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Where Satan goes unseen

Beatrix Campbell
Tuesday 03 May 1994 23:02 BST

IN these pages last week, Bryan Appleyard seemed reassured by Professor Jean La Fontaine's purported proof, in a leaked report yet to be published, that sadistic satanic sexual abuse does not exist. Appleyard and Professor La Fontaine prefer notions that videos, social workers and foster carers are the new devils to the other possibility that children might be recounting real events through their tormented behaviour and their stories of satanist experiences.

Such a conclusion also averts our gaze from an insidious campaign to discredit the children and their advocates. Within two weeks of the first published report of the first discovery of alleged satanic abuse in Britain, an organisation of satanists circulated chief constables, directors of social services and the Home Office with reports that tried to undermine the credibility of the care workers involved in the case. And they have responded similarly to subsequent controversies.

Professor La Fontaine, an anthropologist who specialises in cults, is aware of this organisation.

Yet there has been remarkably little curiosity about this crusade to stifle professional debate. Judith Dawson is the child protection consultant who was involved in Britain's first satanic abuse case in Nottingham, which, despite its success in the courts in 1989, has been the object of a critical crusade. She says: 'Never in my career have I been subjected to such an organised and personal campaign of disinformation and discrediting, by occult groups, supported by advocates of paedophilia, and given authority by academics who are so disrespectful of carers and specialists struggling with this problem.

'What matters now is that Professor La Fontaine doesn't appear to address why people organised a campaign against the children's evidence.'

Valerie Sinason, a consultant psychotherapist at the Tavistock Institute, recently published a collection of clinicians' painful encounters with evidence of satanic sexual abuse.

'I was shocked to receive sceptical questions from journalists treating my clinical work with enormous doubt, whereas in all the other areas of my work questions would have been put with courtesy and respect,' she says.

'I've been asked, 'What do you say to all the people out there who don't believe a word of what you're saying?' I reply that I wish I was one of them.

'I find it disturbing that one anthropologist's readings of transcripts are being listened to more seriously than 40 senior health service clinicians.'

Professor La Fontaine's orthodoxy on this issue echoes the views of well-known promoters of paedophilia. Although not relying on his work in her recent findings, she recommended writing by Benjamin Rossen, among others, in a letter to the leading professional journal, Child Abuse Review, this year.

Rossen has another patron in Professor Elizabeth Newson, the Nottingham child development psychologist, who has become one of the main architects of the notion that children have been brainwashed by foster carers and social workers.

Though she had never worked on child abuse, she appeared as an expert witness in the Rochdale controversy. Her report cited Rossen - without guiding the court to his critics.

Who is Rossen, and why are people interested in his work? He was useful because he rubbished Holland's first satanic sexual abuse case in May 1987.

Rossen says he defends the accused. He himself has been accused: he revealed in a public lecture in 1992 that he had been arrested in Australia after a 12-year-old boy, who had lived with him, made allegations to the police of sexual abuse. He said: 'I was ruined, financially, morally and physically.' He went to Holland hoping for a more commodious culture, but regretted that it seemed 'as severe'.

Rossen is a member of the editorial board of Paidika, Holland's 'Journal of Paedophilia'. He told the publication Het Parool in January 1989 that 'paedophilia is not necessarily harmful to a child'.

When I asked Professor La Fontaine about Rossen, she said she had been in correspondence with him about adults' sexual interest in children. When asked about his reputation as a promoter of paedophilia, she said: 'One would have to be aware of who was accusing him.'

But no one is accusing him, he freely admits it.

A Paidika coup was an interview with the granddaddy of the counter-revolution against children's evidence, Ralph Underwager from Minnesota. Underwager, who was given a favoured place in the Butler-Sloss report on the Cleveland controversy, has been the main protagonist in campaigns against evidence of sexual abuse, satanic abuse, and has latterly been a promoter of false memory syndrome.

Like Rossen, he describes the new awareness of abuse as 'hysteria'. Paedophiles, he tells Paidika, 'can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose'. They should become positive and attack their image as exploiters.

Child protection professionals are warning the Department of Health and the Home Office that, if the professor is lending support to Rossen, her entire report needs to be put under scrutiny.

'I don't want to make a fool of the woman,' says Judith Dawson, 'but everybody working for child protection knows about Rossen's advocacy of paedophilia. That calls into question La Fontaine's whole attitude to adults' sexual interest in children. Anyone who regards Rossen as helpful on these issues cannot have any credibility in this debate.'

No wonder folks like Appleyard are muddled.

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