This vacillation between assertion and denial in discussions about organised abuse can be understood as functional, in that it serves to contain the traumatic kernel at the heart of allegations of organised abuse. In his influential ‘just world’ theory, Lerner (1980) argued that emotional wellbeing is predicated on the assumption that the world is an orderly, predictable and just place in which people get what they deserve. Whilst such assumptions are objectively false, Lerner argued that individuals have considerable investment in maintaining them since they are conducive to feelings of self—efficacy and trust in others. When they encounter evidence contradicting the view that the world is just, individuals are motivated to defend this belief either by helping the victim (and thus restoring a sense of justice) or by persuading themselves that no injustice has occurred. Lerner (1980) focused on the ways in which the ‘just world’ fallacy motivates victim-blaming, but there are other defences available to bystanders who seek to dispel troubling knowledge. Organised abuse highlights the severity of sexual violence in the lives of some children and the desire of some adults to inflict considerable, and sometimes irreversible, harm upon the powerless. Such knowledge is so toxic to common presumptions about the orderly nature of society, and the generally benevolent motivations of others, that it seems as though a defensive scaffold of disbelief, minimisation and scorn has been erected to inhibit a full understanding of organised abuse. Despite these efforts, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in organised abuse and particularly ritualistic abuse (eg Sachs and Galton 2008, Epstein et al. 2011, Miller 2012).
As Lynn writes: "What angers me is the loss of control. At any moment someone could come to me, be dressed the right way and use the right code, and I no longer have free will. I will do anything that person requests. I hate them for that. Nothing else is as bad as known that I am always out of control; knowing that I am still a laboratory experiment, a puppet whose strings are hidden from ever but my handlers, and I don't yet know how to break free. p216
I was amazed, shocked, and sickened by what I heard throughout the day, over and over, by many victims' stories. I can think of no one with whom I didn't recognize a common thread. These monsters, these evil priests, used the same words and methods on all of us. With each session, I would find something that sent a cold chill down my spine. It amazed and frightened me that the actual words used on me, to rape me, to rape me, were the same as the words used on so many others from all over the United States. You would think that all these priests either were educated in how to concur and rape us, or they met privately with each other to compare notes and develop their plan of attack on us. The pattern was so much the same, with the same words, that you would swear it was scripted and disbursed to these priests. Do they secretly have closed-door meetings on how to abuse us? A chilling thought. Neary's routine of saying the Our Father during the rape and making me say it with him, repeating the thy will be done over and over, the absolution given me after he finished, the threats of having God take my parents away, the lectures about offering my suffering up to God, etc., etc., etc. My experience was identical, word-for-word, to that of many others. The exact words during the abuse were not just close, but exactly the same, as if it were some kind of abuse ritual. Ritual abuse is not limited to the religious definition and can include compulsive, abusive behavior performed in an exact series of steps with little variation. How could these similarities occur without the priests taking the same abuse seminar together some place, somehow? Was it taught in the seminary? In some dark corner? It goes beyond coincidence—the similarities in deeds and verbiage that these predators use on us. It truly chilled me to the very marrow of my bones.
Frosh (2002) has suggested that therapeutic spaces provide children and adults with the rare opportunity to articulate experiences that are otherwise excluded from the dominant symbolic order. However, since the 1990s, post-modern and post-structural theory has often been deployed in ways that attempt to ‘manage’ from; afar the perturbing disclosures of abuse and trauma that arise in therapeutic spaces (Frosh 2002). Nowhere is this clearer than in relation to organised abuse, where the testimony of girls and women has been deconstructed as symptoms of cultural hysteria (Showalter 1997) and the colonisation of women’s minds by therapeutic discourse (Hacking 1995). However, behind words and discourse, ‘a real world and real lives do exist, howsoever we interpret, construct and recycle accounts of these by a variety of symbolic means’ (Stanley 1993: 214). Summit (1994: 5) once described organised abuse as a ‘subject of smoke and mirrors’, observing the ways in which it has persistently defied conceptualisation or explanation. Explanations for serious or sadistic child sex offending have typically rested on psychiatric concepts of ‘paedophilia’ or particular psychological categories that have limited utility for the study of the cultures of sexual abuse that emerge in the families or institutions in which organised abuse takes pace. For those clinicians and researchers who take organised abuse seriously, their reliance upon individualistic rather than sociological explanations for child sexual abuse has left them unable to explain the emergence of coordinated, and often sadistic, multi—perpetrator sexual abuse in a range of contexts around the world.
Some readers may find it a curious or even unscientific endeavour to craft a criminological model of organised abuse based on the testimony of survivors. One of the standard objections to qualitative research is that participants may lie or fantasise in interview, it has been suggested that adults who report severe child sexual abuse are particularly prone to such confabulation. Whilst all forms of research, whether qualitative or quantitative, may be impacted upon by memory error or false reporting. there is no evidence that qualitative research is particularly vulnerable to this, nor is there any evidence that a fantasy— or lie—prone individual would be particularly likely to volunteer for research into child sexual abuse. Research has consistently found that child abuse histories, including severe and sadistic abuse, are accurate and can be corroborated (Ross 2009, Otnow et al. 1997, Chu et al. 1999). Survivors of child abuse may struggle with amnesia and other forms of memory disturbance but the notion that they are particularly prone to suggestion and confabulation has yet to find a scientific basis. It is interesting to note that questions about the veracity of eyewitness evidence appear to be asked far more frequently in relation to sexual abuse and rape than in relation to other crimes. The research on which this book is based has been conducted with an ethical commitment to taking the lives and voices of survivors of organised abuse seriously.
Research on organised abuse emphasises the diversity of organised abuse cases, and the ways in which serious forms of child maltreatment cluster in the lives of children subject to organised victimisation (eg Bibby 1996b, Itziti 1997, Kelly and Regan 2000). Most attempts to examine organised abuse have been undertaken by therapists and social workers who have focused primarily on the role of psychological processes in the organised victimisation of children and adults. Dissociation, amnesia and attachment, in particular, have been identified as important factors that compel victims to obey their abusers whilst inhibiting them from disclosing their abuse or seeking help (see Epstein et al. 2011, Sachs and Galton 2008). Therapists and social workers have surmised that these psychological effects are purposively induced by perpetrators of organised abuse through the use of sadistic and ritualistic abuse. In this literature, perpetrators are characterised either as dissociated automatons mindlessly perpetuating the abuse that they, too, were subjected to as children, or else as cruel and manipulative criminals with expert foreknowledge of the psychological consequences of their abuses. The therapist is positioned in this discourse at the very heart of the solution to organised abuse, wielding their expertise in a struggle against the coercive strategies of the perpetrators. Whilst it cannot be denied that abusive groups undertake calculated strategies designed to terrorise children into silence and obedience, the emphasis of this literature on psychological factors in explaining organised abuse has overlooked the social contexts of such abuse and the significance of abuse and violence as social practices.
Mum was pregnant, then there was Sharron. [...] I wanted to keep him away from her - but for the wrong reasons. In my head he was mine, he was my special person but, of course, as I was getting older, his interest in me was waning anyway. I don't know whether it was because he had lost interest in me, or because the abuse elsewhere was so horrific, particularly without him in my life to make things seem better but, whatever the reason, I soon moved from wanted him to leave Sharron alone for my sake, to wanting him to leave her alone for the right reasons. She was tiny, just a toddler, and the thought of him touching her or abusing her horrified me. I started trying to attract his attention whenever he looked at her. I'd dance, I'd sing, I'd sit on his lap. I'd do a hundred things that were completely out of character - anything, anything to avoid seeing that look in his eye when he glanced at the baby. I knew that he was planing to do to her what he had done to me. I tried to get in the way, I tried to get him to play with me, but once Sharron was about three, the penny finally dropped. I had always thought he wasn't in the same category as the others; they weren't nice, and he always was. But as she began to replace me, it made me face up to things. What Uncle Andrew did wasn't right. [...] Even though I loved my uncle, and craved his attention, the thought of him coming into my bed was starting to repulse me. sharron slept in my bed, too, by then, and I wanted that to continue because I wanted to protect her. Of course, there were plenty of times when I wasn't there. I was still being taken away to be abused. I was at school; Sharon was often left unprotected. Something must have been happening because she started wetting the bed almost every night. This was a sign that even I couldn't turn away from. Sharon was being abused. I was sure of it. But I wouldn't stand for it, not for much longer. p209-2010
Today, acknowledgement of the prevalence and harms of child sexual abuse is counterbalanced with cautionary tales about children and women who, under pressure from social workers and therapists, produce false allegations of ‘paedophile rings’, ‘cult abuse’ and ‘ritual abuse’. Child protection investigations or legal cases involving allegations of organised child sexual abuse are regularly invoked to illustrate the dangers of ‘false memories’, ‘moral panic’ and ‘community hysteria’. These cautionary tales effectively delimit the bounds of acceptable knowledge in relation to sexual abuse. They are circulated by those who locate themselves firmly within those bounds, characterising those beyond as ideologues and conspiracy theorists. However firmly these boundaries have been drawn, they have been persistently transgressed by substantiated disclosures of organised abuse that have led to child protection interventions and prosecutions. Throughout the 1990s, in a sustained effort to redraw these boundaries, investigations and prosecutions for organised abuse were widely labelled ‘miscarriages of justice’ and workers and therapists confronted with incidents of organised abuse were accused of fabricating or exaggerating the available evidence. These accusations have faded over time as evidence of organised abuse has accumulated, while investigatory procedures have become more standardised and less vulnerable to discrediting attacks. However, as the opening quotes to this introduction illustrate, the contemporary situation in relation to organised abuse is one of considerable ambiguity in which journalists and academics claim that organised abuse is a discredited ‘moral panic’ even as cases are being investigated and prosecuted.
More proof that Lynn is still meant to continue with the government programme occurred during the winter of 2000, when she was sitting at a cafeteria table at the area college. It was later in the afternoon when a few people congregated there with books spread out so they could study while drinking coffee or snacking. Many tables were empty, yet after Lynn had been sitting for a few moments, an elderly man sat down across from her. The old man seemed familiar to Lynn, though, at first, she pretended to ignore him. He said nothing, just sat there as someone might when all the tables are filled and it is necessary to share space with a stranger. His presence made her uncomfortable, yet there was nothing specific that alerted her. A short while later, Mac, the man who had been Lynn's handler in Mexico, came out of the shadows and stopped at the table. He was younger than the old man. His clothes were military casual, the type of garments that veteran students who have military experience might recognise, but not think unusual. He leaned over Lynn and kissed her gently on the forehead, spoke quietly to her, and then said 'Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.' Those were the code words that would start the cover programme of which she was still part. The words led to her being switched from the control of the old man, a researcher she now believes may have been part of Dr Ewen Cameron's staff before coming to the United States for the latter part of his career, to the younger man. The change is like a re-enlistment in an army she never willingly joined. In a very real way, she is a career soldier who has never been paid, never allowed to retire and never given a chance to lead a life free from the fear of what she might do without conscious awareness.
In her book claiming that allegations of ritualistic abuse are mostly confabulations, La Fontaine’s (1998) comparison of social workers to ‘nazis’ shows the depth of feeling evident amongst many sceptics. However, this raises an important question: Why did academics and journalists feel so strongly about allegations of ritualistic abuse, to the point of pervasively misrepresenting the available evidence and treating women disclosing ritualistic abuse, and those workers who support them, with barely concealed contempt? It is of course true that there are fringe practitioners in the field of organised abuse, just as there are fringe practitioners in many other health-related fields. However, the contrast between the measured tone of the majority of therapists and social workers writing on ritualistic abuse, and the over-blown sensationalism of their critics, could not be starker. Indeed, Scott (2001) notes with irony that the writings of those who claimed that ‘satanic ritual abuse’ is a ‘moral panic’ had many of the features of a moral panic: scapegoating therapists, social workers and sexual abuse victims whilst warning of an impending social catastrophe brought on by an epidemic of false allegations of sexual abuse. It is perhaps unsurprising that social movements for people accused of sexual abuse would engage in such hyperbole, but why did this rhetoric find so many champions in academia and the media?
Allegations of multi-perpetrator and multi-victim sexual abuse emerged to public awareness in the early 1980s contemporaneously with the denials of the accused and their supporters. Multi-perpetrator sexual offences are typically more sadistic than solo offences and organised sexual abuse is no exception. Adults and children with histories of organised abuse have described lives marked by torturous and sometimes ritualistic sexual abuse arranged by family members and other care-givers and authority figures. It is widely acknowledged, at least in theory, that sexual abuse can take severe forms, but when disclosures of such abuse occur, they are routinely subject to contestation and challenge. People accused of organised, sadistic or ritualistic abuse have protested that their accusers are liars and fantasists, or else innocents led astray by overly zealous investigators. This was an argument that many journalists and academics have found more convincing than the testimony of alleged victims.
The data on organised abuse has been simplified or distorted in an attempt force it to conform to mechanical psychological models of dissociative obedience or else to the psychiatric framework of ‘paedophilia’. Psychopathology alone is an inadequate explanation for environments in which sexual abuse has a social and symbolic function for groups of adults. Abusive groups do not emerge in a vacuum but rather they are formed within pre-existing social arrangements such as families, churches and schools.
Blaming therapy, social work and other caring professions for the confabulation of testimony of 'satanic ritual abuse' legitimated a programme of political and social action designed to contest the gains made by the women's movement and the child protection movement. In efforts to characterise social workers and therapists as hysterical zealots, 'satanic ritual abuse' was, quite literally, 'made fun of': it became the subject of scorn and ridicule as interest groups sought to discredit testimony of sexual abuse as a whole. The groundswell of support that such efforts gained amongst journalists, academics and the public suggests that the pleasures of disbelief found resonance far beyond the confines of social movements for people accused of sexual abuse. These pleasures were legitimised by a pseudo-scientific vocabulary of 'false memories' and 'moral panic' but as Daly (1999:219-20) points out 'the ultimate goal of ideology is to present itself in neutral, value-free terms as the very horizon of objectivity and to dismiss challenges to its order as the "merely ideological"'. The media spotlight has moved on and social movements for people accused of sexual abuse have lost considerable momentum. However, their rhetoric continues to reverberate throughout the echo chamber of online and 'old' media. Intimations of collusion between feminists and Christians in the concoction of 'satanic ritual abuse' continue to mobilise 'progressive' as well as 'conservative' sympathies for men accused of serious sexual offences and against the needs of victimised women and children. This chapter argues that, underlying the invocation of often contradictory rationalising tropes (ranging from calls for more scientific 'objectivity' in sexual abuse investigations to emotional descriptions of 'happy families' rent asunder by false allegations) is a collective and largely unarticulated pleasure; the catharthic release of sentiments and views about children and women that had otherwise become shameful in the aftermath of second wave feminism. It seems that, behind the veneer of public concern about child sexual abuse, traditional views about the incredibility of women's and children's testimony persist. 'Satanic ritual abuse has served as a lens through which these views have been rearticulated and reasserted at the very time that evidence of widespread and serious child sexual abuse has been consolidating. p60
The fact that most perpetrators of organised abuse are men, and that their most intensive and sadistic abuses are visited upon girls and women, has gone largely unnoticed, as have the patterns of gendered inequity that characterise the families and institutional settings in which organised abuse takes place. Organised abuse survivors share a number of challenges in common with other survivors of abuse and trauma, including health and justice systems that have been slow to recognise and respond to violence against children and women. However, this connection is rarely made in the literature on organised abuse, with some authors hinting darkly at the nefarious influence of abusive groups. Fraser (1997: xiv) provides a note of caution here, explaining that whilst it is relatively easy to ‘comment on the naïveté of those grappling with this issue ... it is very difficult to actually face a new and urgent phenomenon and deal with it, but not fully understand it, while managing distressed and confused patients and their families’.
Batley insisted that no cult existed but the jury found him guilty of 35 offences including 11 rapes. three indecent assaults, causing prostitution for personal gain, causing a child to have sex and inciting a child to have sex. The three women, who got Egyptian Eye of Horus tattoos apparently to show their allegiance to their organisation, were found guilty of sex-related charges. Young boys and girls were procured by cult members to take part in sex sessions, the trial heard. The group preyed on vulnerable youngsters, impelling them to join with veiled death threats. Batley was accused of forcing a number of his victims into prostitution. (Morris 2011) There are, after all, no paedophile rings; there is no ritual abuse; recovered memories cannot he trusted; not all victimization claims are legitimate. (Pratt 2009: 70)
There are a range of useful and illuminating analyses of the media construction of organised abuse as it became front-page news in the 1980s and 1990s (Kitzinger 2004, Atmore 1997, Kelly 1998), but this book is focused on organised abuse as a criminal practice; as well as a discursive object of study, debate and disagreement. These two dimensions of this topic are inextricably linked because precisely where and how organised abuse is reported to take place is an important determinant of how it is understood. Prior to the 1980s, the predominant view of the police, psychiatrists and other authoritative professionals was that organised abuse occurred primarily outside the family where it was committed by extra-familial ‘paedophiles’. This conceptualisation; of organised abuse has received enduring community support to the present day, where concerns over children’s safety is often framed in terms of their vulnerability to manipulation by ‘paedophiles’ and ‘sex rings’. This view dovetails more generally with the medico-legal and media construction of the ‘paedophile as an external threat to the sanctity of the family and community (Cowburn and Dominelli 2001) but it is confounded by evidence that organised abuse and other forms of serious sexual abuse often originates in the home or in institutions, such as schools and churches, where adults have socially legitimate authority over children.
As mandatory reporting laws and community awareness drove an increase its child protection investigations throughout the 1980s, some children began to disclose premeditated, sadistic and organised abuse by their parents, relatives and other caregivers such as priests and teachers (Hechler 1988). Adults in psychotherapy described similar experiences. The dichotomies that had previously associated organised abuse with the dangerous, external ‘Other’ had been breached, and the incendiary debate that followed is an illustration of the depth of the collective desire to see them restored. Campbell (1988) noted the paradox that, whilst journalists and politicians often demand that the authorities respond more decisively in response to a ‘crisis’ of sexual abuse, the action that is taken is then subsequently construed as a ‘crisis’. There has been a particularly pronounced tendency of the public reception to allegations of organised abuse. The removal of children from their parents due to disclosures of organised abuse, the provision of mental health care to survivors of organised abuse, police investigations of allegations of organised abuse and the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of organised abuse have all generated their own controversies. These were disagreements that were cloaked in the vocabulary of science and objectivity but nonetheless were played out in sensationalised fashion on primetime television, glossy news magazines and populist books, drawing textual analysis. The role of therapy and social work in the construction of testimony of abuse and trauma. in particular, has come under sustained postmodern attack. Frosh (2002) has suggested that therapeutic spaces provide children and adults with the rare opportunity to articulate experiences that are otherwise excluded from the dominant symbolic order. However, since the 1990s, post-modern and post-structural theory has often been deployed in ways that attempt to ‘manage’ from; afar the perturbing disclosures of abuse and trauma that arise in therapeutic spaces (Frosh 2002). Nowhere is this clearer than in relation to organised abuse, where the testimony of girls and women has been deconstructed as symptoms of cultural hysteria (Showalter 1997) and the colonisation of women’s minds by therapeutic discourse (Hacking 1995). However, behind words and discourse, ‘a real world and real lives do exist, howsoever we interpret, construct and recycle accounts of these by a variety of symbolic means’ (Stanley 1993: 214). Summit (1994: 5) once described organised abuse as a ‘subject of smoke and mirrors’, observing the ways in which it has persistently defied conceptualisation or explanation.
Nonetheless, it remains the case that the psychological literature on organised abuse has not provided a coherent explanation for the emergence of sexually abusive groups in a range of contexts, or for the difficulties that victims experience in disclosing their abuse and accessing care and support. The psychological model of organised abuse emphasises individual rather than social factors and so it tends to characterise organised abuse as a drama of psychological energies. Similar deficiencies can be found in attempts to theorise organised abuse that draw from psychiatric understandings of ‘paedophilia’ (eg Wyre 1996). This is a perspective that has proved particularly influential in public inquiries into allegations of organised abuse (for examples from Australia, see NCA Joint Committee Report 1995, Wood Report 1997, for examples from Britain, see Corby et at. 2001). These public inquiries have integrated the psychiatric notion of ‘paedophilia’ with existing stereotypes of organised crime to generate a model of ‘organised paedophilia’ or the ‘paedophile ring’, in which otherwise solitary sexual offenders with deviant sexual interests conspire to sexually abuse children for pleasure and/or profit. This psychiatric model may accurately describe some abusive men and groups but it has proven problematic as a catch-all explanation for organised abuse. Attempts to establish the existence of ‘paedophile rings’ often founders on semantic debates over whether alleged perpetrators meet the diagnostic criteria of a ‘paedophile’, sometimes leading to the confused and misleading conclusion that no ‘paedophile ring’ existed even where there is strong evidence that multiple perpetrators have colluded in the sexual abuse of multiple children.
Like the psychological model outlined above, the psychiatric understanding of ’organised paedophilia’ is a framework that is focused primarily on individual psychological factors and overlooks the role of violence in criminal groups and the contexts in which such groups emerge. The underlying assumption of literature on ‘organised paedophilia’ is that members of sexually abusive groups are motivated by a pathological sexual interest in children but this does not accord with evidence that suggests that abusive groups can simultaneously abuse children and women. It is increasingly recognised that sexual offenders may not specialise in one particular victim category, and a significant proportion of child sexual abusers have also offended against adults (Cann et al. 2007, Heil et al. 2003). Furthermore, many of the behaviours of abusive groups appear to be designed to elicit fear and pain from the victim rather than to generate sexual pleasure for the perpetrator per se., are not mutually exclusive, but there is a sadistic dimension to organised abuse that is not explicable as ‘paedophilic’. A survivor of organised abuse from Belgium, Regina Louf, made this point clearly when she said: I find the expression ‘paedophile network’ misleading. For me paedophiles are those men who go to playgrounds or swimming pools, priests…I certainly don't want to exonerate them, but I would rather have paedophiles than the types we were involved with. There were men who never touched the children. Whether you were five, ten, or fifteen didn’t matter. What mattered to them was sex, power, experience. To do things they would never have tried with their own wives. Among them were some real sadists. (Louf quoted in Bulte and de Conick 1998) A credible theoretical account of organised abuse must necessarily (a) account for the available empirical evidence of organised abuse, (b) address the complex patterns of abuse and violence evident in sexually abusive groups, and (c) explain the ways in which sexually abusive groups form in a range of contexts, including families and institutions.