An Empirical Look at the Ritual Abuse Controversy Randy Noblitt, PhD

An Empirical Look at the Ritual Abuse Controversy

Randy Noblitt, PhD

Randy Noblitt, PhD
Professor and Director Clinical Doctoral Program
The California School of Professional Psychology
Alliant International University in Los Angeles

Adapted in 2007 from a paper presented at the 40th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, Fort Worth, Texas, March 18, 1998. This paper is an expansion on a chapter from Accessing Dissociated Mental States (1998), a privately published monograph by Randy Noblitt. .

© Randy Noblitt, Ph.D., 2007

Most empirical studies of ritual abuse can be divided into four categories. They are studies of (1) the frequency of ritual abuse disclosures to professionals and their beliefs about such reports; (2) suggestibility, rumor and iatrogenesis as possible explanations for ritual abuse allegations; (3) ritual abuse allegations made by children; and (4) ritual abuse allegations made by adults.

Studies have evaluated the frequency with which ritual abuse allegations are disclosed to mental health and other professionals. A national survey of 2,709 clinical psychologists with memberships in the American Psychological Association showed that 70% denied and 30% acknowledged seeing at least one case of “ritualistic or religion-related abuse since January 1, 1980” (Bottoms, Shaver, &Goodman, 1991, p. 6). The authors also found that among the psychologists who had worked with at least one individual with allegations of ritual abuse, 93% believed that the harm had actually occurred. This report was part of a series of five studies later published by Goodman, Qin, Bottoms and Shaver (1994). The first of the five studies involved a survey of a stratified random sample of clinical members of the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and National Association of Social Workers. The second study consisted of a survey of district attorneys’ offices, social service agencies, and law enforcement offices. The third study investigated the question of “repressed” and later“ recovered” memory based on 490 cases from the first study of which 43 were described as “repressed memory” cases and 447 were “no repressed memory” cases. The fourth study examined children’s knowledge of Satanic [1] abuse. The fifth study investigated three types of “religion-related child abuse:” abusive acts intended to rid the child of demons, clergy abuse, and medical neglect for religious reasons.

From the data of their first study, these investigators concluded that 31% of the combined sample of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers had seen at least one case of ritual or religion-related abuse. There were 387 child ritual abuse cases, 674 adult ritual abuse survivor cases, 171 child religion-related cases, and 234 adult survivor of religion-related cases reported. The authors concluded that the adult ritual abuse cases “were consistently the most extreme” (p. 4). Of the adult ritual abuse cases 33% reported cannibalism and 28% baby breeding for purposes of ritual sacrifice. Among the adult ritual abuse cases, they found that the victims were likely to be diagnosed with MPD. They also found that child cases were “far more likely to be disclosed to authorities or professionals, to family members or neighbors and to be linked to corroborative evidence, but were less likely to be disclosed in therapy than adult cases” (p. 4). The authors concluded that the psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers who responded to their survey “overwhelmingly believed both the allegations of abuse and the allegations of ritual or religious elements of the abuse” (p. 6).

Their second study of district attorneys, social services and law enforcement agencies revealed that 23% had identified at least one case of ritual or religion-related abuse. “In general, the ritual cases with the most convincing evidence were unlike the satanic ritual abuse stereotype” (p. 6). The authors expressed surprise that “the conviction rate in ritual cases was almost as high as in religion-related cases” (p. 7).

In their third study investigating the question of “repressed” and later “recovered” memory they found that the “repressed memory” cases were more likely to be “ritual cases” in comparison with the “no repressed memory cases.” However, when they excluded what they called “outlier” cases, the “repressed” versus no “repressed” memory effects disappeared.

The fourth study of children’s knowledge of ritual abuse showed that “children have relatively little knowledge of satanic child abuse” (p. 10). Their fifth study considered 271 cases of religion-related abuse. They found that in 94% of the clergy abuse, 48% of the evil ridding cases, and 23% of medical neglect included allegations of sexual abuse. They found that MPD and other dissociative disorders were diagnosed in over 20% of the evil ridding and medical neglect cases.

Another survey investigated reports of sexual and ritual abuse made to British psychologists (Andrews, Morton, Bekerian, Brewin, Davies, & Mollon, 1995). Of 810 British Psychological Society practitioners who had seen sexually abused clients, the investigators found that 15% had worked with clients reporting satanic ritual abuse. Eighty percent of the psychologists who had seen one or more individuals with a stated history of satanic ritual abuse believed the allegations. In their national investigation of 270 cases of substantiated sexual abuse of 1,639 children in day care, Finkelhor, Williams, and Burns (1988) found 13% of the cases involved allegations of ritual abuse. According to Jonker and Jonker-Bakker, “The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Britain reported in its 1989 Annual Report that seven out of 66 Child Protection Teams in England and Wales were currently working with children victimized by ritualistic abuse” (1997, p. 542). In a survey of the membership of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation [2], Perry concluded that 88% of 1185 “respondents reported belief in ritual abuse, involving mind control and programming” (1992, p. 4).

These studies show that the overwhelming majority of surveyed professionals believe ritual abuse allegations. What would account for such a high degree of concurrence? If these ritual abuse allegations are essentially false, then these therapists are at best misguided. Some have argued that false ritual abuse “memories” are implanted or created by inept or unethical therapists. If the patients’ allegations are essentially true, then this high degree of concurrence may simply reflect the professionals’ accurate assessment of their informants’ reports. I hypothesize that patients who make ritual abuse allegations appear to be genuinely traumatized. In a study comparing 34 adult psychiatric patients making ritual abuse allegations with 31 patients making no such allegations, I found that the group making ritual abuse allegations had significantly higher PTSD scores on the MMPI-2 (Noblitt, 1995). In their study of preschool ritualistic and non-ritualistic sexual abuse, Waterman, Kelly, Olivieri, and McCord, (1993) demonstrated that PTSD criteria were met for 80% of their sample of ritualistically sexually abused children as compared with 35.7% of the non-ritualistically sexually abused children.

The hypothesis that ritual abuse allegations are essentially false and the result of suggestibility and social influence has been propounded by a number of individuals (Mulhern, 1991, 1994; Ofshe& Waters, 1994; Spanos, 1996). However, this hypothes is appears to be based on subjective opinion and speculation rather than any research findings. It has never been shown that people who report ritual abuse are particularly suggestible. It has also never been demonstrated that therapists with such patients attempt to persuade their patients to believe that they were ritually abused. Nevertheless, several studies are worth reviewing in spite of their methodological problems. Jeffrey Victor (1993) described what he calls Satanic rumor panics. Victor argues that Satanism is a frightening and provocative subject to the general public and has been the source of numerous rumors for which he cites examples from the popular press. Even Philip Coons, a skeptic regarding ritual abuse allegations, comments critically of Victor’s research: “Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell from Victor’s cursory review of the evidence what really did happen at these 61 locations” (1997, p. 108).

However, Philip Coons (1994) contributed a study of his own on this question. He retrospectively reviewed the psychiatric records of 29 patients who had made allegations of Satanic ritual abuse. He concluded that 76% of the patients had either DID or DDNOS but that he was unable to find any external corroboration of the SRA allegations. Three cases he labeled delusional and four were categorized as factitious. He concluded that in all but 2 cases “questionable” therapeutic methods were used. Weir and Wheatcroft (1995) reviewed twenty cases where ritual sexual abuse had been alleged. Based on their evaluative findings they concluded that false allegations of ritual abuse occurred in 75% of the cases and true allegations in only 25%. The primary weakness of these three studies is that they rely entirely on the subjective interpretations of the authors. Whereas the validity of the last two studies would depend on the ability of their authors to accurately diagnose ritual abuse and/or find corroborating evidence; and the extent to which the data they needed to confirm any true ritual abuse was available. With no measure of inter-rater reliability, there is no way to know how reliably or accurately these investigators interpret these data or of knowing whether sufficient data were available to interpret.

Two other case studies merit attention although they suffer the same methodological problems noted above. Coons and Grier (1990) described a single case where an individual with ritual abuse allegations was instead diagnosed with factitious disorder and Yeager and Lewis (1997) briefly present a single case of a recanter. In the former example one must ask whether the patient’s inaccurate reporting of particular events means that they were not abused or ritually abused. In my opinion the characteristic features of ritual abuse include abuse by ruse and deception. In the latter example it should be obvious that recantation is no more intrinsically credible than an original allegation. It has been found that individuals with well documented evidence of sexual abuse will sometimes later recant and that many recanters, particularly with ritual abuse allegations, later redisclose abuse (Waterman, Kelly, Olivieri, and McCord, 1993).

Some authors argue that there is no substantial legal evidence that the ritual abuse of children actually occurs, and that most cases of ritual abuse convictions are reversed on appeal. Michael Newton (cited in Noblitt, 1998a) accumulated data on criminal convictions in the U.S. where allegations of ritual abuse of children were made. He found cases of 145 defendants who were sentenced. Seventeen (11.7%) were reversed on appeal. Newton argues that these reversals do not necessarily indicate that the defendants were innocent of the accusations. In some instances the decisions were reversed based on legal technicalities rather than factual matters as to whether the abuse occurred or not.

Chronology of Ritual Abuse Convictions

Data Accumulated and Reported by Newton (1997)

Date Venue Convictions Guilty/Nolo Pleas
1983 Bakersfield, CA 4*
1983 Denver, CO 1
1984 Malden, MA 1
1984 Jordan, MN 1
1984 Bakersfield, CA 5
1984 Richmond, VA 1
1985 Pittsfield, MA 1
1985 El Paso, TX 1*
1985 Niles, MI 1* (1**)
1985 Bakersfield, CA 7
1985 Dade County, FL 1 1
1985 Richmond, VA 1
1985 Bakersfield, CA 1*
1986 El Paso, TX 1*
1986 Des Moines, IA 3 2
1987 Bakersfield, CA 2
1987 Lehi, UT 1
1987 San Diego, CA 2
1987 Winston, OR 1
1987 Mt. Vernon, NY 2 (1*)
1987 Malden, MA 2*
1987 Memphis, TN 1
1988 Carson City, NV 2*
1988 Lincoln, NE 1
1988 Maplewood, NJ 1*
1988 Santa Rosa, CA 2
1988 Roseburg, OR 1*
1989 Nottingham, Engl. 9
1989 Asheville, NC 1
1989 Thurston County, WA 1
1989 Stuart, FL 1 1
1989 Winston-Salem, NC 1
1989 Edgewood, IA 1
1989 Roseburg, OR 1
1990 Prescott, Ont. 1 1
1990 Akron, CO 1
1991 Prescott, Ont. 4
1992 Mansfield, OH 1 1
1992 Edenton, NC 1*
1992 Smithfield, NC 1
1992 Wenatchee, WA 1
1992 Austin, TX 2
1992-93 Prescott, Ont. 11 19
1993 Christchurch, NZ 1
1993 Wenatchee, WA 1
1993 Smithfield, NC 1
1993 Edenton, NC 1*
1994 Martensville, Sask. 2
1994 Amsterdam, Neth. 2
1994 Edenton, NC 2
1994 Canton, OH 1
1994 Hapeville, GA 1
1994 Wenatchee, WA 3 13
1995 Meriden, CT 1
1995 Wenatchee, WA 1
1996 Oxford, MS 1
1996 Danbury, CT 1
1996 Virginia Beach, VA 1

Defendants convicted: 80 Guilty/Nolo Pleas: 64 (44% of total) Total defendants sentenced: 144
*Reversed on appeal: 17 (11.8% of defendants sentenced);
**Guilty on new charge after reversal on appealShe also noted that among the children’s allegations were their being molested by other children (n=11) and being molested by strangers, daycare workers or a parent (n=11). Hudson identified 16 forms of abuse: (1) locked in a cage or “jail,” (2) told that their parents, pets or younger siblings would be killed if they told anyone of the abuse, (3) buried in the ground in coffins which they called “boxes,” (4) held underwater, (5) threatened with guns and knives, (6) injected with needles, bled, drugged, (7) photographed during the abuse, (8) tied upside down over a “star,” hung from a pole or hook, burnt with candles, (9) perpetrators wearing blackrobes, masks, (10) participated in a mock marriage, (11) defecated and urinated upon, (12) observed animals killed, (13) observed torture or molestation of other children, (14) saw children and babies killed, (15) had blood poured on their heads, (16) taken to churches, other daycare settings, people’s homes,and graveyards for the ritual abuse. Of these 13 children responded to at least one of the items, excluding number 14. Four children reported number 14, seeing children and babies killed.

Hudson performed a second study. In order to control for the possible contagion effects that may have occurred in her Ft. Bragg case, she conducted a telephone interview of 10 other families, in different locations in the U.S. where ritual abuse had been reported. All but two were daycare cases. She collected data from these interviews which she combined with her Fort Bragg data. Thus, she had a total of 11 cases. The following abuses and corroboration were reported:

  1. Confinement in cage (n=10)
  2. Threats (n=11)
  3. Live burial in caskets, coffins, boxes (n=6),
  4. Water torture (n=7),
  5. Threats with guns or knives (n=10)
  6. Drug injections (n=10)
  7. Filming and still photography (n=11)
  8. Bondage, locked in closets, hung by feet or wrists, spread-eagled over pentagrams, tied onto upside-down crosses (n=7)
  9. Abusers wearing masks and robes, carrying candles (n=11),
  10. Mock marriages (n=6),
  11. Defecation, urination, forcible ingestion of human wastes (n=10)
  12. Witnessing animals tortured and killed (n=10)
  13. Fake operations (n=6),
  14. Children’s descriptions of the torture and sexual assault of themselves or others (n=10)
  15. Evidential medical examinations: findings commensurate with sexual assault (n=11)
  16. Babies, small children killed, carved up, and parts eaten (n=9)
  17. Transportation elsewhere for abuse; various methods of transport (n=10)
  18. Sexual assault and terrorizing in churches, graveyards, other daycare centers (n=10)

(Adapted from Hudson, 1991, pp. 11—21)Kelley (1993) compared three groups of children in daycare: 35 allegedly ritualistically abused children, 32 children reportedly sexually, not ritualistically abuse, and 67 children without any claims of sexual abuse. She collected data from the abused children’s parents and compared the results of the children with non-ritualistic sexual abuse with ritualistic sexual abuse. She found that ritualistically abused children were more likely to report more incidents, types and severity of abuse relative to the non-ritual sexual abuse victims. She also found that ritualistic abuse was more often associated with multiple victim, multiple perpetrator situations. Using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), parents reported more behavior problems and tendency toward internalizing symptoms among both groups of abused children in comparison with non-abused children. But the children identified as ritualistically abused scored worse.

Jill Waterman, Robert Kelley, Mary Kay Olivieri, and Jane McCord (1993) did a six year longitudinal study of 82 children who had made allegations of ritualistic sexual abuse (RSA) in the Manhattan Beach, California area in comparison with 37 non-abused (NA) children and 15 non-ritualistically sexually abused (SA) children. A variety of standardized and non-standardized questionnaires and interview instruments were employed. They found that both the RSA and SA group reported intrusive and highly intrusive sexual abuse. Additionally the RSA group but not the SA group reported “terrorizing acts that included killing of animals, death threats to the children or their families, sadistic acts and physical abuse, and ritualistic acts that included Satanic activities” (p. 64).

Recantations occurred in 25% of the RSA and 23% of the SA children. This was the case even though the perpetrator in the SA group had given a detailed confession. However, 88% of the RSA group that recanted, later redisclosed abuse. The children alleging RSA had more severe symptoms than SA children with significantly more PTSD, depression, and aggressive behaviors. The RSA group showed less improvement over time in comparison with the SA group.

A case involving 172 children who made disclosures in day care in southwest Michigan was investigated (Bybee & Mobray, 1993; Faller, 1994). Kathleen Faller gathered data from her clinical interviews with 18 of the children and Bybee and Mobray reviewed the records of 106 children regarding interviews by state police, community mental health professionals, and the department of social services. Bybee and Mobray identified 62 (58%) children who disclosed that they had been victimized and 53 (50%) children who reportedly observed others being abused with 92% of the children who were observed being abused also disclosing that they had been abused. They found that children reported experiencing and observing acts of :fondling, penetration, oral sex, sex with children, penetration of an adult, threats of harm, being hit or hurt, being given medicine or bad food, bestiality, as well as ritual acts. Among her sample of 18 children, Faller found “sadistic acts (100%), threats of harm and death to children and their family members (100%), use of drugs (56%), confinement (44.4%) and animal killings or injury (22%)” (p. 22). Faller writes that when she compared the 18 children she interviewed with children who were abused by a single perpetrator in a day care center or day care home she found that significantly “higher percentages of ritually abused children were reported to have sexual acting out problems, sleep problems, emotional problems, behavior problems and phobias” (p. 22). Faller also cites an unpublished report by Valliere, Bybee, and Mobray (1988) of scores on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) comparing the abused children with a comparable sample of non-abused children from the community with clinical and non-clinical norms. “The sexually abused children’s scores were generally comparable to those of clinical norms, and significantly higher than non-clinical norms. Sexually abused girls demonstrated improvement on the CBCL between times one and two, but the boys did not” (p. 22).

Not all child ritual abuse research examines day care cases. Within the professional and scholarly literature on child abuse there are two reports of what Faller calls “community-based ritual abuse” (p. 23). She defines community-based cults as “those whose membership is contemporary and often made up of persons of various ages—children, adolescents, and adults in a particular community” (p.24).

Snow and Sorenson (1990) saw 39 children who described abuse in five neighbor-based cults in Utah. In four of the five cults there were alleged incidents of intrafamilial incest, perpetration by adolescents, and features of an adult sex ring. No adolescent perpetration was found in the fifth group. Also reported was forced sexual behavior, threats of violence, and multiple perpetrators and victims. At least two-thirds of the children described multiple locations of abuse, pornography, ingestion or other use of excrement, the espousal of Satanic beliefs, magical spells and use of occult paraphernalia, animal mutilation or killing, and the use of drugs. The abusers were generally viewed as respected members of the community and many were religious leaders. Two of the accused adult perpetrators were convicted and two adolescents pled guilty.

Jonker and Jonker-Bakker (1991, 1997) reported a case of the ritual abuse of children in the Netherlands. The authors describe the allegations and their observations regarding this case in Oude Pekela, a small town of 8,000 inhabitants in northeastern Netherlands near the German border. Jonker and Jonker-Bakker initially surveyed the families of 90 involved children six to eight weeks after the initial disclosures. They gathered additional data from the families of 87 of these children at 2½ and 7 year intervals after the first outcries had been made. They compared their later findings with clinical information that antedated the abuse and with initial survey results. They found that 20% of the children made spontaneous disclosures. The list of reported abuses included the following elements: sexual abuse, warnings to be silent, taking photographs, making videotapes, tying up children, keeping children in extreme darkness, being scratched, kicked, beaten, being drugged, animals being present, animals being tortured, killed, babies being involved, babies being killed, adults being killed, chanting, forced eating of excrement or semen, and supernatural powers being claimed. “Almost one-third of the parents reported in 1989—1990 profound changes, as if they were dealing with a different child” (p. 550). The symptomatic behaviors of the children included: a poor sleep pattern, nightmares, night awakenings, bedwetting, genital shame, masturbation, inappropriate sexual behavior, swearing, aggressiveness, destructiveness, self-isolation, anxiety, tongue kissing, torturing of animals, fear of being locked up, interest in fire, fear of spiders, interest in devils, ghosts, the experience of words turning around, and interest in death. The three most common symptoms among the boys were: “poor sleep pattern (79%), waking during the night (79%), and aggressiveness toward the surroundings (83%)” (p. 550). Among the girls, “the most exhibited behaviors were poor sleep pattern (67%), anxiety, nervousness (77%), and aggressiveness towards the surroundings (87%)” (p. 550). The authors also noted that “If the Oude Pekela case had been a result of adult community hysteria rather than real children’s experiences, then the behavioral changes would be expected to escalate as a function of disclosures to adults. Instead, there was a decrease in the number of changes in behavior following disclosure…” (p. 551). In this case two arrests were made but there were no convictions. However, Jonker and Jonker-Bakker noted that the chief of the police investigation team believed that 50% of the 64 children investigated by the police “were certainly involved.” (p. 545). A statement by the district attorney on January 21, 1988 is cited:

A total number of 98 children, 3 to 11 years old were interviewed. The statements of 62 children were used in the further investigation. Finally 48 statements of children remained, speaking of clear sexual abuse, where they had either submitted to or been forced to perform on themselves or others. Many of the children told about strong lights, lamps on poles, and seeing each other on TV. The justice ministry concluded that it was nearly sure that photographs were taken of the children. Against 18 children violence was used. The child abuse took place over a period of several months. The justice Ministry thinks that four people, two men and two women, were involved in the sexual abuse. (quoted by Myers, 1994, and cited by Jonker & Jonker-Bakker,1997, p. 541)

Faller (1994) cites a study of intergenerational ritual abuse of children by Susan Kelley. This paper, entitled Ritualistic Abuse: Recognition, Impact, and Current Controversy was presented by Kelley at the San Diego Conference on Responding to Child Maltreatment in January, 1992. Kelley investigated reports of 26 children from 14 families. The accused abusers were parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings. Similar to other reports a significant number of abusers were female (45%). “Sixty-one percent of children were abused by two generations of older relatives, and 57% of cases involved extrafamilial as well as intrafamilial offenders” (Faller,1994, p. 25). Reported abuses included “terrorizing threats and acts (89%),including having spiders or other insects placed on them; death threats (77%), making pornography (81%), threat swith supernatural powers (89%), satanic reference (92%),animal killings (54%), being made to ingest drugs (92%), songs and chants (69%), and being made to ingest or touch excrement (85%)” (p. 25). Scores on the CBCL were in the clinical range for 73% of the children on total problems, 81% on internalizing, and 50% on externalizing scales.

Three studies have surveyed adults who allege to be survivors of ritual abuse (Drisoll & Wright, 1991; Smith, 1993; Young, Sachs, Braun, & Watkins,1991). These three studies appear to have investigated primarily cases of what some call transgenerational ritual abuse. Lynda Driscoll and Cheryl Wright (1991) investigated the experiences of 37 adult mental health patients who were allegedly survivors of ritual abuse. Eighty-one percent had no memory of ritual abuse before beginning therapy and of the remaining 13%, their memories were incomplete. Dissociation was a commonly reported problem in this sample with 63% being diagnosed with MPD, 34% diagnosed dissociative and 17% with “strong ego states” (p. 6.) Eighty-three percent reported involvement in rituals by a relative with their fathers (63%), uncles (41%), mothers (38%), grandfathers (35%), and grandmothers (22%.) Other abusers included “doctors (54%), neighbors (41%), friends of relatives (49%), church members (35%), police (27%), teachers (22%), and morticians (19%)” (p. 6). Eighty percent stated that the ritual abuse began before age six. The mean age was 6. The reported physical and psychological abuse sincluded being “forced to drink blood (84%), tied up (84%), drugged (78%), deprived of food (61%), forced to eat flesh (57%), forced to eat or drink body waste (57%), deprived of sleep (54%), and given electric shock” (p. 8). Ninety percent reported being exposed to confusing and degrading experiences. “Seventy-five percent reported being isolated, 61% ejaculated on, 54% urinated on, 38% defecated on, 50% put in coffins(46%with corpses), 44% buried alive, and 39% put in graves”(p.8.)They were allegedly coerced into silence “by threats of harm (84%), of abandonment (76%), death or mutilation of themselves(73%),death of parent or relative (57%). Most victims reported they were threatened with supernatural powers (62%), and they were told they had been magically altered (51%) in a way that would end their lives if they ‘talked’ or disobeyed” (p. 8). Seventy-four percent said they were forced to perpetrate.

Ninety-three percent were allegedly sexually victimized with reported abuses including oral sex (89%), vaginal (84%), object penetration (81%), anal sex (78%). They reported sex with adults (89%), group sex 84%), with animals (62%), other children (54%), and corpses (38%). Eighty-four percent reported human sacrifice, 14% claimed they were breeders for sacrifices. The alleged affects of ritual abuse included problems with trust (100%) and emotional intimacy (97%). “Eighty percent mistrust family members, peers, males, and authority figures in general….Over ninety percent reported chronic depression, anxiety attacks, obsessions and suicidal behavior” (p. 9). Over 80% described feelings of “worthlessness, inferiority, lack of assertiveness, and dirtiness” (p. 10). Roughly 70% state they feel “helplessness, difficulties making decisions, embarrassment about themselves, humiliation and hopelessness” (p. 10). Reported physical symptoms include headaches (90%),insomnia and chronic back and abdominal pain(75%), acute unexplained weakness(76%),catatonic spells(33%) episodic paralysis (37%),and blackouts (50%). Eating disorders included: anorexia (30%), bulimia (30%), and consistently over 20 pounds overweight (70%).

Another study conducted by Margaret Smith (1993) presents data on 52 adults who reported being survivors of childhood ritual abuse. Ninety-seven percent reported that “at some point in their lives, they were amnestic of their ritual abuse experience” (p. 20). Smith found that perpetrators were reportedly fathers (67%), mothers (42%), grandfathers (31%), grandmothers (23%),aunts(21%),uncles(27%),non-family member physicians (33%),non-family member clergy (17%), and non-family member teachers (17%).In her study of the occupations of the family and non-family alleged perpetrators there were physicians (35%), teachers (25%), clergy (22%) and police (15%). Sixty-five percent reported that the abuse began before age 4. The following experiences of abuse were allegedly perpetrated against the respondents: molestation or intercourse (100%), forced participation in group sex with adults (96%), being tortured (94%), witnessing or forced participation in animal sacrifice (90%), witnessing or forced participation in human sacrifice (88%), sodomy (88%), being drugged during the abuse (88%), witnessing or forced participation in cannibalism (82%), being forced totorture others (75%), child prostitution (52%), child pornography (52%), being forced to breed children who were later sacrificed (36%). Smith also lists “other forms of abuse mentioned by ritual abuse survivors:”mental programming (21%), bestiality (17%), torture by electric shock (13%), witnessing or forced participation in dismemberment or mutilation of bodies (12%), being hung upside down (10%), being forced to kidnap children from playgrounds (8%), hypnotism (8%), having pets killed(4%), having psychic surgery (4%), and being lent to other cults(4%).

Young, Sachs, Braun, and Watkins (1991) studied the allegations of a sample of 37 patients, reporting transgenerational childhood ritual abuse. They found that all reported sexual abuse, witnessing and receiving physical abuse or torture, witnessing animal mutilation or killings and experiencing death threats. Ninety-seven percent indicated forced drug usage. Other abuses included witnessing and forced participation in human adult and infant sacrifice (83%),forced cannibalism (81%), marriage to Satan (78%), being buried alive in coffins or graves (72%), and forced impregnation and sacrifice of own child (60%). All of the patients had severe PTSD and experienced dissociative states with Satanic characteristics. Other psychiatric sequelae included survivor guilt (97%), indoctrinated beliefs (94%), unusual fears (94%), sexualization of sadistic impulses (86%), bizarre self-abuse (83%) and substance abuse (62%). The authors also reported some corroborating evidence.

The most recent effort to quantify and qualify the experience of ritual and other extreme abuse has been recently completed via the Internet. This undertaking was a cooperative effort between social scientists in the United States and Germany, Becker, Overkamp, Rutz, and Karriker, who developed an extensive questionnaire available over the Internet for a period of three months to survivors of extreme abuse. A second survey was developed and made available for a like period of time to therapists treating survivors of extreme abuse and a third for caregivers of survivors of extreme abuse. Preliminary data is impressive for the numbers of survivors who participated, their range of ages (only those over 18 were eligible for participation), the countries they represented, the universality of their experiences, and their search for answers. Their preliminary findings were recently described at the SMART conference in August, 2007 and will be further discussed in a chapter of the forthcoming book, Ritual Abuse in the Twenty-first Century: Psychological, Forensic, Social and Political Considerations, edited by Noblitt and Noblitt.

A final area of research has been developed (Noblitt1998a, 1998b; Noblitt & Perskin, 2000) with a method for research and clinical application of “programming” phenomena. I have identified specific cues and “triggering” stimuli which have been shown to access dissociated mental states in certain patients consistent with the reports of other patients who allege to be survivors of ritual abuse.

Research on allegations of ritual abuse is important and needed because many questions are as yet unresolved among mental health, legal, and law enforcement professionals. Until we can better clarify this difficult and troubling subject, we can continue to expect this area to be rife with problems and bitter contentiousness. We will continue to hear that blameless individuals have been unfairly convicted of charges stemming from ritual abuse allegations, or that innocent children are being returned to abusive households because their outcries are not taken seriously in courts of law.


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[1]The reader may notice that the word “Satanic” is sometimes capitalized and sometimes not in this paper. This apparent inconsistency results from the word “Satanic” and “satanic” having different meanings. If one is referring to a religion or system of worship in which Satan is the focal spiritual entity, the term should be capitalized as with any other religion (e.g., Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, etc.). When the word is not capitalized, it refers to a point of view, not particularly a religion, which is dedicated to evil. In this regard, I prefer the capitalized spelling because most of the se patients are alleging this to be a religion. However, other authors frequently do not capitalize the word thus, when I am quoting or citing them, I will usually use their capitalization rules, regardless of whether their usage conforms to the above definitions.

[2] Renamed the International Society for the Study of Dissociation and later, in 2007, renamed again, the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.