LANNING'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS
OF CHILDHOOD RITUAL ABUSE, PART 5
MULTlDlMENSlONAL CHILD SEX RINGS:
Sometime in early 1983 I was first contacted by a law enforcement agency
for guidance in what was then thought to be an unusual case. The exact date
of the contact is unknown because its significance was not recognized at
the time. In the months and years that followed, I received more and more
inquiries about "these kinds of cases". The requests for assistance came
(and continue to come) from all over the United States. Many of the aspects
of these cases varied, but there were also some commonalties. Early on,
however, one particularly difficult and potentially significant issue began
These cases involved and continue to involve unsubstantiated allegations of
bizarre activity that are difficult either to prove or disprove. Many of
the unsubstantiated allegations, however, do not seem to have occurred or
even be possible. These cases seem to call into question the credibility of
victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation. These are the most
polarizing, frustrating, and baffling cases I have encountered in more than
18 years of studying the criminal aspects of deviant sexual behavior. I
privately sought answers, but said nothing publicly about those cases until
In October 1984 the problems in investigating and prosecuting one of these
cases in Jordan, Minnesota became publicly known. In February 1985, at the
FBI Academy, the FBI sponsored and I coordinated the first national seminar
held to study "these kinds of cases". Later in 1985, similar conferences
sponsored by other organizations were held in Washington, D.C.; Sacramento,
California; and Chicago, Illinois. These cases have also been discussed at
many recent regional and national conferences dealing with the sexual
victimization of children and Multiple Personality Disorder. Few answers
have come from these conferences. I continue to be contacted on these cases
on a regular basis. Inquiries have been received from law enforcement
officers, prosecutors, therapists, victims, families of victims, and the
media from all over the United States and now foreign countries. I do not
claim to understand completely all the dynamics of these cases. I continue
to keep an open mind and to search for answers to the questions and
solutions to the problems they pose. This discussion is based on my
analysis of the several hundred of "these kinds of cases" on which I have
consulted since 1983.
|a. DYNAMICS OF CASES
What are "these kinds of cases"? (Note 1) They were and continue to be
difficult to define. They all involve allegations of what sounds like child
sexual abuse, but with a combination of some atypical dynamics. These cases
seem to have the following four dynamics in common: multiple young victims,
multiple offenders, fear as the controlling tactic, and bizarre
or ritualistic activity.
- MULTIPLE YOUNG VICTIMS
In almost all the cases the sexual abuse was alleged to have taken place or
at least begun when the victims were between the ages of birth and six.
(Note 2) This very young age may be an important key to understanding these
cases. In addition the victims all described multiple children being abused.
The numbers ranged from three or four to as many as several hundred victims.
- MULTIPLE OFFENDERS
In almost all the cases the victims reported numerous offenders. The
numbers ranged from two or three all the way up to dozens of offenders. In
one recent case the victims alleged 400-500 offenders were involved.
Interestingly many of the offenders (perhaps as many as 40-50 percent) were
reported to be females. (Note 4) The multiple offenders were often family
members and were described as being part of a cult, occult, or satanic group.
- FEAR AS CONTROLLING TACTIC
Child molesters in general are able to maintain control and ensure the
secrecy of their victims in a variety of ways. These include attention and
affection, coercion, blackmail, embarrassment, threats, and violence. In
almost all of these cases I have studied, the victims described being
frightened and reported threats against themselves, their families, their
friends, and even their pets. (Note 5) They reported witnessing acts of
violence perpetrated to reinforce this fear. It is my belief that this fear
and the traumatic memory of the events may be another key to understanding
many of these cases.
- BIZARRE OR RITUALISTIC ACTIVITY
This is the most difficult dynamic of these cases to describe. "Bizarre" is
a relative term. Is the use of urine or feces in sexual activity bizarre,
or is it a well-documented aspect of sexual deviancy, or is it part of
established satanic rituals? As previously discussed, the ritualistic
aspect is even more difficult to define. How do you distinguish acts
performed in a precise manner to enhance or allow sexual arousal from those
acts that fulfill spiritual needs or comply with "religious" ceremonies?
Victims in these cases report ceremonies, chanting, robes and costumes,
drugs, use of urine and feces, animal sacrifice, torture, abduction,
mutilation, murder, and even cannibalism and vampirism. All things
considered, the word "bizarre" is probably preferable to the word "ritual"
to describe this activity.
When I was contacted on these cases, it was very common for a prosecutor or
investigator to say that the alleged victims have been evaluated by an
"expert" who will stake his or her professional reputation on the fact that
the victims are telling the "truth". When asked how many cases this expert
had previously evaluated involving these four dynamics, the answer was
always the same: none! The experts usually had only dealt with one-on-one
intrafamilial sexual abuse cases. Recently an even more disturbing trend
has developed. More and more of the victims have been identified or
evaluated by experts who have been trained to identify and specialize in
satanic ritual abuse.
|b. CHARACTERISTICS OF MULTIDIMENSIONAL CHILD SEX RINGS
As previously stated, a major problem in communicating, training, and
researching in this area is the term used to define "these kinds of cases".
Many refer to them as "ritual, ritualistic, or ritualized abuse of children
cases" or "satanic ritual abuse (SRA) cases". Such words carry specialized
meanings for many people and might imply that all these cases are connected
to occult or satanic activity. If ritual abuse is not necessarily occult or
satanic, but is "merely" severe, repeated, prolonged abuse, why use a term
that, in the minds of so many, implies such specific motivation?
Others refer to these cases as "multioffender/multivictim cases". The
problem with this term is that most multiple offender and victim cases do
not involve the four dynamics discussed above.
For want of a better term, I have decided to refer to "these kinds of
cases" as "multidimensional child sex rings". Right now I seem to be the
only one using this term. I am, however, not sure if this is truly a
distinct kind of child sex ring case or just a case not properly handled.
Following are the general characteristics of these multidimensional child
sex ring cases as contrasted with more common historical child sex ring
cases [see my monograph "Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral Analysis"]
(1989) for a discussion of the characteristics of historical child sex ring
- FEMALE OFFENDERS
As many as 40-50 percent of the offenders in these cases are reported to be
women. (Note 4) This is in marked contrast to historical child sex rings in
which almost all the offenders are men.
The offenders appear to be sexually interacting with the child victims for
reasons other than a true sexual preference for children. The children are
substitute victims, and the abusive activity may have little to do with
pedophilia [see my monograph Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis
(1987) for a further explanation about types of molesters].
- MALE AND FEMALE VICTIMS
Both boys and girls appear to be targeted, but with an apparent preference
for girls. Almost all the adult survivors are female, but day care cases
frequently involve male as well as female victims. The most striking
characteristic of the victims, however, is their young age (generally birth
to six years old when the abuse began). (Note 2)
- MULTIDIMENSIONAL MOTIVATION
Sexual gratification appears to be only part of the motivation for the
"sexual" activity. Many people today argue that the motivation is
"spiritual" - possibly part of an occult ceremony. It is my opinion that
the motivation may have more to do with anger, hostility, rage and
resentment carried out against weak and vulnerable victims. Much of the
ritualistic abuse of children may not be sexual in nature. Some of the
activity may, in fact, be physical abuse directed at sexually-significant
body parts (penis, anus, nipples). This may also partially explain the
large percentage of female offenders. Physical abuse of children by females
is well- documented. (Note 6)
- PORNOGRAPHY AND PARAPHERNALIA
Although many of the victims of multidimensional child sex rings claim that
pictures and videotapes of the activity were made, no such visual record
has been found by law enforcement. In recent years, American law
enforcement has seized large amounts of child pornography portraying
children in a wide variety of sexual activity and perversions. None of it,
however, portrays the kind of bizarre and/or ritualistic activity described
by these victims. Perhaps these offenders use and store their pornography
and paraphernalia in ways different from preferential child molesters
(pedophiles). This is an area needing additional research and
investigation. (Note 6)
- CONTROL THROUGH FEAR
Control through fear may be the overriding characteristic of these cases.
Control is maintained by frightening the children. A very young child might
not be able to understand the significance of much of the sexual activity
but certainly understands fear. The stories that the victims tell may be
their perceived versions of severe traumatic memories. They may be the
victims of a severely traumatized childhood in which being sexually abused
was just one of the many negative events affecting their lives.
Multidimensional child sex rings typically emerge from one of four
scenarios: adult survivors, day care cases, family/isolated
neighborhood cases, and custody/visitation disputes.
In adult survivor cases, adults of almost any age - nearly always women -
are suffering the consequences of a variety of personal problems and
failures in their lives (e.g., promiscuity, eating disorders, drug and
alcohol abuse, failed relationships, self- mutilation, unemployment). As a
result of some precipitating stress or crisis, they often seek therapy.
They are frequently hypnotized, intentionally or unintentionally, as part
of the therapy and are often diagnosed as suffering from Multiple
Personality Disorder. Gradually, during the therapy, the adults reveal
previously unrecalled memories of early childhood victimization that
includes multiple victims and offenders, fear as the controlling tactic,
and bizarre or ritualistic activity. Adult survivors may also claim that
"cues" from certain events in their recent life "triggered" the previously
repressed memories. (Note 7)
The multiple offenders are often described as members of a cult or satanic
group. Parents, family members, clergy, civic leaders, police officers (or
individuals wearing police uniforms), and other prominent members of
society are frequently described as present at and participating in the
exploitation. The alleged bizarre activity often includes insertion of
foreign objects, witnessing mutilations, and sexual acts and murders being
filmed or photographed. The offenders may allegedly still be harassing or
threatening the victims. They report being particularly frightened on
certain dates and by certain situations. In several of these cases, women
(called "breeders") claim to have had babies that were turned over for
human sacrifice. This type of case is probably best typified by books like
Michelle Remembers (Note 8) (Smith & Pazder, 1980), Satan's
Underground (Note 9) (Stratford, 1988), and Satan's Children
If and when therapists come to believe the patient or decide the law
requires it, the police or FBI are sometimes contacted to conduct an
investigation. The therapists may also fear for their safety because they
now know the "secret". The therapists will frequently tell law enforcement
that they will stake their professional reputation on the fact that their
patient is telling the truth. Some adult survivors go directly to law
enforcement. They may also go from place to place in an effort to find
therapists or investigators who will listen to and believe them. Their
ability to provide verifiable details varies and many were raised in
apparently religious homes. A few adult survivors are now reporting
participation in specific murders or child abductions that are known to
have taken place.
- DAY CARE CASES
In day care cases children currently or formerly attending a day care
center gradually describe their victimization at the center and at other
locations to which they were taken by the day care staff. The cases include
multiple victims and offenders, fear, and bizarre or ritualistic activity,
with a particularly high number of female offenders. Descriptions of
strange games, insertion of foreign objects, killing of animals,
photographing of activities, and wearing of costumes are common. The
accounts of the young children, however, do not seem to be quite as
"bizarre" as those of the adult survivors, with fewer accounts of human
- FAMILY/ISOLATED NEIGHBORHOOD CASES
In family/isolated neighborhood cases, children describe their
victimization within their family or extended family. The group is often
defined by geographic boundary, such as a cul-de-sac, apartment building,
or isolated rural setting. Such accounts are most common in rural or
suburban communities with high concentrations of religiously conservative
people. The stories are similar to those told of the day care setting, but
with more male offenders. The basic dynamics remain the same, but victims
tend to be more than six years of age, and the scenario may also involve a
custody or visitation dispute.
- CUSTODY/VISITATION DISPUTE
In custody/visitation dispute cases, the allegations emanate from a custody
or visitation dispute over at least one child under the age of seven. The
four dynamics described above make these cases extremely difficult to
handle. When complicated by the strong emotions of this scenario, the cases
can be overwhelming. This is especially true if the disclosing child
victims have been taken into the "underground" by a parent during the
custody or visitation dispute. Some of these parents or relatives may even
provide authorities with diaries or tapes of their interviews with the
children. An accurate evaluation and assessment of a young child held in
isolation in this underground while being "debriefed" by a parent or
someone else is almost impossible. However well- intentioned, these
self-appointed investigators severely damage any chance to validate these
|d. WHY ARE VICTIMS ALLEGING THINGS THAT DO NOT SEEM TO BE TRUE?
Some of what the victims in these cases allege is physically impossible
(victim cut up and put back together, offender took the building apart and
then rebuilt it); some is possible but improbable (human sacrifice,
cannibalism, vampirism ); some is possible and probable (child pornography,
clever manipulation of victims); and some is corroborated (medical evidence
of vaginal or anal trauma, offender confessions).
The most significant crimes being alleged that do not seem to be true are
the human sacrifice and cannibalism by organized satanic cults. In none of
the multidimensional child sex ring cases of which I am aware have bodies
of the murder victims been found - in spite of major excavations where the
abuse victims claim the bodies were located. The alleged explanations for
this include: the offenders moved the bodies after the children left, (Note
10) the bodies were burned in portable high-temperature ovens, the bodies
were put in double- decker graves under legitimately buried bodies, a
mortician member of the cult disposed of the bodies in a crematorium, the
offenders ate the bodies, the offenders used corpses and aborted fetuses, or
the power of Satan caused the bodies to disappear.
Not only are no bodies found, but also, more importantly, there is no
physical evidence that a murder took place. Many of those not in law
enforcement do not understand that, while it is possible to get rid of a
body, it is even more difficult to get rid of the physical evidence that a
murder took place, especially a human sacrifice involving sex, blood, and
mutilation. Such activity would leave behind trace evidence that could be
found using modern crime scene processing techniques in spite of
extraordinary efforts to clean it up.
The victims of these human sacrifices and murders are alleged to be
abducted missing children, runaway and throwaway children, derelicts, and
the babies of breeder women. It is interesting to note that many of those
espousing these theories are using the long- since-discredited numbers and
rhetoric of the missing children hysteria in the early 1980s. Yet
"Stranger-Abduction Homicides of Children", a January 1989 Juvenile
Justice Bulletin, published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice, reports
that researchers now estimate that the number of children kidnapped and
murdered by nonfamily members is between 52 and 158 a year and that
adolescents 14 to 17 years old account for nearly two-thirds of these
victims. These figures are also consistent with the 1990 National Incident
Studies previously mentioned.
We live in a very violent society, and yet we have "only" about 23,000
murders a year. Those who accept these stories of mass human sacrifice
would have us believe that the satanists and other occult practitioners are
murdering more than twice as many people every year in this country as all
the other murderers combined. (Note 11)
In addition, in none of the cases of which I am aware has any evidence of a
well-organized satanic cult been found. Many of those who accept the
stories of organized ritual abuse of children and human sacrifice will tell
you that the best evidence they now have is the consistency of stories from
all over America. It sounds like a powerful argument. It is interesting to
note that, without having met each other, the hundreds of people who claim
to have been abducted by aliens from outer space also tell stories and give
descriptions of the aliens that are similar to each other. This is not to
imply that allegations of child abuse are in the same category as
allegations of abduction by aliens from outer space. It is intended only to
illustrate that individuals who never met each other can sometimes describe
similar events without necessarily having experienced them.
The large number of people telling the same story is, in fact, the biggest
reason to doubt these stories. It is simply too difficult for that many
people to commit so many horrendous crimes as part of an organized
conspiracy. Two or three people murder a couple of children in a few
communities as part of a ritual, and nobody finds out? Possible. Thousands
of people do the same thing to tens of thousands of victims over many
years? Not likely. Hundreds of communities all over America are run by
mayors, police departments, and community leaders who are practicing
satanists and who regularly murder and eat people? Not likely. In addition,
these community leaders and high-ranking officials also supposedly commit
these complex crimes leaving no evidence, and at the same time function as
leaders and managers while heavily involved in using illegal drugs.
Probably the closest documented example of this type of alleged activity in
American history is the Ku Klux Klan, which ironically used Christianity,
not satanism, to rationalize its activity but which, as might be expected,
was eventually infiltrated by informants and betrayed by its members.
As stated, initially I was inclined to believe the allegations of the
victims. But as the cases poured in and the months and years went by, I
became more concerned about the lack of physical evidence and corroboration
for many of the more serious allegations. With increasing frequency I began
to ask the question: "Why are victims alleging things that do not seem
to be true?" Many possible answers were considered.
The first possible answer is obvious: clever offenders. The allegations may
not seem to be true but they are true. The criminal justice system lacks
the knowledge, skill, and motivation to get to the bottom of this crime
conspiracy. The perpetrators of this crime conspiracy are clever, cunning
individuals using sophisticated mind control and brainwashing techniques to
control their victims. Law enforcement does not know how to investigate
It is technically possible that these allegations of an organized
conspiracy involving taking over day care centers, abduction, cannibalism,
murder, and human sacrifice might be true. But if they are true, they
constitute one of the greatest crime conspiracies in history.
Many people do not understand how difficult it is to commit a conspiracy
crime involving numerous co-conspirators. One clever and cunning individual
has a good chance of getting away with a well- planned interpersonal crime.
Bring one partner into the crime and the odds of getting away with it drop
considerably. The more people involved in the crime, the harder it is to
get away with it. Why? Human nature is the answer. People get angry and
jealous. They come to resent the fact that another conspirator is getting
"more" than they. They get in trouble and want to make a deal for
themselves by informing on others.
If a group of individuals degenerate to the point of engaging in human
sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism, that would most likely be the beginning
of the end for such a group. The odds are that someone in the group would
have a problem with such acts and be unable to maintain the secret.
The appeal of the satanic conspiracy theory is twofold:
- First, it is a simple explanation for a complex problem. Nothing
is more simple than "the devil made them do it". If we do not understand
something, we make it the work of some supernatural force. During the
Middle Ages, serial killers were thought to be vampires and werewolves, and
child sexual abuse was the work of demons taking the form of parents and
clergy. Even today, especially for those raised to religiously believe so,
satanism offers an explanation as to why "good" people do bad things. It
may also help to "explain" unusual, bizarre, and compulsive sexual urges
Second, the conspiracy theory is a popular one. We find it
difficult to believe that one bizarre individual could commit a crime we
find so offensive. Conspiracy theories about soldiers missing in action
(MIAs), abductions by UFOs, Elvis Presley sightings, and the assassination
of prominent public figures are the focus of much attention in this
country. These conspiracy theories and allegations of ritual abuse have the
following in common (Note 12):
- self-proclaimed experts,
- tabloid media interest,
- belief the government is involved in a cover-up, and
- emotionally involved direct and indirect victim/witnesses.
On a recent television program commemorating the one hundredth anniversary
of Jack the Ripper, almost fifty percent of the viewing audience who called
the polling telephone numbers indicated that they thought the murders were
committed as part of a conspiracy involving the British Royal Family. The
five experts on the program, however, unanimously agreed the crimes were
the work of one disorganized but lucky individual who was diagnosed as a
paranoid schizophrenic. In many ways, the murders of Jack the Ripper are
similar to those allegedly committed by satanists today.
If your child's molestation was perpetrated by a sophisticated satanic
cult, there is nothing you could have done to prevent it and therefore no
reason to feel any guilt. I have been present when parents who believe
their children were ritually abused at day care centers have told others
that the cults had sensors in the road, lookouts in the air, and informers
everywhere; therefore, the usually recommended advice of unannounced visits
to the day care center would be impossible.
- We call "these kinds of cases" MVMO (Multi-Victim, Multi-Offender) cases,
and deal only with those cases involving bizarre or "Satanic"
We believe that all of those that we have examined to date are hoaxes.
There are many MVMO cases that we have not studied, involving child molesters
and non-bizarre and non-ritual sexual abuse of children; they appear to
mostly involve real abuse.
Children under the age of 6 are most susceptible to manipulative
interview techniques; through the use of repeated and direct questioning,
they can often be persuaded to disclose whatever the interviewer wants to
hear. Older children are more resistant to such manipulation. At the core
of all the MVMO cases we have studied is a zealous
CPS or police investigator.
- Once a single child has been induced to disclose bizarre abuse, a CPS
or police investigator can usually influence other children in the same
day care / preschool / baby-sitting service to disclose similar stories.
- If MVMO cases are unfounded, then this would be expected, since most
baby-sitting services, preschools and day care centers are the sites of the
alleged MVMO abuse, and are staffed mainly by women.
- Studies have shown that threats during abuse by non-familial adults
increases the chances that a child will disclose abuse without prompting.
It would be essentially impossible to threaten dozens of children at a center
without at least one of them disclosing the abuse. Yet in the MVMO cases we
have studied, disclosures only appeared after extensive prompting by parents
and investigators. We have concluded that the abuse and threatening did not
- An alternative explanation is that the MVMO cases are mostly hoaxes.
An alternative explanation is that many of the recovered memories are in
fact of events that never happened, but are the unintended byproduct of
recovered memory therapy.
Michelle Remembers has been shown to be a hoax by three
independent investigators. The abusive events described in the book are based
on jazzed up versions of African native rituals.
Satan's Underground has been shown to be a hoax by Evangelical
- Bodies can be dug up and moved, but the filled-in pits remain and can be
easily identified afterwards. A likely explanation is that the murders never
happened and that the memories of the burials are false memories.
- And without any bodies or other evidence having been found, and no
individual leaving the "cult" and turning state's evidence.
- Lack of hard evidence is another common factor.
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"Ritual Abuse Studies" page, or
"FBI Report" page.