who would be reading my website in the first place are likely to draw such a conclusion. To anyone worried about this sort of thing, here is my response:

    1. On several pages here on this site, including both the main page and the page you are reading now (see the Brief introduction at the top), I've clearly stated that the majority of the falsely accused were ordinary, mainstream people. I briefly discuss a few of the sociopolitical implications of this fact on the following two pages:  "Satanism" scares and their debunking - A brief introduction and To Pagans and occultists.
    2. To anyone who actually bothers to read all the many sites linked here on this page, it will be abundantly clear that the vast majority of the falsely accused were ordinary mainstream folks.
    3. The idea that the anti-"recovered-memory" movement consists largely of Satanists is just plain ridiculous and can easily be shown false, as follows: As I've explained in the section on Key points to be made when debunking "Satanism" scares on my page about "Satanism" scares and their debunking, a high estimate of the total number of Satanists in the world is 60,000 to 70,000. (It is far more likely that there are no more than 30,000 Satanists in the entire world.) And the vast majority of Satanists are young people, so the number of middle-aged or elderly parents who are Satanists is miniscule. And, of these, the vast majority don't get accused of child sexual abuse, whether by their own children or by anyone else. On the other hand, the major anti-"recovered-memory" organizations have been in contact with tens of thousands of affected families.. The idea that all, most, or even a significant percentage of these families could be Satanists is not just unlikely, but statistically impossible.
    4. Given the above, anyone stupid enough or paranoid enough to draw the conclusion that you are a Satanist, based on a listing of your site here on this page, is not likely to be reading my site long enough to get to the links pages in the first place. Such people are likely either to have a too-short attention span or to be too afraid to read my site, out of fear that a demon will leap out at them from the screen, or something. As a general rule, "Satanism" scaremongers are so willfully ignorant about the Satanist scene that they don't even know who our real criminals have been; it never ceases to amaze me that certain names don't show up on SRA scaremongering websites.
    5. My website is targeted at an audience of deep-thinking, well-educated people. My website has a deliberately plain-Jane design, for the specific purpose of being off-putting to people with short attention spans, since I'm simply not interested in receiving email from idiots. My website is aimed primarily at relevant scholars, journalists, and sympathetic political activists. As part of my appeal to that audience - and in order to be genuinely helpful to that audience - I aim to provide comprehensive listings of resources (which is one of the reasons why I've listed your site).
    6. Although Satanism may be a thoroughly scary topic to many people, it isn't such a terrifying topic to the intelligentsia, and especially not to the kinds of people (other than the accused themselves) who are most likely to lend active support to the anti-"recovered-memory" cause. Many of the earliest debunkers of dubious child sex abuse accusations (including both those based on "recovered memories" and those based on inappropriate questioning of alleged child witnesses) also debunked some myths about Satanism.
    7. Even those evangelical Christian writers who were among the early debunkers of "recovered memories" did so in the context of debunking the SRA scare, and thus have displayed a non-panicky attitude toward Satanism too. (See Christian writers and the Satanic Panic on my Theistic Satanism site.) And there are now quite a few conservative Christian pastors, theologians, apologists who regard the likes of Bob Larson as outright frauds. These Christians do not approve of Satanism, but they aren't likely to be paranoid about it either - or, at least, they aren't likely to be so paranoid as to believe that a link from my website constitutes proof that someone is a Satanist.

    8. For all of the above reasons, the listing of any given website on this page is not likely to result in any unwanted attention to that site. It is far more likely to draw the attention of a few favorably inclined scholars or journalists.
    9. In the unlikely event that my listing of your website does result in anyone saying you are a Satanist, well, you can easily point out how uninformed and/or paranoid that person is.
    10. The anti-"recovered-memory" movement has already pretty much won the war. The idea of accusing people of child abuse based on "recovered memories" has long since been discredited in the eyes of most of the people who matter most, including the vast majority of police departments, psychotherapists, scholars of nearly all relevant kinds. Even Theophostic Counseling, a Christian-oriented form of counseling which has been criticized on many Christian websites as (among other things) a revival of the ills of "recovered-memory" therapy, appears to have backed away from its "recovered-memory" component. The work of the anti-"recovered-memory" movement is by no means completely finished:  there is still controversy, among psychologiists and psychotherapists, about such ideas as the repression of traumatic memories; and a lot of people outside the affected professions are still unaware of the issues. And a lot of alienated daughters (and some alienated sons too) have yet to be reunited with their families. But the movement's many victories will not be erased by a few loonies pointing to my website, if indeed such loonies ever get around to reading my site at all.
    11. Ditto for the movement against inappropriate questioning of children. Most child protection agencies are now more cautious in their methods. What remains now is to free the remaining wrongly-convicted defendants who are still in prison. Those inclined to contribute money to their legal defense funds are unlikely to be swayed by a few loonies pointing to my website, and neither are the judges.

    As a theistic Satanist who aims to promote tolerance toward nonmainstream religions, I have a legitimate need to point to the debunking of the SRA scare, and hence to provide an extensive list of resources to that end.

    I have no wish to harm either the anti-"recovered memories" movement or the movement to free the wrongly convicted. I'm willing to consider reasonable measures to counteract any perceived harm, such as adding disclaimers.

    But please do not ask me to remove a link from this page unless you live in some hick town in the buckle of the Bible Belt and you're terrified you'll be lynched if anyone notices the link to your site on this page. But, if you're really in that much direct personal danger, I hope you'll consider either moving to a safer place or asking some big-city friend to substitute for you as the official owner of your website; because, if the people in your town are really that prone to a lynch mob mentality, you're already in serious danger simply by virtue of running a website sympathetic to even a few people who have been accused of child sexual abuse. The anti-"recovered-memory" movement has many supporters who live in safer surroundings than you do, some of whom, I'm sure, would be proud to lend their names to your website. (Legally, by the way, I do not need anyone's permission to link to a public web page. I would need your permission to quote extensively from your page, but not just to link to it.)

  20. Commentary by the founders of Against Satanic Panics

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