Letter: Research and rhetoric on 'satanic' child abuse

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The Independent Online
Sir: Bea Campbell's article 'Dark forces treated lightly' (7 June), concerning my report on allegations of satanic child abuse, is misleading.

Professional research defines its area of study carefully beforehand in order to be able to draw conclusions that will bear scrutiny from the scientific community. I decided to study cases that involved children, and hence excluded adults who claim to be survivors of satanic abuse.

Ms Campbell has written carelessly in her haste to criticise. In noting that a large proportion of cases come from the marginal poor, I merely report the findings of my research.

So far from marginalising the children of these families, I am concerned to recover what they did say from the distortions that the preconceptions of the adults placed on it. It is the adults she is concerned to defend from attacks that I have not made on them, who have muffled the children's voices with their anxiety to find satanic abuse.

Ms Campbell's article is based largely on one case and a comparison with the Clyde Report on the Orkney affair. Her information on my study of the case is not accurate, either on the numbers of foster parents interviewed or the length of time I spent with them. Nor did I say that foster carers were Evangelical Christians.

I make no apology for interviewing the police, as I did in all cases that I studied.

What I found among police forces in the cases I studied in depth could not be described in the terms Bea Campbell uses, but seemed more often to be frustration that the results of their professional work were not accepted unless they confirmed the view already taken of a case. In some cases, the police were as firmly convinced as social workers of the truth of the allegations.

Ms Campbell compares my report with that of Lord Clyde, without apparently understanding the difference between a judicial inquiry into one case and a piece of research covering 84 cases. The Clyde Report is very selectively quoted. Lord Clyde was more critical of the adults concerned than I have been. He remarks (p 243) that 'the welfare of the children was thus in this way subordinated to the interest of obtaining evidence'. Very similar points are made on pages 241 and 250. His description of the faults in the interviews is entirely consistent with what I found. Lord Clyde did not say he thought the return of the children too precipitate; that was the view of the social workers on the mainland which he records on p 262. And his view that the decision to abandon proceedings was mistaken is clearly based on the view that such an allegation should be put to proof with a clear result one way or the other.

Ms Campbell's article uses emotive language to denigrate what I say, rather than provide data to show that I am not correct. Where I note that a third of children's allegations are said to have been made to foster parents rather than in interviews by persons trained to interview, Bea Campbell states that I 'deem the foster carers to be unreliable'; where I note the stress that difficult cases induce, she says that I pathologise workers for showing it. This sort of rhetoric belongs to the hustings; it has no place in serious discussions of research.

Yours faithfully,

J. S. LA FONTAINE

London School of Economics

London, WC2

7 June

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