Editor's Note

Hollida Wakefield

The basis for the intellectual, social, and economic achievement of modem times has been the free exercise of human reason.  Reason has produced the benefits, as well as the banes, of empirical science.  The progress and the technological advances of the last three centuries are breathtaking.  It is reason that will produce the steps needed to overcome the negative impacts, and not a return to superstitions of the dark ages.  It is reason that produced the political system of our country that is now the aspiration of all peoples.  It is reason that will guide the development of freedom around the world.

"The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold" noted Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.  At the end serious consequences flow from what may be a small or apparently insignificant error at the beginning.  Corrective action must begin with little errors in the beginning.  This means that we must be vigilant to initial errors and make conscious moral choices to resist them.

At the same time, for many, the exercise of reason is thought to lead to a relativism that precludes moral indignation or passionate embrace of ideas.  In the eighteenth century David Hume asserted that an "ought" cannot be deduced from an "is."  On this basis many believe that prescriptive or normative concepts are impossible.  Science is supposed to be impartial, objective, dispassionate, balanced, and non-normative and only descriptive of what is.  The American effort in the 1920s to produce an ethics from science did not work.  Therefore scientists may think they cannot take a stand on an issue and may be embarrassed by an emotional investment in an idea.

Passion and fervor, however, are appropriate for a reasonable human being, as well as for a scientist, when the free exercise of human reason is threatened.  We believe that the current claims about a satanic, ritualistic abuse conspiracy are a little error at the beginning, an attack upon reason, and a glorification of irrationality that, if believed and accepted, will have serious unforeseen consequences in the end.

Some professionals advocate taking a neutral position about these claims, which have, in fact, polarized the mental health community.   However, we do not believe that one can be impartial and neutral about an alleged large-scale conspiracy of child abusers who sexually molest and torture children in bizarre and sadistic rituals.  Instead, such irrational and unfounded claims require a passionate and energetic pursuit and vigorous defense of reason.

The evidence for satanic ritual abuse conspiracies comes from two sources the reports from "survivors" and their counselors of "repressed" memories that were uncovered during therapy, and allegations involving young children in day care cases, such as McMartin.  But both the believers and nonbelievers agree that there have been no findings of physical evidence corroborating the claims of satanic cults, human sacrifice, orgies, or a widespread conspiracy.  Despite hundreds of investigations by the FBI and police, there is no independent evidence supporting the existence of such cults.

As psychologists who deal with sexual abuse, as well as other human behavior problems, we know that there are sadistic and disturbed people who abuse and brutalize children.  Some of these people may abuse a child in what looks like or is interpreted as a satanic ritual, a possibility that becomes more probable given the current media attention and publicity.  What we find completely unbelievable and irrational are the allegations of ritual abuse, animal and human sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism of hundreds of children by a conspiracy of apparently normal adults who are functional and organized enough to leave no trace of their activities.

Although we have been consulted in approximately 15 cases involving such allegations over the past several years, a year ago we had only a handful of professional articles about ritualistic abuse allegations in our resource file.  Today we have over a hundred and the number is rapidly growing.  At the American Psychological Association's convention in San Francisco in August this year there were several presentations devoted to this topic, representing a wide variety of opinions.

The articles in this special issue of Issues in Child Abuse Accusations all deal with different aspects of the topic.  Jeffrey S. Victor, a sociologist, discusses the satanic cult scare in terms of the concept of collective behavior.  He sees the satanic cult scare as a form of deviant behavior which exists only in the preconceptions of a group of professionals who see what they expect to see.  Zachary Bravos, an attorney, examines the trial records of witch prosecutions in the 15th century and describes how the current approach toward child sexual abuse allegations, especially the allegations of satanic, ritual abuse, parallels the prosecutions of witches.

Much of the claimed evidence for the satanic, ritual abuse conspiracy comes from the accounts of "survivors" who uncover memories of bizarre satanic ritual abuse ceremonies during the course of therapy.  There has been an epidemic of such cases recently, along with books and media appearances by the survivors and their therapists.  The alleged abuse is not remembered until the adult goes into therapy with a therapist skilled in special techniques, such as survivors' groups and hypnotherapy.

We have consulted on several cases concerning recovered "memories" in the past year, some involving bizarre or ritual abuse.  Elizabeth Loftus, in a recent presentation at the American Psychological Association's Convention, also reports receiving calls and letters from all over the country from parents whose adult children have suddenly accused them of recently remembered abuse.

The article by Jane Doe, an educator, presents an account of recently remembered childhood sexual abuse from the point of view of the accused parents, who deny the abuse.  The accusations arose during the course of therapy in which the therapist elicited "repressed memories" of the abuse which was alleged to occur repeatedly throughout the daughter's childhood.  Although satanic ritual abuse was not part of these particular allegations, the process by which these allegations surfaced is the same as in the ritual abuse allegations.

Another case involving uncovered memories is described by Martha L. Rogers, a forensic psychologist, who also reviews the profiling of modal sex offender and homicide perpetrators, offense characteristics, and modus operandi, to hypothesize what features one would anticipate in an alleged satanic ritual abuse offender.  She takes us through an actual case involving allegations of a satanic ritual abuse conspiracy which was based on the memories of two grown sisters which were elicited during therapy.

Finally, Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield discuss the question as to why some professionals believe in widespread satanic, ritual abuse of children while others do not.  They suggest the answer may be found in the personality characteristics of the believers and nonbelievers.

[Back to Volume 3, Number 3]

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