Interview on organised abuse

A few years ago, I was interviewed by my friend (and incredible artist) Lynn Schirmer about my work on organised abuse.

We discuss my particular approach to the topic of organised abuse, my work with survivors and survivor movements, and compare the situation facing survivors in Australia and North America.

You can read more here. An excerpt is below.

LS: Over the past two decades, survivors of extreme and/or organized abuse have attempted many programs of advocacy to change the status quo. Although these efforts may have had a profound effect on the lives of individual survivors, they have yet to substantially impact the views of society at large, and its institutions. Do you have any special advice about how survivors might advocate for themselves in more effective ways?

Michael Salter: In my experience, social movements of trauma survivors can find it difficult to tolerate ambiguity. What I mean by this is that there can be a predominance of black-and-white, us-vs-them thinking rather than an appreciation of the grey areas and a more constructive interest in opposing arguments. While black-and-white thinking helps people feel confident and validated in a group environment (which is of course very important for survivors) it can also push survivor groups into positions of false certainty in which a strong stance is taken on an issue where the evidence is weak or unclear. This position is of course vulnerable to being discredited or attacked by others.

I think it’s really important for survivor groups and movements to find ways of validating and supporting one another that includes a space for uncertainty. This allows survivor groups to engage with, for example, evidence around the unreliability of memory while still asserting that memories of abuse are very likely to be accurate. This disempowers critics who like to malign survivor groups as one-note or simplistic, and it enables survivor representatives to speak in a clear and authoritative way about the issues that affect them. It also helps survivor groups to move beyond null-sum competitions over whether severe abuse “exists” or not. The evidence clearly shows that organised, ritual and sadistic abuse has occurred and is occurring, and my view is that people who deny it are not serious commentators and should be ignored at this point.

When it comes to advocacy, it’s important to think practically and act strategically. While there are particular challenges that are specific to organised abuse, many of the obstacles faced by survivors are shared with other people impacted by abuse and violence. A lack of health services and limited access to the criminal justice system are common to victims of child sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. These are indicative of major systemic failings that can only be changed slowly, over time, through collective social and political pressure. I know many survivors of organised abuse are working within organisations that aim to address these problems and I’d encourage others to think about the kinds of partnerships they can strike up with like-minded social movements.