By Sara Scott.
Open University Press
£55 (hardback); £16.99 (paperback)
ISBN 0 335 20420 1 (hardback);
0 335 20419 8 (paperback)
This book is a powerful and scholarly challenge to the
polarised debate that has impeded the exploration of ritual abuse, both
professionally and publicly.
It is a meticulously researched and compelling sociological
and political analysis of how validity is accorded to some narratives but not
others. No one has previously created a system of meaning in which a world
where moral precepts do not hold can be addressed, something that led the
Department of Health to drop relevant guidelines from Working Together,
the government’s child protection strategy.
By offering a way out of the polarisation, the study makes
the official position on ritual abuse redundant, along with that of previous
research that has failed to comprehend the testimony of child and adult
survivors and professionals.
This remarkable feat of integrative thinking draws on the
author’s combined skills, knowledge and experience as a sociologist,
researcher, feminist, sexual trauma counsellor and carer.
Life history interviews with survivors of ritual abuse,
including three men, provide the core data. The author elegantly vaults
circular arguments concerning truth and reality.
Rather than setting out to prove a case, the survivors’
narratives are set in the context of issues such as the construction of sexual
abuse as a social problem, the nature of moral panic, the gendered nature of
power and violence and other themes, for example, secularisation, death and
The careful and selective use of the survivors’ testimonies
both honours their experience and underlines the way in which it cannot be made
to fit the prevailing fragmented and decontextualised analyses.
The author expands existing clinical frameworks regarding
the impact of torture and psychological manipulation in a way that is
affirmative of the nature of survivors’ lives.
A key theme is the body "as a site of resistance, a
source of moral knowledge and potential unifier of the self" and as a
catalyst for escape. All the respondents are shown to be reshaping their lives,
although the men’s stories tend to be less coherent and reflexive.
This book invites a paradigm shift in thinking about ritual
abuse as a social, political, policy and practice issue. It shows how the
occult beliefs of the abusers and the ritual acts themselves, cannot be
filleted out of a meaningful exploration of the survivors’ suffering, which
include accounts of sacrificial murder, forced abortion and infanticide.
Dealing as it does with complex concepts at a high level of
abstract thinking, it is not an easy read. But it is a rewarding one for a wide
range of professionals in need of an alternative to the discourse of disbelief
on which to base future policy and interventions.
Sue Richardson is an attachment-based psychotherapist,
trainer and co-author and co-editor of Creative Responses to Child Sexual
Abuse (Jessica Kingsley, 2001).