INVESTIGATOR'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS OF "RITUAL" CHILD ABUSE
Kenneth V. Lanning
Supervisory Special Agent
Behavioral Science Unit
National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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.
---- (1) Multiple Young Victims.
---- (2) Multiple Offenders.
---- (3) Fear as a Controlling Tactic.
---- (4) Bizarre or Ritualistic Activity.
-- b. Characteristics of Multidimensional Child Sex Rings.
---- (1) Female Offenders.
---- (2) Situational Molesters.
---- (3) Male and Female Victims.
---- (4) Multidimensional Motivation.
---- (5) Pornography and Paraphernalia.
---- (6) Control through Fear.
-- c. Scenarios.
---- (1) Adult Survivors.
---- (2) Day Care Cases.
---- (3) Family/Isolated Neighborhood Cases.
---- (4) Custody/Visitation Disputes.
-- d. Why Are Victims Alleging Things that Do Not Seem to be True?
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.
-- g. Combination.
7. Do Victims Lie About Sexual Abuse and Exploitation?
-- a. Personal Knowledge.
-- b. Other Children or Victims.
-- c. Media.
-- 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.
-- i. Summary.
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
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
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 large
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 to believe."
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) are greater.
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-
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 occurrences.
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
-- 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
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 such behavior.
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
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
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 fact.
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"
-- 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
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
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
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
-- Historical overview of satanism, witchcraft, and paganism from
ancient to modern times.
-- Nature and influence of fantasy role-playing games, such as
"Dungeons and Dragons".
-- Lyrics, symbolism, and influence of rock and roll, Heavy Metal,
and Black Metal music.
-- Teenage "stoner" gangs, their symbols, and their vandalism.
-- Teenage suicide by adolescents dabbling in the occult.
-- Crimes committed by self-styled satanic practitioners, including
grave and church desecrations and robberies, animal mutilations, and
-- Ritualistic abuse of children as part of bizarre ceremonies and
-- 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
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
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
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 topic.
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 paganism.
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
-- 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
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 cultural rituals.
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 "satanic" ritual.
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 it.
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"
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
-- 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 understanding.
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 sexual gratification".
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 ritualistic element.
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
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 cults.
-- 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
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
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"
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 satanic?
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 true crimes?
-- 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 belief.
-- 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 with them.
-- Parents refuse life-saving medical treatment for a child because
of their religious beliefs.
-- 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 even define.
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
-- 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 victims.
---- (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 group.
---- (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 abuse.
-- 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 discussed above.
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 are men.
---- (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-
---- (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.
-- c. SCENARIOS.
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 BE TRUE?
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,
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
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
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 murderers combined.
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
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 others.
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 (MlAs), 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 victim/witnesses.
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 impossible.
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 do this.
-- 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 for anything.
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.
"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 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. 5).
-- 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
-- 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
-- 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 experiences.
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?
-- g. COMBINATION.
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
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
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 murder.
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 relatives.
-- c. MEDIA.
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 programs.
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 exactly that.
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 separate.
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
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 together.
The unanswered questions are:
-- a. What is the connection between the belief system and the
-- 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
-- a. Vandalism.
-- b. Desecration of churches and cemeteries.
-- c. Thefts from churches and cemeteries.
-- d. Teenage gangs
-- e. Animal mutilations.
-- f. Teenage suicide.
-- g. Child abuse.
-- h. Kidnapping.
-- 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 more
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.
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 criminal activity?
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 discovered.
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 norms.
-- 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 Christian
_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
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
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 satanic.
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
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 the investigation.
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 their investigators.
-- 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 alleged abuse.
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
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 defense's arguments.
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
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 overwhelmed."
The team approach and working together does not mean, however, that
each discipline forgets its role and starts doing the other's job.
-- i. SUMMARY.
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 procedures.
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 criminal activity.
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
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
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, 1990.
Brown, R., _Prepare for War_. Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1987.
Brunvand, J.H., _The Vanishing Hitchhiker_. New York: Norton, 1981.
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
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, 1969.
Mayer, R.S., _Satan's Children_. New York: Putnam, 1991.
Michigan Department of State Police, _Occult Survey_. East Lansing,
_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-
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
Siegal, B., _A Death in White Bear Lake_. New York: Bantam, 1990.
"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,
Terr, L., _Too Scared to Cry_. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
Timnik, L., "The Times Poll", _Los Angeles Times_, August 25-26,
Virginia Crime Commission Task Force, _Final Report of the Task
Force Studying Ritual Crime_. Richmond, Virginia.
12. SUGGESTED READING.
-- a. Cooper, John Charles, _The Black Mask: Satanism in America
Today_. Old Tappen, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990.
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.
-- b. 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 recomended.