A governmental report has announced a need to raise awareness of faith-based abuse – in this case that related to witchcraft and possession. Better late than never. Yet Tim Black of Spiked is outraged. He compares it to the Satanic ritual abuse scandal, in which delusions of widespread demonic practices led to the unjust separation of kids from their parents. He writes…
…as opposed to the Satanic ritual abuse sandal of 20 years ago, there have indeed been a few actual cases of horrific child abuse and murder in which the perpetrators claimed to have some sort of belief in the supernatural. But – and this is absolutely key – these cases were not numerous. And they certainly were not indicative of some wider phenomenon. They were isolated and they were exceptional. They grabbed public attention precisely because they stood out for their cruelty.
Black ignores that while the Satanic panic entailed the invention of a cultural phenomenon the belief in Kindoki has distinct origins; an explicable form and a clear influence upon the minds and lives of thousands. It’s just that he’d have to look to Africa to see it. In Nigeria, the Congo and elsewhere children are killed, tortured and abandoned after evangelical witch hunters have convinced their parents that they’re liable to be demonic. Some among the tens of thousands of migrants from such countries who’ve found their way to Britain would have such beliefs. To imagine they disowned them upon reaching our shores is to attribute magical enlightening properties to our air or ground.
He’s right that there’s a danger of crimes receiving attention because of their sensational qualities rather than their actual prevalence, and it’s true that the number of cases involving “possessed” children to have been the subject of police investigations is small. The important point, though, is that the brutal murders that have made these beliefs notorious are not representative of the problem. While it’s probable that there are kids who are enduring violence, and nigh-on certain that there are going to be others, most victims of such faith-based abuse are liable to be in robust physical health.
A few years ago a Channel 4 documentary team sent women into different Pentecostal churches under the pretence of their being a mother and an misbehaving teenager. Officials from several of these institutions diagnosed witchcraft as the cause of her problems and an exorcism as the cure. These deliverances weren’t violent as such – they wouldn’t leave a mark – but would be horrible for their victims regardless. The journalist posing as the teen was shaken up and she had had the benefit of knowing that she wasn’t actually infested by the Devil. Even as she waited to be “treated” she was among dozens of less fortunate kids, and there was no sense of those being exceptional events.
Such children may not be scratched but the psychological effects of their being told that they’re evil beings; that their thoughts and instincts are depraved; that the troubles of their families are results of their own doings would be appalling. Their self-confidence would suffer grievous wounds; their trust in their parents’ affection would ruined; their ability to understand their impulses would be crippled. All of these have the potential to be far more damaging than the most vivid of bruises. As Debbie Ariyo of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse observes, the government has to follow African states in prohibiting the branding of children as demonic. There’s no good that can come of it and everything bad.