LANNING'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS
OF CHILDHOOD RITUAL ABUSE, PART 1, 1992
Since 1981 I have been assigned to the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in
Quantico, Virginia, and have specialized in studying all aspects of the sexual
victimization of children. The FBI Behavioral Science Unit provides assistance to criminal
justice professionals in the United States and foreign countries. It attempts to develop
practical applications of the behavioral sciences to the criminal justice system. As a
result of training and research conducted by the Unit and its successes in analyzing
violent crime, many professionals contact the Behavioral Science Unit for assistance and
guidance in dealing with violent crime, especially those cases considered different,
unusual, or bizarre. This service is provided at no cost and is not limited to crimes
under the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI.
In 1983 and 1984, when I first began to hear stories of what sounded like satanic or
occult activity in connection with allegations of sexual victimization of children
(allegations that have come to be referred to most often as "ritual" child
abuse), I tended to believe them. I had been dealing with bizarre, deviant behavior for
many years and had long since realized that almost anything is possible. Just when you
think that you have heard it all, along comes another strange case. The idea that there
are a few cunning, secretive individuals in positions of power somewhere in this country
regularly killing a few people as part of some satanic ritual or ceremony and getting away
with it is certainly within the realm of possibility. But the number of alleged cases
began to grow and grow. We now have hundreds of victims alleging that thousands of
offenders are abusing and even murdering tens of thousands of people as part of organized
satanic cults, and there is little or no corroborative evidence. The very reason many
"experts" cite for believing these allegations (i.e. many victims, who never met
each other, reporting the same events), is the primary reason I began to question at least
some aspects of these allegations.
I have devoted more than seven years part-time, and eleven years full-time, of my
professional life to researching, training, and consulting in the area of the sexual
victimization of children. The issues of child sexual abuse and exploitation are a big
part of my professional life's work. I have no reason to deny their existence or nature.
In fact I have done everything I can to make people more aware of the problem Some have
even blamed me for helping to create the hysteria that has led to these bizarre
allegations. I can accept no outside income and am paid the same salary by the FBI whether
or not children are abused and exploited - and whether the number is one or one million.
As someone deeply concerned about and professionally committed to the issue, I did not
lightly question the allegations of hundreds of victims child sexual abuse and
In response to accusations by a few that I am a "satanist" who has
infiltrated the FBI to facilitate cover-up, how does anyone (or should anyone have to)
disprove such allegations? Although reluctant to dignify such absurd accusations with a
reply, all I can say to those who have made such allegations that they are wrong and to
those who heard such allegations is to carefully consider the source.
The reason I have taken the position I have is not because I support or believe in
"satanism", but because I sincerely believe that my approach is the proper and
most effective investigative strategy. I believe that my approach is in the best interest
of victims of child sexual abuse. It would have been easy to sit back, as many have, and
say nothing publicly about this controversy. I have spoken out and published on this issue
because I am concerned about the credibility of the child sexual abuse issue and outraged
that, in some cases, individuals are getting away with molesting children because we can't
prove they are satanic devil worshippers who engage in brainwashing, human sacrifice, and
cannibalism as part of a large conspiracy.
There are many valid perspectives from which to assess and evaluate victim allegations
of sex abuse and exploitation. Parents may choose to believe simply because their children
make the claims. The level of proof necessary may be minimal because the consequences of
believing are within the family. One parent correctly told me, "I believe what my
child needs me to believe."
Therapists may choose to believe simply because their professional assessment is that
their patient believes the victimization and describes it so vividly. The level of proof
necessary may be no more than therapeutic evaluation because the consequences are between
therapist and patient. No independent corroboration may be required.
A social worker must have more real, tangible evidence of abuse in order to take
protective action and initiate legal proceedings. The level of proof necessary must be
higher because the consequences (denial of visitation, foster care) are greater.
The law enforcement officer deals with the criminal justice system. The levels of proof
necessary are reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and beyond a reasonable doubt because
the consequences (criminal investigation, search and seizure, arrest, incarceration) are
so great. This discussion will focus primarily on the criminal justice system and the law
enforcement perspective. The level of proof necessary for taking action on allegations of
criminal acts must be more than simply the victim alleged it and it is possible. This in
no way denies the validity and importance of the parental, therapeutic, social welfare, or
any other perspective of these allegations.
When, however, therapists and other professionals begin to conduct training, publish
articles, and communicate through the media, the consequences become greater, and
therefore the level of proof must be greater. The amount of corroboration necessary to act
upon allegations of abuse is dependent upon the consequences of such action. We need to be
concerned about the distribution and publication of unsubstantiated allegations of bizarre
sexual abuse. Information needs to be disseminated to encourage communication and research
about the phenomena. The risks, however, of intervenor and victim "contagion"
and public hysteria are potential negative aspects of such dissemination. Because of the
highly emotional and religious nature of this topic, there is a greater possibility that
the spreading of information will result in a kind of self- fulfilling prophesy.
If such extreme allegations are going to be disseminated to the general public, they
must be presented in the context of being assessed and evaluated, at least, from the
professional perspective of the disseminator and, at best, also from the professional
perspective of relevant others. This is what I will attempt to do in this discussion. The
assessment and evaluation of such allegations are areas where law enforcement, mental
health, and other professionals (anthropologists, folklorists, sociologists, historians,
engineers, surgeons, etc.) may be of some assistance to each other in validating these
cases individually and in general.