Evaluating an Alleged Satanic Ritualistic Abuser: What We Don't Know

Martha L. Rogers*

ABSTRACT: A review was made of modal sex offender and homicide perpetrators, offense characteristics, and modus operandi, to hypothesize what one would anticipate in an alleged SRA offender.  Such SRA offenders have not actually been identified and studied, and the hypothetical profile is full of contradictions compared to various known groups of offenders.  Therefore, evaluating persons who have been accused of SRA is based on common sense and past forensic experience in assessment of perpetrators of sex offenses and homicide in relation to the complaints.  A careful review of exactly what is alleged about the defendant is important and conducting a detailed independent medical/psychological examination of the plaintiffs is critical.

What Do We Know From Studies of Known Perpetrator Patterns?

The available literature from law enforcement or sex offender studies provides little help in understanding what the characteristics of an alleged SRA (satanic ritualistic abuse) offender might be.  As a point of comparison, I have outlined what is known about modal offenders in various classes, their personal characteristics, victim preferences, and modus operandi, and base rates.  Of course, there are crimes committed every day which will not fit these broad patterns, as there are many variations of sex and homicide offenses, and these known and previously studied dynamics and base rates should be considered in the light of available evidence in a specific case.

Single Perpetrator/Familial Victim(s)

This is the single largest category of child molestation offenses. The vast majority of children who are molested are the victims of their fathers or stepfathers.  Some are molested by older siblings, grandparents, or other extended family members.  Clearly, the usual patterns seen in incest families do not seem highly applicable to an understanding of the alleged SRA offender, although he or she often is stated to have engaged in chronic incestuous activities along with some form of sex ring activities.  Most of the victims are girls, with whom a relationship is developed over time by the father figure, gradually becoming more intrusive and controlling.  Usually force or physical injury is not part of the pattern, although in some cases there is a pattern of domination and physical abuse of the wife and less frequently the children; the child is usually bonded to the offender through gifts, bribes, manipulation, and special favors rather than through fear and threats.

The offender usually operates alone, molesting one or more children in the family one at a time.  In rare cases, his wife or female companion may molest with him but typically it is the male who is sexually motivated while she is acquiescent to the spouse's expectations.  The children may or may not be aware of the molestation of their siblings.  Substance abuse, particularly alcohol, may play a role as can situational stress factors.  About half of the offenders may have a personality disorder, but a third may not qualify for any psychiatric diagnosis.  Most are passive-dependent and/or immature-inadequate in their personality make up.  There is usually poor quality of interpersonal relationships, including social isolation and ineptitude.

Most of the offenders probably do not prefer children as sexual objects.  Between a fourth and a third exhibit a nonexclusive preference pattern, having sex with their children while also having relationships with adult females; 40% or more may also have molested children outside the immediate family (Williams & Finkelhor, 1990).  The majority of children who are victimized are latency age girls, typically ages 9-12, with a modal age of the reporting child as 10 in one study (Goodwin & Owen, 1989).

Many incest offenders would not be good candidates for operating sex rings because of their poor social skills and preference for social isolation.  For the most part they do not prefer children, and are not especially predatory in their approach.  They may not have the motivation to seek out more victims, but may molest within or sometimes outside the family more on an opportunistic basis.

It is possible that some of the alleged SRA cases are actually incest cases in which the victim's emotional disturbance, distortions, or confabulated memories result in SRA-like manifestations emerging or being suggested during the course of therapy.  This is one hypothesis that has to be seriously considered in some cases; since it is likely that this will be a "fall back" position taken by some plaintiffs.

Single Perpetrator/Nonfarnilial but Known Victims


This is the next biggest category of offenses.  If not molested by a relative, most children are assaulted by someone they know and trust, or at least someone with whom they have been previously acquainted.  These are individuals who typically have better social skills than the incest offender.  They generally have a sexual preference for children, and usually operate by developing a relationship with the child, swaying them with attention, gifts and favors.  These offenders may prefer girls or boys, and usually there is a desired age range.  They often can be considered predatory rather than simply opportunistic.  Typically, girl victims are a bit younger than boy victims.  The offender who victimizes both boys and girls is less common (Groth, 1979), and those victimizing very young children are also less common; latency age children are more often preferred.

This is not to say that babies and preverbal children are not molested, because there are many of these cases within the family (Goodwin & Owen, 1989), although most related and nonrelated victims are older.  In my experience, perpetrators who assault nonrelated preverbal children or handicapped older children or adults who cannot speak for themselves are usually very disturbed people, which is readily ascertained through detailed forensic examinations.  They may have gained access through babysitting, or through schools and residential facilities for the handicapped. Most such offenders operate alone and not in concert with others.

Single Perpetrator/Unknown Victims

This is a relatively low frequency crime where a perpetrator seeks out a child who is a stranger to him.  These individuals are much more dangerous because they are more likely to use force after having lured the child away.  Children are preferred sexually.  Vulnerable victims are sought in places frequented by children or to and from school or play activities.

The lone sex offender may have a preference for either males or females; he typically operates individually, and may assault unknown children, usually one at a time.  These are usually children of school age who are mobile and not always under the immediate supervision' of adults.  When fear of apprehension becomes too great, such as after having previously offended and having been arrested and served prison time, the offender may reach a stage where he decides to leave no witness and the child may be killed.

In other cases these are offenders whose need for control and power results in demonstrating increasingly sadistic use of the victim, where the process of killing the child is part of the gratification received.  These offenders do not try to bond with their victims beyond obtaining initial control of them where they may use some kind of "nice man" guise.  This type of sex offender can become a serial killer.  He has no meaningful bonds to anyone and moves on when the "heat" is too great.  If one can access the fantasy processes of these individuals, the dynamics of their offenses can be understood.  This is not easy to do, but often they engage in writing, taking photographs, or keeping memorabilia, creating data which will be used to convict them in many cases, and from which their mental processes can be inferred.

Some may take up the accouterments of "satanic ritualistic abuse," one of the more recent examples being that of the "Night Stalker" in Los Angeles, who drew pentagrams on his body and exclaimed, "Hail, Satan!" for the benefit of all his "groupies" in the Court room.  The FBI is of the opinion that most of these individuals are highly deviant apart from their identification with any satanic beliefs or practices and would probably be committing their crimes anyway, with or without the satanic identification.  Law enforcement experts have stated that an investigation of alleged satanic crimes should proceed as any other crime, e.g., based on careful analysis of the crime scene evidence (Hicks, 1991).

Historical "Solo" Sex Rings

In solo sex rings, there is usually one adult offender who has molested multiple child victims.  This is probably the most frequent form of multiple abuse situations.  Most often the victims are boys between the ages of 10-16 (Burgess & Grant, 1989; Lanning, 1986).  The perpetrators are males about 95% of the time and would be described as true pedophiles or preferential child molesters who control through seduction techniques such as attention, affection, kindness, gifts and manipulation.

I am unaware of any female perpetrators in solo sex rings other than some of the women who have been accused in some preschool cases, at least some of which are in doubt.  The male offender may become involved with a boy's mother or sister in order to have access to the boy and his friends.  Control is very important and concealing illegal behavior from becoming known between children may be of concern when the ring leader adult is a prestigious person such as a teacher, priest, leader in a church youth group, scouting, or sports activities.

When in some cases, the children do know about each other being victims, peer pressure and rewards are used to enforce secrecy in some form of club headed by the perpetrator.  Those children who want to leave are held by fear of their homosexual acts becoming known.  When they become older, they are typically pushed out because they are no longer within the preferred age range of the offender; in some cases they may be used to recruit younger victims or may be passed on to another offender who likes older children.  Pornography and alcohol are often used to manipulate young adolescent boys, whose inhibitions are reduced with the use of heterosexual pornography and alcohol.

In the historical child sex ring, at any given moment victims are in different phases with the perpetrator, being molested, recruited, or dumped.  While it may be easy to recruit, it is more difficult to let victims go who do not disclose to someone, so from a law enforcement perspective, it may actually be easier to apprehend these offenders than the incestuous offender within a single family where the perpetrator has much more of a hold and control over his victim(s).  In this case we are talking about male offenders with good social skills who have a preference for boy victims.  They develop a relationship and build more often on bonding rather than threat and fear.

Lanning has advised that in recent years there have been some offenders of this type who have used satanism or the occult as a bonding and controlling mechanism.  The usual mechanisms seen in historical rings are qualitatively different than hypothesized with SRA victims, who are reportedly are threatened, tricked, brainwashed, and continue to be controlled by the perpetrators for the rest of their lives.

Transitional Sex Rings

This type of molestation is less common than the historical sex ring or the individual offender molesting unrelated children.  In transitional sex rings, there may be multiple adult offenders and victims, who again are usually adolescents and most often boys.  The victims may include abducted children, runaways, and victims of family violence.  The perpetrators are usually true pedophiles or preferential child molesters.  The children may be tested for potential prostitution roles and some may then enter syndicated sex rings.  These offenders also have a profit motive and thus the children may progress into a syndicated sex ring in some cases (Burgess & Grant, 1988).

Syndicated Sex Rings

Although there has been much publicity about this type of case, they occur infrequently in comparison to other forms of child abuse.  These multi-victim, multi-offender rings involve the buying and selling of children in sexual activities and making of pornography.  Parental-like figures including professional child foster care workers may sometimes be involved by photographing children in sexual acts and sell the photographs and/or use the boys for their own sexual purposes.  Women offenders are virtually unknown in these cases.  There may be both a profit motive as well as motives for pedophilic sexual activities.  The victims are typically adolescents, either girls or boys, but more often boys.

Alleged SRA or "Multidimensional" Child Sex Rings

Lanning (1989) refers to these cases as multidimensional rings.  This concept appears to be a hypothetical framework, however, as he has, throughout his writings and public addresses on this issue, pointed out the lack of actual data to substantiate "these kinds of cases."  Despite hundreds of investigations in the U.S., he stated there has never been a single documented case of satanic murder, human sacrifice, or cannibalism.  In the scheme of things, taking into account the full range of documented forms of child abuse, if these multidimensional rings exist at all, they are probably rare.

In the past, Lanning has appeared to bend over backward in enumerating all the hypotheses that might account for the growing number of SRA complaints.  In more recent publications, be seems to have become less accommodating to SRA proponents, stating that after having investigated hundreds of these cases over an eight year period of time, it is no longer the onus of law enforcement to prove that an organized conspiracy with large-scale baby breeding and human sacrifices is happening as alleged, but the burden of proof now falls to the mental health professions to deal with the fact that some victims are alleging things that "... don't seem to be true.  Mental health professionals must begin to accept the possibility that some of what these victims are alleging just didn't happen and that this area desperately needs study and research by rational, objective social scientists" (1991).  He further states that unsubstantiated claims where law enforcement and social services are made to look incompetent because they cannot find SRA evidence should not be published in professional journals because this only serves to needlessly erode public and professional trust in the law enforcement community, which hurts victims in the long run.

Profile of Alleged SRA Offenses Compared to Known Criminological Patterns

There is actually a paucity of information about the alleged offenders, although they often may be described as multigenerational offenders who pass down their satanic traditions from parent to child.  The following are features of these hypothesized crimes:


1. Multiple young victims are most often described as between two and six years of age, and typically are females.  In a single case, there may be as few as three or four and up to several hundred abuse victims alleged.  Both boys and girls may be targeted but with an apparent preference for females.  And the age range is markedly different than usually seen in most sex rings as described above, where the modal victim is a boy who is substantially older than the alleged SRA children.  Allegedly many thousands of children and babies are sacrificed.  But, realistically, it should be noted that in the U.S., somewhere around 50 to 150 children per year may be kidnapped and murdered each year, most of these being adolescents rather than little children (O'Toole, 1991).

2. Multiple offenders in a given case are said to range from two to three individuals up to several hundred persons operating in some kind of cooperative network that may span a geographical region or the entire country.  Preponderantly, known sex offenders operate alone, or occasionally in pairs, but rarely in groups except possibly syndicated rings.

3. As many as 40% to 50% of the perpetrators are alleged to be females.  This is substantially different than any other known pattern of child molesters where women appear to compose 5% or fewer of known offenders.  Often these are middle class, college educated females with no criminal record.  A comparison of prior studies of female sexual abusers with recent figures (Finkelhor, Williams, & Burns, 1988) based on study of 270 day care cases purporting to show higher frequencies of females may reflect significant numbers of false positives (Wakefield, Rogers, & Underwager, 1990; Wakefield & Underwager, in press).

In contrast, known individual female sex offenders may be the spouses of pedophiles, or may be described as socially isolated, alienated loners coming from an abusive background.  Often they have suffered one or more significant losses in their background that figures into their committing sexual abuse in a particular instance (Wakefield, Rogers, & Underwager, 1990).  They are not usually preferential sex offenders, but have molested situationally.  Those who acted independently of a male co-abuser typically chose adolescent boys as victims.  Most were seriously disturbed emotionally, although not psychotic.  Many have limited intelligence.  These known offenders are generally markedly different than the women being accused in most of the preschool or other SRA types of cases.  To hypothesize a whole new class of violent female offenders is also contrary to international studies over many years in which the hypothesis that changes in society regarding women's roles is leading them to committing more violent offenses has not been confirmed (Simon & Baxter, 1989).

4. Intergenerational pattern of crimes: It is alleged that these offenses are the product of offenders who were themselves abused in similar manner, passing the problem down to their own children.  Allegedly the adult SRA offenders are often well-functioning business and professional individuals.  This makes for some interesting contrasts.  Such severe abuse patterns would seemingly lead to a declining level of functioning across generations that seems inconsistent with how well these perpetrators are alleged to be doing in life, if they were also the product of their parents abuse.  If these people kill their children or children's children, how has an intergenerational modus of crime survived?  On the other hand, prospective studies in the available cycle-of-violence literature indicate that the evidence that abuse is transmitted across generations is surprisingly poorly supported (Widom, 1989). Current etiological models do not seem to focus so heavily on parental psychopathology as the cause of child abuse (Cicchetti & Olsen, 1990).

Even where, as any clinician can testify, we see the sins of the fathers visited upon the children, there is nothing in the literature related to any kind of planned and programmed abuse passed from one generation to another as alleged to be occurring by SRA therapists.  The planning of conspiratorial, systematic and well-controlled crimes that are perfectly hidden would require a great deal of skill and a level of functioning not commonly seen in the vast numbers of known child abusers.

5. They are often described as being part of a cult, occult, or satanic group of some kind where secrecy is perfectly maintained and the crimes are never discovered.  In such organizations, fear, threat, and brainwashing are purported to be the main controlling devices, in contrast to what is more typically seen in both solo and ring child molestation.  Perpetrators who primarily utilize fear and threat are typically asocial or antisocial and don't tend to work in groups.  In most known religious cult groups, where there may be a bonding process promoting conformity, there are inevitably members who become disaffected and who tell what happened that they did not like.  Fear in some cases may be used to prevent people from leaving.

It is in the very nature of all human interactional systems as they grow larger and more complex, inevitably there is a splintering of the group into factions or defection.  Consistent with such systemic principles, law enforcement experts have observed that the more people who become involved in a crime, the more difficult it is to get away with it, because people inevitably have fallings out with one another and, due to their own self-serving needs, then inform on one another.  In the Bible, we have an ancient story about such systemic change in the account of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).  Members of cult organizations inevitably leave and defect as has been seen "... when such groups engage in violent or criminal behavior they often implode and disintegrate in rapid order" (Lanning, 1991).  But we have no data coming from numbers of SRA perpetrators who have defected.

6. The activities are bizarre and ritualistic, including group activities with uses of robes and costumes, candles, altars, drugs, urine and feces, animal and human torture, mutilation, and sacrifice, and cannibalism.  Each of these phenomena is, in itself, an extremely low base rate type of event not that they don't ever occur but such claims should be very cautiously assessed in the light of the situation in which the claim arose, and in relation to the quality of evidence and known base rates.  The combination of events raises greater concern.  The descriptions provided by adult "survivors" do not necessarily appear consistent with those of alleged preschool child victims.

In some loner serial killers or occasionally a pair of killers, there may be sadistic and ritualistic components, but the combination of group commitment along with violent torture and killings by alleged civic leaders, police officers, and even religious leaders is distinctly different from either sex rings or by serial killers.  Unlike other killings, according to the FBI, there has never been any documented physical evidence of any kind in an alleged SRA case no bodies, no physical evidence that murders took place.

Most serial killers who engage in these kinds of sadistic crimes tend to stay "on the move," to change jobs and locale in order to avoid detection.  There are exceptions, however: John Gacey committed his crimes at home and buried his victims under his house.  Others, such as the prolific Randy Kraft, also had a stable home and committed some of his crimes at home when his roommate was away, and many others out on the freeways, dumping the bodies elsewhere (McDougal, 1991).  He got away with it for 20 years until he was pulled over on the freeway by the highway patrol when his driving seemed a bit erratic.  There was a dead marine in the car at that time.  Despite his high intelligence and skill, Mr. Kraft kept a coded score card of his victims, as well as photographs and personal effects of the victims in his car and home as mementos.  SRA offenders apparently are similarly hypothesized to be stable and to remain in the same location for generations carrying out their unspeakable acts simultaneously to being pillars of the community but without ever leaving any physical evidence to be discovered but to work in groups instead of as solo offenders.

7. Crime scenes of alleged SRA cases would be hypothesized to be more reflective of process focused, planned and organized events with victims reflective of a mix of specific and nonspecific traits.  They were either randomly or nonrandomly selected with either an affiliative or stranger relationship pattern.  The motivation would appear to be power/control-oriented.  In serial killers who are process-focused, there are usually elaborate fantasies preceding the killings which may often be followed by abuse of body parts which forms part of the satisfaction of the killing.  Their methods are very brutal.  An understanding of their psychological characteristics is based upon studying their acts and the physical evidence.  Their planning is mixed with fantasies and the organization seen at the crime scene is demonstrative of control over the victim.

Victims are preponderantly strangers rather than known to the male perpetrators in most serial killings (Holmes & De Burger, 1988; Holmes, 1989), whereas in SRA perpetrators are hypothesized to kill their own children or the babies of their own children or of other children.  Serial killers with such good control over the process, the victims and crime scenes as alleged in SRA offenders would be occasionally seen to work in socially cooperative pairs, but killing in networks would seem improbable.  Sociopathy would appear to be of central importance in the personalities of these individuals rather than dissociative propensities, which would likely lead to less organized and controlled criminal patterns.  Yet, the alleged victims and their parents are being described as often displaying dissociative features.  The organized brand of serial killer is typically sociopathic, asocial, self-focused, impulsive, aggressive, guilt-free, and treats people as objects.  Most would be diagnosed as suffering from personality disorders, while a few are psychotic.

Women serial killers are very rare, and appear to cluster more in the southeastern U.S. and typically use poison on their victims who are usually family members or friends.  Blanche Taylor Moore who was recently convicted in Alamance County, North Carolina, is an example.  She killed her former husband, and had almost succeeded in killing her second husband with arsenic.  There were other deaths for which she was also thought to have been responsible.

We know quite a bit about serial killers who operate under the control/power motive based on FBI and other studies over many years.  Many of the characteristics of these individuals can be studied psychologically and identified even in nonadmitting offenders, as they permeate the individual's entire functioning and lifestyle which are often built around their crimes.

8. The SRA offenders are described as nonexclusive, nonpreferential offenders whose motives are poorly understood.  Lanning applies the term ''situational'' molestation to them (Lanning, 1989).  This stands in contrast with what is typically seen in the usual sex ring where preferential patterns of sexual interest prevail and serve as the major underlying motivation for the organization.  In some cases a profit motive may occur.  In SRA cases, a religious motive is usually inferred although official publications and public statements of so-called satanist organizations eschew such violence.  In fact, a large collective of "pagan and neo-pagan earth religions" passed an anti-abuse resolution and condemnation of such practices in 1988 (G'Zell, 1991).  This is not to say there are no abusers within their ranks; any religion can become a rationalization for aberrant behaviors.

Some of the known cult group child abusers identified in recent years were members of some kind of fundamentalist sect that ritualistically physically punished or deprived their children, and in some cases they were also sexually abused.  The motive seemed to be based in part on living up to their distorted notions of a biblical model of disciplining children.

9. Surprisingly, according to Lanning, an ever increasing number of these cases include allegations involving a custody/visitation dispute over the alleged child victim(s).  The disclosing child victims may be taken "underground" and the mother may provide the authorities with diaries or tapes of her own interviews with the children.  The child is thus held in isolation by one parent during which time the allegations become more and more detailed.  In my own experience with two of these cases, the children seemed to be parroting the beliefs or delusions of the mother, and the allegations simply did not appear valid upon careful study, which was also consistent with highly competent law enforcement and social services investigations.

In short, the hypothesized descriptions of this new class of sexual and homicide offenses and offenders are very difficult to relate to past studies of the patterns of known sex offenders and killers.  It would appear that one would have to keep in mind all manner of possibilities where almost anyone could be hypothesized to be an SRA perpetrator.  There are no predictable or known regularities and certainly no way at this time to generate a "profile" of such an individual based on known criminological, sociological and psychological characteristics.

To evaluate someone who is accused of such crimes at this time requires covering all the potential bases.  One could be dealing with a predatory serial killer or a well-educated middle class female who appears to have no notable characteristics typical of most child abusers.  Another possibility is a very disturbed parent operating individually who "ritually" and repetitively abuses a child physically or sexually where the memories of the victim include a mix of actual and distorted events.  Or one could be dealing with an ordinary brand of child physical and sexual abuse which has become distorted and altered in the mind of the victim.  The reality is that at this stage, we really don't know.  If multigenerational SRA offenders exist, then we are dealing with an entirely different breed of cat.  Each case must be assessed on its own merits.  Many situational variables must be taken into account aside from the personal characteristics of the accused in making judgments about these issues.

In Re B. D., P. A. and K. B., by and through her Guardian Ad Litem, B. B., Plaintiffs vs. Ellen Roe, et al., Defendants

In February, 1991, I was contacted by a defense attorney regarding evaluating an elderly, upper middle class female who was accused by her two adult daughters and a granddaughter of satanic ritualistic abuse.  According to the complaint, gross crimes of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse were perpetrated against the adult daughters from infancy to approximately age 25, in the case of the oldest child, now in her late 40s; from infancy to 15 years of age in the case of a daughter now in her mid-30s; and from infancy to age 8 in the case of a now 11-year-old granddaughter.  The allegations were actually very similar to many such stories which have been published or broadcast in recent years, including torture by drugs, electric shock, rape, sodomy, forced oral sex, along with satanic ritualistic abuse where babies were repeatedly born and killed.  The facts of the case provided here were presented in Court in April, 1991 and the public trial was videotaped.

Evolution of the Complaint

The defense attorney requested that I evaluate his client for any abnormalities or propensities for any kind of abuse.  The defendant absolutely denied any form of abuse at any time in the lives of her children, and, in fact, it appeared that the family had been rather close over the years and the adult children had been indulged in certain respects, e.g., monetary gifts, mother making clothing, mother assisting in taking care of household tasks, parents having provided business opportunities, etc.  The plaintiffs did not deny that this was true.  The older daughter had apparently been the favorite of her father, while the younger daughter was closer to the mother.  There was a significant age gap between the two daughters, and the mother's perception was that the older daughter had never fully accepted or been very close to her younger sister until the accusations evolved which drew them together.

The allegations appeared to have evolved after the death of the father, who was said to be more indulgent of the children than the mother.  The oldest daughter, who appeared to have been the primary instigator of the allegations, had gone into psychotherapy after the break-up of her third marriage.  The following are interpretations derived from comments made by the mother: the older daughter seemed to be a person who had never "found herself' occupationally and who often had required the financial help of the parents.  There may have been a prior pattern of identifying with a charismatic leader and educating herself in his mode to "find" herself through participation in a religious group.

As she "discovered" that she was suffering from MPD and then SRA, she brought her younger sister and her own daughter into the therapy.  One interpretation is that, consistent with her prior life pattern, she found another leader to emulate in the therapist.  She testified that she is now studying to be a therapist, taking her training in a master's program where her own therapist teaches.  The younger sister's husband was also brought into the therapy but basically balked when told that he also had been abused by his parents, which he believed was not true.  Ultimately, the second daughter's marriage also broke down.  The husband stopped attending the therapy.  He later came forward, when he realized there was actually going to be a trial against his former mother-in-law and testified in her behalf regarding his perceptions of the technique and the role of the therapist in the development of the abuse allegations.

All of the plaintiffs were seen by the same counseling center, one which was known for its involvement in the treatment of MPD and alleged SRA cases.  The therapists were largely master's level or below, including persons who were in training for MFCC (marriage family child counselor) licenses in the state of California.  All were under the supervision of the oldest daughter's first therapist.  Reportedly at this facility, there was considerable interaction among the therapists and clients including special MPD/SRA therapy groups and training sessions in a close-knit network of therapists and student therapists.

The defendant in this case was confronted by her daughters and from her perspective forced into counseling with an intern from this same counseling center who was being supervised by the daughters' therapist.  The elderly defendant feared that her daughters were trying to have her committed to a mental hospital, and, not understanding her rights in the situation, complied with the "treatment" for a few months before deciding that this was not going to help her family situation.  It was after she quit that the suit was filed against her.

The allegations evolved from a belief on the part of the oldest daughter that someone had hurt her, from which the mother allegedly did not protect her, so that she could give her to some unidentified cultic group.  The mother could not recall whether the daughter originally specifically stated this to be a satanic group or not.  At the time the daughter was sharing this information with the mother, they were still on speaking terms and she allegedly indicated to her mother that she was "... going to stay in therapy because she could remember everything that happened in her life.  Yes, she remembers being born, but there was an empty space (of time) between birth and six weeks or six months.  She is going to stay in therapy because she has to find out. ..."  Allegedly, the daughter stated to her mother that, "... she could probably find the place she told me once where she was tortured."  In court, this place was never identified.

Areas of Life History for Investigation

The degree to which the accused can and will provide details to inquiries such as those described below can be very telling.  One should anticipate that in individuals who may have been falsely accused there will be an initial fright and guardedness, but as sessions continue, they are marked by increasing openness, coupled with an ability and willingness to report negative self-information and family information that appears consistent with external data one is able to bring to bear.  If there has been a history of perpetrating any child abuse, one would anticipate that the defensiveness may not diminish, and the clinical history will generally be consistent with the problems that have been identified in such persons.  If there has been abuse, it is generally within the best interests of such an individual to frankly disclose what has or has not actually occurred, and this is always a challenge in dealing with any perpetrator of abuse.  An examiner who is very experienced in dealing with known perpetrators who have either admitted or denied as well as individuals who have been mistakenly or falsely accused is probably in the best position to exercise sound clinical judgment in weighing the disclosures of the accused in the light of all known evidence about the case.

Early Life Factors

The earliest memories of family life, relationship with parents, siblings, extended family, neighbors and community are important to assess.  Particularly, one should assess how the parents of the accused disciplined or punished him or her, and any experiences which were viewed as painful or traumatic.  The patient's ability to recall experiences with a more or less continuous memory from early childhood should be reviewed; if gaps occur, these may require more extensive inquiry or investigation.  I believe that any traumatic medical, social, academic, or familial events should be covered.  History of mental illness or substance abuse or marital instability in the parents of the accused may provide clues as to possible neglect or abuse.  Losses by separation, divorce, or death may be significant.  The review of life history in the area of early development is important for assessing the formative processes of the accused and how he or she was shaped socially.  Religious training or lack thereof may be significant, particularly if there are any rigid or overly punitive tones.

If there are relatives or nonrelatives with whom the defendant has had long-term relationships who can be interviewed, this may assist in determining whether or not the interview findings can be corroborated and may fill in gaps of information that the defendant cannot provide.  In this case, we identified a couple, where the man had worked closely with the deceased husband for many years, and they had socialized and known each other for over 40 years.  These individuals testified in her behalf.

Marital/Sexual Adjustment

A broad social history of relationships is probably foundational to assessing this area, beginning with friendships in childhood, adolescent dating and sexual experiences, history of all marriages or common law relationships, with a detailed history of sexual attitudes and behaviors.  I conducted a broad base inquiry in these cases similar to what I would do in any case where sexually deviant and criminal behavior has been alleged.  If the person is married, the spouse should be interviewed in depth as well, separate from the accused so as to look for any discrepancies.  In most SRA cases, I would guess that both parents of a plaintiff will often be accused.

In our case, the details of social/sexual development were realistic and consistent with good marital/sexual adjustment.  The defendant's husband had died after 48 years of marriage, with no separations and no unusual problems indicated at any time.  The maternal grandmother had lived on their property for the last 38 years of her life, dying a few years before the husband.  Relationships with her had been reported as generally positive, although in her later years, some preexisting degree of enmeshment with the defendant become more and more exacerbated and problematic, e.g., not wanting to engage in any activities apart from her adult daughter.  The adult grandchildren (plaintiffs) looked after grandmother when the parents had to be away.  She was placed in a nursing home a few months prior to her death when the situation became increasingly unmanageable at home.  Interestingly, there was no mention of any allegations involving the deceased grandmother in the testimony even though she was present in the home from the time the older daughter was about 10 years of age.

Health/Psychiatric History

A detailed history of medical problems, surgeries, hospitalizations should be conducted, with all possible past health records reviewed, including any hospitalizations for psychiatric or substance abuse reasons.  Sometimes there may be valuable information that is relevant to the current legal issues.  For example, in Ellen's case, there was a copy of a Cornell Medical Index Health Questionnaire dating back to 1981; this instrument includes a detailed psychiatric history.  Results suggested that she was not trying to minimize any problems she had at that time and were consistent with the history she provided 10 years later.  Ellen's self-report about her health and drug/alcohol history appeared quite consistent with the records that were obtained.

Occupational History

A careful review of the defendant's entire work history including any lapses in working, periods of disability, should be obtained, along with all employment records.  Sometimes individuals will have been evaluated in a preemployment assessment, and those records may prove valuable.  If the work history could potentially feed into the allegations in any way, it needs to be carefully scrutinized, e.g., a person who worked as a teacher, a day care provider, a medical worker anyone who might have had access to children or to medications and drugs.  Ellen was accused of drugging the children in order to conduct satanic ritualistic rites.  In Ellen's case, because she was a registered nurse, she was accused of having access to drugs that were used prior to and during rituals.  Of note, however, is that she was never employed after the children were born and, as far as could be ascertained, had never had more "access" to any prescribed drugs than most citizens.

Psychotropic Drug Use/Illicit Drug/Alcohol History Factors

We carefully went through all occasions in her past family history where psychotropic drugs of any kind would have been in the house or where she would have obtained them.  During her husband's final illness, such drugs had been utilized to make him more comfortable.  We learned during review of the children's history that because the younger of the children had a history of severe asthma, she had been medicated as a child.  Ellen recalled an occasion where she and the older daughter had had to force the child to take medication, which had been provided by the physician.

The defendant recalled that during the children's growing up years she had helped a neighbor by administering shots, but the paraphernalia for injections was kept at the neighbor's house, and she did not believe that her children ever observed these injections.  She did not report ever giving injections to her own children at any time.

There was no indication of any alcohol excesses or recreational drug use of any kind.  This is a lady whose habit was to have one scotch and water at bedtime every night for the past 30 years.  On one occasion she could recall having had two drinks.

Religious History

One should inquire into history of formal or informal involvement in religious groups from childhood to the present.  An assessment of the role that religion has or has not played may be valuable, and whether there has been a change across time in the defendant's values or approach to ethics and religion.  The degree to which the religious orientation is integrated with the person's life and relationships or functions as a social/ceremonial occasion or as a stress-reducing device may provide insight into the network of relationships established across his or her lifetime.

Ellen was a woman who appeared to value control of her emotions and herself, as well as valuing social conformity.  She appeared to be genuinely ignorant about the kinds of "religious" groups in which she was alleged to participate throughout her life; indeed, the plaintiffs maintained that she was still "active" within the cult, and subsequent to the trial, while appearing on the Sally Jesse Raphael show, the oldest daughter continued to say that her mother is still involved.  Prior to the trial, Ellen's response was to withdraw from social participation and involvement with almost everyone, and never go to out at night, so that no one could accuse her further.  She attended church, but very few people were taken into her confidence about the impending case.  After the trial, after receiving an outpouring of support from many people, she began to relate to her friends again.

During her youth she attended a variety of churches, and then as a young adult began attending one particular church which she has then attended all her life since.  Her involvement was, however, intermittent over the years.  Despite this intermittent quality, she had a close relationship with a minister who had known her for over 40 years, in whose church she was involved while the daughters were growing up, who remembered the girls quite well; this person testified at her trial.

Developmental History of Children/Plaintiffs

The examiner should go through a very detailed history of each child, whether the child was one who entered into a suit or not.  Every stepchild, foster child, and natural child in the home or raised by the defendant should be discussed from birth to present day adjustment.  Any kind of medical or psychological problems should be carefully reviewed.  Any psychological symptoms that occurred at various times for which no professional intervention was sought should be identified, such as separation anxiety, phobias, psychosomatic problems, nightmares, sleep disorder.  If the parent has old report cards, letters, mementos of any kind, movies or pictures or any records regarding the child, these should be obtained and reviewed carefully with the defendant.  If there are extended family members, friends, or even ex-spouses with detailed knowledge about the plaintiff, these individuals should be interviewed if possible.  Often an understanding of the dynamics of the accusation will become more apparent through this process.

Find out the history of medical and psychiatric care of the accused as well as of the plaintiffs during their growing up years.  One would less likely anticipate that a true perpetrator would take a child to a psychiatrist or psychologist for adjustment difficulties if the child is being abused by that parent.  Often the adult plaintiff has gone into therapy more than once, and everything that can be learned about the nature of the problems leading to therapy, the approach taken in therapy, and an understanding of who the therapists were when the allegations unfolded will be also useful.

In cases I have evaluated for defense where I made a judgment that a defendant was guilty of abuse of the now adult child, the quality and range of information provided about the child and about the parent/child relationship was significantly different than seen in admitted offenders or in the falsely accused and contributed to my understanding of the case.  These were incest cases which did not allege SRA problems.  One would expect a range of both positive and negative information, with the ambivalence and loss suffered by a falsely accused parent apparent.  But in cases of true abuse being denied by a defendant, my experience has been that the characterization of the victim is selective, skewed or skimpy.  The description of the parent's relationship to the child across time will also show some differences from what would be anticipated, e.g., more blaming and denigrating with poor boundaries.

I would be very suspicious of any parent/defendants who are not able to frankly provide detailed information about mistakes they perceive that they made in parenting, normal problems that are anticipated in raising any child, and both negative and positive reactions they have experienced in relation to the child across time.  In this case, the defendant easily acknowledged that she was not the perfect parent, and could describe instances in which her own behavior reflected a less than optimal response to the children, but she was overwhelmed with having such atrocities as alleged in this case attributed to her and her husband.

Looking for "Kernels of Reality" That Could be Related to the Complaint

It is important to go through all life events attempting to ascertain whether there is anything that was abusive, neglectful, or damaging and learning as much as possible about those events, how or if they fit into any kind of recognizable pattern.  The defendant should be told it is in his or her best interest to be truthful and complete.  There may also be events that transpired which, from the perspective of a young child, were not intended to be abusive but were frightening and traumatic.  Examples might include intrusive medical procedures, hospitalization, certain injuries, application or administration of medication that may have been uncomfortable or painful to the child, including punishments of various kinds.  In non-SRA cases I have seen several young children with urethral infections or labial adhesions whose parents were attempting to treat the condition, where the young child suffered pain and misconstrued the parental intentions.  Could such a child grow up to believe they had been abused in such cases?  I don't know the answer to that question.

In the case of the two adult plaintiffs in this case, such incidents that may have figured into perceptions 'of harm were identified with the mother.  The younger child had severe asthma as a child and had to be placed on a respirator for treatment and missed several months of school in her early elementary school years.  On one occasion, she became hysterical and fought the mother and older sister when they tried to force her to take medication she did not want.  This child also developed "nightmares," which as best as we could reconstruct were possibly night terrors.  The plaintiff presented these as nightmares related to PTSD.  But the father also had had a history of asthma and associated night terrors that appeared to have some genetic and/or medical basis when he was growing up, and it appeared that this daughter suffered similarly.  This daughter, the younger, was taken to a psychiatrist on one occasion prior to attending college.

The older daughter had been taken to a psychiatrist around age 12, because of repeated psychosomatic complaints and a habit of picking at her skin and pinching herself.  The mother recalled being interviewed by the psychiatrist to ascertain what problems might be occurring at home that might account for the child's anxiety.  Past functioning of the plaintiffs as children and the nature of any known psychiatric problems is relevant to understanding their current psychiatric complaints.

Psychological Testing

I believe that testing should be geared toward assessing the less-than-willing participant, operating under the same assumption as in any person accused of abuse that the responses may not be candid or complete.  I use a range of tests for assessing personality, including projectives, and assess abuse potential, substance abuse issues, or other specific concerns.  In some cases, recently developed instruments designed for assessing dissociative experiences and propensities may be used although responses to these seem to be very face valid and could be easily faked.  If there has ever been any previous psychological testing done with this individual, obtain the raw data and reanalyze it and compare to current findings.

Final Thoughts

These are very difficult cases.  I haven't ever participated in an alleged SRA adult civil case from the plaintiff side, and this was my first SRA defense action although I have had two court-appointed child custody/dependency cases involving SRA allegations.  Most of what I have described above would be applicable to evaluating the accused party in those cases also.  Evaluation of an accusing adult party who is not the alleged victim poses some very different issues, as does the evaluation of an alleged adult or child victim.  In all of these cases, one should perform as thorough a review of the case from every angle, making no assumptions that abuse is absent because of the SRA presentation, while attempting without engaging in witch hunting to make certain whether some form of abuse has or has not in fact occurred.

There is no adequate theory or data available at this point in time against which to compare SRA defendants.  The same is true for alleged SRA victims.  In this case, I was asked on the stand how many satanic ritualistic abusers I had evaluated in the past: of course, I had to say none, even though I have evaluated at least 500 sex offenders and 50 homicide perpetrators in my professional lifetime.

Based on communications with several attorneys who inquired in the aftermath of our case, it appears that there are many elderly parents who are being accused of SRA; most of them prefer to settle rather than go to trial, so as to avoid the stress and embarrassment of having the allegations aired publicly.  If they have abused their children, such a course of action is probably in everyone's best interests, but if they have not, this group of elderly may become a new group of victims.  I believe that if Ellen had been a little old lady living on social security benefits, these allegations would have never been raised.  From her own perspective, she just did not die fast enough for her children.  The children claimed that they were not interested in the money, as they assumed she had willed her worldly goods to them anyway.  But when no monetary damages were awarded, further litigation occurred in the hope of a financial award.  The Court commented that he thought the plaintiffs got exactly what they had wanted publicity.

Whatever the personal or interpersonal difficulties that Mrs. B. may have had in her life, she simply did not show evidence of the lifestyle or the range and severity of personality disturbance that one would expect to be present in a person perpetrating crimes of the magnitude alleged spanning over half a century.  Why and how this degree of profound alienation developed between her and her daughters is uncertain, but she absolutely denied that she is or has ever been satanist in her orientation, thoughts, experiences or behaviors.  I believed her.

In this litigation, the defense was at a tremendous disadvantage, in that due to the illness of Ellen's first attorney, the trial attorney began working on this case only a few days prior to the actual trial; there had been no discovery, no independent medical exams of the plaintiffs, and not one document other than the legal papers making the allegations.  The previous attorney had not prepared for the case at all.  The trial attorney and his staff made use of a cadre of mental health professional advisors and studied the data that emerged daily in the trial to develop cross-examination for plaintiffs' witnesses.  The plaintiffs alleged that they had all become MPDs as a result of the alleged abuse.  The only means of assessing this claim was through their testimony and effective cross-examination of them and their experts.  This required development of research materials even while the trial proceeded, which led to extensive use of consultants around the country who were able to provide key information.

The defense was not totally successful in responding to this suit; the hole in the defense was an incomplete response to whether the plaintiffs in fact had suffered some kind of emotional problems that were somehow related to their upbringing.  The jury verdict reflected this problem which resulted from the lack of discovery and inability to directly assess the quality of diagnostic work and therapy which had gone on with the plaintiffs.  They found that there had been neglect but explicitly did not find that the defendant had intentionally done anything to harm the daughters and granddaughter.  They awarded no monetary damage.

There is probably no single mental health professional who would have extensive knowledge in all the areas needed, so one should not hesitate to reach out for consultation in handling these cases.  Utilization of historians, sociologists, anthropologists, criminologists, and folklore experts should be considered. as well as mental health and forensic experts.

The defendant in this case commented at the time I reviewed the contents of this article with her for her approval, that she cannot imagine anything more devastating happening to an individual, going through a case of this nature and losing the family that she loved and to whom she had devoted herself.  But she seems to he recovering well, with many more friends than ever before.  She has willed her estate to various small charities.  She stated that now, "I do not have a bad time too often, but I have worked at it.  I am busy at the hospital in volunteer work and at church, and I am going on a couple of trips.  I cannot sit here and allow them to mess up the remaining years of my life.  I am a survivor.  I have survived it, and I do not spend much time on the gruesome part of this.  But I am so sorry that (granddaughter) is tied up in this and so sorry for (second daughter) who I wish could get into good legitimate therapy because she is a very special person.  So I think about those things, but life is going on."


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* Martha Rogers is a clinical and forensic psychologist at 17662 Irvine Boulevard, Suite 12 Tustin, California 92680.  [Back]


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