Advocating for Ritualistically Abused Children

By Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D.

Published in the July 1, 2002, issue of
The CALAPT Newsletter

Most of you reading this column know me as Immediate Past President of the California Association for Play Therapy (CALAPT), a Registered Play Therapist and Supervisor, academic coordinator of University of California-San Diego-Extension’s Play Therapy Certificate Program, a psychologist specializing in the treatment of trauma, and a frequent contributor to CALAPT conferences and newsletters.

Over the past eight years, I have become increasingly involved in the problem of ritualistic abuse, as a treating psychologist, researcher, and victim advocate. I have conducted in-depth interviews with numerous survivors and experts. Reluctantly and with much sadness, I have been forced to recognize this problem as widespread. Child and adult victims often receive psychotherapy for years, with their ritualistic abuse undetected. My mission is to share some of the painful knowledge I have acquired, to help all of us more quickly discern the truth and provide the proper treatment to these hurt children and adults.

My clinical experience, and interviews with many other survivors and experts, indicate that Satanism and witchcraft are the two most common belief systems in North America associated with the perpetration of sexual and physical abuse of children and adults in spiritually-involved rituals. I will provide a thumbnail explanation of these sects.

Satanism is a theology hundreds of years old based on an inversion of Judao-Christian beliefs. Experts I have interviewed with a larger clinical database than mine explain that Satanists have predicted for hundreds of years that at the end of the last millennium, Satan would usurp God’s position, rule the universe, and his loyal followers would be resurrected. None of this happened. Cult leaders are now scrambling to explain this failure and to maintain their hold of fear over their subjects. Victims are finding new strength to try to escape their cults. Satanists indulge in numerous paraphilias, e.g., pedophilia, zoophilia, and sexual sadism. They torture and sacrifice themselves, others, and animals, to gain power, transfer power, and to strengthen and share in the power of Satan and demons.

Witchcraft is a practice with more ancient historical derivations than Satanism, tracing its roots back to fertility cults across the globe. Generally, male abuser groups worship male fertility gods and despise women and girls; female abuser groups worship fertility goddesses and despise men and boys (This analysis is based on my interviews with survivors of these sects and with experts with larger databases than mine). Inflicting sexual pain and sacrifice to the opposite sex is a component of each sex’s worship of its fertility deities. (Sexually rivalrous abusive witch cults should not be confused with neo-pagan Wicca, which promotes harmony between the sexes.) Abusive witch cults seek to attach demons, witch spirits, claims, curses, etc., through the transfer of body fluids (other means are also used) in rituals involving extreme physical and sexual torture and human and animal sacrifice. For hundreds of years, abusive witchcraft groups predicted they would rule male world leaders before the turn of the last millennium. As with Satanism, that date passed without event, weakening witchcraft’s foundation and subsequently its hold of fear over its victims.

Whether ritualistic abuse occurs within Satanism or witchcraft, there are a number common denominators to their practices and effects on their victims:

1. Most victims of abuse within Satanism and witchcraft have been born into families with at least one parent’s lineage engaging in these practices for generations. These groups perceive bloodlines to carry power. Trusted authority figures (church, daycare, school, and health officials) also recruit children from non-cult families. Preschool children are usually targeted because their minds are more easily dissociated and controlled than older individuals.

2. “Dabblers”, adolescent and adult individuals not raised in these groups, may gravitate to the symbols and practices of Satanism and witchcraft to express anger, feel more powerful, or satisfy sadistic and sexual interests, but often with no connection to the organized groups and their theological underpinnings.

3. Perpetrators of ritualistic abuse are often more psychologically than “spiritually” motivated. Rage, sadism, power, and sexual deviance, usually originating in their own histories of severe abuse, are often strong motivators.

4. Organized satanic and witch groups put comparable effort into torturing children to create dissociated identities who are subservient to the cult, and “programming” them to never re-associate or disclose their ritual trauma, as they put into conducting the spiritually motivated abusive rituals themselves.

5. Victims of sophisticated abuser groups often have hundreds of personalities, including a host personality with no conscious knowledge of the middle-of-the-night personalities who have ongoing involvement in the abuser group.

6. All victims have been forced to perpetrate against others, usually since early childhood. All perpetrators are victims of severe abuse. Keeping this in mind is critical in treating survivors. Black-white or evil-good frameworks feed into survivors’ fears that they are irredeemably evil.

7. These groups are intricately connected to large underground organized crime groups, and profit from sales of child pornography and snuff films, child prostitution, and international abduction and sales of children and women for sexual exploitation.

How have I arrived at these conclusions? How do I know they are not be based on “false memories”? In my work as a clinician, researcher, and advocate, I have had a number of profound experiences that have led me to have to accept these painful truths. I will present some of my experiences here, with all identifying information carefully disguised to protect the victims:

1. I have personally witnessed survivors of ritualistic abuse corroborate each other’s stories in numerous ways, including correct identification of photographs of perpetrators and victims from photo-lineups (double-blind method), matching descriptions of specific ritual ceremonies, corroboration of paraphernalia used in specific ritual ceremonies, and an adult survivor and family member of a child victim discussing a specific location, familiar to both, where the cult stored its child pornography.

2. I have witnessed preschool children spontaneously portray acts of ritualistic abuse, such as a toddler wrapping a rope twice around her neck and pulling up, and hearing an other small child singing about marrying a demon.

3. I have heard preschool children describe events and objects consistent with ritual practices and completely alien to normal experience. For example, a 4-year-old child explained to me that the “bad people” killed a baby rabbit and then all drank its blood from a cup. Just as I was thinking about how much blood could possibly come from a baby rabbit, the child continued, “and they added water to it”.

4. The clinical pictures of these clients are completely consistent with long-term torture. Both child and adult victims are more terrified, more hypervigilant, have more hyper-acute hearing, take longer to establish trust in a therapist, are more dissociative, have more physical problems, and require more psychiatric hospitalizations, than other abuse victims.

5. These victims have an enormous “price to pay” for making disclosures of their abuse, not seen to this degree in other survivors, including self-harm, suicidality, migraines, other extreme physical pain, and impulses to quit therapy or suddenly re-locate away from the therapist.

6. I have witnessed adult survivors reporting abuse by an organized group using Aryan symbols (e.g., swastikas and films of concentration camp victims) reveal very similar complex “codes” to “undo” the commands installed by these groups.

7. And finally and most convincingly, I observed my consultant on mind control and ritual abuse write a fifteen-digit code related to the client’s mind control programming immediately before the client said it out loud. My consultant had not spent a moment with the client alone, and the client did not know the consultant wrote anything because the client’s face was buried in his arm in fear. How did the consultant know the code? He had already disabled the same mind control program from 11 people from all across our country abused by the same organized abuser group.

What does all of this mean to child therapists?

Keep your eyes and heart and mind open.

Ritualistically abused children and adults are usually misdiagnosed for years as psychotic and delusional, due to their reports of hearing voices and extreme state of fear. The voices belong to dissociated personalities and to spirits and demons they perceive as having been attached to them during ritual ceremonies. Their fears are trauma-based. Once their Dissociative Identity Disorder is correctly diagnosed, a few more years tend to pass before the ritualistic component of their abuse is identified. The discovery of sophisticated mind control programming, if present, comes still later. I know of a case in which a whole family “successfully” completed a long-term program for incest offenders, victims, and non-offending parents, were then “successfully” reunited, and were two years later identified as a prominent family in a thriving Satanic cult by two survivors in their county.

Watch children’s play. Look carefully at your clients’ sand trays. Learn about ritual practices and symbols to recognize them when they are represented. Note unusual statements and behaviors. A comprehensive list of symptoms, behaviors, and play indicators in ritualistically abused children can be found in an article by Attorney Sylvia Lynn Gillotte (see: http://www.iccrt.org/articles.asp?article=15).

Some playroom behaviors I have observed in ritualistically abused children include;

1. The child may be unable to enter the therapy room in the first session, even with a parent or caregiver. The child manifests more intense and enduring fear of the therapist than other abused children.

2. The child may not be capable of imaginative play. A sense of omnipresent danger interferes.

3. Representations of people are not incorporated into play dramas. People cannot be portrayed because all people are seen as too terrifying.

4. If human characterizations are included in play, they become malevolent mid-drama. The concept of a benevolent adult cannot be sustained. Ritualistically abused children usually have multiple frightening perpetrators. If their parents are cult-involved, these parents have multiple personalities; a day-time “normal” personality and night-time cult-involved alters.

5. Children with genuinely protective parents attempt to include and sustain representations of them in their dramas, but these figures also turn malevolent. Deception or mind control are used by cults to sabotage positive relationships, to instill fear of protective parents in children.

6. Ritual trauma is unconsciously reenacted, suddenly surprising and frightening the child

7. The child creates gruesome art depictions associated with ritual practices; e.g., severed limbs, knives, guns, fascination with vampires, devils, Nazi symbols, death.

8. The child destroys toys, due to unregulated fear and anger.

9. The child acts out death, mutilation, burial, being locked in cages or coffins, or being hung.

10. The child attempts to achieve a sense of safety, by gathering multiple weapons, creating multiple barriers, etc., with little success, due to the intensity of fear and terror.

Pay careful attention to physical complaints. Note any injuries or marks. Try to determine if the client’s or parent’s explanation of the cause of these injuries is plausible. Reports of pain or physical sensations may relate to recent abuse or may be the first sign of an emerging memory of an episode of abuse involving pain or stimuli to the body parts abused.

How can you do more?

Read. A good book is Noblitt, J.R. & Perskin, P. (2000). Cult and Ritual Abuse: Its History, Anthropology, and Recent Discovery in Contemporary America; Revised Edition. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Good web-sites to start with are:

Los Angeles County Commission for Women. Report of the Ritual Abuse Task Force: http://www.hugcares.org/ph/ra.htm

Series of 55+ short articles in ritual abuse by a survivor (Svali):
http://209.52.189.2/article.cfm/6554/38241 (Start with “Why the Cult Doesn’t Get Caught” and continue by clicking on; “click next article”)

Svali’s On-line book on “How the Cults Program People”:
http://www.centrexnews.com/columnists/svali/archive.html (Chapters 1-15 at bottom of page)

Talk to colleagues. You will be alarmed at how many of your colleagues have treated one or more cases of ritualistic abuse.

Aside from the survivors themselves, who are mobilizing into a strong self-advocacy force, the responsibility for advocating for victims of ritualistic abuse rests largely with the therapeutic community. Survivors are usually misunderstood by law enforcement, child protection agencies, or the courts. To non-clinicians, the ritual practices they describe sound bizarre, and their dissociative symptoms make them look confused or crazy. In the course of treatment, therapists are the only ones who take the time to listen, to sort out the truth about their reports from perceptual distortions derived from dissociation, fear, and the effects of the abusers’ calculating use of illusion, drugged states, hypnosis, and mind control to create confusion, amnesia, the perception of impossible events, and lack of credibility.

It is time for the therapeutic community to get off the fence and to admit that we believe the accounts of these victims. Lawsuits have intimidated therapists into saying, “It is not what I believe that matters, it is what you believe”. Such statements convey to our clients that it is not important to understand external reality. This can dangerously increase their feelings of derealization (the experience of others and the world as less than real) and depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself, as if in a dream), making them more anxious and destabilized. Dissociative clients need help determining what is real and what is not. We need to serve the vital ego function of offering a consensual “reality check”, not to create more severe dissociation by conveying that reality does not matter!

Every ritualistic abuse survivor I have ever interviewed has expressed a strong need for a therapist who believes that his or her abuse was real. Sensing our empathic belief helps them to reveal to themselves, and entrust in us, the next horrible dissociated truth. Each time we teach therapists to invalidate that these survivors endured their abuse, we reinforce that this absurd position should be our standard of practice. We play into the hands of abusers who are trying to limit exposure of their crimes by boxing therapists into a corner of not supporting their victims.

As psychology instructors, supervisors, and writers, we must teach a more complex truth. The psychological truth: Our clients need us to believe them. This does not mean we validate every perception as real. It means we search together with them for reality, we often live with uncertainty, and we honestly share our opinions about what seems real and what may not be real. Then there is the legal truth: If we express belief in the accounts of our clients, we risk lawsuits and complaints to licensing boards and governing bodies for influencing our clients’ memories.

We are caught in the middle. We must make decisions with both of these considerations in mind based on our evaluation of each situation. But the more we teach the psychological truth, the more the standard of care becomes aligned with psychological goals. The more we advocate making clinical decisions based on avoidance of legal risk, the more the standard of care departs from addressing the psychological needs of our clients, the more tightly we tie our hands as clinicians, and the more we allow law to dictate the practice of psychotherapy.

Therapists must assert that our work will be guided by ethical principles to contribute to the welfare of our clients and to work to mitigate the causes of human suffering (Principle E: “Concern for Other’s Welfare”, and F: “Social Responsibility”, of the Ethical Responsibilities of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, American Psychological Association, 1992, http://www.psychpage.com/ethics/ethicalprinciples.html). We must advocate for legislation and inter-agency protocols to investigate ritualistic crime, protect child victims, and prosecute offenders. Ritualistic abuse survivors have entrusted the truth in us. We must now act upon it.

For Reference:

PRINCIPLE E: CONCERN FOR OTHERS’ WELFARE:

Psychologists seek to contribute to the welfare of those with whom they interact professionally. In their professional actions, psychologists weigh the welfare and rights of their patients or clients, students, supervisees, human research participants, and other affected persons, and the welfare of animal subjects of research. When conflicts occur among psychologists’ obligations or concerns, they attempt to resolve these conflicts and to perform their roles in a responsible fashion that avoids or minimizes harm. Psychologists are sensitive to real and ascribed differences in power between themselves and others, and they do not exploit or mislead other people during or after professional relationships.

PRINCIPLE F: SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY:

Psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live. They apply and make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human welfare. Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of human suffering. When undertaking research, they strive to advance human welfare and the science of psychology. Psychologists try to avoid misuse of their work. Psychologists comply with the law and encourage the development of law and social policy that serve the interests of their patients and clients and the public. They are encouraged to contribute a portion of their professional time for little or no personal advantage

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