Seminar on Child Sexual Abuse

Ralph C. Underwager
Hollida Wakefield

Oklahoma, 1995

VI. Allegations of ritualistic and satanic abuse

A. Extent of the allegations

1.The American Bar Association is conducting a survey of local prosecutors to obtain an estimate of the national incidence of different types of cases of child abuse. As of early 1991 the preliminary data indicated that about one-third of local prosecutors have handled cases involving "ritualistic or satanic abuse" (Victor, 1991).

2. The FBI has investigated over 300 of these cases (Lanning, 1991, 1992).

3. Books by "survivors" and appearances on television talk shows such as Geraldo Rivera are becoming common.

4. Articles and books in the professional and popular literature have proliferated in the past several years.

B. The professional community has become polarized in response to such allegations.

C. There are many meanings given to the terms ritualistic and/or satanic abuse and the lack of a consensus as to what is meant makes investigation more difficult.

D. The allegations of ritual abuse come from two sources:

1. Accounts of "survivors" who uncover memories of bizarre satanic ritual abuse ceremonies during the course of therapy. The alleged abuse is not remembered until the adult goes into therapy with a therapist skilled in special techniques, such as survivors' groups and hypnotherapy.

2. Accounts of children who have allegedly been ritualistically abused at day care centers, of which the McMartin case is the best known example.

3. These sources have affected one another.

a. A well-known "survivor's" book, Michelle Remembers (Smith & Pazder, 1980) was used by police and prosecutors in the early 1980s in preparing cases against people accused of sexually molesting children in day care centers (Charlier & Downing, 1988).

b. Michelle Smith and other "survivors" met with the parents and children involved in the McMartin case after the case was reported in the press (Nathan, 1991).

E. Supportive networks

1.The belief in satanic, ritualistic abuse has been supported by several volunteer associations of parents and conferences on ritual abuse for police and child protection workers function as organizing agencies, which promote the conversion and recruitment of more and more professionals to the moral crusade, including social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and police (Hicks, 1991, Victor, 1991).

2. These professionals then become "experts" on ritual abuse and disseminate the satanic cult legend to the local level, where they alert people to the "signs" of ritual abuse in public speeches and small town newspaper articles.

3. As a result, there is now a vast communication network which disseminates elaborate assumptions about ritual abuse (Gonzales, 1989; Mulhern, 1991; Victor, 1991).

F. Survivor's accounts

1. These "survivors" generally first uncover "memories" of these experiences during psychotherapy.

2. Frequently, techniques such as hypnosis or survivors groups are used.

3. The survivors are diagnosed as multiple personality disorder (MPD)

4. The survivors allege memories of bizarre events, including urine and feces, ritual murder and torture, cannibalism, and baby breeding.

G. Problems with survivor stories

1. Research with hypnosis indicates that memories retrieved in a hypnotic trance will contain a combination of fact, fantasy and suggestion that cannot be accurately determined without external corroboration (Ganaway, 1991, Spanos, 1991).

2. A few therapists are finding almost all of the satanic cult survivors. This strongly suggests the influence of the beliefs of the therapist.

3. The allegations in these accounts have not been independently verified. The one careful attempt (Passantino, Passantino & Trott, 1989) to verify one of these accounts, Satan's Underground, by Lauren Stratford (1988) showed that the claims were not corroborated.

4. MPD is controversial and cannot said to be generally accepted in the scientific community (Aldridge-Morris, 1989; Fahy, 1988; Frankel, 1993; Freeland, Manchanda, Chiu, Sharma, & Merskey, 1993; McHugh, 1993; Merskey, 1992; Spanos, 1994; Wakefield & Underwager, 1994b; Weissberg, 1993).

5. There is nothing in the scientific literature to support the claims of recovered memory of "repressed" childhood sexual abuse (Wakefield & Underwager, 1992, 1994b).

6. Such stories are likely the result of the therapy given (Wakefield & Underwager, 1992, 1994b).

H. Allegations of ritual abuse in day care centers

1. Rumors that satanists were sexually molesting children in day care centers first attained national attention in the McMartin Preschool case (Underwager & Wakefield, 1991).

2. Soon after the McMartin case attracted national attention, similar accusations of ritual sexual abuse swept across the country (Charlier & Downing, 1988).

3. As in the survivor's accounts, there has been no evidence found to supporting the ritual abuse allegations.

4. The allegations come from the way the children are interviewed in these cases, by interviewers who believe the abuse is real, who attend the same workshops and conferences, who consult with one another, conferences, and who then interview children with suggestive and leading questions (Wakefield & Underwager, 1994b).

5. Some recent interviewing tools contain explicit drawings of ritualistic abuse (Northwest Psychological Publishers, 1990; Sanford, 1990).

6. The tunnels under the McMartin preschool.

a. There is currently a group of professionals who believe that there was ritual abuse at the McMartin preschool and that the tunnels under the school where these activities allegedly took place were found (Summit, 1993, 1994, Vanderbilt, 1992).

b. This claim has been made at conferences and in the sexual abuse survivor literature and has now found its way into the professional literature (i.e., Gelinas, 19995).

c. However, a careful analysis of the evidence for the tunnels indicates that there is no good evidence for their existence (Earl, 1995).

I. There are sadistic and disturbed people who abuse and brutalize children. Some of these people may abuse a child in what looks like or is interpreted as a satanic ritual, a possibility that becomes more probable given the current media attention and publicity.

J. However, despite hundreds of investigations by the FBI and police, there is no independent evidence of ritual abuse, animal and human sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism of hundreds of children by a conspiracy of apparently normal adults who are functional and organized enough to leave no trace of their activities (Hicks, 1991; Lanning, 1991, 1992; Richardson, Best, & Bromley, 1991; Victor, 1991).

K. Despite this, many professionals and lay people believe in the satanic cult myth.

a. A survey of clinical psychologists indicated that 93% of those who had seen cases of ritual or religious abuse believed the ritual abuse was true (Goodman, Qin, Bottoms, & Shaver, undated).

b. Although there was convincing evidence for a variety of types of religion-related abuse (e.g., withholding medical care, abuse by priests, exorcisms), there was no evidence for claims of satanic cult activity.

H. Attached at the end of the outline is a sample of several multivictim, multiperpetrator allegations. They are in several other countries in addition to the United States. These cases all had massive publicity in their geographical areas, and several have been publicized throughout the world. This is a limited sample, there are many similar cases. We were professionally involved in all but a couple of these.


Copyright 1989-2014 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 15, 2014.
Found a non-working link?  Please notify the Webmaster.