Sylvia Lynn Gillotte is Chairman of the Resource Manual Project, Officer of the Governor, Guardian Ad Litem Program, in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Ritual abuse is an extremely sadistic form of child abuse and neglect. Although accounts of such abuse date back several centuries, 1 it is a phenomenon which has only recently been widely publicized and recognized. Modern revelations concerning the existence of ritual abuse have coincided with our increased awareness of child abuse in general, and the recognition of multiple personality and dissociative disorders by the medical and therapeutic communities.
Because of the nature of the abuse, the diversity of the perpetrators, and the many manifestations which "ritual crime" can take, defining ritual abuse is not an easy task and has been the subject of controversy. 2 A report by the Lost Angeles County Commission for Women, Ritual Abuse Task Force , defined it as "...a brutal form of abuse ... consisting of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, and involving the use of rituals." 3 It is perhaps more helpful to move beyond definition, and to identify some common elements which distinguish ritual abuse from other forms of child abuse. Generally, most cases involving ritualistic child abuse include the following elements:
As this Resource Manual focuses on the representation of children in family court, it is important to distinguish the terms "ritual abuse" and "ritual crime." Ritual crime is criminal activity which includes the use of ritual symbols and/or paraphernalia, but does not necessarily involve the abuse of children. Ritual child abuse, on the other hand, could be a sub-category of ritual crime, the focus of which is the deliberate exploitation, programming, and abuse of children. Participants in ritual crime may act individually, but usually operate in a group setting. Most groups, also referred to as cults, could be said to fall into one of several generally recognized categories:
Myth 1: The activities and the abuse described by alleged victims and survivors are too horrendous to be believable. Humanity, in general, is incapable of such organized atrocities.
Reality: Unfortunately , accounts of child mutilation, infanticide, cannibalism and the use of blood, feces and urine in ritual ceremonies dates back hundreds of years and can be found in a number of early pagan cultures. 9 The spread of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions into Northern Europe did not eliminate these ritual traditions. Many groups continued to practice their earlier beliefs underground, sometimes combining elements of the old and the new. 10 Furthermore, modern history is replete with examples of man's inhumanity to man, both individually and at an organized level. The Holocaust is a prime example of the execution, brutal torture and treatment of millions of innocent people in the name of ideology and belief. The military and civilian officers who carried out Hitler's directives could be compared to modern day cult members who must also lead "Jekyll and Hyde" existences. Also, like organized cults, the success of Hitler's plan was dependent upon absolute secrecy and the ingenious use of controlled propaganda and programming.
Myth 2: If ritual abuse truly existed, then children and adults exposed to such abuse would come forward and expose the activities of the cult rather than continue to be victimized.
Reality: Most victims and participants in organized cults are either born into them or recruited at a very young age. In either case, programming and brainwashing begins very early, sometimes even in utero. Programming is systematic and brutal, and is directed at every level of the individual's awareness: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The use of terror in conjunction with very sophisticated techniques effectively robs the individual of his/her will.
The choice of "allegiance to the cult" or "death to self or others" is the number one reality to any cult member or victim and serves as the biggest deterrent to disclosure. Survivors who seek therapeutic help, as well as non-participating individuals who have discovered the involvement of a spouse or other family member, are often mislabelled or misdiagnosed as "hysterical," "paranoid," or "histronic." In fact, their hysteria is based upon a very real danger to themselves and to others.
Myth 3: No one could possibly live this type of existence day in and day out without disclosing or being discovered.
Reality: Virtually every individual who survives cult victimization and indoctrination develops an ability to dissociate. Dissociation is the ability to separate oneself from one's thoughts, feelings, and actions during an overwhelmingly traumatic or even life-threatening event or experience. 11 This process produces changes in memory and allows the individual to function as if the trauma had not occurred. In effect, it is the psyche's way of surviving an otherwise impossible situation while preserving some area of healthy functioning.
Repeated dissociation may ultimately result in the development of Multiple Personality Dosorder (MPD). With MPD, the birth personality (that identity which was in existence prior to the trauma) retreats during the dissociative process and a series of separate, fragmented "personalities" develop to take on specific functions in the outside world. These distinct personalities are usually referred to as "alters" or "components." They can be called into action by the individual, or triggered through programmed response by the cult. 12 Because of the function they serve within the individual's psyche, most alters are not co-conscious with one another and therefore operate independently within the personality system. 13
Dissociation and MPD are conditions which permit victims of ritual abuse and other severe trauma and abuse to function in a contradictory or "Jekyll and Hyde" manner -- exhibiting more "normal" personalities by day, and "ritual" personalities by night. It is impossible to understand ritual abuse without comprehending the roles that dissociation and MPD play in the process. 14 For example, females are often programmed to be "amnesic" about their cult involvement during their child-bearing years, ensuring the cult regular access to any offspring for early indoctrination. 15
Thus, the development of dissociation and MPD are an intended result of ritual abuse and are induced through the use of sophisticated mind control techniques involving overwhelming pain, torture, and terror. Consequently, recognition and proper diagnosis of these conditions by a professional experienced in the treatment of MPD and dissociative disorders is essential. Otherwise, successful investigation and treatment cannot be undertaken.
Myth 4: If there is no physical or tangible evidence of ritual abuse to support an allegation, then the abuse did not occur.
Reality: Unfortunately, there will rarely be physical evidence to substantiate allegations of abuse involving transgenerational cults. Unlike criminal investigations involving dabblers and self-styled cultists which might produce ritual paraphernalia or even mitilated victims, transgenerational cults are highly organized and extremely secretive concerning their activities. Ritual sites and ceremonial implements are carefully guarded before, during, and after ritual ceremonies. Since the successful operation of the cult is dependent upon absolute secrecy, thorough and systematic disposal of any and all evidence is routine.
It is also often difficult to obtain conclusive medical evidence supportive of a child's allegations of ritual physical and sexual abuse. 16 Most cults use very sophisticated abuse, torture, and mind control techniques which are difficult to detect. For example, during the abuse and programming of children, cults may use the following: electro-shock; pins and needles which are inserted under the fingernails or into sexual or other orifices of the body; knife cuts or burns into the scalp, onto the soles of the feet, or in the creases of the skin; as well as injuries designed to be explainable by otherwise acceptable means.
While evidence of sexual abuse may be more apparent with the use of a colposcope (i.e., repeated multiple perpetrator abuse is more likely to leave scarring in the vaginal and areas in children), most cults have physicians who treat and effectively cover up evidence of abuse. In addition, it is important to understand that cults prime infants early on for sexual penetration using special instruments designed to stretch the vagina and anus in a gradual, non-traumatic manner.
It is critical to remember that children who are victims of ritual abuse rarely disclose such abuse until they re far removed from their abusers, both in space and in time. In fact, it is common for children not to reveal the ritual aspects of their abuse until they have been removed from their home for a substantial period of time following more limited allegations of abuse. Such delays further reduce the likelihood of obtaining conclusive medical evidence by way of sexual abuse examination or drug screen.
Unfortunately, those uneducated regarding the dynamics of ritual abuse refuse to believe some children as a result of the extreme delay in disclosure and lack of independent medical evidence. Thus, it is important to be aware that children subjected to the degree of pain and torture commonly used by perpetrators of ritual abuse are terrorized into silence and have a great deal of difficulty relating their abuse.
Myth 5: If ritual abuse were a reality, then we would find the remains of victims or at least have a record of the rexistence and disappearance.
Reality: Organized cults have their own unique methods and systems for disposing of bodies and/or body parts. Many cults either own or have access to a crematorium, and are assisted by cult physicians and/or coroners who cover up the cause of death of their victims. Less sophisticated methods for body disposal which have been used effectively are lime or acid pits, as well as tree shredders. 17
In many cults, members must pledge ultimate allegiance to the cult by offering up their first-born child for sacrifice. This usually occurs during early adolescence, when the young female is impregnated by a cult member during an important ritual. Early labor is often induced by saline injection (e.g., at 6 months gestation) and the fetus is then offered in a dedication ceremony. Because of the size of the fetus at delivery, pregnancy is rarely suspected by the outside world.
Commonly, infant victims who are to be used in sacrificial rites are routinely provided by "breeders" within the cults themselves. As with the first-born babies of cult members, there is never any record of these children's existence, much less their deaths. Other victims used by cults are the result of baby trafficking, kidnapping, and the seduction of unsuspecting runaways and vagrants.
Myth 6: It is inconceivable that teachers, ministers, doctors, lawyers, judges, policemen, sheriffs, pharmacists, undertakers, etc., would become involved in cults.
Reality: It is true that, as a general rule, members of these professions have no inclination to join cults. Occasionally, however, cults do recruit such individuals through the use of deceptive methods and blackmail. For example, cult members might actively engate an individual they feel would be receptive to illegal activity (i.e., drugs, child pornography, group sex, etc.). After enticing him/her to participate in that activity, they would surreptitiously videotape the event. At that point, the public official or professional would be at the mercy of the cult and could be called upon at any time, as needed.
The most important thing to understand, however, is that children born into transgenerational cult families are primed and groomed to enter certain professions which are critical to the networking and protection of the cult. Therefore, the professions listed above are among those highly pursued by cult members. The greater the number of prominent members of the community in a cult, the less likely that the cult will ever be discovered; or if discovered, that there will be a successful prosecution.
Myth 7: If highly organized transgenerational cults have been in existence for hundreds of years, then surely they would have been infiltrated or penetrated by now.
Reality: The very nature and structure of ritualistic cults prohibit their infiltration. In order for a law enforcement officer or investigator to penetrate a cult, he/she must first earn the trust of group members by engagin in illegal and offensive activity which would include the drinking of blood and urine, the eating of feces, and the participation in animal sacrifice at a minimum. Only after repeated tests and trials involving the individual would he/she be permitted to participate in more intimate and heinous rites involving child sexual abuse, mutilation, and sacrifice.
The secret of cults has been kept for a very long time and the majority of activities which have been exposed only involve criminal acts related to money-making endeavors. These have included trafficking of children, weapons, narcotics, child pornography, and other crimes such as insurance and computer fraud. The bottomless pit of financial resources to which cults have access also makes them less vulnerable to attack.
Myth 8: Therapists and other adults are putting these outrageous ideas in the minds of children and making them believe that they have actually experienced these abuses.
Reality: Unfortunately, the focus of the media following reports of ritual abuse in day care cases across this country has been to question the veracity and integrity of not only the child victims, but the parents and professionals who are working to protect the children as well.
Children who are abused in day care settings react in the same manner as children who have been terrorized into silence as members of transgenerational cults. When a concerned parent or therapist who is dealing with the emotional and psychological aftermath manages to make the child feel safe enough to make a disclosure, the system responds for discounting the allegations on the basis that the disclosure was not made at the onset of the therapeutic process.
It is critical to understand that the terror and intimidation used by ritual abuse perpetrators is designed to be so severe that the children involved will not disclose their victimization to anyone. Extreme delay in disclosure is the "norm" in cases of ritual abuse, and should never be used to discredit a child's allegations. As has been very aptly stated by Dr. Catherine Gould, a national expert in the area of ritual child abuse: "...you can abuse a hundred children ritualistically, with all the overlay of terror...and pretty much a hundred children will keep the secret of their abuse until there is some kind of intervention." 18 One cannot buy into the argument that children making these allegations have been brainwashed into relating false statements without somehow supporting the notion that there is an international conspiracy among children, parents, therapists and other professionals, to disseminate similar information for some unknown gain. The fact of the matter is that parallel reports of such abuse are surfacing in Westernized countries all over the world, and they are coming from victims of all ages who have no knowledge of one another.
Brainwashing and conspiracy are a reality in ritual child abuse cases. However, te culprits are most often members of long-standing, organized cult, not the therapists and other professionals who are struggling to assist the ever-increasing number of victims who choose to come forward.
Myth 9: If any part of a child's allegations concerning ritual abuse is obviously false or insupportable, then the abuse did not occur.
Reality: Cult members are extremely intelligent. They understand the legal and judicial process and carefully design their rituals so that children who might disclose will be discredited. In addition to the use of various drugs which make children more compliant and distort their perceptions of reality, cults have been known to use the following techniques quite effectively:
Because the dynamics of ritualistic child abuse differ significantly from the dynamics of "ordinary" child abuse, we must understand how these differences should alter our handling of such cases within the legal system.
First of all, we must be awre that while consistency in a child's disclosure of abuse is usually a good indicator of veracity, inconsistency regarding accounts of abuse may be more common in -- and "consistent with" -- ritualistic child abuse. This is due to the mind control component which is unique to ritual abuse, and the impact of dissociation and multiple personality disorder on disclosure.
Furthermore, while children may report some form of victimization during initial interviews of suspected abuse, the ritual aspects of their abuse may never be disclosed. When children do disclose ritual abuse, the extreme delay in disclosure, coupled with perceived "discrepancies" from original accounts, often results in system disbelief and a failure to further invetigate and prosecute additional allegations.
Practitioners also need to be aware that medical and physical evidence substantiating ritual child abuse is difficult to obtain, especially in view of the extreme delay in disclosure. While it may be appropriate to request that toxicology tests and a sexual abuse examination be conducted on a child, receipt of negative or non-conclusive results does not negate the child's allegations. 19 Nor does the fact that some of the specifics of a child's allegations can be disproved. (See "Myth 4" and "Myth 9" above). It <is> thus critical to seek the assistance of professionals with experience in ritual abuse who might shed light on the child's allegations.
Finally, once an investigation concerning ritual child abuse has commenced, the advocate should not be surprised if prosecution of the charges does not occur. In addition to system denial and evidentiary considerations, "interested" individuals who may be well-placed in the system can and should be expected to intervene. ("Myth 6").
Click [ref] to go to the reference to the note in the text.
1 . [ ref ] For an excellent discussion of historical accounts of ritual child abuse in Europe, see "Believe the Children Newsletter," Volume IX (1992).
2 . [ ref ] Civia Tamarkin, a well-known freelance journalist, has advocated strongly for a modification of our lexicon as it relates to ritual (or ritualistic) abuse. Her argument is that the use of the term "ritual" tends to minimize the more commonly recognized elements of "sadistic" abuse, and results in a failure on the part of the media, our legal system, and the public to appreciate and address the real problem: the sadistic abuse and exploitation of children by organized perpetrator groups. Furthermore, the term "ritual" usually has a connotation which implies that this activity is religiously related and/or motivated. This is often not the case.
3 . [ ref ] The Task Force Report is an excellent reference for virtually any professional who works with children.
4 . [ ref ] I make a distinction between "organized cult" and "organized crime," which while also engaged in highly organized and secretive criminal activity, does not have the additional elements of "ritual symbology" and sophisticated "mind control programming."
5 . [ ref ] The terms "transgenerational" or "multigenerational," are often used to describe groups who participate in this activity and whose beliefs and practices are passed on, generation after generation. In such groups, the indoctrination of young children begins very early and is critical to the perpetuation of ritual practices which can date back hundreds of years.
6 . [ ref ] The results of this study are further discussed in Volume IX of "Believe the Children Newsletter" (1992).
7 . [ ref ] The Appendix ("Professional Articles") contains two articles by ritual abuse survivors. Their accounts will help you to understand the psychological devastation which these victims endure.
8 . [ ref ] For an excellent discussion of this issue, see Catherine Gould's article entitled "Denying the Ritual Abuse of Children" in the Appendix ("Professional Articles").
9 . [ ref ] See "Believe the Children Newsletter," Volume IX (1992), in the Appendix ("Professional Articles").
10 . [ ref ] Many people are not aware of the fact that dates for several Christian holidays are based upon early pagan ceremonial dates. For example, Easter is always scheduled for the first Sunday after the full moon in April. Such scheduling originated as a compromise between early Christian leaders and the conquered pagans of Northern Europe.
11 . [ ref ] Dissociation is a common response to the trauma of child abuse and is not limited to ritual abuse. When a child is dissociative, he/she exhibits certain behaviors which are identifiable. Beverly James discusses these behaviors in "The Dissociatively Disordered Child." See Appendix, "Professional Articles."
12 . [ ref ] For an excellent discussion on cult programming, see "Common Programs Observed in Survivors of Satanic Ritualistic Abuse," by David Neswald. (Appendix, "Professional Articles").
13 . [ ref ] The South Carolina Supreme Court demonstrated a remarkable grasp of MPD in its decision of "Rutherford v. Rutherford," 307 S.C. 199, 414 S.E. 2d 157 (1992). In "Rutherford," the court ruled that a wife's adultery, committed while under the mental illness of MPD, may not be grounds for divorce if the party can clearly show the adulterous personality function at the time did not know she was committing adultery.
14 . [ ref ] See Dale McCulley's article entitled "Satanic Ritual Abuse: A Question of Memory," Appendix ("Professional Articles").
15 . [ ref ] Very often, mothers whose children spontaneously disclose ritual abuse by other family members are initially shocked and surprised by the disclosure. However, as time passes, the experience may cause what is sometimes referred to as "bleed-through memory" that is, they begin to remember incidences involving their own cult victimization and participation. These women are sometimes hesitant to report or admit their prior involvement for fear of losing custody of the very children they are attempting to protect. It is important to remember that these women may need additional therapy and support themselves.
16 . [ ref ] This is likewise true in your average child sexual abuse or molestation case. (See evidence section of manual for Dr. Baker's discussion of medical studies confirming this fact).
17 . [ ref ] My contact with survivors in South Carolina and other states in the South reveals that alligators are commonly used as a means of disposal in these areas.
18 . [ ref ] Remarks from a "Professional Overview" video produced by Cavalcade Productions, Ukiah, California. The point here is that even children who come from families where they have presumably experienced a great deal of love and nurturing can be terrorized into complete silence by such abuse. Since it appears that children who are ritually abused and programmed between the ages of birth and six are at highest risk for developing complex levels of dissociation and MPD, the implications to families and children who survive such an experience are enormous.
19 . [ ref ] It may be more effective to request sexual abuse examinations or toxicology tests on children who have not yet disclosed ritualistic abuse, but whose behaviors indicate cause for concern. Toxicology testing such as hair sampling is neither invasive nor traumatic. Furthermore, hair retains toxicological traces for an extended period of time, depending on frequency of use.