The headline writers have been busy, from the relatively restrained “'Witchcraft' abuse cases on the rise” on the BBC website through “Child abuse cases involving witchcraft and exorcism are on the rise, Scotland Yard has warned” in the Daily Mail to the less inhibited “Surge in number of child abuse cases involving witchcraft accusations” in the Independent; not to mention to the near hysterical “Mother bit child on face as ‘witchcraft’ abuse cases soar”, courtesy of London24 .
The truth of the matter is that fluctuations in small numbers are usually just that – fluctuations rather than trends. And because child abuse is generally under-reported any kind of initiative associated with a particular type of abuse, such as the Metropolitan Police’s Project Violet, is likely to uncover cases that would otherwise not have come to light.
We all have a responsibility to keep cool heads when it comes to trends in the prevalence and incidence of child abuse and neglect; and be especially careful not to stoke any kind of moral panic that might divert attention and resources from mainstream services.
Abusing children by accusing them of witchcraft and performing painful and frightening exorcism rituals on them are deplorable and disgusting forms of maltreatment, but nobody should suggest that we are experiencing a deluge of this type of abuse. Rather we are just learning more about it.