Sections 5 - 7
5. Multidimensional 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 commonalities. Early on, however, one particularly difficult and potentially significant issue began to emerge.
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 1985.
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"? 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: (1) multiple young victims, (2) multiple offenders, (3) fear as the controlling tactic, and (4) bizarre or ritualistic activity.
(1) 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. 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.
(2) 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. The multiple offenders were often family members and were described as being part of a cult, occult, or satanic group.
(3) Fear as a 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. 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.
(4) 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 cases].
(1) Female Offenders
As many as 40-50 percent of the offenders in these cases are reported to be women. This is in marked contrast to historical child sex rings in which almost all the offenders are men.
(2) Situational Molesters
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].
(3) 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).
(4) 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.
(5) 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.
(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: (1) adult survivors, (2) day care cases, (3) family/isolated neighborhood cases, and (4) custody/visitation disputes.
(1) Adult Survivors
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.
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 (Smith & Pazder, 1980), Satan's Underground (Stratford, 1988), and Satan's Children (Mayer, 1991).
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.
(2) 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 sacrifice.
(3) 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.
(4) Custody/Visitation Disputes
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 cases objectively.
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, 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 non-family 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.
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 these cases.
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:
(1) 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 and behavior.
(2) 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: (1) self-proclaimed experts, (2) tabloid media interest, (3) belief the government is involved in a coverup, and (4) 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.
6. Alternative Explanations
Even if only part of an allegation is not true, what then is the answer to the question "Why are victims alleging things that do not seem to be true?"
After consulting with psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists, therapists, social workers, child sexual abuse experts, and law enforcement investigators for more than eight years, I can find no single, simple answer. The answer to the question seems to be a complex set of dynamics that can be different in each case. In spite of the fact that some skeptics keep looking for it, there does not appear to be one answer to the question that fits every case. Each case is different, and each case may involve a different combination of answers.
I have identified a series of possible alternative answers to this question. The alternative answers also do not preclude the possibility that clever offenders are sometimes involved. I will not attempt to explain completely these alternative answers because I cannot. They are presented simply as areas for consideration and evaluation by child sexual abuse intervenors, for further elaboration by experts in these fields, and for research by objective social scientists. The first step, however, in finding the answers to this question is to admit the possibility that some of what the victims describe may not have happened. Some child advocates seem unwilling to do this.
a. Pathological Distortion
The first possible answer to why victims are alleging things that do not seem to be true is pathological distortion. The allegations may be errors in processing reality influenced by underlying mental disorders such as dissociative disorders, borderline or histrionic personality disorders, or psychosis. These distortions may be manifested in false accounts of victimization in order to gain psychological benefits such as attention and sympathy (factitious disorder). When such individuals repeatedly go from place to place or person to person making these false reports of their own "victimization", it is called Munchausen Syndrome. When the repealed false reports concern the "victimization" of their children or others linked to them, it is called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. I am amazed when some therapists state that they believe the allegations because they cannot think of a reason why the "victim", whose failures are now explained and excused or who is now the center of attention at a conference or on a national television program, would lie. If you can be forgiven for mutilating and killing babies, you can be forgiven for anything.
Many "victims" may develop pseudomemories of their victimization and eventually come to believe the events actually occurred. Noted forensic psychiatrist Park E. Dietz (personal communication, Nov. 1991) states:
"Pseudomemories have been acquired through dreams (particularly if one is encouraged to keep a journal or dream diary and to regard dream content as 'clues' about the past or as snippets of history), substance-induced altered states of consciousness (alcohol or other drugs), group influence (particularly hearing vivid accounts of events occurring to others with whom one identifies emotionally such as occurs in incest survivor groups), reading vivid accounts of events occurring to others with whom one identifies emotionally, watching such accounts in films or on television, and hypnosis.
The most efficient means of inducing pseudomemories is hypnosis.
"It is characteristic of pseudomemories that the recollections of complex events (as opposed to a simple unit of information, such as a tag number) are incomplete and without chronological sequence. Often the person reports some uncertainty because the pseudomemories are experienced in a manner they describe as 'hazy', 'fuzzy', or 'vague'. They are often perplexed that they recall some details vividly but others dimly.
"Pseudomemories are not delusions. When first telling others of pseudomemories, these individuals do not have the unshakable but irrational conviction that deluded subjects have, but with social support they often come to defend vigorously the truthfulness of the pseudomemories.
"Pseudomemories are not fantasies, but may incorporate elements from fantasies experienced in the past. Even where the events described are implausible, listeners may believe them because they are reported with such intense affect (i.e. with so much emotion attached to the story) that the listener concludes that the events must have happened because no one could 'fake' the emotional aspects of the retelling. It also occurs, however, that persons report pseudomemories in such a matter-of-fact and emotionless manner that mental health professionals conclude that the person has 'dissociated' intellectual knowledge of the events from emotional appreciation of their impact."
b. Traumatic Memory
The second possible answer is traumatic memory. Fear and severe trauma can cause victims to distort reality and confuse events. This is a well-documented fact in cases involving individuals taken hostage or in life-and-death situations. The distortions may be part of an elaborate defense mechanism of the mind called "splitting" - The victims create a clear-cut good-and-evil manifestation of their complex victimization that is then psychologically more manageable.
Through the defense mechanism of dissociation, the victim may escape the horrors of reality by inaccurately processing that reality. In a dissociative state a young child who ordinarily would know the difference might misinterpret a film or video as reality.
Another defense mechanism may tell the victim that it could have been worse, and so his or her victimization was not so bad. They are not alone in their victimization - other children were also abused. Their father who abused them is no different from other prominent people in the community they claim also abused them. Satanism may help to explain why their outwardly good and religious parents did such terrible things to them in the privacy of their home. Their religious training may convince them that such unspeakable acts by supposedly "good" people must be the work of the devil. The described human sacrifice may be symbolic of the "death" of their childhood.
It may be that we should anticipate that individuals severely abused as very young children by multiple offenders with fear as the primary controlling tactic will distort and embellish their victimization. Perhaps a horror- filled yet inaccurate account of victimization is not only not a counterindication of abuse, but is in fact a corroborative indicator of extreme physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse. I do not believe it is a coincidence nor the result of deliberate planning by satanists that in almost all the cases of ritual abuse that have come to my attention, the abuse is alleged to have begun prior to the age of seven and perpetrated by multiple offenders. It may well be that such abuse, at young age by multiple offenders, is the most difficult to accurately recall with the specific and precise detail needed by the criminal justice system, and the most likely to be distorted and exaggerated when it is recalled. In her book Too Scared to Cry (1990), child psychiatrist Lenore Terr, a leading expert on psychic trauma in childhood, states "that a series of early childhood shocks might not be fully and accurately 'reconstructed' from the dreams and behaviors of the adult" (p. 5).
c. Normal Childhood Fears and Fantasy
The third possible answer may be normal childhood fears and fantasy. Most young children are afraid of ghosts and monsters. Even as adults, many people feel uncomfortable, for example, about dangling their arms over the side of their bed. They still remember the "monster" under the bed from childhood. While young children may rarely invent stories about sexual activity, they might describe their victimization in terms of evil as they understand it. In church or at home, children may be told of satanic activity as the source of evil. The children may be "dumping" all their fears and worries unto an attentive and encouraging listener.
Children do fantasize. Perhaps whatever causes a child to allege something impossible (such as being cut up and put back together) is similar to what causes a child to allege something possible but improbable (such as witnessing another child being chopped up and eaten).
d. Misperception, Confusion, and Trickery
Misperception, confusion, and trickery may be a fourth answer. Expecting young children to give accurate accounts of sexual activity for which they have little frame of reference is unreasonable. The Broadway play Madame Butterfly is the true story of a man who had a 15-year affair, including the "birth" of a baby, with a "woman" who turns out to have been a man all along. If a grown man does not know when he has had vaginal intercourse with a woman, how can we expect young children not to be confused?
Furthermore some clever offenders may deliberately introduce elements of satanism and the occult into the sexual exploitation simply to confuse or intimidate the victims. Simple magic and other techniques may be used to trick the children. Drugs may also be deliberately used to confuse the victims and distort their perceptions. Such acts would then be M.O., not ritual.
As previously stated, the perceptions of young victims may also be influenced by any trauma being experienced. This is the most popular alternative explanation, and even the more zealous believers of ritual abuse allegations use it, but only to explain obviously impossible events.
e. Overzealous Intervenors
Overzealous intervenors, causing intervenor contagion, may be a fifth answer. These intervenors can include parents, family members, foster parents, doctors, therapists, social workers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and any combination thereof. Victims have been subtly as well as overtly rewarded and bribed by usually well-meaning intervenors for furnishing further details. In addition, some of what appears not to have happened may have originated as a result of intervenors making assumptions about or misinterpreting what the victims are saying. The intervenors then repeat, and possibly embellish, these assumptions and misinterpretations, and eventually the victims are "forced" to agree with or come to accept this "official" version of what happened.
The judgment of intervenors may be affected by their zeal to uncover child sexual abuse, satanic activity, or conspiracies. However "well-intentioned", these overzealous intervenors must accept varying degrees of responsibility for the unsuccessful prosecution of those cases where criminal abuse did occur. This is the most controversial and least popular of the alternative explanations.
f. Urban Legends
Allegations of and knowledge about ritualistic or satanic abuse may also be spread through urban legends. In The Vanishing Hitchhiker (1981), the first of his four books on the topic, Dr. Jan Harold Brunvand defines urban legends as "realistic stories concerning recent events (or alleged events) with an ironic or supernatural twist" (p. xi). Dr. Brunvand's books convincingly explain that just because individuals throughout the country who never met each other tell the same story does not mean that it is true. Absurd urban legends about the corporate logos of Proctor and Gamble and Liz Claiborne being satanic symbols persist in spite of all efforts to refute them with reality. Some urban legends about child kidnappings and other threats to citizens have even been disseminated unknowingly by law enforcement agencies. Such legends have always existed, but today the mass media aggressively participate in their rapid and more efficient dissemination. Many Americans mistakenly believe that tabloid television shows check out and verify the details of their stories before pulling them on the air. Mass hysteria may partially account for large numbers of victims describing the same symptoms or experiences.
Training conferences for all the disciplines involved in child sexual abuse may also play a role in the spread of this contagion. At one child abuse conference I attended, an exhibitor was selling more than 50 different books dealing with satanism and the occult. By the end of the conference, he had sold nearly all of them. At another national child sexual abuse conference, I witnessed more than 100 attendees copying down the widely disseminated 29 "Symptoms Characterizing Satanic Ritual Abuse" in preschool-aged children. Is a four-year-old child's "preoccupation with urine and feces" an indication of satanic ritual abuse or part of normal development?
Most multidimensional child sex ring cases probably involve a combination of the answers previously set forth, as well as other possible explanations unknown to me at this time. Obviously, cases with adult survivors are more likely to involve some of these answers than those with young children. Each case of sexual victimization must be individually evaluated on its own merits without any preconceived explanations. All the possibilities must be explored if for no other reason than the fact that the defense attorneys for any accused subjects will almost certainly do so.
Most people would agree that just because a victim tells you one detail that turns out to be true, this does not mean that every detail is true. But many people seem to believe that if you can disprove one part of a victim's story, then the entire story is false. As previously stated, one of my main concerns in these cases is that people are getting away with sexually abusing children or committing other crimes because we cannot prove that they are members of organized cults that murder and eat people.
I have discovered that the subject of multidimensional child sex rings is a very emotional and polarizing issue. Everyone seems to demand that one choose a side. On one side of the issue are those who say that nothing really happened and it is all a big witch hunt led by overzealous fanatics and incompetent "experts". The other side says, in essence, that everything happened; victims never lie about child sexual abuse, and so it must be true.
There is a middle ground. It is the job of the professional investigator to listen to all the victims and conduct appropriate investigation in an effort to find out what happened, considering all possibilities. Not all childhood trauma is abuse. Not all child abuse is a crime. The great frustration of these cases is the fact that you are often convinced that something traumatic happened to the victim, but do not know with any degree of certainty exactly what happened, when it happened, or who did it.
7. Do Victims Lie About Sexual Abuse and Exploitation?
The crucial central issue in the evaluation of a response to cases of multidimensional child sex rings is the statement "Children never lie about sexual abuse or exploitation. If they have details, it must have happened." This statement, oversimplified by many, is the basic premise upon which some believe the child sexual abuse and exploitation movement is based. It is almost never questioned or debated at training conferences. In fact, during the 1970s, there was a successful crusade to eliminate laws requiring corroboration of child victim statements in child sexual abuse cases. The best way to convict child molesters is to have the child victims testify in court. If we believe them, the jury will believe them. Any challenge to this basic premise was viewed as a threat to the movement and a denial that the problem existed.
I believe that children rarely lie about sexual abuse or exploitation, if a lie is defined as a statement deliberately and maliciously intended to deceive. The problem is the oversimplification of the statement. Just because a child is not lying does not necessarily mean the child is telling the truth. I believe that in the majority of these cases, the victims are not lying. They are telling you what they have come to believe has happened to them. Furthermore the assumption that children rarely lie about sexual abuse does not necessarily apply to everything a child says during a sexual abuse investigation. Stories of mutilation, murder, and cannibalism are not really about sexual abuse.
Children rarely lie about sexual abuse or exploitation. but they do fantasize, furnish false information, furnish misleading information, misperceive events, try to please adults, respond to leading questions, and respond to rewards. Children are not adults in little bodies and do go through developmental stages that must be evaluated and understood. In many ways, however, children are no better and no worse than other victims or witnesses of a crime. They should not be automatically believed, nor should they be automatically disbelieved.
The second part of the statement - if children can supply details, the crime must have happened - must also be carefully evaluated. The details in question in most of the cases of multidimensional child sex rings have little to do with sexual activity. Law enforcement and social workers must do more than attempt to determine how a child could have known about the sex acts. These cases involve determining how a victim could have known about a wide variety of bizarre and ritualistic activity. Young children may know little about specific sex acts, but they may know a lot about monsters, torture, kidnapping, and murder.
Victims may supply details of sexual and other acts using information from sources other than their own direct victimization. Such sources must be evaluated carefully by the investigator of multidimensional child sex rings.
a. Personal Knowledge
The victim may have personal knowledge of the sexual or ritual acts, but not as a result of the alleged victimization. The knowledge could have come from viewing pornography, sex education, or occult material; witnessing sexual or ritual activity in the home; or witnessing the sexual abuse of others. It could also have come from having been sexually or physically abused, but by other than the alleged offenders and in ways other than the alleged offense.
b. Other Children or Victims
Young children today are socially interacting more often and at a younger age than ever before. Many parents are unable to provide possibly simple explanations for their children's stories because they were not with the children when the events occurred. They do not even know what videotapes their children may have seen, what games they may have played, or what stories they may have been told or overheard. Children are being placed in day care centers for eight, ten, or twelve hours a day starting as young as six weeks of age. The children share experiences by playing house, school, or doctor. Bodily functions such as urination and defecation are a focus of attention for these young children. To a certain extent, each child shares the experiences of all the other children.
The odds are fairly high that in any typical day care center there might be some children who are victims of incest; victims of physical abuse; victims of psychological abuse; children of cult members (even satanists); children of sexually open parents; children of sexually indiscriminate parents; children of parents obsessed with victimization; children of parents obsessed with the evils of satanism; children without conscience; children with a teenage brother or pregnant mother; children with heavy metal music and literature in the home; children with bizarre toys, games, comics, and magazines; children with a VCR and slasher films in their home; children with access to dial-a-porn, party lines, or pornography; or children victimized by a day care center staff member. The possible effects of the interaction of such children prior to the disclosure of the alleged abuse must be evaluated, Adult survivors may obtain details from group therapy sessions, support networks, church groups, or self-help groups. The willingness and ability of siblings to corroborate adult survivor accounts of ritual abuse varies. Some will support and partially corroborate the victim's allegations. Others will vehemently deny them and support their accused parents or relatives.
The amount of sexually explicit, occult, anti-occult, or violence-oriented material available to adults and even children in the modern world is overwhelming. This includes movies, videotapes, television, music, toys, and books. There are also documentaries on satanism, witchcraft, and the occult that are available on videotape. Most of the televangelists have videotapes on the topics that they are selling on their programs.
The National Coalition on Television Violence News (1988) estimates that 12% of the movies produced in the United States can be classified as satanic horror films. Cable television and the home VCR make all this material readily available even to young children. Religious broadcasters and almost all the television tabloid and magazine programs have done shows on satanism and the occult. Heavy metal and black metal music, which often has a satanic theme, is readily available and popular. In addition to the much-debated fantasy role-playing games, there are numerous popular toys on the market with an occult-oriented, bizarre, or violent theme.
Books on satanism and the occult, both fiction and nonfiction, are readily available in most bookstores, especially Christian bookstores. Several recent books specifically discuss the issue of ritual abuse of children. Obviously, very young children do not read this material, but their parents, relatives, and therapists might and then discuss it in front of or with them. Much of the material intended to fight the problem actually fuels the problem and damages effective prosecution.
d. Suggestions and Leading Questions
This problem is particularly important in cases stemming from custody/visitation disputes involving at least one child under the age of seven. It is my opinion that most suggestive, leading questioning of children by intervenors is inadvertently done as part of a good-faith effort to learn the truth. Not all intervenors are in equal positions to potentially influence victim allegations. Parents and relatives especially are in a position to subtly influence their young children to describe their victimization in a certain way. Children may also overhear their parents discussing the details of the case. Children often tell their parents what they believe their parents want or need to hear. Some children may be instinctively attempting to provide "therapy" for their parents by telling them what seems to satisfy them and somehow makes them feel better. In one case a father gave the police a tape recording to "prove" that his child's statements were spontaneous disclosures and not the result of leading, suggestive questions. The tape recording indicated just the opposite. Why then did the father voluntarily give it to the police? Probably because he truly believed that he was not influencing his child's statements - but he was.
Therapists are probably in the best position to influence the allegations of adult survivors. The accuracy and reliability of the accounts of adult survivors who have been hypnotized during therapy is certainly open to question. One nationally-known therapist personally told me that the reason police cannot find out about satanic or ritualistic activity from child victims is that they do not know how to ask leading questions. Highly suggestive books and pictures portraying "satanic" activity have been developed and marketed to therapists for use during evaluation and treatment. Types and styles of verbal interaction useful in therapy may create significant problems in a criminal investigation. It should be noted, however, that when a therapist does a poor investigative interview as part of a criminal investigation, that is the fault of the criminal justice system that allowed it and not the therapist who did it.
The extremely sensitive, emotional, and religious nature of these cases makes problems with leading questions more likely than in other kinds of cases. Intervenors motivated by religious fervor and/or exaggerated concerns about sexual abuse of children are more likely to lose their objectivity.
e. Misperception and Confusion
In one case, a child's description of the apparently impossible act of walking through a wall turned out to be the very possible act of walking between the studs of an unfinished wall in a room under construction. In another case, pennies in the anus turned out to be copper-foil-covered suppositories. The children may describe what they believe happened. It is not a lie, but neither is it an accurate account of what happened.
f. Education and Awareness Programs
Some well-intentioned awareness programs designed to prevent child set abuse, alert professionals, or fight satanism may in fact be unrealistically increasing the fears of professionals, children, and parents and creating self-fulfilling prophesies. Some of what children and their parents are telling intervenors may have been learned in or fueled by such programs. Religious programs, books, and pamphlets that emphasize the power and evil force of Satan may be adding to the problem. In fact most of the day care centers in which ritualistic abuse is alleged to hate taken place are church- affiliated centers, and many of the adult survivors alleging it come from apparently religious families.
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