This page was updated by Dr. Lacter on April 12, 2018. The update can be found here:
Legal and Ethical Dilemmas for Psychotherapists in Making Reports to Child Protection and Law Enforcement of Suspected Child Abuse within Ritual Abuse and the Production of Child Rape and Torture Materials
Psychotherapists face many legal and ethical dilemmas when making reports of suspected ritual abuse, or reports against ritually abusive groups, to child protective services (CPS) and law enforcement (LE). Such reports may lead to protection of victims, but they also carry significant risk of harmful outcomes.
I. Suspected Reports of Ritual Abuse of Current Children
In most states in the USA, mental health practitioners are mandated to make a suspected child abuse report (SCAR) when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused, or when an adult client, caregiver, or third party reports to the therapist suspicion of abuse of a minor, that is, a person under 18 years of age. In California, as of 2017, this mandate to report only applies to children (under 18), not to adult clients who were abused as children or to adult clients who participated in the abuse of children who are no longer minors. For more information on state laws on mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect, see: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/manda.pdf .
In some cases, in response to SCARs of alleged ritual abuse, CPS or LE adequately investigate, children are protected, and alleged perpetrators may even be arrested.
However, it is my experience and the experience of many of my colleagues across many professions who deal with these cases that SCARs involving ritualistic elements are generally dismissed as less credible than SCARs that do not reference such elements. Even if ritualistic elements are omitted from the SCAR, if the abusers are well-connected and well-organized, victims are less likely to be protected and there is substantial risk of retaliation against both child victims and adults who made the suspected abuse known to a mandated reporter. These issues and more will now be addressed in more depth.
A. Benefits to Filing SCARs of Suspected Ritual Abuse
Even if a reporting party believes, for the kinds of reasons described in Sections B, C, and D below, that CPS and LE will not protect the children in question if the alleged abusers are involved in ritual abuse or if ritualistic elements are included in a SCAR, reporting parties should consider the following benefits to filing SCARs:
1) Multiple reports draw greater attention from CPS and LE. Prior reports may be on file from teachers, neighbors, healthcare providers, etc., that the therapist or caregiver does not know about. The current SCAR may be the one that makes the difference in protecting a child.
2) SCARs made when abuse is first suspected may later come to the attention of other parties, such as teachers, neighbors, other therapists, etc., who may be encouraged to file SCARs, causing evidence to accumulate.
3) SCARs that come to the attention of ritual abusers may act as a deterrent against further abuse because they know that reports are on record and that the authorities may be monitoring the situation. However, abusers may respond to SCARs with an escalation in torture-conditioning of victims in efforts to ensure that they make no further reports or disclosures, as described in Section C below.
4) If alleged ritual abuse of a child is later investigated by CPS, LE, etc., and the investigators discover that the child’s psychotherapist failed to file a SCAR upon his or her original suspicion of abuse, these investigators may consider the ritual abuse less likely to have occurred.
5) If a protective parent (or other caregiver) fails to inform a child’s psychotherapist of suspected ritual abuse or if the psychotherapist fails to file a SCAR when that parent first suspects abuse, and later, suspicion of abuse comes to the attention of the authorities, that parent may be judged by CPS, LE, or the courts as never having believed that any abuse took place or as having failed to protect the child.
6) Protective parents (and other caregivers) may later participate in legal actions to potentially protect a child victim, such as seeking a petition for a retraining order against an alleged abuser, a family court custody dispute, the criminal prosecution of an accused abuser, a lawsuit against an alleged abuser, etc. If it is discovered within such proceedings that the child’s psychotherapist failed to file a SCAR upon the therapist’s original suspicion of abuse, the therapist’s competence and testimony about the original suspicion of abuse would likely be viewed as less credible.
7) If the custody of the child is being disputed in Family Court, and if one party to the dispute alleges past abuse, but failed to inform a child’s psychotherapist of suspected abuse, or if the psychotherapist failed to file a SCAR based on the parent’s reports and/or the child’s behaviors when the suspicion of abuse first arose, the risk increases that the Family Court will view that parent as fabricating an abuse allegation as a weapon in the custody dispute.
8) When protective parents report ritual abuse of their children to CPS, LE, etc., or otherwise act to protect ritually abused children, they run some risk that CPS, LE, courts, etc., will judge their concerns about ritual abuse to be delusions, will assess them to be schizophrenic, etc., will subject them to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, and may place their children n foster-care. If a psychotherapist previously filed a SCAR of abuse in the case that included ritualistic elements, that parent’s current reports may be taken more seriously by the authorities. If a psychotherapist failed to file a SCAR when that parent first shared concerns about possible ritual abuse with a therapist involved with the case, that parent would be at higher risk for psychiatric commitment and losing custody of her or his children.
9) Psychotherapy clients reporting histories of ritual abuse generally experience deep dread, or at least, great ambivalence about their therapists filing SCARs based on their reports of ritual abuse of now-children.
On the one hand, clients may want their therapist to be a spokesperson for hope, for faith that the systems in place to protect children can work. They may want their therapist to be a person who feels empowered to act vs. immobilized by fear. They may view the therapist as unethical, as not caring about endangered children, if the therapist does not file a SCAR. Clients may believe, or simply hope, that a SCAR may help protect children, and that even if this increases their personal risk, that they should put these children’s interests above their own. I have known survivors who took action to protect now-children knowing full well that they would suffer terrible retaliation in response, and they did.
On the other hand, clients may judge a therapist who files a SCAR against a ritually abusive group, or one that includes ritualistic elements, to be naive to the harsh reality of the power wielded by well-organized well-connected criminal networks. They may have valid reasons to believe that a SCAR will not likely protect any children and may place their own children, loved ones, and other victims at risk of harm or death. They may believe with good reason that their abusers will discover that they were they source of the information included in the SCAR and may retaliate against them with increased torture.
The threat of torture is a high price to pay to file a SCAR that may or may not protect anyone. Torture is unbearable by intent and torturers usually do not afford their victims the option of death.
If we have never experienced torture, we can never fully grasp the degree to which torture, or the threat of torture, controls its victims. As we consider this idea, a reflexive thought may cross our minds: “No, I would resist; I would not give up my will; I would not reveal things that would hurt others; I could never be forced to harm or kill another person.” We need this belief to preserve a sense of self-agency, moral integrity and safety.
However, having listened to accounts of ritual abuse for over 20 years, I have come to believe a much darker truth– it is impossible to maintain one’s free will in the face of torture. Furthermore, extreme forms of torture, such as water-boarding and electric shock, work very quickly. A basic survival response kicks in and the victim submits to the will of the torturer, even when that means that harm will come to others, even if that includes coercing the victim to harm others. Those of us who have been spared do not want to face that we ever could be controlled in this way. Our clients have learned the hard way that they can and were. They have to live with the knowledge and great sorrow that comes with this. And they fear our judgement because they know that we do not want to know what they were forced to learn about themselves.
10) Psychotherapists who are mandated reporters must file a SCAR when they first observe reasonable suspicion of abuse of a child or when they first receive a report of suspected abuse of a child. If they fail to file a SCAR, that is likely to later come to light in a release or subpoena of records, an insurance company audit, a lawsuit or licensing complaint against the therapist, etc. The therapist is criminally and civilly liable for having failed to file a SCAR and could lose his/her license and face criminal charges.
11) The more that psychotherapists as a profession fail to make SCARs that include ritualistic elements or against alleged ritual abusers fro all of the reasons described in sections B, C, and D below, the less CPS and LE will be called upon to investigate ritual abuse, the more it will be swept under the rug, and the more free reign ritual abusers will have to abuse victims. It is my impression that this is exactly what has happened in the last 20 years.
B. Systemic Failures in Response to SCARs of Ritual Abuse
Unfortunately, in my experience, the likelihood of protective action by CPS and LE in response to SCARs related to ritual abuse is low and the risk of negative consequences is high.
Many factors result in inadequate, negligent, negative, sometimes even hostile and punitive, responses by CPS and LE to reports that include elements of suspected ritual abuse. Generally, CPS and LE give reports of suspected ritual abuse less consideration than reports of other kinds of child abuse, or may not investigate at all, for the following reasons:
1) There is generally a lack of hard evidence in cases of ritual abuse because the perpetrators are so skilled in covering their tracks. They use forms of torture that leave no apparent physical evidence. Much of the abuse is done on private property. Some victims were born with no birth record. Homeless people are victimized and are not likely to be reported as missing. Survivors report that when victims are killed, their bodies are disposed of by members of the network who have access to crematoriums, chemicals agents that decompose organic matter, etc.
2) CPS and LE officials rely primarily on their own interviews of children to make their determinations about whether the child was abused. The information provided in the SCAR and follow-up information from a mandated reporter are given relatively little weight. However, ritually abused children have been torture-conditioned to never disclose any of their abuse, especially to the police and child protection investigators. Furthermore, ritual abuse usually includes the deliberate inducement of dissociated identities in victims largely to sequester memories of abuse to submerged dissociated identities, while the “front” identities are trained to appear normal. Victims of extreme abuse are well-practiced in hiding the high levels of fear that are often part of their daily existence. I know of cases in which LE officials investigated and said, “None of the children appear to be fearful.” CPS and LE investigators do not understand that extreme levels of psychological manipulation and fear are inevitable in cases of ritual abuse. They are likely to interpret a lack of abuse disclosures and facade of apparent normalcy as indicative of no abuse and do not give adequate weight to the suspicions described in the SCAR.
3) Few CPS and LE investigators understand that severely abused children typically have dissociated identities (Dissociative Identity Disorder- DID) or may have otherwise dissociated their abuse.
4) If a psychotherapist or other party raises the possibility that a victim may have dissociated identities, investigators are likely to dismiss it as fictitious. Investigators and courts often view DID as in invalid diagnosis, iatrogenic, or malingering.
5) Ritual crimes are so heinous and unthinkable, investigators may dismiss them as untrue based in their own largely unconscious psychological responses.
6) Investigators who are not educated about ritual abuse often view these children as non-credible, mentally ill, or having been coached by their parents or overzealous psychotherapists.
7) If disclosures of ritual abuse of now-children are made in psychotherapy by adult clients and the therapist files a SCAR, or if adult victims or survivors make their own reports, CPS and LE generally dismiss these individuals as crazy, delusional, or schizophrenic, because they usually have DID and many have had prior psychiatric hospitalizations, substance abuse histories, etc.
8) In many cases, CPS and LE officials describe allegations of ritual abuse as “bizarre.” Parties acting to completely dismiss the reality of ritual abuse have use the term “bizarre” to apply to allegations of ritual abuse for 25 years or more. The term rings of sarcasm; it implies that anyone who believes the allegations is ridiculous or insane; and it has a very painful emotional effect on victims, survivors, their psychotherapists, and others who work to support them.
9) A 1992 FBI Report, Investigator’s Guide to Allegations of “Ritual” Child Abuse, by Kenneth V. Lanning of The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, took a skeptical position on ritual abuse. Lanning’s skepticism is clearly reflected in the following statements within his conclusions:
Some of what the victims allege may be true and accurate, some may be misperceived or distorted, some may be screened or symbolic, and some may be “contaminated” or false. … I believe that the majority of victims alleging “ritual” abuse are in fact victims of some form of abuse or trauma. That abuse or trauma may or may not be criminal in nature.
… Any professional evaluating victims’ allegations of “ritual” abuse cannot ignore or routinely dismiss the lack of physical evidence. … and when members of a destructive cult commit murders, they are bound to make mistakes, leave evidence, and eventually make admissions in order to brag about their crimes or to reduce their legal liability.
… Are we encouraging needy or traumatized individuals to tell more and more outrageous tales of their victimization? Are we making up for centuries of denial by now blindly accepting any allegation of child abuse no matter how absurd or unlikely?
… There is little or no evidence for the portion of their allegations that deals with large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies. Now it is up to mental health professionals, not law enforcement, to explain why victims are alleging things that don’t seem to have happened.
It is not within the scope of this article to address the veracity or error of Lanning’s arguments nor his not-so-subtle indictment of psychotherapists.
The point that is relevant to this article is that Lanning’s report is widely-cited by parties who advance the idea that ritual abuse does not exist. The FBI’s current disavowal of ritual abuse is analogous to J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s disavowal of the mafia for decades, and it has been a significant contributing factor to the dismissal of allegations of suspected ritual abuse by CPS and LE.
For a thorough academic review of the evidence of ritual abuse, I refer the reader to the following scholarly work posted on my website: Empirical and Forensic Evidence of Ritual Abuse, by James Randall Noblitt and Pamela Perskin Noblitt, a chapter from their 2014 book, Cult and Ritual Abuse: Narratives, Evidence, and Healing Approaches, 3rd Edition, published by Praeger (pp. 52-78).
The Noblitts’ chapter discusses in some depth the findings of the “Extreme Abuse Survey (EAS) Series,” an international online study of, a) adults who identified themselves as survivors of extreme abuse, b) children who were victimized by extreme abuse as reported by their caregivers, and, c) helping professionals who reported to have worked with at least one extreme abuse survivor. In response to the survey of adult survivors, 1471 people responded. Among these, 52% identified themselves as victims of both ritual abuse and mind control; 19% identified themselves as ritual abuse survivors; and 7% as mind control survivors. These respondents endorsed having been subjected to forms of extreme abuse much like those reported in other studies of ritualistic abuse. Readers interested in viewing the extensive findings of the EAS will find a comprehensive file of the results on my website on the following page: “Findings from the 2007 Extreme Abuse Survey (EAS) Series.”
Note: Lanning himself stated that to prepare his guide, he never interviewed any alleged ritual abuse survivors (See Operation Mind Control: The Paranoia Edition (2016), by Walter Bowart, p. 634.) Furthermore, his Investigative Guide cites no data or research methodology report. It is not based on any formal study conducted by the FBI. On January 18, 1993, a Technical Information Specialist at the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime wrote a letter to Dr. Noblitt stating the following:
The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime has not been conducting a formal study into satanic ritual abuse…. Enclosed is Special Agent Lanning’s monograph on ‘ritual’ child abuse, and the history of his personal “study” is described in the Introduction.
This letter is reproduced on page 243 of the Noblitt’s book, Cult and Ritual Abuse (2014).
10) There is general public disbelief of reports of ritual abuse and fear of negative consequences for investigating such cases due to the damaging residue of the large media propaganda campaign by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) to discredit ritual abuse, government-sponsored mind control, recovered memories, children’s abuse disclosures, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and therapists who believe that any of these phenomena are valid. The FMSF placed much emphasis on blaming therapists and protective parents for “implanting” false memories. Consequently, investigators often view allegations of ritual abuse, mind control programming, and military involvement as myths or “conspiracy theories.”
11) CPS and LE often fear criticism in the media for getting involved in such cases, largely due to the propaganda campaign of the FMSF. In a perfect world, CPS and LE agencies would not be influenced by tides of politics and public opinion. But this is far from the reality.
12) CPS and LE fear lawsuits for making findings involving ritualistic abuse, again driven much by the FMSF. Following a number of acquittals in prosecutions involving cases that included ritualistic abuse, CPS, LE, and DAs have been successfully sued.
13) In some jurisdictions, grand juries have discredited the existence of ritual abuse (see C12 below).
14) CPS and LE may be pressured from “above,” e.g., the office of the District Attorney, not to investigate allegations of ritual abuse because of filed prosecutions in past such cases (e.g., the acquittals of Dale Akiki and the McMartin Preschool Case).
15) The enormity of the allegations, including multiple victims and multiple perpetrators in multiple abuse sites, overwhelm the investigative capacities of CPS and LE. These agencies are generally understaffed. Ritual abuse allegations involve many victims, perpetrators, and crime sites. I know of one case in which a high-level supervisor in an LE agency told a psychotherapist that his department did not have the resources to investigate the crimes reported in the SCAR. I know of another case in which LE officials said that the report constituted allegations of organized crime, that such investigations require a finessed, long-term approach, and that they were not adequately equipped to investigate it.
16) When cases of multiple child abuse victims are prosecuted, the defense typically builds a case that the children’s disclosures and testimony have been influenced by other children and by parents who influenced each other and then influenced the children. The terrible irony is that the higher the number of victims, the less likely the prosecution will yield a guilty verdict. (See Ross Cheit’s careful analysis of this problem in the 1980s and 1990s daycare child abuse cases in The Witch-hunt Narrative, 2014, Oxford University Press.)
17) In the case of Family Court dispute concerning the custody of a child, when one party raises any suspicion of ritualistic abuse by an other party to the dispute, that suspicion is likely to be construed by CPS, LE, and the court as a weapon in the custody dispute, as a fabricated allegation to gain advantage in the legal action. This is the likely outcome even if the suspicion of ritualistic abuse comes to the attention of the authorities only in the form of a mandated SCAR filed by the psychotherapist for the child or a mandated SCAR by the psychotherapist for a parent who provides information to the therapist that causes the therapist to reasonably suspect abuse. In other words, the parent need not initiate any allegation to be viewed by the authorities as having fabricated the basis for suspicion of abuse.
18) Parties who are investigated, especially alleged family member abusers, generally appear to be model citizens and convincingly present the alleging child or adult as troubled, confused, and/or having a history of severe mental illness.
19) Some reports allege torture-level abuse of children in military mind control projects. Such cases are often out of the jurisdiction of civilian CPS and LE. If the case was within their jurisdiction, there would likely be numerous barriers to civilian investigation due to the classified nature of military activities. Even the military police may be denied access.
20) CPS and LE officers and investigators may receive threats to themselves and loved ones, so they may avoid investigating these cases. Officers may have died of apparent suicide or vehicular accidents amidst questions of foul play. Such threats and suspicious deaths are unlikely to be discussed beyond the CPS or LE agency.
21) CPS, LE, and the office of the DA are subject to corruption, including extortion, and blackmail, just as the Mafia historically corrupted LE (e.g., see the case of James “Whitey” Bulger, convicted for conspiracy to commit extortion). The abuser network may also include CPS and LE officials. If such officials are not actually members of a particular network, they will likely have convinced their victims that they are members or that they have these officials in their pockets. Many victims report that some of their abusers dress in police uniforms. Only a few dirty or compromised officers or investigators, especially in strategic positions, can sabotage an investigation by leaking information to offenders, destroying evidence, and/or closing cases. In some cases, the officer who takes the report believes the victim, but officials higher up in the department stop the investigation.
22) Survivors of ritual abuse regularly report that their abuser networks produce and distribute child sexual abuse and torture imagery and snuff films. Abusers go to great efforts to cover up these high-profit crimes, including strategically placing members of their network in law enforcement.
23) If victims disclose spiritual effects of their abuse, e.g., spiritual attachments, they are again likely to be deemed delusional or hyper-religious by CPS and LE. At the other end of the spectrum, some CPS and LE officials may fear spiritual consequences against themselves for interfering with cults involved in dark ritualistic practices.
24) If victims of ritual abuse disclose to the authorities that some of their dissociated personalities take them back to their abusers, open the door to abusers who come to their apartment or home, etc., they are further viewed as crazy, consenting, or complicit in the crimes.
25) If victims of ritual abuse have injuries and bring them to the attention of doctors, hospitals, or LE, these injuries are often interpreted to be the product of self-harm, especially if the individual is in therapy or has a significant psychiatric history.
So, psychotherapists must make SCARs that include ritualistic elements to authorities who largely view ritual abuse as based in false memories, delusions, weapons in custody disputes, etc.
C. Increased Danger to Victims in Response to SCARs of Alleged Ritual Abuse
In addition to the problems described above, SCARs against ritual abusers may place victims, their children and other loved ones, including protective parents and caregivers in significant danger, in the following ways:
1) If full protection is not immediately afforded a ritually abused child and if the abuser network discovers that a SCAR has been filed, there is significant risk that the abusers will retaliate by punishing the child or adult victim who provided information included in the SCAR. Individuals who report ritual abuse generally describe that they have witnessed extreme retaliation, including murder, against victims whom their abusers judge to be traitors. I have corroboration for cases of brutal punishment of victims who cooperated with the authorities to protect children.
2) Victims also express concern that in response to a SCAR, their abusers will increase their torture-conditioning of other victims in the network to ensure that there are no further “leaks.” This can include children who are family members of the person supplying the information for the SCAR. Many victims describe that their abusers have repeatedly demonstrated that in response to any act of “disobedience” by any victim, they will punish the whole group of victims, both children and adults.
3) Even if LE takes a SCAR seriously, even if a case will be prosecuted, LE does not generally offer adequate protection of victims. LE takes a report, may investigate, may send a case on to the office of the DA, and may support a restraining order, but they usually do not provide further protection.
4) If adult victims report that they themselves are being ritually abused and that their dissociated self-states take them to ritual abuse events, open their doors to abusers, etc., they may be viewed by LE as consenting. LE generally cannot grasp how abusers can successfully manipulate terrified self-states.
5) Children, adolescents, and adults who report ritual abuse are often judged by CPS, LE, even by some mental health professionals, to be delusional, schizophrenic, etc.
6) If victims who report ritual abuse to CPS or LE are judged to be schizophrenic, etc., there is some risk that they will be subjected to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization. They will generally fear that they will be abused there, including punishment for their report. We can not guarantee against that possibility.
7) Victims who have been coerced through torture to hurt or kill others are terrified that they may be viewed by LE as complicit and be subject to arrest. Although, it is much more likely that they will be judged as delusional, etc., the fear of arrest, and the possibility of arrest, should not be downplayed.
8) Victims may be arrested, convicted of perjury, and jailed simply for reporting their child abuse to the authorities if the crime ring is sufficiently well-connected and powerful. This is exactly what happened to Alisha Owen in the Franklin case, a nationwide pedophile ring centered out of Omaha Nebraska in the 1980s (See: The Franklin Scandal, by Nick Bryant, 2009). Bryant writes:
Nebraska legislators attempted to expose the network in 1989 and 1990, but the legislators’ efforts were followed by a rash of mysterious deaths and the overpowering responses of federal and local law enforcement, including the FBI and Justice Department, which effected an immaculate cover-up of the trafficking network.
Alisha was interviewed in late 1989 by Gary Caradori, Nebraska chief investigator in the case. She testified to abuse beginning in August, 1983, when she was 14 years old, by the Franklin pedophilia ring. She told Caradori that she feared coming forward, that she had been warned that talking would endanger her or her family members (See the report of Caradori here: http://franklinscandal.com/links/sOwens_11_7_89.pdf and minutes 41 to 42:20 in her videotaped interview of November 7, 1989: https://archive.org/details/GaryCaradoriInterviewsOfFranklinScandalVictims).
On March 19, 1990, the Douglas County Grand Jury was impaneled to investigate the case, including the videotaped testimony of Alisha and other alleged victims. In live testimony before the Douglas County grand jury, Owen reasserted the allegations that she had made on videotape for Caradori and in her interviews with the State Patrol and the FBI. At the end of these hearings, on July 23, 1990, the grand jury indicted 21-year-old Alisha on eight counts of perjury and she was facing 160 years in prison.
On July 11, 1990, Gary Caradori and his 6-year-old son died in a plane explosion under suspicious circumstances.
On November 7, 1990, Owen’s 17-year-old brother Aaron was found hanged in his cell at the Lincoln Correctional Center. The Franklin Scandal elucidates a number of events surrounding this incident which suggest that Aaron’s death was actually a murder, congruent with the fears that Alisha expressed to Caradori.
On May 17, 1991, the jury convened in the perjury trial of Alisha. On June 21, she was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to between nine and fifteen years in prison. She spent nearly two years in solitary confinement. Her trial would be appealed on multiple acts of malfeasance, but the Nebraska judiciary was unwavering.
In 2000, Alisha was released from prison. Alisha stands by her testimony to this day.
9) CPS may judge protective parents who supply information for SCARs involving ritual abuse to be mentally ill, as subjecting the child to emotional abuse by believing that ritual abuse occurred, as fostering delusions, or as engaging the child in folie a deux. In response, CPS may remove the child from that parent and place the child in foster care or with another family member who may be part of the abuser network.
10) If one parent alleges that the other parent is ritually abusing the child, CPS may view the alleging parent as having failed to protect the child up to that point and will run the risk of the child being taken into placement.
11) If allegations of ritual abuse arise within ongoing Family Court custody disputes, parents who file SCARs or who believe that ritual abuse occurred run a high risk of losing some or all of their custody and visitation with the child.
Family courts are generally lacking in protective responses to allegations of any kind of abuse. They tend to view such allegations as fabrications, weapons to gain advantage in a custody battle, especially in the absence of hard evidence that specifically identifies someone, e.g., semen samples.
Even if a child first discloses abuse to a therapist or describes abuse to a CPS worker or police officer, the child’s statements tend to be viewed as the product of parental coaching or “parental alienation syndrome,” that is, one parent working to turn the child against the other parent.
Psychotherapists who file SCARs based on children’s disclosures or behaviors are quickly judged by the Family Court to be biased against the alleged abuser and as having induced “false memories.” In response, the court regularly orders that the child be discharged from that therapist’s care. The likelihood that the child will disclose abuse to the next therapist is markedly reduced.
Many jurisdictions have “friendly parent” provisions that favor parents who act to share custody. Parents who allege abuse are often viewed by the court as “unfriendly” to shared custody. In response, the court may order that the alleging party have reduced physical custody of the child, even lose physical custody altogether, or if visitation is allowed at all, that it only occur under supervision.
All of this generally occurs with no reasonable investigation or evaluation of the suspected abuse.
The court may order a custody evaluation of all family members by a court-appointed psychologist to evaluate custody and visitation. However, such evaluations generally do not include a adequate forensic evaluation specific to child abuse.
All of these problems within the Family Court are compounded when the abuse allegations include ritualistic elements. The court may view the alleging parent as delusional and schizophrenic. In rare cases, such parents may be viewed as an immediate danger to their children and authorities may be called upon to involuntarily institutionalize them in a psychiatric facility. Any psychologist ordered to perform a custody evaluation is unlikely to have a working knowledge of DID, ritual abuse, or the complexities of assessing such cases. The court may grant full physical custody, sometimes full legal custody, to the alleged abuser or to other family members who may be related to the alleged abuser.
The most protective parental response in a case of ritual abuse being heard in the Family Court may be to never raise the issue of suspected abuse with the court. In that case, the protective parent is likely to be granted reasonable custody and during the time the child spends with that parent, the child will be safe.
12) Even if a child is removed from a ritually abusive home, there is a risk that CPS will place the child in a home that is either a part of the abuser network or one that otherwise allows the abusers access to the child via threats, pay-offs, etc.
Many wonderful foster parents lovingly care for maltreated children with relatively little financial compensation. I have no indication that a large number of foster homes are unsafe. However, the risk of unsafe foster homes cannot be overlooked. Many adult clients who report childhoods of ritual abuse describe being placed in foster homes that were involved in their abuse.
I will mention two cases that raise disturbing red flags.
Nick Bryant, in his 2009 book, The Franklin Scandal, documents that the nationwide pedophile ring centered out of Omaha Nebraska in the 1980s included a foster home and Boys Town (also in Omaha) which served as conduits of child victims to the child sex trafficking ring.
Another troubling case of suspicious placement is that of Sarah “Sam” Doggett at age 16 or 17 in the home of Carol Hopkins. Doggett’s parents, Mark and Carol Doggett, were arrested on December 28, 1994, and convicted in April, 1995, in Wenatchee, Washington, of sexual abuse of her younger sibling or siblings (see: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/alt.abuse.recovery/KpkwPv3F_DQ/lCI_VAlHda0J).
Carol Hopkins offered Washington officials to take “Sam” into her San Diego home, 1000 miles away.
Carol Hopkins was a supporter of the FMSF and an activist on behalf of alleged injustices to defendants in child sexual abuse cases. She had been Deputy Foreman of the 1991-1992 San Diego County Grand Jury that criticized San Diego’s child protection for being overzealous in removing children from their homes without cause. The 1992-1993 San Diego County Grand Jury Report strongly criticized the 1991-1992 Grand Jury report as not being “in the best interest of threatened children,” as increasing the risk to children, and as misrepresenting the facts on child abuse.
Hopkins specified that she would take guardianship of “Sam” with the condition that there would be no home study, a standard pre-placement evaluation of the suitability of a home. Ivory Johnson, then director of CPS of San Diego County, granted Hopkins her unusual request. Even more troubling, Johnson allowed “Sam” to be placed with Carol Hopkins despite Hopkins’ public activism that directly conflicted with the protection of abused children. Hopkins later told CBS News she wanted the girl to become “the poster child for the cause” (see: CBS 48 Hours transcript of April 3, 1997. See pages 382 and 478 in Ross Cheit’s Witch-hunt Narrative, 2014)
In late 1995 (perhaps a bit earlier; I can find no trace of it before then), Carol Hopkins founded “the Justice Committee” to advocate for parents accused of child sexual abuse. On November 27, 1995, the Justice Committee issued a press release calling for an apple boycott of the State of Washington to protest what she described as “false prosecutions” of a cluster of “outrageous cases” of child sexual abuse in Wenatchee, one of which was the case against Mark and Carol Doggett (source: Carol L. Hopkins, “Justice Committee calls for Apple Boycott,” Justice Committee of San Diego, 1995-NOV-27; see http://www.religioustolerance.org/wenatche2.htm, downloaded April 16, 2017).
I have not been able to determine if “Sam” was placed in the home of Carol Hopkins before or after the Apple Boycott.
It should come as no surprise that by mid-1996, “Sam” had joined Hopkins in multiple media events claiming her parents were innocent and touting the positions of Hopkins’ “Justice Committee” (source: Mark Sauer in a San Diego Union-Tribune article on June 18, 1996).
The convictions of Mark and Carol Doggett were initially reversed in 1997 and after a series of appeals and procedures, the case was dismissed in 2000. In 2004, Mark and Carol Doggett “filed suit in federal court claiming their constitutional rights had been violated by the investigation. U.S. District Judge Alan MacDonald ruled the lawsuit ‘frivolous’ and ordered their lawyer to pay the City of Wenatchee’s legal fees” (see the Witch-hunt Narrative, pages 382 and 479). On February 25, 2001, Sarah Doggett settled a lawsuit out of court against the city of Wenatchee and the state of Washington for $52,500. The city and the state admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. (See: http://www.religioustolerance.org/wenatche3.htm)
13) Child victims and their protective caregivers are often terrified that a psychotherapist may file a SCAR. If a therapist files a SCAR against their wishes, they often no longer feel safe to participate in therapy. As a result, in efforts to keep the child safe, protective caregivers may feel compelled to pull their children from therapy. In some cases, protective parents do not enroll their children in therapy in the first place, understanding the requirement of mandated reporting of suspected abuse.
14) If the psychotherapist files a SCAR against the wishes of an adult ritually abused client, the client’s trust in the therapy process with that therapist and with future therapists may be irreparably damaged. Psychotherapy is a significant threat to ritually abusive networks. Survivors regularly describe extensive torture-conditioning by their abusers to prevent them from trusting therapists and engaging productively in the psychotherapy process. In the absence of informed psychotherapy in cases of ongoing ritual abuse, it is very difficult for victims to overcome the controls of a ritually abusive network. To lose trust in psychotherapy can mean that victims of ongoing abuse lose any way to escape their abuser network.
15) If a psychotherapist makes a SCAR based on the reports of a ritually abused client, there is a significant risk that the client will become dangerously suicidal. Ritual abusers torture-condition one or more dissociated self-states of their victima to perform the function of “killing the body” or killing any self-states who threaten to disclose the abuse or expose the abusers. These torture-conditioned self-states may not even understand that they share the same body, and that to kill the body or other self-states is to kill themselves. In providing therapy to ritually abused clients, managing a high risk of suicide is a constant challenge. Betraying a ritually abused client’s confidentiality and involving the authorities can further dangerously elevate this high suicide risk.
16) Abusers may harass or otherwise retaliate against protective parents, foster parents, etc., who file SCARs or who report suspicion of ritual abuse to a psychotherapist. Comparisons to organized crime syndicates apply here. However, murder of caregivers and reporting parties appears to be somewhat rare because LE is more likely to thoroughly investigate murder and the abuser groups’ top priority is avoiding detection.
D. Risks to Professionals Related to Filing SCARs of Alleged Ritual Abuse
SCARs against ritual abusers or that include ritualistic elements may also yield negative consequences for mandated reporters, including psychotherapists, teachers, law enforcement officials, social service workers, etc.. These include:
1) CPS and LE may turn on professionals who make mandated SCARs of suspected ritual abuse, describing them to other authorities as believing reports of abuse that are bizarre, as failing to assess those who report ritual abuse as delusional, as delusional themselves, as over-involved, over-zealous, non-objective, having poor boundaries, conducting leading interviews, implanting memories, etc.
2) Many mandated reporting professionals express concern that if they file SCARs that reference ritualistic elements, complaints may be filed against their local, state-wide, and/or national governing and credentialing bodies, or to bodies that oversee local court-approved psychotherapist lists, for reporting “bizarre” allegations of abuse or for not assessing the disclosing client as delusional. However, I believe that this is essentially a non-issue now in the United States because overseeing bodies are much more concerned about failures of mandated reporters to file SCARs.
In 2016, Lucien Greaves (alias: Doug Mesner, true name: Doug Misicko), self-identified founder of the Temple of Satan, submitted to the California Board of Psychology an internet petition that he had organized asking the Board to revoke my psychology license based on my filing SCARs that included suspicion of abuse that could be interpreted as ritualistic. Greaves claimed that my SCARs contributed to a woman convicted of manslaughter in 2015 of killing her son in 2010. This woman had contacted me in 2008 seeking resources and information on ritual abuse. I never met her nor her son nor did I provide either of them with treatment or evaluation. The woman reported information to me that mandated me to file two SCARs.
In 2016, the Board of Psychology investigated Greaves’ allegations and determined that “there was no violation of the Laws and Regulations Relating to the Practice of Psychology with regard to Dr. Lacter’s practice or conduct in this matter.” The Board did not interview me nor was I asked to appear at a hearing. This important decision supports that psychotherapists are mandated to report all forms of suspected child abuse, including those that include ritualistic elements, and that psychotherapists are not likely to be disciplined by their credentialing bodies for filing SCARs that reference ritualistic elements.
3) The abuser network may harass or threaten professionals who file SCARs against them. In the early 1990s, many psychotherapists experienced relatively overt harassment, e.g., direct threats in phone calls, dead animals left at their office doors, etc. Accounts of such overt harassment are now unusual. For about 20 years, the most common kind of harassment I hear reported by colleagues is an influx of dead-air phone calls. Of course, an escalation of abuse and torture of our clients also deeply affects us.
E. Partial Solutions to Dilemmas of Filing SCARs of Alleged Ritual Abuse
Mandated reporters have suggested the following partial solutions to the problems described above.
1) It is probably preferable to omit any reference to ritualistic aspects of suspected abuse when filing SCARs and to include only statements and observations related to reasonable suspicion of physical or sexual abuse. As in all reporting of suspected abuse, and even more important in reporting abuse that includes ritualistic elements, it is important to omit from SCARs any opinion about whether the suspected abuse occurred. Determinations about whether SCARs are founded, substantiated, unfounded, etc., are the purview of the investigating authorities in CPS, LE, and the courts. SCARs should be limited to objective data, e.g.:
“The [adult] client said that she witnessed…”
“The child stated that….”
“The mother reported that the child is terrified of water.”
“In play, the child represented being forcibly drowned.”
Physical and sexual abuse are against the law. But few, if any, criminal statutes exist specific to ritual abuse. Although ritual abuse is usually associated with extreme physical and sexual abuse, inclusion of content about ritualistic components in SCARs not only tends to fail to contribute to the kind of information that is of value to investigators, it can also unfortunately weaken the credibility of the report as a whole.
As explained above, CPS, LE, and the courts often view allegations of ritual abuse as bizarre and as cause to doubt the credibility of the children who disclose abuse and the reporting parties. Ritualistic abuse is also so abhorrent, it is hard to assimilate, even by these authorities. Also, defense attorneys may later use allegations of ritual abuse to sidetrack legal proceedings into an issue of infringement on the religious freedom of the accused.
This approach of omitting details related to ritual abuse sounds reasonable in theory, but falls quite short in practice. In filing a SCAR in a case of suspected abuse involving ritualistic elements, it is very difficult to omit information specific to ritual abuse. The victims’ disclosures, a key element in most SCARs, often refer to the ritualistic aspects of their abuse. Victims’ behaviors, e.g., children’s behavior issues and play may also indicate ritualistic aspects. And once victims are interviewed, once information is gathered from caregivers, parents, therapists, teachers, etc., the ritualistic elements usually surface.
2) SCARs cannot be made in the absence of identifying data. A SCAR can only be received by an investigating agency if it includes the names of alleged victims, the names of alleged perpetrators, or specific alleged sites of abuse.If a psychotherapy client does not want her/his therapist to file a SCAR, the client has the right not to disclose any of these kinds of identifiers to the therapist. Many victims and survivors of ritual abuse only feel safe to participate in psychotherapy if they know that their therapist-client confidentiality will be protected from the therapist filing a SCAR. In the initial process of informing clients of the limitations of confidentiality in psychotherapy, therapists should inform clients that they can only file SCARs if provided with adequate identifiers and that the client is free to withhold these. If a client is about to disclose identifiers in the current abuse of children, the psychotherapist can remind the client that if such data is disclosed, the therapist is mandated to file a SCAR. Psychotherapists have no legal obligation to press clients to provide identifiers that they wish to withhold, as their function is provision of psychotherapy, not crime investigation.
3) If a psychotherapist judges that filing a SCAR in a ritual abuse case will likely fail to protect any children and will only place the therapy client, and possibly others, in greater danger, the therapist may document in the therapy record that there was not enough reasonable suspicion of abuse of now-children to mandate a report because the client’s perceptions and memories were highly unstable or confused, varied across dissociated self-states, were likely distorted based in overgeneralized fear, etc. In an ironic twist on accusations by the FMSF, etc., that therapists implant false memories of ritual abuse in clients, some therapists justify not filing SCARs, stating, “We don’t have to report it because how do we know it’s not false memories?” I have even heard psychotherapists say in hushed tones, “Everyone knows that no one makes reports of ritual abuse,” because it so often backfires.
4) Some psychotherapists attempt to evaluate together with their clients the size and power of the ritual abuser network in question. Children abused by smaller, less well-connected, abuser groups will generally have a higher likelihood of protection. Positive outcomes are also more likely if the abusers are less skilled in controlling the minds of their victims, i.e., less psychologically sophisticated in the manipulation of their victims’ dissociative processes to prevent disclosure. If the abuser network is a larger and more powerful crime syndicate and more adept at mind control, the risk of a negative outcome is increased. However, it is very difficult to sort out these questions because most ritually abusive groups work to cause their victims to believe that they are a very powerful and well-connected network.
All of these possibilities are only partial solutions. If a psychotherapist takes any of these approaches, the therapist may be subject to lawsuits, licensing boards complaints, even criminal findings for failing to comply with legal mandates to file SCARs based on any reasonable suspicion of current abuse of a child. If the therapist explains that she/he conducted a risk assessment with a protective parent, an adult victim, etc., and they determined together that a SCAR would most likely only further endanger child victims and place adult clients in greater danger, the authorities reviewing the matter are not likely to know enough about ritual abuse to appreciate the validity and serious nature of these concerns. It is easier to condemn a therapist as neglectful than to consider the dangers and complexities intrinsic to these cases.
F. A Problem With No Easy Answers
So, what is the answer? Should psychotherapists, make SCARS in cases of possible ritual abuse? For that matter, should protective caregivers and victims report ritualistic abuse?
Psychotherapists working with these cases generally feel that they are placed in a complex and untenable legal, ethical, and clinical dilemma for all of the reasons described above.
I have put significant effort into running the complex dilemmas described int hie article through a number of important public officials and a professional psychotherapy organization.
The professional organization provided simplistic advice that ignores the complexities described above: “If someone is hurting kids under threat or torture, you still have to report. Kids are still getting hurt.”
The important public officials were more aware of the scope of the problem. They said: “No one [in CPS and LE] is going to touch these cases, they have been too badly burned.”
It is my impression that psychotherapists working with ritual abuse trauma are well-aware of the above risks and that the filing of SCARs against ritually abusive groups has slowed significantly since the late 1980s and early 1990, and may have all but stopped.
I have no one-size-fits-all answer. Clinicians must use their own judgment about how to proceed in each case based on clinical considerations, assessment of the potential risks to clients and others, the law, the regulations of their licensure, and the ethical codes of their professions. As with all legal and ethical dilemmas, best practice includes that therapists should carefully consider the whole case, consult with colleagues with knowledge of the issues at hand, stay up-to-date on training and reading, perhaps obtain legal advice, and document the basis for their decisions. This article may be cited in this documentation.
II. Suspected Reports of Ritual Abuse of Dependent Adults
In many jurisdictions, psychotherapists are mandated to report suspected abuse of dependent adults and elders. Most of the systemic failures and many of the risks associated with reporting suspected ritual abuse of children also apply to reporting suspected ritual abuse of dependent adults. These include dismissal of the allegations as bizarre, a failure to understand the degree of torture-conditioned fear, a lack of knowledge of DID, assessment of the survivor as delusional or schizophrenic, possible involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, the risk of losing one’s children, the risk of arrest, etc. In an Australian study in which adult survivors of “organized” and ritualistic abuse were interviewed, very similar systemic failures were disclosed. See: Salter, Michael. (2016) Organised abuse in adulthood: Survivor and professional perspectives, Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, forthcoming (See:
Furthermore, the likelihood that any protection will be offered to dependent adults is probably lower.
The good news is that there may be a bit more wiggle room in many jurisdictions in the mandate to report abuse of dependent adults.
In California, the criteria that trigger the mandate that psychotherapists and other health providers report current abuse of dependent adults are specified in California Welfare and Institutions Code 15630 (http://law.onecle.com/california/welfare/15630.html). To paraphrase this code, psychotherapists are required to file reports of suspected current abuse of dependent adults unless there is good reason to judge that the reported abuse did not occur.
This kind of mandate creates a potential problem for adult psychotherapy clients who wish to talk in confidence to their therapists about any kind of ongoing abuse, from domestic violence to ritual abuse.
Confidentiality has always been a foundation upon which psychotherapy is built. It is important to all therapy clients, but it is especially critical for anyone currently being subjected to abuse.
In California, the law provides for domestic violence victims to be able to talk in confidence to psychotherapists even if they are still being harmed, understanding that they might not ever be able to engage in therapy if they thought that their therapists would report ongoing assaults.
The need for confidential psychotherapy is magnified further in cases of ongoing ritual abuse. Most ritual abuse victims live in great fear of their abusers. Sadly, they also often carry great shame for what their abusers have forced them to do under torture. They also usually have dissociated personalities who have been torture-conditioned for the express purpose of trying to prevent them from ever being able to extricate themselves from their abuser network. It is very hard for these people to discuss such terrifying and shame-laden problems with a therapist. If they cannot disclose such things to a therapist, they can not begin to work in therapy to defeat the controls of their torture-conditioning and to reduce their danger.
In cases of domestic violence, risk assessment of the lethality of abusers has long been an important tool in decisions about how to proceed to create safety (e.g., see the Battered Women’s Justice Project: http://www.bwjp.org/our-work/topics/risk-assessment.html ).
Risk assessment is clearly a tool that should also be applied in cases of organized crime, such as ritual abuse. Victims of ongoing ritual abuse may conduct some process of risk assessment, perhaps with a therapist’s assistance, and may make a well-reasoned judgment that a crime report will only increase the danger posed by their abusers. Furthermore, they may have good cause to believe that a crime report will also further endanger their loved ones, their children, and other victims. Would it be ethical for a psychotherapist to file a report of alleged abuse in such a scenario in violation of a client’s wishes?
In California, as of the writing of this article (April, 2017), psychotherapists working in mental health settings are not mandated to report domestic violence of our clients, even if we observe physical injuries. (Medical facilities that address physical health issues are mandated to file reports of physical injuries of patients, but not psychotherapists.) The law appreciates that domestic violence victims require the assurance of confidentiality to be able to feel safe to talk to a psychotherapist, to build psychological resources, to do a risk assessment, to develop safety plans, etc.
In California, much ritual abuse qualifies as domestic violence because close family members are often among the abusers. Section 6211 of the Family Code defines victims of domestic violence to include, “Any other person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree.” This would include parents (first degree), grandparents (second degree), and siblings (second degree), and the same step-family members. When ritually abusive networks are multi-generational, as is often the case per survivor reports, this criterion would apply. Accordingly, some domestic violence programs are savvy about ritual abuse and allow victims to receive their services, including shelter, sometimes sheltering their children with them. (Ritual abuse victims may, in some case, also receive support from organizations that combat human trafficking. Some anti-trafficking organizations provide shelter, relocation, etc. See The National Human Trafficking Resource Center: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/resources )
Therefore, in California, when a case of ritual abuse is also one of domestic violence, this may be a legal basis for a psychotherapist to respect a client’s wish if he or she does not want a crime report to be filed.
The wiggle-room in the mandate to report current ritual abuse of dependent adults may further lie in the definition of a dependent adult. Definitions vary across jurisdictions. In California, it is fairly broad and includes: “any person between the ages of 18 and 64 years who resides in this state and who has physical or mental limitations that restrict his or her ability to carry out normal activities or to protect his or her rights.” (See: California Welfare and Institutions Code 15610.23: http://law.onecle.com/california/welfare/15610.23.html )
In my judgement, the phrase, “mental limitations that restrict his or her ability to carry out normal activities,” should be applied only to persons with severe functional deficits. To interpret this more broadly would deprive almost all adult psychotherapy clients of their basic right to confidentiality if they are assaulted. This is because psychotherapy clients must receive a DSM5 diagnosis in order for their health insurance plans to reimburse for therapy and almost every DSM5 mental disorder requires that, “the symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” I do not believe the intention of this code is to mandate psychotherapists to file a report on every adult client who is assaulted. California law already specifically protects the confidentiality of victims of domestic violence as well of victims of sexual assault by psychotherapists (refer to the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs’ publication, Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex: http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/proftherapy.shtml)
Similarly, I believe it would be excessive to automatically apply this definition of a dependent adult to all recipients of Social Security Disability or to all individuals who otherwise lack the capacity to work. Many individuals who cannot work adequately carry out other “normal activities.”
The phrase, the “ability… to protect his or her rights” should also not be interpreted to mean that an individual is a dependent adult simply because she or he wishes not to file a crime report. People can make well-reasoned judgments through some process of risk assessment, even one conducted only with their therapist, that a report of current victimization to the authorities would only increase the risk of danger to self and others. In such a case, the client’s decision to withhold a report is protective of her or his rights and safety and should not trigger a psychotherapist’s mandate to report suspected abuse.
If individuals cannot find a place that is safe from the reach of a large well-connected abuser network, that also does not mean that they are deficient in the ability to protect themselves. In most cases, our current systems are deficient, not the individuals. In-patient psychiatric programs are generally short-term; health insurance restricts length of stay. Domestic violence shelters may or may not accept ritual abuse victims. I know of no residential program or underground assistance network that provides safe housing to ritual abuse victims. However, this situation may change as human trafficking organizations learn more about ritual abuse. I developed the following page on my website to help victims work to develop safety plans amidst these challenges and plan to update it in May, 2017: “Safety Tips for Ritual Abuse Survivors.”)
In California, given the confidentiality safeguards afforded victims of all forms of domestic violence and in the absence of a clear mandate to report abuse of adults who make reasoned judgements to withhold crime reports against high-risk abusers, psychotherapists may be using solid clinical, ethical, and legal judgment when they respect the wishes of their adult clients not to make reports of current ritual abuse in violation of a client’s wishes. Of course, the psychotherapist should document the basis for this decision in the psychotherapy record.
The psychotherapist may also want to research the policies and procedures of Adult Protective Services (APS) in their locale and to share these with the client. In San Diego County, APS indicates that when they receive reports of suspected abuse of an elder or dependent adult, their investigators only go out to alleged victims, not to alleged abusers. Victims are allowed to decline services and to not disclose anything. APS does not investigate alleged perpetrators. If the dependent adult chooses to disclose the abuse, APS may report it to LE, and LE may investigate the alleged perpetrators. In that case, we come back full circle to the problems in how LE responds to reports of ritual abuse.
Psychotherapists may also report directly to LE instead of APS. And the therapist, when making a report to LE, may ask for a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) vs. a standard police officer to see the client. PERT Team members might better-understand people in fear, DID, and perhaps even extreme abuse. It may also help to build a team to support the alleged victim before filing the report, to include a therapist, a psychiatrist, and local advocacy and anti-stalking agencies.
Such measures may improve the LE response. But it does not eliminate the many risks described above, including abuser retaliation against the client and a low likelihood of the police being able to afford any protection to the client. Other risks include damaged trust in the therapy relationship and some risk that the client will be deemed by the investigating authorities as too mentally ill to provide for their basic survival needs, resulting in a forced commitment to a psychiatric hospital, a place that is terrifying for many ritual abuse survivors.
Psychotherapists face many serious legal and ethical dilemmas in working with cases of ritual abuse, particularly in relation to legal mandates to report suspected abuse. We as a profession, our governing bodies, and the public at large, have to give up our childhood notion that help for abuse victims is just a phone call away and that our institutions always work. We have to grapple with the reality that protection and justice for child and adult victims of ritual abuse is not likely in our society at present.
Education about ritual abuse and policy and legal reforms that incorporate knowledge about ritual abuse are needed in all involved institutions, including CPS, LE, APS, domestic violence programs, organizations that fight human trafficking, legislation, the Family Court, District Attorneys, licensing boards, professional organizations, and university programs. We need to work hard to make this happen.
It is natural for people to recoil at the idea of ritual abuse. It disrupts our illusions of safety, we do not want to know that human beings have the capacity to violate children this horribly, we cringe at the idea of torture, of evil. These are unbearable to accept. However, human beings also have a huge capacity for empathy and an instinctive drive to protect children. When credible sources step up to the plate and say, “Here it is,” most people care. We face it, we grieve, we get angry, we become proactive.
We need our media to do a better job. The media, which largely creates social consciousness, has failed to adequately cover ritual abuse. The media aligned in the 1990s with the propaganda campaign of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation to discredit ritual abuse. It was a key player in the cover-up in the Franklin Case (see: Nick Bryant’s chapter, The Franklin Scandal: The Cover-Up of Child Abuse and its Analogues to Dissociative Identity Disorder, in Global Perspectives on Dissociative Disorders: Individual and Societal Oppression, (2014), edited by Vedat Sar, Warwick Middleton, and Martin Dorahy. Also see: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-media).
But this is beginning to change. Many forms of extreme abuse have received increased media attention in recent years, such as clergy abuse, human trafficking, polygamist cults, the dark web, production and distribution of child sexual abuse and torture imagery, and child soldiers (Harvey Schwartz compares the mind control tactics used to train child soldiers with mind control tactics used in abusive cults in his brilliant book: The Alchemy of Wolves and Sheep: A Relational Approach to Internalized Perpetration in Complex Trauma Survivors). Perhaps we have reason to hope for increased coverage of ritual abuse.
However, I believe that psychotherapists will have to be the ones to lead the way in this battle to raise awareness of ritual abuse and to overcome the large-scale denial of its existence. Psychotherapists are usually the first responders, the ones with whom victims first share their stories, often the only ones with whom they share these narratives. We understand trauma more deeply than CPS, LE, the courts, the media, physicians, etc. We are the only ones who take enough time to listen to allow these stories to unfold. We grasp that extreme abuse will always be at least partly dissociated. Dissociation of memories too painful and frightening to face is at the very core of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. We know how to sit and bear witness when people are too afraid to speak and when they can finally, haltingly, face their childhood abuse and share their stories of helplessness and horror. We have been trained to be able to withstand painful narratives without reflexively denying them for our own psychological protection. We will have to be the ones to give victims’ voices the credibility they need to be heard on a larger scale.
I believe that a large segment of psychotherapists who specialize in trauma and dissociation have worked with clients who report histories of ritual abuse that these therapists believe to be true. These therapists have witnessed terror, panic, and dissociated identities in these clients that match their narratives of ritual abuse. Many have corroboration for some of their cases. However, most of these clinicians use much greater caution in speaking about ritual abuse than other kinds of abuse, in papers, conference presentations, among their peers, etc. They fear the kind of push-back described throughout this article.
However, “The Times, They are a Changin.” Traumatologists have done their homework. A substantial body of research supports the reality of recovered memories and that trauma is the basis for the formation of Dissociative Identity Disorder (See this 2012 scholarly literature review: “Evaluation of the Evidence for the Trauma and Fantasy Models of Dissociation,” by Constance Dalenberg et al.: https://www.towson.edu/cla/departments/psychology/facultystaff/dalenbergetalevalevidencefortraumaandfantasymodelspsychbull2012.pdf)
With this more solid foundation, the time is right for us to stand up to represent these brave souls who sit before us in our therapy offices, to come out of the shadows where many of us have hidden since the heyday of the FMSF, over 20 years ago, to acknowledge that ritual abuse is a very serious social issue.
We need to publish more about ritual abuse in journals, to present more about ritual abuse at professional conferences, and to welcome narratives of ritual abuse in all of our psychotherapy offices and in our psychiatric hospitals. Our professional organizations need to publicly acknowledge the reality of ritual abuse as much as we acknowledge other forms of abuse. Content about ritual abuse needs to be included in graduate programs that train psychotherapists and in undergraduate curricula in psychology, social work, sociology, gender studies, public health, etc.
Perhaps most effectively, we psychotherapists need to bring awareness of ritual abuse to the internet where survivors, other therapists, social service organizations, investigators, legislators, and the public at large can easily access good information. I imagine a day when hundreds of therapists post articles on their websites that acknowledge the reality of ritual abuse and its painful aftermath. The more voices we have, the more pivotal a force we will be for social change.
Victims and survivors have educated us. Now we need to share what we have learned from them with CPS, LE, social service agencies, the courts, etc. As we do this, the tide will turn. Institutions that protect crime victims will willingly investigate reported cases of ritual abuse just as they would any other kind of case, victims will be able to report ritual abuse to the authorities without fear of dismissal, and psychotherapists mandated to report suspected abuse of children and dependent adults will no longer be mired in so many legal and ethical binds.
Writing this article has been very painful. I had not fully grasped how dangerous a legal and ethical minefield we psychotherapists traverse as we work with ritual abuse trauma until I organized into one document all of the problems I have discovered in my own experience, the experiences of colleagues, and a number of high-profile cases in recent history.
I began working on this article ten years ago and have delayed in finishing it because it is so discouraging and because, in itself, it poses legal risks for me. I may be accused of suggesting that psychotherapists violate their mandate to report suspected ritual abuse of children and of dependent adults (This is not true! I am simply delineating the risks, benefits, and dilemmas). I run a slight risk of complaints being made against me to my licensing boards and a significant risk of increased ridicule of me on the internet.
However, I have become less concerned about these risks with time. I believe that psychology, as a profession, has become less black and white about legal and ethical dilemmas. We understand that many of these are very complex and have no simple solutions.
I have also grown fairly immune to vitriolic attacks against me on the internet. In fact, I now judge them as evidence that I am doing a good job of standing up for victims of extreme abuse. If survivors question whether I am trustworthy, I simply tell them: Check out my enemies and judge for yourself! I welcome ridicule by parties who downplay the prevalence and damage of child abuse, who classify therapists working with trauma and dissociation as charlatans or memory-makers, and who mock extreme abuse as a conspiracy theory. I joke that I will someday post a page on my website of therapists and activists who have been lambasted, giving each one a new stripe every time an enemy of abused children attacks them. I have developed a strange sense of humor. I laugh the hardest at my own jokes.
I invite other psychotherapists to share with me any benefits and risks of making reports of suspected ritual abuse that I have omitted or inadequately addressed. We need to talk more openly with each other about these kinds of problems, to better-support each other against people who seek to silence us, to stand beside ritual abuse victims and survivors as they work to be heard, and to amplify their voices to the institutions that can help to protect both ritually abused children and adults still being victimized.