The literature on ritualistic abuse suggests that ritualistic sexual practices with young children are a characteristic of particularly abusive groups, and that such practices typically occur alongside a diverse range of other abusive practices, such as child prostitution and the manufacture of child abuse images. One of the shortcomings of the available literature, however, is the general presumption (implicit or explicit) that abusive groups are motivated by a religious or spiritual conviction. In clinical and research literature, abusive groups are generally referred to as 'cults', and 'cult abuse' is a term that has been used interchangeably with 'ritual abuse'." p38
Sexual abuse is also a secret crime, one that usually has no witness. Shame and secrecy keep a child from talking to siblings about the abuse, even if all the children in a family are being sexually assaulted. In contrast, if a child is physically or emotionally abused, the abuse is likely to occur in front of the other children in the family, at least some of the time. The physical and emotional abuse becomes part of the family's explicit history. Sexual abuse does not.
Research on organised abuse emphasises the diversity of organised abuse cases, and the ways in which serious forms of child maltreatment cluster in the lives of children subject to organised victimisation (eg Bibby 1996b, Itziti 1997, Kelly and Regan 2000). Most attempts to examine organised abuse have been undertaken by therapists and social workers who have focused primarily on the role of psychological processes in the organised victimisation of children and adults. Dissociation, amnesia and attachment, in particular, have been identified as important factors that compel victims to obey their abusers whilst inhibiting them from disclosing their abuse or seeking help (see Epstein et al. 2011, Sachs and Galton 2008). Therapists and social workers have surmised that these psychological effects are purposively induced by perpetrators of organised abuse through the use of sadistic and ritualistic abuse. In this literature, perpetrators are characterised either as dissociated automatons mindlessly perpetuating the abuse that they, too, were subjected to as children, or else as cruel and manipulative criminals with expert foreknowledge of the psychological consequences of their abuses. The therapist is positioned in this discourse at the very heart of the solution to organised abuse, wielding their expertise in a struggle against the coercive strategies of the perpetrators. Whilst it cannot be denied that abusive groups undertake calculated strategies designed to terrorise children into silence and obedience, the emphasis of this literature on psychological factors in explaining organised abuse has overlooked the social contexts of such abuse and the significance of abuse and violence as social practices.
Allegations of multi-perpetrator and multi-victim sexual abuse emerged to public awareness in the early 1980s contemporaneously with the denials of the accused and their supporters. Multi-perpetrator sexual offences are typically more sadistic than solo offences and organised sexual abuse is no exception. Adults and children with histories of organised abuse have described lives marked by torturous and sometimes ritualistic sexual abuse arranged by family members and other care-givers and authority figures. It is widely acknowledged, at least in theory, that sexual abuse can take severe forms, but when disclosures of such abuse occur, they are routinely subject to contestation and challenge. People accused of organised, sadistic or ritualistic abuse have protested that their accusers are liars and fantasists, or else innocents led astray by overly zealous investigators. This was an argument that many journalists and academics have found more convincing than the testimony of alleged victims.
With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism, and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until he or she is incapable of judging a situation realistically. He or she may begin to believe that there is something wrong with them or even fear they are losing their mind. They have become so beaten down emotionally that they blame themselves for the abuse.
A cult is a group of people who share an obsessive devotion to a person or idea. The cults described in this book use violent tactics to recruit, indoctrinate, and keep members. Ritual abuse is defined as the emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive acts performed by violent cults. Most violent cults do not openly express their beliefs and practices, and they tend to live separately in noncommunal environments to avoid detection.Some victims of ritual abuse are children abused outside the home by nonfamily members, in public settings such as day care. Other victims are children and teenagers who are forced by their parents to witness and participate in violent rituals. Adult ritual abuse victims often include these grown children who were forced from childhood to be a member of the group. Other adult and teenage victims are people who unknowingly joined social groups or organizations that slowly manipulated and blackmailed them into becoming permanent members of the group. All cases of ritual abuse, no matter what the age of the victim, involve intense physical and emotional trauma.Violent cults may sacrifice humans and animals as part of religious rituals.They use torture to silence victims and other unwilling participants. Ritual abuse victims say they are degraded and humiliated and are often forced to torture, kill, and sexually violate other helpless victims. The purpose of the ritual abuse is usually indoctrination. The cults intend to destroy these victims' free will by undermining their sense of safety in the world and by forcing them to hurt others.In the last ten years, a number of people have been convicted on sexual abuse charges in cases where the abused children had reported elements of ritual child abuse. These children described being raped by groups of adults who wore costumes or masks and said they were forced to witness religious-type rituals in which animals and humans were tortured or killed. In one case, the defense introduced in court photographs of the children being abused by the defendants[.1] In another case, the police found tunnels etched with crosses and pentacles along with stone altars and candles in a cemetery where abuse had been reported. The defendants in this case pleaded guilty to charges of incest, cruelty, and indecent assault. Ritual abuse allegations have been made in England, the United States, and Canada.Many myths abound concerning the parents and children who report ritual abuse. Some people suggest that the tales of ritual abuse are "mass hysteria." They say the parents of these children who report ritual abuse are often overly zealous Christians on a "witch-hunt" to persecute satanists.These skeptics say the parents are fearful of satanism, and they use their knowledge of the Black Mass (a historically well-known, sexualized ritual in which animals and humans are sacrificed) to brainwash their children into saying they were abused by satanists. In 1992 I conducted a study to separate fact from fiction in regard to the disclosures of children who report ritual abuse. The study was conducted through Believe the Children, a national organization that provides support and educational sources for ritual abuse survivors and their families.
In her book claiming that allegations of ritualistic abuse are mostly confabulations, La Fontaine’s (1998) comparison of social workers to ‘nazis’ shows the depth of feeling evident amongst many sceptics. However, this raises an important question: Why did academics and journalists feel so strongly about allegations of ritualistic abuse, to the point of pervasively misrepresenting the available evidence and treating women disclosing ritualistic abuse, and those workers who support them, with barely concealed contempt? It is of course true that there are fringe practitioners in the field of organised abuse, just as there are fringe practitioners in many other health-related fields. However, the contrast between the measured tone of the majority of therapists and social workers writing on ritualistic abuse, and the over-blown sensationalism of their critics, could not be starker. Indeed, Scott (2001) notes with irony that the writings of those who claimed that ‘satanic ritual abuse’ is a ‘moral panic’ had many of the features of a moral panic: scapegoating therapists, social workers and sexual abuse victims whilst warning of an impending social catastrophe brought on by an epidemic of false allegations of sexual abuse. It is perhaps unsurprising that social movements for people accused of sexual abuse would engage in such hyperbole, but why did this rhetoric find so many champions in academia and the media?
The fact that most perpetrators of organised abuse are men, and that their most intensive and sadistic abuses are visited upon girls and women, has gone largely unnoticed, as have the patterns of gendered inequity that characterise the families and institutional settings in which organised abuse takes place. Organised abuse survivors share a number of challenges in common with other survivors of abuse and trauma, including health and justice systems that have been slow to recognise and respond to violence against children and women. However, this connection is rarely made in the literature on organised abuse, with some authors hinting darkly at the nefarious influence of abusive groups. Fraser (1997: xiv) provides a note of caution here, explaining that whilst it is relatively easy to ‘comment on the naïveté of those grappling with this issue ... it is very difficult to actually face a new and urgent phenomenon and deal with it, but not fully understand it, while managing distressed and confused patients and their families’.
…is methodical abuse, often using indoctrination, aimed at breaking the will of another human being. In a 1989 report, the Ritual Abuse Task Force of the L.A. County Commission for Women defined ritual abuse as: “Ritual Abuse usually involves repeated abuse over an extended period of time. The physical abuse is severe, sometimes including torture and killing. The sexual abuse is usually painful,humiliating, intended as a means of gaining dominance over the victim.The psychological abuse is devastating and involves the use of ritual indoctrination. It includes mind control techniques which convey to the victim a profound terror of the cult members …most victims are in a state of terror, mind control and dissociation” (Pg. 35-36)
Today, acknowledgement of the prevalence and harms of child sexual abuse is counterbalanced with cautionary tales about children and women who, under pressure from social workers and therapists, produce false allegations of ‘paedophile rings’, ‘cult abuse’ and ‘ritual abuse’. Child protection investigations or legal cases involving allegations of organised child sexual abuse are regularly invoked to illustrate the dangers of ‘false memories’, ‘moral panic’ and ‘community hysteria’. These cautionary tales effectively delimit the bounds of acceptable knowledge in relation to sexual abuse. They are circulated by those who locate themselves firmly within those bounds, characterising those beyond as ideologues and conspiracy theorists. However firmly these boundaries have been drawn, they have been persistently transgressed by substantiated disclosures of organised abuse that have led to child protection interventions and prosecutions. Throughout the 1990s, in a sustained effort to redraw these boundaries, investigations and prosecutions for organised abuse were widely labelled ‘miscarriages of justice’ and workers and therapists confronted with incidents of organised abuse were accused of fabricating or exaggerating the available evidence. These accusations have faded over time as evidence of organised abuse has accumulated, while investigatory procedures have become more standardised and less vulnerable to discrediting attacks. However, as the opening quotes to this introduction illustrate, the contemporary situation in relation to organised abuse is one of considerable ambiguity in which journalists and academics claim that organised abuse is a discredited ‘moral panic’ even as cases are being investigated and prosecuted.