Dec. 26, 2012

By 1993 the moral panic was at last retreating from therapists’ offices, courtrooms and the media. That timing gives “Ritual Abuse: What It Is, Why It Happens, and How to Help” a peculiar place in its genre.

Although the pseudonymous “Margaret Smith” is a supposed “survivor and researcher of ritual abuse,” her advocacy lacks the blind certitude of a “Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care” (1988) or a “Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child’s Book about Satanic Ritual Abuse” (1990).

“If there is even a small chance that one ritual abuse claim is true,” Smith begins, “we owe it to all potential victims to explore the problem of ritual abuse in greater depth.” Such unexpected tentativeness!  Is she doubting even her own claim of victimhood? Or did an editor at HarperSanFrancisco awaken just in time to insist on at least a façade of rationality?

Unfortunately, the rest of the book alternates Smith’s first-person accounts of her ritual-abuse-caused “multiple personality disorder” with a predictable rollout of junk statistics. Could anyone be surprised, for instance, that among “adult survivors of ritual abuse,” fully 84 percent reported having witnessed “mutilation or killing of animals/humans”?