Satanic panic  

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Satanic ritual abuse (SRA, sometimes known as ritual abuse, cult related abuse, ritualized abuse, sadistic ritual abuse, ritual abuse-torture and other variants) refers to a moral panic that originated in the United States in the 1980s, spreading throughout the country and eventually to many parts of the world, before subsiding in the late 1990s. Allegations of SRA involved reports of physical and sexual abuse of individuals in the context of occult or satanic rituals. At its most extreme definition, SRA involved a world-wide conspiracy involving the wealthy and powerful of the world elite in which children were abducted or bred for sacrifices, pornography and prostitution.

Nearly every aspect of SRA was controversial, including its definition, the source of the allegations, proof, testimonials of alleged victims, court cases involving the allegations and criminal investigations. The panic impacted how legal, therapeutic and social work professions dealt with allegations of child sexual abuse. Allegations initially brought together widely disimilar groups, including religious fundamentalists, police investigators, child advocates, therapists and clients in psychotherapy. The movement gradually secularized, dropping or deprecating the "satanic" aspects of the allegations in favor of names that were less overtly religous such as "sadistic" or simply "ritual abuse" and becoming more associated with dissociative identity disorder and government conspiracy theories.

The panic was based on reports from children and adults using therapeutic and questioning techniques now considered illegitimate, with initial publicity generated by the discredited autobiography Michelle Remembers, and sustained and popularized by interest in the McMartin preschool trial. Testimonials, symptom lists, rumors and techniques to investigate or uncover memories of SRA were disseminated through professional, popular and religious conferences, as well as through the attention of sensationalist talk shows, sustaining and spreading the moral panic further throughout the United States and beyond. In some cases allegations resulted in criminal trials with varying results; after seven years in court, the iconic McMartin trial resulted in no charges for all accused, while other cases resulted in lengthy sentences. Scholarly interest in the topic slowly built, eventually resulting in the conclusion that the phenomenon was a moral panic. Official investigations produced no evidence of conspiracies or the slaughter of thousands of babies and children in bloody sacrifices. In the latter half of the 1990s interest in SRA declined and skepticism became the default position, with only a minority of believers giving any credence to the existence of SRA.

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