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Topics covered in this essay:

bullet Definition of ritual abuse
bullet What does ritual abuse have to do with religious tolerance?
bullet What kinds of ritual abuse exist
bullet How widespread is it?
bullet Is there any evidence of the existence of:
bullet Satanic ritual abuse
bullet Multi-victim, multi-offender ritual abuse?
bullet Why do people believe that ritual abuse is common?

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Definition of ritual abuse:

Ritual Abuse has been defined as psychological, sexual, spiritual and/or physical assault on an unwilling human victim, committed by one or more people whose primary motive is to fulfill a prescribed ritual in order to achieve a specific goal or satisfy the perceived needs of their deity.

Children are most frequently the victims of all types of ritual abuse, largely because of their vulnerability and lack of power.

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What does this have to do with religious tolerance?

The general topic of this web site is religious tolerance. At first glance, there may be no obvious connection between that topic and ritual abuse. However, many ritual abuse seminar leaders, lecturers, authors accuse an enormous variety of groups who engage in ritual abuse. Some blame well known religious faiths, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age, Quakers, Santeria, Satanism, Wicca, etc. They sometimes blame benign, spiritually oriented groups such as the Masonic Order, other fraternal organizations, self-help groups, 12 step groups, etc.

The result is that some seminars and books create public panic, hatred and fear, and victimize many innocent people in the community.

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What kinds of ritual abuse exist?

We have seen eight forms of ritual abuse referred to in the literature:

  1. Some conservative Christians believe that individuals can be "possessed" by devils. They sometimes conduct exorcisms to drive out the demons. This often involves physical and emotional abuse. Two victims died in 1995 during exorcisms: a woman in California and an infant in Ontario, Canada. About one additional death is reported each year.
  2. In early 2002, widespread accusations surfaced about Roman Catholic clergy sexually abusing children. Although most of the public perceived this as priests sexually molesting young children, most charges were actually related to post-pubertal youth. Ritual abuse by priests has occasionally been mentioned. However, it appears that all or almost all of the abuse did not involve rituals.
  3. Other devoutly religious folks sometimes withhold needed medical attention from their children in favor of seeking a cure through intensive prayer sessions. This is considered by some as a form of ritual abuse.
  4. Some parents follow the "spare the rod, spoil the child" rule and abuse their child physically, often in a type of ritual. This often consists of physical abuse, religious motivation and ritual. Whether it is ritual abuse depends upon your precise definition of the term.
  5. Some religious rituals involve sexual activity. This is normally done in private between committed, consenting adult couples. In very rare instances, children are included, as victims, perpetrators and/or observers. This constitutes abuse, because of the children's age. A recent US Government study of thousands of therapists uncovered one case of childhood ritual abuse of this type in the United States.
  6. A few child molesters use a Satanic motif during abuse. They may buy book on Satanic ritual, an altar, some candles etc. and pretend to conduct a Satanic ritual while abusing the child. The perpetrator is not a Satanist, but finds the ritual useful as a control technique. Three cases of this type were uncovered during a major study into ritual abuse in Great Britain.
  7. When people think of ritual abuse, they usually refer to Satanic Ritual abuse (SRA). A goal of SRA would be to satisfy the perceived needs of the Christian devil, or to use "black" magic to achieve certain ends. This type of abuse is in a class by itself, and is said to involve a highly organized, secret, often multi-generational group who engage in mutilation, ritual killing, cannibalism, drinking of blood, systematic torture to produce robot-like, programmed, children, etc. Some people use the term Sadistic Ritual Abuse to describe similar forms of abuse done by non-Satanists (e.g. by men's fraternal organizations). Over twenty years of investigations by dedicated police officers has failed to uncover any hard evidence that such groups and activities exist.
  8. Between 1980 and 1995, dozens of accusations of Multi-Victim, Multi-Offender (MVMO) abuse were made against teachers in pre-schools, nursery schools, Sunday schools, etc. Similar accusations were made against adults organized in alleged sex-rings. In both cases, adults were believed by the public to have engaged in massive amounts of ritual abuse of young children. Hundreds of adults were convicted and incarcerated before it was found that the charges were false. Incompetent child interview techniques had implanted false memories of abuse in their minds.

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How widespread is ritual abuse?

All ritual abuse is criminal; most victimizes children; none is done in public. Thus, there are no accurate estimates of its incidence in society. We have listed a number of cases where some form of ritual abuse actually occurred or was suspected.

Although there is general agreement that the first five forms of ritual abuse (listed above) exist, there is much controversy over the existence of MVMO abuse and Satanic or Sadistic Ritual abuse. 

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Is there any evidence of Satanic/Sadistic Ritual Abuse?

There are many self-help, Christian and other groups who are divided on the frequency of such abuse:

bullet One group believes ritual abuse to be widespread and attributes the abuse to Christians, Neo-Nazis, Neo-Pagans, Santerian, Satanists, white supremacists and Vodun (Voodoo) organizations. 5 
bullet Another group accuses Freemasonry, the Illuminati, the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucianism, the Khabbalah, and Jesuits as perpetrators of widespread abuse.6 
bullet Another page promotes the idea that Satanic Ritual Abuse exists, but is not common. 7 
bullet Answers in Action, a Christian web site, concluded that SRA stories is unsupported by any evidence. 8
bullet There are many reporters, psychologists, and others who suspect that Satanic Ritual Abuse either does not exist or is extremely rare.

The US government tried to obtain reliable information by funding a massive study of childhood ritual abuse. They obtained data from over 10,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, as well as from police offices, district attorneys' offices and social service departments. They found

bullet An alarming incidence of child ritual and non-ritual abuse by parents victimizing their children during exorcisms, by withholding vital medical attention, and beating children
bullet One case of incest within a family during Satanic rituals.
bullet No unequivocal evidence of:
bullet bizarre and horrible satanic ritual abuse scenarios or of
bullet large scale, organized Satanic cults.

Investigations into non-Christian ritual abuse were conducted by the governments of the State of Virginia and the Netherlands between 1991 and 1994. They concluded that it simply does not exist. A similar study in England uncovered a few cases. Each involved a lone child molester who was pretending to be a Satanist in order to better control his victims.

We have been unable to find any hard evidence of this form of ritual abuse by organized Satanic, Pagan, or other non-Christian groups. Typical types of hard evidence would have been human blood at a ritual site, dead bodies, underground tunnels where children said they were taken (as in the famous McMartin Day Preschool center in California 1), etc.

There is a truly enormous amount of soft evidence:

bullet Many books have been written since 1980 by women alleging to be abuse survivors and by at least one man alleging to have once been a Satanist and engaged in ritual abuse: Michelle Remembers, Satan's Underground, Satan Seller and He Came to Set the Captives Free
bullet Many dozens of children have memories of being victimized during Satanic rituals. Their memories often include being lowered into graves, very scary experiences with rats, snakes and spiders, and with urine and feces. These beliefs often materialize after an investigation into suspected widespread sexual abuse at a day care center or baby-sitting service.
bullet Tens or hundreds of thousands of adults have recovered memories of horrendous abuse. Their memories often include ritual torture, mutilation, rape, killing, cannibalism, drinking of human blood, etc. (Recovered memories are recollections uncovered for the first time during recovered memory therapy which typically involves hypnotism, guided imagery or age regression).

The soft evidence tends to disappear like a mouthful of floss candy, when it is further investigated:

bullet One wonders why no survivor came forward prior to 1980 when the first of the "survivor books" (Michelle Remembers) was published.
bullet The survivor books mentioned above have all been exposed as hoaxes.
bullet Many believe that children's memories of ritual abuse were implanted during incompetent questioning by police officers, social workers or child psychologists during intensive investigations into abuse at day care centers.
bullet Many therapists and memory researchers believe that therapeutically recovered memories are usually of events that never happened. They were created as an unexpected byproduct of questionable techniques during therapy (hypnotism, guided imagery, age regression, etc.).
bullet One wonders why the events described by the children are so different from the memories described by adults who believe they are survivors of child abuse.
bullet There are many indicators that ritual abuse by underground, evil groups does not exist in North America.

There is growing evidence that most therapeutically recovered memories from adults:

bullet of abuses during "previous lifetimes,"
bullet of medical experiments on board UFO's,
bullet sexual abuse and incest during childhood, and
bullet ritual abuse during childhood

are false memories. Therapeutically Recovered memories are recollections uncovered during therapy which were not present when the therapy began. False memories feel very real; however, they are of events that never happened.

However, adults who have had continuous memories of non-ritual incest or other sexual abuse, with no amnesia between childhood to the present time, are almost certainly survivors of abuse.

So are others who recollect dormant memories. As adults, they had no longer remembered the abuse events; they had lost the memories through the normal processes of forgetting. Some trigger (e.g. reading an newspaper account involving the perpetrator, seeing a picture of the abuser, visiting an abuse location, etc.) can sometimes cause a rush of long-forgotten memories of the abuse back into consciousness. These are evidence of very real, non-ritual, abuse which is probably our most serious social problem

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Is there any evidence of MVMO Ritual Abuse?

A series of over two dozen MVMO cases surfaced in the U.S. and Canada between the early 1980's and mid 1990's. They started with a case in Kern County, CA, with allegations of a sex ring in which adults abused children. They seem seem to have ended with allegations of a network of sex rings in Wenatchee, WA. In between were numerous accusations of MVMO cases involving teachers at nursery schools, pre-schools and Sunday schools.

The evidence for these cases were based on improper child interview techniques which were common during that era. Children were asked repeated, direct questions about abuse. Some were provided with anatomically correct dolls. Such interview methods have been discredited in recent years. Supporting the children's testimony were defective medical examinations and lab tests, both of which implied sexual abuse where none had happened.

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Why do people believe that ritual abuse is common?

Most people believe that there are very evil people following a very evil religion, who kill babies, drink their blood, eat their flesh, and who engage in degenerate sexual practices. This belief system has existed for decades without any hard evidence. Many reasons have been cited for this belief:

bullet There are many people who believe themselves to be ritual abuse survivors who deliver seminars and write books which promote the concept.
bullet Some Evangelical Christians and feminist therapists deliver lectures, conduct seminars and write books promoting it.
bullet The belief system was started by the Roman Empire in the second century when they were persecuting Christians. It was reused by the Christian Church against the Witches (Wiccans). It was used by the Nazis against the Jews. It is being used today against some therapy, religious or spiritual individuals and groups. Whenever the rumor was active in the past, most ordinary citizens believed it to be true. They do so today also.
bullet Now that Communism is no longer a menace, we need an internal "evil empire" to demonize.

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  1. John Earl, article in Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, Volume 7, # 2, published 1995-Spring, Institute for Psychological Therapies, 13200 Cannon City Blvd., Northfield, MN 55057, $15 USF; $20 USF (foreign)
  2. A list of WWW sites dealing with Satanic Ritual Abuse and Childhood Sexual Abuse can be found at:
  3. Church of all Worlds staff, "Witchcraft, Satanism & Occult Crime: Who's Who & What's What, a Manual of Reference Materials for the Professional Investigator," Phoenix Publ., (1994)  Review/order this book. This book is an excellent antidote for the type of misinformation taught to law enforcement personnel at "Satanic Ritual Abuse" seminars.
  4. Kerr Cuhulain, "The Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca," Horned Owl Publ., (1997). Review/order this book. A very useful book, written by a law enforcement officer who is also a Wiccan. Again, a useful antidote to SRA seminars.
  5. "Ritual abuse, ritual crime and healing," at:  
  6. From "Breaking Free: SRA Survivor's Group: Mission Statement," at: 
  7. "A consolidation of SRA and false memory data," at:
  8. "Satanism and SRA," Answers In Action, at: 

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Copyright 1995 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-SEP-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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