Backlash builds over abuse claims the public is no longer buying ritual cases

San Jose Mercury News/June 13, 1994
By Laura Mecoy

Dale Akiki's eyes bulge from a head that is too large for his body. His hair is a woolly mat, his chest is concave and he walks with a limp.

His attorneys and he say his appearance and his limited intellectual abilities, both the result of genetic defects, triggered parental fears that led to dozens of children claiming Akiki sexually molested them and forced them to participate in bizarre rituals during Sunday school classes.

But the disabilities also turned this 36-year-old naval supply worker's case into a "cause celebre" when -- after more than two years in jail and seven months in trial -- a jury quickly acquitted Akiki of 35 abuse charges.

The jury, and a grand jury's harsh criticism of Akiki's prosecution, helped topple California's longest-serving district attorney, San Diego's Ed Miller, in Tuesday's elections.

The veteran prosecutor's defeat is seen as the latest sign that a backlash is brewing against the numerous ritual child-abuse cases that sprang up after the public first heard of satanic rituals at Manhattan Beach's McMartin Preschool in 1984.

Increasing challenges

The public and the media, which largely believed these charges at first, are increasingly challenging claims that large groups of children are being abused by satanists and other cult members who sacrifice animals, kill babies, threaten death and engage in other horrific practices.

"We hope we are the first domino," Kate Coyne, Akiki's public defender, said. "We are cooperating with anyone who asks for our assistance."

Los Angeles psychiatrist Roland Summit, a leading proponent of ritual child-abuse theories, said the public backlash already has caused some district attorneys to shy away from prosecuting such cases.

"It's poison," the Harbor/UCLA Medical Center psychiatrist said. "That is not to say the prosecutions don't occur anymore. . . . These little kid abuse cases in preschools are just not prosecutable. That's not to say it's not true. It's just hard to convince the public."

Casting further doubt on ritual child-abuse charges is the controversy surrounding the "recovered memories" of adults and children who claim to recall sexual abuse long after it occurred.

Therapists contend most ritual child-abuse victims deny the abuse initially and will only reveal it after several counseling sessions. Critics say the lengthy therapy sessions actually create "false" rather than "recovered" memories.

During his trial, Akiki's defenders blamed therapists for the children's recollections of naked sex games, water torture, kidnapping, the sacrifice of an elephant and a giraffe and other bizarre rituals.


Special Agent Ken Lanning, the FBI's top child sexual abuse expert, said several explanations could account for distorted memories, including what he calls "overzealous intervenors."

He said trauma, mental illness, normal childhood fears and fantasies, urban legends and deliberate efforts by offenders to confuse and trick victims could lead children and adults to remember events that never occurred.

Lanning, who initially believed satanic cults were involved in child abuse, said there is "little or no evidence" of the original claims that satanists conspired to infiltrate child-care centers.

Caught in the middle of this ongoing debate over ritual child abuse are the two protagonists in the long-running San Diego case: Akiki, the formerly accused, and Miller, his former accuser.

After 23 years of heading up the San Diego District Attorney's office, Miller had achieved renown among prosecutors and had drawn no opposition in four of his last five re-election campaigns.

That all changed after the Akiki acquittal last November. Four opponents challenged Miller's re-election, and a grand jury issued a report highly critical of the Akiki prosecution.

Investigators never found any physical evidence to corroborate preschoolers' claims that Akiki mutilated and killed animals, used guns and knives to threaten the children, hung the children upside down, dunked their heads in feces-filled toilets and urinated on them.

The children claimed this physical and sexual abuse occurred during the 90 minutes they attended Sunday school classes elsewhere in the building where their parents attended worship services. Yet no parent nor any Sunday school supervisor reported seeing any abuse.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.