Letter: How to evaluate evidence of ritual abuse

Sir: J. S. La Fontaine's letter (10 June) rightly requests that data rather than rhetoric should be used to challenge her research findings. Her own report states that 'the youngest children (in her study) are to be found in cases of ritual abuse'. Three very competent recent research reports clearly identify young age as a predictor of subsequent amnesia of abusive events.

More surprising may be the additional findings of these studies that amnesia was more likely where there were high levels of violence and trauma. Thus Professor La Fontaine's observation that when children describe satanic rituals 'the stories may change with successive tellings or further elements of horror are added' is completely consistent with what one would expect from genuinely traumatically abused children, yet this observation is not offered in her findings.

A clinician might have considered this as one of the likely mechanisms of distortion, and omissions of this type emphasise the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to this kind of research.

Yours faithfully,

ASHLEY CONWAY

Chartered Psychologist

London, W1

11 June

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