Satanic Cults' Ritual Abuse of Children: Horror or Hoax?

By Victor, Jeffrey S. | USA TODAY, November 1993 | Go to article overview

Satanic Cults' Ritual Abuse of Children: Horror or Hoax?


Victor, Jeffrey S., USA TODAY


THOUSANDS of psychiatric patients are claiming to have been tortured and sexually abused when they were children by secret groups of Satan worshippers. Most state that the ritual abusers included their parents. These individuals are supported by hundreds of psychotherapists, who assert that they have discovered an immense criminal conspiracy, whose members include powerful and prominent people in this country and elsewhere. The enigma of these testimonials has ignited heated controversy in scientific and law enforcement circles.

As yet, there is no national data on the extent of these satanic ritual abuse (SRA) testimonials. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a recently formed organization of parents, whose adult offspring maintain that they have recovered "repressed memories" of childhood sexual abuse, has done a survey of its over 3,000 member families. Its preliminary findings indicate that 20% of the adult children say they have been tortured in Satanic rituals.

A group of psychologists at the State University of New York at Buffalo carried out a survey of a national sample of clinical psychologists, asking if they had encountered any cases of "ritual abuse." It found that about 800 therapists (30% of the sample) had at least once, and that the total number of cases were over 5,700. It would appear that there is a much more widespread phenomenon than a mere handful of deluded mental patients and their psychiatric advocates.

There are two conflicting explanations of SRA testimonials. One holds that they are evidence of a massive, secret criminal conspiracy, which sexually abuses kids in order to brainwash them into the ideology of Satan worship. Proponents include some of America's most prominent psychotherapists, particularly many of those specializing in treating multiple personality and other dissociative disorders. Other supporters of the conspiracy explanation include local law enforcement officials, members of organizations fighting religious cults that attract youth, and Protestant fundamentalist groups opposing perceived threats to family values.

Proponents of the conspiracy explanation offer varying descriptions of it. In brief, they maintain that there exists a secret network of criminals motivated by Satan worship and who engage in the pornography business, forced prostitution, and drug dealing. Their ritual torture and sexual abuse of children is done to "program" youngsters to reverse good and evil. In their Satan-worshipping rituals, these criminals sometimes kill and sacrifice infants born to impregnated "breeders" and commit cannibalism with the body parts. Sometimes, they kidnap runaway youths for ritual sacrifice and commit random murders of indigents.

Many individuals assert that Satanists have infiltrated all the institutions of society in order to subvert the social order and create moral chaos. Some even suggest that this Satanic cult conspiracy can be traced back many centuries. These claims are reminiscent of past conspiracy theories aimed at imagined internal enemies of the moral order of society, such as witches, Jews, and communists.

The alternative explanation is that SRA testimonials are a product of a contemporary legend, which has been accepted by many unskeptical therapists. They, in turn, affirm the legend stories in their encounters with their painfully confused patients. Supporters of this explanation suggest that believing therapists prompt their patients' memories and delusions. In a nutshell, they regard SRA testimonials as a hoax, albeit one that is not deliberate. Proponents of the contemporary legend theory include some skeptical psychotherapists, psychologists who do research on memory, sociologists who study collective behavior, and scholars of folklore and pop culture.

In the absence of any external corroborating evidence for SRA testimonials, what kind of proof convinces proponents of the Satanic criminal conspiracy explanation? …

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