It is a natural human instinct to fear the unknown. Fearing the dark corners of caverns, or a strange animal species, in the first moments of human existence kept the species alive and away from danger.
Fear promoted unity, keeping groups of people together through historical trials and tribulations, making it easier to provide judgments on what was perceived as evil or wrong, to provide safety and security.
Fear in itself is a natural instinct, however it has no place in government, medical practice, or the criminal justice system. In fact, it was fear of violent pedophiles that drove the moral panic phenomena known as The Satanic Panic.
The Satanic Panic centered around satanic ritual abuse allegations in the 1980s and 1990s, and the egregious responses from medical personnel, law enforcement officials, and psychological professionals.
The so-called Panic began because of wild accusations from mentally unstable family members claiming there were instances of animal butchering and violent, horrifying sexual assaults being carried out by day care workers all over the United States.
This moral crusade, constructed from false realities, played on parents’ deep-rooted fear of their children being victims of a pedophile. Besides, murder, sexual assault, or any type of sexual misconduct with a child, pervades in the media and is used to show how frequent this type of crime is.
Stories place the obligatory “allegedly” before a suspect’s name, but because of the severity of the crime, guilt is assumed. Furthermore, the journey of a seemingly sensitive, nice man (or woman) transforming to a monster enraptures the attention and fascination of the general public on a level only contested by serial killers.
The reactions from parents, to these accusations of satanic ritual abuse, were understandably emotionally driven and more than a tad extreme. Parents instantly took action and their children, who previously had never showed any signs of abuse, were whisked away to the Children’s Institute International.
After several rounds of interviews with psychologists, parents were given reports that supported the alleged abuse. During this time only basic sex offender legislation existed, which was hard on offenders, but nothing like the sex offender registry of today.
Additionally, up until around the time of these events children were not seen as credible witnesses in court cases, so allowing their accounts to be brought before the court had a profound impact on the juries, even if it was skewed since the very beginning.
Surprisingly, these accusations had origins in horror, beginning with the rise of demonic movies like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. These movies were centered on demons and Satan, planting slow-burning seeds of doubt inside the minds of the general public about the possibility of the real-life existence of Satanic Cults.
This fear was solidified with the publication of Michelle Remembers, the supposedly factual account of a psychiatrist’s patient who fell under trance-like states, discovered she was involved in satanic ritual abuse by a cult her mother was a member of.
Unfortunately, instead of Michelle Remembers being met with criticism, it was used as proof to the public that Satanists do exist and, worse still, they are out for children to abuse, sacrifice, or use them to commit other nefarious acts in order to gain favor with the devil.
Most of the accused in these cases were facing two hundred plus years in spite of the lack of hard, physical evidence. They were tried purely based on the testimony of scared parents and terrified children. Luckily, most of the charges were dropped against these people, but their careers were over, their children in foster care, and their lives in shambles.
The Satanic Panic phenomena ruined once-happy families because of baseless claims with no evidence. The only factor that tied all of these cases together, besides coerced confessions and testimonies, gross abuses of power, and an ironic abuse of children under the guise of protecting them, was fear.
Fear of pedophiles played on people’s insecurities, subsequently perpetuating these cases that had no actual evidence. Rather than question the insane accounts from the mouths of small, frightened children, they were taken as gospel and used against day care workers, teachers, and parents, among others.
These accusations of Satanic ritual abuse depict a modern day moral panic where the truth was forgotten, for the continuation of a hunt for Satanic cults, and droves of innocent people were arrested and stigmatized solely because of fear.