Opinion Piece Submitted to the San Diego Union-Tribune
by Ellen Lacter, Ph.D. on 9-29-2000
Mark Sauer’s 9-24-00 article, “A Web of Intrigue”, in the San Diego Union-Tribune is his most recent in a series of articles misrepresenting the facts on the subject of child ritual abuse and attacking advocates for ritual abuse victims. His articles have, over the past 10 years, contributed to convincing a good portion of the San Diego community that ritual abuse does not exist. This has had a devastating impact on victimized children and adults, resulting in their not being believed and reduced protection by law enforcement and the courts.
Sauer’s factual misrepresentations of 9-24-00 are as follows:
1. Sauer claims the debate over satanic ritual abuse ended in the mid-1990’s when it was “discredited by mental-health experts and the courts”. The truth is that psychological and legal evidence of the existence of satanic ritual abuse is substantial and that the debate is alive and well.
A review of the empirical evidence of ritual abuse can be found in a book by James Randall Noblitt and Pamela Sue Perskin (Cult and Ritual Abuse, 2000, Chapter 6). One national survey of 2709 clinical psychologists showed that 30% claimed to have seen at least one case of “ritualistic or religion-based abuse” and 93% of these psychologists believed the harm actually occurred (Reference: Goodman, Qin, Bottoms, and Shaver, 1994, “Characteristics and Sources of Allegations of Ritualistic Child Abuse: Final Report to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect”).
The American Psychiatric Press published a text in 1997 explaining the importance of correct assessment and treatment of ritualistic abuse survivors (The Dilemma of Ritual Abuse: Cautions and Guides for Therapists, edited by G.A. Fraser).
Numerous court decisions (criminal, family, juvenile, and civil) have been based on findings of ritual abuse. For example, on February 27, 1999, the Honorable Warren K. Urbom, Senior United States District Judge, Omaha, Nebraska, awarded a million dollar civil judgement to Paul Bonacci against Larry King (not the well-known talk-show host, Larry King), based on King’s sexual abuse (including pornography and orgies) and false imprisonment, of Bonacci as a child, in the infamous Franklin satanic cult/sex/drug ring case. Further information on this case can be found in the book, “The Franklin Cover-Up”, by John De Camp, and on the Internet at: http://www.stansolomon.com/gundrsn02.htm
The court finding list is archived, periodically updated, and published on the world-wide web by “Karen Curio Jones”. Under this pseudonym, “Jones” has devoted herself to raising public awareness of child ritual abuse on the Internet for the past five years. Sauer claims to expose “Jones'” identity in his 9-24-00 article.
Sauer globally denies the existence of satanic ritual abuse while our recent history is marred with undeniable cases of mass suicide/homicide by other kinds of cults and underground groups. This past summer, almost 1000 people were found murdered by an underground cult in Uganda, “Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God”. Last year, in Rancho Sante Fe, 39 people suicided from the cult, “Heaven’s Gate”. In Jonestown, 22 years ago, more than 900 people mass-suicided and were murdered of “The People’s Temple”. Devastating world events originate in underground groups, such as the Third Reich and Ku Klux Klan. High school students are taught to remember the Nazi death camps lest such atrocities repeat themselves. Given these examples, why does Sauer turn a blind eye to the evidence of satanic cult abuse?
2. Sauer cites the McMartin Pre-school acquittals as evidence that ritual abuse does not exist. He omits any mention of the post-trial geological survey under the school’s foundation that yielded convincing corroboration of the children’s reports of being taken through underground tunnels (See “The Dark Tunnels of McMartin”, by Summit, R.C., 1994, The Journal of Psychohistory, 21(4), 397-416.)
3. Sauer cites the “10-year investigation” by Special FBI Agent Ken Lanning that concluded that satanic ritual abuse does not exist. Sauer fails to mention that Lanning is a very controversial figure. Noblitt and Perskin (2000, see above) state: “In reality, there is no such study… my office contacted the FBI and requested a copy of the alleged study. The bureau responded in writing indicating that no such study existed.” (See page 179 of their book).
4. Sauer refers to the 1991-1992 San Diego County Grand Jury “that blasted the child protection system after investigating wide-ranging allegations of zealous social workers removing children from their homes without cause”. Sauer has widely publicized the findings of that Grand Jury over the years. Sauer fails to mention the 1992-1993 San Diego County Grand Jury Report that strongly criticized the 1991-1992 report as not being “in the best interest of threatened children”, as misrepresenting facts, and as having caused a dramatic decline in the number of children removed from abusive and neglectful homes in San Diego County, while these numbers climbed in other California counties. The latter report also cites preliminary evidence of an increase in infants’ and children’s deaths caused by abuse and neglect in San Diego County following the former Grand Jury report, although the numbers were too small for statistical analysis. Sauer has failed to draw media attention to the second Grand Jury report over the years. Such is an unconscionable omission.
5. Sauer sympathetically portrays Carol Hopkins, one of the leaders of the 1991-1992 Grand Jury. Sauer fails to mention that Hopkins was a member and central figure of that Grand Jury, denounced by the 1992-1993 Grand Jury for increasing the risk to children and misrepresenting the facts on child abuse.
Carol Hopkins created what she called “the Justice Committee”. Under these vague auspices, Hopkins interjected herself into the Wenatchee, Washington sex ring case to organize multiple protests on behalf of parents convicted of sex crimes against their own and other children, including an apple boycott of Washington in 1995 and a candlelight vigil in Salem, Massachusetts in 1997.
After the apple boycott, Hopkins obtained guardianship in her San Diego home of “Sam” Doggett, teen-age daughter of Mark and Carol Doggett, both convicted at trial in the Wenatchee case. Moving a child from Washington to the San Diego home of someone attempting to overturn the parents’ convictions is a dangerous conflict of interest. Sauer documented in a San Diego Union-Tribune article on 6-18-96 that once “Sam” Doggett resided with Hopkins, 17-year-old Doggett joined Hopkins, Akiki and others in multiple media events, claiming her parents were innocent and touting the positions of Hopkins’ “Justice Committee”. The convictions of Mark and Carol Doggett were later successfully overturned.
6. Sauer also glorifies Elizabeth Loftus as “an internationally known expert on the workings of memory”. Sauer writes that Loftus “has testified for the defense in many trials (including the Akiki case), explaining how memories – especially those of young children – can be manipulated, even by well-meaning people”. Sauer neglects to explain that Loftus and the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation”, with which she has been affiliated, have come under serious attack from numerous psychologists and organizations. A formal complaint was lodged with the American Psychological Association (APA) in December, 1995, against Loftus alleging that she deliberately misrepresented facts in her published statements about two legal cases involving delayed memories, a serious breach of professional ethics. Loftus resigned from the APA a month later, claiming her resignation was unrelated to the complaint.
7. Sauer writes that “Loftus said she recently was invited to deliver the keynote address at a convention of the New Zealand Psychology Society and arrived to find herself the center of controversy. Accusations that she conspires to protect child molesters, many fueled by Curio’s [“Jones'”] Internet postings, led to a story in the Wellington Evening Post and stoked the talk-show fires.” Sauer is attempting to paint “Jones”, a small player, as the source of high-profile Loftus’ long-term high-profile problems. Essentially all specialists in child abuse and memory research are aware of the controversy surrounding Elizabeth Loftus.
8. Sauer portrays Michael Aquino as an innocent victim of “Karen Curio Jones”. Michael Aquino founded the “Temple of Set”, which Sauer characterizes as “a quasi-religious institution that many consider satanic”. This clearly evades the truth. In the Winter of 1989-1990, the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning, under Governor Pete Wilson, published a Research Update (Volume 1, Number 6) which states: “Founded in 1975 by a dissident member of the Church of Satan, Michael Aquino, the Temple of Set is the second largest of all contemporary organized Satanic churches. The Temple of Set is a religious society dedicated to Set, the ancient Egyptian god believed by some to be the model for the Christian Satan. Aquino’s many writings, especially The Book of Coming Forth by Night, develops a sophisticated form of Satanism far beyond that of LaVey’s Church. Among its teachings is the belief that Judeo-Christian religions have established Satan as a “straw man” to justify their guilt for man’s ejection from the Garden of Eden. Not much more is known about Setians as the society is secret and most of its writings are not available to the public at large” (p. 17).
Sauer writes, “In the late 1980s, Aquino was investigated in a McMartin/Akiki-type case centering on allegations of satanic abuse at a day-care center at San Francisco’s Presidio military base” and “Aquino, who was a lieutenant colonel, was questioned because of his satanic beliefs”. To dismiss the Presidio case as unfounded, Sauer places it in the same category of the two other cases he already discredited. He then expresses sympathy for Aquino because his satanic beliefs may have raised the suspicions of the investigators. Sauer ignores that satanic practices have been found to be an element in many cases of convicted child abuse.
Sauer omits important evidence of Aquino’s involvement in the Presidio case. The United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) stated that Michael Aquino was the subject of an investigation for sexual child abuse and related crimes in the Presidio case (www.illusions.com/opf/aquino02.htm). Aquino brought an action against Secretary Michael Stone of the Army to remove his name from the title block of that investigation. The 1991 Appellate decision of the United States District Court allowed the title block to stand, finding that: “The facts in the administrative record support the conclusion that the CID decision not to remove plaintiff’s [Aquino’s] name from the title block was not arbitrary or capricious. There was sufficient evidence from which the Army decision maker could determine that probable cause existed to believe that the plaintiff committed the offenses”. (reference: Aquino vs. Stone 768 F.Supp. 529).
Sauer includes a quote by Aquino portraying him as a concerned husband/father threatened by the Internet postings of “Karen Curio Jones”; “My basic interest was to identify an anonymous person who, because of his/her obsessions and delusions, might pose a threat to the safety of myself and my family.”
What is the likelihood that Aquino, a man who has publicly exposed himself as a Satanist, considers “Jones” a threat to his safety and family vs. Aquino being motivated to silence “Jones” through a law suit? Sauer omits reference to Aquino’s highly publicized law suit against an Internet service provider (www5.electriciti.com/curious/) that threatens first amendment freedom of speech. Why does Sauer align himself with this well-known satanist?
9. Sauer paints “Jones” as a dangerous “cyberstalker”, yet quotes Detective Susan McCrary about “Jones”: “She hasn’t made any physical threats. Everything’s been done in a public forum” (San Diego State Police Department (SDSU). Sauer paints Loftus, Hopkins, Aquino, and others as “Jones'” innocent victims. Yet, one need not dig very deeply into Sauer’s article to discover otherwise.
Michelle Devereaux is a woman who Sauer claims believed she was abused by a satanic cult for eight or nine years, until 1999. Sauer’s article extols Devereaux’s high-tech “cybersleuth” efforts to track down “Jones”. This included Devereaux rigging her computer to monitor the Internet to page her every time “Jones” posted, tracking “Jones” from San Francisco to San Diego, and the use of a lap-top computer with a hidden camera, a telephoto lens, and long-range monocular, to catch “Jones” posting at SDSU. Sauer is also non-critical of Devereaux’s plan to “spook” “Jones” to get her to run to her car from the library to photograph her license plate.
Why does Sauer laud these stalking-like tactics of Devereaux? Devereaux is not law enforcement. Why does he side-step Devereaux’s encroachment of “Jones'” constitutional rights to privacy and free speech? Sauer has availed himself for 10 years of these first amendment rights in his effort to discredit abused children and adult survivors.
10. Sauer writes that Jones ignored his requests to interview her for his article and that “whatever motivates her remains pretty much a secret”.
It is no surprise that “Jones” refused an interview with Sauer. I would too. Anyone with knowledge of Sauer’s slanted reporting on child abuse issues will refuse an interview with him. His articles have always aimed to discredit advocates of ritual abuse victims rather than to represent both sides of the story.
11. Sauer refers to quotes by Aquino and Hopkins in an effort to portray “Jones” as deluded. Sauer writes that Aquino said; “Now that this person has been identified, that ‘faceless’ threat no longer exists. She is now just another woman with ‘satanic ritual-abuse’ sexual fantasies.” Sauer writes that Hopkins likens “Jones” to “the mythical Japanese soldier stumbling out of the jungle still fighting World War II.” Sauer’s representation of “Jones” in this manner and reliance on these suspect sources for his psychological opinions of “Jones” raises important questions about his motives.
Under the guise of objective reporting, Sauer has used his 9-24-00 article to launch a personal assault on “Karen Curio Jones” and her advocacy for victims of ritual abuse. He writes; “Who is Curio and why is she saying such nasty things about us [emphasis added] on the Internet?” “Us” represents Sauer, Hopkins, Loftus, and Aquino. An 8-20-98 San Diego Reader article, “The Memory Wars” describes a social relationship between Sauer, Hopkins, and Loftus. Should Sauer publish an ostensibly objective newspaper article when he feels personally attacked by one of the players and is on a friendly basis with her opponents? He abuses his power as a reporter in doing so.
Why hasn’t there been a community uproar about Sauer’s long-term misrepresentations of the facts?
It is my opinion that the media campaign of Sauer and Jim Okerblom, a previous Union-Tribune writer who also wrote a number of articles discrediting victims of ritual abuse, and the related media campaign of the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation”, have succeeded in intimidating and silencing most local medical and mental health providers treating ritual abuse victims, public agencies designated to protect children, protective parents of child victims, and adult survivors. I base this opinion on my long-term affiliation with professionals working with abused children, including law enforcement, mental health practitioners, child protection workers, and attorneys. These professionals have anticipated media attacks from Sauer and Okerblom and lawsuits by the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation” whenever they speak on the existence of ritual abuse or pursue legal remedies on behalf of its victims.
This letter is likely to result in Sauer publishing an attack on my professionalism in the San Diego Union-Tribune, threatening my credibility, safety, license to practice, and livelihood. Civil suits of libel against me by Mark Sauer or the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation” are also very likely. Most practitioners do not want to expose themselves to these risks. Practitioners who have come under attack have stopped treating ritual abuse victims, changed fields, or retired early. As a consequence, victims of ritual abuse have great difficulty finding therapists to help them.
It is my opinion that the local media campaign of the past 10 years, driven largely by Sauer and Okerblom, has contributed to turning much public opinion against the plight of abused children in San Diego. Also affected are professionals who have relied on Sauer and Okerblom as a reliable source of objective information without researching the literature in their fields. I also believe there has been reduced reporting of child ritual abuse to law enforcement and child protection by health and mental health professionals due to fear of law suits and complaints to licensing boards. This has had a devastating impact, including reduced protection of abused children by law enforcement, social services, and the courts.
Adult victims and protective parents of ritually abused children tend not to view law enforcement as a resource based on a fear of not being taken seriously or being seen as delusional, and feeling vulnerable to retaliation by abusers without protection by the police or courts. Family law attorneys counsel parents to not even raise allegations of ritual abuse in Family Court based on the expectation of an incredulous or hostile response by the court. District attorneys attempt to omit evidence of ritual abuse in child abuse cases for fear that the issue will destroy their case.
Although victims of ritual abuse are the hardest hit, victims of non-ritualistic child abuse have also been discredited in San Diego by Sauer’s media campaign and by the campaign of the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation” nationally. At the same time, “Believe the Children”, an organization that advocated for abused children, was sued into nonexistence. What should we tell our children to do if they are abused? Who will believe them?
Why am I willing to take this public position? A number of victims of ritual abuse have come through my office door. I have been touched by their trauma more deeply than anything I have ever encountered. Therapists maintain objectivity in making treatment decisions. But therapists also genuinely care about the suffering of their clients and of people in general. My commitment is fueled by their suffering. I can not and will not turn my back on these victims.
Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, California
Mark Sauer’s Article of 9-24-2000 is on the Internet at:
Click on Archives, then search for “A Web of Intrigue”.
Click on “A Web of Intrigue” to read his article.