LANNING'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS
OF CHILDHOOD RITUAL ABUSE,
There are many possible alternative answers to the question of why victims
are alleging things that don't seem to be true. The first step in finding
those answers is to admit the possibility that some of what the victims
describe may not have happened. Some experts seem unwilling to even
consider this. Most of these victims are also probably not lying and have
come to believe that which they are alleging actually happened. There are
alternative explanations for why people who never met each other can tell
the same story.
I believe that there is a middle ground - a continuum of possible activity.
Some of what the victims allege may be true and accurate, some may be
misperceived or distorted, some may be screened or symbolic, and some may
be "contaminated" or false. The problem and challenge, especially for law
enforcement, is to determine which is which. This can only be done through
active investigation. I believe that the majority of victims alleging
"ritual" abuse are in fact victims of some form of abuse or trauma. That
abuse or trauma may or may not be criminal in nature. After a lengthy
discussion about various alternative explanations and the continuum of
possible activity, one mother told me that for the first time since the
victimization of her young son she felt a little better. She had thought
her only choices were that either her son was a pathological liar or, on
the other hand, she lived in a community controlled by satanists.
Law enforcement has the obvious problem of attempting to determine what
actually happened for criminal justice purposes. Therapists, however, might
also be interested in what really happened in order to properly evaluate
and treat their patients. How and when to confront patients with skepticism
is a difficult and sensitive problem for therapists.
Any professional evaluating victims' allegations of "ritual" abuse cannot
ignore or routinely dismiss:
If and when members of a destructive cult commit murders, they are bound to
make mistakes, leave evidence, and eventually make admissions in order to
brag about their crimes or to reduce their legal liability. The discovery of
the murders in Matamoros, Mexico in 1989 and the results of the subsequent
investigation are good examples of these dynamics.
||the lack of physical evidence (no bodies or physical evidence left by
||the difficulty in successfully committing a large-scale conspiracy crime
(the more people involved in any crime conspiracy, the harder it is to get
away with it); and
||human nature (intragroup conflicts resulting in individual self-serving
disclosures are likely to occur in any group involved in organized
kidnapping, baby breeding, and human sacrifice).
Overzealous intervenors must accept the fact that some of their
well-intentioned activity is contaminating and damaging the prosecutive
potential of the cases where criminal acts did occur. We must all (i.e.,
the media, churches, therapists, victim advocates, law enforcement, and the
general public) ask ourselves if we have created an environment where
victims are rewarded, listened to, comforted, and forgiven in direct
proportion to the severity of their abuse. Are we encouraging needy or
traumatized individuals to tell more and more outrageous tales of their
victimization? Are we making up for centuries of denial by now blindly
accepting any allegation of child abuse no matter how absurd or unlikely?
Are we increasing the likelihood that rebellious, antisocial, or attention-
seeking individuals will gravitate toward "satanism" by publicizing it and
overreacting to it? The overreaction to the problem can be worse than the
The amount of "ritual" child abuse going on in this country depends on how
you define the term. One documented example of what I might call "ritual"
child abuse was the horror chronicled in the book A Death in White Bear
Lake (Siegal, 1990). The abuse in this case, however, had little to do
with anyone's spiritual belief system. There are many children in the
United States who, starting early in their lives, are severely
psychologically, physically, and sexually traumatized by angry, sadistic
parents or other adults. Such abuse, however, is not perpetrated only or
primarily by satanists. The statistical odds are that such abusers are
members of mainstream religions. If 99.9% of satanists and 0.1% of
Christians abuse children as part of their spiritual belief system, that
still means that the vast majority of children so abused were abused by
Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the public should not be
frightened into believing that babies are being bred and eaten, that 50,000
missing children are being murdered in human sacrifices, or that satanists
are taking over America's day care centers or institutions. No one can
prove with absolute certainty that such activity has not occurred.
The burden of proof, however, as it would be in a criminal prosecution, is on
those who claim that it has occurred.
The explanation that the satanists are too organized and law enforcement is
too incompetent only goes so far in explaining the lack of evidence. For at
least eight years (Note 1) American law enforcement has been aggressively
investigating the allegations of victims of ritual abuse. There is little
or no evidence for the portion of their allegations that deals with
large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic
conspiracies. Now it is up to mental health professionals, not law
enforcement, to explain why victims are alleging things that don't seem to
have happened. Professionals in this field must accept the fact that there
is still much we do not know about the sexual victimization of children,
and that this area desperately needs study and research by rational,
objective social scientists.
If the guilty are to be successfully prosecuted, if the innocent are to be
exonerated, and if the victims are to be protected and treated, better
methods to evaluate and explain allegations of "ritual" child abuse must be
developed or identified. Until this is done, the controversy will continue
to cast a shadow over and fuel the backlash against the validity and
reality of child sexual abuse.
- The SRA panic was largely triggered by a fictional book presented as a true story. It is
called "Michelle Remembers". It was published in 1980, and has subsequently been shown to be
a hoax by at least three independent investigators. As of 1997, 17 years have past without
any hard evidence of Satanic Ritual Abuse in North America.
Return to the OCRT home page, or
"Not So Spiritual" page, or
"Ritual Abuse Studies" page, or
"FBI Report" page.