Ritual abuse is a psychological, spiritual, sexual or physical torture of a person as part of a ritual in order to satisfy a deity. Ritual abuse is usually a criminal offence in contemporary society. In the United States, there are several state laws which criminalize ritual abuse. These include the laws in California, Idaho and Illinois, passed in the 1990s. As it is often done in secret, there is little hard evidence and statistics about the number of victims of ritual abuse and authenticity of cases described. Children are believed to be most affected by ritual abusive practices.
In the Roman Empire, Christians were suspected of being cannibals (due to a misinterpretation of the communion service), although these practices were abhorrent to them. Later in Europe, Jews were reported to be killing Christian babies. Puritans in the 17th century United States accused innocent people of witchcraft. In contemporary society, groups which are often associated with ritual abuse include Satanists and Voodoo organizations. Others identify sects such as Freemasonry, the Illuminati, the Golden Daw, Rosicrucianists and the Khabbalah of use of ritual abuse, although evidence is often scarce.
Satanic Ritual Abuse, or SRA, mainly aims to please Satan, and can sometime be termed "black magic." The practices include mutilation, killing, cannibalism, drinking of the victim's blood. According to legends, Satanic torture sometimes makes children robot-like. Despite the high profile of Satanic ritual cases and the widespread fear in the United States in the 1980s, psychological therapists claim that Satanic rituals are extremely rare.
Although Satanic Ritual Abuse is thought to be one of the most common forms of religious abuse, the phenomenon exists in most religious movements and sects. Exorcism in Christianity may take the forms of a ritual abuse, especially when believers regard somebody as possessed by devils. In order to remove the evil spirits from his or her body, they may use methods that might be associated with physical or mental abuse.
Contemporary cases of ritual abuse testify about the use of drugs, electric shocks, hypnosis, group rape and live burials. In some denominations, people are refused access to medical care, as prayers are believed to heal the body and the soul, which may also be seen as abuse. Other forms of ritual abuse include even sexual activity. In most cases, children are the easiest victims of ritual abuse because of their lack of power and vulnerability.
Despite its recurrent use as a motif in movies and books, ritual abuse is not so common in reality. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) found in the 1980s that the authorities earmark $200 million for the combat and search for Satanic groups which in the end turn out to be nonexistent. Other studies carried out in America and the Netherlands give evidence that ritual abuse is not a major social problem.
The ritual abuse panic in the United States was to a certain extent triggered by a 1980 book, entitled Michelle Remembers, written by Michelle Smith and her husband Lawrence Pazder. The book claimed to be an autobiography of a woman with repressed memories of Satanic ritual abuse during her childhood. Pazder, a Canadian psychiatrist, was attributed the credits for coining the term ritual abuse. Later, the book was discredited by several investigations. However, its popularity encouraged the surge of reports about ritual abuse cases.
In response to the strong interest in society, a 1991 U.S. government-commissioned report sought to obtain trustworthy data of ritual abuse of children. The study was based on interviews with 10,000 therapists, social workers and police officers. The results of the survey detected some examples of ritual abuse in families. Such cases included violence through exorcism and even incest. However, the study reassured the general public that such cases were very rare.
However, it seems that legend, fiction and Hollywood are somewhat more powerful than the U.S. government's more measured attempts to assess levels of ritual abuse. One poll showed that 90 percent of adults in Utah believed that Satanic ritual abuse was a fact in their state.