Cur Allii, Prae Aliis?
(Why Some, And Not Others?)
Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield*
ABSTRACT: Why do some professionals believe in widespread satanic, ritual
abuse of children while others do not? Both 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. Both
agree on the basic perception of social, historical, and anthropological facts,
although there may be differences in interpretation. The answer to the question,
"Why do some professionals believe and not others?" is likely to be
found in the personality characteristics of the believers and nonbelievers.
This question is known as the crux theologorum for Christian
theologians. It is observable fact that some persons are converted and
others are not. Why? What causes this difference? The various
answers posed to solve this conundrum define the major theological differences
that have markedly affected the history of western civilization. The three big
answers have been (1) external variables (predestination); (2) internal
variables (synergism); and (3) mystery (unanswerable open question). All
historical theological differences setting various denominations and cults apart
can be organized around these three possibilities.
The same observable fact is part of the contemporary satanic, ritual child
abuse movement. Some persons are converted while others are not. There are some
who believe there is a world-wide conspiracy of satan worshipers who brutalize
and savage untold numbers of children in the most horrible, unspeakable fashion
(Cozolino, 1989a). There are others who openly look upon belief in a world-wide
satanic conspiracy as grade AA, extra-large, garbage driven by heedless ambition
and monumental greed (Gonzales, 1990). Some try to stay impartial, balanced, and
objective but that is difficult to accomplish when such primitive and atavistic
emotions are attached to an issue (Crewdson, 1988). The commitment shows through
whichever direction it is in.
The network of believers in a satanic conspiracy and ritualistic abuse,
described as thousands strong, includes mental health professionals,
attorneys, law enforcement officers, and parents (Gelernter, 1989). Their
position has sharply polarized the various professionals involved. "It's
become a litmus test. If you believe, you're for kids; if you're not, your
motivation is wanting," said Jon Conte, University of Chicago professor
and president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.
He pled with the members of his group not to insist that professionals take
sides (Gelernter, 1989, p. J1). Those professionals who are skeptical see
these claims as unsupported, similar to the UFO sightings, and an example of
urban legends that may be firmly believed but are false (Balch & Gilliam,
1991; Best, 1991; Ellis, 1991; Nathan, 1991; Victor, 1990). The nonbelievers
also include mental health professionals, attorneys, law enforcement officers,
Why? What causes this difference? Why are some believers and others are
Both sides look to the current state of the society and culture for
explanatory concepts to make a rational case for their position (Raschke,
1990). Mayer (1991) locates the cause of the current satanic revival in the
cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s. He thinks a generation
alienated by Vietnam and technology found a legitimizing avenue to hedonistic
excesses in worship of satan. The attraction of satanism in a society in
flux is the promise of power, total control over life circumstances, material
gain, an opportunity for increased status and authority, and access to
sanctioned deviant sexual acts (Mendez, 1986). Cozolino (1989b) claims there
is an increase in satanic activities and relates it to issues of personal
identity, powerlessness, and the absence of a positive family environment.
While not claiming an increase in adult satanic activities, Mullins (1989)
asserts that there is a marked increase in satanic activity among adolescents caused by rebellion against social pressure to conform.
Thus the oppression
of traditional ideology and patriarchal structures contribute to the development
of abuse and sexual maltreatment of children (Horton & Williamson, 1988).
These are some of the external variables that have been suggested as ways to
account for the increase in satanism, ritual abuse, and the existence of the
conspiracy. While no one says it openly, there is an implicit presentation of
the satanist as a victim of a society that has lost its way. With such
oppression and tyranny, seeking empowerment through a Faustian bargain with the
old evil foe is at least understandable, even if reprehensible.
The nonbelievers look to the same phenomena, a society in change and
undergoing stress, as an explanation for the development of the purported
myths and unfounded dogmas of the believers. A sociological perspective sees
times of deep social and political tensions as requiring the development of
scapegoats to label and blame for the ambiguity and anxiety (Ben-Yehuda,
1990). Victor states:
Satanic cult stories arise as a response to widespread socioeconomic
stresses, particularly those affecting parenting and family relationships.
These social stresses are products of the rapid social change and social
disorganization that began during the 1960s, and that caused a deep cultural
crisis of values and authority. The satanic cult legend says, in symbolic
form, that our moral values are threatened by evil forces beyond our
control, and that we have lost faith in our authorities to deal with the
threat (Victor, l991a, p.221).
In America, this present era has been described as the first time a
maturing generation cannot expect to have a better life than its parents.
Stevens (1989, 1991) notes that historical and anthropological studies
demonstrate that such beliefs and myths develop invariably during during
periods of intense and prolonged social anxiety. In another article (Stevens,
1990), he adds the heuristic that legends such as the current satanic
conspiracy theory are used to provide explanatory concepts in situations of
societal ambivalence. Rabinowitz (1990) claims that America goes through
some such conspiracy theory about every fifty years. This reduction of the
observed phenomenon of belief in a satanic cult to a sociological or
anthropological concept is forcefully expressed by Victor (1991b):
As far as this author can determine, the label "satanic cult"
empirically refers only to a body of preconceptions, based only upon
ideological propaganda, distorted perceptions of real incidents, false
testimonies, misinformation, and a culturally inherited legend (p. 3).
Believers and nonbelievers fundamentally agree that the society is in state
of flux, change, and stress.
The social contract, that unspoken, unwritten understanding of what is
proper, accepted, and expected behavior, that nobody has to talk about because
it is simply understood, has been shattered. When that happens, we seek meaning
and turn most readily to monocausal explanations that identify individuals as
causal agents rather than social forces (Stallings, 1990). Jerome Bruner is
reported to have described how reality gets reconstituted by its observers and
the aspects of culture taken for granted are crucial to understand how people
assign meaning to their lives (Fisher, 1989). We are more likely to find meaning
by pointing at other people as the cause of stress rather than ourselves or
impersonal entities (Aronson, 1988).
The difference between believers and nonbelievers does not lie in external
variables of social stresses, however, since both agree on the basic
perception of social, historical, and anthropological facts. They differ in
the interpretation, the social perception given to the same factors. This
means it is a matter of some complexity to sort out which interpretation is
right. After examining the theories and research concerning social perceptions
and the accuracy of human judgments, Kruglanski (1989) concludes that major
questions about human accuracy have not been resolved and are likely
unresolvable. The basic problem is that the criterion to establish accuracy of
human judgments is, in itself, a human judgment. Nevertheless, Kruglanski
recommends a situation-specific approach with the criterion set as the true
state of affairs while acknowledging social perceptions are relative rather
than an absolute.
The issue between believers and nonbelievers then becomes a matter of the
data. What facts are there which can be pointed at, seen, and, at least, have
agreement as to the intersubjective confirmability of the observations? Here,
while again there are differences of interpretation, there does not seem to be
basic disagreement between believers and nonbelievers. There are no findings
of physical evidence corroborating the claims of satanic cults, human
sacrifice, orgies, or a widespread conspiracy. There are some isolated violent
events that involve individuals with varying degrees of disturbance who may
make claims about occult practices. Both sides acknowledge these facts.
Greaves (1991) says he is an apologist for the claims and is on the
believers' side but acknowledges there is no smoking gun in spite of strenuous
efforts to find corroborating evidence. Kahaner (1988) quotes Det. S. Gallant
saying about occult crime "You find bits and pieces, evidence that goes
nowhere, testimony that is always suspect ..." Gallant is one of the more visible and vocal law enforcement believers in satanic, ritualistic abuse.
Lloyd (1990) describes the controversy as an unsolvable philosophic argument
about how to determine truth but acknowledges there have been no convictions for
ritual abuse. While stating ritual abuse and satanism are real and increasing,
Cozolino (1989b) concludes that the choice to believe in these claims rests upon
"an understanding of and concern for the child and adult victims whose
voice society has yet to acknowledge as reality" (p.6), and not on factual
evidence. Crewdson (1988), who believes 38 million American men and women have
been sexually abused, writes "Whenever authorities in this country have
followed up rumors of satanic child abuse, they have come up empty handed"
Nonbelievers continually point to the lack of evidence to corroborate the
claims of satanic ritualistic abuse. Victor states:
In conclusion, ritual abuse is a social creation of a late 20th century
witch hunt. There is no verifiable evidence for the satanic cult ritual abuse
conspiracy theory. However, there is abundant evidence that more and more
professionals are creating a form of deviant behavior, which exists only in
their preconceptions to see what they expect to see (Victor, 1991c, p. 141).
Others who do not see any evidence to support the claims are Hicks (1990,
1991), Richardson, Best and Bromley (1991), Russell (1991), Lanning (1989,
1991), Martin & Fine (1991), Jenkins and Maier-Katkin (1991), Mulhern
(1991a), Putnam (1991), Jones (1991), Charlier and Downing (1988), Voelpel
(1989), and Noll (1989). In addition, Noll (1989) asserts that historians
not find any evidence that satanic cults practicing a black mass, cannibalism,
ritual murder, worship of satan, and the sacrifice of children have ever
existed. Some of the historians who have examined the issue and maintain there
is no evidence to support the claim that in history there have been satanic
cults engaging in conspiracy and bizarre worship are Cohn (1975), Ankarloo
and Henningsen (1990), Moore (1987), and Kittredge (1929). Eliade (1975)
a step further and says the witchcraft trials and torture elicited confessions
that were required by the believing inquisitors but were not true confessions
and did not describe actual events.
Lanning (1989, 1991) makes the observation that it is impossible for a
conspiracy as complex, including as many people, and engaging in such extreme
acts to continue without someone talking about it. Conspiracies that are real
and that do engage in rituals and violent acts are very soon known about in
spite of pledges of secrecy and penalties of death. The Ku Klux Klan is a conspiracy.
It uses strange costumes, secret rituals, pledges
secrecy, and does violent acts, including murder. It included large numbers of
people for considerable periods of time. Almost as soon as it started in
Tennessee in 1866, it was known. When flaming crosses appeared, bodies were
found, and when a nighttime posse rode the land, people knew who was in it and
who was doing the violence (Trelease, 1971). The mafia is a conspiracy, commits
violence, has rituals, and pledges and enforces secrecy. It has significant
resources. It is known. The mafia leaves tracks (Gonzales, 1990).
When the question of evidence is examined, believers and nonbelievers agree
there is no physical evidence that can be seen, pointed at, and accepted as
fact to support the claims of satanic, ritualistic abuse, human sacrifice,
ritual murder, cannibalism, and a nationwide or worldwide conspiracy. The
difference between believers and nonbelievers cannot be found here. What is
left are two sources of information. They are the statements of adults who
claim to have been abused as children and the statements of children who
describe current experiences of abuse. Statements made by adults include large
numbers of persons who maintain they had no memory of their childhood abuse
until adulthood but then recovered a memory, often while in therapy. Descriptions by children most often occur in a day care, multi-perpetrator,
multi-victim situation, but some children, in the divorce/custody battle of
parents, also produce descriptions of abuse said to be satanic and
ritualistic. We have also been involved in cases in which neighbors were
accused of abuse that was represented as satanic, ritualistic abuse and in
cases where both parents were accused of ritual abuse with their own children.
Excursus on Theological History
In my training during the early 1950s as a theologian and historian, I
never saw any evidence that there were such satanic cults at any time in
history. I was taught at a conservative Lutheran seminary that the books and
sources often cited to suggest the historic nature of such evil activities, Malleus
Maleficiarum, Maria Monk, and Protocols of Zion, while they may
have been believed by many and had a major impact on society, were, in fact,
fraudulent propaganda pieces that had no veracity. I was taught to understand
the reality that large numbers of people believed the fallacious accounts in
these books as evidence for the readiness of our human nature to believe the
worst about others and to act foolishly and precipitately.
In an orthodox, conservative seminary it was understood that satan was
vanquished and there was nothing to fear. There was very little discussion of
satan, satanism, or demons. Such concepts were not significant. In the
pastoral theology textbook, published in 1945, in discussing demonic
possession the advice was to be extremely cautious in making any such
diagnosis, to avoid any esoteric ministrations but rather rely upon prayer of
the church, the administration of the Sacraments, and to seek competent
medical treatment for the individual Fritz, 1945). Theologically I was taught
that the only aim and capacity of the devil was to create terror and sadness
among people, thus killing them emotionally and spiritually, and the antidote
was the beauty and goodness of the world and the optimism and hope coming from
the grace of God (Elert, 1962). The only arena in which to resist evil was the
political reality since the demonization of humanity took place and was
empowered in oppression of the state (Elert, 1957). The main problem we were
supposed to be concerned with was not some dark cosmic force but rather the
simple, plain stupidity of humanity that somehow could not see or believe that
grace and goodness were both real and triumphant.
Internal Variables, Adults
The difference can begin to be seen. Believers give credence to the
statements by adults and the descriptions of children. Nonbelievers refuse to
accept the statements but instead debunk the claims or reduce them to
something other than truthful accounts. External variables do not account for
this difference. Leaving it a mystery is not very satisfying. We are left with
the internal variables. Are there theories, concepts, and valid scientific
facts about internal factors in individuals that can explain why some believe
and other do not? Yes, there are.
The publication of Michelle Remembers (Smith & Pazder, 1980)
appears to be the beginning of the contemporary concept of a satanic
ritualistic abuse conspiracy (Summit, 1990). However, the first documented
statement by a mental health professional suggesting there is a powerful,
widespread conspiracy of child abusers is in testimony on ritual abuse before
a congressional subcommittee in 1984 by Kee MacFarlane, the social worker who
had interviewed children in the McMartin Preschool case in Manhattan Beach,
I believe we are dealing with an organized operation of child predators
designed to prevent detection. The preschool, in such a case, serves as a
ruse for a larger, unthinkable network of crimes against children. If such an operation involves child
pornography or selling of children, as is frequently alleged, it may have
greater financial, legal, and community resources at its disposal that those
attempting to expose it (New York Times. 18 September 1984) Bromley,
Within two weeks, the second documented professional claim of a satanic
ritual abuse network appeared. October 1-4, 1984, at the National Symposium on
Child Molestation convened by the U. S. Department of Justice, Roland Summit,
M.D., was on a panel and during the course of discussion made the following
All children who are sexually abused anywhere need to have their
credibility recognized and to have advocates working for them ... So when
you hear stories or hints of extremely sadistic, humiliating practices that
don't fit an affectionate attention model, when children are brainwashed
into ideologies that are alien to the mainstream, where good becomes bad,
evil becomes a virtue, where children are forced to eat feces and drink
blood and participate in blood sacrifices and in sexual ceremonies with
robed figures and people in costume, where those are the outcroppings, don't
assume that that's just a child's nightmare ... when you get ten, fifteen, a
hundred children independently describing the same thing, don't hop to the
assumption that you're dealing with something that can't be true. (Summit,
MacFarlane and Summit had been deeply enmeshed and had frequent
interactions in the Los Angeles area group of professionals who began
developing a system and a methodology for interviewing children where there
was an allegation or suspicion of abuse (Fischer, 1989; Summit, 1986). In
March, 1989, speaking during the Fifth National Symposium on Child Sexual
Abuse, Summit identified the McMartin case and the allegations in Jordan,
Minnesota, as the beginning of the stereotypic cases of ritual abuse (Lloyd,
1989). Therefore, the McMartin and Jordan cases are crucial to trace how the
belief in satanic, ritual abuse developed.
We were expert consultants and witnesses for the defense in the trial of
Jordan defendants, Robert and Lois Bentz, in August and September of 1984.
They were acquitted. We remained involved with them and other families
throughout the period of getting the families reunited and getting children
back to their parents. The last family we were associated with got their
daughter returned to her parents in 1989. During that entire period, with
access to documents, videotapes. and in contact with attorneys for the parents, the parents, and often the children, there was never any claim about
the existence of a satanic ritual abuse network. There were allegations of
murder, strange dances and costumes, children being drugged, and torture and
killing of animals. The prosecutor at one time claimed there was a connection
with the Mafia but that soon dropped out. After a five month investigation by
the Minnesota Attorney Generals office, the FBI, and the Minnesota BCI, and a
subsequent investigation by a special commission appointed by the governor, the
conclusion was that none of these bizarre allegations could be corroborated
(Humphrey, 1985). The children who made them, with one exception, all later said
they lied under the pressure of the interrogations. The one exception, a
9-year-old girl, did not admit to fabrication but in the same interview with FBI
agents gave so many conflicting stories it was clear she was not making reliable
claims (Humphrey, 1985).
With MacFarlane and Summit being the first professionals to advance claims
about a satanic, ritualistic abuse conspiracy, the McMartin case and their
involvement are crucial. The investigation of the McMartin preschool began
with the first complaint to the Manhattan Beach police department on August
1983. Raymond Buckey was arrested on September 7, 1983 and released on $15,000
bail. On October 12, the Buckey family filed a $4.5 million law suit against
the police department and the city of Manhattan Beach (Cody, 1990). The
investigating officer, Jane Hoag, was searching for more allegations (Fischer,
1989). She realized she could not make a case against Ray Buckey with only the
allegations from the first mother, who later turned out to be seriously
disturbed, a fact which was hidden by the prosecution from the defense until
June of 1986 (Cody, 1987).
In early September, 1983, Robert Philobosian, newly appointed district
attorney for Los Angeles County, commissioned a public opinion poll as part of
his beginning political campaign for the 1984 election. One of the results was
that child abuse was rated the number one concern of the public. Within six
weeks of the poll, in October, 1983, Philobosian's office was in control of
the McMartin case. Jean Matusinka, head of the district attorney's sexual
abuse prosecution unit, first heard about the allegations early in October,
1983, after parents who were dissatisfied with Hoag's methods went to UCLA for
help and a UCLA social worker informed Matusinka about the commotion in
Manhattan Beach. The investigation was getting nowhere and the case was about to disappear.
Matusinka hoped Children's
Institute International (CII) would be the key to the McMartin case (Fischer,
What is not commonly known or understood is that all the former
preschoolers whose accusations were included in the trial denied being
molested at the school until after they were interviewed at Children's
Institute International by MacFarlane and other staff members. The case was
made at CII.
MacFarlane was asked by her longtime friend, Jean Matusinka, to be involved
in interviewing children from the McMartin preschool on October 17, 1983
(Cody, 1990). MacFarlane had the first videotaped interview of a child who had
been at the McMartin preschool on November 1, 1983. On February 2, 1984,
reporter Wayne Satz broke the news of the McMartin preschool accusations to
the public on TV station KABC. Satz had gone to Children's Institute
International to begin filming the story around November 15, 1983 (Fischer,
1989). During the trial MacFarlane testified under oath and admitted that she
had a romantic relationship with Satz but insisted the affair did not start
until after the grand jury convened, March 6-22, 1983 (Earl, 1991). She also
stated in an FBI document that earlier she had told KABC it would have an
exclusive on the story in February, a period that coincided with the important
By June, 1984, CII had interviewed nearly 400 children who had been at the
McMartin preschool. MacFarlane and other social workers at CII filed reports
claiming that 369 had been molested. By this time Satz was reporting the
sensational bizarre and horrifying accusations, including describing the
alleged mutilation of rabbits while live bunnies were used as an on-camera
backdrop, and helping to stir up what one reporter described as mob psychology
and another as hysteria (Fischer, 1989). This is the chronological progression
and the climate from which came the first known professional suggestions of a
satanic, ritualistic abuse network in September and October, 1984.
A Growing Network
Since the initial assertion of the claims by MacFarlane and Summit, intense
interactions in conferences, networking, and training seminars has generated
an active and growing body of believers (Gonzales, 1989). An example was a
two-day conference, September, 1990, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sponsored
by the Minnesota Awareness of Ritualistic Abuse Network and the Sexual
Violence Center of Hennepin County. The principal presentation was titled McMartin
Preschool and Scott County: What Worked? and had on the panel some of the
mental health professionals who were involved in the prosecution of these cases.
The impact of satanic and ritual abuse three-day training sessions held by
Americans, claiming to be experts, in several English cities is described by
Christy and Walton (1990). The Americans included Robert Simandl, policeman,
and Pamela Klein, self-styled therapist, both from Chicago (Pope, 1991).
Christy and Walton write that the seminars set off a witch hunt in England
that resulted in the widely publicized cases in Rochdale and the Orkney island
of Ronaldsay. In both cases, after several children had been removed from
their families, magistrates concluded there was no evidence of any abuse, no
evidence of satanic, ritualistic abuse, and that the social work services had
reacted most inappropriately. The children were returned to their parents.
Mulhern (1991b), as a participant observer, systematically analyzed 14
satanic cult/ritual abuse training seminars. All were professionally
accredited and offered to mental health professionals. All were held between
1987 and 1990 and all offered training in the identification and treatment of
satanic ritual abuse victims. In addition, 23 other presentations and papers
on satanic ritual abuse presented at other conferences were included. The
analysis showed that all followed a two-stage procedure. The first stage is to
construct a belief filter with listeners exhorted and admonished to believe.
The second stage is built on the first and assumes all claims are real. Therapists
are then given suggestions for treatment using techniques with
unknown validity and reliability. Mulhern concludes:
Conversion to belief provides individuals with the intimate conviction
that they can suddenly see and understand realities which they have never
seen before. However, when uncritical belief becomes the linchpin of all
understanding, anything which would cause the believer to doubt, must be
systematically eliminated. To put it succinctly, the ear educated exclusively
by belief is also a deaf ear (1990b, p.4).
Whether or not a person accepts new information and develops cognitive
beliefs that are then used to give individualized meaning to the world is
affected by individual processes. Cognitions are selectively organized.
Personality factors may both lower the threshold for accepting some beliefs
and distort cognitions of relevant information (Krech, Crutchfield, &
Ballachey, 1962; Sherman, Judd, & Park, 1989). When there is a period of ambiguity, stress, and social
uncertainty, individuals without a strong, internalized sense of self, that is,
persons lacking an adequate, well functioning ego, may react to the ambivalence
by seeking anything which will provide self-justification and permit a covering
up of the weakness of the self-concept (Aronson, 1988; Kelley & Michela,
1980). Believing in a conspiracy theory, setting aside a specified group that
can be characterized as the evil enemy, as reprehensible, and embodying all that
is most despicable permits a self-justification of nobility, courage, and
amazing virtuosity. The self-concept is enhanced by the contrast and by the
claim to be in opposition to wickedness.
A well developed and often replicated psychological concept is cognitive
dissonance reduction. It is a personality and motivational construct.
the many ramifications of cognitive dissonance research is the finding that
people do not like to see or hear things that conflict with their deeply held
wishes or beliefs. Interest in supporting information appears to be greater
when there is a lower sense of certainty about the correctness of a belief
(Mills, 1968). The early statement by Summit (1984) illustrates the commitment
of some mental health professionals to the proposition that children are to be
believed at all costs. If a person has chosen that belief but then is
confronted with a child saying things that are patently false or highly
improbable, a state of dissonance is generated. That means the person will
reduce the dissonance. Most often this is done by demeaning or ignoring any
disconfirming evidence and attending only to that which affirms the belief.
This is the process which White (1971) describes and documents from the
Pentagon papers. Our leaders did exactly this, reduce dissonance by ignoring
disconfirming evidence, in the Vietnam war. The consequence was thousands of
Americans and Vietnamese killed.
Dissonance theory and research would predict that people who have a belief
that children must be believed will likely continue to believe, in fact,
become more aggressive and strident in their beliefs, when there is contrary
information (Aronson, 1988; Kelley & Michela, 1980; Sherman, et al.,
1989). In a famous participant-observer study, Festinger, Riecken, and
Schachter (1956) report on the behaviors of a group of people who believed the
claims of a psychic who was in contact with beings in outer space that a flood
would destroy the western coast from Chile to Seattle on a specific day,
December 21. Some gave up their jobs, gave away all their
possessions and gathered for the cataclysm. When it did not take place, the
group did not disband but rather began a vigorous proselytizing effort. Their
explanation was that their little group had spread so much light that God had
called off the destruction of the world. Those who had believed but were not
with the group that night and were isolated from each other accepted the
disconfirming evidence and abandoned their beliefs.
This causal possibility, that beliefs may be determined by personality
factors, may also be understood as part of the scapegoat theory of prejudice.
Aggression is caused, in part, by frustration or other unpleasant internal
states such as anxiety or boredom. However, if the cause of the frustration or
negative internal state is either too strong and powerful or too vague and
amorphous for direct retaliation, the aggression may be displaced on some
other target. If a person is an unemployed worker, the economic system that is
the target of his frustration cannot be attacked. It is too big and too vague.
The president may be a person who can be located but he is too powerful. However, what can be done is to lynch a black, kill Jews, or immolate
untouchables. The scapegoat is a safe target and takes the blame for the
frustration instead of the real cause (Aronson, 1988). What better and safer
scapegoat than the devil and those who are believed to serve him? For those
conversant enough with contemporary attitudes to know that antisemitism,
racism, sexual identity prejudices, and any discrimination is unacceptable,
the devil and satanic devotees are an acceptable, indeed, praiseworthy locus
for aggression and hatred. It is proper and politically correct to hate the
devil. Extremism in the battle against evil is noble.
Evil works by dehumanizing the Other. A perverse, efficient logic:
identifying others as evil justifies all further evil against them. A man
may kill a snake without compunction. The snake is an evil thing, has evil
designs, is a different order of being. Thus: an "Aryan" could
kill a Jew, could make an elaborate bureaucratic program of killing Jews.
Thus: white men could come in the middle of the night in Mississippi and
drag a black man out and hang him (Morrow, 1991, p. 50-51).
Laboratory studies (Miller & Bugelski, 1948; Rogers &
Prentice-Dunn, 1981; Weatherly, 1961) suggest some of the variables that may
also play a part. Insecure individuals in a stressful environment displace
aggression onto groups that are disliked, evident, and powerless. The practice of scapegoating may be characteristic of
human beings but not all people do it to the same level.
There are some people who are predisposed to hate. The personality
structure is such that it requires hatred and hated individuals. There has
been a significant and well replicated body of research on the authoritarian
personality (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levin son, & Sanford, 1950).
picture of the authoritarian personality that emerges from several decades of
research is that of an individual whose beliefs are held rigidly and appear
highly resistant to change. They conform to expected values and may appear
conventional to others. They are respectful and submissive to authority and
they are highly punitive. They are suspicious and likely to have negative and
pejorative views of all minority groups.
The research on the authoritarian personality also suggests that such
persons are likely to have had early childhood experiences in which their
parents were harsh and threatening. Parents of persons high on the measures of
authoritarianism use love and its withdrawal as their principal method of
discipline. As children the authoritarian personalities were dependent on
their parents, feared them, and felt anger and hostility toward them but could
not express that openly. As adults they then show high levels of anger, fear,
and insecurity which takes the form of displaced aggression while the person
maintains an outward respect for authority (Aronson, 1988: Krech, et al.
Intolerance of Ambiguity
Another personality variable that is associated with a readiness to come to
premature closure on the basis of incomplete or inadequate information is the
concept of intolerance of ambiguity (Berelson & Steiner, 1964). Some
people find it difficult to cope with inconsistencies, ambiguities, and
unexpected events. Their world needs to be black and white, all good or all
bad (Krech, et al., 1962). This need for closure extends into the perception
of stimuli and is more characteristic of persons who are neurotic. It extends
into the premature closure of incomplete figures and may account for the ease
with which some people quickly perceive a black man. when presented ambiguous
pictures (Vernon, 1970). Readiness to receive and believe rumors and
misperceive stimuli are also associated with these personality characteristics (Berelson & Steiner,
1964). Errors in perception may also be related to the defense mechanisms an
individual habitually uses (Vernon, 1970).
People who are intolerant of ambiguity are relatively "closed"
to new information which would increase the multiplexity of a cognitive system.
Their cognitive palette contains only blacks and whites. Simplified
good-evil solutions to complex social political, and economic issues "devil theories"
will be sought by those who cannot
tolerate ambiguity (Krech et al., 1962, p.46).
An allied concept, again supported by significant research, is Rokeach's
(1960) work on "closed mindedness." The closed minded personalities
show a readiness to quickly reject anything opposed to their beliefs. They
have a low level of interconnectedness in their belief system, that is, they
easily compartmentalize their beliefs. The more closed minded, the more a
person depends upon irrelevant personal wants to form cognitions rather than a
logical understanding of information (Krech, et al., 1962). It does not appear
that we are motivated to be accurate or correct but rather to satisfy many
competing motivations with some sort of compromise (Higgins & Bargh, 1987).
These personality factors have also been shown to be related to beliefs and
values concerning sexuality and to sexual practices (Adorno, et al. 1950).
Higher levels of anxiety about sexuality, greater rigidity, and a higher level
of association of aggression and sexuality have been suggested. In a cross
cultural study Whiting (1959) finds an openness to concepts of sorcery
associated with defense against sexuality. The strongest correlation is with
projection of aggression. Thus Whiting concludes Freud's derivation of
paranoia is supported. The relationship of cognitive structures to emotional
well-being and emotional distress continues to be supported by the research
and to appear more powerful (Singer & Kolligian, 1987).
Another possibility in personality variables that may be involved in a
readiness to believe in satanic, ritualistic abuse is pathology. Being a
mental health professional is no guarantee of mental health. A recent survey
conducted by the Minnesota Psychological Association Task Force on
Distressed/Impaired Psychologists produced a surprisingly high proportion of
psychologists acknowledging personal problems and saying they know other
psychologists with psychological problems. The pathology seen in psychologists included depression (84% other, 47% self), relationship
problems (78% other, 49% self), stress/anxiety disorder (67% other, 44% self),
personality disorder (54% other, 1% self), being abusive/aggressive to clients
(36% other, 0% self), and psychosis (13% other, 1% self) (Brodie & Robinson,
1991). There is no reason to suppose that psychiatrists and social workers are
any less likely to be emotionally disturbed than psychologists nor that
psychologists are likely to be healthier than the others.
Personality dispositions are related to health, both physical and mental
(Carson, 1989). The personality factors described above as ways to understand
how mental health professionals may come to believe in the existence of
satanic ritualistic abuse are also shown to be associated with pathology (Adorno
et al., 1950; Krech et al., 1962; Rokeach, 1960). Whiting states:
On the psychological side one of the features that is most striking in a
society that has a strong belief in witchcraft is the suspicion and distrust
of others that it engenders. If one were to describe clinically the
personality of a strong believer in witchcraft, he would be judged as
paranoid. Not only does he grant magic and exaggerated powers to others to
do harm, but he also feels that he too may have access to such powers
of these traits are, clinically speaking, characteristic of the paranoid,
and our search for a psychological hypothesis to account for the origins of
the belief in sorcery leads us to a consideration of those child-training
mechanisms which might produce paranoia (Whiting, 1959, p.177).
Whether or not the believers in satanic ritual abuse believe that satan is
real and has power, they ascribe to the worldwide satanic conspiracy an
incredible ability to inflict harm upon thousands of children and to do so
while never being caught. The behaviors alleged to be carried out by the
satanists are so bizarre, so frequent, and so well organized so as to avoid
anyone ever defecting, that it staggers the mind. Such prowess can only be so
far beyond the ability of ordinary humans that it has to be magic or some form
of supernatural ability. Believing in the organized satanic conspiracy then is
belief in a magical, supernatural capacity.
Summit (1990), in a conference plenary address titled "Reaching the
Unreachable," discusses the phenomena of children's reports of
ritualistic, satanic abuse committed by the organized group of child
molesters. He describes the new discoveries since 1980 of people who have no
conscious memory of being abused but need the help of the specialized group of
therapists who have special knowledge. He tells the 1200 professionals in the
conference that they must not stop asking the child about having been abused
if the child denies it. They are to continue asking because they have the
specialized capacity to discover the reality. He states that the courts and
the judicial system are the wrong place to advance the interests of abused children.
claims that the special people with the special knowledge to discover abuse when
the child is not consciously aware of having been abused should be the
determiners of fact and truth. His final words are as follows:
Those more recent discoveries that have been made since 1980 are the
outrageous ones that are leading to a great deal of punishment. You will pay
a certain price. Unless we stick together and unless we assert our right to
responsibly probe beneath conscious denial, we will never reach the
understanding we need to continue creative work for the discovery of sexual
abuse (Summit, 1990).
The believers in the satanic conspiracy who agree with Summit and see
themselves as having the special power to discern abuse and reach into
children and adults who deny being abused to discover the truth are, in fact,
claiming a special, magical power and knowledge not available to the rest of
us. The claim to esoteric knowledge not available to ordinary folk has been
the hallmark of magical claims and cultic righteousness since the days of the
Greek mystery religions and the early Christian heresy of Gnosticism. Although
somewhat less blatant, Greaves (1991) also claims a specialized clinical
knowledge that can be advanced and relied upon as a source of authentication
and validation of the otherwise unbelievable allegations of satanic,
These are the two traits Whiting's (1959) cross cultural study of sorcery
identified the granting of exaggerated powers to others to do harm, and one's
own access to such powers. These are also the two traits that are said by
Whiting to be characteristic of the paranoid.
In addition to these traits, Summit (1988) in a radio program, Ideas, on
the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, debating issues surrounding satanic
abuse allegations with Ralph Underwager, began his presentation by describing
what he claims is the historic cycle of professionals discovering the reality
of sexual abuse of children but then being crushed, forced to abandon their
discovery, and having their ideas trashed by the massive resistance of those
who choose to ignore sexual abuse. He asserts that the society does not want
to face the awful reality of sexual abuse but wants to hide it. "The
people who have done best at putting it away are the ones who have emerged
with the power and the respectability." He presents the professionals who
have discovered this unmentionable reality as a small, powerless group. "The people who say this is real and we have to do something about it
have traditionally been trivialized into positions of being not credible, or
falsely motivated, or even maliciously motivated, and certainly not scientific
and not authoritative."
Summit (1990) repeated this concept in the Wisconsin address:
The history of child abuse awareness is a rather surprising one of ignorance
in the face of prevalence, and then sporadic sensational discovery and after
this a discovery that is short lived or discredited so that we go back into
ignorance and indifference again ... pain of discovery, pain and humiliation
and embarrassment of trying to expose sexual abuse to a complacent
authoritative comfortable world is, for most people, too crippling to
sustain. Even when newcomers come along and endorse our earlier
observations, we may resent the efforts of the newcomers because we are
still too filled with pain from the rejection of our own earlier
discoveries. There are a lot of us right now who have experienced pain for
the discovery of multi-victim cases, the concern for dissociative elements
in reaction to abuse, the concern for cults and possible organized dangerous
people who exploit children in group situations.
Contrary to Summit's assertion, the society has, in fact, given credence to
this group. The media have inundated the society with stories, TV programs,
and news broadcasts reflecting their beliefs that child abuse is epidemic.
Recently the lead news item on Minnesota news was the arrest of a man for
abducting a child for the purpose of a satanic child sacrifice. The child was
found in her apartment complex, confused and frightened. The man arrested was
said to have a satanic calendar in his apartment.
State legislatures have enacted child abuse and child witness laws in every
state based upon an uncritical acceptance of this group's claims about sexual
abuse. These new laws all work together to make it easier to prosecute those
accused of child sexual abuse. Child protection departments have grown
enormously and in many states are the largest single budget item. The federal
government has distributed millions of dollars in grants for research but not
a single project that may give a different view has been funded. The justice
system has been empowered to treat persons accused of child sexual abuse differently
than any other group of people charged with any other crime. Maintaining a collective posture and self-presentation of a rejected,
punished, and beleaguered group of child advocates in the face of the reality
is a persecutory delusion and an idea of reference. Such unrealistic,
delusional thinking is another characteristic of the paranoid. The believers
who agree with Summit and accept his view of reality may be demonstrating a paranoid
mentation and ideation reflecting an individual personality pathology.
Subjectivity of the Thought Reader
Freud and Fliess met for the last time in the summer of 1900 at Achensee. They
parted on bad terms when Fliess attacked Freud as a "thought reader," meaning that Freud read
his own thoughts into the minds of his patients. This was a deadly attack and
Freud knew it to be crucial. He wrote, "you take sides against me and tell
me that 'the thought-reader merely reads his own thoughts into other people,' which
deprives my work of all its value [italics added]. If I am such a one throw
my every-day life [the parapraxis book] unread into the waste basket ... the
thought-reader perceives nothing in others but merely projects his own thoughts
into them ... and you must regard the whole technique as just as worthless
as the others do" [italics added] (cited in Meehl, 1983, p.349-350).
The believers who rely upon statements by children and putative survivors as the
data supporting their acceptance of the reality of satanic ritual abuse face the
same basic problem. Epistemologically there is no way to satisfactorily answer
Fliess's charge. The subjectivity of the inferences of a therapist cannot be
avoided. Meehl (1983) describes four main sources of theory-determined error
through which a therapist may mind read one's own thoughts into the patient's
First, content implantation, in which memories, thoughts,
impulses, and even defenses are explicitly "taught" to the patient
via interpretation, construction, and leading questions. Second, selective
intervention, in which the analyst's moment-to-moment technical decisions
to speak or remain silent, to reflect, to ask for clarifications, to call
attention to a repetition, similarity, or allusion, to request further
associations, to go back to an earlier item, etc., can operate either as differential
reinforcement of verbal behavior classes (a more subtle, inexplicit form
of implantation!) or as a biased evidence-sifter. By this latter I mean
that even if the patient's subsequent verbalizations were uninfluenced by such
interventions, what the analyst has thus collected as his data surely
has been. Third, on the "input" side, there is the purely
perceptual-cognitive aspect of subjectivity in discerning the "red
thread" ... Fourth, supposing the theme-tracing to be correct, we make
a causal inference and what entitles us to infer the continued existence and
operation of an unconscious background mental process (p. 359).
Meehl (1983) makes some suggestions about how to estimate how much of a
therapist's inferences are thought reading but concludes there is no good
answer to this serious epistemological question. The same question applies to
the believers who use the verbal productions of clients as their main or only
source of data to assert their claims. How can they demonstrate anything other
than projecting their own biases and prior assumptions unto the patient?
On the other band, there is demonstration that in some instances children
are taught to believe they have been satanic ritual abuse victims. Mr. John
Fittanto was charged in criminal court in Cook County, IL with sexual abuse of
two children. In May, 1991, the motion of the defense counsel to dismiss the indictment against Mr. Fittanto was
heard and that motion was granted. The judge heard several days of testimony
including 10 straight days of testimony by a 7-year-old girl alleging ail manner
of bizarre abuse by Mr. Fittanto and others. The testimony included detailed
descriptions of ritual abuse involving groups of people, robed, singing, chanting,
drugging children, forcing children to drink blood, eat excrement and drink
urine, human child sacrifice, secret places, cannibalism, torture, and every
conceivable sexual act.
This court does find that the testimony of K. is extraordinary, it is
bizarre and it is incredible ... and the court is satisfied and finds that
K. is unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy. It is clear that K.
has memorized her testimony in its entirety ... It is very clear to the
Court that K. has been coached over and over and over again (Hamilton, 1991,
The child had been seen repeatedly by Ms. Pamela Klein, self-styled expert
in satanic ritual abuse. Ms. Klein had been in England for four years where
she set herself up as a "psychologist specializing in child sexual abuse
cases" (Pope, 1991). But after she claimed 4000 British children were
being sacrificed to satan every year and participated in the Rochdale satanic
ritualistic abuse allegations, she was investigated. The report included the
finding that her credentials were false and misleading and that a judge in
Illinois had ruled she was not a legitimate therapist and was not licensed to
practice (Pope, 1991). Nevertheless she returned to Chicago and became
involved in this case at the request of the social workers who believed there
was a satanic ritualistic conspiracy. The initial interrogations with the
child did not produce any statements so Ms. Klein was called in. The outcome
was the finding by the court of a fabricated false allegation.
In a recent case in which we were involved a father and mother were accused
of satanic ritualistic abuse of their children. The children were taken away
and parental rights were finally terminated months later. The accusations
arose with an initial report of two brothers engaging in sexual play with each
other. The children were placed in foster care, interviewed repeatedly, and
seen in therapy regularly. The stories grew and grew until they began to
include allegations that the parents attended a satanic church (this was in a
small midwestern city) and forced the children into satanic worship, sexual
abuse, and the full panoply of allegations. A year and half after this all
began, the therapist's notes include this:
S. disclosed that his parents are/were involved in ceremonies that
indicate devil worship. I drew a sign (emphasis added) and S. stated that his
father had one just like this on his arm.
In the same therapist's notes for two months later, this entry is found:
S. told about being afraid of the devil. Talked about God and the devil.
S. said that his mom and dad went to a church that worshiped the devil.
described a devil worshiping sign.
The father had no sign on his arm. There is no evidence of a satanic church
in this small community where everyone knows everyone else. When the child's
knowledge of a sign supposedly signifying satanic worship was offered as one
basis for termination of parental rights, nobody said anything about the first
notice of any sign being the drawing of one by the therapist. The most
reasonable cause of the child's production of a sign is the model presented by
the therapist two months before.
When MacFarlane testified before a congressional committee in 1984, she was
pressed for evidence to support her claim of a conspiracy. She mentioned that
she heard about a child in another state giving the same parody of a nursery rhyme
and describing the naked movie star game that she said she heard from
children in the McMartin case. She was referring to the Montessori school case
in Reno, Nevada (Crewdson, 1988). What she did not tell the committee was
that early on in their case the Reno investigators had telephone conversations
and had gone to Los Angeles and spent several days with the investigators in
the McMartin case.
Analysis of videotapes of the interrogations of children in the Reno case
demonstrated that the mental health professionals were checking out with the
children what the police investigators had told them to ask about. The leading
questions, coercion, and pursuit of confirmation of the expectations of the
police investigators is clear (Underwager & Wakefield, 1985). The
chronology suggests the communication between the investigators is the most
likely cause of the appearance of similarities between the elicited accounts.
Once again the problem for believers is to demonstrate anything other than the
thought reading suggested by Fliess.
The Reno case never went to trial but through a serious of legal actions
reached the Nevada Supreme Court. The district court had a panel of experts
review the videotapes of the interrogations of the children by the mental
health professionals. The court dismissed the indictments against the
defendants citing the extremely leading and suggestive questioning of the
children by the mental health professionals, highly questionable conduct by
the prosecutor's office, and the activities of civil attorneys who sought out
parents to bring civil suits and paid for part of the prosecution. The state
supreme court upheld the district court.
Internal Variables, Child
A number of researchers have examined the factors of memory development,
cognitive and moral development of children, and suggestibility of children to
adult social influence (Garbarino & Stott, 1989; Lepore, 1991; Wakefield
& Underwager, 1988; Underwager & Wakefield, 1990). There is no doubt
that children can be led to produce accounts of events that did not happen.
does not mean that children lie, but rather they are victimized by adult biases
and expectations (Wakefield &Underwager, 1988). Some professionals knowingly
set out to produce false accounts (Wakefield & Underwager, 1989).
Individual differences in adults interact with individual differences that
may appear in children who produce accounts said to be satanic ritualistic
abuse. In addition to children's suggestibility, memory capacity, and
developmental factors in their cognitive development, there are some factors not
often mentioned that may bear on the production of the bizarre and incredible
accounts purported to be satanic and ritualistic abuse.
Building upon their study of hypnotic susceptibility Wilson & Barber,
1981) and the earlier studies, Wilson and Barber (1983) describe a fantasy prone
personality (FPP). Otherwise normal, healthy, and functional people have vivid,
intense, and involved fantasies. They have trouble telling the difference
between fantasy and reality. They keep their fantasy worlds secret. Most (92%)
of their fantasy prone subjects said they spent half or more of their working day
fantasizing compared to 0% in the control group. Their fantasies are so real
they actually hear, smell, and feel what is being described. Most FPPs (65%)
reported their fantasies were "as real as real" (hallucinatory) in all
sense modalities. They also describe their experience as involuntary.
children the FPPs spent much time in fantasy, living in a make believe world
most of the time. The FPPs (80%) reported their dolls and toy animals were
living and had real personalities and unique feelings. None of the control group
reported any similar confusion about make believe with dolls and toy animals.
The vividness and intensity of the fantasies did not diminish with age but
continued into adulthood.
When they were children, almost all the fantasizers believed in fairies,
leprechauns, elves, guardian angels, and other such beings . . . The strength
of the fantasy prone subjects' beliefs in such beings probably originates in
their conviction that they have seen, heard, or even played with them . . .
With few exceptions, their belief in elves, leprechauns, fairies, guardian
angels, tree spirits, and other such creatures did not terminate during
childhood: as adults they either still believe in them or are not absolutely
sure that they really do not exist (Wilson & Barber, 1983, p. 346).
Rhue and Lynn (1987) replicated the fantasy prone personality study and
report strong support for the construct validity and confirmation of the
developmental antecedents of extensive adult fantasy involvement. While
found a significant relationship with the reported experience of harsh physical
punishments in childhood, and propose that fantasy may serve an adaptive
function for people who have had frustration, deprivation, and adverse
environments, there were no reports of childhood sexual abuse experiences, as
Wilson and Barber (1983) also report. FPPs also showed more projection of
hostility and produced MMPI profiles suggesting conflict, alienation, and
Bartholomew, Basterfield, and Howard (1991) report that out of 152 subjects
who reported abductions or contacts with UFOs, while none show a history of
mental illness, 132 of them show one or more of the major characteristics of the
fantasy prone personality. They suggest that with individuals who report contact
with UFOs but show no sign of pathology, clinicians should assess the
possibility of an FPP experience.
After over 20 years of interviewing over 15,000 children Art Linkletter
made this observation:
"... 'Cause they have big crocodiles down there and if people don't
listen to me I can sic the crocodiles on them."
This bloodthirsty theme runs through the mind of many a mild-mannered
darling. It would frighten you to know how often the curly blond locks of a
little princess cover a head filled with mayhem (Linkletter, 1957, p. 25).
After 25 years of treating children Bloch described the fantasies of
children this way:
It abounded in beasts of terrifying mien, in cruel witches and monsters
who pursued their victims with unrelenting savagery. In those preserves the
air continually vibrated to the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns, corpses hung
from trees, and streams ran red with blood. "Do you want to help me
run? The monster is after us," was the way three-and-one-half-year-old
Ellie introduced a fantasy that lasted more than a year. ... I was
instructed by a five-year-old in the slaughter of multitudes by a carefully
worked out routine that inevitably ended with our dumping the imaginary
corpses over the roof and then brushing "the blood and dirt off our
hands." I have spent many a session being shot to death and then
revived only so that I might be shot again (Bloch, 1978, p. 2).
Spontaneous stories told by 270 children 2 through 5 years were analyzed to
find out what themes or topics chiefly concern the preschool child, what kinds
of characters he likes to discuss, and how he views his parents (Ames, 1966).
The summary table shows "the outstanding theme at
every age, for both sexes, is some theme of violence" (p.342). The majority
of children at every age tell stories with themes of violence. Themes of
violence hold steady at 75% from age 3 to 5. Ages 2 and 5 are slightly less.
Boys are more violent in their expression than girls. These stories are also
compared with a similar analysis of 240 stories gathered earlier (Pitcher &
Prelinger, 1963). The findings of the two studies agree to a marked extent.
Our own impression, substantiated by present findings, is that young
children in our culture, in their stories and their play, apparently by
nature are extremely violent, If it should be that they absorb this violence
from the culture, then such absorption must be considered a rather universal
phenomenon expressing itself as early as 2 years of age (Ames, 1966, p.
Opie and Opie (1959) studied the superstitions of 5000 school children
throughout England. Superstitions seem particularly understandable in young
children between 2 and 6. The child's cognition is typified by magical
thinking with no sense of probabilities. Most superstitions deal with good or
bad luck objects, reluctance to anticipate fortunate events, and safeguards
from harm. Leonard, Goldberger, Rapoport, Cheslow, and Swedo (1990) report on
superstitions and rituals of a sample of over 100 American children diagnosed
with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder and a control group of normal children.
and normal children did not differ in superstitions but OCDs did show greater
A final point in trying to understand what role children's fantasies may
play in the development of accounts said to be satanic ritualistic abuse is
the demonstration by Foley and Johnson (1985) that 6- and 9-year-old children
had trouble distinguishing what they did from what they imagined doing. They
were as good as adults at distinguishing what they did from what they saw
someone else do. In fantasies children imagine themselves as actors doing
things as well as objects of others actions.
Wakefield and Underwager (1988) observe:
In instances where children are subjected to intense and frequent
questioning and further detail are sought across a period of time the
progression of the story goes from an initial "touching" to
fondling, to oral, genital, and anal penetration, to some form of drug use,
to pictures being taken, to monsters, or witches, or people dressed in
strange ways behaving in a bizarre fashion (i.e., twirling rainbow colored
snakes about the children, keeping bears, training deer to urinate and
defecate in children's mouths...) to ritual killing of animals, ranging from
gerbils, birds, and squirrels to bears, deer, lions, and elephants. The
final step is some form of violence to children. including torture,
mutilation, and murder.
This common progression, noted in cases from Alaska to Florida and Maine
to California, suggests that repeated interviews tap into an ever deeper
layer of the kind of fantasies children are known to have ... Some
professionals claim that these stories may be true and support this claim by
pointing out the similarity of the stories across the country ... But we are
convinced that this very similarity results from the questions
professionals, who are familiar with the well publicized cases, ask the
The content of children's most frequent fantasies include violence,
monsters, bizarre acts, and much anxiety material. When adults who believe
they know a child has been abused respond to the child's denial of abuse by
continued questioning, the child learns the denial is not accepted. Children
do not know what they do not know and they answer questions they do not
understand and about which they have no information (Hughes & Grieve,
1983; Linkletter, 1957). Their fantasies may supply their answers.
they have acquired by learning may be generalized and provide the source of
answers that have no basis in reality (Furman & Walden, 1990). Given the
development of a story across time and known adult behavior to place pressure
on a child, the most reasonable and most parsimonious explanation of the story
is that the adult caused it, not that it reflects an actual historical prior
What It Does to Children
The believers in the satanic ritualistic abuse conspiracy have never asked
the question about what they do to children if they make a mistake. If a child
who has not been abused is treated by adults who believe, however they arrive at
the belief, that the child has been the victim of satanic ritualistic abuse, it
is not a benign, innocuous, nor even neutral experience. It is devastating to a
child. Seven years after the Scott County cases Robson (1991) interviewed some
of the families whose children were taken away and the parents were accused of
abuse that is now included by the believers in the category of satanic
The events that collectively came to be known as "the Scott County
case" make up one of the most bizarre, disturbing and emotional chapters
in Minnesota history. Children as young as 18 months old were taken from their
parents on the basis of fabricated stories coaxed from adolescents who
themselves had been isolated for months and repeatedly questioned by zealous
investigators. More than seven years later, the legacy of Scott County has
been one of children crying for their parents in the middle of the night; of
divorce and dysfunction among nearly all of the families involved; of perhaps
permanent emotional damage to the accused and the accusers alike
Many of the children continue to demonstrate problems that can be traced to
their experience. These include school problems, behavioral difficulties, sexual
confusion and difficulty, while some of the children who are now in adolescence
are having problems with drugs and alcohol. Emotionally some of them see
problems they don't think will ever disappear (Robson, 1991).
In England the children taken from the Orkney island of Ronaldsay talked about
their five week ordeal before they were returned to their families. A 9-year-old
said "They were asking me about all sorts of things I didn't know
about." An 8-year-old girl said "It was horrid. I am glad to be
back." A boy, 15, told of being placed in a home for young criminals where
he learned how to steal cars and get hashish. "They were more intelligent
than the social workers who kept asking me if I was involved in sex with other
families. I kept telling them it wasn't true but they wouldn't believe me"
To treat a child as if satanic abuse were real is to teach that child that
the world is filled with evil, that powerful forces can hurt us and destroy us
and we cannot stop it. It is to train a child to distrust others, to believe in
the most macabre, disgusting, and horrifying events. It is to train a child to
live in an irrational world in an irrational manner and to steal from the child
the ability to live a life of reason and logical coping skills. It is to reify a
child's most terrifying fantasies and force a child to grow into an adult whose
world remains at the level of a constant night terror. It is to run the risk of
training a child to be psychotic, not able to distinguish between reality and
unreality. It is to irrevocably and likely irretrievably damage a child and
induce a lifelong experience of emotional distress.
The answer to the question why do some professionals believe and not others
is in the internal variables of the personalities of the believers. It ranges
from factors that may make a person difficult to relate to but remaining
functional to serious psychopathology. When the belief is acted upon and those
believed to be victims of satanic ritualistic abuse are treated accordingly,
serious damage is caused. People who were not victims are taught to believe
they are victims. Indeed, they are. They are not victims of satanic,
ritualistic abuse. They are victims of common garden variety human stupidity,
the cause of the vast majority of human misery.
|* Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield are psychologists at the
Institute for Psychological Therapies,
5263 130th Street East,
Northfield, MN 55057-4880.