Chivers on the Satanic Panic

I’ve managed to completely avoid the Amanda Knox trial. I just generally steer clear of show trials as much as I possibly can, a habit dating back to OJ. But via some discussion at the Wild Hunt, I came across a column from Tom Chivers at the Telegraph: Amanda Knox acquitted: the Devil was in the details.

According to Chivers, the prosecuting lawyer, Giuliano Mignini, is a bit of a loop, with a thing for finding conspiracies and satanic cults that don’t actually exist. Apparently he had it out Knox becuase she was ‘”a diabolical, satanic, demonic she-devil” who “likes alcohol, drugs and hot, wild sex”. ‘

What’s interesting is that Chivers then goes on to ty this case to the “Satanic Panic”. This may be old hat to you, but since I’ve avoided the story it’s news to me:

It’s all very reminiscent of another Satanic panic which flared up a couple of decades or so ago in the US and Britain. “Satanic ritual abuse” became something of a buzzword after the 1980 publication of a book, Michelle Remembers, apparently detailing the childhood memories of the eponymous Michelle, uncovered using hypnotherapy, in which she claimed to have been abused by her mother and others in part of a Satanic cult in Victoria, Canada. Shortly after, a parents’ group in California decided that their children’s school was being run by Satanists, after a schizophrenic woman made claims about practices at the school, and the children – under lengthy questioning after initial denials – started making up tales of abuse. Suddenly, hundreds of similar cases were cropping up, on both sides of the Atlantic, frequently based on similarly hypnosis- or psychotherapy-derived memories.

At its height, there were claims that thousands of people had been killed by a global conspiracy-cult. But it all transpired to be imaginary: no evidence of actual Satanic murders or torture was ever uncovered, and the techniques used to glean the “memories” have since been thoroughly discredited. By 1995 the panic had by-and-large died down: Gary Clapton, a University of Edinburgh social-work academic, writes that the furore drew attention away from real child abuse issues, by pushing imaginary Satanic abuse to the top of the seriousness pile, relegating very real physical and sexual abuse down the order. The staff of the California school, incidentally, were all acquitted after a seven-year court case, then the most expensive in US legal history.

Nice work from Mr. Chivers in spotting that similarity. I’m sorry that religious mania seems to be the only thing we Americans can seem to export these days.

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