Recommended organised abuse bibliography

In my research on organised abuse, there are certain books and papers that have stood out to me. They strike a chord in terms of the depth of their scholarship and their commitment to preventing abuse and advancing the well-being of victims and survivors. Below is a list of books on organised abuse and related issues that have made an impact on me. I'll keep updating it over time.


Cheit R. (2014) The witch-hunt narrative: Politics, psychology and the sexual abuse of children, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Professor Ross Cheit provides a forensic analysis of early organised abuse cases in the United States. In unparalleled detail, he traces the progression of infamous organised abuse investigations through the courts, and identifies significant disparities between the facts of these cases and their coverage in the mass media. The book is a scathing indictment of those journalists who claimed that organised and ritual abuse investigations were nothing more than a modern 'witch hunt'. It also calls into question the credibility of those academics who framed their research into sexual abuse in these terms.


Freyd JJ. (1996) Betrayal trauma: The logic of forgetting child abuse, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Freyd JJ and Birrell P. (2013) Blind to betrayal: Why we fool ourselves we aren't being fooled. Wiley.

Professor Jennifer Freyd's research into the dynamics of remembering in the context of abuse and trauma has been highly influential. Through a program of rigorous empirical research, she has established that particular subjective dimensions to abuse, such as betrayal and powerlessness, have a determinative impact on how and whether abuse is remembered. Her more recent work has examined how betrayal trauma operates as the collective and social level, blinding whole communities and societies to the prevalence and impact of perpetration and violation.


Gallagher B, Hughes B and Parker H. (1996) The nature and extent of known cases of organised child sexual abuse in England and Wales. In: Bibby P (ed) Organised abuse: The current debate. London: Arena, 215–230.

Gallagher B. (1998) Grappling with smoke: Investigating and managing organised child sexual abuse - A good practice guide. Policy, Practice, Research. London: National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Dr Bernard Gallagher's research in the 1990s on organised abuse stands out in terms of his commitment to empirical rigor and the development of best practice standards. His 1996 chapter, written with colleagues, offers the most comprehensive analysis of child protection case files on organised abuse to date, and highlights the tendencies of child protection workers to over-report some forms of organised abuse and under-report others. Interestingly, this data set formed the basis of Professor Jean LaFontaine's publications on organised and ritual abuse although her conclusions were somewhat different, perhaps because, as an anthropologist, she did not share Dr Gallagher's background in child protection practice. 


Goodwin JM. (1994) Credibility problems in sadistic abuse. The Journal of Psychohistory 21: 479–496.

Goodwin JM. (1994) Sadistic abuse: Definition, recognition and treatment. In: Sinason V (ed) Treating survivors of satanist abuse. London; New York: Routledge, 33–44.

I've always admired Professor Jean Goodwin's publications on extreme trauma. Her written work combines clinical experience with survivors with historical analysis and useful theory-building. In the 1990s, Professor Goodwin defined sadistic abuse as the intentional and deliberative infliction of pain, and made a convincing argument that sadistic abuse was a subterranean tradition within Western culture with roots in Enlightenment thought (particularly the writings of Sade). Her position is that organised abuse should be analysed in terms of power relations rather than the "cult" paradigm that was dominant at the time.


Itzin C. (2001) Incest, paedophilia, pornography and prostitution: Making familial abusers more visible as the abusers. Child Abuse Review 10: 35–48.

This is one of a number of papers published by the late Dr Catherine Itzin that foregrounded the role of familial abusers in organised forms of sexual abuse, such as child prostitution and the manufacture of child abuse material. During the 1990s, it was typically assumed that most child sexual exploitation was being perpetrated by extra-familial perpetrators outside the home. The work of Dr Itzin drew on the testimony of survivors to emphasise the central role of incestuous fathers in facilitating the production of child abuse material and exchanging children with other men and groups. We now know that a significant amount of child abuse material is produced by fathers and other incestuous abusers. This is a very prescient paper in that regard.


Kelly L. (1998) Confronting an atrocity: The Dutroux case. Trouble and Strife 36: 16–22.

During the "memory wars" of the 1990s, Professor Liz Kelly was one of the few people willing to contest the hegemonic position that there is "no evidence" for organised and ritual abuse. As she points out in this paper, the crimes of the infamous Belgian sex offender and murderer Marc Dutroux as well as Rosemary and Fred West in the United Kingdom closely parallel the testimony of organised and ritual abuse survivors. Professor Kelly observes that very few journalists or academics were willing to make this connection, nor did policy-makers respond to the extremes of maltreatment revealed in these cases. This paper is a powerful critique of the depths of denial that persisted throughout the 1990s and to the present day.


Kitzinger J. (2004) Framing abuse: Media influence and public understanding of sexual violence against children, London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.

Professor Jenny Kitzinger provides a detailed account of the social construction of contentious organised and ritual abuse cases in the United Kingdom by journalists, editors and social movements. Her work is grounded in interviews with journalists and editors working in the mass media who were grappling with how to cover contentious child protection cases, as well as interviews with members of the 'false memory' movement in the United Kingdom. Her research demonstrates the formative role that the culture of news production played in shaping a largely skeptical narrative around these cases. Her focus group research with news consumers suggests that mass media audiences interpret and rework news coverage in creative ways, drawing upon their own lived experience to make sense out of coverage on child sexual abuse.


Middleton W. (2013) Ongoing incestuous abuse during adulthood. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 14: 251-272.

Middleton W. (2013) Parent–Child Incest That Extends Into Adulthood: A Survey of International Press Reports, 2007–2011. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 14: 184-197.

Middleton W. (2015) Tipping points and the accommodation of the abuser: The case of ongoing incestuous abuse during adulthood. International Journal of Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 4: 4-17.

Recently, Professor Warwick Middleton has published a series of articles highlighting the overlap between incestuous abuse and organised abuse from childhood into adulthood. His work combines an acute political and historical sensitivity with his clinical experience as the long-standing director of Australia's only specialist dissociation inpatient unit. Emerging from Professor Middleton's work is a renewed focus on incestuous abuse as a major locus point for organised abuse and the sadistic maltreatment of children and women. His work has major implications for the prevention and detection of violence against children and women that has yet to be fully appreciated.


Schwartz HL. (2000) Dialogues with forgotten voices: Relational perspectives on child abuse trauma and treatment of dissociative disorders. New York: Basic Books.

Schwartz HL. (2013) The alchemy of wolves and sheep: A relational approach to internalized perpetration in complex trauma survivors. New York and London: Routledge.

This two volumes should be widely read by practitioners and researchers in the field of trauma, abuse and dissociation. His first book provides one of the most comprehensive accounts of organised abuse to date, drawing on clinical experience as well as sociological and philosophical frameworks. In his second book, Dr Schwartz describes how chaotic social, political and interpersonal forces are internalised and replicated in the inner worlds of victimised individuals, generating persecutory psychological states and structures. This includes a detailed account of the deliberate production and manipulation of dissociation within criminal subcultures and networks. Through case examples and clinical reflections, Dr Schwartz provides a range of suggestions to improve the treatment trajectory of severely traumatised and dissociative survivors, including those who are enmeshed within abusive familial and criminal groups.


Scott S. (2001) Beyond disbelief: The politics and experience of ritual abuse, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Throughout the 1990s, sociological accounts of ritual abuse were based on mass media reports rather than fieldwork or empirical research, and tended to adopt the skeptical tone and argument prevalent in the mass media at the time. Dr Scott's book signals a major break with this approach. She presents the first search research-informed sociological account of ritual abuse that draws directly on interviews with adult survivors of ritual abuse, as well as Dr Scott's own history as a sexual assault counselor and foster mother to a ritually abused child. She makes important links between ritual abuse and more common forms of violence against children and women, positioning ritual abuse on the broader spectrum of gendered violence.

Survey for adult survivors of child sexual abuse imagery

I'm in the early stages of partnering with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, who are keen to do more work around organised abuse.

They are currently running a survey for adult survivors of child sexual abuse imagery (what used to be called 'child pornography').

If you've survived abuse that included the manufacture of child abuse material, you may want to fill out the survey - click here.

There's lots of information at the link on the Centre and their survey. They are keeping the survey open indefinitely to capture as much information as possible.

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.