San Fernando Curt on the SRA scare

July 3, 2009

I recently came across a very interesting blog post about the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” scare of the 1980’s and early 1990’s: Inconvenient untruth, San Fernando Curt’s Blog, Talking Points Memo (TPM), June 22, 2009.

San Fernando Curt observes that the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare isn’t talked about very much anymore. He quotes and links to a Summer 2001 Women’s Quarterly article, Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes – hysteria over rape and sexual child abuse by Rael Jean Isaac, who points to the role of feminists in launching the panic. Curt claims that the reason why the SRA scare isn’t talked about very much anymore is because the feminist movement is, allegedly, a sacred cow whose mistakes no one dares discuss.

I disagree.

Curt writes:

The bad part, the downside of some movement ideas, is never addressed, never discussed. If the “right” people commit the outrage, it’s flushed down the memory hole. In a reversal of how this trendy bit of ugly slander gained traction through incessant publicity and repetition, its progenitors are protected de facto today. The subject merely has been “disappeared” from polite discussion; as relentlessly presented the crazy charge was then, so energetically ignored the entire episode is now.

But I’m not aware of any society-wide taboo on criticizing the feminist movement. Maybe such a taboo exists in Curt’s neck of the woods, but certainly not here in New York, and probably not in most other parts of the U.S.A. either.

I think there are plenty of other reasons why the SRA scare isn’t discussed much anymore. One reason may simply be the notorious American propensity for seeing last year’s news as “ancient history.”

Another reason is that the existence of false accusations of child sexual abuse is still an uncomfortable topic for many people. To this day, I suspect that a lot of people may still be afraid to speak up in defense of accused child abusers, out of fear that they might be suspected of being, themselves, perpetrators of such horrible crimes. To whatever extent discussion about the SRA scare is actually taboo, as distinct from just being seen as old news, I suspect that the main real reason is an attitude that only perpetrators would be concerned about the possibility of anyone being falsely accused.

Such attitudes are not limited to feminists; they are common among people who just haven’t thought much about the justice system and about the danger of false accusations in general.

Two other problems with Curt’s analysis:

  1. Though all too many feminists did play a key role in launching the SRA scare, another feminist, Debbie Nathan, was the first major journalist to debunk the panic.
  2. The feminist movement was not the sole culprit. Another factor was the scaremongering about “Satanism” that had been going on amongst evangelical Christians since the early 1970’s or so, starting with The Satan-Seller by Mike Warnke. Regarding the “recovered memory” fad in particular, another major breeding ground was self-help groups like Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA). Regarding the daycare center panics, another causative factor, as Debbie Nathan has pointed out, is that the 1980’s were a time when a lot of women felt guilty about leaving their children in daycare centers and hence were easily panicked about threats to their children there.

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