By Kenneth V. Lanning, Supervisory Special Agent
Behavioral Science Unit
National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime
Since 1981 I have been assigned to the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and have specialized in studying all aspects of the sexual victimization of children. The FBI Behavioral Science Unit provides assistance to criminal justice professionals in the United States and foreign countries. It attempts to develop practical applications of the behavioral sciences to the criminal justice system. As a result of training and research conducted by the Unit and its successes in analyzing violent crime, many professionals contact the Behavioral Science Unit for assistance and guidance in dealing with violent crime, especially those cases considered different, unusual, or bizarre. This service is provided at no cost and is not limited to crimes under the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI.
In 1983 and 1984, when I first began to hear stories of what sounded like satanic or occult activity in connection with allegations of sexual victimization of children (allegations that have come to be referred to most often as "ritual" child abuse,) I tended to believe them. I had been dealing with bizarre, deviant behavior for many years and had long since realized that almost anything is possible. Just when you think that you have heard it all, along comes another strange case.
The idea that there are a few cunning, secretive individuals in positions of power somewhere in this country regularly killing a few people as part of some satanic ritual or ceremony and getting away with it is certainly within the realm of possibility. But the number of alleged cases began to grow and grow. We now have hundreds of victims alleging that thousands of offenders are abusing and even murdering tens of thousands of people as part of organized satanic cults, and there is little or no corroborative evidence. The very reason many "experts" cite for believing these allegations (i.e. many victims, who never met each other, reporting the same events,) is the primary reason I began to question at least some aspects of these allegations.
I have devoted more than seven years part-time, and eleven years full-time, of my professional life to researching, training, and consulting in the area of the sexual victimization of children. The issues of child sexual abuse and exploitation are a big part of my professional life's work. I have no reason to deny their existence or nature. In fact I have done everything I can to make people more aware of the problem. Some have even blamed me for helping to create the hysteria that has led to these bizarre allegations. I can accept no outside income and am paid the same salary by the FBI whether or not children are abused and exploited - and whether the number is one or one million. As someone deeply concerned about and professionally committed to the issue, I did not lightly question the allegations of hundreds of victims child sexual abuse and exploitation.
In response to accusations by a few that I am a "satanist" who has infiltrated the FBI to facilitate cover-up, how does anyone (or should anyone have to) disprove such allegations? Although reluctant to dignify such absurd accusations with a reply, all I can say to those who have made such allegations that they are wrong and to those who heard such allegations is to carefully consider the source.
The reason I have taken the position I have is not because I support or believe in "satanism," but because I sincerely believe that my approach is the proper and most effective investigative strategy. I believe that my approach is in the best interest of victims of child sexual abuse. It would have been easy to sit back, as many have, and say nothing publicly about this controversy. I have spoken out and published on this issue because I am concerned about the credibility of the child sexual abuse issue and outraged that, in some cases, individuals are getting away with molesting children because we can't prove they are satanic devil worshippers who engage in brainwashing, human sacrifice, and cannibalism as part of a large conspiracy.
There are many valid perspectives from which to assess and evaluate victim allegations of sex abuse and exploitation. Parents may choose to believe simply because their children make the claims. The level of proof necessary may be minimal because the consequences of believing are within the family. One parent correctly told me, "I believe what my child needs me to believe."
Therapists may choose to believe simply because their professional assessment is that their patient believes the victimization and describes it so vividly. The level of proof necessary may be no more than therapeutic evaluation because the consequences are between therapist and patient. No independent corroboration may be required.
A social worker must have more real, tangible evidence of abuse in order to take protective action and initiate legal proceedings. The level of proof necessary must be higher because the consequences (denial of visitation, foster care) are greater.
The law enforcement officer deals with the criminal justice system. The levels of proof necessary are reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and beyond a reasonable doubt because the consequences (criminal investigation, search and seizure, arrest, incarceration) are so great. This discussion will focus primarily on the criminal justice system and the law enforcement perspective. The level of proof necessary for taking action on allegations of criminal acts must be more than simply the victim alleged it and it is possible. This in no way denies the validity and importance of the parental, therapeutic, social welfare, or any other perspective of these allegations.
When, however, therapists and other professionals begin to conduct training, publish articles, and communicate through the media, the consequences become greater, and therefore the level of proof must be greater. The amount of corroboration necessary to act upon allegations of abuse is dependent upon the consequences of such action. We need to be concerned about the distribution and publication of unsubstantiated allegations of bizarre sexual abuse. Information needs to be disseminated to encourage communication and research about the phenomena. The risks, however, of intervenor and victim "contagion" and public hysteria are potential negative aspects of such dissemination. Because of the highly emotional and religious nature of this topic, there is a greater possibility that the spreading of information will result in a kind of self- fulfilling prophecy.
If such extreme allegations are going to be disseminated to the general public, they must be presented in the context of being assessed and evaluated, at least, from the professional perspective of the disseminator and at best, also from the professional perspective of relevant others. This is what I will attempt to do in this discussion. The assessment and evaluation of such allegations are areas where law enforcement, mental health, and other professionals (anthropologists, folklorists, sociologists, historians, engineers, surgeons, etc.) may be of some assistance to each other in validating these cases individually and in general.
In order to attempt to deal with extreme allegations of what constitute child sex rings, it is important to have an historical perspective of society's attitudes about child sexual abuse. I will provide a brief synopsis of recent attitudes in the United States here, but those desiring more detailed information about such societal attitudes, particularly in other cultures and in the more distant past, should refer to Florence Rush's book The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children (1980) and Sander J. Breiner's book Slaughter of the Innocents (1990.)
Society's attitude about child sexual abuse and exploitation can be summed up in one word: denial. Most people do not want to hear about it and would prefer to pretend that child sexual victimization just does not occur. Today, however, it is difficult to pretend that it does not happen. Stories and reports about child sexual victimization are daily occurrences.
It is important for professionals dealing with child sexual abuse to recognize and learn to manage this denial of a serious problem. Professionals must overcome the denial and encourage society to deal with, report, and prevent sexual victimization of children.
Some professionals, however, in their zeal to make American society more aware of this victimization, tend to exaggerate the problem. Presentations and literature with poorly documented or misleading claims about one in three children being sexually molested, the $5 billion child pornography industry, child slavery rings, and 50,000 stranger-abducted children are not uncommon. The problem is bad enough; it is not necessary to exaggerate it. Professionals should cite reputable and scientific studies and note the sources of information. If they do not, when the exaggerations and distortions are discovered, their credibility and the credibility of the issue are lost.
During the 1950s and 1960s the primary focus in the literature and discussions on sexual abuse of children was on "stranger danger" - the dirty old man in the wrinkled raincoat. If one could not deny the existence of child sexual abuse, one described victimization in simplistic terms of good and evil. The "stranger danger" approach to preventing child sexual abuse is clear-cut. We immediately know who the good guys and bad guys are and what they look like.
The FBI distributed a poster that epitomized this attitude. It showed a man, with his hat pulled down, hiding behind a tree with a bag of candy in his hands. He was waiting for a sweet little girl walking home from school alone. At the top it read: "Boys and Girls, color the page, memorize the rules." At the bottom it read: "For your protection, remember to turn down gifts from strangers, and refuse rides offered by strangers." The poster clearly contrasts the evil of the offender with the goodness of the child victim.
The myth of the child molester as the dirty old man in the wrinkled raincoat is now being reevaluated, based on what we now know about the kinds of people who victimize children. The fact is a child molester can look like anyone else and even be someone we know and like.
There is another myth that is still with us and is far less likely to be discussed. This is the myth of the child victim as a completely innocent little girl walking down the street minding her own business. It may be more important to dispel this myth than the myth of the evil offender, especially when talking about the sexual exploitation of children and child sex rings. Child victims can be boys as well as girls, and not all victims are little "angels."
Society seems to have a problem dealing with any sexual abuse case in which the offender is not completely "bad" or the victim is not completely "good." Child victims who, for example, simply behave like human beings and respond to the attention and affection of offenders by voluntarily and repeatedly returning to the offender's home are troubling. It confuses us to see the victims in child pornography giggling or laughing. At professional conferences on child sexual abuse, child prostitution is almost never discussed. It is the form of sexual victimization of children most unlike the stereotype of the innocent girl victim. Child prostitutes, by definition, participate in and often initiate their victimization.
Furthermore child prostitutes and the participants in child sex rings are frequently boys. One therapist recently told me that a researcher's data on child molestation were misleading because many of the child victims in question were child prostitutes. This implies that child prostitutes are not "real" child victims. In a survey by the Los Angeles Times, only 37 percent of those responding thought that child prostitution constituted child sexual abuse (Timnik, 1985.) Whether or not it seems fair, when adults and children have sex, the child is always the victim.
Intrafamilian Child Sexual Abuse
During the 1970s, primarily as a result of the women's movement, society began to learn more about the sexual victimization of children. We began to realize that most children are sexually molested by someone they know who is usually a relative - a father, step-father, uncle, grandfather, older brother, or even a female relative. Some mitigate the difficulty of accepting this by adopting the view that only members of socio-economic groups other than theirs engage in such behavior.
It quickly became apparent that warnings about not taking gifts from strangers were not good enough to prevent child sexual abuse. Consequently, we began to develop prevention programs based on more complex concepts, such as good touching and bad touching. the "yucky" feeling, and the child's right to say no. These are not the kinds of things you can easily and effectively communicate in fifty minutes to hundreds of kids packed into a school auditorium. These are very difficult issues, and programs must he carefully developed and evaluated.
In the late 1970s child sexual abuse became almost synonymous with incest, and incest meant father-daughter sexual relations. Therefore, the focus of child sexual abuse intervention became father-daughter incest. Even today, the vast majority of training materials, articles, and books on this topic refer to child sexual abuse only in terms of intrafamilial father-daughter incest.
Incest is, in fact, sexual relations between individuals of any age too closely related to marry. It need not necessarily involve an adult and a child, and it goes beyond child sexual abuse. But more importantly child sexual abuse goes beyond father-daughter incest. Intrafamilial incest between an adult and child may be the most common form of child sexual abuse, but it is not the only form.
The progress of the 1970s in recognizing that child sexual abuse was not simply a result of "stranger danger" was an important breakthrough in dealing with society's denial. The battle, however, is not over. The persistent voice of society luring us back to the more simple concept of "stranger danger" may never go away. It is the voice of denial.
Return to "Stranger Danger"
In the early 1980s the issue of missing children rose to prominence and was focused primarily on the stranger abduction of little children. Runaways, throwaways, noncustodial abductions, nonfamily abductions of teenagers - all major problems within the missing children's issue - were almost forgotten. People no longer wanted to hear about good touching and bad touching and the child's right to say "no." They wanted to be told, in thirty minutes or less, how they could protect their children from abduction by strangers. We were back to the horrible but simple and clear-cut concept of "stranger danger."
In the emotional zeal over the problem of missing children, isolated horror stories and distorted numbers were sometimes used. The American public was led to believe that most of the missing children had been kidnapped by pedophiles - a new term for child molesters. The media, profiteers, and well-intentioned zealots all played big roles in this hype and hysteria over missing children.
The Acquaintance Molester
Only recently has society begun to deal openly with a critical piece in the puzzle of child sexual abuse - acquaintance molestation. This seems to be the most difficult aspect of the problem for us to face. People seem more willing to accept a father or stepfather, particularly one from another socio-economic group, as a child molester than a parish priest, a next-door neighbor, a police officer, a pediatrician, an FBI agent, or a Scout leader. The acquaintance molester, by definition, is one of us. These kinds of molesters have always existed, but our society has not been willing to accept that fact.
Sadly, one of the main reasons that the criminal justice system and the public were forced to confront the problem of acquaintance molestation was the preponderance of lawsuits arising from the negligence of many institutions.
One of the unfortunate outcomes of society's preference for the "stranger danger" concept is what I call "say no, yell, and tell" guilt. This is the result of prevention programs that tell potential child victims to avoid sexual abuse by saying no, yelling, and telling. This might work with the stranger hiding behind a tree. Adolescent boys seduced by a Scout leader or children who actively participate in their victimization often feel guilty and blame themselves because they did not do what they were "supposed" to do. They may feel a need to describe their victimization in more socially acceptable but sometimes inaccurate ways that relieve them of this guilt.
While American society has become increasingly more aware of the problem of the acquaintance molester and related problems such as child pornography, the voice calling us back to "stranger danger" still persists.
Satanism: A New Form of "Stranger Danger"
In today's version of "stranger danger," it is the satanic devil worshipers who are snatching and victimizing the children. Many who warned us in the early 1980s about pedophiles snatching fifty thousand kids a year now contend they were wrong only about who was doing the kidnapping, not about the number abducted. This is again the desire for the simple and clear-cut explanation for a complex problem.
For those who know anything about criminology, one of the oldest theories of crime is demonology: The devil makes you do it. This makes it even easier to deal with the child molester who is the "pillar of the community." It is not his fault; it is not our fault. There is no way we could have known; the devil made him do it. This explanation has tremendous appeal because, like "stranger danger," it presents the clear-cut, black-and-white struggle between good and evil as the explanation for child abduction, exploitation, and abuse.
In regard to satanic "ritual" abuse, today we may not be where we were with incest in the 1960s, but where we were with missing children in the early 1980s. The best data now available (the 1990 National Incidence Studies on Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children in America) estimate the number of stereotypical child abductions at between 200 and 300 a year, and the number of stranger abduction homicides of children at between 43 and 147 a year. Approximately half of the abducted children are teenagers. Today's facts are significantly different from yesterday's perceptions, and those who exaggerated the problem, however well-intentioned, have lost credibility and damaged the reality of the problem.
Law Enforcement Training
The belief that there is a connection between satanism and crime is certainly not new. As previously stated, one of the oldest theories concerning the causes of crime is demonology. Fear of satanic or occult activity has peaked from time to time throughout history. Concern in the late 1970s focused primarily on "unexplained" deaths and mutilations of animals, and in recent years has focused on child sexual abuse and the alleged human sacrifice of missing children. In 1999 it will probably focus on the impending "end of the world."
Today satanism and a wide variety of other terms are used interchangeably in reference to certain crimes. This discussion will analyze the nature of "satanic, occult, ritualistic" crime primarily as it pertains to the abuse of children and focus on appropriate law enforcement responses to it. Recently a flood of law enforcement seminars and conferences have dealt with satanic and ritualistic crime. These training conferences have various titles, such as "Occult in Crime," "Satanic Cults," 'Ritualistic Crime Seminar," "Satanic Influences in Homicide," "Occult Crimes, Satanism and Teen Suicide," and "Ritualistic Abuse of Children."
The typical conference runs from one to three days, and many of them include the same presenters and instructors. A wide variety of topics are usually discussed during this training either as individual presentations by different instructors or grouped together by one or more instructors.
Typical topics covered include the following:
During the conferences, these nine areas are linked together through the liberal use of the word "satanism" and some common symbolism (pentagrams, 666, demons, etc.) The implication often is that all are part of a continuum of behavior, a single problem or some common conspiracy. The distinctions among the different areas are blurred even if occasionally a presenter tries to make them. The information presented is a mixture of fact, theory, opinion, fantasy, and paranoia, and because some of it can be proven or corroborated (symbols on rock albums, graffiti on walls, desecration of cemeteries, vandalism, etc.,) the implication is that it is all true and documented. Material produced by religious organizations, photocopies and slides of newspaper articles, and videotapes of tabloid television programs are used to supplement the training and are presented as "evidence" of the existence and nature of the problem.
All of this is complicated by the fact that almost any discussion of satanism and the occult is interpreted in the light of the religious beliefs of those in the audience. Faith, not logic and reason, governs the religious beliefs of most people. As a result, some normally skeptical law enforcement officers accept the information disseminated at these conferences without critically evaluating it or questioning the sources.
Officers who do not normally depend on church groups for law enforcement criminal intelligence, who know that media accounts of their own cases are notoriously inaccurate, and who scoff at and joke about tabloid television accounts of bizarre behavior suddenly embrace such material when presented in the context of satanic activity. Individuals not in law enforcement seem even more likely to do so. Other disciplines, especially therapists, have also conducted training conferences on the characteristics and identification of "ritual" child abuse. Nothing said at such conferences will change the religious beliefs of those in attendance. Such conferences illustrate the highly emotional nature of and the ambiguity and wide variety of terms involved in this issue.
The words "satanic," "occult," and "ritual" are often used interchangeably. It is difficult to define "satanism" precisely. No attempt will be made to do so here. However, it is important to realize that, for some people, any religious belief system other than their own is "satanic." The Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein referred to the United States as the "Great Satan." In the British Parliament a Protestant leader called the Pope the Antichrist. In a book titled _Prepare For War_ (1987,) Rebecca Brown, M.D. has a chapter entitled "Is Roman Catholicism Witchcraft?" Dr. Brown also lists among the "doorways" to satanic power and/or demon infestation the following: fortune tellers, horoscopes, fraternity oaths, vegetarianism, yoga, self-hypnosis, relaxation tapes, acupuncture, biofeedback, fantasy role-playing games, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, judo, karate, and rock music. Dr. Brown states that rock music "was a carefully masterminded plan by none other than Satan himself" (p. 84.) The ideas expressed in this book may seem extreme and even humorous. This book, however, has been recommended as a serious reference in law enforcement training material on this topic. In books, lectures, handout material, and conversations, I have heard all of the following referred to as satanism:
-- Church of Satan
At law enforcement training conferences, it is witchcraft, santeria, paganism, and the occult that are most often referred to as forms of satanism. It may be a matter of definition, but these things are not necessarily the same as traditional satanism. The worship of lunar goddesses and nature and the practice of fertility rituals are not satanism. Santeria is a combination of 17th century Roman Catholicism and African paganism.
Occult means simply "hidden." All unreported or unsolved crimes might be regarded as occult, but in this context the term refers to the action or influence of supernatural powers, some secret knowledge of them, or an interest in paranormal phenomena, and does not imply satanism, evil, wrongdoing, or crime. Indeed, historically, the principal crimes deserving of consideration as "occult crimes" are the frauds perpetrated by faith healers, fortune tellers and "psychics" who for a fee claim cures, arrange visitations with dead loved ones, and commit other financial crimes against the gullible.
Many individuals define satanism from a totally Christian perspective, using this word to describe the power of evil in the world. With this definition, any crimes, especially those which are particularly bizarre, repulsive, or cruel, can be viewed as satanic in nature. Yet it is just as difficult to precisely define satanism as it is to precisely define Christianity or any complex spiritual belief system.
What is Ritual?
The biggest confusion is over the word "ritual." During training conferences on this topic, ritual almost always comes to mean "satanic" or at least "spiritual." "Ritual" can refer to a prescribed religious ceremony, but in its broader meaning refers to any customarily-repeated act or series of acts. The need to repeat these acts can be cultural, sexual, or psychological as well as spiritual.
Cultural rituals could include such things as what a family eats on Thanksgiving Day, or when and how presents are opened at Christmas. The initiation ceremonies of fraternities, sororities, gangs, and other social clubs are other examples of cultural rituals.
Since 1972 I have lectured about sexual ritual, which is nothing more than repeatedly engaging in an act or series of acts in a certain manner because of a sexual need. In order to become aroused and/or gratified, a person must engage in the act in a certain way. This sexual ritual can include such things as the physical characteristics, age, or gender of the victim, the particular sequence of acts, the bringing or taking of specific objects, and the use of certain words or phrases. This is more than the concept of M.O. (Method of Operation) known to most police officers. M.O. is something done by an offender because it works. Sexual ritual is something done by an offender because of a need. Deviant acts, such as urinating on, defecating on, or even eviscerating a victim, are far more likely to be the result of sexual ritual than religious or "satanic" ritual.
From a criminal investigative perspective, two other forms of ritualism must be recognized. The _Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders_ (DSM-III-R) (APA, 1987) defines "Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder" as "repetitive, purposeful, and intentional behaviors that are performed in response to an obsession, or according to certain rules or in a stereotyped fashion" (p. 247.) Such compulsive behavior frequently involves rituals. Although such behavior usually involves noncriminal activity such as excessive hand washing or checking that doors are locked, occasionally compulsive ritualism can be part of criminal activity.
Certain gamblers or firesetters, for example, are thought by some authorities to be motivated in part through such compulsions. Ritual can also stem from psychotic hallucinations and delusions. A crime can be committed in a precise manner because a voice told the offender to do it that way or because a divine mission required it.
To make this more confusing, cultural, religious, sexual, and psychological ritual can overlap. Some psychotic people are preoccupied with religious delusions and hear the voice of God or Satan telling them to do things of a religious nature. Offenders who feel little, if any, guilt over their crimes may need little justification for their antisocial behavior. As human beings, however, they may have fears, concerns, and anxiety over getting away with their criminal acts. It is difficult to pray to God for success in doing things that are against His Commandments.
A negative spiritual belief system may fulfill their human need for assistance from and belief in a greater power or to deal with their superstitions. Compulsive ritualism (e.g., excessive cleanliness or fear of disease) can be introduced into sexual behavior. Even many "normal" people have a need for order and predictability and therefore may engage in family or work rituals. Under stress or in times of change, this need for order and ritual may increase.
Ritual crime may fulfill the cultural, spiritual, sexual, and psychological needs of an offender. Crimes may be ritualistically motivated or may have ritualistic elements. The ritual behavior may also fulfill basic criminal needs to manipulate victims, get rid of rivals, send a message to enemies, and intimidate co-conspirators. The leaders of a group may want to play upon the beliefs and superstitions of those around them and try to convince accomplices and enemies that they, the leaders, have special or "supernatural" powers.
The important point for the criminal investigator is to realize that most ritualistic criminal behavior is not motivated simply by satanic or any religious ceremonies. At some conferences, presenters have attempted to make an issue of distinguishing between "ritual," "ritualized," and "ritualistic" abuse of children. These subtle distinctions, however, seem to be of no significant value to the criminal investigator.
What is "Ritual" Child Abuse?
I cannot define "ritual child abuse" precisely and prefer not to use the term. I am frequently forced to use it (as throughout this discussion) so that people will have some idea what I am discussing. Use of the term, however, is confusing, misleading, and counterproductive. The newer term "satanic ritual abuse" (abbreviated "SRA") is even worse. Certain observations, however, are important for investigative understanding. Most people today use the term to refer to abuse of children that is part of some evil spiritual belief system, which almost by definition must be satanic.
Dr. Lawrence Pazder, coauthor of Michelle Remembers, defines "ritualized abuse of children" as "repeated physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual assaults combined with a systematic use of symbols and secret ceremonies designed to turn a child against itself, family, society, and God" (presentation, Richmond, Va., May 7,1987.) He also states that "the sexual assault has ritualistic meaning and is not for sexual gratification."
This definition may have value for academics, sociologists, and therapists, but it creates potential problems for law enforcement. Certain acts engaged in with children (i.e. kissing, touching, appearing naked, etc.) may be criminal if performed for sexual gratification. If the ritualistic acts were in fact performed for spiritual indoctrination, potential prosecution can be jeopardized, particularly if the acts can be defended as constitutionally protected religious expression. The mutilation of a baby's genitals for sadistic sexual pleasure is a crime. The circumcision of a baby's genitals for religious reasons is most likely not a crime. The intent of the acts is important for criminal prosecution.
Not all spiritually motivated ritualistic activity is satanic. Santeria, witchcraft, voodoo, and most religious cults are not satanism. In fact, most spiritually- or religiously-based abuse of children has nothing to do with satanism. Most child abuse that could be termed "ritualistic" by various definitions is more likely to be physical and psychological rather than sexual in nature. If a distinction needs to be made between satanic and nonsatanic child abuse, the indicators for that distinction must be related to specific satanic symbols, artifacts, or doctrine rather than the mere presence of any ritualistic element.
Not all such ritualistic activity with a child is a crime. Almost all parents with religious beliefs indoctrinate their children into that belief system. Is male circumcision for religious reasons child abuse? Is the religious circumcision of females child abuse? Does having a child kneel on a hard floor reciting the rosary constitute child abuse? Does having a child chant a satanic prayer or attend a black mass constitute child abuse? Does a religious belief in corporal punishment constitute child abuse? Does group care of children in a commune or cult constitute child abuse? Does the fact that any acts in question were performed with parental permission affect the nature of the crime? Many ritualistic acts, whether satanic or not, are simply not crimes. To open the Pandora's box of labeling child abuse as "ritualistic" simply because it involves a spiritual belief system means to apply the definition to all acts by all spiritual belief systems. The day may come when many in the forefront of concern about ritual abuse will regret they opened the box.
When a victim describes and investigation corroborates what sounds like ritualistic activity, several possibilities must be considered. The ritualistic activity may be part of the excessive religiosity of mentally disturbed, even psychotic offenders. It may be a misunderstood part of sexual ritual. The ritualistic activity may be incidental to any real abuse. The offender may be involved in ritualistic activity with a child and also may be abusing a child, but one may have little or nothing to do with the other.
The offender may be deliberately engaging in ritualistic activity with a child as part of child abuse and exploitation. The motivation, however, may be not to indoctrinate the child into a belief system, but to lower the inhibitions of, control, manipulate, and/or confuse the child. In all the turmoil over this issue, it would be very effective strategy for any child molester deliberately to introduce ritualistic elements into his crime in order to confuse the child and therefore the criminal justice system. This would, however, make the activity M.O. and not ritual.
The ritualistic activity and the child abuse may be integral parts of some spiritual belief system. In that case the greatest risk is to the children of the practitioners. But this is true of all cults and religions, not just satanic cults. A high potential of abuse exists for any children raised in a group isolated from the mainstream of society, especially if the group has a charismatic leader whose orders are unquestioned and blindly obeyed by the members. Sex, money, and power are often the main motivations of the leaders of such cults.
What Makes a Crime Satanic, Occult, or Ritualistic?
Some would answer that it is the offender's spiritual beliefs or membership in a cult or church. If that is the criterion, why not label the crimes committed by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in the same way? Are the atrocities of Jim Jones in Guyana Christian crimes?
Some would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols in the possession or home of the perpetrator. What does it mean then to find a crucifix, Bible, or rosary in the possession or home of a bank robber, embezzler, child molester, or murderer? If different criminals possess the same symbols, are they necessarily part of one big conspiracy?
Others would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols such as pentagrams, inverted crosses, and 666 at the crime scene. What does it mean then to find a cross spray painted on a wall or carved into the body of a victim? What does it mean for a perpetrator, as in one recent case profiled by my Unit, to leave a Bible tied to his murder victim? What about the possibility that an offender deliberately left such symbols to make it look like a "satanic" crime?
Some would argue that it is the bizarreness or cruelness of the crime: body mutilation, amputation, drinking of blood, eating of flesh, use of urine or feces. Does this mean that all individuals involved in lust murder, sadism, vampirism, cannibalism, urophilia, and coprophilia are satanists or occult practitioners? What does this say about the bizarre crimes of psychotic killers such as Ed Gein or Richard Trenton Chase, both of whom mutilated their victims as part of their psychotic delusions? Can a crime that is not sexually deviant, bizarre, or exceptionally violent be satanic? Can white collar crime be satanic?
A few might even answer that it is the fact that the crime was committed on a date with satanic or occult significance (Halloween, May Eve, etc.) or the fact that the perpetrator claims that Satan told him to commit the crime. What does this mean for crimes committed on Thanksgiving or Christmas? What does this say about crimes committed by perpetrators who claim that God or Jesus told them to do it? One note of interest is the fact that in handout and reference material I have collected, the number of dates with satanic or occult significance ranges from 8 to 110.
This is compounded by the fact that it is sometimes stated that satanists can celebrate these holidays on several days on either side of the official date or that the birthdays of practitioners can also be holidays. The exact names and exact dates of the holidays and the meaning of symbols listed may also vary depending on who prepared the material. The handout material is often distributed without identifying the author or documenting the original source of the information. It is then frequently photocopied by attendees and passed on to other police officers with no one really knowing its validity or origin.
Most, however, would probably answer that what makes a crime satanic, occult, or ritualistic is the motivation for the crime. It is a crime that is spiritually motivated by a religious belief system. How then do we label the following true crimes?
Some people would argue that the Christians who committed the above crimes misunderstood and distorted their religion while satanists who commit crimes are following theirs. But who decides what constitutes a misinterpretation of a religious belief system? The individuals who committed the above-described crimes, however misguided, believed that they were following their religion as they understood it. Religion was and is used to justify such social behavior as the Crusades, the Inquisition, Apartheid, segregation, and recent violence in Northern Ireland, India, Lebanon and Nigeria.
Who decides exactly what "satanists" believe? In this country, we cannot even agree on what Christians believe. At many law enforcement conferences The _Satanic Bible_ is used for this, and it is often contrasted or compared with the Judeo-Christian Bible. The _Satanic Bible_ is, in essence, a short paperback book written by one man, Anton LaVey, in 1969.
To compare it to a book written by multiple authors over a period of thousands of years is ridiculous, even ignoring the possibility of Divine revelation in the Bible. What satanists believe certainly isn't limited to other people's interpretation of a few books. More importantly it is subject to some degree of interpretation by individual believers just as Christianity is. Many admitted "satanists" claim they do not even believe in God, the devil, or any supreme deity. The criminal behavior of one person claiming belief in a religion does not necessarily imply guilt or blame to others sharing that belief. In addition, simply claiming membership in a religion does not necessarily make you a member.
The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots in the name of God, Jesus, Mohammed, and other mainstream religion than has ever been committed in the name of Satan. Many people, including myself, don't like that statement, but the truth of it is undeniable.
Although defining a crime as satanic, occult, or ritualistic would probably involve a combination of the criteria set forth above, I have been unable to clearly define such a crime. Each potential definition presents a different set of problems when measured against an objective, rational, and constitutional perspective. In a crime with multiple subjects, each offender may have a different motivation for the same crime. Whose motivation determines the label for the crime? It is difficult to count or track something you cannot even define.
I have discovered, however, that the facts of so-called "satanic crimes" are often significantly different from what is described at training conferences or in the media. The actual involvement of satanism or the occult in these cases usually turns out to be secondary, insignificant, or nonexistent. Occult or ritual crime surveys done by the states of Michigan (1990) and Virginia (1991) have only confirmed this "discovery." Some law enforcement officers, unable to find serious "satanic" crime in their communities, assume they are just lucky or vigilant and the serious problems must be in other jurisdictions. The officers in the other jurisdictions, also unable find it, assume the same.
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 commonalties. 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 seem to 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.
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 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 of 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.
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]. [NOTE: Monograph is available in PDF format through the link given -- flr]
---- (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]. [NOTE: The monograph is available in PDF format through the link offered -- flr]
---- (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 Dispute
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.
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 fou