130426Perrin2April 26, 2013

By 1997, when the college textbook “Family Violence Across the Lifespan” was first published, the most grievous excesses of the day-care ritual-abuse panic had passed (although it would be two more years before Little Rascals prosecutors dropped a final, unrelated charge against Bob Kelly).

The authors, social scientists at Pepperdine University, devoted entire sections to “Do Children Fabricate Reports of Child Sexual Abuse?” and “The Satanic Ritual Abuse Controversy.” More on those issues here.

Their approach is thoughtfully skeptical, but they can’t quite bring themselves to call baloney on those peers whose ill-conceived claims ginned up the “controversy” or whose gullibility prolonged it. For example:

“If there is so little evidence confirming the existence of SRA, why do so many perceive the SRA threat to be real? One reason is that… therapists, police officers and child protection authorities, who are often required to attend seminars on current developments in their field, are exposed to SRA ‘experts’…. These seminars tend to employ proselytizing techniques characteristic of organizations seeking recruits. Many well-meaning helping professionals, who are generally motivated by the desire to help abused clients, become convinced of the existence of SRA through these seminars (such as the one at Kill Devil Hills)….”

“Family Violence…” has proved popular enough to justify a third edition (2011), in which all mention of ritual abuse has been removed.

I asked sociologist Robin D. Perrin, one of the authors, to trace his thinking on the subject between editions.

“I suppose one could argue that the ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse’ issue is a bit dated at this point,” he replied, “as the Satanism scare has mostly faded into the sunset. But it is still a fascinating page in history, if nothing else….

“As for our approach on these issues, I think ‘thoughtfully skeptical’ is probably fair. You are correct that we fall far short of an outright denial of the validity of all ritual abuse claims. I am quite certain we are not in position to do that. In fact, given the history of mistreatment of children (both ‘then’ and ‘now’) I have no doubt that ‘ritual’ abuse has occurred (depending on how it is defined, of course).”