This book charts the sudden appearance and subsequent decline of so called 'satanic abuse' cases involving children in England the late 1980's and early 1990's. It deals with the subject critically, rather than as an article of faith, whether religious or psychotherapeutic. It compares the modern satanic abuse 'epidemic' with the witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and also with similar phenomena in non-western societies in the twentieth century. In short, it finds that there was no coroborative evidence, no substance to the allegations. It explains how they came about through the needs of certain adults to find satanic abuse, and how the children involved and the words they spoke were manipulated to this end. None of the cases were proven in Court, and the modern day witch hunters have now turned their attention away from children.
Why do I call it a missed opportunity? The book could have been so much more effective had its style been less obscure; so many long sentences, a punctuation wilderness. I found it heavy going, and I'm not totally unused to reading academic stuff. There is no excuse for this; there is no reason why academic rigour and readability should be mutually exclusive. So the book will find an audience amongst academics and those like me, a social worker working in child protection, who have a professional interest in the subject. But the book, or perhaps its yet-to-be-written popular counterpart, needs to have a much wider audience. I know from personal experinece that many people still believe in the existence of satanic child abuse, so the danger of more witch hunts is still with us. The literature put out by the anti-satanist lobby, particularly those who approach it from a Christian fundamentalist standpoint, is racy and readable in the extreme. So why can't the facts and the rational arguments against it also be set forth in plain English for the general reader?
on 30 October 2011
I agree entirely with John Williams above. I am also a social worker, and I know the harm which was caused to our professional reputation by this outbreak of Satanic fantasy (Broxtowe, Cleveland, Orkneys etc). Hundreds of children were needlessly snatched from loving families because they fitted a "satanic abuse checklist" provided by evangelical Christian campaigners. We failed those children and their families.
There was in fact no organised satanic abuse of children in the UK, and there has never been a proven case since Jean La Fontaine published this book a decade ago (despite the bizarre accusations of our other reviewer, who relies upon various long-ago debunked myths).
This book is an essential, sometimes pedantic, history of the UK's Satanic Panic. For a more practical hands-on perspective, try [...].
on 6 May 2010
and as a previous reviewer said, a 'missed opportunity' to look at allegations of satanic abuse in England and Wales. As a trained social anthropologist I was disappointed with this book, and surprised at its critical acclaim (actually not too surprised, for Professor La Fontaine's conclusions do fit in with the establishment). Her comparison of satanic abuse today to witchcraft allegations in previous centuries is fundamentally flawed. For she is comparing two profoundly different things. Witches were the marginalized scapegoats of society, almost always women, in a way Satanists are not (most people don't believe that satanists even exist, let alone among the professional classes).
In fact there is some evidence, from survivors of ritual child abuse and paedophile rings, particularly in Scotland, that they do. She dismisses the possibility that many police are freemasons and practice ritual magic in a paragraph. Since then the Hollie Greig scandal, which involved a Downs Syndrome girl being repeatedly raped by her family and a paedophile ring, including the police, has come to light in Aberdeenshire. Interestingly, when Hollie's mother reported it at her local police station she was violently sectioned in a psyciatric hospital, and attempts made to characterize her as a paranoid schizophrenicm which shows hidden links between the police and medical services that could potentially be characteristic of a paedophile ring. Many 'survivor tales' do report common symbolism, such as pentagrams and inverted crosses. La Fontaine does not go into that either. In fact the book reads as though her conclusions were drawn before she wrote it, and if you look at her 'funding bodies' perhaps that is not surprising either.
An apologist book for a phenomenon that may really be happening, and as such, an ill-advised book and a fundamentally flawed piece of research.
on 3 August 2013
There are so many holes in La Fontaine's research that, bizarrely, are never explored by the author. In other social science texts biases (her anthropological background), data problems (the extensive use of solely official data) and stance (hugely positivist) would be expected to be thoroughly explored elsewhere are not here. She also fails to note many of the convictions of sexual abuse that happened during some RA cases (Nottingham, with 9 convictions of child sex abuse, comes to mind), and the fact that police had no process for recording ritual 'evidence', hence why official data is somewhat useless for this kind of study.
Furthermore, the author refers to some phenomena, such as 'false memory' with such fervor as if they were 'proven' theories; when in reality, 2 US and UK government studies on "widespread mal-practicing therapists" implanting memories found that no such practice existed. Decent memory scientists acknowledge that the concept of false memories is shaky, partly because all memory is reconstructed, and partly because implantation has only been proven in laboratory setting that hold little similarity to the clinical phenomena of traumatic memory processes. Repression and dissociation are commonly recognized phenomena that feature in the DSM.
The author had clearly made up her mind about ritual abuse before writing this, and prior to her research it seems. I recommend Sara Scott's Beyond Disbelief for a more measured, reflexive look at the subject.