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The Myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse

Anyone with a healthy sense of skepticism should find the claims of large, organized, transgenerational satanic cults hard to believe.  Those who believe the claims say the following:

  • Organized satanic cults are active throughout the United States.
  • These cults have regular, secret gatherings at night.
  • At these gatherings, various atrocities such as the following take place:
    • human sacrifice of babies, children, adolescents, and adults
    • cannibalism
    • animal sacrifice
    • marriages to "Satan" and "High Priests" of the cults
    • sexual and physical torture of all kinds of people of all ages
  • The "victims" of the cults are drugged or "brainwashed" so they don't remember the rituals or the abuse immediately after it happens or for years thereafter.
  • The cult members "program" their children to continue these practices into the next generation. In this way, cult membership is passed down from generation to generation within families.
A decade ago, believers in "satanic ritual abuse" were quite forthright about their opinions. However, as scientific, medical, and law enforcement experts have pointed out the gaping holes and contradictions in these stories, the lack of evidence to support them, and the poor credibility of those who claim they are victims, believers in "satanic ritual abuse" have been exposed to skepticism and ridicule by an increasingly well informed and less credulous public.

As a result, the believers are trying to "respin" their stories. Aware of the ridicule that has been heaped upon claims of satanic cults and the failure of investigations to find any evidence, they are changing the name but keeping the claims. Instead of "satanic ritual abuse," they keep the SRA acronym  but say it stands for "sadistic ritual abuse." Bass and Davis use this approach in the most recent edition of The Courage to Heal.
A canard by any other name is still a canard. Changing the name doesn't eliminate the questions these claims raise, such as:

  • Where are the missing children?

  • If satanic cults are as numerous as claimed and meeting as frequently as claimed and sacrificing as many children  per ritual as claimed, we're talking about mass murder on an industrial scale. Even a single believer like my sister will make claims of the murder of hundreds at a single ritual site, and there are thousands of people making these claims. But where are all these sacrificial babies and children coming from? All of us know how much media and law enforcement attention is given to even a single missing child. Are we expected to believe that thousands of children disappear and are murdered each year and that no one is noticing? Think of how much media attention is given to a single child who disappears! (Note: actual abduction of children is a very real problem; for more information see But the number of these all-to-real and well-documented cases is nowhere near sufficient to substantiate the claims being made by believers in satanic cults.)
  • Where are the bodies?

  • Similarly, if satanic cults are as numerous as claimed and meeting as frequently as claimed and sacrificing as many people per ritual as claimed, they have a body disposal problem to rival the worst despots of recorded history. Where have all these bodies gone? Are they buried? If so, where? Are they being burned? If so, where?
  • Where do the rituals take place?

  • As described, the alleged rituals involve elaborate ceremonies in which groups of people don robes, chant, perform human and animal sacrifices at altars, etc. Obviously, this requires highly secret locations, as law enforcement personnel tend to take a dim view of human sacrifice. But the accused "cult members" are often people who live in major urban areas and lead busy, normal lives in which any prolonged or repeated absences would be noticed. (For example, it would be difficult for a doctor to be on call while at a satanic cult meeting sacrificing babies.) So where are these cult ritual sites that must be right under our collective noses? Where are the altars?
  • Where is the physical evidence?

  • Satanic cult believers have done the math and know that they have a credibility problem on the issue of the baby body count. So they have a ready backup story: supposedly, brainwashed adolescent female victims are impregnated by members of the cult and used as "breeders" to bear children for sacrifice. Unfortunately for the credibility of these self-proclaimed "breeders," many turn out upon medical examination to have never have been pregnant, many had regular medical checkups throughout childhood and adolescence at which pregnancy would have been noted, and some are determined to still be virgins!
    Similarly, the people who claim to have been victims of satanic ritual abuse describe violent, repeated physical abuse throughout their childhoods, abuse which would have left bruises, cuts, scars and other physical signs which would have been noticed at school and during medical checkups.
  • Where are the proven (or even credible) cases?
    A study done for the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect entitled  Characteristics and Sources of Allegations of Ritualistic Child Abuse surveyed over 12,000 psychologists, social workers, and law enforcement officials and failed to find a single credible or confirmed allegation of abuse by organized satanic cults.

Because of these inconsistencies and many others and the complete lack of substantiating evidence in every case that has been investigated, the FBI's expert on cult crimes, Kenneth Lanning, has concluded that

The most significant crimes being alleged that do not seem to be true are the human sacrifice and cannibalism by organized satanic cults.

In his FBI report entitled  Investigator's Guide to Allegations of Ritual Child Abuse, Lanning continues:

Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the public should not be frightened into believing that babies are being bred and eaten, that 50,000 missing children are being murdered in human sacrifices, or that satanists are taking over America's day care centers or institutions. No one can prove with absolute certainty that such activity has NOT occurred. The burden of proof, however, as it would be in a criminal prosecution, is on those who claim that it has occurred. The explanation that the satanists are too organized and law enforcement is too incompetent only goes so far in explaining the lack of evidence. For at least eight years American law enforcement has been aggressively investigating the allegations of victims of ritual abuse. 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's no secret why so many therapists have been interested in promoting the myth of satanic ritual abuse. Lanning adds that:

Satanic and occult crime and ritual abuse of children has become a growth industry. Speaking fees, books, video and audio tapes, prevention material, television and radio appearances all bring egoistic and financial rewards.

Financial gain aside, why do believers in repressed memories cling so fiercely to these bizarre, unsubstantiated claims of satanic ritual abuse? Because "recovered memories" of satanic ritual abuse are the Achilles's Heel of the entire memory recovery movement.

Claims of satanic ritual abuse are common among people who claim to have "recovered memories." Claims of satanic ritual abuse are involved in 18% of the reports filed with the False Memory Syndrome.

So, as many as one in five people who "recover memories" have "memories" of satanic ritual abuse--often elaborate ones involving all of the elements above. As we've seen already, all the evidence indicates that organized, transgenerational satanic cults simply do not exist, so these "memories" are clearly false. Therefore, the techniques used to "recover repressed memories" of satanic ritual abuse are clearly unsafe and unreliable. These techniques are causing people to believe they have memories of events which never occurred.

But the techniques used to "recover repressed memories" of satanic ritual abuse are the same techniques used to "recover repressed memories" of incest and childhood sexual abuse. If the techniques themselves are called into question, then all the other "memories" of incest and childhood sexual abuse which have been "recovered" are also called into question, as are the judgement and qualifications of the therapists who ran these sessions. And when the clients realize that their "memories" are false and they have been misled by ignorant, incompetent, or downright fraudulent therapists, the clients are going to be understandably upset that they paid money to be duped, in many cases to the point that they divorced, accused innocent parents of sex crimes, filed lawsuits or arranged for criminal prosecution, cut off all contact with their own families, and destroyed their own lives and those of everyone they loved. The clients are going to sue.

So we see the fundamental dilemma confronting "memory recovery therapists":

  • organized, transgenerational satanic cults do not exist
  • therefore, "recovered memories" of satanic ritual abuse are false
  • therefore, the techniques used to "recover" these "memories" are unsafe and unreliable
  • therefore, no therapist should ever use these techniques as the first rule of health care is "first, do no harm"
Of course, the techniques used to "recover memories" of incest and childhood sexual abuse are the same as the techniques used to "recover memories" of satanic ritual abuse. So at this point, therapists who have been using these techniques for years--if they are honest with themselves--have a horrible moment of realization: for years, I've been leading people to develop false memories of horrendous physical and sexual abuse by their own families. How many innocent families and lives have I shattered? Or, they may have a more financially driven moment of realization: if my clients realize what I have done to them, they are going to sue me for damages. My practice will be destroyed, my income will disappear, and I'll be forced to spend my savings on my legal defense!

If therapists admit that satanic cults don't exist, they have to admit that the therapeutic techniques they have been using are unsafe, unreliable, known to produce strong belief in false memories of events that never occured, and totally inappropriate for use in mental therapy. Many have to admit that they are "serial therapists" who have shattered dozens or hundreds of innocent families over years of ignorant, incompetent malpractice.

Of course, it's much easier to pretend that satanic cults exist than to accept that you are an incompetent perpetrator responsible for untold suffering and injustice and to lose your home and your job and your savings. Hence, the therapists take the easy way out and weakly attempt to defend the myth of satanic ritual abuse. It's much less painful to promote a myth and destroy someone else's family than to impoverish your own. Unless, of course, you happen to be the unlucky family that becomes the target of this "therapy."

Protect yourself and your family by arming yourself with knowledge. Read Characteristics and Sources of Allegations of Ritualistic Child Abuse and Kenneth Lanning's full report.

Remember, your family may be next.

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