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As described elsewhere in this section, Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) is a controversial topic:

bulletSome individuals and groups who promote public belief in SRA estimate that up to 60,000 children are killed each year by underground Satanic groups. 
bulletSkeptics often suggest that the more probable number is zero.

Since no hard evidence of SRA has ever been found, proof of its existence largely rests with:

bulletDisclosures by children who believe themselves to have been subjected to ritual abuse in pre-schools, day care centers, etc. Believers in SRA tend to accept these statements as reflecting real abusive events. Skeptics generally suggest that memories of non-existent abuse was implanted in the minds of the children by incompetent interviewers.
bulletThe recovered memories of adults obtained through self-therapy, recovered memory therapy and self-help groups. Again, believers in SRA generally accept these memories as accurate recollections of real childhood events. Skeptics often suggest that these memories are false. They feel like real memories, but are unrelated to real events in the past.

Belief in the existence of SRA would become more credible if the statements of the children agreed with the memories of the adults. After all, they would be recalling the same ritual abuse events. In contrast, belief in SRA would be less credible if there was little agreement between the two. It seems that there is in fact relatively little agreement between the children's statements and the adults' memories.  

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Children's statements of ritual abuse:

There have been dozens of court cases alleging ritual abuse of young children at day care centers, pre-schools, church Sunday schools etc., worldwide. Children have testified about many forms of abuse. Sometimes, the acts that they describe are physically impossible. Other times, the acts would have left very serious and easily observable wounds; yet none were ever seen. Typical themes disclosed by children have been:

bulletBeing locked in cages.
bulletMade to ingest feces and urine.
bulletWatching small animals (rabbits, turtles, etc.) being mutilated and/or killed by an adult.
bulletBeing photographed nude.
bulletBeing taken to a secret room for abuse.
bulletBeing attacked by a monster, cartoon character or robot.
bulletBeing tied to a tree.
bulletHaving a large object (axe handle, knife) inserted into a penis or anus.
bulletForced into a coffin and buried.
bulletTaken through trapdoors and underground tunnels.

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Adult's recovered memories of ritual abuse:

Adult survivors' stories of childhood ritual abuse tend to be very different. They often recall horrendous torture, mutilation, ritual murder, cannibalism, drinking of blood, etc.

Therapist Pamela Hudson wrote a list of satanic symptoms and types of ritual abuse which became very widely used among social workers and counselors working in the SRA area. Included were two items in common with children's disclosures:

bulletBeing locked in a cage.
bulletBeing buried in the ground in a coffin or box.

Other memories were different from those typically disclosed by children. They tend to be much more violent:

bulletBeing tied upside down or hung from a pole or hook. 
bulletParticipating in a mock marriage. 
bulletSeeing children or babies killed. 
bulletHaving blood poured over them. 
bulletBeing taken to churches and graveyards for ritual abuse." 1

Psychotherapist Pamela Monday has worked with 60 patients diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. All reported satanic-type ritualized abuse. 51 reported that military personnel or government employees were involved in the abuse. Their abuse memories included:

bulletOccult practices.
bulletInvoking the names of demons.
bulletDrinking blood.
bulletSacrificing animals and humans.
bulletBeing married to Satan.
bulletBeing exposed to flashing colored lights, strobe lights.
bulletBeing tortured with stun guns, electrical shocks, sensory deprivation, needles under the fingernails.
bulletBeing spun around in an apparatus.
bulletBeing drugged. 2

They often report abuse by Satanists in cloaks, army personnel, members of the Masonic Order, Shriners, judges, doctors, police chiefs and other leaders of the community, celebrities, politicians, etc. Candles, a stone altar, chanting, ritual sexual intercourse, and pentagram symbols often are described as components of the rituals.

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Accounting for similarities:

Many investigators have noted common themes that have frequently been reported by children in different states and even different countries: Cages, urine, feces, tunnels, nudity, photographs and movies, etc are frequently disclosed. The recovered memories of adults often contain common themes, even though the victims have no connection with each other: Satanists, robes, torture devices, altars, important people from the community as perpetrators, etc. 

Believers in the widespread nature of SRA conclude that these are all valid memories of actual abuse. Since Satanic, government, military, and Masonic perpetrators are highly organized it would seem reasonable that the rituals and apparatus would be standardized within a country and perhaps even across the world. This would lead to close similarities in memories of adults who have never met. Similarly, there might well be some coordination among abusive perpetrators in the education system. Thus, children who have never met would probably disclose similar stories.

Skeptics point out that children's disclosures are generally the result of direct and repeated questions in which the interrogator suggests various scenarios to the child. The young person tries to satisfy the expectations of the interviewer by simply echoing back what the adult wants to hear. Similarly, recovered memories generally involve a a form of hypnotism in which the adult patient is in a highly suggestive state. The patient can pick up on the expectations of the therapist. Since both recovered memory therapists read the same SRA literature, the abuse details flow from the SRA author, to the therapist and finally to the patient. Thus it is the published SRA literature by therapists that is the common factor that eventually causes adults across the country to generate false memories of similar forms of abuse. Similarly, it is the child ritual abuse literature read by child psychologists and police investigators that causes children to eventually disclose similar abuse. 

The 1990's have seen the advent of improved child interview techniques that are far less likely to trigger false disclosures. They have also seen an increase awareness of the dangers of recovered memory therapy. Fewer therapists are using hypnosis and other suggestive therapies to dig for repressed memories -- even if only because of response to pressure from their malpractice insurance companies to abandon such practices. Belief in all forms of ritual abuse has been in decline in recent years. The last of many dozens of ritual abuse cases involving nursery schools, pre-schools, Sunday schools and adult sex rings in America was in Wenatchee, WA during the mid-1990's. Professional associations, the courts, therapists and the general public is now aware of the unreliability of recovered memories. Hopefully, the "Satanic Panic" will finally dissipate. 

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  1. Various authors, "Journal of Psychohistory", vol. 24, #4, (1994-Spring). Has one skeptical article followed by a series of articles by believers in SRA
  2. http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a3a071408334a.htm 

Copyright © 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-MAR-19
Latest update: 2001-MAR-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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