Satan's Excellent Adventure in the Antipodes
ABSTRACT: "The satanism scare," which began in North America in
the early 1980s, arrived in Australia during the late 1980s and in New Zealand
from 1990 onwards. Its importation was associated with conference presentations
and published material by a small but key group of claims-makers, several
of whom had been associated with the earlier McMartin preschool investigation.
The influence of their claims on child protection professionals in both Australia
and New Zealand is traced.
I preface this paper with a quote from a seventeenth century skeptic who
was responsible for bringing an end to a witchhunt:
I have observed that there were neither witches nor bewitched in a village
until they were talked and written about (Alonso de Salazar, quoted in Geis
& Bunn, 1991, pp. 41-42).
In the latter part of the 1980s, first in Australia and subsequently in New
Zealand, there was a mounting panic about alleged satanic activity. The
activities that were claimed to be performed by satanic cults involved horrifying
rituals in which children were said to be sexually abused, tortured, murdered,
cannibalized, and even bred for use in these Gothic practices. Belief in
the existence of such cults spread, not only among Christian fundamentalists,
but also among secular professionals, especially those involved in social
work and counseling. To date, there is no physical corroboration of the
atrocities allegedly perpetrated by these satanists.
What I hope to do in this paper is to show how these claims originated and
how they were disseminated in this part of the world. To do this I need
to examine the role played by a key network of American claims-makers who
brought the Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) scenario to Australia, and later
to New Zealand. I will examine the contorted logic that often accompanied
the claims. Then I will show how local "experts" took the scenario
further, sometimes with disturbing results.
I will preface this account with two important qualifiers. First, there is
no intention in what follows to question the existence of child abuse, which
has been increasingly recognized as a problem of considerable proportions
since the recognition of a "battered child syndrome" in 1962 (Best,
1990). Quite the contrary, my concern over alleged SRA is partly motivated
by concern that the pursuit of a mythical form of child abuse diverts resources
from the genuine cases.
Second, there is no disputing the existence of people who label themselves
satanists-there were just over 900 of them in the 1996 New Zealand census.
But as Jean La Fontaine points out in her study of the British allegations,
"the existence of satanists does not prove that they abuse children
in these rituals; it merely means that care must constantly be taken to
emphasize that the actual practices of occultists, witches and satanists
are different from what is being recounted as satanic abuse" (La Fontaine,
1998, p. 41). Her own work (La Fontaine, 1994, 1998), the firm conclusions
of an FBI specialist in sexual abuse (Lanning, 1992), and the results of
a very large study in the United States (Goodman, Qin, Bottoms, & Shaver,
1994) all amount to the same result: "no bodies, no bones, no bloodstains,
nothing" (Waterhouse 1990).
Satan's Arrival in North America
Though there are a variety of historical antecedents to the satanism scare,
the year of its origin can be established fairly precisely as 1980. The
publication of two very different books in that year laid the basis for
an escalation of claims about satanic ritual abuse throughout the 1980s.
The first was a book called Michelle Remembers, by a claimed "survivor"
of SRA, Michelle Smith, and her therapist-later husband-Lawrence Pazder
(Smith & Pazder, 1980). In it Michelle recalls as a five-year-old "being
tortured in houses, mausoleums, and cemeteries, being raped and sodomized
with candles, being forced to defecate on a Bible and crucifix, witnessing
babies and adults butchered, spending hours naked in a snake-filled cage,
and having a devil's tail and horns surgically attached to her" (Nathan
& Snedeker, 1995, p. 45). At one point in the account there is a personal
appearance of the Devil, complete with tail, and when Jesus and Mary emerge
to give support to the victim, there is an epic battle with sound effects
between the forces of good and evil. Michelle's Christian faith finally defeats
the satanists, who release her, whereupon she completely forgets her experiences
until 20 years later when she is in therapy with Dr. Pazder.
However, there has been no verification of these events, and it has been
discovered that the alleged victim was attending school regularly, and was
even photographed for the school yearbook, at a time when she was supposedly
locked in a basement for months. Pazder had an interest in exorcism and
had studied West African witchcraft rituals, some of which involved being
buried in a pit it is worth noting that burial or entombment was to become
one of the frequently reported components of the SRA scenario. The book
was a bestseller and it was not long before other women began to recover
"memories" of similar satanic events. Incidentally, it was Pazder
in 1981 who coined the term "ritual abuse" (Nathan & Snedeker,
1995, p. 50).
The other publication in 1980 that contributed to the satanism scare was
the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American
Psychiatric Association (DSM-III), which for the first time included the
categories of "Multiple Personality Disorder" later to be relabeled
"Dissociative Identity Disorder" and "Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder." These were to become the most common diagnoses applied to
those thought to have been the victims of satanic abuse, and very soon a
group of prominent American psychiatrists who specialized in hypnotism had
established an organization to advance the treatment of Multiple Personality
and Dissociation. Its spread has been described to me as much like a process
of pyramid selling (Sherrill Mulhern, personal communication). In this way
a phenomenon which had initially been the preserve of fundamentalist Christians
began to be validated by a group of secular professionals.
Pazder's influence was soon to be exercised in raising the satanism scenario
in one of the most notorious investigations and trials in America, centering
on the McMartin Preschool. This case has been much discussed and I only
want to review the details briefly, but it laid the foundation for a network
of claims-makers which was to have a major influence on the satanic panic
in Australia and New Zealand. In 1983, the mother of a boy who was attending
the preschool began to complain that he was being sexually abused and she
accused the only male worker at the establishment. The school's property
was searched for pornography and other relevant evidence, but without success.
After the police alerted 200 parents of preschool children to the to the
possibility that abuse may have occurred, more elaborate stories began to
be told by the children and, despite many denials by the children themselves,
the investigation continued. It is at this point that the network of influential
investigators began to form.
Two central figures in the group were social worker and interviewer Kee MacFarlane
and psychiatrist Roland Summit. MacFarlane was working at the Children's
Institute International, a nonprofit child abuse facility. Aware of the problems
of interviewing small children, she introduced novel procedures, such as
using hand puppets in the interviews, wearing colorful clothes, and making
use of anatomically detailed dolls. Given the growing interest in multiple
personality and ritual abuse, children were told that if they did not remember
incidents at the preschool this was because they were dissociating, and
that the job of the interviewers was to help them remember.
This led to a form of insistent interviewing, in which denials of abuse
by children were discounted in the search for "truths" which the
interviewers believed were being suppressed. The original mother's complaints
became increasingly bizarre and improbable, but they were taken literally
by police and therapists, who failed to notice their delusional nature:
in fact, the mother was eventually diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and
died shortly afterwards from alcohol poisoning. The significance of this
will be considered later.
Roland Summit's ideas provided a pseudoscientific rationale which underpinned
the approach taken by the investigators. He had written a 1978 paper outlining
what he termed "The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome"
(CSAAS). This paper was widely distributed prior to its eventual publication
in 1983. In that paper he argued that children never fabricated accounts
of sexual abuse and thus were to be believed when they disclosed them, regardless
of how incredible their accounts were. However, children who had been victims
of incest would often retract in order-as he claimed-to maintain family
Here were two components which were to be reiterated by many of those involved
in subsequent investigations, and they became enshrined as dogma in the
phrase "Believe the Children" and in the maxim that children never
lie about sexual abuse unless they are recanting. Because of this, it is
extremely important to note that Summit's supposedly scientifically-phrased
CSAAS was based on no research, being in his own words "impressionistic."
For the 12 years before he constructed the CSAAS he had done no therapy
with children under 7, and even then the children were not in treatment
for sexual abuse (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 145). This is very significant,
because Summit's CSAAS was subsequently asserted in legal proceedings as
a way of dismissing children's denials of abuse.
As a major protagonist in the satanism scare, it is also worth examining
Summit's use of logic when faced with the possible unreliability of a claim.
For instance, Summit has both denied that the complainant mother in the
McMartin case was mentally unbalanced when she made her allegations, but
simultaneously argued that mental instability is a prerequisite for the
recognition of child abuse:
Eccentric, alienated, unsocialized and paranoid personality types are needed
to ferret out allegations of child sex abuse in the face of lack of evidence
and conventional, well-socialized parents and professionals (who reinforce
denial for their own mutual belief) . . . It takes somebody paranoid to
continue to express suspicion and to take the child from doctor to doctor
until somebody confirms that maybe there is abuse (Summit, quoted in Earl,
1995, pp. 90-91).
In a further piece of innuendo, Summit has alleged that the mother's paranoia
may not have been delusional, but the result of "menacing strangers
[presumably the perpetrators] who patrolled her yard" (Earl, p. 90).
Similarly, in the face of considerable investigation and evidence to the
contrary, Summit has continued to insist-in line with his fervent belief
in SRA-that there were tunnels underneath the McMartin play school (Summit,
Two other figures who were involved in the McMartin case, one of whom has
considerable importance in New Zealand, are David Finkelhor and Astrid Heger.
Finkelhor gathered evidence of day care cases throughout the country between
1983 and 1985, finding some three dozen ritual abuse scandals. No attempt
was made to evaluate the reliability of the allegations involved and the
study simply assumed that all were valid, even if no arrest or conviction
arose from a case. And given the mounting hysteria about this newly discovered
phenomenon, it is not surprising that this number of allegations had arisen.
It was Finkelhor, a sociologist with a conservative attitude to sexual relationships,
who disseminated the notion of multiple-victim, multiple-perpetrator abuse:
this was to figure prominently in other child-care investigations, and when
his jointly written book Nursery Crimes (Finkelhor, Williams, & Burns,
1988) eventually appeared, it became "a Bible for ritual abuse believers"
(Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 132).
The book's introduction begins with a discussion of the McMartin case, and
skeptical reviewers immediately sensed its potential to fuel the satanic
panic. In the opinion of one of these:
This is a truly remarkable book, primarily because of the monumental irresponsibility
of the authors, who have taken public monies . . . and used it [sic] to
compile statistics based on nothing more than opinions of a few beleaguered
investigators. The wasted money will be the least of it, however, for this
book promises to do much harm (Coleman, 1989, p. 46).
Though his previous research into child abuse might have made him skeptical
of the large percentage of women among those accused in this new form of
child abuse, Finkelhor disposed of this problem by arguing that a new type
of woman had emerged from the sexual revolution of the 1960s one that was
so obsessed with power and control that dominating men was no longer adequate:
the "mortification" of innocent children was now the goal (Nathan
& Snedeker, 1995, p. 133). It is more than a little curious that Finkelhor
became a champion of the SRA scenario which was to be taken up so enthusiastically
by some radical feminists.
Dr. Astrid Heger was the fourth McMartin investigator to popularize a diagnostic
technique which became influential in other parts of the world. In particular,
under the tutelage of her colleague Bruce Woodling (Nathan & Snedeker,
1995, p. 78), her investigation of children's genitals, and especially her
belief that sexual abuse could be detected by the size and shape of young
girls' hymens, became an abuse indicator in the Christchurch, New Zealand
child abuse investigation at the Glenelg Health Camp, while the related
anal wink, or dilation test which was supposed to indicate molestation,
triggered a major sexual abuse investigation in Cleveland, Britain, in 1987
(Pendergrast, 1998, pp. 413-414). Evidence gradually accumulated to
show that these alleged stigmata of child sexual abuse were meaningless,
and, although Heger was aware of these studies, she still persisted in maintaining
her original diagnoses when the McMartin case came to trial in 1987 (Nathan
& Snedeker, 1995, pp. 197-198) .
By the time the case came to trial, charges had been dropped against five
women defendants, and, after a 28-month trial (the longest criminal proceeding
in American history), there was an acquittal of the remaining woman defendant
and not guilty and hung verdicts for the remaining male defendant. There
was also a hung jury at the second trial and the charges were finally dismissed,
allowing the male defendant to be released from jail after a year-year imprisonment
(Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 92). Despite this outcome, the satanic
claims-makers have continued to insist on the reality of the McMartin abuse,
and subsequent allegations have closely paralleled the McMartin pattern.
Two other American figures, both social workers, were to have a significant
impact on the dissemination of the satanism scenario. First, Pamela Klein,
a rape crisis worker from Illinois, drew up a set of "satanic indicators"
which included such symptoms as bed wetting, nightmares, fear of monsters
and ghosts, and a preoccupation with feces, urine and flatulence: these were
to feature in a number of subsequent investigations of alleged satanism
in several countries. Her credentials had been questioned by an Illinois
judge, who stated that she was "not a legitimate therapist" and
was not licensed to practice (Pope, 1991). In July 1985 she settled in Britain
and was very influential in generating a network of satanic claims-makers
through her contributions to conferences and seminars, including one involving
senior police officers. Among her early associates was Ray Wyre, and together
they introduced the satanic dimension to the Nottingham child abuse investigation
(Emon, 1993, pp. 49-50). Wyre was later to make four lecture tours
of Australia, the most recent in July 1998. As will be seen, Klein was also influential in New Zealand.
Pamela Hudson is the other key figure. She, too, produced a list of satanic
symptoms and forms of abuse which had wide distribution among abuse workers.
Of particular importance was her list of 16 reported forms of physical and
psychological abuse. These included being locked in a cage, being buried
in the ground in a coffin or box, being tied upside down or hung from a pole
or hook, participating in a mock marriage, seeing children or babies killed,
having blood poured over them, and being taken to churches and graveyards
for ritual abuse. Hudson had a particular interest in the robes and masks
which perpetrators were alleged to wear, and the cover of her book, which
received wide circulation, shows just such an image which a child had supposedly
drawn (Hudson, 1991). As Jean La Fontaine has pointed out, "it looks
more like a cross between a ghost and a Ku Klux Klan figure" (La Fontaine,
1998, p. 54).
Satan Migrates to the Antipodes
In August 1986 Australia was host to the largest child abuse conference
in its history, the Sixth International Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.
It was held in Sydney and was attended by Summit, MacFarlane, Heger, and
Finkelhor, all of whom gave addresses about their work, and MacFarlane was
invited to conduct a further workshop after the conference for the benefit
of local child abuse experts (Guilliatt, 1996). Summit was to exercise "great
sway over the NSW Child Protection Council" (Guilliatt, personal communication)
and revisited Australia a few years later. Prominent members of Australia's
child abuse agencies participated in the week-long conference. There are
fascinating links and parallels between the McMartin case and the first allegations
of satanic involvement in Australia.
In October 1988 a woman in Sydney, New South Wales, reported to police her
suspicion that her three-year-old daughter was being abused at her day care
center by a man named "Mr. Bubbles." The mother had also contacted
other parents and expressed her suspicions about the day care center, and
in the ensuing interviews with police and social workers, children attending
the day care center "claimed they had been abducted, given drugs, assaulted
with knives, hammers and pins, sexually abused, filmed for pornographic movies,
and forced to watch animal sacrifices and satanic rituals" (Guilliatt,
1996, p. 31).
The link between this investigation and the earlier McMartin one is provided
by a note in police files containing the McMartin address, and the parallels
are striking. It later became apparent that the mother who initially complained
to the police was psychotic, in both cases a children's game was investigated
as a possible case of ritualized sex, and the medical examination of the
children included a search for anal and genital stigmata of the type Heger
had relied on. Another feature, which would appear elsewhere, was that some
of the parents began to present those investigating the case with publications
on ritual abuse. When the case did come to court in August 1989, it was
dismissed by the magistrate on the grounds that the children's testimony
"had been contaminated by excessive and leading questioning by police
and parents" (Guilliatt, 1996, p. 35).
Also involved in interviewing some of the children in the Mr. Bubbles case
was a Sydney psychiatrist, Dr. Anne Schlebaum. She was called in after the
children had made their allegations, and she fervently believed their occult
stories and reports of animal killing. After the case was dismissed, she
continued to be a "tireless proponent of the theory that satanic ritual
abuse was tied up with a major international criminal conspiracy" (Guilliatt,
1996, p. 89). Her beliefs were further developed in a speech she made to
the November 1990 conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association
of Psychology, Psychiatry and Law, when she proclaimed:
Satanists all around the world are reported to have declared the eighties
"The Decade of the Destruction of Innocence" . . . an horrendous
reversal after the goodwill and progress of the International Year of the
Child in 1979 (quoted in Guilliatt, 1996, p. 90).
Her speech was titled "Nursery Crimes-A Perfect Little Holocaust in
the Suburbs," showing the affinity of her claims with the work of Finkelhor.
Schlebaum has continued to investigate alleged cases and give seminars on
SRA, and her most recent involvement will be discussed shortly.
The Mr. Bubbles case generated a great deal of media attention and, within
a short period of time, police in Western Australia, Victoria, the ACT,
Queensland and New South Wales were investigating allegations of bizarre
satanic cult crimes involving sexual abuse of children, the sacrifice of
humans and animals, rituals in which blood was consumed, and black mass
rituals. Among specific allegations were those that could be found on the
lists of satanic "indicators," which had been devised by American
"experts," children being locked in coffins became one of the common
claims in a number of investigations.
One of the most substantial satanic cases to emerge in Australia was one
which began with the arrest in October 1993, in Bunbury, Western Australia,
of a devout retired Baptist headmaster. His two daughters had begun recalling
memories of ritual abuse involving their father and others during repeated
therapy since the late 1980s. Allegations included a variety of sadistic
tortures, including being tied up and suspended in the air naked, and being
assaulted with knives, scissors, screwdrivers, and an electric drill. Rituals
also involved a circle of participants.
One of the several therapists involved, John Manners, worked for a psychotherapy
practice called Christian Psychological Services (Guilliatt, 1996, p. 58)
and held views on memory recovery which may help to explain his role in
the Bunbury case. In one interview he is quoted as saying, "In reality
the details of the trauma are more accurate if they've been repressed and
brought back" (Who Weekly, 1994, p. 69). Thus, it is not difficult to
understand why Manners should state that he had no intention of following
the Australian Psychological Society's new guidelines on repressed memory,
which stipulate the need for outside corroboration of such memories. The
Bunbury case ended in December 1994 with a mixture of not guilty and undecided
verdicts on the 42 charges faced by the accused (Guilliatt, 1996, p. 216).
What is of considerable interest in the Australian dissemination of the
satanic scenario, and something which will also be found in New Zealand,
is the part played by publicly funded agencies. The network of agencies
propagating SRA which are linked with Sydney's Dympna House, which is one
of NSW's best funded government sexual assault services (Guilliatt, 1996,
p. 157), shows the extent of influence of this belief. There is not space
to trace them fully in this paper, but they have been investigated in detail
(Guilliatt, 1996). Similarly, in 1993 and 1994 two editions of a pamphlet
on "Ritual Abuse: Information for Health and Welfare Professionals,"
were published by the NSW Sexual Assault Committee, which is a subsidiary
of the Ministry for the Status and Advancement of Women. Among other sources
the booklet quotes the work of Summit, Finkelhor, Hudson, and a 1991 publication
of the Los Angeles County Commission for Women on "Ritual Abuse"
(Ritual Abuse Task Force, 1991). The same sources were to become the basis
for satanic claims across the Tasman.
Finally, in examining the penetration of the SRA scenario into the highest
levels of decision making in Australia, the role of Dr. Anne Schlebaum is
once again apparent. Schlebaum has been a central figure in a very recent-and
in many ways quite the most extraordinary-case involving an adult survivor.
After the NSW Police Royal Commission (The Wood Commission) found evidence
of pedophile networks producing child pornography, but not of the involvement
of satanic cults, allegations began to be made by those closest to the satanic
scenario of a cover-up, especially in relation to alleged pedophiles in
high political and judicial office. Prominent among those alleging a cover-up
was an MP in the Upper House of the NSW Parliament, Mrs. Franca Arena, who
is strongly supported and advised by Schlebaum and another satan-hunting
psychiatrist, Dr. Jean Lennane. In late 1997, Arena alleged that there was
a major suppression of evidence about pedophiles and that this had been
orchestrated by the NSW Premier, the Leader of the opposition, and Justice
Wood of the Royal Commission.
In response, in October 1997, an inquiry was set up (the Nader Inquiry)
to investigate her claims. Despite the appearance before the inquiry of
an alleged adult "survivor" of satanic abuse, the inquiry concluded
that Arena had no evidence of such a cover-up and had essentially used parliamentary
privilege to launch a malicious campaign. Indeed, it was precisely the evidence
of the satanic survivor, claiming incidents which were alleged to have happened
between the ages of 3 and 11 and recalled when she was aged 24 in 1992-which
had been given to Arena by the psychiatrist who was treating this person,
which undermined the MP's credibility.
In a Privilege Committee hearing in March 1998, Arena was questioned at
great length on the credibility of the satanic survivor and on the reliability
of the therapist. In her evidence to the Committee, she asserted that she
relied a great deal on the advice of the therapist to validate the so-called
survivor's claims. In view of this, it is important to examine just what
it was that was being alleged. Here are two extracts from the statement
of the survivor:
Judge B then dragged me downstairs to the basement. There were bodies strung
up around the walls. He took me around to all the dead men and made me suck
all the blood off their penises. I was later taken to the furnace room where
they had a big incinerator and a stainless steel table where they were burning
all the bodies. They quite often burned bodies there. There was a pipe which
went to the outside of the building and up past the roof level. It made
me sick whenever I saw smoke pouring out of it because I knew they were
burning some bodies (NSW, 1998, p. 88).
My mother grabbed me by the hair and shoved a penis in my mouth that she
cut off one of the bodies. It had blood all over it. I gagged and nearly
threw up. I shook my head to try to get it out. Judge B was holding down
my arms and body. He yelled, "You little bitch," and took the
penis off my mother and turned me on to my stomach and pushed the penis
into my anus. He said, "See how you like that." He left it there
and dragged me outside the room. He then took me into the bathroom and I
just stared at the bath. Someone had filled it with blood and body parts.
There were arms and legs and a head. I pulled the penis out of my bottom.
He said, "What are you doing?" He picked me up and threw me in
the bath. I was horrified. He then took off his clothes quickly and got into
the bath with me (NSW, 1998, p. 89).
When asked by a member of the Privileges Committee, "Do you believe
that nonsense?," Arena's reply was "I do not know," but she
went on to quote the opinion of the psychiatrist, who wrote:
I have been seeing "A" [the "survivor"] once a week,
at times more often, for two and one-half years. During that time I have
become very familiar with her character and personality. During that time
her behaviour has been consistently that of a highly ethical and scrupulously
truthful person in all areas of her life. She has a very strong religious
faith and tries to live by those principles. She has at times been severely
depressed but never been delusional (NSW, 1998, p. 90).
Eighteen years since the first publication of Michelle Remembers, the same
kinds of Gothic atrocities are being elicited by therapists and presented
as valid accounts. They form the basis for widespread folk myths about satanic
activity which can be tapped by the media when they are in search of a grabbing
headline. In the Australian press in June and July 1998, for instance, there
was an alleged "satanic beheading" (Sydney
Sun-Herald, June 14,
1998), in which the investigating detective refused to comment on "reliable
reports that the word Satan was smeared on the wall in blood." And
the teenagers involved in the attack on a New Zealand tourist in Queensland
in July were claimed to be "lesbian lovers involved in a satanic cult"
(Sydney Telegraph, July 14, 1998).
Satan's New Zealand Stopover
The satanic cult scenario was introduced to New Zealand in May 1990, when
Pamela Klein spoke to a child sexual abuse conference. In a rambling speech
on the subject of post-traumatic stress disorder and associated disorders
in children, she referred to "horrific satanic cult situations,"
and went on to claim that children in satanic cults were "purposely
programmed to develop multiple personalities" (Klein, transcript).
She also spoke of using sand tray therapy to enable a child to bring a memory
back of a satanic ceremony. Here we see once again the significance of the
new diagnostic labels introduced to the 1980 psychiatric manual in providing
apparent scientific legitimacy for a scenario which might otherwise be subject
to critical scrutiny.
Early in the following year, 1991, the Ritual Action Network later to be
called Ritual Action Group (RAG) was established in Wellington. Its membership
was composed mainly of counselors and social workers, but also included
a police officer. The key members of the group were Ann Marie Stapp and Jocelyn
Frances (O'Kane), both social workers, the latter practicing hypnosis and
recovering memories of satanic cult abuse on the part of several survivors;
Laurie Gabites, a police officer who had visited the United States and brought
back SRA material; and Nigel Marriott, a probation officer. Marriott was
a graduate in Classics and had written a Masters thesis on Graeco-Roman
love-magic, in which by his own admission he was a dabbler (Marriott, 1989,
Appendix B). They circulated material from the States on satanic cult allegations,
including Pamela Hudson's list of satanic indicators and diagrams of supposed
satanic symbols and alphabets.
The group received public funding from the Department of Social Welfare
through the Family Violence Prevention Coordinating Committee. Indeed, it
seems that the funding of the group was lavish because in 1994 an internal
audit spoke of "grandiose" overspending, "including 'well
catered' breakfasts, lunches and dinners, uncontrolled use of taxi-chit
books and wrong accounting practices" (Dominion, April 7, 1994). And
Jocelyn Frances was convicted in 1993 of benefit fraud, having defrauded
the Social Welfare Department of $30,000. In 1991, however, the group attracted
considerable credibility and was able to propagate its views among social
welfare staff, police, and staff from other government departments (Dominion,
November 28, 1993). But the main focus of satanic allegations was to be
Christchurch. In August 1991, Mitchell Whitman, a Christian sexual abuse
therapist from the USA, was in Christchurch as a guest of the Open Home
Foundation, a Christian Child and Family Support agency: he had previously
spoken to Youth With a Mission in Auckland. He said:
[I]t had been found in the United States that the usual damage caused to
children by satanic ritual abuse was a multi-personality disorder. Research
showed that about half the children suffering multi-personality disorders
had been victims of satanic ritual abuse (Christchurch
Press, August, 27,
One of the claims reported by the speaker was that a child had been made
to eat feces during a particular ritual. The Commissioner for Children was
quoted in the same news item as saying that the phenomenon of satanic worship
was worldwide, but "whether it related to abuse of children or just
mass hysteria, was another matter" (Christchurch
Press, August 27,
The issue was made more concrete six days later at a Ritual Abuse Workshop
presentation in Christchurch. This was a prominent feature at a Family Violence
Prevention Conference and was presented by Stapp and O'Kane on behalf of
RAG (FVPCC, 1991, vol. 1, p. 5; vol. 2, p. 524). The content of their paper
is important because it shows the degree of cross-fertilization between
American anti-cult and anti-satanic literature. It begins by defining ritual
abuse as "physical, sexual and psychological abuse that is systematic,
ceremonial and public" (FVPCC, 1991, vol. 2, p. 6).
The paper continues:
Not much is known at this time in Aotearoa/New Zealand, about ritual abuse
that has occurred outside the family. In the United States, ritual abuse
occurs without parents knowing, at preschools, day-care centres, churches,
summer camps, and the hands of baby sitters and neighbours. It is likely
to be so here in this country. Children are subjected to ritual and indoctrination
to convert them to the belief or worship system of the group, and are abused
with ritual and intimidation to terrorise them into silence (FVPCC, 1991,
vol. 2, p. 7).
The sources quoted in this section of the paper are the same Ritual Abuse
Task Force Report as that cited in New South Wales and the claimed accounts
of ritual abuse "survivors" in Wellington. The paper then goes
on to argue that the problem should be accepted rather than being discounted,
and details the type of abuse associated with ritual contexts:
A child who has been ritually abused will have been subjected to a systematic
process of dehumanisation their bodies invaded through their eyes, ears,
nose, mouth, vagina/penis and rectum. They will likely have been forced
to have sex with animals, had their bodies smeared with excrement, drink
blood and urine, forced to watch and participate in the sacrifice of animals,
eaten the flesh and organs of animals, often their own pets, and seen photographs
of themselves doing all of this (FVPCC, 1991, vol. 2, p. 9).
The paper further comments on types of cults, including fundamentalist Christian
churches, Freemasons and cults of a satanic kind. Ritual dabbling in particular
is presented as a source of recruitment to satanic cults, and the following
scheme is offered as a means of identifying individuals who are progressing
to "higher rituals":
· bitter hatred towards family and religion
· drop in grades
· cuts to the body
· increased use of illegal drugs
· use of satanic nicknames
· use of various alphabets (FVPCC, 1991, vol. 2, p. 16).
Parents, it is suggested, should be looking for the following items:
· a black covered book or computer counterpart that has types and locations
of rituals and contracts for suicide or homicide
· ceremonial knives
· photos and/or videos
· books about belief systems, eg. satanic
· animal bones and human bones, especially skull, right upper leg,
rib and upper portion of right arm. (FVPCC, 1991, vol. 2, p. 17).
The social workers' presentation had already been featured in Sunday newspapers
before it was presented in Christchurch (see Dominion Sunday Times and Star
for September 1, 1991). In the same month, a further workshop was given
at the Women's Studies Association conference at the University of Auckland.
Gabites, the police officer who belonged to RAG, had recently spent time
in the USA studying child abuse investigation with various police departments
there. Later, this same officer returned to the USA to investigate links
between satanism and child pornography, and the allegedly related issues
of satanism, child pornography, and ritual abuse were featured in a whole-page
treatment in a Sunday newspaper (Sunday News, November 3, 1991). It was
just 17 days after this story appeared that the first allegations against
Peter Ellis, a male child care worker at the Christchurch Civic Creche,
were made by a mother who had earlier written a pamphlet on sexual abuse.
With the credentials the RAG network claimed for itself, their reports gained
credibility with a wider audience. In turn, this wider audience may also
have become predisposed to accept even more bizarre claims. Claims about
child pornography, and about the existence of organized sex rings and cults
which practiced ritual abuse, had featured prominently in media reports
prior to the September conference and were to reappear subsequently.
The linkage between child pornography and ritual abuse had been an important
feature of the satanism scare in the United States and Britain. According
to RAG members, cults often recruited family members from generation to
generation so that ritual abuse became a way of life. In one report (Dominion
Sunday Times, September 1, 1991), reference was also made to the ritual
abuse case in the Orkney Isles, a case widely reported in the New Zealand
press during 1991 and 1992 because it involved a former New Zealand Presbyterian
minister. In a later Christchurch Press report of the Orkney Isles case
in Scotland (September 7, 1991), mention was made of a circle incident,
cloaks, hoods, masks, and dancing. While it was noted that this case had
been dismissed by the court, it was also stated that the British Government
had announced an inquiry into satanic or ritual abuse of children. In reality,
the government inquiry and subsequent recommendations concerned child protection
practices and in no way indicated government acceptance of the satanism
scenario (The Independent, October 28, 1992).
The extent to which a SRA scenario was involved in the Christchurch creche
case has been somewhat masked by the Crown prosecutor's successful suppression
of the more bizarre allegations which emerged in the children's later interviews,
but it was undeniably part of the beliefs of some parents and formed a significant
element in the police investigation. Indeed, according to David McLoughlin
(1996), whose excellent article on the case makes it unnecessary to review
it in detail, comments: "Anyone familiar with the American day-care
cases would immediately recognize the Civic scenario as a carbon copy of
numerous scandals in California and elsewhere, (McLoughlin, 1996, p. 63).
The mother of one child, whose reported abuse managed to list all 16 of
Pamela Hudson's satanic indicators, demanded at the depositions hearing
that Hudson be brought to New Zealand as an "expert" witness.
Her son, for example, had told of how he had been "forced to kill a
boy and animals" (Christchurch Press, November 13, 1992). Further elements
of Hudson can be found in the mother's claim that her son had spoken of
a visit to a church where children had been made to take part in a "mock"
marriage ceremony, and of a visit to a graveyard where he had been placed
in a cage with a cat. Then there was the alleged "circle incident"
which was widely reported:
On one occasion, children had been taken to an address in Hereford St. and
put in a tunnel or cavity area beneath a trapdoor. Afterward they were removed
and made to stand naked inside a circle of adults, including all five accused.
Indecencies were committed upon them and the children were made to kick
each other in the genital area . . . (Dominion, November 3, 1992).
The same mother later ran a newsletter called "End Ritual Abuse,"
with funding from the Lotteries Commission, and in it she reprinted claims
which originated in an American publication, "Believe the Children,"
a movement that arose out of the McMartin case. In her book on the creche
affair, the mother discourses on the nature of SRA, once again citing Hudson
as an authority (Bander, 1997, p. 84-85).
Hudson was indeed invited to Christchurch in 1993 by the Campbell Centre
(Presbyterian Support Services), whose Director in 1992 Rosemary Smart had
written a damning report on the Civic Creche which assumed that Ellis was
guilty: this was a year before his trial (Smart, 1992). This report was
very influential and led to police investigation of the women creche workers
(McLoughlin, 1996, p. 65).
A further indication of the American influence on the case is the fact that
New Zealand's Commissioner for Children's Ian Ian Hassall was then
sent Smart the Executive Summary of David Finkelhor's book, Nursery Crimes (Office of the Commissioner for Children, letter March 8, 1994), and in the
report she cites him as an authority on child sexual abuse in child-care
settings. Clearly, Finkelhor is regarded as a substantial expert in New
Zealand child abuse circles, and is still cited as such.
The influence of Klein, Hudson, and Finkelhor has been noted, but it is interesting
to note that other participants in the original McMartin debacle have had
a continuing influence on the New Zealand child abuse industry. Roland Summit
visited in 1994 at the invitation of the New Zealand organization Doctors
for Sexual Abuse Care (DoSAC), and in his speech he spoke of the "backlash"
that claims-makers like himself were facing. Perhaps his influence is detectable
in the New Zealand Court of Appeal's acceptance of the notion that retraction
of allegations by a child-which happened while Ellis's case was being appealed-is
merely "denial," for as Sir Maurice Casey wrote:
It is not uncommon for child complainants in sexual abuse cases to withdraw
their allegations or claim they were lying . . . We are by no means satisfied
[the girl] did lie at the interviews, although she may now genuinely believe
she did (Court of Appeal, 1994, p. 33).
One should remember the pseudoscientific status of the so-called Child Sexual
Abuse Accommodation Syndrome when opinions such as that are stated as established
principle. Another McMartin protagonist, Astrid Heger, was invited by DoSAC
no fewer than five times between 1989 and 1996. DoSAC has also invited the
SRA believers Arnon and Marianne Bentovim to New Zealand (see, for instance,
Sinason, 1994, pp. 100-112), as well as a number of the more extreme
claims-makers in the recovered memory and multiple personality/dissociation
debate, such as John Briere.
As long as such lack of balance persists in the sexual abuse industry, there
remains a possibility that the SRA scenario will persist. Satan's excellent
adventure is currently a lively feature in Australia, where it is fueled
principally by adult "survivors" and their supportive therapists.
Satan's New Zealand stopover may have been more low key, but for some of
those involved in the Christchurch creche case it has had devastating consequences.
One of the more disturbing features of the last decade is the way in which
the uncorroborated claims of satan-hunters have infiltrated the beliefs of
secular professionals and semi-professionals, such as psychiatrists, social
workers, police, and government administrators. Despite the findings of a
growing body of research which would urge skepticism over the SRA scenario
and the related issue of therapy-induced pseudomemories, organizations such
as Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care continue to listen to a select group of
true believers and to exclude critical views. In such an atmosphere of professionally-induced
credulity, it is possible that Satan's excellent adventure may not be entirely
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Michael Hill is Professor of Sociology, Victoria University of
P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand (Mike.Hill@vuw.ac.nz).