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
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
the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and have specialized in
studying all aspects of the sexual victimization of children.
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
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
like satanic or occult activity in connection with allegations
sexual victimization of children (allegations that have come
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
ceremony and getting away with it is certainly within the realm
possibility. But the number of alleged cases began to grow and
We now have hundreds of victims alleging that thousands of offenders
are abusing and even murdering tens of thousands of people as
of organized satanic cults, and there is little or no corroborative
evidence. The very reason many "experts" cite for believing
allegations (i.e. many victims, who never met each other, reporting
the same events), is the primary reason I began to question at
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,
consulting in the area of the sexual victimization of children.
issues of child sexual abuse and exploitation are a big part
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
aware of the problem Some have even blamed me for helping to
the hysteria that has led to these bizarre allegations. I can
no outside income and am paid the same salary by the FBI whether
not children are abused and exploited - and whether the number
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"
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
those who have made such allegations that they are wrong and
those who heard such allegations is to carefully consider the
The reason I have taken the position I have is not because I
or believe in "satanism", but because I sincerely believe
approach is the proper and most effective investigative strategy.
believe that my approach is in the best interest of victims of
sexual abuse. It would have been easy to sit back, as many have,
say nothing publicly about this controversy. I have spoken out
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
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
to believe simply because their children make the claims. The
of proof necessary may be minimal because the consequences of
believing are within the family. One parent correctly told me,
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
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
order to take protective action and initiate legal proceedings.
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
proof necessary for taking action on allegations of criminal
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,
consequences become greater, and therefore the level of proof
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
Information needs to be disseminated to encourage communication
research about the phenomena. The risks, however, of intervenor
victim "contagion" and public hysteria are potential
aspects of such dissemination. Because of the highly emotional
religious nature of this topic, there is a greater possibility
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
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
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.
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
distant past, should refer to Florence Rush's book _The Best
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
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
it does not happen. Stories and reports about child sexual
victimization are daily occurrences.
It is important for professionals dealing with child sexual abuse
recognize and learn to manage this denial of a serious problem.
Professionals must overcome the denial and encourage society
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
billion child pornography industry, child slavery rings, and
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
-- a. "STRANGER DANGER".
During the 1950s and 1960s the primary focus in the literature
discussions on sexual abuse of children was on "stranger
the dirty old man in the wrinkled raincoat. If one could not
the existence of child sexual abuse, one described victimization
simplistic terms of good and evil. The "stranger danger"
preventing child sexual abuse is clear-cut. We immediately know
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
bag of candy in his hands. He was waiting for a sweet little
walking home from school alone. At the top it read: "Boys
color the page, memorize the rules." At the bottom it read:
your protection, remember to turn down gifts from strangers,
refuse rides offered by strangers." The poster clearly contrasts
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
the kinds of people who victimize children. The fact is a child
molester can look like anyone else and even be someone we know
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
own business. It may be more important to dispel this myth than
myth of the evil offender, especially when talking about the
exploitation of children and child sex rings. Child victims can
boys as well as girls, and not all victims are little "angels".
Society seems to have a problem dealing with any sexual abuse
in which the offender is not completely "bad" or the
victim is not
completely "good". Child victims who, for example,
like human beings and respond to the attention and affection
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
child sexual abuse, child prostitution is almost never discussed.
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
researcher's data on child molestation were misleading because
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
abuse (Timnik, 1985). Whether or not it seems fair, when adults
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
strangers were not good enough to prevent child sexual abuse.
Consequently, we began to develop prevention programs based on
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
minutes to hundreds of kids packed into a school auditorium.
are very difficult issues, and programs must he carefully developed
In the late 1970s child sexual abuse became almost synonymous
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
too closely related to marry. It need not necessarily involve
adult and a child, and it goes beyond child sexual abuse. But
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
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
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
hear about good touching and bad touching and the child's right
say "no". They wanted to be told, in thirty minutes
or less, how
they could protect their children from abduction by strangers.
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
roles in this hype and hysteria over missing children.
-- d. THE ACQUAINTANCE MOLESTER.
Only recently has society begun to deal openly with a critical
in the puzzle of child sexual abuse - acquaintance molestation.
seems to be the most difficult aspect of the problem for us to
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
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
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"
They may feel a need to describe their victimization in more
socially acceptable but sometimes inaccurate ways that relieve
of this guilt.
While American society has become increasingly more aware of
problem of the acquaintance molester and related problems such
child pornography, the voice calling us back to "stranger
-- e. SATANISM: A NEW FORM OF "STRANGER DANGER".
In today's version of "stranger danger", it is the
worshipers who are snatching and victimizing the children. Many
warned us in the early 1980s about pedophiles snatching fifty
thousand kids a year now contend they were wrong only about who
doing the kidnapping, not about the number abducted. This is
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.
explanation has tremendous appeal because, like "stranger
it presents the clear-cut, black-and-white struggle between good
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
_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,
the number of stranger abduction homicides of children at between
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
certainly not new. As previously stated, one of the oldest theories
concerning the causes of crime is demonology. Fear of satanic
occult activity has peaked from time to time throughout history.
Concern in the late 1970s focused primarily on "unexplained"
and mutilations of animals, and in recent years has focused on
sexual abuse and the alleged human sacrifice of missing children.
1999 it will probably focus on the impending "end of the
Today satanism and a wide variety of other terms are used
interchangeably in reference to certain crimes. This discussion
analyze the nature of "satanic, occult, ritualistic"
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
dealt with satanic and ritualistic crime. These training conferences
have various titles, such as "Occult in Crime", "Satanic
'Ritualistic Crime Seminar", "Satanic Influences in
"Occult Crimes, Satanism and Teen Suicide", and "Ritualistic
The typical conference runs from one to three days, and many
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
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
-- Teenage suicide by adolescents dabbling in the occult.
-- Crimes committed by self-styled satanic practitioners, including
grave and church desecrations and robberies, animal mutilations,
-- Ritualistic abuse of children as part of bizarre ceremonies
-- Organized, Traditional, or Multigenerational satanic groups
involved in organized conspiracies, such as taking over day care
centers, infiltrating police departments, and trafficking in
-- The "Big Conspiracy" theory, which implies that
responsible for such things as Adolph Hitler, World War II,
abortion, illegal drugs, pornography, Watergate, and Irangate,
have infiltrated the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, and
During the conferences, these nine areas are linked together
the liberal use of the word "satanism" and some common
(pentagrams, 666, demons, etc.). The implication often is that
are part of a continuum of behavior, a single problem or some
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
and documented. Material produced by religious organizations,
photocopies and slides of newspaper articles, and videotapes
tabloid television programs are used to supplement the training
are presented as "evidence" of the existence and nature
All of this is complicated by the fact that almost any discussion
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
or questioning the sources. Officers who do not normally depend
church groups for law enforcement criminal intelligence, who
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
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
said at such conferences will change the religious beliefs of
in attendance. Such conferences illustrate the highly emotional
nature of and the ambiguity and wide variety of terms involved
The words "satanic", "occult", and "ritual"
are often used
interchangeably. It is difficult to define "satanism"
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
Hussein referred to the United States as the "Great Satan".
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"
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
music. Dr. Brown states that rock music "was a carefully
masterminded plan by none other than Satan himself" (p.
ideas expressed in this book may seem extreme and even humorous.
This book, however, has been recommended as a serious reference
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
satanism. It may be a matter of definition, but these things
necessarily the same as traditional satanism. The worship of
goddesses and nature and the practice of fertility rituals are
satanism. Santeria is a combination of 17th century Roman
Catholicism and African paganism.
Occult means simply "hidden". All unreported or unsolved
might be regarded as occult, but in this context the term refers
the action or influence of supernatural powers, some secret
knowledge of them, or an interest in paranormal phenomena, and
not imply satanism, evil, wrongdoing, or crime. Indeed,
historically, the principal crimes deserving of consideration
"occult crimes" are the frauds perpetrated by faith
tellers and "psychics" who for a fee claim cures, arrange
visitations with dead loved ones, and commit other financial
against the gullible.
Many individuals define satanism from a totally Christian
perspective, using this word to describe the power of evil in
world. With this definition, any crimes, especially those which
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
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
any customarily-repeated act or series of acts. The need to repeat
these acts can be cultural, sexual, or psychological as well
Cultural rituals could include such things as what a family eats
Thanksgiving Day, or when and how presents are opened at Christmas.
The initiation ceremonies of fraternities, sororities, gangs,
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
certain manner because of a *sexual* need. In order to become
aroused and/or gratified, a person must engage in the act in
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
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
of Mental Disorders_ (DSM-III-R) (APA, 1987) defines "Obsessive-
Compulsive Disorder" as "repetitive, purposeful, and
behaviors that are performed in response to an obsession, or
according to certain rules or in a stereotyped fashion"
Such compulsive behavior frequently involves rituals. Although
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.
can also stem from psychotic hallucinations and delusions. A
can be committed in a precise manner because a voice told the
offender to do it that way or because a divine mission required
To make this more confusing, cultural, religious, sexual, and
psychological ritual can overlap. Some psychotic people are
preoccupied with religious delusions and hear the voice of God
Satan telling them to do things of a religious nature. Offenders
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
success in doing things that are against His Commandments. A
negative spiritual belief system may fulfill their human need
assistance from and belief in a greater power or to deal with
superstitions. Compulsive ritualism (e.g., excessive cleanliness
fear of disease) can be introduced into sexual behavior. Even
"normal" people have a need for order and predictability
therefore may engage in family or work rituals. Under stress
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
also fulfill basic criminal needs to manipulate victims, get
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
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
-- 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,
are important for investigative understanding.
Most people today use the term to refer to abuse of children
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,
mental, and spiritual assaults combined with a systematic use
symbols and secret ceremonies designed to turn a child against
itself, family, society, and God" (presentation, Richmond,
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
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
baby's genitals for religious reasons is most likely *not* a
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
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.
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
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
that belief system. Is male circumcision for religious reasons
abuse? Is the religious circumcision of females child abuse?
having a child kneel on a hard floor reciting the rosary constitute
child abuse? Does having a child chant a satanic prayer or attend
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
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
labeling child abuse as "ritualistic" simply because
it involves a
spiritual belief system means to apply the definition to all
all spiritual belief systems. The day may come when many in the
forefront of concern about ritual abuse will regret they opened
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
mentally disturbed, even psychotic offenders. It may be a
misunderstood part of sexual ritual. The ritualistic activity
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
belief system, but to lower the inhibitions of, control, manipulate,
and/or confuse the child. In all the turmoil over this issue,
would be very effective strategy for any child molester deliberately
to introduce ritualistic elements into his crime in order to
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
of some spiritual belief system. In that case the greatest risk
to the children of the practitioners. But this is true of all
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
leaders of such cults.
-- c. WHAT MAKES A CRIME SATANIC, OCCULT, OR RITUALISTIC?
Some would answer that it is the offender's spiritual beliefs
membership in a cult or church. If that is the criterion, why
label the crimes committed by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews
the same way? Are the atrocities of Jim Jones in Guyana Christian
Some would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols
possession or home of the perpetrator. What does it mean then
find a crucifix, Bible, or rosary in the possession or home of
bank robber, embezzler, child molester, or murderer? If different
criminals possess the same symbols, are they necessarily part
Others would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols
as pentagrams, inverted crosses, and 666 at the crime scene.
does it mean then to find a cross spray painted on a wall or
into the body of a victim? What does it mean for a perpetrator,
in one recent case profiled by my Unit, to leave a Bible tied
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
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
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?
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
them to do it? One note of interest is the fact that in handout
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
official date or that the birthdays of practitioners can also
holidays. The exact names and exact dates of the holidays and
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
information. It is then frequently photocopied by attendees and
passed on to other police officers with no one really knowing
validity or origin.
Most, however, would probably answer that what makes a crime
satanic, occult, or ritualistic is the motivation for the crime.
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
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
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
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?
individuals who committed the above-described crimes, however
misguided, believed that they were following their religion as
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
cannot even agree on what Christians believe. At many law
enforcement conferences The _Satanic Bible_ is used for this,
is often contrasted or compared with the Judeo-Christian Bible.
_Satanic Bible_ is, in essence, a short paperback book written
one man, Anton LaVey, in 1969. To compare it to a book written
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
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.
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
of it is undeniable.
Although defining a crime as satanic, occult, or ritualistic
probably involve a combination of the criteria set forth above,
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.
crime with multiple subjects, each offender may have a different
motivation for the same crime. Whose motivation determines the
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
training conferences or in the media. The actual involvement
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
unable to find serious "satanic" crime in their communities,
they are just lucky or vigilant and the serious problems must
other jurisdictions. The officers in the other jurisdictions,
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
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
cases". The requests for assistance came (and continue to
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
These cases involved and continue to involve unsubstantiated
allegations of bizarre activity that are difficult either to
or disprove. Many of the unsubstantiated allegations, however,
not seem to have occurred or even be possible. These cases seem
call into question the credibility of victims of child sexual
and exploitation. These are the most polarizing, frustrating,
baffling cases I have encountered in more than 18 years of studying
the criminal aspects of deviant sexual behavior. I privately
answers, but said nothing publicly about those cases until 1985.
In October 1984 the problems in investigating and prosecuting
these cases in Jordan, Minnesota became publicly known. In February
1985, at the FBI Academy, the FBI sponsored and I coordinated
first national seminar held to study "these kinds of cases".
in 1985, similar conferences sponsored by other organizations
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.
answers have come from these conferences. I continue to be contacted
on these cases on a regular basis. Inquiries have been received
law enforcement officers, prosecutors, therapists, victims, families
of victims, and the media from all over the United States and
foreign countries. I do not claim to understand completely all
dynamics of these cases. I continue to keep an open mind and
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
-- a. DYNAMICS OF CASES.
What are "these kinds of cases"? They were and continue
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
common: (1) multiple young victims, (2) multiple offenders, (3)
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
place or at least begun when the victims were between the ages
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
four to as many as several hundred victims.
---- (2) MULTIPLE OFFENDERS.
In almost all the cases the victims reported numerous offenders.
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
as 40-50 percent) were reported to be females. The multiple
offenders were often family members and were described as being
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.
reported witnessing acts of violence perpetrated to reinforce
fear. It is my belief that this fear and the traumatic memory
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
to enhance or allow sexual arousal from those acts that fulfill
spiritual needs or comply with "religious" ceremonies?
these cases report ceremonies, chanting, robes and costumes,
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
evaluated by an "expert" who will stake his or her
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:
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
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
of cases". Many refer to them as "ritual, ritualistic,
abuse of children cases" or "satanic ritual abuse (SRA)
words carry specialized meanings for many people and might imply
that all these cases are connected to occult or satanic activity.
ritual abuse is not necessarily occult or satanic, but is "merely"
severe, repeated, prolonged abuse, why use a term that, in the
of so many, implies such specific motivation?
Others refer to these cases as "multioffender/multivictim
The problem with this term is that most multiple offender and
cases do not involve the four dynamics discussed above.
For want of a better term, I have decided to refer to "these
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
truly a distinct kind of child sex ring case or just a case not
properly handled. Following are the general characteristics of
multidimensional child sex ring cases as contrasted with more
historical child sex ring cases [see my monograph _Child Sex
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
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,
day care cases frequently involve male as well as female victims.
The most striking characteristic of the victims, however, is
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
the "sexual" activity. Many people today argue that
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
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
---- (5) PORNOGRAPHY AND PARAPHERNALIA.
Although many of the victims of multidimensional child sex rings
claim that pictures and videotapes of the activity were made,
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
ways different from preferential child molesters (pedophiles).
is an area needing additional research and investigation.
---- (6) CONTROL THROUGH FEAR.
Control through fear may be the overriding characteristic of
cases. Control is maintained by frightening the children. A very
young child might not be able to understand the significance
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
the many negative events affecting their lives.
-- c. SCENARIOS.
Multidimensional child sex rings typically emerge from one of
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
or crisis, they often seek therapy. They are frequently hypnotized,
intentionally or unintentionally, as part of the therapy and
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,
bizarre or ritualistic activity. Adult survivors may also claim
"cues" from certain events in their recent life "triggered"
previously repressed memories.
The multiple offenders are often described as members of a cult
satanic group. Parents, family members, clergy, civic leaders,
police officers (or individuals wearing police uniforms), and
prominent members of society are frequently described as present
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
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
_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
requires it, the police or FBI are sometimes contacted to conduct
investigation. The therapists may also fear for their safety
they now know the "secret". The therapists will frequently
enforcement that they will stake their professional reputation
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
will listen to and believe them. Their ability to provide verifiable
details varies and many were raised in apparently religious homes.
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
care center gradually describe their victimization at the center
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
often defined by geographic boundary, such as a cul-de-sac,
apartment building, or isolated rural setting. Such accounts
most common in rural or suburban communities with high
concentrations of religiously conservative people. The stories
similar to those told of the day care setting, but with more
offenders. The basic dynamics remain the same, but victims tend
be more than six years of age, and the scenario may also involve
custody or visitation dispute.
---- (4) CUSTODY/VISITATION DISPUTE.
In custody/visitation dispute cases, the allegations emanate
custody or visitation dispute over at least one child under the
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
especially true if the disclosing child victims have been taken
the "underground" by a parent during the custody or
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"
parent or someone else is almost impossible. However well-
intentioned, these self-appointed investigators severely damage
chance to validate these cases objectively.
-- d. WHY ARE VICTIMS ALLEGING THINGS THAT DO NOT SEEM TO BE
Some of what the victims in these cases allege is physically
impossible (victim cut up and put back together, offender took
building apart and then rebuilt it); some is possible but improbable
(human sacrifice, cannibalism, vampirism ); some is possible
probable (child pornography, clever manipulation of victims);
some is corroborated (medical evidence of vaginal or anal trauma,
The most significant crimes being alleged that do not *seem*
true are the human sacrifice and cannibalism by organized satanic
cults. In none of the multidimensional child sex ring cases of
I am aware have bodies of the murder victims been found - in
of major excavations where the abuse victims claim the bodies
located. The alleged explanations for this include: the offenders
moved the bodies after the children left, the bodies were burned
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,
the power of Satan caused the bodies to disappear.
Not only are no bodies found, but also, more importantly, there
no physical evidence that a murder took place. Many of those
law enforcement do not understand that, while it is possible
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
processing techniques in spite of extraordinary efforts to clean
The victims of these human sacrifices and murders are alleged
abducted missing children, runaway and throwaway children,
derelicts, and the babies of breeder women. It is interesting
note that many of those espousing these theories are using the
since-discredited numbers and rhetoric of the missing children
hysteria in the early 1980s. Yet "Stranger-Abduction Homicides
Children", a January 1989 _Juvenile Justice Bulletin_, published
the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of
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
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"
23,000 murders a year. Those who accept these stories of mass
sacrifice would have us believe that the satanists and other
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
who accept the stories of organized ritual abuse of children
human sacrifice will tell you that the best evidence they now
is the consistency of stories from all over America. It sounds
a powerful argument. It is interesting to note that, without
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
not to imply that allegations of child abuse are in the same
category as allegations of abduction by aliens from outer space.
is intended only to illustrate that individuals who never met
other can sometimes describe similar events without necessarily
having experienced them.
The large number of people telling the same story is, in fact,
biggest reason to doubt these stories. It is simply too difficult
for that many people to commit so many horrendous crimes as part
an organized conspiracy. Two or three people murder a couple
children in a few communities as part of a ritual, and nobody
out? Possible. Thousands of people do the same thing to tens
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
leaders and managers while heavily involved in using illegal
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
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
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
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
the bottom of this crime conspiracy. The perpetrators of this
conspiracy are clever, cunning individuals using sophisticated
control and brainwashing techniques to control their victims.
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
are true, they constitute one of the greatest crime conspiracies
Many people do not understand how difficult it is to commit a
conspiracy crime involving numerous co-conspirators. One clever
cunning individual has a good chance of getting away with a well-
planned interpersonal crime. Bring one partner into the crime
the odds of getting away with it drop considerably. The more
involved in the crime, the harder it is to get away with it.
Human nature is the answer. People get angry and jealous. They
to resent the fact that another conspirator is getting "more"
they. They get in trouble and want to make a deal for themselves
informing on others.
If a group of individuals degenerate to the point of engaging
human sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism, that would most likely
the beginning of the end for such a group. The odds are that
in the group would have a problem with such acts and be unable
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
vampires and werewolves, and child sexual abuse was the work
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
---- (2) Second, the conspiracy theory is a popular one. We find
difficult to believe that one bizarre individual could commit
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
focus of much attention in this country. These conspiracy theories
and allegations of ritual abuse have the following in common:
self-proclaimed experts, (2) tabloid media interest, (3) belief
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
therefore no reason to feel any guilt. I have been present when
parents who believe their children were ritually abused at day
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
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
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
looking for it, there does not appear to be one answer to the
question that fits every case. Each case is different, and each
may involve a different combination of answers.
I have identified a series of possible alternative answers to
question. The alternative answers also do not preclude the
possibility that clever offenders are sometimes involved. I will
attempt to explain completely these alternative answers because
cannot. They are presented simply as areas for consideration
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
answers to this question is to admit the possibility that some
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
not *seem* to be true is *pathological distortion*. The allegations
may be errors in processing reality influenced by underlying
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
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
others linked to them, it is called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
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
eventually come to believe the events actually occurred. Noted
forensic psychiatrist Park E. Dietz (personal communication,
"Pseudomemories have been acquired through dreams (particularly
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
drugs), group influence (particularly hearing vivid accounts
events occurring to others with whom one identifies emotionally
as occurs in incest survivor groups), reading vivid accounts
events occurring to others with whom one identifies emotionally,
watching such accounts in films or on television, and hypnosis.
most efficient means of inducing pseudomemories is hypnosis.
"It is characteristic of pseudomemories that the recollections
complex events (as opposed to a simple unit of information, such
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',
'vague'. They are often perplexed that they recall some details
vividly but others dimly.
"Pseudomemories are not delusions. When first telling others
pseudomemories, these individuals do not have the unshakable
irrational conviction that deluded subjects have, but with social
support they often come to defend vigorously the truthfulness
"Pseudomemories are not fantasies, but may incorporate elements
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
of the retelling. It also occurs, however, that persons report
pseudomemories in such a matter-of-fact and emotionless manner
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.
is a well-documented fact in cases involving individuals taken
hostage or in life-and-death situations. The distortions may
of an elaborate defense mechanism of the mind called "splitting"
The victims create a clear-cut good-and-evil manifestation of
complex victimization that is then psychologically more manageable.
Through the defense mechanism of dissociation, the victim may
the horrors of reality by inaccurately processing that reality.
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
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
help to explain why their outwardly good and religious parents
such terrible things to them in the privacy of their home. Their
religious training may convince them that such unspeakable acts
supposedly "good" people must be the work of the devil.
described human sacrifice may be symbolic of the "death"
It may be that we should anticipate that individuals severely
as very young children by *multiple* offenders with *fear* as
primary controlling tactic will distort and embellish their
victimization. Perhaps a horror-filled yet inaccurate account
victimization is not only not a counterindication of abuse, but
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
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
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
needed by the criminal justice system, and the most likely to
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
early childhood shocks might not be fully and accurately
'reconstructed' from the dreams and behaviors of the adult"
-- 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,
dangling their arms over the side of their bed. They still remember
the "monster" under the bed from childhood. While young
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
source of evil. The children may be "dumping" all their
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)
similar to what causes a child to allege something possible but
improbable (such as witnessing another child being chopped up
-- 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
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
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
techniques may be used to trick the children. Drugs may also
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
influenced by any trauma being experienced. This is the most
alternative explanation, and even the more zealous believers
ritual abuse allegations use it, but only to explain obviously
-- e. OVERZEALOUS INTERVENORS.
*Overzealous intervenors*, causing intervenor contagion, may
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
meaning intervenors for furnishing further details. In addition,
some of what appears not to have happened may have originated
result of intervenors making assumptions about or misinterpreting
what the victims are saying. The intervenors then repeat, and
possibly embellish, these assumptions and misinterpretations,
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
child sexual abuse, satanic activity, or conspiracies. However
"well-intentioned", these overzealous intervenors must
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
also be spread through *urban legends*. In _The Vanishing
Hitchhiker_ (1981), the first of his four books on the topic,
Jan Harold Brunvand defines urban legends as "realistic
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
never met each other tell the same story does not mean that it
true. Absurd urban legends about the corporate logos of Proctor
Gamble and Liz Claiborne being satanic symbols persist in spite
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.
Americans mistakenly believe that tabloid television shows check
and verify the details of their stories before pulling them on
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.
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.
a four-year-old child's "preoccupation with urine and feces"
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
possible explanations unknown to me at this time. Obviously,
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
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
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
false. As previously stated, one of my main concerns in these
is that people are getting away with sexually abusing children
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
rings is a very emotional and polarizing issue. Everyone seems
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
led by overzealous fanatics and incompetent "experts".
side says, in essence, that everything happened; victims never
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
abuse is a crime. The great frustration of these cases is the
that you are often convinced that something traumatic happened
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
of multidimensional child sex rings is the statement "Children
lie about sexual abuse or exploitation. If they have details,
must have happened." This statement, oversimplified by many,
basic premise upon which some believe the child sexual abuse
exploitation movement is based. It is almost never questioned
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
to convict child molesters is to have the child victims testify
court. If we believe them, the jury will believe them. Any challenge
to this basic premise was viewed as a threat to the movement
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
maliciously intended to deceive. The problem is the
oversimplification of the statement. Just because a child is
lying does not necessarily mean the child is telling the truth.
believe that in the majority of these cases, the victims are
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
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
fantasize, furnish false information, furnish misleading
information, misperceive events, try to please adults, respond
leading questions, and respond to rewards. Children are not adults
in little bodies and do go through developmental stages that
evaluated and understood. In many ways, however, children are
better and no worse than other victims or witnesses of a crime.
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.
details in question in most of the cases of multidimensional
sex rings have little to do with sexual activity. Law enforcement
and social workers must do more than attempt to determine how
child could have known about the sex acts. These cases involve
determining how a victim could have known about a wide variety
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
multidimensional child sex rings.
-- a. PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE.
The victim may have personal knowledge of the sexual or ritual
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
having been sexually or physically abused, but by other than
alleged offenders and in ways other than the alleged offense.
-- b. OTHER CHILDREN OR VICTIMS.
Young children today are socially interacting more often and
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
not even know what videotapes their children may have seen, what
games they may have played, or what stories they may have been
or overheard. Children are being placed in day care centers for
eight, ten, or twelve hours a day starting as young as six weeks
age. The children share experiences by playing house, school,
doctor. Bodily functions such as urination and defecation are
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
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
evils of satanism; children without conscience; children with
teenage brother or pregnant mother; children with heavy metal
and literature in the home; children with bizarre toys, games,
comics, and magazines; children with a VCR and slasher films
their home; children with access to dial-a-porn, party lines,
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
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
satanism, witchcraft, and the occult that are available on
videotape. Most of the televangelists have videotapes on the
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
VCR make all this material readily available even to young children.
Religious broadcasters and almost all the television tabloid
magazine programs have done shows on satanism and the occult.
metal and black metal music, which often has a satanic theme,
readily available and popular. In addition to the much-debated
fantasy role-playing games, there are numerous popular toys on
market with an occult-oriented, bizarre, or violent theme.
Books on satanism and the occult, both fiction and nonfiction,
readily available in most bookstores, especially Christian
bookstores. Several recent books specifically discuss the issue
ritual abuse of children. Obviously, very young children do not
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
-- d. SUGGESTIONS AND LEADING QUESTIONS.
This problem is particularly important in cases stemming from
custody/visitation disputes involving at least one child under
age of seven. It is my opinion that most suggestive, leading
questioning of children by intervenors is inadvertently done
of a good-faith effort to learn the truth. Not all intervenors
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
certain way. Children may also overhear their parents discussing
details of the case. Children often tell their parents what they
believe their parents want or need to hear. Some children may
instinctively attempting to provide "therapy" for their
telling them what seems to satisfy them and somehow makes them
better. In one case a father gave the police a tape recording
"prove" that his child's statements were spontaneous
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
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
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
not know how to ask leading questions. Highly suggestive books
pictures portraying "satanic" activity have been developed
marketed to therapists for use during evaluation and treatment.
Types and styles of verbal interaction useful in therapy may
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
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
other kinds of cases. Intervenors motivated by religious fervor
and/or exaggerated concerns about sexual abuse of children are
likely to lose their objectivity.
-- e. MISPERCEPTION AND CONFUSION.
In one case, a child's description of the apparently impossible
of walking through a wall turned out to be the very possible
walking between the studs of an unfinished wall in a room under
construction. In another case, pennies in the anus turned out
copper-foil-covered suppositories. The children may describe
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
set abuse, alert professionals, or fight satanism may in fact
unrealistically increasing the fears of professionals, children,
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
be adding to the problem. In fact most of the day care centers
which ritualistic abuse is alleged to hate taken place are church-
affiliated centers, and many of the adult survivors alleging
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
have their own valid concerns and views about this issue. This
discussion, however, deals primarily with the law enforcement
criminal justice perspective.
When you combine an emotional issue such as the sexual abuse
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
even feel that all crime is caused by evil, all evil is caused
Satan, and therefore, all crime is satanic crime. This may be
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
do not even investigate such cases. Their presentations are more
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
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
no longer keep the perspectives separate.
Law enforcement officers and all professionals in this field
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,
elaborate systems of thinking based on and often proceeding
logically from misinterpretation of actual events. Paranoia
typically involves hypervigilance over the perceived threat,
belief that danger is around every corner, and the willingness
take up the challenge and do something about it. Another very
important aspect of this paranoia is the belief that those who
not recognize the threat are evil and corrupt. In this extreme
you are either with them or against them. You are either part
solution or part of the problem.
Overzealousness and exaggeration motivated by the true religious
fervor of those involved is more acceptable than that motivated
ego or profit. There are those who are deliberately distorting
hyping this issue for personal notoriety and profit. Satanic
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
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
in that most satanic/occult activity involves the commission
crimes, and that which does usually involves the commission of
relatively minor crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, cruelty
animals, or petty thievery.
The law enforcement problems most often linked to satanic or
-- 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
occult and the first six problems (#a-f) set forth above. The
"connection" to the last three problems (#g-i) is far
Even where there seems to be a "connection", the nature
connection needs to be explored. It is easy to blame involvement
satanism and the occult for behaviors that have complex motivations.
A teenager's excessive involvement in satanism and the occult
usually a symptom of a problem and not the cause of a problem.
Blaming satanism for a teenager's vandalism, theft, suicide,
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
defense, stated the boys in question "lived troubled lives,
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
drug treatment centers; there was no evaluation of the pros and
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
attention was mesmerized by an attempt to count the number of
subliminal demons that can dance on the end of a record needle"
The law enforcement investigator must objectively evaluate the
significance of any criminal's spiritual beliefs. In most cases,
including those involving satanists, it will have little or no
significance. If a crime is committed as part of a spiritual
system, it should make no difference which belief system it is.
crime is the same whether a child is abused or murdered as part
Christian, Hare Krishna, Moslem, or any other belief system.
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
occult labeled as satanic or occult crimes? If criminals use
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
these murders the perpetrator has even introduced elements of
occult (e.g. satanic symbols at crime scene). Does that
automatically make these satanic murders? It is my opinion that
answer is no. Ritualistic murders committed by serial killers
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
psychotic killers who hear the voice of Jesus are Christian murders.
Rather a satanic murder should be defined as one committed by
more individuals who rationally plan the crime and whose *primary*
motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual calling
murder. By this definition I have been unable to identify even
documented satanic murder in the United States. Although such
murders may have and can occur, they appear to be few in number.
addition the commission of such killings would probably be the
beginning of the end for such a group. It is highly unlikely
they could continue to kill several people, every year, year
year, and not be discovered.
A brief typology of satanic and occult practitioners is helpful
evaluating what relationship, if any, such practices have to
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
of occult activity long before it became popular. No typology
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,
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
occult to overcome a sense of alienation, to rebel, to obtain
or to justify their antisocial behavior. For these teenagers
the symbolism, not the spirituality, that is more important.
either the psychopathic or the oddball, loner teenager who is
likely to get into serious trouble. Extreme involvement in the
occult is a symptom of a problem, not the cause. This is not
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"
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
They may mix satanism, witchcraft, paganism, and any aspects
occult to suit their purposes. Symbols mean whatever they want
or believe them to mean. Molesters, rapists, drug dealers, and
murderers may dabble in the occult and may even commit their
in a ceremonial or ritualistic way. This category has the potential
to be the most dangerous, and most of the "satanic"
into this category. Their involvement in satanism and the occult
a symptom of a problem, and a rationalization and justification
antisocial behavior. Satanic/occult practices (as well as those
other spiritual belief systems) can also be used as a mechanism
facilitate criminal objectives.
-- c. "TRADITIONAL (ORTHODOX).
"These are the so-called true believers. They are often
outsiders. Because of this and constitutional issues, such groups
are difficult for law enforcement to penetrate. Although there
be much we don't know about these groups, as of now there is
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"
have a similar problem with their teenagers rebelling against
belief system. To some extent even these Traditional satanists
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
Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan that "sociologists who
studied LaVey's church say that its members often had serious
childhood problems like alcoholic parents or broken homes, or
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.
Burton Russell, Professor of History at the University of California
at Santa Barbara and the author of numerous scholarly books on
devil and satanism, believes that the universal consensus of
historians on satanism is (personal communication, Nov. 1991):
"(1) incidents of orgy, infanticide, cannibalism, and other
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
the authorities; (4) in some cases the sectaries believed that
were worshiping Satan; (5) no organized cult of Satanists existed
the Christian period beyond localities, and on no account was
ever any widespread Satanist organization or conspiracy; (6)
reliable historical sources indicate that such organizations
existed; (7) the black mass appears only once in the sources
the late nineteenth century."
Many police officers ask what to look for during the search of
scene of suspected satanic activity. The answer is simple: Look
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
investigation can find evidence that the claimed offenders are
members only of mainstream churches and are often described as
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
aggressively and thoroughly investigated, This investigation
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
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
enforcement agency has an obligation to prove that the alleged
crimes did not occur. This is almost always impossible to do
investigators should be alert for and avoid this trap.
One major problem in the investigation of multidimensional child
rings is the dilemma of recognizing soon enough that you have
Investigators must be alert for cases with the potential for
four basic dynamics: (a) multiple young victims, (b) multiple
offenders, (c) fear as the controlling tactic, and (d) bizarre
ritualistic activity. The following techniques apply primarily
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
these cases have not been successfully prosecuted is that the
satanic/occult aspect has not been aggressively pursued. One
has even introduced legislation creating added penalties when
certain crimes are committed as part of a ritual or ceremony.
states have passed special ritual crime laws. I strongly disagree
with such an approach. It makes no difference what spiritual
system was used to enhance and facilitate or rationalize and
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
to conjure up supernatural spirits or forces, this may very well
the basis for an insanity or diminished capacity defense, or
damage the intent aspect of a sexually motivated crime. The defense
may very well be more interested in all the "evidence of
activity". Some of the satanic crime "experts"
who train law
enforcement wind up working or testifying for the defense in
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".
one case a law enforcement agency executing a search warrant
only the satanic paraphernalia and left behind the other evidence
that would have corroborated victim statements. Cases are solved
people- and behavior-oriented investigation. Evidence of satanic
occult activity may help explain certain aspects of the case,
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
cases can make is to attribute supernatural powers to the offenders.
During an investigation a good investigator may sometimes be
use the beliefs and superstitions of the offenders to his or
advantage. The reverse happens if the investigator believes that
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
in conflict with the supernatural forces of evil should probably
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
may cause an investigator to "see" satanism in a crime
really is not there (quasi-satanism). Often the eye sees what
mind perceives. It may also cause an investigator not to recognize
staged crime scene deliberately seeded with "satanic clues"
to mislead the police (pseudo-satanism). On rare occasions an
overzealous investigator or intervenor may even be tempted to
"evidence of satanism" in order to corroborate such
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
or her job to listen and be an objective fact finder. Interviews
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
an adult survivor sometimes want to act as intermediaries in
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
event did happen does not mean that all reported events happened,
and just because one event did not happen does not mean that
other events did not happen. Do not become such a zealot that
believe it all nor such a cynic that you believe nothing. Varying
amounts and parts of the allegation may be factual. Attempting
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
criminal behavior? Investigators should apply the "template
probability". Accounts of child sexual victimization that
like books, television, and movies (e.g. big conspiracies, child
slaves, organized pornography rings) and less like documented
should be viewed with skepticism but thoroughly investigated.
Consider and investigate all possible explanations of events.
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:
the allegations may be a fairly accurate account what actually
happened. Second, they may be deliberate lies (malingering),
for the usual reasons people lie (e.g. money, revenge, jealousy).
Third, they may be deliberate lies (factitious disorder) told
atypical reasons (e.g. attention, forgiveness). Lies so motivated
are less likely to be recognized by the investigator and more
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,
the victim truly believes it (pseudomemory) and therefore is
lying. A polygraph examination of such a victim would be of limited
value. Other explanations or combinations of these explanations
also possible. *Only* thorough *investigation* will point to
correct or most likely explanation.
Investigators cannot rely on therapists or satanic crime experts
a shortcut to the explanation. In one case, the "experts"
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
and forced to participate in bizarre rituals before recently
escaping. Active investigation, however, determined she was a
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
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
about whether an individual was traumatized, but knowing the
cause of that trauma is another matter. There have been cases
investigation has discovered that individuals diagnosed by
therapists as suffering from Post-Vietnam Syndrome were never
Vietnam or saw no combat.
Conversely, in another case, a law enforcement "expert"
crime told a therapist that a patient's accounts of satanic murders
in a rural Pacific Northwest town were probably true because
community was a hotbed of such satanic activity. When the therapist
explained that there was almost no violent crime reported in
community, the officer explained that that is how you know it
satanists. If you knew about the murders or found the bodies,
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
elapsed since disclosure was first made and the incident was
reported to the police or social services. The longer the delay,
bigger the potential for problems. The next step is to determine
number and purpose of *all prior* interviews of the victim
concerning the allegations. The more interviews conducted before
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
the investigative interview. When an investigative interview
conducted by or with a social worker or therapist using a team
approach, law enforcement must direct the process. Problems can
be created by interviews conducted by various intervenors *after*
the investigative interview(s).
The investigator must closely and carefully evaluate events in
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
powerful pieces of corroborative evidence - that is as long as
statements were not "contaminated". Investigation must
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,
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
victims. The team or cell concepts of investigation are attempts
deal with potential investigator contagion. All the victims are
interviewed by the same individuals, and interviewers do not
necessarily share information directly with each other. Teams
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
cases. There is no way, however, to erase or undo contagion.
best you can hope for is to identify and evaluate it and attempt
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
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
Whenever possible, personal visits should be made to all locations
of alleged abuse and the victim's homes. Events prior to the
abuse must be carefully evaluated. Investigators may have to
television programs, films, and videotapes seen by the victims.
may be necessary to conduct a background investigation and
evaluation of everyone, both professional and nonprofessional,
interviewed the victims about the allegations prior to and after
investigative interview(s). Investigators must be familiar with
information about ritual abuse of children being disseminated
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
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
result in the successful prosecution of the substance of the
Consistency of statements becomes more significant if contagion
identified or disproved by independent investigation. The easier
cases are the ones where there is a single, identifiable source
contagion. Most cases, however, seem to involve multiple contagion
Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy are complex
controversial issues in these cases. No attempt will be made
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
order to convince others of their victimization. The motivation
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
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
victims in these abuse cases. Not all parents react the same
the alleged abuse of their children. Some are very supportive
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
prosecutor and begin to interrogate their own children and conduct
their own investigation, the case may be lost forever. Parents
one case communicate the results of their "investigation"
other, and some have even contacted the parents in other cases.
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
to be unsubstantiated or false. To minimize this problem, within
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
response is developed, it may be too late. In cases involving
ongoing abuse of children, departments must respond quickly,
this requires advanced planning. There are added problems for
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
child sex ring cases involving military facilities and personnel.
Once a case is contaminated and out of control, I have little
on how to salvage what may once have been a prosecutable criminal
violation. A few of these cases have even been lost on appeal
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
Abuse Subcommittee. Sergeant Dickinson states (personal
communication, Nov. 1989):
"One of the biggest obstacles for investigators to overcome
reluctance of law enforcement administrators to commit sufficient
resources early on to an investigation that has the potential
a multidimensional child sex ring. It is important to get in
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
individual investigators, allowing for peer support and minimizing
feelings of being overwhelmed."
The team approach and working together does not mean, however,
each discipline forgets its role and starts doing the other's
-- 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
still so much we do not know or understand about the dynamics
multidimensional child sex rings, investigative techniques are
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
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
jury supposed to believe? Until mental health professionals can
up with better answers, the jury should be asked to believe what
*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
victims are alleging things that don't seem to be true. The first
step in finding those answers is to admit the possibility that
of what the victims describe may not have happened. Some experts
seem unwilling to even consider this. Most of these victims are
probably not lying and have come to believe that which they are
alleging actually happened. There are alternative explanations
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
which. This can only be done through active investigation. I
that the majority of victims alleging "ritual" abuse
are in fact
victims of some form of abuse or trauma. That abuse or trauma
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
thought her only choices were that either her son was a pathological
liar or, on the other hand, she lived in a community controlled
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
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"
cannot ignore or routinely dismiss the lack of physical evidence
bodies or physical evidence left by violent murders); the difficulty
in successfully committing a large-scale conspiracy crime (the
people involved in any crime conspiracy, the harder it is to
away with it); and human nature (intragroup conflicts resulting
individual self-serving disclosures are likely to occur in any
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
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.
must all (i.e., the media, churches, therapists, victim advocates,
law enforcement, and the general public) ask ourselves if we
created an environment where victims are rewarded, listened to,
comforted, and forgiven in direct proportion to the severity
their abuse. Are we encouraging needy or traumatized individuals
tell more and more outrageous tales of their victimization? Are
making up for centuries of denial by now blindly accepting any
allegation of child abuse no matter how absurd or unlikely? Are
increasing the likelihood that rebellious, antisocial, or attention-
seeking individuals will gravitate toward "satanism"
it and overreacting to it? The overreaction to the problem can
worse than the problem.
The amount of "ritual" child abuse going on in this
on how you define the term. One documented example of what I
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
their lives, are severely psychologically, physically, and sexually
traumatized by angry, sadistic parents or other adults. Such
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
that the vast majority of children so abused were abused by
Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the public
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
it has occurred.
The explanation that the satanists are too organized and law
enforcement is too incompetent only goes so far in explaining
lack of evidence. For at least eight years American law enforcement
has been aggressively investigating the allegations of victims
ritual abuse. There is little or no evidence for the portion
their allegations that deals with large-scale baby breeding,
sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies. Now it is up to
mental health professionals, not law enforcement, to explain
victims are alleging things that don't seem to have happened.
Professionals in this field must accept the fact that there is
much we do not know about the sexual victimization of children,
that this area desperately needs study and research by rational,
objective social scientists.
If the guilty are to be successfully prosecuted, if the innocent
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
the backlash against the validity and reality of child sexual
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Stratford. L., _Satan's Underground_. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest
Terr, L., _Too Scared to Cry_. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
Timnik, L., "The Times Poll", _Los Angeles Times_,
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
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.
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
questionable credentials in this area. The book is easy to read,
logical, and highly recomended.