Children introduced to sexual violence during their developmental years have been found to explain their trauma through monsters and stereotypical villains in order to articulate situations they don’t understand.
Child sexual abuse can be more difficult to identify than most people believe. The level of proof needed for conviction is higher because the consequences are greater. The societal default for sexual abuse in children is denial. Most people don’t want to hear about a child being sexually abused and would therefore rather pretend it never happens. This causes a counter-reaction from others who try to fight the willful ignorance of deniers: exaggeration. Those hoping to bring sexual abuse of children to the forefront sometimes feel they have to resort to greatly dramatizing any events of sexual misconduct, otherwise no one will listen. This tends to backfire because once it becomes publicly-known that such events were exaggerated, credibility is lost–further harming a child who could have potentially received help had their case been handled differently.
Another facet causing people to shy away from the conversation of sexual child abuse is the complexity of the discussion. We would all like to think in terms of simplicity. Someone did this act to this person, and this act is bad, so this person is bad. But that would be a rudimentary analysis of these cases. Those conducting sexual abuse on children may present themselves as friendly individuals who participate in positive activities. Those who know the man or woman who commit a sexual crime may be able to attest to how kind they are or have a list of excuses for the perpetrators actions. Regardless, the shades of gray surrounding the abuser does not negate the fact that a child was a victim at their hands.
Complicating the situation is the understanding that sex offenders are not always easily spotted. The sexual acts abusers engage in with children, isn’t their defining characteristic. Their lifestyles may not be very different from our next-door neighbors, family members and friends. That’s what really scares people. It is significantly easier to ignore the truth that ANYone could be an abuser. That being said, anyone who is in contact with children and especially those who gain a position of authority over children have the potential to commit sexual abuse.
Even with the knowledge that a predator may not posses the “obvious” characteristics or “stereotypical lifestyle” of a child molester, some will still convince themselves that only CERTAIN TYPES of people within functioning society succumb to abuse. For example, some think only families from a certain socio-economic background fall into sexual abuse. Even law enforcement’s training is biased, only referring to father-daughter sexual abuse within families. People in general have a much harder time accepting when abusers are priests, teachers, doctors or neighbors because they are the “acquaintance molesters.” This is more frightening because by definition child sexual abusers could be anyone.
“Stranger danger” has a chilling appeal in child sexual abuse cases, because it offers that simplicity people want. Strangers are bad. People we know are good and trustworthy. Another reinforcement of this good/bad need is tying abuse to satanic rituals. One of the oldest theories of crime is demonology: “The devil made me do it.” This absolves everyone of fault because the perpetrator can claim that they were acting against their will and everyone else involved can say that they had no way to predict when the devil would stir things up. Because of this, Satanism is a popular scapegoat for many crimes, especially child sexual abuse. Even normally skeptical police officers forgive satanic suspects in crimes because they cannot argue against the faith that governs an individuals actions.
In law enforcement training it is witchcraft, santeria, paganism and the occult that are most often referred to as forms of satanism. Although “occult” simply means “hidden” many individuals define satanism from a Christian perspective, using this word to describe the power of evil in the world. This is a tricky area because any crime could be considered “satanic” with that interpretation.
A ritual is any customarily-repeated act or series of acts. The need to repeat these acts can be cultural, sexual, psychological or spiritual. “Ritual” sexual child abuse means the sexual assault stems from a cultural or faith-based place, rather than done for sexual gratification. This definition can jeopardize any potential prosecution as it may be defended in court as constitutionally protected religious expression.
Does having a child chant a satanic prayer or attend a black mass constitute child abuse? Does a religious belief in corporal punishment constitute child abuse? Does group care of children in a commune or cult constitute child abuse? Sometimes ritual and abuse, although happening simultaneously, may not always be connected. The offender may be deliberately engaging in ritualistic activities with a child as part of child abuse and exploitation. The motivation, however, may be not to indoctrinate the child into a belief system, but to manipulate the child. If that’s the case, it is not ritual but Method Operation or M.O.
What makes a crime occult, satanic or ritualistic? Some argue that Christians who commit similar crimes misunderstand or distort their religion while satanists who commit crimes are following their faith. Again, this is tricky. Who decides what constitutes a misinterpretation of a religious belief system? More crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots in the name of God, Jesus, Mohammed and other mainstream religions than has ever been committed in the name of Satan. The actual involvement of Satanism or the occult in these cases usually turns out to be secondary, insignificant or nonexistent.
Multidimensional child sex rings tend to have four dynamics in common:
- Multiple young victims; abuse of victims begins no later than age six and can have anywhere from three to several hundred victims
- Multiple offenders; anywhere from two to dozens of abusers, almost half being female and it is often family members of victims part of a cult or satanic group
- Fear is the controlling tactic; threats are made against everyone the victim cares about, even pets. Many claim witness to violence reinforcing this fear. This is likely the most overriding aspect of these cases
- Bizarre or ritualistic activity; victims report ceremonies, chanting, robes and costumes, drugs, use of excrement, animal sacrifice, torture, abduction, mutilation, murder and even cannibalism or vampirism
In addition to those dynamics other characteristics noted are that children are often “substitute” victims, not necessarily chosen out of pedophilia. There is a preference for female victims, although males are not left out, but almost all adult survivors of such abuse are female. The abuse may also be motivated by hostility and resentment simply carried out against weaker, more vulnerable victims (such as children) and not sexually motivated, but physical abuse directed at sexually-significant parts of the body. Lastly, victims frequently claim that their abuse was recorded, but of all the recordings of exploited children (such as child pornography) American law enforcement has seized, none have depicted the bizarre ritualistic activity described.
What is the breeding ground for these multidimensional rings? Knowledge of such abuse tends to stem from the following:
- Adult survivors (almost all female) usually hypnotized as part of therapy and diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder
- Prominent members of society (police officers, clergy, political figures and relatives) often noted as present and participating in abuse
- Religious homes
- Day care center where strange games are played, costumes are worn and killing animals is an activity performed
- Family or isolated neighborhoods (victimization happens within family or extended family. The neighborhood is isolated by geographic boundary such as apartment building, cul-de-sac or remote rural setting. The neighborhood is usually in a religiously conservative community
- Custody/visitation disputes
While their are concerns surrounding ritualistic crimes, the satanic element to these cases often seem to be fabricated. For example, no bodies of murder victims, as alleged by the sexual abuse victims during these rituals, have ever been found–and not from lack of trying! The details given of such satanic acts tend to be similar even across different parts of the country and when victims have never met each other. Also, there has been little to no physical evidence of rituals (no symbols, no paraphernalia and again no DNA from sacrifice victims). The more people involved in something such as satanic ritual abuse, the less likely they are to get away with it.
Yet, Satanism is extremely common in child sexual abuse cases. It’s a good scapegoat because it’s a simple explanation to a complex problem and many people who don’t understand how someone could sexually abuse a child are likely to blame it on something they don’t understand; supernatural forces.
Using this rational in regards to child molestation explains why so many survivors of such abuse blame Satanism. It gains more sympathy and attention for the victim, especially if they weren’t being taken seriously when the accusations were first made. Another theory as to why victims call on Satanism as an explanation for their abuse is simply traumatic distortion. Extreme fear and trauma can cause a defense mechanism called “splitting” where the victim’s psyche makes clear-cut good and evil manifestations to manage the victimization. For example, Satanism could explain why outwardly good and religious parents commit such atrocities in private. The imagined human sacrifice could be symbolic of the “death” of a victim’s childhood.
Other possibilities include drugs used to deliberately confuse victims, intervenors assuming and misinterpreting what the victims has said or a combination of everything. Half-truths and differing perceptions occur in cases of child sexual abuse. Not everything is totally false or totally true.
Are survivors lying about satanic sexual abuse? Not necessarily. They are recounting what they believe has been done to them. When a victim comes forth about their abuse, they shouldn’t automatically be disbelieved or believed. The victim may not know much about specific sexual acts but know more about monsters, torture and kidnapping. On the other hands they could have specific knowledge about ritual sexual abuse but it may not be through their own experience. They could have overheard it from other victims, adults talking about materials on how to prevent this or the child could be telling the parent what they think they want to hear to make them feel better.
A lot of prevention material on satanic abuse is made available to law enforcement, therapists and parents when it more often fuels the problem rather than solves it. Satanic activity is usually a symptom of a problem, not a cause. They liken blaming a teenager’s offense on Satanism to blaming a criminal’s offense on their tattoos (Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent). Trials in child sexual abuse covered by the media tend to focus too much on Satanism as the source of such acts rather than stressing the need for drug treatment centers, evaluating juvenile justice system, investigation of schools, preventing domestic violence or effects of unemployment. Why should child molester’s crimes be forgiven simply because they were committed under a spiritual belief?
Young people often turn to Satanism and the occult to combat alienation, to rebel, to gain power or justify their antisocial behavior in some way. It is the symbolism, not the spirituality that’s more important to them. In essence, people turn to Satanism for subversive reasons. Satanism is a tool for them to break away from their broken self-image after leaving a dysfunctional home.
When Satanism is alleged in child sexual abuse cases it puts the victim more at risk. The worst thing anyone can do in a criminal case (regardless if it’s about child abuse or not) is attribute supernatural powers to the perpetrator.
Lanning, K. V. (1989). Satanic, Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law Enforcement Perspective. Police Chief, 56(10), 62-84. Retrieved June 28, 2017.