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Multidimensional child sex rings can be among the most difficult, frustrating, and complex cases that any law enforcement officer will ever investigate. The investigation of allegations of recent activity from multiple young children under the age of seven presents one set of problems and must begin quickly, with interviews of all potential victims being completed as soon as possible. The investigation of allegations of activity ten or more years earlier from adult survivors presents other problems and should proceed, unless victims are at immediate risk, more deliberately, with gradually-increasing resources as corroborated facts warrant.

In spite of any skepticism, allegations of ritual abuse should be aggressively and thoroughly investigated, This investigation should attempt to corroborate the allegations of ritual abuse. but should simultaneously also attempt to identify alternative explanations. The only debate is over how much investigation is enough. Any law enforcement agency must be prepared to defend and justify its actions when scrutinized by the public, the media, elected officials, or the courts. This does not mean, however, that a law enforcement agency has an obligation to prove that the alleged crimes did not occur. This is almost always impossible to do and investigators should be alert for and avoid this trap.

One major problem in the investigation of multidimensional child sex rings is the dilemma of recognizing soon enough that you have one. Investigators must be alert for cases with the potential for the four basic dynamics: (a) multiple young victims, (b) multiple offenders, (c) fear as the controlling tactic, and (d) bizarre or ritualistic activity. The following techniques apply primarily to the investigation of such multidimensional child sex rings:
There are those who claim that one of the major reasons more of these cases have not been successfully prosecuted is that the satanic/occult aspect has not been aggressively pursued. One state has even introduced legislation creating added penalties when certain crimes are committed as part of a ritual or ceremony. A few states have passed special ritual crime laws. (Note 1) I strongly disagree with such an approach. It makes no difference what spiritual belief system was used to enhance and facilitate or rationalize and justify criminal behavior. It serves no purpose to "prove" someone is a satanist. As a matter of fact, if it is alleged that the subject committed certain criminal acts under the influence of or in order to conjure up supernatural spirits or forces, this may very well be the basis for an insanity or diminished capacity defense, or may damage the intent aspect of a sexually motivated crime. The defense may very well be more interested in all the "evidence of satanic activity". Some of the satanic crime "experts" who train law enforcement wind up working or testifying for the defense in these cases.

It is best to focus on the crime and all the evidence to corroborate its commission. Information about local satanic or occult activity is only of value if it is based on specific law enforcement intelligence and not on some vague, unsubstantiated generalities from religious groups. Cases are not solved by decoding signs, symbols, and dates using undocumented satanic crime "manuals". In one case a law enforcement agency executing a search warrant seized only the satanic paraphernalia and left behind the other evidence that would have corroborated victim statements. Cases are solved by people- and behavior-oriented investigation. Evidence of satanic or occult activity may help explain certain aspects of the case, but even offenders who commit crimes in a spiritual context are usually motivated by power, sex, and money.

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes any investigator of these cases can make is to attribute supernatural powers to the offenders. During an investigation a good investigator may sometimes be able to use the beliefs and superstitions of the offenders to his or her advantage. The reverse happens if the investigator believes that the offenders possess supernatural powers. Satanic/occult practitioners have no more power than any other human beings. Law enforcement officers who believe that the investigation of these cases puts them in conflict with the supernatural forces of evil should probably not be assigned to them. The religious beliefs of officers should provide spiritual strength and support for them but should not affect the objectivity and professionalism of the investigation.

It is easy to get caught up in these cases and begin to see "satanism" everywhere. Oversensitization to this perceived threat may cause an investigator to "see" satanism in a crime when it really is not there (quasi-satanism). Often the eye sees what the mind perceives. It may also cause an investigator not to recognize a staged crime scene deliberately seeded with "satanic clues" in order to mislead the police (pseudo-satanism). On rare occasions an overzealous investigator or intervenor may even be tempted to plant "evidence of satanism" in order to corroborate such allegations and beliefs. Supervisors need to be alert for and monitor these reactions in their investigators.

It is not the investigator's duty to believe the victims; it is his or her job to listen and be an objective fact finder. Interviews of young children should be done by investigators trained and experienced in such interviews. Investigators must have direct access to the alleged victims for interview purposes. Therapists for an adult survivor sometimes want to act as intermediaries in their patient's interview. This should be avoided if at all possible. Adult survivor interviews are often confusing difficult and extremely time-consuming. The investigator must remember however that almost anything is possible. Most important the investigator must remember that there is much middle ground. Just because one event did happen does not mean that all reported events happened, and just because one event did not happen does not mean that all other events did not happen. Do not become such a zealot that you believe it all nor such a cynic that you believe nothing. Varying amounts and parts of the allegation may be factual. Attempting to find evidence of what did happen is the great challenge of these cases. All investigative interaction with victims must be carefully and thoroughly documented.
This is the part of the investigative process in child sexual victimization cases that seems to have been lost. Is the victim describing events and activities that are consistent with law enforcement documented criminal behavior, or that are consistent with distorted media accounts and erroneous public perceptions of criminal behavior? Investigators should apply the "template of probability". Accounts of child sexual victimization that are more like books, television, and movies (e.g. big conspiracies, child sex slaves, organized pornography rings) and less like documented cases should be viewed with skepticism but thoroughly investigated. Consider and investigate all possible explanations of events. It is the investigator's job, and the information learned will be invaluable in counteracting the defense attorneys when they raise the alternative explanations.

For example, an adult survivor's account of ritual victimization might be explained by any one of at least four possibilities: First, the allegations may be a fairly accurate account what actually happened. Second, they may be deliberate lies (malingering), told for the usual reasons people lie (e.g. money, revenge, jealousy). Third, they may be deliberate lies (factitious disorder) told for atypical reasons (e.g. attention, forgiveness). Lies so motivated are less likely to be recognized by the investigator and more likely to be rigidly maintained by the liar unless and until confronted with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Fourth, the allegations may be a highly inaccurate account of what actually happened, but the victim truly believes it (pseudomemory) and therefore is not lying. A polygraph examination of such a victim would be of limited value. Other explanations or combinations of these explanations are also possible. Only thorough investigation will point to the correct or most likely explanation.

Investigators cannot rely on therapists or satanic crime experts as a shortcut to the explanation. In one case, the "experts" confirmed and validated the account of a female who claimed to be a 15-year- old deaf-mute kidnapped and held for three years by a satanic cult and forced to participate in bizarre rituals before recently escaping. Active investigation, however, determined she was a 27- year-old woman who could hear and speak, who had not been kidnapped by anyone, and who had a lengthy history of mental problems and at least three other similar reports of false victimization. Her "accurate" accounts of what the "real satanists" do were simply the result of having read, while in mental hospitals, the same books that the "experts" had. A therapist may have important insights about whether an individual was traumatized, but knowing the exact cause of that trauma is another matter. There have been cases where investigation has discovered that individuals diagnosed by therapists as suffering from Post-Vietnam Syndrome were never in Vietnam or saw no combat.

Conversely, in another case, a law enforcement "expert" on satanic crime told a therapist that a patient's accounts of satanic murders in a rural Pacific Northwest town were probably true because the community was a hotbed of such satanic activity. When the therapist explained that there was almost no violent crime reported in the community, the officer explained that that is how you know it is the satanists. If you knew about the murders or found the bodies, it would not be satanists. How do you argue with that kind of logic?

The first step in the assessment and evaluation of victim statements is to determine the disclosure sequence, including how much time has elapsed since disclosure was first made and the incident was reported to the police or social services. The longer the delay, the bigger the potential for problems. The next step is to determine the number and purpose of all prior interviews of the victim concerning the allegations. The more interviews conducted before the investigative interview, the larger the potential for problems. Although there is nothing wrong with admitting shortcomings and seeking help, law enforcement should never abdicate its control over the investigative interview. When an investigative interview is conducted by or with a social worker or therapist using a team approach, law enforcement must direct the process. Problems can also be created by interviews conducted by various intervenors after the investigative interview(s).

The investigator must closely and carefully evaluate events in the victim's life before, during, and after the alleged abuse.

Events to be evaluated before the alleged abuse include:

  1. Background of victim.
  2. Abuse of drugs in home.
  3. Pornography in home.
  4. Play, television, and VCR habits.
  5. Attitudes about sexuality in home.
  6. Extent of sex education in home.
  7. Activities of siblings.
  8. Need or craving for attention.
  9. Religious beliefs and training.
  10. Childhood fears.
  11. Custody/visitation disputes.
  12. Victimization of or by family members.
  13. Interaction between victims.

Events to be evaluated during the alleged abuse include:

  1. Use of fear or scare tactics.
  2. Degree of trauma.
  3. Use of magic deception or trickery.
  4. Use of rituals.
  5. Use of drugs.
  6. Use of pornography.

Events to be evaluated after the alleged abuse include:

  1. Disclosure sequence.
  2. Background of prior interviewers.
  3. Background of parents.
  4. Co-mingling of victims.
  5. Type of therapy received.

(Note 2)

Consistent statements obtained from different multiple victims are powerful pieces of corroborative evidence - that is as long as those statements were not "contaminated". Investigation must carefully evaluate both pre- and post-disclosure contagion, and both victim and intervenor contagion. Are the different victim statements consistent because they describe common experiences or events, or because they reflect contamination or urban legends?

The sources of potential contagion are widespread. Victims can communicate with each other both prior to and after their disclosures. Intervenors can communicate with each other and with victims. The team or cell concepts of investigation are attempts to deal with potential investigator contagion. All the victims are not interviewed by the same individuals, and interviewers do not necessarily share information directly with each other. Teams report to a leader or supervisor who evaluates the information and decides what other investigators need to know.

Documenting existing contagion and eliminating additional contagion are crucial to the successful investigation and prosecution of these cases. There is no way, however, to erase or undo contagion. The best you can hope for is to identify and evaluate it and attempt to explain it. Mental health professionals requested to evaluate suspected victims must be carefully selected. Having a victim evaluated by one of the self-proclaimed experts on satanic ritual abuse or by some other overzealous intervenor may result in the credibility of that victim's testimony being severely damaged.

In order to evaluate the contagion element, investigators must meticulously and aggressively investigate these cases. The precise disclosure sequence of the victim must be carefully identified and documented. Investigators must verify through active investigation the exact nature and content of each disclosure outcry or statement made by the victim. Second-hand information about disclosure is not good enough.

Whenever possible, personal visits should be made to all locations of alleged abuse and the victim's homes. Events prior to the alleged abuse must be carefully evaluated. Investigators may have to view television programs, films, and videotapes seen by the victims. It may be necessary to conduct a background investigation and evaluation of everyone, both professional and nonprofessional, who interviewed the victims about the allegations prior to and after the investigative interview(s). Investigators must be familiar with the information about ritual abuse of children being disseminated in magazines, books, television programs, videotapes, and conferences. Every possible way that a victim could have learned about the details of the abuse must be explored if for no other reason than to eliminate them and counter the defense's arguments.

There may, however, be validity to these contagion factors. They may explain some of the "unbelievable" aspects of the case and result in the successful prosecution of the substance of the case. Consistency of statements becomes more significant if contagion is identified or disproved by independent investigation. The easier cases are the ones where there is a single, identifiable source of contagion. Most cases, however, seem to involve multiple contagion factors.

Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy are complex and controversial issues in these cases. No attempt will be made to discuss them in detail, but they are documented facts (Rosenberg, 1987). Most of the literature about them focuses on their manifestation in the medical setting as false or self-inflicted illness or injury. They are also manifested in the criminal justice setting as false or self-inflicted crime victimization. If parents would poison their children to prove an illness, they might sexually abuse their children to prove a crime. "Victims" have been known to destroy property, manufacture evidence, and mutilate themselves in order to convince others of their victimization. The motivation is psychological gain (i.e. attention, forgiveness, etc.) and not necessarily money, jealousy, or revenge. These are the unpopular, but documented, realities of the world. Recognizing their existence does not mean that child sexual abuse and sexual assault are not real and serious problems.

The importance and difficulty of this technique in extra-familial cases involving young children cannot be overemphasized. An investigator must maintain ongoing communication with the parents of victims in these abuse cases. Not all parents react the same way to the alleged abuse of their children. Some are very supportive and cooperative. Others overreact and some even deny the victimization. Sometimes there is animosity and mistrust among parents with different reactions. Once the parents lose faith in the police or prosecutor and begin to interrogate their own children and conduct their own investigation, the case may be lost forever. Parents from one case communicate the results of their "investigation" with each other, and some have even contacted the parents in other cases. Such parental activity is an obvious source of potential contamination.

Parents must be made to understand that their children's credibility will be jeopardized when and if the information obtained turns out to be unsubstantiated or false. To minimize this problem, within the limits of the law and without jeopardizing investigative techniques, parents must be told on a regular basis how the case is progressing. Parents can also be assigned constructive things to do (e.g. lobbying for new legislation, working on awareness and prevention programs) in order to channel their energy, concern, and "guilt".

If a department waits until actually confronted with a case before a response is developed, it may be too late. In cases involving ongoing abuse of children, departments must respond quickly, and this requires advanced planning. There are added problems for small- to medium-sized departments with limited personnel and resources. Effective investigation of these cases requires planning, identification of resources, and, in many cases, mutual aid agreements between agencies. The U.S. Department of Defense has conducted specialized training and has developed such a plan for child sex ring cases involving military facilities and personnel. Once a case is contaminated and out of control, I have little advice on how to salvage what may once have been a prosecutable criminal violation. A few of these cases have even been lost on appeal after a conviction because of contamination problems.
Sergeant Beth Dickinson, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was the chairperson of the Multi-Victim, Multi-Suspect Child Sexual Abuse Subcommittee. Sergeant Dickinson states (personal communication, Nov. 1989):

"One of the biggest obstacles for investigators to overcome is the reluctance of law enforcement administrators to commit sufficient resources early on to an investigation that has the potential to be a multidimensional child sex ring. It is important to get in and get on top of the investigation in a timely manner - to get it investigated in a timely manner in order to assess the risk to children and to avoid hysteria, media sensationalism, and cross- contamination of information. The team approach reduces stress on individual investigators, allowing for peer support and minimizing feelings of being overwhelmed."

The team approach and working together does not mean, however, that each discipline forgets its role and starts doing the other's job.

bullet i. SUMMARY
The investigation of child sex rings can be difficult and time consuming. The likelihood, however, of a great deal of corroborative evidence in a multivictim/multioffender case increases the chances of a successful prosecution if the crime occurred. Because there is still so much we do not know or understand about the dynamics of multidimensional child sex rings, investigative techniques are less certain. Each new case must be carefully evaluated in order to improve investigative procedures.

Because mental health professionals seem to be unable to determine, with any degree of certainty, the accuracy of victim statements in these cases, law enforcement must proceed using the corroboration process. If some of what the victim describes is accurate, some misperceived, some distorted, and some contaminated, what is the jury supposed to believe? Until mental health professionals can come up with better answers, the jury should be asked to believe what the investigation can corroborate. Even if only a portion of what these victims allege is factual, that may still constitute significant criminal activity.

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OCRT Notes:

  1. 4 states have anti-ritual abuse laws: Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana and Texas. We are unaware of any charges or convictions which have been made using these laws. Individuals and groups who attempt to raise people's consciousness about ritual abuse often say that ritual abuse must exist because we have laws to fight it.
  2. We would add: attempts by parents to extract disclosures from children; rumor sharing among parents of different families; precise interview techniques used by professionals (did they include direct questions, repeat questions, manipulation, rewards, humiliation, use of anatomically correct dolls with young children)

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