Friday, April 8, 2011

Ritual Abuse and Recovered Memories

In a a throwback to the early 1990's, a lawsuit alleging Satanic ritual abuse by a Catholic priest was recently appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. For those who don't remember, the Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) scare was a moral panic supported by fundamentalist Christians and disreputable therapists who claimed to be able to "recover" memories of traumatic abuse.

These "memories" always seemed to include the same elements of abuse at the hands of Satanic cults that generally included family members, friends, and authority figures such as priests and police officers, even though if that were the case Satanism would have to have nearly as large a membership as Christianity in the United States. Furthermore, many of the young women coming forward with these allegations claimed that they had given birth to babies that were then sacrificed in horrific rituals even though medical examinations showed that none of them had ever even been pregnant.

A comprehensive investigation of more than 12,000 cases published in 1993 turned up no evidence of Satanic cult activity, and today most reasonable people are highly skeptical regarding accusations of this nature. The Ohio Supreme Court proved no different, refusing to hear the case on appeal and effectively throwing it out of the court system. The allegations themselves were based on supposedly recovered memories and repeat a pattern that is disturbingly familiar to anyone who was paying attention to the media accounts back when the original panic was running its course.

Survivor Doe, 47, said she was subjected to abuse by people dressed as nuns. Her alleged tormentors included her mother, an older brother, Gerald Mazuchowski, a Toledo teacher and active Catholic who died in March, and the Rev. Gerald Robinson, who was convicted in 2005 of killing a nun in 1980.

"I'm disappointed in the way the law treats victims, but I'm not really upset that they turned it down. I'll get my day in court -- when I stand before God," Doe told the Blade.

In her lawsuit, Doe said she repressed all memory of the abuse until she saw Robinson on television following his arrest.

I don't necessarily think that Doe was never subjected to any sort of abuse, but the problem with memories is that they cannot accurately be "recovered."

As a matter of fact, any time you remember anything the brain reconstructs it from partial data and then rewrites a subset of that data back into long-term storage. The less you think about something the more those data points fade, so if you remember something years after the fact what you recall could be very different indeed from what actually happened. Your memories aren't all locked away somewhere in the "unconscious mind" and "repressed" if they record traumatic experiences - modern neuroscience has shown that this Freudian speculation doesn't stand up to controlled experimentation.

Now there are serial abusers who use occultism as a cover for their crimes, such as Colin Batley who was recently jailed in England, but the differences between that case and most SRA allegations is striking.

On Friday, Batley was jailed indefinitely after a judge described him as dangerous and condemned his role as "ruler of a sick little kingdom".

His mistress, Jacqueline Marling, was jailed for 12 years, while his wife, Elaine Batley, got eight years and co-defendant Shelly Millar five years.

Vincent Barden, who was not part of the cult but who indecently assaulted one of the cult's victims, was sent down for three years.

The sentences were announced two days after verdicts were returned at the end of a five-week trial.

And after Colin Batley and his accomplices were jailed at Swansea Crown Court, a statement from their victims was released.

It said: "We would like to thank everyone who helped us get through this ordeal, including family, friends and the investigation team.

"We are generally pleased with the sentencing today. It's been a nightmare journey for each one of us, but we hope this can be a start of a new beginning.

"We have experienced the worst that life can throw at us and all we want to do is move forward with our lives."

They also urged other victims of abuse to come forward, saying: "We would like to take this opportunity to say to anyone else who may have experienced anything like what we have, to dig deep and find the courage to report it, whether to a family member, friend or the police.

"Don't be afraid and don't suffer alone."

Colin Batley, 48, Elaine Batley, 47, Marling, 42, and Millar, 35 — all from Clos yr Onnen, Kidwelly — were arrested after Dyfed-Powys Police launched an investigation into a paedophile ring.

Detectives uncovered evidence of a bizarre, quasi-religious cult which involved the commission of sex acts, the wearing of robes, and the reading of passages from a text called The Book Of The Law.

Colin Batley was the "manipulative sexual predator" who led the group.

As an aside, Batley may have read The Book of the Law but he's no Thelemite. I don't care how you interpret the writings of Aleister Crowley, there's no way you can spin rape and sexual abuse as Thelemic actions, even though the British media have had a field day describing Batley's group as followers of the "notorious arch satanist" Crowley. There's so much wrong with that statement it's hard to know where to begin.

That being said, as far as the two cases go the key differences between them are these:
  1. It's practically impossible to keep a group of even five people that is engaging in this sort of behavior secret indefinitely, but somehow SRA cults are supposed to do it as a matter of course.
  2. None of the victims appear to have forgotten the details of the abuse or required any sort of "memory recovery" in order to testify, even though the details of their abuse have a lot in common with many SRA allegations.
  3. There is always evidence of this sort of behavior, especially if it has gone on for a long period of time, in this case enough to send all five people involved in the abuse to jail, but somehow SRA groups managed to hide all of it in at least 12,000 separate cases.
The fact is that if an allegation of ritual abuse is true it's much more likely to fit the profile of the Batley case than it is to involve a conspiracy of many people who never turn on each other in interrogations and mysteriously leave behind no evidence of their crimes aside from memories that aren't even recalled immediately following the abuse.

Hopefully the Ohio case will prove to be the last gasp of the "Satanic panic." It's an idea that really needs to die out, if for no other reason than because thanks to the inaccuracy of "recovered" memories it is practically impossible to identify which victims were genuinely abused and to sort out who did the abusing, at least in such a way that the case will stand up in court.

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