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Satanic and/or Ritual Abuse and Related Issues

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Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) is

[t]he preferred term referring to charges that a group of individuals, assumed to be in association with a widespread conspiracy, practice physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse on unwilling victims in a ritualistic manner, especially in connection with a commitment to Satanism.
Definition from SRA Glossary on the Answers in Action site

Sometimes the term is used, incorrectly, as a catch-all for related issues, such as alleged or documented child abuse - including incest, molestation, mutilation, or other physical and/or psychological abuse, all with no connection to Satanism.

The "Ritual Abuse, Ritual Crime and Healing" site offers the following definitions of ritual- (not Satanic ritual) abuse:

[Broad definition]
Ritual abuse is the abuse of a child, weaker adult, or animal in a ritual setting or manner.

In a broad sense, many of our overtly or covertly socially sanctioned actions can be seen as ritual abuse, such as military basic training, hazing, racism, spanking children, and partner-battering.

Some abuse is private (Jeffrey Dahmer, for example), some public. Public ritual abuse may be either open or secret.

[Narrow definition]
The term ritual abuse is generally used to mean prolonged, extreme, sadistic abuse, especially of children, within a group setting. The group's ideology is used to justify the abuse, and abuse is used to teach the group's ideology. The activities are kept secret from society at large, as they violate norms and laws.

The same FAQ states:

Any ideology can be twisted or adapted to abusive ends. In the United States, Canada, and Europe, people have reported being ritually abused under the banner of satanism, Christianity, various pagan and pantheistic belief systems, white supremacy movements, nazism, Santeria, voodoo, etc. At the present time, satanism is either the most common ideology under which ritual abuse is practiced, or it is receiving the most attention.

However, in his critique of arguments often presented by those affirming the reality of SRA - Satanic ritual abuse, Christian apologist and cult expert Robert Bowman writes, stating the argument and then his reply:

6. SRA may be real, even if exaggerated by some
  1. Isolated crimes of abuse and murder by professed Satanists do occur, but this is not what is usually meant by SRA
  2. Until hard evidence of SRA is found, there is no reason to believe in it


"Ritual abuse" is one of the most-talked-about, rarest, and least-understood forms of alleged child maltreatment. Experts disagree about whether or not "ritual abuse" exists, the range of situations to include in the category, and the extent and significance of these situations. Some argue that the term "ritual abuse" should be abandoned because it confuses more than it clarifies. Many more questions than answers exist about this highly controversial topic.

It then gives a description of the general understanding of the term "ritual abuse," and states:

Experts have proposed that allegations often classified as "ritual abuse" might reflect three very different situations (Finkelhor & Williams, 1988):

The three situations, 1) Cult-based ritual abuse, 2) Pseudoritualistic abuse, and 3) Psychopathological ritualism, are briefly described (see the URL provided at the end of the quote), and continues with a section on "What is the evidence for 'ritual abuse'?"

Supervisory Special Agent Kenneth Lanning, MS, of the FBI, with extensive experience consulting on multi-victim, multi-perpetrator child sexual abuse cases, concluded that there is no evidence for a widespread satanic conspiracy perpetrating cult-based ritual abuse (Lanning, 1992). Other reputable nationwide studies support this conclusion (Bottoms, Shaver, & Goodman, in press).

Because professionals disagree about what constitutes "ritual abuse," and no mechanisms are in place at the local, state, or national levels to track reports of ritual abuse or to investigate the validity of ritual elements, no reliable data are available about its prevalence. A recent nationwide study has concluded that many allegations of abuse now referred to as "ritualistic" have nothing to do with supernatural beliefs, satanists, or organized cults (Bottoms, Shaver, & Goodman, in press).

In one national research study of sexual abuse in day care (Finkelhor & Williams, 1988), one or more ritual elements were alleged in 13% of cases. The researchers could not determine whether these allegations were true or false, or whether they might pertain to cult-based ritual abuse, pseudoritualistic abuse, or psychopathological ritualism.

Much more evidence exists for religion-related abuse (i.e., abuse driven by beliefs associated with non-satanic religions or perpetrated by someone with religious authority) than for "ritual abuse" (Bottoms, Shaver, Goodman, & Qin, in press). Religion-related abuse includes such acts as "beating the devil out of a child," abusive "exorcism" and "deliverance" ceremonies, sexual abuse by clergy, and religiously motivated medical neglect.

APSAC then answers the question of what child abuse professionals believe about ritual abuse:

Professionals are divided over whether or not "ritual abuse" occurs. Much of the controversy in the professional community would likely disappear with the introduction of a coherent, widely-accepted definition of "ritual abuse."

No reliable data are available on the prevalence of different beliefs about "ritual abuse" among professionals. However, in a nationwide study of thousands of interdisciplinary professionals, 11 percent of mental health professionals reported having encountered one or more allegations of child abuse that included ritual elements, as defined by the researchers. A very small group of clinicians (1.4 percent), each claiming to have treated scores of cases, accounted for most of the reports of ritualistic child abuse (Bottoms, Shaver, & Goodman, in press).

A very high percentage of professionals who encountered reports of ritual abuse from patients believed those reports, based largely on patients' strong affect and apparently abuse-related behavioral symptoms, even though other corroborative evidence was often lacking (Bottoms, Shaver, & Goodman, in press).

Under the heading, "What is the criminal justice system response to alleged 'ritual abuse'?" the fact sheet concludes by saying:

True accounts of abuse can include false elements that reflect fantasy on the part of victims, misinterpretation or suggestion by interveners, or deception by perpetrators. One of the most difficult challenges for child abuse professionals today is establishing criteria for distinguishing between true and false elements in accounts of abuse.

"Recovered" or False Memories

Undocumented allegations of ritual abuse, Satanic or otherwise, are often built solely on what therapists call "recovered memories," but which critics refer to as "false memories" - therapy-induced fantasies masquerading as memories that seem very real to the person being treated.

Unfortunately, this highly-emotional, highly-charged issue is further burdened by the fact that many supporters of Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT) tend to engage in sensationalism. In their reasoning, critics are seen as part of what they believe to be a cover-up or a widespread conspiracy. Usually, critics (regardless of their credentials), and well-documented reports are summarily dismissed, in favor of largely undocumented allusions to "inside" information which can not be shared with skeptics... The lack of evidence of Satanic crimes is often cited as further "evidence" of the "conspiracy."

Sadly, real cases of abuse do exists, including some committed by so-called "mad Satanists." However, RMT proponents often refer to isolated, documented cases of child abuse in support of their theories, even though most such cases have nothing to do with Satanism, "recovered" memories, or any form of ritualistic abuse. It should be noted, however, that perpetrators may "pretend" or "play-act" allegedly occult practices, or use "Satanism," "voices," etcetera as part of a legal defense.

The ritual abuse scare is the social creation of a late twentieth-century witch hunt. There is no verifiable evidence for claims about a Satanic cult ritual abuse conspiracy. However, there is abundant evidence that an increasing number of moral crusaders are creating a form of deviant behavior, which exists only in their preconceptions. The victims of this rush to judgement include children who are traumatized by the emotional over-reaction and repeated interrogations by well-meaning child protection workers. The victims include children who are taken away from parents who have been falsely accused of ritual sex abuse. Victims also include the parents who are imprisoned and often held with exorbitantly high bail for months before going to trial.

These allegations of Satanic cult ritual sex abuse also distort and confuse investigations of cases in which real sexual abuse has occurred, often resulting in such cases being thrown out of court.
Jeffrey S. Victor, Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend Peru, Ill.: Open Court Publishing Company, 1993. p. 117

"Child Savers"

In an article published by The Institute for Psychological Therapies, Thomas D. Oellerich addresses the problem of "child savers" - "professionals who, in their zeal to protect alleged child and adult victims of child sexual abuse, adversely impact the lives of individuals and families." Among the indicators for suspecting a professional may be a child saver, he lists includes the following:

The first indicator that a professional may be a child saver is when he or she becomes a proselytizer. This professional spreads the gospel of satanic ritual abuse, despite the absence of corroborative evidence for such allegations. Lanning (1991) reported that, despite intensive investigations over an eight-year period, law enforcement officials had found no credible evidence supporting allegations of ritual abuse. A five-year governmentally-funded study, conducted by Goodman, Qin, Bottoms, and Shaver (1994), concluded that hard evidence for satanic ritual abuse "was scant to nonexistent" (p. 6). And, more recently, Bottoms and Davis (1997) observed that there never were highly organized satanic ritual abuse cults in this country. They based this conclusion on their own surveys, the fact that the police and FBI agents have never found evidence of satanic ritual abuse, and the discrediting of and the recantations by alleged victims.

But the child savers firmly believe the claims of ritualistic abuse and continue to promulgate this notion (Goodman et al., 1994; Bottoms & Davis, 1997; Bottoms, Shaver, & Goodman, 1996). They reject reports as biased that do not corroborate the existence of satanic ritual abuse. The evidence, however, confirms the conclusion of the San Diego Grand Jury (1992, June), which investigated that county's child protective system and concluded that:

the existence of satanic ritual abuse is a contemporary myth perpetuated by a small number of social workers, therapists, and law enforcement members who ... cannot be dissuaded by a lack of physical evidence (p. 18).

This contemporary myth is far from benign. As Bottoms and Davis (1997) point out, those who become involved with these professionals may live the rest of their lives with a false, painful belief. And they may act on this belief with untold harm to innocent individuals. These are often parents who are subjected to misguided lawsuits and imprisonment for crimes they did not commit.
Identifying and Dealing with "Child Savers", Thomas D. Oellerich. IPT Journal, Vol. 10, 1998

Disturbing Questions

Clearly, then, the extremes of sensationalizing SRA-related issues on the one hand, and trivializing ritual abuse allegations on the other hand should be avoided. Cases should be evaluated on the strength or absence of the evidence. Any evidence should be evaluated on its merit. Alleged evidence based merely on so-called "recovered memories," and which is not corroborated with incontrovertible supporting evidence should be rejected.

It is estimated that 185 people were criminally charged in cases alleging satanic ritual abuse between 1983 and 1995 in this country; 113 of them were convicted, and over fifty of those people remain in prison today (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995). Similar cases were discovered in Canada, England, Scotland, Holland, and New Zealand, generating as much controversy as those in this country. The failure of law enforcement agencies and government task forces in this country and abroad to find any convincing corroborating evidence supporting these bizarre allegations has only served to heighten the controversy (LaFontane, 1994; Lanning, 1992; Rapport van werkgroep, 1994).

And so does the long-awaited empirical study by Goodman, Qin, Bottoms and Shaver (1994), funded by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. The researchers surveyed 6,910 clinical psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists, and 4,655 agencies, including departments of social services, county district attorneys offices, and municipal law enforcement agencies. Respondents reported 12,264 cases of suspected or alleged satanic ritual abuse involving children and adults. Although the vast majority of respondents believed that each case they reported to the researchers was a "real" case of satanic ritual abuse, they could offer very little, if any, evidence corroborating their belief. What evidence they could offer, such as visible scars on the bodies of their clients, could be accounted for with reasonable alternative explanations, such as self-injury. The researchers also found that there is little agreement between the allegations made by children and the recovered memories of adults; the former tended to talk about such archetypically frightening acts such as being confined in the dark with spiders and snakes, while the latter disclosed the kinds of horrific acts, like cannibalism, blood-drinking, and human sacrifice, which have come to typify the notion of satanic ritual abuse.

In the face of these findings, the researchers raised serious and disturbing questions about the nature and process of recovering traumatic memories, and about the suggestibility of children to repeated and leading questioning by adults seeking confirmation of their beliefs and fears. They also concluded that a richer understanding of the persistence of the belief in the reality of satanic ritual abuse in the absence of corroborating evidence will be found in a sociological analysis of this controversial issue.


Secular An analysis of ritualistic and religion-releated child abuse allegations Abstract only of an article ($) in Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1996, by Dr. Bette L. Bottoms, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo

A stratified random sample survey of clinical members of the American Psychological Association was conducted to determine the number and nature of cases involving alleged ritualistic and religion-related child abuse, whether reported directly by children or retrospectively by adults. Results indicated that only a minority of clinical psychologists have encountered ritual cases, but of those, the vast majority believe their clients' claims. Even so, the purported evidence for the allegations, especially in cases reported by adults claiming to have suffered the abuse during childhood, is questionable. Most clients who allege ritual abuse are diagnosed as having multiple personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, two increasingly popular, but controversial psychological diagnoses. Clinical and legal implications are discussed and a future research agenda is urged

Secular APSAC Fact Sheet: Ritual Abuse (Pro/Contra) published by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) See also APSAC's balanced review of "Satan's silence: The making of a modern American witch hunt."
Secular Creating Repressed Memories: A Case Example Terence W. Campbell (clinical psychologist)
Secular The Dark Truth about the "Dark Tunnels of McMartin" by the Institute for Psychological Therapies
Pluralistic Geraldo Rivera's influence on the Satanic Ritual Abuse and Recovered Memory Hoaxes. (Contra) Article at the OCRT site.
Christian The Hard Facts About Satanic Ritual Abuse (Contra) by Bob and Gretchen Passantino. Shows why they reject SRA stories.
Secular Identifying and Dealing with "Child Savers"
Pluralistic Investigator's Guide To Allegations of "Ritual" Child Abuse (Contra) by Kenneth V. Lanning, Supervisory Special Agent for the Behavioral Science Unit at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hosted on the OCRT site.
Secular Myths and Realities of Sexual Abuse Evaluation and Diagnosis: A Call for Judicial Guidelines by Demosthenes Lorandos (clinical psychologist and attorney) and Terence W. Campbell (clinical psychologist)
Secular The Power To Harm In February 1998, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published this series of stories regarding the so-called "Wenatchee Sex Ring." "The series documents overzealous -- even abusive -- actions by Perez and social service caseworkers, civil rights violations by judges and prosecutors as well as sloppy work by public defenders. Since then, many of the convicted have been freed by higher courts, largely through the work of The Innocence Project, a group of volunteer lawyers."
Secular A Retractor's Letter to Steven Hassan
Christian Satanic Ritual Abuse in Popular Christian Literature, Why Christians Fall for a Lie Searching for the Truth (Contra) by Bob and Gretchen Passantino.
Christian Satanism and Satanic Ritual Abuse Robert Bowman
Secular Sociological views on the controversial issue of Satanic Ritual Abuse: Three faces of the devil (Contra) by Mary deYoung, Ph.D., as published by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, Inc.
Secular Why Believe That For Which There Is No Good Evidence? (Contra) by Robyn M. Dawes, University Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This paper was presented at the Fourth Annual Convention of the American Psychology Society, San Diego, June 20, 1992.

This comprehensive resource helps the reader evaluate and understand children's statements in the courtroom. Noting that in many instances testimony is elicited from children using questionable techniques that may be damaging to both defendant and accused, Ceci and Bruck describe procedures that will ensure that interviews and analysis are conducted in a sensitive and professional manager.
Review at Amazon.com

Secular Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend (Contra) by Jeffrey S. Victor, professor of sociology at a branch of SUNY. He has published many articles on "rumor-panics." Well-documented

This important book drives a stake through the heart of the satanic panic, probably the most dangerous legend of out time... In clear, non-technical language, and drawing upon a wealth of solid data and reliable research, Victor's groundbreaking book dissects the current moral crusade against supposed 'satanism', and finds it to be a witch-hunt based on an urban legend script.
Jan Harold Brunvand, America's leading folklorist, Author of The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. Back cover.

...Pendergrast has written a well-researched and important book, and his findings should rightfully scare all of us. Pendergrast, it must be said, is not an objective reporter: his own daughters have accused him of abuse. His shock at their allegations sparked a personal crisis, leading to the writing of this book. Despite his conflict of interest, Pendergrast tries for evenhandedness, going so far as to offer in-their-own-words chapters by those with repressed memories and the therapists who treat them. But there is also a chapter from the "retractors", women who have realized that their memories of abuse were only products of their own imaginations.

Pendergrast's account of this controversial subject is wide ranging. He covers everything from the nature of memory and hypnosis to such related forms of sexual hysteria as the Salem witch trials to this country's growing cult of victimization. He also chronicles how abuse memories often lead to memories of ritual satanic abuse. His strongest and most effective assaults are reserved for the book The Courage to Heal, the bible of the repressed-memory movement, which informs readers that if you feel you've been abused, even if you don't remember the abuse, you probably have.
Ilene Cooper, Booklist, Copyright© 1995, American Library Association. Full review at Amazon.com


Secular Concerned Citizens for Legal Accountability "CCLA was formed in Wenatchee to call for an independent outside investigation of our local governmental agencies. Wenatchee's Police Department, CPS (Child Protection Service), Prosecuting Attorneys and Judges have, it would seem to us, aligned themselves in the prosecution of innocent people in the so called Wenatchee "Sex Ring"."
Secular The Institute for Psychological Therapies "IPT's primary work is related to allegations of child sexual abuse, but also deals with cases of sexual harassment, claims of recovered memories of childhood abuse, accusations of rape, allegations of improper sexual contact by professionals, forced and coerced confessions, false confessions, personal injury claims, insanity and diminished capacity, murder, mitigating factors in sentencing, custody, and medical and psychological malpractice."
Christian More Than Conquerers (Pro) "MTC is a series of online web and e-mail forums for survivors of ritual abuse, SRA, Mind Control, and/or those facing a dissociative condition. MTC provides peer group support for survivors and their significant others online. MTC also offers resources, referrals, for those seeking extended support or who are in need of more help than a peer support group can provide." MTC is operated a team of volunteers lead by Carrie Dawn, a Messianic Jew, who identifies herself as a "ritual abuse survivor." It has no religious affiliation, nor does it promote one. The name of the site is not in reference to a Bible verse, but refers to survivors of ritual abuse.
Secular Ritual Abuse, Ritual Crime, and Healing (Pro) "Ritual abuse is an extreme sadistic form of abuse of children and non-consenting adults. It is methodical, systematic sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, which often includes mind control, torture, and highly illegal and immoral activities such as murder, child pornography and prostitution. The abuse is justified by a religious or political ideology." This well-presented site appears to take a balanced approach to the issue, without getting stuck in conspiracy theories. It also does not focus on Satanic ritual abuse. Many sources for further study are provided.
Secular Satanic Cults and Ritual Abuse (Pro) Web site operated by online activist K. Curio Jones. Includes items on satanic ritual abuse, information about court cases, as well as a few references to Ms. Jones' ongoing battles with a number of individuals (also covered here) The approach is conspirational. There is talk of cover ups, front groups, misrepresentation and mischaracterization on the part of those who do not accept the concepts of Satanic Ritual Abuse and Recovered Memory. A more balanced approach (e.g. in news coverage) is preferred. Note: Several of these sites have been closed down. Ms. ''Jones'' has finally been exposed.
Christian Satanism and SRA (Contra) Part of Bob and Gretchen Passantino's Answers in Action site
Secular Witchhunt Information Page (CONTRA) Information about the modern version of the witch hunts: ritual (and pseudo ritual) sexual abuse trials and those who have been wrongfully imprisoned by them.

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