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Satanic Panic ...

THE SUNDAY MAIL
BRISBANE AUSTRALIA
Feb 18, 1996

SATANIC PANIC SHOWS REAL DEMONS

HOW, in our modern age, could so many people come to believe they are surrounded by unseen satanic conspiracies that leave not a trace of their existence?

In the aftermath of the McMartin Preschool case and others like it, it is an unflattering question that has to be asked

The authors of Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, see some of the answers in the anxieties of a changing society as traditional beliefs are challenged. Among the things we are most anxious about are our children. And if little children came forward with tales of being horribly abused, who could be blamed for believing them?

But the authors demonstrate that the harrowing tales of abuse by satanic cults were not originating with the children.

Most of them denied any knowledge of abuse until adults coached them - and at times coerced them - into repeating the desired charges.

Examining McMartin and other satanic panics, the authors show that charges sometimes originated with a parent who had psychiatric problems.

But those parents had help from a growing in industry of counsellors and therapists who used questionable science in the pursuit of social, political and personal goals. They, in turn, were abetted by too-eager prosecutors and the news media that provided sensationalised, emotional and uncritical coverage.

Remarkably, beliefs in satanic cults grew firmer even as thousands of hours of searches turned up no physical evidence - no corpses or blood of children and animals sacrificed in demonic rites, no altars, secret rooms or tunnels, no mounds of pornographic video tapes and photos that supposedly were a part of the international sex ring conspiracy.

In addition to pointing out the flaws in these investigations, the authors delve into social and political movements that nourished the conspiracy beliefs.

There were conservatives and religious fundamentalists on the right who envisioned sinister threats to the established order.

On the left were some of the more extreme feminists looking for conspiracies of abuse and oppression to hang their pet theories on.

THEY came together in a bizarre partnership where feminists such as Gloria Steinem rubbed elbows with, and endorsed, conspiracy minded fringe groups on the far right.

Unfortunately, the authors' biases interfere with an objective look into this facet of the satanic panics.

What could have been a classic text instead disintegrates into opportunistic political sniping and spin control.

Too often the book abandons research to apologise for political bedfellows who contributed to the panic.

NEVERTHELESS, it documents the human carnage that follows when a desire to deliver justice and protect the weak turns into unreasoning hatred.

Satan's Silence provides a needed innoculation against the next round of social panics - whatever form they might take. - USA TODAY