By Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D., (updated on 2-11-2008)
Psychological and legal evidence of the existence of ritual abuse is substantial and rapidly growing.
The psychological literature supports that ritualistic abuse is a real phenomenon that must be correctly assessed and treated (Belitz, & Schacht, 1992; Bernet & chang, 1997; Bloom, 1994; Boat, 1991; Boyd, 1991; Brown, 1994; Clark, 1994; Clay, 1996; Coleman, 1994; Comstock, 1991; Comstock & Vickery, 1992; Cook, 1991; Coons, 1997; Cozolino, 1989, 1990; Crabtree, 1993; deMause, 1994; Driscoll & Wright, 1991; Edwards, 1990; Ehrensaft, 1992; Faller, 1994; Feldman, 1993; Fine, 1989; Finkelhor, Williams, & Burns, 1988; Fraser, 1990, 1991, 1993a, 1993b 1997a, 1997b; Friesen, 1991, 1992, 1993; Gallagher, 2001; Gonzalez, Waterman, Kelly, McCord, & Oliveri, 1993; Golston, 1993; Gonzalez, Waterman, Kelly, McCord, & Oliveri, 1993; Goodman, Quas, Bottoms, Qin, Shaver, Orcutt, & Shapiro, 1997; Goodwin, 1993; Goodwin, 1994; Goodwin, Hill, & Attias, 1990; Gould, 1992, 1995; Gould & Cozolino, 1992; Gould & Graham-Costain, 1994; Gould & Neswald, 1992; Graves, 1989; Greaves, 1992; Groenendijk &van der Hart, 1995; Hammond, 1992; Harvey, 1993; Hendrickson, McCarty & Goodwin, 1990; Hill & Goodwin, 1989; Hornstein, 1991; Hudson, 1990, 1991; Ireland & Ireland, 1994; Jones, 1991; Jonker & Jonker-Bakker, 1991; Jonker & Jonker-Bakker, I., 1997; Kelley, 1989; King & Yorker, 1996; Kinscherff & Barnum, 1992; Kluft, 1988, 1989a,1989b, 1994, 1995; La Fontaine, 1993; Lawrence, Cozolino, & Foy, 1995; Leavitt, 1994; Leavitt & Labott, 1998; Lockwood, 1993; Lloyd, 1992; MacHovec, 1992; Mandell & Schiff, 1993; Mangen, 1992; Mayer, 1991; McCulley, 1994; McFarland & Lockerbie, 1994; McFayden, Hanks, & James, 1993; Moriarty, 1991, 1992; Neswald & Gould, 1993; Neswald, Gould, & Graham-Costain, 1991; Noblitt, 1995; Noblitt & Perskin, 2000; Nurcombe & Unutzer, 1991; Oksana, 1994, 2001; Paley, 1992; Rockwell, 1994, 1995; Rose, 1996; Ross, 1995; Ryder, 1992; Sachs, 1990; Sakheim & Devine, 1992b; Sakheim, 1996; Scott, 1993; Scott, 2001; Sinason, 1994; Sinason, 2005; Smith, C. 1998; Smith, M. 1993; Smith & Pazder, 1981; Snow & Sorenson, 1990; Stafford, 1993; Steele, H., 2003; Steele, K., 1989; Stratford, 1993; Summit, 1994; Tamarkin, 1994a, 1994b; Tate, 1991; Uherek, 1991; Valente, 1992; Van Benschoten, 1990; van der Hart, 1993;Vesper, 1991; Waterman, Kelly, Olivieri, McCord, 1993; Weir & Wheatcroft, 1995; Williams, 1991; Wong & McKeen, 1990; Woodsum, 1998; Young, 1992; Young, 1993; Young, Sachs, Braun, & Watkins, 1991; Young & Young, 1997; Youngson, 1993). (These references are included below. Most are publications in peer-reviewed journals).
A recent review of the empirical evidence of ritual abuse is included in a book by Noblitt and 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 (Goodman, Qin, Bottoms, & Shaver, 1994). Noblitt reports that, “In a survey of the membership of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation, [Nancy] Perry concluded that 88% of 1185 respondents reported belief in ritual abuse, involving mind control and programming” (Paper presented at the 40th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, Fort Worth, Texas, March 18, 1998, adapted from Noblitt, 1998; Accessing Dissociated Mental States, referring to Perrys findings published in the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation Newsletter, 1992, p. 4).
Updates of the empirical evidence of ritual abuse will appear in the soon-to-be-released book, “Ritual Abuse in the Twenty-first Century:
Psychological, Forensic, Social and Political Considerations” (2008), edited by James Randall Noblitt, Ph.D. & Pamela Sue Perskin.
Numerous court decisions (criminal, family, juvenile, and civil) have been based on findings of ritual abuse. One list entitled, “The Satanism and Ritual Abuse Archive”, by Diana Napolis, is published on the world-wide web at:
http://endritualabuse.org/evidence/satanism-and-ritual-abuse-archive/ This archive contains 92 cases as of February 12, 2008. In one notable civil case, the Honorable Warren K. Urbom, Senior United States District Judge, Omaha, Nebraska, awarded a million dollar judgement on February 27, 1999 to Paul Bonacci, based on sexual abuse (including pornography and
orgies) and false imprisonment of Bonacci as a child, in the infamous Franklin ritual cult/sex/drug ring case. This case is discussed in depth in John De Camps 1994 book, “The Franklin Cover-Up”. Numerous important cases are still to be added to the archive, including the 2006 criminal conviction of Father Gerald Robinson for the ritualistic murder in 1980 of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl.
An other interesting case involving possible ritual abuse just appeared in the news in January, 2008. Lawrence Douglas Harris, Sr., was charged with first-degree murder of his step-daughters in Sioux City, Iowa.
Court documents state that Harris told police he “had been casting a spell that had gone bad, and that the spell could have had severe consequences.” No other detail is available at present.
The post-trial geological survey under the McMartin preschool’s foundation yielded convincing corroboration of the children’s reports of being taken through underground tunnels beneath the school to get to abusive rituals (see: “The Dark Tunnels of McMartin”, Summit, R.C., http://www.geocities.com/kidhistory/mcmartin.htm ). The media widely portrayed the allegations of ritual abuse at the McMartin preschool as having resulted from therapists and investigators using poor interview techniques with the children. The geological survey argues otherwise.
A good deal more information on ritual abuse would be available if it were not for the secrecy preserved by the organized criminal groups that commit this abuse, the profound fear of disclosure among victims (Fraser; 1997b; Young & Young, 1997), and the abusers’ skilled use of torture to cause their victims to become highly dissociative and generally amnestic for their abuse.
Proponents of the position that memories of ritual abuse are false or grossly exaggerated, e.g., the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, were a strong international political force in suppressing the reality of ritual abuse beginning in the mid-1990’s. They launched an aggressive media campaign and lobbied legislators, asserting their position that individuals reporting ritual abuse were influenced to believe they were ritually abused by negligent or malpracticing psychotherapists and by a social climate of “moral panic” and “mass hysteria”. This led to considerable influence on public opinion and considerable presence in the courts, particularly in malpractice claims against therapists and investigators.
This media campaign and hostile legal climate influenced many law enforcement officials receiving reports of ritual abuse, and many physicians and psychotherapists hearing disclosure of ritual abuse, to be very skeptical of accounts of ritual abuse, and to tend to stigmatize reporting individuals as delusional, schizophrenic, or otherwise seriously mentally ill. Physicians and therapists who believe that their patients have trauma based in ritual abuse are often very guarded about divulging this clinical data, making reports of such abuse to law enforcement and child protection, sharing their findings with their colleagues, and writing about treating trauma from ritual abuse. All of this results in tremendous suppression of this information (Brown, Scheflin, & Hammond, 1998; Coons, 1997; Whitfield, Silberg, & Fink, 2002; Young & Young, 1997). This is the basis for the sharp reduction in publications about ritual abuse in the mid 1990s to the present.
There are recent indications that the tide is beginning to turn. Two professional psychology books that address ritual abuse in depth have just been accepted for publication, and are expected to be released by mid-2008. These are, “Ritual Abuse in the Twenty-first Century:
Psychological, Forensic, Social and Political Considerations” (2008), edited by James Randall Noblitt, Ph.D. & Pamela Sue Perskin, Oregon:
Robert D. Reed Publishers, and, “Forensic Aspects of Dissociative Identity Disorder” (2008), edited by Adah Sachs and Graeme Galton.
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