Letter: Satanic abuse: let us not forget the real victims

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The Independent Online
Sir: Valerie Sinason, a psychotherapist at the Tavistock Institute, is quoted by Beatrix Campbell ('Where Satan goes unseen', 4 May) as being disturbed that 'one anthropologist's readings of transcripts (of alleged satanist abuse of children, including cannibalism and infanticide) are being listened to more seriously than 40 senior health service clinicians'. May I offer an explanation as to why Professor Jean La Fontaine will most certainly be accorded more credibility than her detractors?

In part, it has to do with Professor La Fontaine's international reputation as a rigorous scholar whose published works have earned her an international following from the United States to the Antipodes via London, Paris and Rome. In part, it has to do with the fact that her lengthy publishing career has earned her the highest esteem in the eyes of senior academics from outside her own discipline of social anthropology: in psychology, criminology and psychiatry, for example.

In part, it relates to the fact that Professor La Fontaine is not a lone researcher who has become increasingly sceptical about the extravagant, and unverified, claims of those who would have us believe in a whole array of bizarre phenomena. These include multiple personality disorder, where sufferers are alleged to have 100 or more discrete personalities; recovered memories of sadistic childhood abuse, decades after the alleged atrocities; and reports of abduction by aliens, when captives are impregnated and the offspring harvested by men from Mars.

There are many of us researching into these extraordinary belief systems and, although these are early days, it is safe to say that such 'diagnoses' tell us more about the diagnosticians than they do about their clients. Satanic abuse, ritual abuse, alien abduction and multiple personality disorder are all social phenomena that originated in the US and are having a rocky transatlantic journey. This is owing to the basic good sense of British-based researchers, clinical and otherwise. Let us not allow this embryonic epidemic to detract professional concern away from the many undisputed victims of serious psychiatric illness and childhood abuse.



(Lecturer in psychopathology)

Middlesex University

Enfield, Middlesex

4 May