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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and “Ritual Sexual Abuse”

From the transcript of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s National Apology Address, in which “the Australian Government and this Parliament, on behalf of all Australians, unreservedly apologises to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse”:

The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes, sporting clubs, group homes, charities, and in family homes as well.

It happened anywhere a predator thought they could get away with it, and the systems within these organisations allowed it to happen and turned a blind eye.

It happened day after day, week after week, month after month, and decade after decade. Unrelenting torment.

When a child spoke up, they weren’t believed and the crimes continued with impunity.

…Not just as a father but as Prime Minister, I am angry too at the calculating destruction of lives and abuse of trust, including those who have abused the shield of faith and religion to hide their crimes, a shield that is supposed to protect the innocent, not the guilty. And they stand condemned.

From the context, the word “ritual” here appears to mean “systematic” or “methodical”, perhaps referring to the various techniques that abusers use to “groom” a child for repeated abuse and to ensure secrecy.

However, the phrase “ritual sexual abuse” (or “ritual abuse”) obviously more readily evokes the familiar idea of secret Satanic cults committing depravities with impunity, and this is how the apology is being interpreted by some, despite the difficulties it raises. For instance, the journalist Mark Watts, who specialises in promoting sensational “VIP sex abuse” claims, refers to the “fulsome apology to those who suffered child sexual abuse – inc ritual sexual abuse – in Australia by PM Scott Morrison”, when in fact no such category is clearly singled out in the speech.

The obvious question that arises is that if Morrison indeed wanted to flag up “ritual sexual abuse” as the phrase is commonly understood, then why wasn’t he clearer about it? Perhaps the answer is that he was being deliberately ambiguous for some reason. It may be that he wanted to signal his belief in the phenomenon without having to invest political capital in it – after all, he is Australia’s first Neo-Pentecostal Prime Minister, and “Satanic ritual abuse” conspiracy theories have thrived within some evangelical strands. There’s also the fact that Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has given credence to Cathy Kezelman, a GP and activist who has made increasingly lurid allegations against her own family – this may have influenced Morrison, or whoever drafted his speech or advised on it.

Conspiracy theorists, however, have a different explanation, which is that Morrison was dropping a hint about knowing more than is in the public domain, just as “QAnon” believers believe that Trump is sending out subtle indications that he has uncovered a cabal of elite abusers who will shortly be exposed to the world. Thus various people are Tweeting claims such as “The new Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison must be a rider in #TheStorm. Here he is making an unprecedented statement on the cabal-engineered epidemic of child ritual abuse”. It is also being suggested that the Morrison’s phrasing vindicates Fiona Barnett, an Australian woman who has made extravagant “VIP Satanic ritual abuse” claims.

UPDATE (November 2019): An article by Australian journalist David Hardaker for Crikey, and partially excerpted by the New Daily, draws attention to Morrison’s “ritual abuse” phrasing and links it to Morrison’s friendship with a man named Tim Stewart, described as “a prominent promoter of the US-based far-right “QAnon” conspiracy movement”. The two men’s wives are “best friends”, and

In the days before Mr Morrison’s apology speech, Mr Stewart claimed to have influenced the PM to make a reference to “ritual” abuse.

In the hours before the address, he sent a text to a colleague: “I think Scott is going to do it!!”.

…The Stewarts’ 22-year-old son, Jesse – also an enthusiastic promoter of the QAnon conspiracy – tweeted: “You know #theGreatAwakening is in full swing when the Australian Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP mentions #RitualAbuse,” a tweet read.

The article also says that Tim Stewart sent texts to a man apparently named Eliahi Priest, in which he wrote that “Scott is awakening”.

Hardaker was also kind enough to include a link to this page, noting that while Morrison’s “ritual” phrasing was “largely unremarked”, it had been “picked up by an international blogger who specialises in exposing religion-based conspiracy theories”.

A follow-up article by Hardaker further adds that Morrison’s use of the phrase “appears to run counter to advice given to him by survivors and government-appointed experts.”