A Response To BBC Radio 4’s Analysis Programme By Sarah Nelson

Dr Sarah Nelson (University of Edinburgh) is a prominent Scottish researcher, writer and media commentator on child sexual abuse and its effects throughout life. Sarah Nelson was also a contributor to the BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme about Ritualised Sexual Abuse. Part 1 of which can be listened to HERE, and Part 2 HERE




I agree completely with Tim Tate that in Radio 4’s Analysis , Ritual Abuse: The Anatomy of a Panic (27.5.15 & 1.6.15) the BBC allowed David Aaronovitch “to broadcast two high -profile programmes which were at best misleading, and sometimes deeply deceitful”.

Deceitful to us as contributors, too. We repeatedly sought and received assurances that the programmes would fairly reflect conflicting views. The producer told me, for instance: “I have taken extreme care that all the key points you made in the interview are covered”. It is now clear that there was never any intention for balance.

Although this hurts because like Tim, Sue Hampson and I were invited and took part in good faith, it is not about taking personal offence. It is about the damage done to protecting abused children and adults, and the pain and insult for survivors listening to the programmes. These made a mockery of the BBC spokesperson’s claim to have “in no way downplayed the horrific nature of child sexual abuse”. On the contrary, they actively encouraged disbelief of current disclosures, at a time when a tsunami of allegations, investigations and prosecutions of sexual abuse (especially involving powerful and influential people) is taking place following the Savile revelations.

Indeed, David was repeatedly quite upfront in his view that to recall the discredit of “satanic ritual abuse” should encourage us to a deep scepticism about the veracity of this current round of sexual abuse revelations. “ I think in understanding what happened over ritual abuse, it might help listeners make sense of what’s happening now, because what you have is a certain amount of testimony and very little corroborative evidence -actually none, none. “ (Never mind that testimony from others is itself legitimate corroboration – as in the Moorov Doctrine in Scotland).

A small minority of recent allegations will indeed be false, mistaken, confused or fanciful – and (an important point) will be identified as such. To try publicly to discredit the great majority is different entirely. But at least any attempt to connect two separate incidences of alleged credulity would have to be convincing, evidence-based, and properly researched.

“The production team put considerable effort into tracking down key documents from the time and individuals involved.” Tim’s blog has meticulously demonstrated the hollowness of that BBC claim, in the Broxtowe (Nottingham) case. Overall the programmes featured not detailed investigation, but old familiar backlash claims, which were wheeled out in the 1980s and 1990s to discredit abuse victims and those who worked with them.

These stories are all so familiar that I could have written them myself, even sitting upside-down with my eyes shut. You can pick them up anywhere on the Internet too, if you don’t want to bother with the effort of research.

A blog should not be very long. This one certainly would be if I contested each claim made in these two programmes. So I’ll select just two for now: the “satanic panic”, and amnesia following serious trauma.

If you’re going to spend almost the whole first Analysis programme “proving” that a “satanic panic” was created and zealously promulgated by a bizarre alliance of radical feminists, evangelical Christians, counsellors, crazy female mental patients and social workers, invited contributors who challenged this conspiracy theory could surely expect even a few minutes to respond on air. The many points in my own interview disproving a satanic “moral panic” took less than five minutes to say: yet not one point from my interview transcript was used. I was told by the editor that they “did not fit the structure of the second programme.”

Numerous flaws in “satanic moral panic” theory:

* There was no widespread panic; only a small minority of child protection and mental health staff ever encountered these disclosures. Even their own colleagues frequently failed to support them.

* Over decades in sexual abuse work I never met nor heard of any professional who concluded that ritual abuse existed, as Analysis claimed, through reading Sybil, Michelle Remembers or the Courage to Heal. I never heard of any survivor who read Courage to Heal for what it might say about ritual abuse or dissociative identity disorder! Professionals all came to believe ritual abuse existed after hearing disturbing disclosures of sadistic organised abuse, (within and beyond quasi-religious or occult rituals) from children and adults.

* The public are simultaneously expected to believe satanic abuse revelations were incredible, ludicrous and unbelievable, lacking in any evidence, and would be to any normal person; and that intelligent educated professionals swallowed the whole lot after reading one book, or attending a single conference!

* The idea that anyone bar a few evangelical Christians would want to believe this stuff, far less promote it with crusading zeal, is the very opposite of the truth. It was the worst, most traumatising knowledge in the world, it overturned all your assumptions about the limits of human cruelty towards children, and we would have wished anything for it to be untrue.

* The scapegoats, folk devils and witches of classic moral panic theory were not the accused adults; they were instead the professionals who believed RA existed. (Just as, in a different case in Cleveland, Marietta Higgs became the feminist witch). It was destructive to many careers, and a source of lasting vilification .

* The media in classic moral panic theory support and propagate the panic. Yet nearly all media after an initial flurry disbelieved ritual abuse, and sided with the accused adults.

* The vast majority of professionals and foster parents who received disclosures were neither devout Christians nor radical feminists. This fact could easily have been established at any time.

* Ritual abuse disclosures were so strange and esoteric, so unlike anything we had heard before, that “putting words into children’s mouths” would have been incredibly difficult – even had the backlash lobby provided detail about how social workers or counsellors supposedly did this.

Traumatic amnesia

I will spend about as long on this huge subject as the Analysis programmes did. They found one prominent academic, Prof. Richard McNally, to dispute that people could forget traumatic incidents and recover such memories.

They must have known this was an entirely unbalanced selection to put to listeners, since there is such a large and reputable literature demonstrating that these things are indeed possible, supported by the frequent experience of practitioners and abuse survivors themselves, that a colleague has just sent the BBC an entire appendix of references.

Back in 1997 Charles Whitfield, to give one small example, had cited 36 studies specifically confirming amnesia for abuse, but the phenomenon was recognised long before in battlefield and concentration camp experiences, as well as in childhood abuse. This was breathtaking selectivity and distortion, of what the programme-makers must have known the actual balance of opinion among specialists in trauma to be.

I shall be taking my complaint further, with the BBC and elsewhere, and I hope many other people working against sexual abuse will do too. The BBC cannot, in Tim’s words, “shrug its well-funded shoulders and say that it was simply giving Aaronovich a platform to express his views. It has a duty to perform diligent research to establish the facts and ensure accurate reporting. It did neither”.



Filed under Abuse, News

25 responses to “A Response To BBC Radio 4’s Analysis Programme By Sarah Nelson

  1. Pingback: » David Aaronovitch Responds To Critics of Satanic Ritual Abuse Documentaries Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion

  2. Pingback: SATANIC ABUSE: A REPLY TO BELIEVERS - Barrister BloggerBarrister Blogger

  3. The BBC have become nothing more than a State sponsored propaganda machine. I realised this when the BBC secretly interviewed me in May 2011 at the Local Election count. Clearly the local BBC Radio people at the count knew before I did that the police were going to arrest me on stitched up information. I’d reported that my emails and blogs had been hacked and wanted police to trace the hackers.

    I was then told the police were going to arrest me for hacking myself and could prove it through records held by RCC and the local library internet. Unfortunately for them I’d cancelled access to the internet computers in the library – this proved beyond any reasonable doubt that I had been hacked and it proved that the Council or local Councillors were in the frame. When they realised their stitch up had failed police dropped their enquiries. They didn’t want to investigate the Council or local Councillors.

    It seems the police knew, the Council knew and the BBC knew. It wasn’t until someone told me that my arrest was about to happen and the allegations against me that I knew anything at all.

    My reply was ‘Well that’ll be interesting because | cancelled internet access on my library card months ago. Council tax is meant to pay for library services and the police – neither of whom served me at all. In fact both should be facing criminal charges of perverting the course of justice. It was just a gut feeling and pure luck that I cancelled access to the internet through the library, yet the police had incontrovertible evidence that that was the source I’d been hacked through and did precisely nothing to investigate – because they didn’t want to.

    All these agencies work together to silence critics, democracy no longer works and justice is a whore to the corrupt.

    So, whilst I listened to David Aaronovitch, my own experiences meant that trust in the BBC disseminating of unbiased factual information has been severely dented and I took Aaronovitch’s programme with a pinch of Pravda salt.

  4. Pingback: Analysing Aaronovitch: A Skeptical Narrative | Everyday Victim Blaming

  5. 70sgirl

    Sarah Nelson, if you don’t understand why those who question the veracity of some of the wilder allegations prefer to remain anonymous then I think you have simply missed how extremely nasty some ‘survivors’ and their advocates can be. There’s a war going on in social media, and it’s being fought largely between different groups of survivors.
    If survivors can treat each other like this, just imagine what they are like to people who query if government ministers really raped and strangled children and left behind several witnesses, or who doubt the existence of child-sacrificing witches. It’s a bad time to doubt – we get called ‘paedophile enablers’ or worse.

  6. Another officer downed today, Jon.
    “Const. Daniel Woodall was named early Tuesday as the Edmonton police officer who was shot and killed while serving an arrest warrant in west Edmonton Monday evening”
    “Woodall, 35, was an officer with the Edmonton Police Hate Crimes Unit who was originally from Great Britain”

    My condolences to friends and family in the UK.

    “Both officers were attempting to arrest a suspect for criminal harassment. Knecht confirmed that the arrest was related to a hate crimes matter”.

    There’s a ‘war’ going on over here. We think of you all as our “cousins across the pond”, we will do whatever we can to help prevent this happening to you.

  7. I might be in genuine danger, or I might be a person who was victimized in some way by someone at some point in my life. Why would you assume that I’m not? Is it because my comments here are not full of anguished protestations of how imperiled my life is, and of how heroic it is for me to even risk participating in blog discussions – like Andrea Davison?

    I’ve discussed my background in greater detail, previously, and Gojam knows more about specific reasons for my use of non-de-plume, but I’ll give you three reasons why it is simple sanity for anyone who deigns to challenge ritual abuse dogma to remain anonymous:

    1) The ceaseless parade of violent hate-speech and stalking documented on the Hoaxstead blog:

    2) This lunatic stalker and his many dozens of clones:

    3) The fact that your truther loonies are mere pussycats compared to the homocidal maniacs we are contending with in North America right now:

  8. Pingback: Formal Complaint to the BBC re: Aaronvitch’s misleading programme on ritual abuse | Everyday Victim Blaming

  9. Pingback: Our complaint to the BBC re: David Aaronovitch’s programme on ritual abuse | Everyday Victim Blaming

  10. Sarah Nelson

    Who are you,”Justin Sanity” and what is your profession and experience? I find it immensely frustrating that in these discussions about CSA, a serious subject involving serious crimes, so many commentators and claim-ers hide behind convenient avatars. It all adds to the secrecy, paranoia and conspiratorial nature of these claims, disputes and sometimes inventions, and fosters dishonesty. Unless people are in genuine danger, or unless they feel particularly vulnerable as survivors themselves, I wish they would identify themselves openly, as I do: so that we could have an honest debate, and know where each other is coming from.We live in hope.

    Signing off this topic now, to avoid getting drawn into fruitless tit for tat. Read my Needleblog for any further info.

  11. Pingback: A Response To BBC Radio 4’s Analysis Programme By Sarah Nelson | Morgans and Co

  12. In an article titled: “When Psychiatry Battled The Devil”, psychologist Richard Noll talks about participating in a panel discussion at the 7th annual ISSMP&D conference in Chicago, in 1990. Noll’s presentation was critical of some SRA dogma about the historic origins of satanic abuse cults. Noll says that after his presentation:

    “Several persons—all licensed mental health professionals—approached me and let me know I wasn’t fooling them. They knew I was a witch or a
    member of a Satanic cult who was there to spread disinformation”.

    If there was never any satanic panic in the helping professions, then it must be a routine occurrence for psychiatrists & psychologists to accuse each other of secretly being witches and satanists.

  13. I’m glad to hear that “intelligent educated professionals” in the UK never “swallowed the whole thing” “after attending one conference”. You are very fortunate, there, because that’s exactly what did happen all over North America circa 1985-1992.

    I can personally testify that this happened in my own community. I was a volunteer civilian advisor for my community’s Integrated Intelligence Unit, from 1987 to 1992, on the subject of “cult & occult crime”. (“Integrated” means combined city and federal investigators, “Intelligence” doesn’t mean spys – it means the detectives who do the deep background research which informs the frontline officer’s investigations).

    The detectives that I worked with attended many conferences on this subject, all over North America, as it was their job to do. Several such conferences were offered in our area over these years, by a variety of professional associations. According to these detectives, the conferences were attended by law enforcement personnel, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, child protection workers, academics, clergy, foster parent organization members, school board officials and representatives from various other children’s services organizations. Apparently, it was commonplace for person’s who attended ONE of these conferences to proclaim themselves an “expert resource” on the subject of occult crime, including SRA, and subsequently offer “in-house” training on the subject to other staff members in their hospital, other members of their professional associations, etc. using the materials they obtained from that original conference.

    The detectives and I went over all of the training manuals from these conferences, after they returned from one, and I have to tell you that they were indeed filled with “revelations” that were “incredible, ludicrous and unbelievable, lacking in any evidence”. Frequently these manuals quoted passages from the works of self-professed ‘experts’ such as Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford – who would subsequently be exposed as lying frauds, and yes sometimes references to “The Courage to Heal” and even “Sybil”. Equally appalling were the sections on “occult signs & symbols”, which appeared to take their definitions (meanings) from the imaginations of teen satanist dabblers – because they bore no relation at all to the traditional meaning or the Kabbalistic systems from which such meanings are derived.
    These training manuals were full of urban legends, mythology, inappropriate pop culture references, ignorance, bigotry, and outright lies. And it was from this nonsense that intelligent, educated professionals here derived their supposed “expertise”.

  14. Sandra Buck

    Thanks for such a refreshing commentary and analysis of the issues Sarah. I think it is so unprofessional to induce participation in a programme like this, by lying to you about what would happen.

  15. joekano76

    Reblogged this on Floating-voter.

  16. Thanks Sarah Nelson for this forensic critique of the Aaronovitch programme. You were a voice of reason on it, and in this detailed analysis of Aaronovitch’s non-Analysis.

    • Sue Richardson

      I share Bea Campbell’s comments – Sarah has raised the level of debate and shone a scholarly, well -reasoned light on the concerns about this programme. I think the BBC should provide her and the other participants who were not heard with the right of reply.

  17. Given what has happened I am fast reaching the follwoing conclusions about all this. The whole Satanic Abuse scenario was concocted, encouraged and used to deflect attention away from the genuine abuasers who held power in Westminster, The Cyril Smiths, the Morrisons, The Janners et al. Furthermore, I strongly suspect Dickens was “bought off” by Brittain with a promise of government backing for an exposure of some “really juicy stuff” that Dickens and his lunatic cohorts and friends from the National Viewers and Listeners mob could dust off their pitchforks and demand summary justice for.

    Problem was, Dickens and his friends were sold a pup one that the government and security services knew was bound to fail and end up making them look like the slightly sad and desperate nutters they often are, or were. Simple yet totally effective, make fools of the person who accused you of something by sending them on a pointless chase for something that didn’t exist whilst feeding them utterly false information. They didn’t have to plant the false information either, there were any number of naive social workers with an agenda of their own willing to proffer up such drivel. By the time Dickens realised he had along with the British Public , been sent on a totally wild goose chase it was too late. His own credibility was shot and he could have had photos and video tape of Jimmy Savile shagging Cyril Smith with a 5 year old between them and it wouldn’t have mattered at all.

    See, the part so many of you who are new to how this all works failed to spot was this. Those shills working for the government don’t always twist things. Part of their cover is to write up well considered and factual articles that lend them an air of authority meaning that, when they then start with the BS, they take a huge swathe of the audience with them as they seem to have a decent track record. In this case the fact that, there was no empirical evidence at all that Satanic Abuse had occurred and the truth is, the only people who say it did are almost to person Social Workers. Now if you knew your history of the Evangelical Alliance, then you[d know they actively encouraged their members to enter two specific fields to counteract the perceived libertarian bias they exhibited. Those were Teaching and Social Work. Surprise surprise, within a half a decade of this edict going out, we have social workers convinced of Satanic Abuse and teachers reporting the same.

    Fast forward to the present day and here it is again, same old urban myths wheeled out as fact by people who should know better and all you are really doing is, deflecting away from VIP abuse which sic was and is very real and setting yourselves up to look utter fools in the process.

    David Aaronovitch wants you to do exactly what you are doing, make absolute fools of yourself trying to support cases that had no Satanic Elements at all and then they will slap you down over the VIP abuse as well.

    As so many people who write about Satanic Abuse quite obviously don;t have the first clue about any sort of esoteric teaching I shall leave you with this. If you were looking for a true Satanic Abuse and sacrificial ritual then you should be looking for adult virgins and better still, a transgender adult virgin. If you don’t understand why that is so, then you really should lay off the whole Satanic thing altogether as you really don;t have the slightest clue of what you are really dealing with.

    • Sabre

      Aaronovitch almost admits as much in Analysis Part 2, his interest in ‘Satanic/Ritual abuse’ was piqued by his concerns regarding VIP abuse ( a subset of them at least). He barely conceals his conflation attempt.

  18. Sabre

    Words of caution were offered re the BBC.

  19. Wendy Horler

    Thank you for committing to the pursuit of this issue. Can the BBC be taken to court over this deeply irresponsible conduct?

  20. l8in

    Reblogged this on L8in.

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