IPT Book Reviews

Title: Satanic Ritual Abuse: Principles of Treatment
Author: Colin A. Ross, with an afterward by Elizabeth F. Loftus
Publisher: University of Toronto Press, 1995

University of Toronto Press
5201 Duferin Street
North York, ON M3H 5T8
$45.00 (c) $16.95 (p)

Stories by survivors of childhood Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) were non-existent until 1980, when the book Michelle Remembers (Paperback) was published. It describes the alleged torture of a young girl by a profoundly evil group of Satanists. Although this book has been shown to be a hoax by three separate investigators, it triggered public belief in the existence of a widespread, underground, international Satanic organization. Among adults who believe that they have recovered long repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, perhaps one in five also recover memories of SRA. A widespread, highly polarized, and often acrimonious debate over the reality of SRA has raged for over a decade among therapists, law enforcement officers, social workers, clergy, memory researchers, etc. Colin Ross's 228-page book should make a major contribution to the resolution of the conflict.

Ross has had contact with about 300 MPD patients who have had memories of SRA. He rejects the skeptics who claim that SRA is nonexistent, just as he does not accept the opposing views that the clients' recovered memories are always of real events. He suggests that perhaps 90% of recovered memories of SRA are false. The other 10% are distorted recollections of real abuse at the hands of "small Christian cults; small, isolated groups of Satanists; deviant elements of the KKK; pornography; or other forms of abuse that a child could misrepresent as Satanic."

He recognizes that no dead bodies or other hard evidence have ever been found to support belief in SRA. He claims, however, that Satanic human sacrifice cults "could" be active in North America. He supports this belief by referring to the Witch burnings of the Renaissance and to the Nazi Holocaust as comparable, religiously motivated human sacrifice cults from the past. He also cites various strange individuals and even stranger religious organizations, secret societies, and political groups. It is unclear why he includes them, since none actually engaged in religiously motivated ritual abuse and murder.

Ross lists many alternative hypotheses of SRA which might account for the recollections of the roughly 90% of his patients with false memories. These include the influence of urban legends; rumor panics; delusions; contamination by books, movies, therapists and other patients; drug hallucinations; hysteria fanned by Christian fundamentalists; superstition, etc. He briefly alludes to instances where SRA therapy itself can be considered a "destructive psychotherapy cult."

Ross recommends a "blend of cognitive, systems and psychodynamic techniques . . . in treating ritual abuse survivors." He feels that "a therapist who uses too many special techniques in such cases should be viewed with suspicion." Therapy for patients with memories of SRA should not deviate greatly from non-ritual treatments. In his final chapter on "Future Directions," he predicts that SRA will continue to be seen as a serious problem into the next century. He recommends that therapists listen to their SRA patients "carefully without believing them too much."

In her Afterword, Elizabeth Loftus commends Ross for moving so far towards the skeptic camp. She finds his leap from the Inquisition and Holocaust to intergenerational Satanic cults to be unconvincing. Although Ross noted that poor therapeutic techniques can elaborate memories in suggestible clients, she feels that he has not fully appreciated the level of devastation caused by the creation of false memories.

The book includes 150 references. Unfortunately, Ross includes some very persuasive "SRA Survivor" books by Brown, Smith and Pazder, Stratford and Warnke which have all been shown to be frauds. Other books by fundamentalist Christians are included whose objectivity is extremely suspect.

Reviewed by Bruce Robinson, The Ontario Centre for Religious Tolerance, Kingston, Ontario.

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