ONE of the most extraordinary scandals of the 1980s and '90s was the belief
in satanic child abuse. This started as a fad among American fundamentalists, a
more dangerous one than believing that there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark; but
it spread over here among otherwise secularist social workers. The lesbian
feminist Beatrix Campbell was one of the last (and loudest) believers.
A long piece in The Times on Tuesday gave some of the background to
one of these cases, in Rochdale. What was said made clear the anguish that the
children suffered; what was only hinted at made the social workers' motives
The first child taken into care, named only "Daniel", was six at the time.
"Daniel told his teacher that he was dreaming about ghosts - apparently a mummy
and daddy ghost and a baby ghost that died. He was at the time a withdrawn,
disturbed child, often hiding under desks and being disruptive. His speech was
poor for his age. This, says Beverley [his mother], led to him being bullied.
The teacher was concerned enough to alert social services."
The social workers - who are still working with children today - interpreted
his fantasies as reality, and concluded that when he talked about ghosts
attacking him, he was really talking about his parents and others. So he and
his three siblings were taken into care; and three months later, after they had
been interviewed, another 12 children, all friends of the family, were also
taken into care in early morning raids.
All those children were returned after a year, when it became apparent that
there was no evidence whatsoever for the stories, and the social workers
themselves had become victims of an idée fixe. The four original
children, though, were kept in care for another eight years. Their parents were
allowed to see them once a month, for an hour, watched from behind a mirror by
social workers. They were too poor to own a car; so they could never see them
on Christmas Day, when buses don't run.
This poverty supplies the first hint of a motive for the social workers'
vulnerability to lunatic theories. The first child had come along when the
mother was 16; both parents were in debt, and had been going to counselling
sessions for four years before this. The children had watched horror videos.
None of this proves satanic abuse; none of it, probably, would shock most
priests. But one can see how it might seem to inexperienced social workers to
require a dramatic explanation; and it seems clear that, even after the
explanation had been proved false, they all believed that the parents were
ANOTHER troubling story of contact between rich and poor worlds comes from
the Toronto Globe and Mail, which described the work of some Canadian
scientists in Kenyan slums, and the life of one of their subjects. It had one
of the very few pyramid leads that really work: "Salome Simon doesn't have
much. A one-room shack she rents in Majengo, a slum on the edge of Nairobi. A
couple of kangas, the bright print wraps she wears as skirts, and a couple of
blouses. A transistor radio, some aluminum pots and one little luxury, a gilded
bottle of spicy perfume.
"It isn't much to show for 23 years of hard work, on the job from 7 in the
morning to 7 in the evening, every day but Sunday, when she goes to church, and
once a year when she visits her family in Tanzania for a few weeks. She doesn't
have a house of her own, doesn't have any savings, doesn't have a plot of land
to grow maize or beans.
"There is one other thing that Ms Simon doesn't have: AIDS. And this sets
her apart from the thousands of other women who make a living as she does,
selling sex in Nairobi. She has had sex with five or six men a day - sometimes
10 or 11 on a really good day - since she moved to Nairobi in 1982."
She is one of the prostitutes whose astonishing immunity to Aids has raised
all sorts of hopes of a vaccine. She would like to retire, obviously, and feels
that the Canadian researchers owe her something. So does one of the Kenyan
workers on the project, Professor Elisabeth Ngugi: "This has given the world
such a huge body of knowledge, but what has the world done to help them change?
Quite clearly there is an imbalance," she told Stephanie Nolen, the paper's
Africa correspondent, who wrote the story so well.
The trouble is that prostitution pays so much better than working on a fruit
stall by the side of the road, which seems to be the only alternative. The West
gives money to research, and to training Kenyan researchers. Bill Gates's
foundation alone has given $10 million. But lifting their subjects out of
poverty is beyond the powers even of Bill Gates.