INVESTIGATOR'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS OF
by Kenneth V. Lanning, FBI Supervisory Special Agent
"RITUAL" CHILD ABUSE
Behavioral Science Unit, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime
Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Academy
Quantico, Virginia 22135
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. Historical Overview.
a. "Stranger Danger"
b. Intrafamilial Child Sexual Abuse.
c. Return to "Stranger Danger"
d. The Acquaintance Molester
e. Satanism: A New Form of "Stranger Danger"
3. Law Enforcement Training
a. What is Ritual?
b. What is "Ritual" Child Abuse?
c. What Makes a Crime Satanic, Occult, or Ritualistic?
5. Multidimensional Child Sex Rings
a. Dynamics of Cases
i. Multiple Young Victims
ii. Multiple Offenders
iii. Fear as a Controlling Tactic
iv. Bizarre or Ritualistic Activity
b. Characteristics of Multidimensional Child Sex Rings
i. Female Offenders
ii. Situational Molesters
iii. Male and Female Victims
iv. Multidimensional Motivation
v. Pornography and Paraphernalia
vi. Control through Fear
i. Adult Survivors
ii. Day Care Cases
iii. Family/Isolated Neighborhood Cases
iv. Custody/Visitation Disputes
d. Why Are Victims Alleging Things that Do Not Seem to be
6. Alternative Explanations
a. Pathological Distortion
b. Traumatic Memory
c. Normal Childhood Fears and Fantasy
d. Misperception, Confusion, and Trickery
e. Overzealous Intervenors
f. Urban Legends
7. Do Victims Lie About Sexual Abuse and Exploitation?
a. Personal Knowledge
b. Other Children or Victims
d. Suggestions and Leading Questions
e. Misperception and Confusion
f. Education and Awareness Programs
8. Law Enforcement Perspective
9. Investigating Multidimensional Child Sex Rings
a. Minimize Satanic/Occult Aspect
b. Keep Investigation and Religious Beliefs Separate
c. Listen to the Victims
d. Assess and Evaluate Victim Statements
e. Evaluate Contagion
f. Establish Communication with Parents
g. Develop a Contingency Plan
h. Multidisciplinary Task Forces
12. Suggested Reading
Since 1981 I have been assigned to the Behavioral Science
Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and have
specialized in studying all aspects of the sexual victimization
of children. The FBI Behavioral Science Unit provides
assistance to criminal justice professionals in the United
States and foreign countries. It attempts to develop practical
applications of the behavioral sciences to the criminal justice
system. As a result of training and research conducted by the
Unit and its successes in analyzing violent crime, many
professionals contact the Behavioral Science Unit for
assistance and guidance in dealing with violent crime,
especially those cases considered different, unusual, or
bizarre. This service is provided at no cost and is not limited
to crimes under the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI.
In 1983 and 1984, when I first began to hear stories of
what sounded like satanic or occult activity in connection with
allegations of sexual victimization of children (allegations
that have come to be referred to most often as "ritual" child
abuse), I tended to believe them. I had been dealing with
bizarre, deviant behavior for many years and had long since
realized that almost anything is possible. Just when you think
that you have heard it all, along comes another strange case.
The idea that there are a few cunning, secretive individuals in
positions of power somewhere in this country regularly killing
a few people as part of some satanic ritual or ceremony and
getting away with it is certainly within the realm of
possibility. But the number of alleged cases began to grow and
grow. We now have hundreds of victims alleging that thousands
of offenders are abusing and even murdering tens of thousands
of people as part of organized satanic cults, and there is
little or no corroborative evidence. The very reason many
"experts" cite for believing these allegations (i.e. many
victims, who never met each other, reporting the same events),
is the primary reason I began to question at least some aspects
of these allegations.
I have devoted more than seven years part-time, and eleven
years full-time, of my professional life to researching,
training, and consulting in the area of the sexual
victimization of children. The issues of child sexual abuse and
exploitation are a big part of my professional life's work. I
have no reason to deny their existence or nature. In fact I
have done everything I can to make people more aware of the
problem Some have even blamed me for helping to create the
hysteria that has led to these bizarre allegations. I can
accept no outside income and am paid the same salary by the FBI
whether or not children are abused and exploited - and whether
the number is one or one million. As someone deeply concerned
about and professionally committed to the issue, I did not
lightly question the allegations of hundreds of victims child
sexual abuse and exploitation.
In response to accusations by a few that I am a "satanist"
who has infiltrated the FBI to facilitate cover-up, how does
anyone (or should anyone have to) disprove such allegations?
Although reluctant to dignify such absurd accusations with a
reply, all I can say to those who have made such allegations
that they are wrong and to those who heard such allegations is
to carefully consider the source.
The reason I have taken the position I have is not because
I support or believe in "satanism," but because I sincerely
believe that my approach is the proper and most effective
investigative strategy. I believe that my approach is in the
best interest of victims of child sexual abuse. It would have
been easy to sit back, as many have, and say nothing publicly
about this controversy. I have spoken out and published on this
issue because I am concerned about the credibility of the child
sexual abuse issue and outraged that, in some cases,
individuals are getting away with molesting children because we
can't prove they are satanic devil worshippers who engage in
brainwashing, human sacrifice, and cannibalism as part of a
There are many valid perspectives from which to assess and
evaluate victim allegations of sex abuse and exploitation.
Parents may choose to believe simply because their children
make the claims. The level of proof necessary may be minimal
because the consequences of believing are within the family.
One parent correctly told me, "I believe what my child needs me
Therapists may choose to believe simply because their
professional assessment is that their patient believes the
victimization and describes it so vividly. The level of proof
necessary may be no more than therapeutic evaluation because
the consequences are between therapist and patient. No
independent corroboration may be required.
A social worker must have more real, tangible evidence of
abuse in order to take protective action and initiate legal
proceedings. The level of proof necessary must be higher
because the consequences (denial of visitation, foster care)
The law enforcement officer deals with the criminal
justice system. The levels of proof necessary are reasonable
suspicion, probable cause, and beyond a reasonable doubt
because the consequences (criminal investigation, search and
seizure, arrest, incarceration) are so great. This discussion
will focus primarily on the criminal justice system and the law
enforcement perspective. The level of proof necessary for
taking action on allegations of criminal acts must be more than
simply the victim alleged it and it is possible. This in no way
denies the validity and importance of the parental,
therapeutic, social welfare, or any other perspective of these
When, however, therapists and other professionals begin to
conduct training, publish articles, and communicate through the
media, the consequences become greater, and therefore the level
of proof must be greater. The amount of corroboration necessary
to act upon allegations of abuse is dependent upon the
consequences of such action. We need to be concerned about the
distribution and publication of unsubstantiated allegations of
bizarre sexual abuse. Information needs to be disseminated to
encourage communication and research about the phenomena. The
risks, however, of intervenor and victim "contagion" and public
hysteria are potential negative aspects of such dissemination.
Because of the highly emotional and religious nature of this
topic, there is a greater possibility that the spreading of
information will result in a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy.
If such extreme allegations are going to be disseminated
to the general public, they must be presented in the context of
being assessed and evaluated, at least, from the professional
perspective of the disseminator and, at best, also from the
professional perspective of relevant others. This is what I
will attempt to do in this discussion. The assessment and
evaluation of such allegations are areas where law enforcement,
mental health, and other professionals (anthropologists,
folklorists, sociologists, historians, engineers, surgeons,
etc.) may be of some assistance to each other in validating
these cases individually and in general.
2. HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
In order to attempt to deal with extreme allegations of
what constitute child sex rings, it is important to have an
historical perspective of society's attitudes about child
sexual abuse. I will provide a brief synopsis of recent
attitudes in the United States here, but those desiring more
detailed information about such societal attitudes,
particularly in other cultures and in the more distant past,
should refer to Florence Rush's book "The Best Kept Secret:
Sexual Abuse of Children" (1980) and Sander J. Breiner's book
"Slaughter of the Innocents" (1990).
Society's attitude about child sexual abuse and
exploitation can be summed up in one word: *denial*. Most
people do not want to hear about it and would prefer to pretend
that child sexual victimization just does not occur. Today,
however, it is difficult to pretend that it does not happen.
Stories and reports about child sexual victimization are daily
It is important for professionals dealing with child
sexual abuse to recognize and learn to manage this denial of a
serious problem. Professionals must overcome the denial and
encourage society to deal with, report, and prevent sexual
victimization of children.
Some professionals, however, in their zeal to make
American society more aware of this victimization, tend to
exaggerate the problem. Presentations and literature with
poorly documented or misleading claims about one in three
children being sexually molested, the $5 billion child
pornography industry, child slavery rings, and 50,000 stranger-
abducted children are not uncommon. The problem is bad enough;
it is not necessary to exaggerate it. Professionals should cite
reputable and scientific studies and note the sources of
information. If they do not, when the exaggerations and
distortions are discovered, their credibility and the
credibility of the issue are lost.
a. "STRANGER DANGER."
During the 1950s and 1960s the primary focus in the
literature and discussions on sexual abuse of children was on
"stranger danger" - the dirty old man in the wrinkled raincoat.
If one could not deny the existence of child sexual abuse, one
described victimization in simplistic terms of good and evil.
The "stranger danger" approach to preventing child sexual abuse
is clear-cut. We immediately know who the good guys and bad
guys are and what they look like.
The FBI distributed a poster that epitomized this
attitude. It showed a man, with his hat pulled down, hiding
behind a tree with a bag of candy in his hands. He was waiting
for a sweet little girl walking home from school alone. At the
top it read: "Boys and Girls, color the page, memorize the
rules." At the bottom it read: "For your protection, remember
to turn down gifts from strangers, and refuse rides offered by
strangers." The poster clearly contrasts the evil of the
offender with the goodness of the child victim.
The myth of the child molester as the dirty old man in the
wrinkled raincoat is now being reevaluated, based on what we
now know about the kinds of people who victimize children. The
fact is a child molester can look like anyone else and even be
someone we know and like.
There is another myth that is still with us and is far
less likely to be discussed. This is the myth of the child
victim as a completely innocent little girl walking down the
street minding her own business. It may be more important to
dispel this myth than the myth of the evil offender, especially
when talking about the sexual exploitation of children and
child sex rings. Child victims can be boys as well as girls,
and not all victims are little "angels."
Society seems to have a problem dealing with any sexual
abuse case in which the offender is not completely "bad" or the
victim is not completely "good." Child victims who, for
example, simply behave like human beings and respond to the
attention and affection of offenders by voluntarily and
repeatedly returning to the offender's home are troubling. It
confuses us to see the victims in child pornography giggling or
laughing. At professional conferences on child sexual abuse,
child prostitution is almost never discussed. It is the form of
sexual victimization of children most unlike the stereotype of
the innocent girl victim. Child prostitutes, by definition,
participate in and often initiate their victimization.
Furthermore child prostitutes and the participants in child sex
rings are frequently boys. One therapist recently told me that
a researcher's data on child molestation were misleading
because many of the child victims in question were child
prostitutes. This implies that child prostitutes are not "real"
child victims. In a survey by the "Los Angeles Times," only 37
percent of those responding thought that child prostitution
constituted child sexual abuse (Timnik, 1985). Whether or not
it seems fair, when adults and children have sex, the child is
always the victim.
b. INTRAFAMILIAL CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.
During the 1970s, primarily as a result of the women's
movement, society began to learn more about the sexual
victimization of children. We began to realize that most
children are sexually molested by someone they know who is
usually a relative - a father, step-father, uncle, grandfather,
older brother, or even a female relative. Some mitigate the
difficulty of accepting this by adopting the view that only
members of socio-economic groups other than theirs engage in
It quickly became apparent that warnings about not taking
gifts from strangers were not good enough to prevent child
sexual abuse. Consequently, we began to develop prevention
programs based on more complex concepts, such as good touching
and bad touching. the "yucky" feeling, and the child's right to
say no. These are not the kinds of things you can easily and
effectively communicate in fifty minutes to hundreds of kids
packed into a school auditorium. These are very difficult
issues, and programs must he carefully developed and evaluated.
In the late 1970s child sexual abuse became almost
synonymous with incest, and incest meant father-daughter sexual
relations. Therefore, the focus of child sexual abuse
intervention became father-daughter incest. Even today, the
vast majority of training materials, articles, and books on
this topic refer to child sexual abuse only in terms of
intrafamilial father-daughter incest.
Incest is, in fact, sexual relations between individuals
of any age too closely related to marry. It need not
necessarily involve an adult and a child, and it goes beyond
child sexual abuse. But more importantly child sexual abuse
goes beyond father-daughter incest. Intrafamilial incest
between an adult and child may be the most common form of child
sexual abuse, but it is not the only form.
The progress of the 1970s in recognizing that child sexual
abuse was not simply a result of "stranger danger" was an
important breakthrough in dealing with society's denial. The
battle, however, is not over. The persistent voice of society
luring us back to the more simple concept of "stranger danger"
may never go away. It is the voice of denial.
c. RETURN TO "STRANGER DANGER."
In the early 1980s the issue of missing children rose to
prominence and was focused primarily on the stranger abduction
of little children. Runaways, throwaways, noncustodial
abductions, nonfamily abductions of teenagers - all major
problems within the missing children's issue - were almost
forgotten. People no longer wanted to hear about good touching
and bad touching and the child's right to say "no." They wanted
to be told, in thirty minutes or less, how they could protect
their children from abduction by strangers. We were back to the
horrible but simple and clear-cut concept of "stranger danger."
In the emotional zeal over the problem of missing
children, isolated horror stories and distorted numbers were
sometimes used. The American public was led to believe that
most of the missing children had been kidnapped by pedophiles -
a new term for child molesters. The media, profiteers, and
well-intentioned zealots all played big roles in this hype and
hysteria over missing children.
d. THE ACQUAINTANCE MOLESTER.
Only recently has society begun to deal openly with a
critical piece in the puzzle of child sexual abuse -
acquaintance molestation. This seems to be the most difficult
aspect of the problem for us to face. People seem more willing
to accept a father or stepfather, particularly one from another
socio-economic group, as a child molester than a parish priest,
a next-door neighbor, a police officer, a pediatrician, an FBI
agent, or a Scout leader. The acquaintance molester, by
definition, is one of us. These kinds of molesters have always
existed, but our society has not been willing to accept that
Sadly, one of the main reasons that the criminal justice
system and the public were forced to confront the problem of
acquaintance molestation was the preponderance of lawsuits
arising from the negligence of many institutions.
One of the unfortunate outcomes of society's preference
for the "stranger danger" concept is what I call "say no, yell,
and tell" guilt. This is the result of prevention programs that
tell potential child victims to avoid sexual abuse by saying
no, yelling, and telling. This might work with the stranger
hiding behind a tree. Adolescent boys seduced by a Scout leader
or children who actively participate in their victimization
often feel guilty and blame themselves because they did not do
what they were "supposed" to do. They may feel a need to
describe their victimization in more socially acceptable but
sometimes inaccurate ways that relieve them of this guilt.
While American society has become increasingly more aware
of the problem of the acquaintance molester and related
problems such as child pornography, the voice calling us back
to "stranger danger" still persists.
e. SATANISM: A NEW FORM OF "STRANGER DANGER."
In today's version of "stranger danger," it is the satanic
devil worshipers who are snatching and victimizing the
children. Many who warned us in the early 1980s about
pedophiles snatching fifty thousand kids a year now contend
they were wrong only about who was doing the kidnapping, not
about the number abducted. This is again the desire for the
simple and clear-cut explanation for a complex problem.
For those who know anything about criminology, one of the
oldest theories of crime is demonology: The devil makes you do
it. This makes it even easier to deal with the child molester
who is the "pillar of the community." It is not his fault; it
is not our fault. There is no way we could have known; the
devil made him do it. This explanation has tremendous appeal
because, like "stranger danger," it presents the clear-cut,
black-and-white struggle between good and evil as the
explanation for child abduction, exploitation, and abuse.
In regard to satanic "ritual" abuse, today we may not be
where we were with incest in the 1960s, but where we were with
missing children in the early 1980s. The best data now
available (the 1990 "National Incidence Studies on Missing,
Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children in America")
estimate the number of stereotypical child abductions at
between 200 and 300 a year, and the number of stranger
abduction homicides of children at between 43 and 147 a year.
Approximately half of the abducted children are teenagers.
Today's facts are significantly different from yesterday's
perceptions, and those who exaggerated the problem, however
well-intentioned, have lost credibility and damaged the reality
of the problem.
3. LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINING
The belief that there is a connection between satanism and
crime is certainly not new. As previously stated, one of the
oldest theories concerning the causes of crime is demonology.
Fear of satanic or occult activity has peaked from time to time
throughout history. Concern in the late 1970s focused primarily
on "unexplained" deaths and mutilations of animals, and in
recent years has focused on child sexual abuse and the alleged
human sacrifice of missing children. In 1999 it will probably
focus on the impending "end of the world."
Today satanism and a wide variety of other terms are used
interchangeably in reference to certain crimes. This discussion
will analyze the nature of "satanic, occult, ritualistic" crime
primarily as it pertains to the abuse of children and focus on
appropriate *law enforcement* responses to it.
Recently a flood of law enforcement seminars and
conferences have dealt with satanic and ritualistic crime.
These training conferences have various titles, such as "Occult
in Crime," "Satanic Cults," 'Ritualistic Crime Seminar,"
"Satanic Influences in Homicide," "Occult Crimes, Satanism and
Teen Suicide," and "Ritualistic Abuse of Children."
The typical conference runs from one to three days, and
many of them include the same presenters and instructors. A
wide variety of topics are usually discussed during this
training either as individual presentations by different
instructors or grouped together by one or more instructors.
Typical topics covered include the following:
-- Historical overview of satanism,
witchcraft, and paganism from ancient to
-- Nature and influence of fantasy role-
playing games, such as "Dungeons and
-- Lyrics, symbolism, and influence of rock
and roll, Heavy Metal, and Black Metal
-- Teenage "stoner" gangs, their symbols, and
-- Teenage suicide by adolescents dabbling in
-- Crimes committed by self-styled satanic
practitioners, including grave and church
desecrations and robberies, animal
mutilations, and even murders.
-- Ritualistic abuse of children as part of
bizarre ceremonies and human sacrifices.
-- Organized, Traditional, or
Multigenerational satanic groups involved
in organized conspiracies, such as taking
over day care centers, infiltrating police
departments, and trafficking in human
-- The "Big Conspiracy" theory, which implies
that satanists are responsible for such
things as Adolph Hitler, World War II,
abortion, illegal drugs, pornography,
Watergate, and Irangate, and have
infiltrated the Department of Justice, the
Pentagon, and the White House.
During the conferences, these nine areas are linked
together through the liberal use of the word "satanism" and
some common symbolism (pentagrams, 666, demons, etc.). The
implication often is that all are part of a continuum of
behavior, a single problem or some common conspiracy. The
distinctions among the different areas are blurred even if
occasionally a presenter tries to make them. The information
presented is a mixture of fact, theory, opinion, fantasy, and
paranoia, and because some of it can be proven or corroborated
(symbols on rock albums, graffiti on walls, desecration of
cemeteries, vandalism, etc.), the implication is that it is all
true and documented. Material produced by religious
organizations, photocopies and slides of newspaper articles,
and videotapes of tabloid television programs are used to
supplement the training and are presented as "evidence" of the
existence and nature of the problem.
All of this is complicated by the fact that almost any
discussion of satanism and the occult is interpreted in the
light of the religious beliefs of those in the audience. Faith,
not logic and reason, governs the religious beliefs of most
people. As a result, some normally skeptical law enforcement
officers accept the information disseminated at these
conferences without critically evaluating it or questioning the
sources. Officers who do not normally depend on church groups
for law enforcement criminal intelligence, who know that media
accounts of their own cases are notoriously inaccurate, and who
scoff at and joke about tabloid television accounts of bizarre
behavior suddenly embrace such material when presented in the
context of satanic activity. Individuals not in law enforcement
seem even more likely to do so. Other disciplines, especially
therapists, have also conducted training conferences on the
characteristics and identification of "ritual" child abuse.
Nothing said at such conferences will change the religious
beliefs of those in attendance. Such conferences illustrate the
highly emotional nature of and the ambiguity and wide variety
of terms involved in this issue.
The words "satanic," "occult," and "ritual" are often used
interchangeably. It is difficult to define "satanism"
precisely. No attempt will be made to do so here However, it is
important to realize that, for some people, any religious
belief system other than their own is "satanic." The Ayatollah
Khomeini and Saddam Hussein referred to the United States as
the "Great Satan." In the British Parliament a Protestant
leader called the Pope the Antichrist. In a book titled
"Prepare For War" (1987), Rebecca Brown, M.D. has a chapter
entitled "Is Roman Catholicism Witchcraft?" Dr. Brown also
lists among the "doorways" to satanic power and/or demon
infestation the following: fortune tellers, horoscopes,
fraternity oaths, vegetarianism, yoga, self-hypnosis,
relaxation tapes, acupuncture, biofeedback, fantasy role-
playing games, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, judo,
karate, and rock music. Dr. Brown states that rock music "was a
carefully masterminded plan by none other than Satan himself"
(p. 84). The ideas expressed in this book may seem extreme and
even humorous. This book, however, has been recommended as a
serious reference in law enforcement training material on this
In books, lectures, handout material, and conversations, I
have heard all of the following referred to as satanism:
-- Church of Satan
-- Ordo Templi Orientis
-- Temple of Set
-- Knights Templar
-- Stoner Gangs
-- Heavy Metal Music
-- Rock Music
-- Unification Church
-- The Way
-- Hare Krishna
-- Religious Cults
-- New Age
-- Transcendental Meditation
-- Holistic Medicine
-- Orthodox Church
-- Roman Catholicism
At law enforcement training conferences, it is witchcraft,
santeria, paganism, and the occult that are most often referred
to as forms of satanism. It may be a matter of definition, but
these things are not necessarily the same as traditional
satanism. The worship of lunar goddesses and nature and the
practice of fertility rituals are not satanism. Santeria is a
combination of 17th century Roman Catholicism and African
Occult means simply "hidden." All unreported or unsolved
crimes might be regarded as occult, but in this context the
term refers to the action or influence of supernatural powers,
some secret knowledge of them, or an interest in paranormal
phenomena, and does not imply satanism, evil, wrongdoing, or
crime. Indeed, historically, the principal crimes deserving of
consideration as "occult crimes" are the frauds perpetrated by
faith healers, fortune tellers and "psychics" who for a fee
claim cures, arrange visitations with dead loved ones, and
commit other financial crimes against the gullible.
Many individuals define satanism from a totally Christian
perspective, using this word to describe the power of evil in
the world. With this definition, any crimes, especially those
which are particularly bizarre, repulsive, or cruel, can be
viewed as satanic in nature. Yet it is just as difficult to
precisely define satanism as it is to precisely define
Christianity or any complex spiritual belief system.
a. WHAT IS RITUAL?
The biggest confusion is over the word "ritual." During
training conferences on this topic, ritual almost always comes
to mean "satanic" or at least "spiritual." "Ritual" can refer
to a prescribed religious ceremony, but in its broader meaning
refers to any customarily-repeated act or series of acts. The
need to repeat these acts can be cultural, sexual, or
psychological as well as spiritual.
Cultural rituals could include such things as what a
family eats on Thanksgiving Day, or when and how presents are
opened at Christmas. The initiation ceremonies of fraternities,
sororities, gangs, and other social clubs are other examples of
Since 1972 I have lectured about sexual ritual, which is
nothing more than repeatedly engaging in an act or series of
acts in a certain manner because of a *sexual* need. In order
to become aroused and/or gratified, a person must engage in the
act in a certain way. This sexual ritual can include such
things as the physical characteristics, age, or gender of the
victim, the particular sequence of acts, the bringing or taking
of specific objects, and the use of certain words or phrases.
This is more than the concept of M.O. (Method of Operation)
known to most police officers. M.O. is something done by an
offender because it works. Sexual ritual is something done by
an offender because of a need. Deviant acts, such as urinating
on, defecating on, or even eviscerating a victim, are far more
likely to be the result of sexual ritual than religious or
From a criminal investigative perspective, two other forms
of ritualism must be recognized. The "Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-III-R) (APA, 1987)
defines "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder" as "repetitive,
purposeful, and intentional behaviors that are performed in
response to an obsession, or according to certain rules or in a
stereotyped fashion" (p. 247). Such compulsive behavior
frequently involves rituals. Although such behavior usually
involves noncriminal activity such as excessive hand washing or
checking that doors are locked, occasionally compulsive
ritualism can be part of criminal activity. Certain gamblers or
firesetters, for example, are thought by some authorities to be
motivated in part through such compulsions. Ritual can also
stem from psychotic hallucinations and delusions. A crime can
be committed in a precise manner because a voice told the
offender to do it that way or because a divine mission required
To make this more confusing, cultural, religious, sexual,
and psychological ritual can overlap. Some psychotic people are
preoccupied with religious delusions and hear the voice of God
or Satan telling them to do things of a religious nature.
Offenders who feel little, if any, guilt over their crimes may
need little justification for their antisocial behavior. As
human beings, however, they may have fears, concerns, and
anxiety over getting away with their criminal acts. It is
difficult to pray to God for success in doing things that are
against His Commandments. A negative spiritual belief system
may fulfill their human need for assistance from and belief in
a greater power or to deal with their superstitions. Compulsive
ritualism (e.g., excessive cleanliness or fear of disease) can
be introduced into sexual behavior. Even many "normal" people
have a need for order and predictability and therefore may
engage in family or work rituals. Under stress or in times of
change, this need for order and ritual may increase.
Ritual crime may fulfill the cultural, spiritual, sexual,
and psychological needs of an offender. Crimes may be
ritualistically motivated or may have ritualistic elements. The
ritual behavior may also fulfill basic criminal needs to
manipulate victims, get rid of rivals, send a message to
enemies, and intimidate co-conspirators. The leaders of a group
may want to play upon the beliefs and superstitions of those
around them and try to convince accomplices and enemies that
they, the leaders, have special or "supernatural" powers.
The important point for the criminal investigator is to
realize that most ritualistic criminal behavior is not
motivated simply by satanic or any religious ceremonies. At
some conferences, presenters have attempted to make an issue of
distinguishing between "ritual," "ritualized," and
"ritualistic" abuse of children. These subtle distinctions,
however, seem to be of no significant value to the criminal
c. WHAT IS "RITUAL" CHILD ABUSE?
I cannot define "ritual child abuse" precisely and prefer
not to use the term. I am frequently forced to use it (as
throughout this discussion) so that people will have some idea
what I am discussing. Use of the term, however, is confusing,
misleading, and counterproductive. The newer term "satanic
ritual abuse" (abbreviated "SRA") is even worse. Certain
observations, however, are important for investigative
Most people today use the term to refer to abuse of
children that is part of some evil spiritual belief system,
which almost by definition must be satanic.
Dr. Lawrence Pazder, coauthor of "Michelle Remembers,"
defines "ritualized abuse of children" as "repeated physical,
emotional, mental, and spiritual assaults combined with a
systematic use of symbols and secret ceremonies designed to
turn a child against itself, family, society, and God"
(presentation, Richmond, Va., May 7,1987). He also states that
"the sexual assault has ritualistic meaning and is not for
This definition may have value for academics,
sociologists, and therapists, but it creates potential problems
for law enforcement. Certain acts engaged in with children
(i.e. kissing, touching, appearing naked, etc.) may be criminal
if performed for sexual gratification. If the ritualistic acts
were in fact performed for spiritual indoctrination, potential
prosecution can be jeopardized, particularly if the acts can be
defended as constitutionally protected religious expression.
The mutilation of a baby's genitals for sadistic sexual
pleasure is a crime. The circumcision of a baby's genitals for
religious reasons is most likely *not* a crime. The intent of
the acts is important for criminal prosecution.
Not all spiritually motivated ritualistic activity is
satanic. Santeria, witchcraft, voodoo, and most religious cults
are not satanism. In fact, most spiritually- or religiously-
based abuse of children has nothing to do with satanism. Most
child abuse that could be termed "ritualistic" by various
definitions is more likely to be physical and psychological
rather than sexual in nature. If a distinction needs to be made
between satanic and nonsatanic child abuse, the indicators for
that distinction must be related to specific satanic symbols,
artifacts, or doctrine rather than the mere presence of any
Not all such ritualistic activity with a child is a crime.
Almost all parents with religious beliefs indoctrinate their
children into that belief system. Is male circumcision for
religious reasons child abuse? Is the religious circumcision of
females child abuse? Does having a child kneel on a hard floor
reciting the rosary constitute child abuse? Does having a child
chant a satanic prayer or attend a black mass constitute child
abuse? Does a religious belief in corporal punishment
constitute child abuse? Does group care of children in a
commune or cult constitute child abuse? Does the fact that any
acts in question were performed with parental permission affect
the nature of the crime? Many ritualistic acts, whether satanic
or not, are simply not crimes. To open the Pandora's box of
labeling child abuse as "ritualistic" simply because it
involves a spiritual belief system means to apply the
definition to all acts by all spiritual belief systems. The day
may come when many in the forefront of concern about ritual
abuse will regret they opened the box.
When a victim describes and investigation corroborates
what sounds like ritualistic activity. several possibilities
must be considered. The ritualistic activity may be part of the
excessive religiosity of mentally disturbed, even psychotic
offenders. It may be a misunderstood part of sexual ritual. The
ritualistic activity may be incidental to any real abuse. The
offender may be involved in ritualistic activity with a child
and also may be abusing a child, but one may have little or
nothing to do with the other.
The offender may be deliberately engaging in ritualistic
activity with a child as part of child abuse and exploitation.
The motivation, however, may be not to indoctrinate the child
into a belief system, but to lower the inhibitions of, control,
manipulate, and/or confuse the child. In all the turmoil over
this issue, it would be very effective strategy for any child
molester deliberately to introduce ritualistic elements into
his crime in order to confuse the child and therefore the
criminal justice system. This would, however, make the activity
M.O. and not ritual.
The ritualistic activity and the child abuse may be
integral parts of some spiritual belief system. In that case
the greatest risk is to the children of the practitioners. But
this is true of all cults and religions, not just satanic
cults. A high potential of abuse exists for any children raised
in a group isolated from the mainstream of society, especially
if the group has a charismatic leader whose orders are
unquestioned and blindly obeyed by the members. Sex, money, and
power are often the main motivations of the leaders of such
c. WHAT MAKES A CRIME SATANIC, OCCULT, OR RITUALISTIC?
Some would answer that it is the offender's spiritual
beliefs or membership in a cult or church. If that is the
criterion, why not label the crimes committed by Protestants,
Catholics, and Jews in the same way? Are the atrocities of Jim
Jones in Guyana Christian crimes?
Some would answer that it is the presence of certain
symbols in the possession or home of the perpetrator. What does
it mean then to find a crucifix, Bible, or rosary in the
possession or home of a bank robber, embezzler, child molester,
or murderer? If different criminals possess the same symbols,
are they necessarily part of one big conspiracy?
Others would answer that it is the presence of certain
symbols such as pentagrams, inverted crosses, and 666 at the
crime scene. What does it mean then to find a cross spray
painted on a wall or carved into the body of a victim? What
does it mean for a perpetrator, as in one recent case profiled
by my Unit, to leave a Bible tied to his murder victim? What
about the possibility that an offender deliberately left such
symbols to make it look like a "satanic" crime?
Some would argue that it is the bizarreness or cruelness
of the crime: body mutilation, amputation, drinking of blood,
eating of flesh, use of urine or feces. Does this mean that all
individuals involved in lust murder, sadism, vampirism,
cannibalism, urophilia, and coprophilia are satanists or occult
practitioners? What does this say about the bizarre crimes of
psychotic killers such as Ed Gein or Richard Trenton Chase,
both of whom mutilated their victims as part of their psychotic
delusions? Can a crime that is not sexually deviant, bizarre,
or exceptionally violent be satanic? Can white collar crime be
A few might even answer that it is the fact that the crime
was committed on a date with satanic or occult significance
(Halloween, May Eve, etc.) or the fact that the perpetrator
claims that Satan told him to commit the crime. What does this
mean for crimes committed on Thanksgiving or Christmas? What
does this say about crimes committed by perpetrators who claim
that God or Jesus told them to do it? One note of interest is
the fact that in handout and reference material I have
collected, the number of dates with satanic or occult
significance ranges from 8 to 110. This is compounded by the
fact that it is sometimes stated that satanists can celebrate
these holidays on several days on either side of the official
date or that the birthdays of practitioners can also be
holidays. The exact names and exact dates of the holidays and
the meaning of symbols listed may also vary depending on who
prepared the material The handout material is often distributed
without identifying the author or documenting the original
source of the information. It is then frequently photocopied by
attendees and passed on to other police officers with no one
really knowing its validity or origin.
Most, however, would probably answer that what makes a
crime satanic, occult, or ritualistic is the motivation for the
crime. It is a crime that is spiritually motivated by a
religious belief system. How then do we label the following
-- Parents defy a court order and send their
children to an unlicensed Christian school.
-- Parents refuse to send their children to
any school because they are waiting for the
second coming of Christ.
-- Parents beat their child to death because
he or she will not follow their Christian
-- Parents violate child labor laws because
they believe the Bible requires such work.
-- Individuals bomb an abortion clinic or
kidnap the doctor because their religious
belief system says abortion is murder.
-- A child molester reads the Bible to his
victims in order to justify his sex acts
-- Parents refuse life-saving medical
treatment for a child because of their
-- Parents starve and beat their child to
death because their minister said the child
was possessed by demonic spirits.
Some people would argue that the Christians who committed
the above crimes misunderstood and distorted their religion
while satanists who commit crimes are following theirs. But who
decides what constitutes a misinterpretation of a religious
belief system? The individuals who committed the above-
described crimes, however misguided, believed that they were
following their religion as they understood it. Religion was
and is used to justify such social behavior as the Crusades,
the Inquisition, Apartheid, segregation, and recent violence in
Northern Ireland, India, Lebanon and Nigeria.
Who decides exactly what "satanists" believe? In this
country, we cannot even agree on what Christians believe. At
many law enforcement conferences The "Satanic Bible" is used
for this, and it is often contrasted or compared with the
Judeo-Christian Bible. The "Satanic Bible" is, in essence, a
short paperback book written by one man, Anton LaVey, in 1969.
To compare it to a book written by multiple authors over a
period of thousands of years is ridiculous, even ignoring the
possibility of Divine revelation in the Bible. What satanists
believe certainly isn't limited to other people's
interpretation of a few books. More importantly it is subject
to some degree of interpretation by individual believers just
as Christianity is. Many admitted "satanists" claim they do not
even believe in God, the devil, or any supreme deity. The
criminal behavior of one person claiming belief in a religion
does not necessarily imply guilt or blame to others sharing
that belief. In addition, simply claiming membership in a
religion does not necessarily make you a member.
The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been
committed by zealots in the name of God, Jesus, Mohammed, and
other mainstream religion than has ever been committed in the
name of Satan. Many people, including myself, don't like that
statement, but the truth of it is undeniable.
Although defining a crime as satanic, occult, or
ritualistic would probably involve a combination of the
criteria set forth above, I have been unable to clearly define
such a crime. Each potential definition presents a different
set of problems when measured against an objective, rational,
and constitutional perspective. In a crime with multiple
subjects, each offender may have a different motivation for the
same crime. Whose motivation determines the label for the
crime? It is difficult to count or track something you cannot
I have discovered, however, that the facts of so-called
"satanic crimes" are often significantly different from what is
described st training conferences or in the media. The actual
involvement of satanism or the occult in these cases usually
turns out to be secondary, insignificant, or nonexistent.
Occult or ritual crime surveys done by the states of Michigan
(1990) and Virginia (1991) have only confirmed this
"discovery." Some law enforcement officers, unable to find
serious "satanic" crime in their communities, assume they are
just lucky or vigilant and the serious problems must be in
other jurisdictions. The officers in the other jurisdictions,
also unable find it, assume the same.
5. MULTlDlMENSlONAL CHILD SEX RINGS
Sometime in early 1983 I was first contacted by a law
enforcement agency for guidance in what was then thought to be
an unusual case. The exact date of the contact is unknown
because its significance was not recognized at the time. In the
months and years that followed, I received more and more
inquiries about "these kinds of cases." The requests for
assistance came (and continue to come) from all over the United
States. Many of the aspects of these cases varied, but there
were also some commonalties. Early on, however, one
particularly difficult and potentially significant issue began
These cases involved and continue to involve
unsubstantiated allegations of bizarre activity that are
difficult either to prove or disprove. Many of the
unsubstantiated allegations, however, do not seem to have
occurred or even be possible. These cases seem to call into
question the credibility of victims of child sexual abuse and
exploitation. These are the most polarizing, frustrating, and
baffling cases I have encountered in more than 18 years of
studying the criminal aspects of deviant sexual behavior. I
privately sought answers, but said nothing publicly about those
cases until 1985.
In October 1984 the problems in investigating and
prosecuting one of these cases in Jordan, Minnesota became
publicly known. In February 1985, at the FBI Academy, the FBI
sponsored and I coordinated the first national seminar held to
study "these kinds of cases." Later in 1985, similar
conferences sponsored by other organizations were held in
Washington, D.C.; Sacramento, California; and Chicago,
Illinois. These cases have also been discussed at many recent
regional and national conferences dealing with the sexual
victimization of children and Multiple Personality Disorder.
Few answers have come from these conferences. I continue to be
contacted on these cases on a regular basis. Inquiries have
been received from law enforcement officers, prosecutors,
therapists, victims, families of victims, and the media from
all over the United States and now foreign countries. I do not
claim to understand completely all the dynamics of these cases.
I continue to keep an open mind and to search for answers to
the questions and solutions to the problems they pose. This
discussion is based on my analysis of the several hundred of
"these kinds of cases" on which I have consulted since 1983.
a. DYNAMICS OF CASES.
What are "these kinds of cases"? They were and continue to
be difficult to define. They all involve allegations of what
sounds like child sexual abuse, but with a combination of some
atypical dynamics. These cases seem to have the following four
dynamics in common: (1) multiple young victims, (2) multiple
offenders, (3) fear as the controlling tactic, and (4) bizarre
or ritualistic activity.
(1) MULTIPLE YOUNG VICTIMS.
In almost all the cases the sexual abuse was alleged to
have taken place or at least begun when the victims were
between the ages of birth and six. This very young age may be
an important key to understanding these cases. In addition the
victims all described multiple children being abused. The
numbers ranged from three or four to as many as several hundred
(2) MULTIPLE OFFENDERS.
In almost all the cases the victims reported numerous
offenders. The numbers ranged from two or three all the way up
to dozens of offenders. In one recent case the victims alleged
400-500 offenders were involved. Interestingly many of the
offenders (perhaps as many as 40-50 percent) were reported to
be females. The multiple offenders were often family members
and were described as being part of a cult, occult, or satanic
(3) FEAR AS CONTROLLING TACTIC.
Child molesters in general are able to maintain control
and ensure the secrecy of their victims in a variety of ways.
These include attention and affection, coercion, blackmail,
embarrassment, threats, and violence. In almost all of these
cases I have studied, the victims described being frightened
and reported threats against themselves, their families, their
friends, and even their pets. They reported witnessing acts of
violence perpetrated to reinforce this fear. It is my belief
that this fear and the traumatic memory of the events may be
another key to understanding many of these cases.
(4) BIZARRE OR RITUALISTIC ACTIVITY.
This is the most difficult dynamic of these cases to
describe. "Bizarre" is a relative term. Is the use of urine or
feces in sexual activity bizarre, or is it a well-documented
aspect of sexual deviancy, or is it part of established satanic
rituals? As previously discussed, the ritualistic aspect is
even more difficult to define. How do you distinguish acts
performed in a precise manner to enhance or allow sexual
arousal from those acts that fulfill spiritual needs or comply
with "religious" ceremonies? Victims in these cases report
ceremonies, chanting, robes and costumes, drugs, use of urine
and feces, animal sacrifice, torture, abduction, mutilation,
murder, and even cannibalism and vampirism. All things
considered, the word "bizarre" is probably preferable to the
word "ritual" to describe this activity.
When I was contacted on these cases, it was very common
for a prosecutor or investigator to say that the alleged
victims have been evaluated by an "expert" who will stake his
or her professional reputation on the fact that the victims are
telling the "truth." When asked how many cases this expert had
previously evaluated involving these four dynamics, the answer
was always the same: none! The experts usually had only dealt
with one-on-one intrafamilial sexual abuse cases. Recently an
even more disturbing trend has developed. More and more of the
victims have been identified or evaluated by experts who have
been trained to identify and specialize in satanic ritual
b. CHARACTERISTICS OF MULTIDIMENSIONAL CHILD SEX RINGS.
As previously stated, a major problem in communicating,
training, and researching in this area is the term used to
define "these kinds of cases." Many refer to them as "ritual,
ritualistic, or ritualized abuse of children cases" or "satanic
ritual abuse (SRA) cases." Such words carry specialized
meanings for many people and might imply that all these cases
are connected to occult or satanic activity. If ritual abuse is
not necessarily occult or satanic, but is "merely" severe,
repeated, prolonged abuse, why use a term that, in the minds of
so many, implies such specific motivation?
Others refer to these cases as "multioffender/multivictim
cases." The problem with this term is that most multiple
offender and victim cases do not involve the four dynamics
For want of a better term, I have decided to refer to
"these kinds of cases" as "multidimensional child sex rings."
Right now I seem to be the only one using this term. I am,
however, not sure if this is truly a distinct kind of child sex
ring case or just a case not properly handled. Following are
the general characteristics of these multidimensional child sex
ring cases as contrasted with more common historical child sex
ring cases [see my monograph "Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral
Analysis] (1989) for a discussion of the characteristics of
historical child sex ring cases].
(1) FEMALE OFFENDERS.
As many as 40-50 percent of the offenders in these cases
are reported to be women. This is in marked contrast to
historical child sex rings in which almost all the offenders
(2) SITUATIONAL MOLESTERS.
The offenders appear to be sexually interacting with the
child victims for reasons other than a true sexual preference
for children. The children are substitute victims, and the
abusive activity may have little to do with pedophilia [see my
monograph "Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis" (1987) for a
further explanation about types of molesters].
(3) MALE AND FEMALE VICTIMS.
Both boys and girls appear to be targeted, but with an
apparent preference for girls. Almost all the adult survivors
are female, but day care cases frequently involve male as well
as female victims. The most striking characteristic of the
victims, however, is their young age (generally birth to six
years old when the abuse began).
(4) MULTIDIMENSIONAL MOTIVATION.
Sexual gratification appears to be only part of the
motivation for the "sexual" activity. Many people today argue
that the motivation is "spiritual" - possibly part of an occult
ceremony. It is my opinion that the motivation may have more to
do with anger, hostility, rage and resentment carried out
against weak and vulnerable victims. Much of the ritualistic
abuse of children may not be sexual in nature. Some of the
activity may, in fact, be physical abuse directed at sexually-
significant body parts (penis, anus, nipples). This may also
partially explain the large percentage of female offenders.
Physical abuse of children by females is well-documented.
(5) PORNOGRAPHY AND PARAPHERNALIA.
Although many of the victims of multidimensional child sex
rings claim that pictures and videotapes of the activity were
made, no such visual record has been found by law enforcement.
In recent years, American law enforcement has seized large
amounts of child pornography portraying children in a wide
variety of sexual activity and perversions. None of it,
however, portrays the kind of bizarre and/or ritualistic
activity described by these victims. Perhaps these offenders
use and store their pornography and paraphernalia in ways
different from preferential child molesters (pedophiles). This
is an area needing additional research and investigation.
(6) CONTROL THROUGH FEAR.
Control through fear may be the overriding characteristic
of these cases. Control is maintained by frightening the
children. A very young child might not be able to understand
the significance of much of the sexual activity but certainly
understands fear. The stories that the victims tell may be
their perceived versions of severe traumatic memories. They may
be the victims of a severely traumatized childhood in which
being sexually abused was just one of the many negative events
affecting their lives.
Multidimensional child sex rings typically emerge from one
of four scenarios: (1) adult survivors, (2) day care cases, (3)
family/isolated neighborhood cases, and (4) custody/visitation
(1) ADULT SURVIVORS.
In adult survivor cases, adults of almost any age - nearly
always women - are suffering the consequences of a variety of
personal problems and failures in their lives (e.g.,
promiscuity, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, failed
relationships, self-mutilation, unemployment). As a result of
some precipitating stress or crisis, they often seek therapy.
They are frequently hypnotized, intentionally or
unintentionally, as part of the therapy and are often diagnosed
as suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. Gradually,
during the therapy, the adults reveal previously unrecalled
memories of early childhood victimization that includes
multiple victims and offenders, fear as the controlling tactic,
and bizarre or ritualistic activity. Adult survivors may also
claim that "cues" from certain events in their recent life
"triggered" the previously repressed memories.
The multiple offenders are often described as members of a
cult or satanic group. Parents, family members, clergy, civic
leaders, police officers (or individuals wearing police
uniforms), and other prominent members of society are
frequently described as present at and participating in the
exploitation. The alleged bizarre activity often includes
insertion of foreign objects, witnessing mutilations, and
sexual acts and murders being filmed or photographed. The
offenders may allegedly still be harassing or threatening the
victims. They report being particularly frightened on certain
dates and by certain situations. In several of these cases,
women (called "breeders") claim to have had babies that were
turned over for human sacrifice. This type of case is probably
best typified by books like "Michelle Remembers" (Smith &
Pazder, 1980), "Satan's Underground" (Stratford, 1988), and
"Satan's Children" (Mayer, 1991).
If and when therapists come to believe the patient or
decide the law requires it, the police or FBI are sometimes
contacted to conduct an investigation. The therapists may also
fear for their safety because they now know the "secret." The
therapists will frequently tell law enforcement that they will
stake their professional reputation on the fact that their
patient is telling the truth. Some adult survivors go directly
to law enforcement. They may also go from place to place in an
effort to find therapists or investigators who will listen to
and believe them. Their ability to provide verifiable details
varies and many were raised in apparently religious homes. A
few adult survivors are now reporting participation in specific
murders or child abductions that are known to have taken place.
(2) DAY CARE CASES.
In day care cases children currently or formerly attending
a day care center gradually describe their victimization at the
center and at other locations to which they were taken by the
day care staff. The cases include multiple victims and
offenders, fear, and bizarre or ritualistic activity, with a
particularly high number of female offenders. Descriptions of
strange games, insertion of foreign objects, killing of
animals, photographing of activities, and wearing of costumes
are common. The accounts of the young children, however, do not
seem to be quite as "bizarre" as those of the adult survivors,
with fewer accounts of human sacrifice.
(3) FAMILY/ISOLATED NEIGHBORHOOD CASES.
In family/isolated neighborhood cases, children describe
their victimization within their family or extended family. The
group is often defined by geographic boundary, such as a cul-
de-sac, apartment building, or isolated rural setting. Such
accounts are most common in rural or suburban communities with
high concentrations of religiously conservative people. The
stories are similar to those told of the day care setting, but
with more male offenders. The basic dynamics remain the same,
but victims tend to be more than six years of age, and the
scenario may also involve a custody or visitation dispute.
(4) CUSTODY/VISITATION DISPUTE.
In custody/visitation dispute cases, the allegations
emanate from a custody or visitation dispute over at least one
child under the age of seven. The four dynamics described above
make these cases extremely difficult to handle. When
complicated by the strong emotions of this scenario, the cases
can be overwhelming. This is especially true if the disclosing
child victims have been taken into the "underground" by a
parent during the custody or visitation dispute. Some of these
parents or relatives may even provide authorities with diaries
or tapes of their interviews with the children. An accurate
evaluation and assessment of a young child held in isolation in
this underground while being "debriefed" by a parent or someone
else is almost impossible. However well-intentioned, these
self-appointed investigators severely damage any chance to
validate these cases objectively.
d. WHY ARE VICTIMS ALLEGING THINGS THAT DO NOT SEEM TO
Some of what the victims in these cases allege is
physically impossible (victim cut up and put back together,
offender took the building apart and then rebuilt it); some is
possible but improbable (human sacrifice, cannibalism,
vampirism ); some is possible and probable (child pornography,
clever manipulation of victims); and some is corroborated
(medical evidence of vaginal or anal trauma, offender
The most significant crimes being alleged that do not
*seem* to be true are the human sacrifice and cannibalism by
organized satanic cults. In none of the multidimensional child
sex ring cases of which I am aware have bodies of the murder
victims been found - in spite of major excavations where the
abuse victims claim the bodies were located. The alleged
explanations for this include: the offenders moved the bodies
after the children left, the bodies were burned in portable
high-temperature ovens, the bodies were put in double-decker
graves under legitimately buried bodies, a mortician member of
the cult disposed of the bodies in a crematorium, the offenders
ate the bodies, the offenders used corpses and aborted fetuses,
or the power of Satan caused the bodies to disappear.
Not only are no bodies found, but also, more importantly,
there is no physical evidence that a murder took place. Many of
those not in law enforcement do not understand that, while it
is possible to get rid of a body, it is even more difficult to
get rid of the physical evidence that a murder took place,
especially a human sacrifice involving sex, blood, and
mutilation. Such activity would leave behind trace evidence
that could be found using modern crime scene processing
techniques in spite of extraordinary efforts to clean it up.
The victims of these human sacrifices and murders are
alleged to be abducted missing children, runaway and throwaway
children, derelicts, and the babies of breeder women. It is
interesting to note that many of those espousing these theories
are using the long-since-discredited numbers and rhetoric of
the missing children hysteria in the early 1980s. Yet
"Stranger-Abduction Homicides of Children," a January 1989
"Juvenile Justice Bulletin," published by the Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S.
Department of Justice, reports that researchers now estimate
that the number of children kidnapped and murdered by nonfamily
members is between 52 and 158 a year and that adolescents 14 to
17 years old account for nearly two-thirds of these victims.
These figures are also consistent with the 1990 National
Incident Studies previously mentioned.
We live in a very violent society, and yet we have "only"
about 23,000 murders a year. Those who accept these stories of
mass human sacrifice would have us believe that the satanists
and other occult practitioners are murdering more than twice as
many people every year in this country as all the other
In addition, in none of the cases of which I am aware has
any evidence of a well-organized satanic cult been found. Many
of those who accept the stories of organized ritual abuse of
children and human sacrifice will tell you that the best
evidence they now have is the consistency of stories from all
over America. It sounds like a powerful argument. It is
interesting to note that, without having met each other, the
hundreds of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens
from outer space also tell stories and give descriptions of the
aliens that are similar to each other. This is not to imply
that allegations of child abuse are in the same category as
allegations of abduction by aliens from outer space. It is
intended only to illustrate that individuals who never met each
other can sometimes describe similar events without necessarily
having experienced them.
The large number of people telling the same story is, in
fact, the biggest reason to doubt these stories. It is simply
too difficult for that many people to commit so many horrendous
crimes as part of an organized conspiracy. Two or three people
murder a couple of children in a few communities as part of a
ritual, and nobody finds out? Possible. Thousands of people do
the same thing to tens of thousands of victims over many years?
Not likely. Hundreds of communities all over America are run by
mayors, police departments, and community leaders who are
practicing satanists and who regularly murder and eat people?
Not likely. In addition, these community leaders and high-
ranking officials also supposedly commit these complex crimes
leaving no evidence, and at the same time function as leaders
and managers while heavily involved in using illegal drugs.
Probably the closest documented example of this type of alleged
activity in American history is the Ku Klux Klan, which
ironically used Christianity, not satanism, to rationalize its
activity but which, as might be expected, was eventually
infiltrated by informants and betrayed by its members.
As stated, initially I was inclined to believe the
allegations of the victims. But as the cases poured in and the
months and years went by, I became more concerned about the
lack of physical evidence and corroboration for many of the
more serious allegations. With increasing frequency I began to
ask the question: "Why are victims alleging things that do not
*seem* to be true?" Many possible answers were considered.
The first possible answer is obvious: clever offenders.
The allegations may not seem to be true but they are true. The
criminal justice system lacks the knowledge, skill, and
motivation to get to the bottom of this crime conspiracy. The
perpetrators of this crime conspiracy are clever, cunning
individuals using sophisticated mind control and brainwashing
techniques to control their victims. Law enforcement does not
know how to investigate these cases.
It is technically possible that these allegations of an
organized conspiracy involving taking over day care centers,
abduction, cannibalism, murder, and human sacrifice might be
true. But if they are true, they constitute one of the greatest
crime conspiracies in history.
Many people do not understand how difficult it is to
commit a conspiracy crime involving numerous co-conspirators.
One clever and cunning individual has a good chance of getting
away with a well-planned interpersonal crime. Bring one partner
into the crime and the odds of getting away with it drop
considerably. The more people involved in the crime, the harder
it is to get away with it. Why? Human nature is the answer.
People get angry and jealous. They come to resent the fact that
another conspirator is getting "more" than they. They get in
trouble and want to make a deal for themselves by informing on
If a group of individuals degenerate to the point of
engaging in human sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism, that
would most likely be the beginning of the end for such a group.
The odds are that someone in the group would have a problem
with such acts and be unable to maintain the secret.
The appeal of the satanic conspiracy theory is twofold:
(1) First, it is a simple explanation for a
complex problem. Nothing is more simple
than "the devil made them do it." If we do
not understand something, we make it the
work of some supernatural force. During the
Middle Ages, serial killers were thought to
be vampires and werewolves, and child
sexual abuse was the work of demons taking
the form of parents and clergy. Even today,
especially for those raised to religiously
believe so, satanism offers an explanation
as to why "good" people do bad things. It
may also help to "explain" unusual,
bizarre, and compulsive sexual urges and
(2) Second, the conspiracy theory is a popular
one. We find it difficult to believe that
one bizarre individual could commit a crime
we find so offensive. Conspiracy theories
about soldiers missing in action (MIAs),
abductions by UFOs, Elvis Presley
sightings, and the assassination of
prominent public figures are the focus of
much attention in this country. These
conspiracy theories and allegations of
ritual abuse have the following in common:
(1) self-proclaimed experts, (2) tabloid
media interest, (3) belief the government
is involved in a coverup, and (4)
emotionally involved direct and indirect
On a recent television program commemorating the one
hundredth anniversary of Jack the Ripper, almost fifty percent
of the viewing audience who called the polling telephone
numbers indicated that they thought the murders were committed
as part of a conspiracy involving the British Royal Family. The
five experts on the program, however, unanimously agreed the
crimes were the work of one disorganized but lucky individual
who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. In many ways,
the murders of Jack the Ripper are similar to those allegedly
committed by satanists today.
If your child's molestation was perpetrated by a
sophisticated satanic cult, there is nothing you could have
done to prevent it and therefore no reason to feel any guilt. I
have been present when parents who believe their children were
ritually abused at day care centers have told others that the
cults had sensors in the road, lookouts in the air, and
informers everywhere; therefore, the usually recommended advice
of unannounced visits to the day care center would be
6. ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS
Even if only part of an allegation is not true, what then
is the answer to the question "Why are victims alleging things
that do not *seem* to be true?" After consulting with
psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists, therapists,
social workers, child sexual abuse experts, and law enforcement
investigators for more than eight years, I can find no single,
simple answer. The answer to the question seems to be a complex
set of dynamics that can be different in each case. In spite of
the fact that some skeptics keep looking for it, there does not
appear to be one answer to the question that fits every case.
Each case is different, and each case may involve a different
combination of answers.
I have identified a series of possible alternative answers
to this question. The alternative answers also do not preclude
the possibility that clever offenders are sometimes involved. I
will not attempt to explain completely these alternative
answers because I cannot. They are presented simply as areas
for consideration and evaluation by child sexual abuse
intervenors, for further elaboration by experts in these
fields, and for research by objective social scientists. The
first step, however, in finding the answers to this question is
to admit the possibility that some of what the victims describe
may not have happened. Some child advocates seem unwilling to
a. PATHOLOGICAL DISTORTION.
The first possible answer to why victims are alleging
things that do not *seem* to be true is *pathological
distortion*. The allegations may be errors in processing
reality influenced by underlying mental disorders such as
dissociative disorders, borderline or histrionic personality
disorders, or psychosis. These distortions may be manifested in
false accounts of victimization in order to gain psychological
benefits such as attention and sympathy (factitious disorder).
When such individuals repeatedly go from place to place or
person to person making these false reports of their own
"victimization," it is called Munchausen Syndrome. When the
repealed false reports concern the "victimization" of their
children or others linked to them, it is called Munchausen
Syndrome by Proxy. I am amazed when some therapists state that
they believe the allegations because they cannot think of a
reason why the "victim," whose failures are now explained and
excused or who is now the center of attention at a conference
or on a national television program, would lie. If you can be
forgiven for mutilating and killing babies, you can be forgiven
Many "victims" may develop pseudomemories of their
victimization and eventually come to believe the events
actually occurred. Noted forensic psychiatrist Park E. Dietz
(personal communication, Nov. 1991) states:
"Pseudomemories have been acquired through
dreams (particularly if one is encouraged to keep a
journal or dream diary and to regard dream content as
'clues' about the past or as snippets of history),
substance-induced altered states of consciousness
(alcohol or other drugs), group influence
(particularly hearing vivid accounts of events
occurring to others with whom one identifies
emotionally such as occurs in incest survivor
groups), reading vivid accounts of events occurring
to others with whom one identifies emotionally,
watching such accounts in films or on television, and
hypnosis. The most efficient means of inducing
pseudomemories is hypnosis.
"It is characteristic of pseudomemories that the
recollections of complex events (as opposed to a
simple unit of information, such as a tag number) are
incomplete and without chronological sequence. Often
the person reports some uncertainty because the
pseudomemories are experienced in a manner they
describe as 'hazy', 'fuzzy', or 'vague'. They are
often perplexed that they recall some details vividly
but others dimly.
"Pseudomemories are not delusions. When first
telling others of pseudomemories, these individuals
do not have the unshakable but irrational conviction
that deluded subjects have, but with social support
they often come to defend vigorously the truthfulness
of the pseudomemories.
"Pseudomemories are not fantasies, but may
incorporate elements from fantasies experienced in
the past. Even where the events described are
implausible, listeners may believe them because they
are reported with such intense affect (i.e. with so
much emotion attached to the story) that the listener
concludes that the events must have happened because
no one could 'fake' the emotional aspects of the
retelling. It also occurs, however, that persons
report pseudomemories in such a matter-of-fact and
emotionless manner that mental health professionals
conclude that the person has 'dissociated'
intellectual knowledge of the events from emotional
appreciation of their impact."
b. TRAUMATIC MEMORY.
The second possible answer is *traumatic memory*. Fear and
severe trauma can cause victims to distort reality and confuse
events. This is a well-documented fact in cases involving
individuals taken hostage or in life-and-death situations. The
distortions may be part of an elaborate defense mechanism of
the mind called "splitting" - The victims create a clear-cut
good-and-evil manifestation of their complex victimization that
is then psychologically more manageable.
Through the defense mechanism of dissociation, the victim
may escape the horrors of reality by inaccurately processing
that reality. In a dissociative state a young child who
ordinarily would know the difference might misinterpret a film
or video as reality.
Another defense mechanism may tell the victim that it
could have been worse, and so his or her victimization was not
so bad. They are not alone in their victimization - other
children were also abused. Their father who abused them is no
different from other prominent people in the community they
claim also abused them. Satanism may help to explain why their
outwardly good and religious parents did such terrible things
to them in the privacy of their home. Their religious training
may convince them that such unspeakable acts by supposedly
"good" people must be the work of the devil. The described
human sacrifice may be symbolic of the "death" of their
It may be that we should anticipate that individuals
severely abused as very young children by *multiple* offenders
with *fear* as the primary controlling tactic will distort and
embellish their victimization. Perhaps a horror-filled yet
inaccurate account of victimization is not only not a
counterindication of abuse, but is in fact a corroborative
indicator of extreme physical, psychological, and/or sexual
abuse. I do not believe it is a coincidence nor the result of
deliberate planning by satanists that in almost all the cases
of ritual abuse that have come to my attention, the abuse is
alleged to have begun prior to the age of seven and perpetrated
by multiple offenders. It may well be that such abuse, at young
age by multiple offenders, is the most difficult to accurately
recall with the specific and precise detail needed by the
criminal justice system, and the most likely to be distorted
and exaggerated when it is recalled. In her book "Too Scared to
Cry" (1990), child psychiatrist Lenore Terr, a leading expert
on psychic trauma in childhood, states "that a series of early
childhood shocks might not be fully and accurately
'reconstructed' from the dreams and behaviors of the adult" (p.
c. NORMAL CHILDHOOD FEARS AND FANTASY.
The third possible answer may be *normal childhood fears
and fantasy*. Most young children are afraid of ghosts and
monsters. Even as adults, many people feel uncomfortable, for
example, about dangling their arms over the side of their bed.
They still remember the "monster" under the bed from childhood.
While young children may rarely invent stories about sexual
activity, they might describe their victimization in terms of
evil as they understand it. In church or at home, children may
be told of satanic activity as the source of evil. The children
may be "dumping" all their fears and worries unto an attentive
and encouraging listener.
Children do fantasize. Perhaps whatever causes a child to
allege something impossible (such as being cut up and put back
together) is similar to what causes a child to allege something
possible but improbable (such as witnessing another child being
chopped up and eaten).
d. MISPERCEPTION, CONFUSION, AND TRICKERY.
Misperception, confusion, and trickery may be a fourth
answer. Expecting young children to give accurate accounts of
sexual activity for which they have little frame of reference
is unreasonable. The Broadway play "Madame Butterfly" is the
true story of a man who had a 15-year affair, including the
"birth" of a baby, with a "woman" who turns out to have been a
man all along. If a grown man does not know when he has had
vaginal intercourse with a woman, how can we expect young
children not to be confused?
Furthermore some clever offenders may deliberately
introduce elements of satanism and the occult into the sexual
exploitation simply to confuse or intimidate the victims.
Simple magic and other techniques may be used to trick the
children. Drugs may also be deliberately used to confuse the
victims and distort their perceptions. Such acts would then be
M.O., not ritual.
As previously stated, the perceptions of young victims may
also be influenced by any trauma being experienced. This is the
most popular alternative explanation, and even the more zealous
believers of ritual abuse allegations use it, but only to
explain obviously impossible events.
e. OVERZEALOUS INTERVENORS.
*Overzealous intervenors*, causing intervenor contagion,
may be a fifth answer. These intervenors can include parents,
family members, foster parents, doctors, therapists, social
workers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and any
combination thereof. Victims have been subtly as well as
overtly rewarded and bribed by usually well-meaning intervenors
for furnishing further details. In addition, some of what
appears not to have happened may have originated as a result of
intervenors making assumptions about or misinterpreting what
the victims are saying. The intervenors then repeat, and
possibly embellish, these assumptions and misinterpretations,
and eventually the victims are "forced" to agree with or come
to accept this "official" version of what happened.
The judgment of intervenors may be affected by their zeal
to uncover child sexual abuse, satanic activity, or
conspiracies. However "well-intentioned," these overzealous
intervenors must accept varying degrees of responsibility for
the unsuccessful prosecution of those cases where criminal
abuse did occur. This is the most controversial and least
popular of the alternative explanations.
f. URBAN LEGENDS.
Allegations of and knowledge about ritualistic or satanic
abuse may also be spread through *urban legends*. In "The
Vanishing Hitchhiker" (1981), the first of his four books on
the topic, Dr. Jan Harold Brunvand defines urban legends as
"realistic stories concerning recent events (or alleged events)
with an ironic or supernatural twist" (p. xi). Dr. Brunvand's
books convincingly explain that just because individuals
throughout the country who never met each other tell the same
story does not mean that it is true. Absurd urban legends about
the corporate logos of Proctor and Gamble and Liz Claiborne
being satanic symbols persist in spite of all efforts to refute
them with reality. Some urban legends about child kidnappings
and other threats to citizens have even been disseminated
unknowingly by law enforcement agencies. Such legends have
always existed, but today the mass media aggressively
participate in their rapid and more efficient dissemination.
Many Americans mistakenly believe that tabloid television shows
check out and verify the details of their stories before
pulling them on the air. Mass hysteria may partially account
for large numbers of victims describing the same symptoms or
Training conferences for all the disciplines involved in
child sexual abuse may also play a role in the spread of this
contagion. At one child abuse conference I attended, an
exhibitor was selling more than 50 different books dealing with
satanism and the occult. By the end of the conference, he had
sold nearly all of them. At another national child sexual abuse
conference, I witnessed more than 100 attendees copying down
the widely disseminated 29 "Symptoms Characterizing Satanic
Ritual Abuse" in preschool-aged children. Is a four-year-old
child's "preoccupation with urine and feces" an indication of
satanic ritual abuse or part of normal development?
Most multidimensional child sex ring cases probably
involve a *combination* of the answers previously set forth, as
well as other possible explanations unknown to me at this time.
Obviously, cases with adult survivors are more likely to
involve some of these answers than those with young children.
Each case of sexual victimization must be individually
evaluated on its own merits without any preconceived
explanations. All the possibilities must be explored if for no
other reason than the fact that the defense attorneys for any
accused subjects will almost certainly do so.
Most people would agree that just because a victim tells
you one detail that turns out to be true, this does not mean
that every detail is true. But many people seem to believe that
if you can disprove one part of a victim's story, then the
entire story is false. As previously stated, one of my main
concerns in these cases is that people are getting away with
sexually abusing children or committing other crimes because we
cannot prove that they are members of organized cults that
murder and eat people.
I have discovered that the subject of multidimensional
child sex rings is a very emotional and polarizing issue.
Everyone seems to demand that one choose a side. On one side of
the issue are those who say that nothing really happened and it
is all a big witch hunt led by overzealous fanatics and
incompetent "experts." The other side says, in essence, that
everything happened; victims never lie about child sexual
abuse, and so it must be true.
There is a middle ground. It is the job of the
professional investigator to listen to all the victims and
conduct appropriate investigation in an effort to find out what
happened, considering all possibilities. Not all childhood
trauma is abuse. Not all child abuse is a crime. The great
frustration of these cases is the fact that you are often
convinced that something traumatic happened to the victim, but
do not know with any degree of certainty exactly what happened,
when it happened, or who did it.
7. DO VICTIMS LIE ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION?
The crucial central issue in the evaluation of a response
to cases of multidimensional child sex rings is the statement
"Children never lie about sexual abuse or exploitation. If they
have details, it must have happened." This statement,
oversimplified by many, is the basic premise upon which some
believe the child sexual abuse and exploitation movement is
based. It is almost never questioned or debated at training
conferences. In fact, during the 1970s, there was a successful
crusade to eliminate laws requiring corroboration of child
victim statements in child sexual abuse cases. The best way to
convict child molesters is to have the child victims testify in
court. If we believe them, the jury will believe them. Any
challenge to this basic premise was viewed as a threat to the
movement and a denial that the problem existed.
I believe that children *rarely* lie about sexual abuse or
exploitation, if a lie is defined as a statement deliberately
and maliciously intended to deceive. The problem is the
oversimplification of the statement. Just because a child is
not lying does not necessarily mean the child is telling the
truth. I believe that in the majority of these cases, the
victims are not lying. They are telling you what they have come
to believe has happened to them. Furthermore the assumption
that children rarely lie about sexual abuse does not
necessarily apply to everything a child says during a sexual
abuse investigation. Stories of mutilation, murder, and
cannibalism are not really about sexual abuse.
Children rarely lie about sexual abuse or exploitation.
but they do fantasize, furnish false information, furnish
misleading information, misperceive events, try to please
adults, respond to leading questions, and respond to rewards.
Children are not adults in little bodies and do go through
developmental stages that must be evaluated and understood. In
many ways, however, children are no better and no worse than
other victims or witnesses of a crime. They should not be
automatically believed, nor should they be automatically
The second part of the statement - if children can supply
details, the crime must have happened - must also be carefully
evaluated. The details in question in most of the cases of
multidimensional child sex rings have little to do with sexual
activity. Law enforcement and social workers must do more than
attempt to determine how a child could have known about the sex
acts. These cases involve determining how a victim could have
known about a wide variety of bizarre and ritualistic activity.
Young children may know little about specific sex acts, but
they may know a lot about monsters, torture, kidnapping, and
Victims may supply details of sexual and other acts using
information from sources other than their own direct
victimization. Such sources must be evaluated carefully by the
investigator of multidimensional child sex rings.
a. PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE.
The victim may have personal knowledge of the sexual or
ritual acts, but not as a result of the alleged victimization.
The knowledge could have come from viewing pornography, sex
education, or occult material; witnessing sexual or ritual
activity in the home; or witnessing the sexual abuse of others.
It could also have come from having been sexually or physically
abused, but by other than the alleged offenders and in ways
other than the alleged offense.
b. OTHER CHILDREN OR VICTIMS.
Young children today are socially interacting more often
and at a younger age than ever before. Many parents are unable
to provide possibly simple explanations for their children's
stories because they were not with the children when the events
occurred. They do not even know what videotapes their children
may have seen, what games they may have played, or what stories
they may have been told or overheard. Children are being placed
in day care centers for eight, ten, or twelve hours a day
starting as young as six weeks of age. The children share
experiences by playing house, school, or doctor. Bodily
functions such as urination and defecation are a focus of
attention for these young children. To a certain extent, each
child shares the experiences of all the other children.
The odds are fairly high that in any typical day care
center there might be some children who are victims of incest;
victims of physical abuse; victims of psychological abuse;
children of cult members (even satanists); children of sexually
open parents; children of sexually indiscriminate parents;
children of parents obsessed with victimization; children of
parents obsessed with the evils of satanism; children without
conscience; children with a teenage brother or pregnant mother;
children with heavy metal music and literature in the home;
children with bizarre toys, games, comics, and magazines;
children with a VCR and slasher films in their home; children
with access to dial-a-porn, party lines, or pornography; or
children victimized by a day care center staff member. The
possible effects of the interaction of such children prior to
the disclosure of the alleged abuse must be evaluated, Adult
survivors may obtain details from group therapy sessions,
support networks, church groups, or self-help groups. The
willingness and ability of siblings to corroborate adult
survivor accounts of ritual abuse varies. Some will support and
partially corroborate the victim's allegations. Others will
vehemently deny them and support their accused parents or
The amount of sexually explicit, occult, anti-occult, or
violence-oriented material available to adults and even
children in the modern world is overwhelming. This includes
movies, videotapes, television, music, toys, and books. There
are also documentaries on satanism, witchcraft, and the occult
that are available on videotape. Most of the televangelists
have videotapes on the topics that they are selling on their
The National Coalition on Television Violence News (1988)
estimates that 12% of the movies produced in the United States
can be classified as satanic horror films. Cable television and
the home VCR make all this material readily available even to
young children. Religious broadcasters and almost all the
television tabloid and magazine programs have done shows on
satanism and the occult. Heavy metal and black metal music,
which often has a satanic theme, is readily available and
popular. In addition to the much-debated fantasy role-playing
games, there are numerous popular toys on the market with an
occult-oriented, bizarre, or violent theme.
Books on satanism and the occult, both fiction and
nonfiction, are readily available in most bookstores,
especially Christian bookstores. Several recent books
specifically discuss the issue of ritual abuse of children.
Obviously, very young children do not read this material, but
their parents, relatives, and therapists might and then discuss
it in front of or with them. Much of the material intended to
fight the problem actually fuels the problem and damages
d. SUGGESTIONS AND LEADING QUESTIONS.
This problem is particularly important in cases stemming
from custody/visitation disputes involving at least one child
under the age of seven. It is my opinion that most suggestive,
leading questioning of children by intervenors is inadvertently
done as part of a good-faith effort to learn the truth. Not all
intervenors are in equal positions to potentially influence
victim allegations. Parents and relatives especially are in a
position to subtly influence their young children to describe
their victimization in a certain way. Children may also
overhear their parents discussing the details of the case.
Children often tell their parents what they believe their
parents want or need to hear. Some children may be
instinctively attempting to provide "therapy" for their parents
by telling them what seems to satisfy them and somehow makes
them feel better. In one case a father gave the police a tape
recording to "prove" that his child's statements were
spontaneous disclosures and not the result of leading,
suggestive questions. The tape recording indicated just the
opposite. Why then did the father voluntarily give it to the
police? Probably because he truly believed that he was not
influencing his child's statements - but he was.
Therapists are probably in the best position to influence
the allegations of adult survivors. The accuracy and
reliability of the accounts of adult survivors who have been
hypnotized during therapy is certainly open to question. One
nationally-known therapist personally told me that the reason
police cannot find out about satanic or ritualistic activity
from child victims is that they do not know how to ask leading
questions. Highly suggestive books and pictures portraying
"satanic" activity have been developed and marketed to
therapists for use during evaluation and treatment. Types and
styles of verbal interaction useful in therapy may create
significant problems in a criminal investigation. It should be
noted, however, that when a therapist does a poor investigative
interview as part of a criminal investigation, that is the
fault of the criminal justice system that allowed it and not
the therapist who did it.
The extremely sensitive, emotional, and religious nature
of these cases makes problems with leading questions more
likely than in other kinds of cases. Intervenors motivated by
religious fervor and/or exaggerated concerns about sexual abuse
of children are more likely to lose their objectivity.
e. MISPERCEPTION AND CONFUSION.
In one case, a child's description of the apparently
impossible act of walking through a wall turned out to be the
very possible act of walking between the studs of an unfinished
wall in a room under construction. In another case, pennies in
the anus turned out to be copper-foil-covered suppositories.
The children may describe what they believe happened. It is not
a lie, but neither is it an accurate account of what happened.
f. EDUCATION AND AWARENESS PROGRAMS.
Some well-intentioned awareness programs designed to
prevent child set abuse, alert professionals, or fight satanism
may in fact be unrealistically increasing the fears of
professionals, children, and parents and creating self-
fulfilling prophesies. Some of what children and their parents
are telling intervenors may have been learned in or fueled by
such programs. Religious programs, books, and pamphlets that
emphasize the power and evil force of Satan may be adding to
the problem. In fact most of the day care centers in which
ritualistic abuse is alleged to hate taken place are church-
affiliated centers, and many of the adult survivors alleging it
come from apparently religious families.
8. LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE.
The perspective with which one looks at satanic, occult,
or ritualistic crime is extremely important. As stated,
sociologists, therapists, religious leaders, parents, and just
plain citizens each have their own valid concerns and views
about this issue. This discussion, however, deals primarily
with the law enforcement or criminal justice perspective.
When you combine an emotional issue such as the sexual
abuse of children with an even more emotional issue such as
people's religious beliefs, it is difficult to maintain
objectivity and remember the law enforcement perspective. Some
police officers may even feel that all crime is caused by evil,
all evil is caused by Satan, and therefore, all crime is
satanic crime. This may be a valid religious perspective, but
it is of no relevance to the investigation of crime for
purposes of prosecution.
Many of the police officers who lecture on satanic or
occult crime do not even investigate such cases. Their
presentations are more a reflection of their personal religious
beliefs than documented investigative information. They are
absolutely entitled to their beliefs, but introducing
themselves as current or former police officers and then
speaking as religious advocates causes confusion. As difficult
as it might be, police officers must separate the religious and
law enforcement perspectives when they are lecturing or
investigating in their official capacities as law enforcement
officers. Many law enforcement officers begin their
presentations by stating that they are not addressing or
judging anyone's religious beliefs, and then proceed to do
Some police officers have resigned rather than curtail or
limit their involvement in this issue as ordered by their
departments. Perhaps such officers deserve credit for
recognizing that they could no longer keep the perspectives
Law enforcement officers and all professionals in this
field should avoid the "paranoia" that has crept into this
issue and into some of the training conferences. Paranoid type
belief systems are characterized by the gradual development of
intricate, complex, and elaborate systems of thinking based on
and often proceeding logically from misinterpretation of actual
events. Paranoia typically involves hypervigilance over the
perceived threat, the belief that danger is around every
corner, and the willingness to take up the challenge and do
something about it. Another very important aspect of this
paranoia is the belief that those who do not recognize the
threat are evil and corrupt. In this extreme view, you are
either with them or against them. You are either part of the
solution or part of the problem.
Overzealousness and exaggeration motivated by the true
religious fervor of those involved is more acceptable than that
motivated by ego or profit. There are those who are
deliberately distorting and hyping this issue for personal
notoriety and profit. Satanic and occult crime and ritual abuse
of children has become a growth industry. Speaking fees, books,
video and audio tapes, prevention material, television and
radio appearances all bring egoistic and financial rewards.
Bizarre crime and evil can occur without organized satanic
activity. The professional perspective requires that we
distinguish between what we know and what we're not sure of.
The facts are:
a. Some individuals believe in and are
involved in something commonly called
satanism and the occult.
b. Some of these individuals commit crime.
c. Some groups of individuals share these
beliefs and involvement in this satanism
and the occult.
d. Some members of these groups commit crime
The unanswered questions are:
a. What is the connection between the belief
system and the crimes committed?
b. Is there an organized conspiracy of satanic
and occult believers responsible for
interrelated serious crime (e.g.,
After all the hype and hysteria are put aside, the
realization sets in that most satanic/occult activity involves
the commission of *no* crimes, and that which does usually
involves the commission of relatively minor crimes such as
trespassing, vandalism, cruelty to animals, or petty thievery.
The law enforcement problems most often linked to satanic
or occult activity are:
b. Desecration of churches and cemeteries.
c. Thefts from churches and cemeteries.
d. Teenage gangs
e. Animal mutilations.
f. Teenage suicide.
g. Child abuse.
i. Murder and human sacrifice
Valid evidence shows some "connection" between satanism
and the occult and the first six problems (a-f) set forth
above. The "connection" to the last three problems (g-i) is far
Even where there seems to be a "connection," the nature of
the connection needs to be explored. It is easy to blame
involvement in satanism and the occult for behaviors that have
complex motivations. A teenager's excessive involvement in
satanism and the occult is usually a symptom of a problem and
not the cause of a problem. Blaming satanism for a teenager's
vandalism, theft, suicide, or even act of murder is like
blaming a criminal's offenses on his tattoos: Both are often
signs of the same rebelliousness and lack of self-esteem that
contribute to the commission of crimes.
The rock band Judas Priest was recently sued for allegedly
inciting two teenagers to suicide through subliminal messages
in their recordings. In 1991 Anthony Pratkanis of the
University of California at Santa Cruz, who served as an expert
witness for the defense, stated the boys in question "lived
troubled lives, lives of drug and alcohol abuse, run-ins with
the law ... family violence, and chronic unemployment. What
issues did the trial and the subsequent mass media coverage
emphasize? Certainly not the need for drug treatment centers;
there was no evaluation of the pros and cons of America's
juvenile justice system, no investigation of the schools, no
inquiry into how to prevent family violence, no discussion of
the effects of unemployment on a family. Instead our attention
was mesmerized by an attempt to count the number of subliminal
demons that can dance on the end of a record needle" (p. 1).
The law enforcement investigator must objectively evaluate
the legal significance of any criminal's spiritual beliefs. In
most cases, including those involving satanists, it will have
little or no legal significance. If a crime is committed as
part of a spiritual belief system, it should make no difference
which belief system it is. The crime is the same whether a
child is abused or murdered as part of a Christian, Hare
Krishna, Moslem, or any other belief system. We generally don't
label crimes with the name of the perpetrator's religion. Why
then are the crimes of child molesters, rapists, sadists, and
murderers who happen to be involved in satanism and the occult
labeled as satanic or occult crimes? If criminals use a
spiritual belief system to rationalize and justify or to
facilitate and enhance their criminal activity, should the
focus of law enforcement be on the belief system or on the
Several documented murders have been committed by
individuals involved in one way or another in satanism or the
occult. In some of these murders the perpetrator has even
introduced elements of the occult (e.g. satanic symbols at
crime scene). Does that automatically make these satanic
murders? It is my opinion that the answer is no. Ritualistic
murders committed by serial killers or sexual sadists are not
necessarily satanic or occult murders. Ritualistic murders
committed by psychotic killers who hear the voice of Satan are
no more satanic murders than murders committed by psychotic
killers who hear the voice of Jesus are Christian murders.
Rather a satanic murder should be defined as one committed
by two or more individuals who rationally plan the crime and
whose *primary* motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic
ritual calling for the murder. By this definition I have been
unable to identify even one documented satanic murder in the
United States. Although such murders may have and can occur,
they appear to be few in number. In addition the commission of
such killings would probably be the beginning of the end for
such a group. It is highly unlikely that they could continue to
kill several people, every year, year after year, and not be
A brief typology of satanic and occult practitioners is
helpful in evaluating what relationship, if any, such practices
have to crimes under investigation. The following typology is
adapted from the investigative experience of Officer Sandi
Gallant of the San Francisco Police Department, who began to
study the criminal aspects of occult activity long before it
became popular. No typology is perfect, but I use this typology
because it is simple and offers investigative insights. Most
practitioners fall into one of three categories, any of which
can be practiced alone or in groups:
a. "YOUTH SUBCULTURE.
"Most teenagers involved in fantasy role-playing games,
heavy metal music, or satanism and the occult are going through
a stage of adolescent development and commit no significant
crimes. The teenagers who have more serious problems are
usually those from dysfunctional families or those who have
poor communication within their families. These troubled
teenagers turn to satanism and the occult to overcome a sense
of alienation, to rebel, to obtain power, or to justify their
antisocial behavior. For these teenagers it is the symbolism,
not the spirituality, that is more important. It is either the
psychopathic or the oddball, loner teenager who is most likely
to get into serious trouble. Extreme involvement in the occult
is a symptom of a problem, not the cause. This is not to deny,
however, that satanism and the occult can be negative
influences for a troubled teenager. But to hysterically warn
teenagers to avoid this "mysterious, powerful and dangerous"
thing called satanism will drive more teenagers right to it.
Some rebellious teenagers will do whatever will most shock and
outrage society in order to flaunt their rejection of adult
b. "DABBLERS (SELF-STYLED).
"For these practitioners there is little or no spiritual
motivation. They may mix satanism, witchcraft, paganism, and
any aspects of the occult to suit their purposes. Symbols mean
whatever they want them or believe them to mean. Molesters,
rapists, drug dealers, and murderers may dabble in the occult
and may even commit their crimes in a ceremonial or ritualistic
way. This category has the potential to be the most dangerous,
and most of the "satanic" killers fall into this category.
Their involvement in satanism and the occult is a symptom of a
problem, and a rationalization and justification of antisocial
behavior. Satanic/occult practices (as well as those of other
spiritual belief systems) can also be used as a mechanism to
facilitate criminal objectives.
c. "TRADITIONAL (ORTHODOX)
"These are the so-called true believers. They are often
wary of outsiders. Because of this and constitutional issues,
such groups are difficult for law enforcement to penetrate.
Although there may be much we don't know about these groups, as
of now there is little or no hard evidence that as a group they
are involved in serious, organized criminal activity. In
addition, instead of being self-perpetuating master crime
conspirators, "true believers" probably have a similar problem
with their teenagers rebelling against their belief system. To
some extent even these Traditional satanists are self-stylized.
They practice what they have come to believe is "satanism."
There is little or no evidence of the much-discussed
multigenerational satanists whose beliefs and practices have
supposedly been passed down through the centuries. Many
admitted adult satanists were in fact raised in conservative
"Washington Post" editor Walt Harrington reported in a
1986 story on Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan that
"sociologists who have studied LaVey's church say that its
members often had serious childhood problems like alcoholic
parents or broken homes, or that they were traumatized by
guilt-ridden fundamentalist upbringings, turning to Satanism as
a dramatic way to purge their debilitating guilt" (p. 14).
Some have claimed that the accounts of ritual abuse
victims coincide with historical records of what traditional or
multigenerational satanists are known to have practiced down
through the ages. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Professor of History
at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the author
of numerous scholarly books on the devil and satanism, believes
that the universal consensus of modern historians on satanism
is (personal communication, Nov. 1991):
"(1) incidents of orgy, infanticide, cannibalism, and
other such conduct have occurred from the ancient world down to
the present; (2) such incidents were isolated and limited to
local antisocial groups; (3) during the period of Christian
dominance in European culture, such groups were associated with
the Devil in the minds of the authorities; (4) in some cases
the sectaries believed that they were worshiping Satan; (5) no
organized cult of Satanists existed in the Christian period
beyond localities, and on no account was there ever any
widespread Satanist organization or conspiracy; (6) no reliable
historical sources indicate that such organizations existed;
(7) the black mass appears only once in the sources before the
late nineteenth century."
Many police officers ask what to look for during the
search of the scene of suspected satanic activity. The answer
is simple: Look for evidence of a crime. A pentagram is no more
criminally significant than a crucifix unless it corroborates a
crime or a criminal conspiracy. If a victim's description of
the location or the instruments of the crime includes a
pentagram, then the pentagram would be evidence. But the same
would be true if the description included a crucifix. In many
cases of alleged satanic ritual abuse, investigation can find
evidence that the claimed offenders are members only of
mainstream churches and are often described as very religious.
There is no way any one law enforcement officer can become
knowledgeable about all the symbols and rituals of every
spiritual belief system that might become part of a criminal
investigation. The officer needs only to be trained to
recognize the possible investigative significance of such
signs, symbols, and rituals. Knowledgeable religious scholars,
academics, and other true experts in the community can be
consulted if a more detailed analysis is necessary.
Any analysis, however, may have only limited application,
especially to cases involving teenagers, dabblers, and other
self-styled practitioners. The fact is signs, symbols, and
rituals can mean anything that practitioners want them to mean
and/or anything that observers interpret them to mean.
The meaning of symbols can also change over time, place,
and circumstance. Is a swastika spray-painted on a wall an
ancient symbol of prosperity and good fortune, a recent symbol
of Nazism and anti-Semitism, or a current symbol of hate,
paranoia, and adolescent defiance? The peace sign which in the
1960s was a familiar antiwar symbol is now supposed to be a
satanic symbol. Some symbols and holidays become "satanic" only
because the antisatanists say they are. Then those who want to
be "satanists" adopt them, and now you have "proof" they are
In spite of what is sometimes said or suggested at law
enforcement training conferences, police have no authority to
seize any satanic or occult paraphernalia they might see during
a search. A legally-valid reason must exist for doing so. It is
not the job of law enforcement to prevent satanists from
engaging in noncriminal teaching, rituals, or other activities.
9. INVESTIGATING MULTIDIMENSIONAL CHILD SEX RINGS.
Multidimensional child sex rings can be among the most
difficult, frustrating, and complex cases that any law
enforcement officer will ever investigate. The investigation of
allegations of recent activity from multiple young children
under the age of seven presents one set of problems and must
begin quickly, with interviews of *all* potential victims being
completed as soon as possible. The investigation of allegations
of activity ten or more years earlier from adult survivors
presents other problems and should proceed, unless victims are
at immediate risk, more deliberately, with gradually-increasing
resources as corroborated facts warrant.
In spite of any skepticism, allegations of ritual abuse
should be aggressively and thoroughly investigated, This
investigation should attempt to corroborate the allegations of
ritual abuse. but should *simultaneously* also attempt to
identify alternative explanations. The only debate is over how
much investigation is enough. Any law enforcement agency must
be prepared to defend and justify its actions when scrutinized
by the public, the media, elected officials, or the courts.
This does not mean, however, that a law enforcement agency has
an obligation to prove that the alleged crimes did not occur.
This is almost always impossible to do and investigators should
be alert for and avoid this trap.
One major problem in the investigation of multidimensional
child sex rings is the dilemma of recognizing soon enough that
you have one. Investigators must be alert for cases with the
potential for the four basic dynamics: (a) multiple young
victims, (b) multiple offenders, (c) fear as the controlling
tactic, and (d) bizarre or ritualistic activity. The following
techniques apply primarily to the investigation of such
multidimensional child sex rings:
a. MINIMIZE SATANIC/OCCULT ASPECT.
There are those who claim that one of the major reasons
more of these cases have not been successfully prosecuted is
that the satanic/occult aspect has not been aggressively
pursued. One state has even introduced legislation creating
added penalties when certain crimes are committed as part of a
ritual or ceremony. A few states have passed special ritual
crime laws. I strongly disagree with such an approach. It makes
no difference what spiritual belief system was used to enhance
and facilitate or rationalize and justify criminal behavior. It
serves no purpose to "prove" someone is a satanist. As a matter
of fact, if it is alleged that the subject committed certain
criminal acts under the influence of or in order to conjure up
supernatural spirits or forces, this may very well be the basis
for an insanity or diminished capacity defense, or may damage
the intent aspect of a sexually motivated crime. The defense
may very well be more interested in all the "evidence of
satanic activity." Some of the satanic crime "experts" who
train law enforcement wind up working or testifying for the
defense in these cases.
It is best to focus on the crime and all the evidence to
corroborate its commission. Information about local satanic or
occult activity is only of value if it is based on specific law
enforcement intelligence and not on some vague, unsubstantiated
generalities from religious groups. Cases are not solved by
decoding signs, symbols, and dates using undocumented satanic
crime "manuals." In one case a law enforcement agency executing
a search warrant seized only the satanic paraphernalia and left
behind the other evidence that would have corroborated victim
statements. Cases are solved by people- and behavior-oriented
investigation. Evidence of satanic or occult activity may help
explain certain aspects of the case, but even offenders who
commit crimes in a spiritual context are usually motivated by
power, sex, and money.
b. KEEP INVESTIGATION AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS SEPARATE.
I believe that one of the biggest mistakes any
investigator of these cases can make is to attribute
supernatural powers to the offenders. During an investigation a
good investigator may sometimes be able to use the beliefs and
superstitions of the offenders to his or her advantage. The
reverse happens if the investigator believes that the offenders
possess supernatural powers. Satanic/occult practitioners have
no more power than any other human beings. Law enforcement
officers who believe that the investigation of these cases puts
them in conflict with the supernatural forces of evil should
probably not be assigned to them. The religious beliefs of
officers should provide spiritual strength and support for them
but should not affect the objectivity and professionalism of
It is easy to get caught up in these cases and begin to
see "satanism" everywhere. Oversensitization to this perceived
threat may cause an investigator to "see" satanism in a crime
when it really is not there (quasi-satanism). Often the eye
sees what the mind perceives. It may also cause an investigator
not to recognize a staged crime scene deliberately seeded with
"satanic clues" in order to mislead the police (pseudo-
satanism). On rare occasions an overzealous investigator or
intervenor may even be tempted to plant "evidence of satanism"
in order to corroborate such allegations and beliefs.
Supervisors need to be alert for and monitor these reactions in
c. LISTEN TO THE VICTIMS.
It is not the investigator's duty to believe the victims;
it is his or her job to listen and be an objective fact finder.
Interviews of young children should be done by investigators
trained and experienced in such interviews. Investigators must
have direct access to the alleged victims for interview
purposes. Therapists for an adult survivor sometimes want to
act as intermediaries in their patient's interview. This should
be avoided if at all possible. Adult survivor interviews are
often confusing difficult and extremely time-consuming. The
investigator must remember however that almost anything is
possible. Most important the investigator must remember that
there is much middle ground. Just because one event did happen
does not mean that all reported events happened, and just
because one event did not happen does not mean that all other
events did not happen. Do not become such a zealot that you
believe it all nor such a cynic that you believe nothing.
Varying amounts and parts of the allegation may be factual.
Attempting to find evidence of what did happen is the great
challenge of these cases. *All* investigative interaction with
victims must be carefully and thoroughly documented.
d. ASSESS AND EVALUATE VICTIM STATEMENTS.
This is the part of the investigative process in child
sexual victimization cases that seems to have been lost. Is the
victim describing events and activities that are consistent
with law enforcement documented criminal behavior, or that are
consistent with distorted media accounts and erroneous public
perceptions of criminal behavior? Investigators should apply
the "template of probability." Accounts of child sexual
victimization that are more like books, television, and movies
(e.g. big conspiracies, child sex slaves, organized pornography
rings) and less like documented cases should be viewed with
skepticism but thoroughly investigated. Consider and
investigate all possible explanations of events. It is the
investigator's job, and the information learned will be
invaluable in counteracting the defense attorneys when they
raise the alternative explanations.
For example, an adult survivor's account of ritual
victimization might be explained by any one of at least four
possibilities: First, the allegations may be a fairly accurate
account what actually happened. Second, they may be deliberate
lies (malingering), told for the usual reasons people lie (e.g.
money, revenge, jealousy). Third, they may be deliberate lies
(factitious disorder) told for atypical reasons (e.g.
attention, forgiveness). Lies so motivated are less likely to
be recognized by the investigator and more likely to be rigidly
maintained by the liar unless and until confronted with
irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Fourth, the allegations
may be a highly inaccurate account of what actually happened,
but the victim truly believes it (pseudomemory) and therefore
is not lying. A polygraph examination of such a victim would be
of limited value. Other explanations or combinations of these
explanations are also possible. *Only* thorough *investigation*
will point to the correct or most likely explanation.
Investigators cannot rely on therapists or satanic crime
experts as a shortcut to the explanation. In one case, the
"experts" confirmed and validated the account of a female who
claimed to be a 15-year-old deaf-mute kidnapped and held for
three years by a satanic cult and forced to participate in
bizarre rituals before recently escaping. Active investigation,
however, determined she was a 27-year-old woman who could hear
and speak, who had not been kidnapped by anyone, and who had a
lengthy history of mental problems and at least three other
similar reports of false victimization. Her "accurate" accounts
of what the "real satanists" do were simply the result of
having read, while in mental hospitals, the same books that the
"experts" had. A therapist may have important insights about
whether an individual was traumatized, but knowing the exact
cause of that trauma is another matter. There have been cases
where investigation has discovered that individuals diagnosed
by therapists as suffering from Post-Vietnam Syndrome were
never in Vietnam or saw no combat.
Conversely, in another case, a law enforcement "expert" on
satanic crime told a therapist that a patient's accounts of
satanic murders in a rural Pacific Northwest town were probably
true because the community was a hotbed of such satanic
activity. When the therapist explained that there was almost no
violent crime reported in the community, the officer explained
that that is how you know it is the satanists. If you knew
about the murders or found the bodies, it would not be
satanists. How do you argue with that kind of logic?
The first step in the assessment and evaluation of victim
statements is to determine the disclosure sequence, including
how much time has elapsed since disclosure was first made and
the incident was reported to the police or social services. The
longer the delay, the bigger the potential for problems. The
next step is to determine the number and purpose of *all prior*
interviews of the victim concerning the allegations. The more
interviews conducted before the investigative interview, the
larger the potential for problems. Although there is nothing
wrong with admitting shortcomings and seeking help, law
enforcement should never abdicate its control over the
investigative interview. When an investigative interview is
conducted by or with a social worker or therapist using a team
approach, law enforcement must direct the process. Problems can
also be created by interviews conducted by various intervenors
*after* the investigative interview(s).
The investigator must closely and carefully evaluate
events in the victim's life before, during, and after the
Events to be evaluated *before* the alleged abuse include:
(1) Background of victim.
(2) Abuse of drugs in home.
(3) Pornography in home.
(4) Play, television, and VCR habits.
(5) Attitudes about sexuality in home.
(6) Extent of sex education in home.
(7) Activities of siblings.
(8) Need or craving for attention.
(9) Religious beliefs and training.
(10) Childhood fears.
(11) Custody/visitation disputes.
(12) Victimization of or by family members.
(13) Interaction between victims.
Events to be evaluated *during* the alleged abuse include:
(1) Use of fear or scare tactics.
(2) Degree of trauma.
(3) Use of magic deception or trickery.
(4) Use of rituals.
(5) Use of drugs.
(6) Use of pornography.
Events to be evaluated *after* the alleged abuse include:
(1) Disclosure sequence.
(2) Background of prior interviewers.
(3) Background of parents.
(4) Co-mingling of victims.
(5) Type of therapy received.
e. EVALUATE CONTAGION.
Consistent statements obtained from different multiple
victims are powerful pieces of corroborative evidence - that is
as long as those statements were not "contaminated."
Investigation must carefully evaluate both pre- and post-
disclosure contagion, and both victim and intervenor contagion.
Are the different victim statements consistent because they
describe common experiences or events, or because they reflect
contamination or urban legends?
The sources of potential contagion are widespread. Victims
can communicate with each other both prior to and after their
disclosures. Intervenors can communicate with each other and
with victims. The team or cell concepts of investigation are
attempts to deal with potential investigator contagion. All the
victims are not interviewed by the same individuals, and
interviewers do not necessarily share information directly with
each other. Teams report to a leader or supervisor who
evaluates the information and decides what other investigators
need to know.
Documenting existing contagion and eliminating additional
contagion are crucial to the successful investigation and
prosecution of these cases. There is no way, however, to erase
or undo contagion. The best you can hope for is to identify and
evaluate it and attempt to explain it. Mental health
professionals requested to evaluate suspected victims must be
carefully selected. Having a victim evaluated by one of the
self-proclaimed experts on satanic ritual abuse or by some
other overzealous intervenor may result in the credibility of
that victim's testimony being severely damaged.
In order to evaluate the contagion element, investigators
must meticulously and aggressively investigate these cases. The
precise disclosure sequence of the victim must be carefully
identified and documented. Investigators must verify through
active investigation the exact nature and content of each
disclosure outcry or statement made by the victim. Second-hand
information about disclosure is not good enough.
Whenever possible, personal visits should be made to all
locations of alleged abuse and the victim's homes. Events prior
to the alleged abuse must be carefully evaluated. Investigators
may have to view television programs, films, and videotapes
seen by the victims. It may be necessary to conduct a
background investigation and evaluation of everyone, both
professional and nonprofessional, who interviewed the victims
about the allegations prior to and after the investigative
interview(s). Investigators must be familiar with the
information about ritual abuse of children being disseminated
in magazines, books, television programs, videotapes, and
conferences. Every possible way that a victim could have
learned about the details of the abuse must be explored if for
no other reason than to eliminate them and counter the
There may, however, be validity to these contagion
factors. *They may explain some of the "unbelievable" aspects
of the case and result in the successful prosecution of the
substance of the case.* Consistency of statements becomes more
significant if contagion is identified or disproved by
independent investigation. The easier cases are the ones where
there is a single, identifiable source of contagion. Most
cases, however, seem to involve multiple contagion factors.
Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy are
complex and controversial issues in these cases. No attempt
will be made to discuss them in detail, but they are documented
facts (Rosenberg, 1987). Most of the literature about them
focuses on their manifestation in the medical setting as false
or self-inflicted illness or injury. They are also manifested
in the criminal justice setting as false or self-inflicted
crime victimization. If parents would poison their children to
prove an illness, they might sexually abuse their children to
prove a crime. "Victims" have been known to destroy property,
manufacture evidence, and mutilate themselves in order to
convince others of their victimization. The motivation is
psychological gain (i.e. attention, forgiveness, etc.) and not
necessarily money, jealousy, or revenge. These are the
unpopular, but documented, realities of the world. Recognizing
their existence does not mean that child sexual abuse and
sexual assault are not real and serious problems.
f. ESTABLISH COMMUNICATION WITH PARENTS.
The importance and difficulty of this technique in
extrafamilial cases involving young children cannot be
overemphasized. An investigator must maintain ongoing
communication with the parents of victims in these abuse cases.
Not all parents react the same way to the alleged abuse of
their children. Some are very supportive and cooperative.
Others overreact and some even deny the victimization.
Sometimes there is animosity and mistrust among parents with
different reactions. Once the parents lose faith in the police
or prosecutor and begin to interrogate their own children and
conduct their own investigation, the case may be lost forever.
Parents from one case communicate the results of their
"investigation" with each other, and some have even contacted
the parents in other cases. Such parental activity is an
obvious source of potential contamination.
Parents must be made to understand that their children's
credibility will be jeopardized when and if the information
obtained turns out to be unsubstantiated or false. To minimize
this problem, within the limits of the law and without
jeopardizing investigative techniques, parents must be told on
a regular basis how the case is progressing. Parents can also
be assigned constructive things to do (e.g. lobbying for new
legislation, working on awareness and prevention programs) in
order to channel their energy, concern, and "guilt."
g. DEVELOP A CONTINGENCY PLAN.
If a department waits until actually confronted with a
case before a response is developed, it may be too late. In
cases involving ongoing abuse of children, departments must
respond quickly, and this requires advanced planning. There are
added problems for small- to medium-sized departments with
limited personnel and resources. Effective investigation of
these cases requires planning, identification of resources,
and, in many cases, mutual aid agreements between agencies. The
U.S. Department of Defense has conducted specialized training
and has developed such a plan for child sex ring cases
involving military facilities and personnel. Once a case is
contaminated and out of control, I have little advice on how to
salvage what may once have been a prosecutable criminal
violation. A few of these cases have even been lost on appeal
after a conviction because of contamination problems.
h. MULTIDISCIPLINARY TASK FORCES.
Sergeant Beth Dickinson, Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Department, was the chairperson of the Multi-Victim, Multi-
Suspect Child Sexual Abuse Subcommittee. Sergeant Dickinson
states (personal communication, Nov. 1989):
"One of the biggest obstacles for investigators to
overcome is the reluctance of law enforcement administrators to
commit sufficient resources early on to an investigation that
has the potential to be a multidimensional child sex ring. It
is important to get in and get on top of the investigation in a
timely manner - to get it investigated in a timely manner in
order to assess the risk to children and to avoid hysteria,
media sensationalism, and cross-contamination of information.
The team approach reduces stress on individual investigators,
allowing for peer support and minimizing feelings of being
The team approach and working together does not mean,
however, that each discipline forgets its role and starts doing
the other's job.
The investigation of child sex rings can be difficult and
time consuming. The likelihood, however, of a great deal of
corroborative evidence in a multivictim/multioffender case
increases the chances of a successful prosecution if the crime
occurred. Because there is still so much we do not know or
understand about the dynamics of multidimensional child sex
rings, investigative techniques are less certain. Each new case
must be carefully evaluated in order to improve investigative
Because mental health professionals seem to be unable to
determine, with any degree of certainty, the accuracy of victim
statements in these cases, law enforcement must proceed using
the corroboration process. If some of what the victim describes
is accurate, some misperceived, some distorted, and some
contaminated, what is the jury supposed to believe? Until
mental health professionals can come up with better answers,
the jury should be asked to believe what the *investigation*
can corroborate. Even if only a portion of what these victims
allege is factual, that may still constitute significant
There are many possible alternative answers to the
question of why victims are alleging things that don't seem to
be true. The first step in finding those answers is to admit
the possibility that some of what the victims describe may not
have happened. Some experts seem unwilling to even consider
this. Most of these victims are also probably not lying and
have come to believe that which they are alleging actually
happened. There are alternative explanations for why people who
never met each other can tell the same story.
I believe that there is a middle ground - a continuum of
possible activity. Some of what the victims allege may be true
and accurate, some may be misperceived or distorted, some may
be screened or symbolic, and some may be "contaminated" or
false. The problem and challenge, especially for law
enforcement, is to determine which is which. This can only be
done through active investigation. I believe that the majority
of victims alleging "ritual" abuse are in fact victims of some
form of abuse or trauma. That abuse or trauma may or may not be
criminal in nature. After a lengthy discussion about various
alternative explanations and the continuum of possible
activity, one mother told me that for the first time since the
victimization of her young son she felt a little better. She
had thought her only choices were that either her son was a
pathological liar or, on the other hand, she lived in a
community controlled by satanists.
Law enforcement has the obvious problem of attempting to
determine what actually happened for criminal justice purposes.
Therapists, however, might also be interested in what really
happened in order to properly evaluate and treat their
patients. How and when to confront patients with skepticism is
a difficult and sensitive problem for therapists.
Any professional evaluating victims' allegations of
"ritual" abuse cannot ignore or routinely dismiss the lack of
physical evidence (no bodies or physical evidence left by
violent murders); the difficulty in successfully committing a
large-scale conspiracy crime (the more people involved in any
crime conspiracy, the harder it is to get away with it); and
human nature (intragroup conflicts resulting in individual
self-serving disclosures are likely to occur in any group
involved in organized kidnapping, baby breeding, and human
sacrifice). If and when members of a destructive cult commit
murders, they are bound to make mistakes, leave evidence, and
eventually make admissions in order to brag about their crimes
or to reduce their legal liability. The discovery of the
murders in Matamoros, Mexico in 1989 and the results of the
subsequent investigation are good examples of these dynamics.
Overzealous intervenors must accept the fact that some of
their well-intentioned activity is contaminating and damaging
the prosecutive potential of the cases where criminal acts did
occur. We must all (i.e., the media, churches, therapists,
victim advocates, law enforcement, and the general public) ask
ourselves if we have created an environment where victims are
rewarded, listened to, comforted, and forgiven in direct
proportion to the severity of their abuse. Are we encouraging
needy or traumatized individuals to tell more and more
outrageous tales of their victimization? Are we making up for
centuries of denial by now blindly accepting any allegation of
child abuse no matter how absurd or unlikely? Are we increasing
the likelihood that rebellious, antisocial, or attention-
seeking individuals will gravitate toward "satanism" by
publicizing it and overreacting to it? The overreaction to the
problem can be worse than the problem.
The amount of "ritual" child abuse going on in this
country depends on how you define the term. One documented
example of what I might call "ritual" child abuse was the
horror chronicled in the book "A Death in White Bear Lake"
(Siegal, 1990). The abuse in this case, however, had little to
do with anyone's spiritual belief system. There are many
children in the United States who, starting early in their
lives, are severely psychologically, physically, and sexually
traumatized by angry, sadistic parents or other adults. Such
abuse, however, is not perpetrated only or primarily by
satanists. The statistical odds are that such abusers are
members of mainstream religions. If 99.9% of satanists and 0.1%
of Christians abuse children as part of their spiritual belief
system, that still means that the vast majority of children so
abused were abused by Christians.
Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the
public should not be frightened into believing that babies are
being bred and eaten, that 50,000 missing children are being
murdered in human sacrifices, or that satanists are taking over
America's day care centers or institutions. No one can prove
with absolute certainty that such activity has *not* occurred.
The burden of proof, however, as it would be in a criminal
prosecution, is on those who claim that it has occurred.
The explanation that the satanists are too organized and
law enforcement is too incompetent only goes so far in
explaining the lack of evidence. For at least eight years
American law enforcement has been aggressively investigating
the allegations of victims of ritual abuse. There is little or
no evidence for the portion of their allegations that deals
with large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized
satanic conspiracies. Now it is up to mental health
professionals, not law enforcement, to explain why victims are
alleging things that don't seem to have happened. Professionals
in this field must accept the fact that there is still much we
do not know about the sexual victimization of children, and
that this area desperately needs study and research by
rational, objective social scientists.
If the guilty are to be successfully prosecuted, if the
innocent are to be exonerated, and if the victims are to be
protected and treated, better methods to evaluate and explain
allegations of "ritual" child abuse must be developed or
identified. Until this is done, the controversy will continue
to cast a shadow over and fuel the backlash against the
validity and reality of child sexual abuse.
American Psychiatric Association, "Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (3rd Ed.,
Rev.). Washington, DC: 1987.
Breiner, S.J., "Slaughter of the Innocents: Child Abuse
Through the Ages and Today." New York: Plenum Press,
Brown, R., "Prepare for War." Chino, CA: Chick
Brunvand, J.H., "The Vanishing Hitchhiker." New York:
Harrington, Walt, "The Devil in Anton LaVey." Washington,
D.C.: "The Washington Post Magazine," February 23,
1986, pages 6-17.
Lanning, K.V., "Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis"
(2nd Ed.). Washington, D.C.: National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children, 1987.
Lanning, K.V. (1989). Child sex rings: A behavioral
analysis. Washington, DC: National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children.
LaVey, Anton, "The Satanic Bible." New York: Avon Books,
Mayer, R.S., "Satan's Children." New York: Putnam, 1991.
Michigan Department of State Police, "Occult Survey." East
Lansing, Michigan, 1990.
"National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) News,"
June- October 1988, page 3.
"National Incidence Studies on Missing, Abducted, Runaway,
and Thrownaway Children in America." Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 1990.
Prattanis, A., "Hidden messages," "Wellness Letter."
Berkeley, California: University of California,
January 1991, pages 1-2.
Rosenberg, D.A., "Web of Deceit: A Literature Review of
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy," "Child Abuse and
Neglect" #2, 1987, pages 547-563.
Rush, E., "The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of
Children." New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.
Smith, M., & Pazder, L., "Michelle Remembers." New York:
Congdon and Lattis, 1980.
Siegal, B., "A Death in White Bear Lake." New York:
"Stranger-Abduction Homicides of Children," "Juvenile
Justice Bulletin." Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department
of Justice, 1989.
Stratford. L., "Satan's Underground." Eugene, Oregon:
Harvest House, 1988.
Terr, L., "Too Scared to Cry." New York: Harper & Row,
Timnik, L., "The Times Poll," "Los Angeles Times," August
Virginia Crime Commission Task Force, "Final Report of the
Task Force Studying Ritual Crime." Richmond,
12. SUGGESTED READING.
Cooper, John Charles, "The Black Mask: Satanism in America
Today." Old Tappen, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company,
Probably the best of the large number of books
available primarily in Christian bookstores and
written from the Christian perspective. This one,
however, is written without the hysteria and
sensationalism of most. Recommended for investigators
who want information from this perspective.
Hicks, Robert D., "In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the
Occult." Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991.
Undoubtedly the best book written to date on the
topic of satanism and the occult from the law
enforcement perspective. Robert D. Hicks is a former
police officer who is currently employed as a
criminal justice analyst for the state of Virginia.
Must reading for any criminal justice professional
involved in this issue. Unfortunately, in the chapter
on "Satanic Abuse of Children," the author appears to
have been overly influenced by extreme skeptics with
minimal or questionable credentials in this area. The
book is easy to read, logical, and highly
Richardson, James T.; Best, Joel; & Bromley, David G.;
Eds, "The Satanism Scare." NY: Aldine de Gruyter,
The best book now available on the current
controversy over satanism written from the academic
perspective, The editors and many of the chapter
authors are college professors and have written an
objective, well-researched book. One of the great
strengths of this book is the fact that the editors
address a variety of the controversial issues from a
variety of disciplines (i.e., sociology, history,
folklore, anthropology, criminal justice). Because of
its academic perspective it is sometimes harder to
read but is well worth the effort. The chapter on
"Law Enforcement and the Satanic Crime Connection"
contains the results of a survey of "Cult Cops" and
is must reading for law enforcement officers. The
chapter on "Satanism and Child Molestation:
Constructing the Ritual Abuse Scare" was written,
however, by a free-lance journalist who seems to take
the position that these cases involve little or no
real child abuse.
Terr, Lenore, "Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in
Childhood." New York: Harper and Row, 1990.
An excellent book written by a psychiatrist that
provides important insights into the nature and
recallability of early psychic trauma. For me, Dr.
Terr's research and findings in the infamous
Chowchilla kidnapping case shed considerable light on
the "ritual" abuse controversy.
-= END OF FILE =-
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