- BA (Sociology and Political Science) - University of Melbourne
- PhD (Public Health) - University of New South Wales
- Scientia Associate Professor of Criminology - University of New South Wales
- Adjunct Associate Professor - Western Sydney University
- Board of Directors - International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD)
- Salter, M. (2013). Organised sexual abuse. Routledge.
- Salter, M. (2018). Finding a new narrative: Meaningful responses to ‘false memory’ disinformation. Memory in Dispute; Sinason, V., Ed.; Karnac: London, UK, 1-10.
- Salter, M. (2008). Out of the shadows: Re-envisioning the debate on ritual abuse. Ritual Abuse in the Twenty-first Century: Psychological, Forensic, Social, and Political Considerations, 155-175.
- Salter, M. (2019). Malignant trauma and the invisibility of ritual abuse. Attachment, 13(1), 15-30.
- Salter, M. (2012). The role of ritual in the organised abuse of children. Child Abuse Review, 21(6), 440-451.
Michael Salter represents the academic wing of a resurging Satanic Panic. Although his work is varied, Salter demonstrates a strange obsession with ideas and theories that promote the conspiracy theory of Satanic ritual abuse. Salter is careful to not openly endorse Satanic Panic hysteria, lest he lose his veneer of credibility, but a review of his work and Internet posts makes it clear that he's a true believer.
Salter subscribes to the notion that what others call the Satanic Panic -- a period during the 1980s and 1990s, primarily in the United States, when there was widespread belief that Satanic cults were abducting and abusing children in horrific rituals, including at day care centers -- is merely a narrative erected by those who wish to avoid confronting the reality of child abuse. This idea, popularized by Brown University Professor Ross Cheit (Salter's buddy) in his book The Witch Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children (2014), features the dubious claim that there was no Satanic Panic because there was some evidence of sexual abuse against children in some cases. Of course, recognizing the existence of the Satanic Panic does not preclude acknowledging that abuse may have occurred in some cases -- though Cheit seems to have made significant errors and omissions in constructing his arguments that abuse took place. In fact, one could just as easily argue that anti-Satanist hysteria contaminated truthful allegations. Amusingly (and tellingly), Cheit's criteria for what constitutes a "witch hunt" would exclude the actual witch hunts from which the title of his book is derived. However, these facts are of no concern at all to those intent on smearing those who rightfully acknowledge the Satanic Panic as apologists for child abusers -- or worse, abusers themselves.
Salter likes to paint those who understand the science of memory and trauma as anti-feminist misogynists who, in pursuit of burying our heads in the sand, dismiss the testimonies of women and children in a sort of patriarchal "re-traumatization." Salter conveniently omits mention of the fact that Satanic ritual abuse witch hunts disproportionately target women.
And the claim that no Satanic Panic happened because some actual abuse likely took place is simply illogical. Imagine that, rather than accusing daycare staff of being secret Satanists who subject children to bizarre ritualistic abuse, the allegations described them as Jews who do the same. Regardless of the veracity of any plausible allegations of abuse, no reasonable person would argue that such allegations do not constitute an anti-Semitic witch hunt. Furthermore, the argument that those who acknowledge the Satanic Panic are merely in denial of the reality of child sexual abuse fails to consider that the abuse claims in question -- those featuring cults, bizarre rituals, and even supernatural claims -- constitute a minuscule proportion of all child sexual abuse claims. What kind of denial is 99.9% acceptance?
But Salter goes further than merely believing the Satanic Panic is a "narrative" used by abusers and their apologists. He believes there really were Satanic cults abducting and abusing children -- society just wasn't ready to accept it. In an interview posted on afterthedream.net, Salter drops a whopper:
In the wake of multiple sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and elsewhere, the proposition that multiple adults might conspire to abuse multiple children is a familiar one to most people. That wasn’t the case fifteen or twenty years ago, which is why allegations of organised and ritual abuse seemed so bizarre at the time.
Salter is either unfamiliar with the nature of ritual abuse claims during the Satanic Panic or is playing dumb. Allegations often featured child and animal sacrifices, cannibalism, bestiality, forced breeding, and physically impossible feats. That's what render them bizarre, not the notion that more than one adult could together abuse more than one child. Such a claim is a grotesque cheapening of indisputable abuses such as those perpetrated by the Catholic Church.
Salter's errors and omissions are numerous. In Organized Abuse and the Politics of Disbelief (2008), Salter writes:
The findings of an archaeological dig at the McMartin preschool site, which uncovered recently backfilled tunnels and ritual articles in accordance with the children’s disclosures, came too late to counter the momentum of the backlash (Summit 1994a).
McMartin preschool was the location of the first prominent Satanic Panic case, the longest and most expensive trial in US history at the time. Allegations that McMartin staff were secret Satanists who trafficked the children fell apart when the influence of parents, social workers, and law enforcement on the children's testimony became clear and undeniable. The notion that there were tunnels beneath McMartin preschool -- allegedly used primarily to move children between buildings but also the location of some abuse -- is a bit of folklore that is almost invariably touted by modern day Satanic Panickers like Salter as a sort of corroboration that the children were telling the truth (despite the fact that many of them have recanted). There were no tunnels beneath McMartin; the archeological dig uncovered filled-in trash pits, commonly used at the time. In fact, the article Salter cites, originally published in Journal of Psychohistory in 1994, and reproduced here, does not make a claim of any "recently backfilled tunnels."
But Salter is not content with merely misrepresenting the facts. Rather, much of Salter's own research furthers the Satanic ritual abuse conspiracy theory. In The Role of Ritual in the Organized Abuse of Children, Salter reports on 16 qualitative interviews with individuals who claim to have been victims of ritual abuse in childhood. Such interviews could certainly have produced meaningful information about claims of ritual abuse -- instead, Salter erroneously presumes such claims to be based on real events. Such an error then allows Salter to describe "the role of ritual" in child abuse. Bizarrely, in justifying his reporting of ritual abuse claims as reflecting reality, Salter writes:
It is not possible to test the factual accuracy of the events recounted by qualitative research participants, and all forms of research–qualitative and quantitative–may be impacted upon by memory errors or false reporting. However, there is no evidence that people prone to confabulation or memory error are particularly likely to volunteer for participation in qualitative research, nor is there any evidence that such an individual would be particularly likely to volunteer for research into sexual abuse. (p. 443)
For Salter, the lack of evidence that "people prone to confabulation or memory error" are more likely to be subjects of qualitative research or research into sexual abuse is good enough. The reality, of course, is that all of us -- not just certain people -- are susceptible to false memories. Moreover, nothing would preclude this same faulty argument to be used to justify accepting as fact claims of alien abduction or past lives. But such claims are hardly less credible than those which Salter unscrupulously reports on here, featuring as they do "bestiality, the mutilation of animals and the forced ingestion of animal faeces, blood and flesh." (p. 446). And Salter is simply wrong that the factual accuracy of qualitative research cannot be tested. But he has no qualms sacrificing academic responsibility when doing so provides Satanic Panic-era conspiracy theories a shroud of "scientific" legitimacy.
Salter openly associates with some of the most prolific promoters of Satanic Panic hysteria and related conspiracy theories, including Eileen Aveni, Lynette Danylchuk, Alison Miller, and Valerie Sinason. But this should be no surprise from someone who was once the chair of the ISSTD's Ritual Abuse Mind Control Organized Abuse (RAMCOA) Special Interest Group -- a sort of think tank for conspiracy therapists. Salter has also presented at Survivorship conferences, an organization headed by Neil Brick, a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts who claimed on his website that he was a brainwashed Illuminati super-soldier who committed murder and rape. As far as we are aware, Salter has never confronted the rampant conspiracism within RAMCOA, though he did write that "my most difficult task was to try to hold a space for the therapeutic and scientific discussion of RAMCOA that was not overwhelmed by strongly held spiritual beliefs or unproven historical claims." He was chair of the group for less than a year -- just long enough to add "organized abuse" to the group's name, conveniently smuggling all instances of multi-perpetrator abuse under the same umbrella as allegations which include elements of "ritual abuse" and "mind control," thereby lending unwarranted credibility to the "RA" and "MC" in "RAMCOA."
Given that Salter misrepresents the facts, mischaracterizes the position of skeptics, and employs pseudoscientific research methods -- all in service of promoting debunked conspiracy theories of Satanic ritual abuse -- it is a wonder what might motivate him. As Salter frequently discusses, a friend/roommate of his allegedly endured ritual abuse in the early 2000s. Salter's account explains "Alex's" victimization thusly:
Alex is the survivor of a paedophile ring that used ritualized torture to keep child victims compliant and silent. A cocktail of drugs, electrocution and sexual assault fragmented her young consciousness, and placed her exploitation in a place beyond words. The perpetrators convinced her that what was occurring was normal and natural, and that they were teaching her to be good. Her childhood was spent trying to please them.
The perpetrators are a sadistically abusive prostitution and pornography ring operating throughout Australia. Members have in common a sexual interest in the brutal torture of young girls, who are ritually abused with the intention of irrevocably shattering their consciousness, ‘bonding’ them to the group, and creating a sense of complicity in their own sexual enslavement.
Ritual abuse is commonly blamed on underground ‘cults’, but these perpetrators are not a ‘cult’ in the usual sense of the word. They do operate within a specific misogynistic occult ideology, however, this appears to function as much as an organizing principle as a shared religious conviction. This ritual abuse group is better conceptualized as a network, in that it is constituted of specific chapters operating across the country under the auspice of an overarching authority structure.
Salter is careful to emphasize the importance of his own role in this ordeal, describing himself as Alex's "[c]arer-counselor-nurse-private investigator-body guard" and their "partnership" as them versus the world. Indeed, law enforcement was less than unhelpful in arresting the supposed perpetrators. In Salter's book Organized Sexual Abuse (2012) appears the following passage, appended at the end of the interview mentioned above:
After one particularly awful episode, she reappeared at the front door at dawn having gone missing the night before. She was having difficulty walking and she winced when I tried to support her to walk to her bedroom. The skin on her stomach and back was red and inflamed, but I didn’t ask why and she didn’t tell me. It was a few days later, when the inflammation had gone down, that I saw the lines on her skin where someone had traced symbols on her body using a red-hot implement. My reaction was a horror compounded by despair. Here was further physical evidence of her ongoing abuse, but where could we go with it? What could we do with it? A previous email to the local detectives had ‘bounced’. They had given me the wrong email address. They didn’t return phone calls or messages.
Predictably, Salter's ire for law enforcement doesn't end there. Elsewhere, he repeats allegations of ritual abuse made against the police themselves:
Another significant barrier to making contact and establishing trust with police was alleged police involvement in organized abuse. Julia, a rape crisis worker, had been working for five years with a former police officer who refused to contact police about her own ongoing organized abuse because, when she was serving in the police force, she had been forced to participate in the abusive group and cover up their activities.
Perhaps Salter's account of his friend's victimization is based in something like reality. People are abused by groups of other people, sometimes in bizarre ways that arguably constitute "ritual abuse." But as the number of alleged perpetrators and accomplices grows, as the allegations grow stranger and take on the stereotypical characteristics of debunked and recanted Satanic ritual abuse claims, and as the allegations are then used to promote the notion that such abusive cults exist on a global scale, never once failing to clean up all corroborative evidence of their horrendous crimes, skepticism is more than warranted. Make no mistake: this is exactly what promoters of "ritual abuse" believe.
Indeed, posts on the internet from a username apparently used by Salter suggest that his friend's alleged victimization launched his crusade against such a worldwide conspiracy. In February of 2005, a comment left beneath a bizarre, conspiracy theory-laden interview with Kathleen Sullivan, who claims to be a survivor of "ritualistic torture and mind-control experiments," reads:
Kathleen, all power to you. We are just unravelling the threads of ritual abuse here in Australia, and your point about disinformation is very well taken.
The work of some great advocates here have been fundamentally undermined as they buy into disinformation and New World Order conspiracy theories. It's sad to see them publically throw their credibility out the window.
It's hard to engage critically with this stuff when it is all so extreme, but that is a challenge that we have to be the equal of.
Thank you for blazing that path.
The irony of praising someone for not buying into conspiracy theories in response to an interview in which that person makes claims such as that US intelligence agencies are involved in child trafficking and baby breeding is difficult to overstate.
An individual going by 'M' with the same email address made several posts aggregated here, some of which include claims identical to those Salter has written elsewhere. But in these posts, Salter (if indeed this is him) goes much further than merely relaying the alleged victimization of his friend. He discusses Aleister Crowley and the Ordo Templis Orientis, arguing that the cult ritualistically torturing his friend operates on an international scale:
[E]vidence both here and overseas suggests the existance (sic) of an international 'shadow' OTO which has taken Crowley's repulsive writings very literally indeed. The torture experienced by my friend was highly ritualistic, and mirrors, down to the finest detail, the experiences of other survivors around the globe.
The only logical conclusion is that the cult is acting internationally ... and has particular reach within the intelligence sector. The worst thing is that all this stuff is so far beyond law enforcement. It's bigger then the police, and the government isn't structured to respond appropriately to threats like this - rot within it's (sic) own ranks, most likely.
He goes on to discuss (also available here) the "rituals" of his imagined global cult, claiming they involve blood drinking, murder, cannibalism, and rape.
Posts elsewhere by an individual using the same username can be found discussing the Illuminati, Svali, and ritual abuse. On the website nonstatetorture.org, a post from November 2007 by an individual using the same Yahoo email address reads:
Mornington Peninsula - many survivors reporting organised ritual abuse around Frankston in the 80s and 90s. The perpetrators set up their own preschool here as well, although the govt shut it down in 1992 after the kids disclosed abuse, including porn and prostitution. Cops "bungled" the investigation and never pressed charges. This network is still active in stalking/assaulting victims. There is substantial evidence of police involvement and protection.
This post again bears all the hallmarks of Salter -- Australia, perpetrators running preschools, government coverups, law enforcement participation. These posts were almost certainly made by Salter, and they are exceptionally revealing of what Salter believes. Salter also appears to have been rather active on Wikipedia, constantly editing pages related to Satanic ritual abuse.
Salter may be a professor and a prolific publisher of research on a variety of topics. But clearly, he is not immune to fallacious thinking, dishonesty, and bad faith arguments.
In an entertaining bit of irony, Salter himself has proven himself to be susceptible to false memories in his endeavor to malign The Satanic Temple. As we have previously written about, Salter tweeted a rather hysterical thread in which he falsely accused us of 1) claiming dissociative disorders are "fake," 2) harassing therapists, 3) stalking him, 4) taking photos of him with a telescopic lens, 5) posting those photos online, 6) having blog posts of him going back to 2009, 7) claiming that people who claim to be survivors of ritual abuse are lying, and more. Every one of these accusations is false; rather than accusing Salter of lying, we'll chalk it up to false memories. Salter has since deleted the tweet thread.
In conclusion, Salter's main function in the ongoing Satanic Panic is to falsely accuse the "skeptics" -- those who recognize the science of memory and trauma, and who accept the conclusions of all investigations into Satanic ritual abuse, which have invariably turned up zero evidence -- of being misogynists, apologists for abusers, and/or abusers themselves. Salter is less focused on providing evidence for the widespread cult ritual abuse he believes in, opting instead to ascribe bad faith to those who question its existence. However, some of his misguided research certainly does smuggle ritual abuse conspiracy theories into the literature, awarding it an appearance of scientific credibility. This may fool the layperson who presumes such ritual abuse narratives to have been corroborated in some fashion, but not those who endeavor to learn his methods.
Originally posted October 26, 2020. Last updated November 29, 2020.