Sections 8 - 12
8. Law Enforcement Perspective
The perspective with which one looks at satanic, occult, or ritualistic crime is extremely important. As stated, sociologists, therapists, religious leaders, parents, and just plain citizens each have their own valid concerns and views about this issue. This discussion, however, deals primarily with the law enforcement or criminal justice perspective.
When you combine an emotional issue such as the sexual abuse of children with an even more emotional issue such as people's religious beliefs, it is difficult to maintain objectivity and remember the law enforcement perspective. Some police officers may even feel that all crime is caused by evil, all evil is caused by Satan, and therefore, all crime is satanic crime. This may be a valid religious perspective, but it is of no relevance to the investigation of crime for purposes of prosecution.
Many of the police officers who lecture on satanic or occult crime do not even investigate such cases. Their presentations are more a reflection of their personal religious beliefs than documented investigative information. They are absolutely entitled to their beliefs, but introducing themselves as current or former police officers and then speaking as religious advocates causes confusion. As difficult as it might be, police officers must separate the religious and law enforcement perspectives when they are lecturing or investigating in their official capacities as law enforcement officers. Many law enforcement officers begin their presentations by stating that they are not addressing or judging anyone's religious beliefs, and then proceed to do exactly that.
Some police officers have resigned rather than curtail or limit their involvement in this issue as ordered by their departments. Perhaps such officers deserve credit for recognizing that they could no longer keep the perspectives separate.
Law enforcement officers and all professionals in this field should avoid the "paranoia" that has crept into this issue and into some of the training conferences. Paranoid type belief systems are characterized by the gradual development of intricate, complex, and elaborate systems of thinking based on and often proceeding logically from misinterpretation of actual events. Paranoia typically involves hypervigilance over the perceived threat, the belief that danger is around every corner, and the willingness to take up the challenge and do something about it. Another very important aspect of this paranoia is the belief that those who do not recognize the threat are evil and corrupt. In this extreme view, you are either with them or against them. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.
Overzealousness and exaggeration motivated by the true religious fervor of those involved is more acceptable than that motivated by ego or profit. There are those who are deliberately distorting and hyping this issue for personal notoriety and profit. 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.
Bizarre crime and evil can occur without organized satanic activity. The professional perspective requires that we distinguish between what we know and what we're not sure of.
The facts are:
- a. Some individuals believe in and are involved in something commonly called satanism and the occult.
- b. Some of these individuals commit crime.
- c. Some groups of individuals share these beliefs and involvement in this satanism and the occult.
- d. Some members of these groups commit crime together.
The unanswered questions are:
- a. What is the connection between the belief system and the crimes committed?
- b. Is there an organized conspiracy of satanic and occult believers responsible for interrelated serious crime (e.g., molestation, murder)?
After all the hype and hysteria are put aside, the realization sets in that most satanic/occult activity involves the commission of no crimes, and that which does usually involves the commission of relatively minor crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, cruelty to animals, or petty thievery.
The law enforcement problems most often linked to satanic or occult activity are:
- a. Vandalism.
- b. Desecration of churches and cemeteries.
- c. Thefts from churches and cemeteries.
- d. Teenage gangs
- e. Animal mutilations.
- f. Teenage suicide.
- g. Child abuse.
- h. Kidnapping.
- i. Murder and human sacrifice
Valid evidence shows some "connection" between satanism and the occult and the first six problems (#a-f) set forth above. The "connection" to the last three problems (#g-i) is far more uncertain.
Even where there seems to be a "connection", the nature of the connection needs to be explored. It is easy to blame involvement in satanism and the occult for behaviors that have complex motivations. A teenager's excessive involvement in satanism and the occult is usually a symptom of a problem and not the cause of a problem. Blaming satanism for a teenager's vandalism, theft, suicide, or even act of murder is like blaming a criminal's offenses on his tattoos: Both are often signs of the same rebelliousness and lack of self-esteem that contribute to the commission of crimes.
The rock band Judas Priest was recently sued for allegedly inciting two teenagers to suicide through subliminal messages in their recordings. In 1991 Anthony Pratkanis of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who served as an expert witness for the defense, stated the boys in question "lived troubled lives, lives of drug and alcohol abuse, run-ins with the law ... family violence, and chronic unemployment. What issues did the trial and the subsequent mass media coverage emphasize? Certainly not the need for drug treatment centers; there was no evaluation of the pros and cons of America's juvenile justice system, no investigation of the schools, no inquiry into how to prevent family violence, no discussion of the effects of unemployment on a family. Instead our attention was mesmerized by an attempt to count the number of subliminal demons that can dance on the end of a record needle" (p. 1).
The law enforcement investigator must objectively evaluate the legal significance of any criminal's spiritual beliefs. In most cases, including those involving satanists, it will have little or no legal significance. If a crime is committed as part of a spiritual belief system, it should make no difference which belief system it is. The crime is the same whether a child is abused or murdered as part of a Christian, Hare Krishna, Moslem, or any other belief system. We generally don't label crimes with the name of the perpetrator's religion. Why then are the crimes of child molesters, rapists, sadists, and murderers who happen to be involved in satanism and the occult labeled as satanic or occult crimes? If criminals use a spiritual belief system to rationalize and justify or to facilitate and enhance their criminal activity, should the focus of law enforcement be on the belief system or on the criminal activity?
Several documented murders have been committed by individuals involved in one way or another in satanism or the occult. In some of these murders the perpetrator has even introduced elements of the occult (e.g. satanic symbols at crime scene). Does that automatically make these satanic murders? It is my opinion that the answer is no. Ritualistic murders committed by serial killers or sexual sadists are not necessarily satanic or occult murders. Ritualistic murders committed by psychotic killers who hear the voice of Satan are no more satanic murders than murders committed by psychotic killers who hear the voice of Jesus are Christian murders.
Rather a satanic murder should be defined as one committed by two or more individuals who rationally plan the crime and whose primary motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual calling for the murder. By this definition I have been unable to identify even one documented satanic murder in the United States. Although such murders may have and can occur, they appear to be few in number. In addition the commission of such killings would probably be the beginning of the end for such a group. It is highly unlikely that they could continue to kill several people, every year, year after year, and not be discovered.
A brief typology of satanic and occult practitioners is helpful in evaluating what relationship, if any, such practices have to crimes under investigation. The following typology is adapted from the investigative experience of Officer Sandi Gallant of the San Francisco Police Department, who began to study the criminal aspects of occult activity long before it became popular. No typology is perfect, but I use this typology because it is simple and offers investigative insights. Most practitioners fall into one of three categories, any of which can be practiced alone or in groups:
a. "Youth Subculture
"Most teenagers involved in fantasy role-playing games, heavy metal music, or satanism and the occult are going through a stage of adolescent development and commit no significant crimes. The teenagers who have more serious problems are usually those from dysfunctional families or those who have poor communication within their families. These troubled teenagers turn to satanism and the occult to overcome a sense of alienation, to rebel, to obtain power, or to justify their antisocial behavior. For these teenagers it is the symbolism, not the spirituality, that is more important. It is either the psychopathic or the oddball, loner teenager who is most likely to get into serious trouble. Extreme involvement in the occult is a symptom of a problem, not the cause. This is not to deny, however, that satanism and the occult can be negative influences for a troubled teenager. But to hysterically warn teenagers to avoid this "mysterious, powerful and dangerous" thing called satanism will drive more teenagers right to it. Some rebellious teenagers will do whatever will most shock and outrage society in order to flaunt their rejection of adult norms.
b. "Dabblers (Self Styled)
"For these practitioners there is little or no spiritual motivation. They may mix satanism, witchcraft, paganism, and any aspects of the occult to suit their purposes. Symbols mean whatever they want them or believe them to mean. Molesters, rapists, drug dealers, and murderers may dabble in the occult and may even commit their crimes in a ceremonial or ritualistic way. This category has the potential to be the most dangerous, and most of the "satanic" killers fall into this category. Their involvement in satanism and the occult is a symptom of a problem, and a rationalization and justification of antisocial behavior. Satanic/occult practices (as well as those of other spiritual belief systems) can also be used as a mechanism to facilitate criminal objectives.
c. "Traditional (Orthodox)
"These are the so-called true believers. They are often wary of outsiders. Because of this and constitutional issues, such groups are difficult for law enforcement to penetrate. Although there may be much we don't know about these groups, as of now there is little or no hard evidence that as a group they are involved in serious, organized criminal activity. In addition, instead of being self-perpetuating master crime conspirators, "true believers" probably have a similar problem with their teenagers rebelling against their belief system. To some extent even these Traditional satanists are self-stylized. They practice what they have come to believe is "satanism". There is little or no evidence of the much-discussed multigenerational satanists whose beliefs and practices have supposedly been passed down through the centuries. Many admitted adult satanists were in fact raised in conservative Christian homes."
Washington Post editor Walt Harrington reported in a 1986 story on Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan that "sociologists who have studied LaVey's church say that its members often had serious childhood problems like alcoholic parents or broken homes, or that they were traumatized by guilt-ridden fundamentalist upbringings, turning to Satanism as a dramatic way to purge their debilitating guilt" (p. 14).
Some have claimed that the accounts of ritual abuse victims coincide with historical records of what traditional or multigenerational satanists are known to have practiced down through the ages. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Professor of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the author of numerous scholarly books on the devil and satanism, believes that the universal consensus of modern historians on satanism is (personal communication, Nov. 1991):
"(1) incidents of orgy, infanticide, cannibalism, and other such conduct have occurred from the ancient world down to the present; (2) such incidents were isolated and limited to local antisocial groups; (3) during the period of Christian dominance in European culture, such groups were associated with the Devil in the minds of the authorities; (4) in some cases the sectaries believed that they were worshiping Satan; (5) no organized cult of Satanists existed in the Christian period beyond localities, and on no account was there ever any widespread Satanist organization or conspiracy; (6) no reliable historical sources indicate that such organizations existed; (7) the black mass appears only once in the sources before the late nineteenth century."
Many police officers ask what to look for during the search of the scene of suspected satanic activity. The answer is simple: Look for evidence of a crime. A pentagram is no more criminally significant than a crucifix unless it corroborates a crime or a criminal conspiracy. If a victim's description of the location or the instruments of the crime includes a pentagram, then the pentagram would be evidence. But the same would be true if the description included a crucifix. In many cases of alleged satanic ritual abuse, investigation can find evidence that the claimed offenders are members only of mainstream churches and are often described as very religious.
There is no way any one law enforcement officer can become knowledgeable about all the symbols and rituals of every spiritual belief system that might become part of a criminal investigation. The officer needs only to be trained to recognize the possible investigative significance of such signs, symbols, and rituals. Knowledgeable religious scholars, academics, and other true experts in the community can be consulted if a more detailed analysis is necessary.
Any analysis, however, may have only limited application, especially to cases involving teenagers, dabblers, and other self-styled practitioners. The fact is signs, symbols, and rituals can mean anything that practitioners want them to mean and/or anything that observers interpret them to mean.
The meaning of symbols can also change over time, place, and circumstance. Is a swastika spray-painted on a wall an ancient symbol of prosperity and good fortune, a recent symbol of Nazism and anti-Semitism, or a current symbol of hate, paranoia, and adolescent defiance? The peace sign which in the 1960s was a familiar antiwar symbol is now supposed to be a satanic symbol. Some symbols and holidays become "satanic" only because the antisatanists say they are. Then those who want to be "satanists" adopt them, and now you have "proof" they are satanic.
In spite of what is sometimes said or suggested at law enforcement training conferences, police have no authority to seize any satanic or occult paraphernalia they might see during a search. A legally-valid reason must exist for doing so. It is not the job of law enforcement to prevent satanists from engaging in noncriminal teaching, rituals, or other activities.
9. Investigating Multidimensional Child Sex Rings
Multidimensional child sex rings can be among the most difficult, frustrating, and complex cases that any law enforcement officer will ever investigate. The investigation of allegations of recent activity from multiple young children under the age of seven presents one set of problems and must begin quickly, with interviews of all potential victims being completed as soon as possible. The investigation of allegations of activity ten or more years earlier from adult survivors presents other problems and should proceed, unless victims are at immediate risk, more deliberately, with gradually-increasing resources as corroborated facts warrant.
In spite of any skepticism, allegations of ritual abuse should be aggressively and thoroughly investigated. This investigation should attempt to corroborate the allegations of ritual abuse. but should simultaneously also attempt to identify alternative explanations. The only debate is over how much investigation is enough. Any law enforcement agency must be prepared to defend and justify its actions when scrutinized by the public, the media, elected officials, or the courts. This does not mean, however, that a law enforcement agency has an obligation to prove that the alleged crimes did not occur. This is almost always impossible to do and investigators should be alert for and avoid this trap.
One major problem in the investigation of multidimensional child sex rings is the dilemma of recognizing soon enough that you have one. Investigators must be alert for cases with the potential for the four basic dynamics: (a) multiple young victims, (b) multiple offenders, (c) fear as the controlling tactic, and (d) bizarre or ritualistic activity. The following techniques apply primarily to the investigation of such multidimensional child sex rings:
a. Minimize Satanic/Occult Aspect
There are those who claim that one of the major reasons more of these cases have not been successfully prosecuted is that the satanic/occult aspect has not been aggressively pursued. One state has even introduced legislation creating added penalties when certain crimes are committed as part of a ritual or ceremony. A few states have passed special ritual crime laws. I strongly disagree with such an approach. It makes no difference what spiritual belief system was used to enhance and facilitate or rationalize and justify criminal behavior. It serves no purpose to "prove" someone is a satanist. As a matter of fact, if it is alleged that the subject committed certain criminal acts under the influence of or in order to conjure up supernatural spirits or forces, this may very well be the basis for an insanity or diminished capacity defense, or may damage the intent aspect of a sexually motivated crime. The defense may very well be more interested in all the "evidence of satanic activity". Some of the satanic crime "experts" who train law enforcement wind up working or testifying for the defense in these cases.
It is best to focus on the crime and all the evidence to corroborate its commission. Information about local satanic or occult activity is only of value if it is based on specific law enforcement intelligence and not on some vague, unsubstantiated generalities from religious groups. Cases are not solved by decoding signs, symbols, and dates using undocumented satanic crime "manuals". In one case a law enforcement agency executing a search warrant seized only the satanic paraphernalia and left behind the other evidence that would have corroborated victim statements. Cases are solved by people- and behavior-oriented investigation. Evidence of satanic or occult activity may help explain certain aspects of the case, but even offenders who commit crimes in a spiritual context are usually motivated by power, sex, and money.
b. Keep Investigation and Religious Beliefs Separate
I believe that one of the biggest mistakes any investigator of these cases can make is to attribute supernatural powers to the offenders. During an investigation a good investigator may sometimes be able to use the beliefs and superstitions of the offenders to his or her advantage. The reverse happens if the investigator believes that the offenders possess supernatural powers. Satanic/occult practitioners have no more power than any other human beings. Law enforcement officers who believe that the investigation of these cases puts them in conflict with the supernatural forces of evil should probably not be assigned to them. The religious beliefs of officers should provide spiritual strength and support for them but should not affect the objectivity and professionalism of the investigation.
It is easy to get caught up in these cases and begin to see "satanism" everywhere. Oversensitization to this perceived threat may cause an investigator to "see" satanism in a crime when it really is not there (quasi-satanism). Often the eye sees what the mind perceives. It may also cause an investigator not to recognize a staged crime scene deliberately seeded with "satanic clues" in order to mislead the police (pseudo-satanism). On rare occasions an overzealous investigator or intervenor may even be tempted to plant "evidence of satanism" in order to corroborate such allegations and beliefs. Supervisors need to be alert for and monitor these reactions in their investigators.
c. Listen to the Victims
It is not the investigator's duty to believe the victims; it is his or her job to listen and be an objective fact finder. Interviews of young children should be done by investigators trained and experienced in such interviews. Investigators must have direct access to the alleged victims for interview purposes. Therapists for an adult survivor sometimes want to act as intermediaries in their patient's interview. This should be avoided if at all possible. Adult survivor interviews are often confusing difficult and extremely time-consuming. The investigator must remember however that almost anything is possible. Most important the investigator must remember that there is much middle ground. Just because one event did happen does not mean that all reported events happened, and just because one event did not happen does not mean that all other events did not happen. Do not become such a zealot that you believe it all nor such a cynic that you believe nothing. Varying amounts and parts of the allegation may be factual. Attempting to find evidence of what did happen is the great challenge of these cases. All investigative interaction with victims must be carefully and thoroughly documented.
d. Assess and Evaluate Victim Statements
This is the part of the investigative process in child sexual victimization cases that seems to have been lost. Is the victim describing events and activities that are consistent with law enforcement documented criminal behavior, or that are consistent with distorted media accounts and erroneous public perceptions of criminal behavior? Investigators should apply the "template of probability". Accounts of child sexual victimization that are more like books, television, and movies (e.g. big conspiracies, child sex slaves, organized pornography rings) and less like documented cases should be viewed with skepticism but thoroughly investigated. Consider and investigate all possible explanations of events. It is the investigator's job, and the information learned will be invaluable in counteracting the defense attorneys when they raise the alternative explanations.
For example, an adult survivor's account of ritual victimization might be explained by any one of at least four possibilities: First, the allegations may be a fairly accurate account what actually happened. Second, they may be deliberate lies (malingering), told for the usual reasons people lie (e.g. money, revenge, jealousy). Third, they may be deliberate lies (factitious disorder) told for atypical reasons (e.g. attention, forgiveness). Lies so motivated are less likely to be recognized by the investigator and more likely to be rigidly maintained by the liar unless and until confronted with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Fourth, the allegations may be a highly inaccurate account of what actually happened, but the victim truly believes it (pseudomemory) and therefore is not lying. A polygraph examination of such a victim would be of limited value. Other explanations or combinations of these explanations are also possible. Only thorough investigation will point to the correct or most likely explanation.
Investigators cannot rely on therapists or satanic crime experts as a shortcut to the explanation. In one case, the "experts" confirmed and validated the account of a female who claimed to be a 15-year-old deaf-mute kidnapped and held for three years by a satanic cult and forced to participate in bizarre rituals before recently escaping. Active investigation, however, determined she was a 27-year-old woman who could hear and speak, who had not been kidnapped by anyone, and who had a lengthy history of mental problems and at least three other similar reports of false victimization. Her "accurate" accounts of what the "real satanists" do were simply the result of having read, while in mental hospitals, the same books that the "experts" had. A therapist may have important insights about whether an individual was traumatized, but knowing the exact cause of that trauma is another matter. There have been cases where investigation has discovered that individuals diagnosed by therapists as suffering from Post-Vietnam Syndrome were never in Vietnam or saw no combat.
Conversely, in another case, a law enforcement "expert" on satanic crime told a therapist that a patient's accounts of satanic murders in a rural Pacific Northwest town were probably true because the community was a hotbed of such satanic activity. When the the rapist explained that there was almost no violent crime reported in the community, the officer explained that that is how you know it is the satanists. If you knew about the murders or found the bodies, it would not be satanists. How do you argue with that kind of logic?
The first step in the assessment and evaluation of victim statements is to determine the disclosure sequence, including how much time has elapsed since disclosure was first made and the incident was reported to the police or social services. The longer the delay, the bigger the potential for problems. The next step is to determine the number and purpose of all prior interviews of the victim concerning the allegations. The more interviews conducted before the investigative interview, the larger the potential for problems. Although there is nothing wrong with admitting shortcomings and seeking help, law enforcement should never abdicate its control over the investigative interview. When an investigative interview is conducted by or with a social worker or therapist using a team approach, law enforcement must direct the process. Problems can also be created by interviews conducted by various intervenors after the investigative interview(s).
The investigator must closely and carefully evaluate events in the victim's life before, during, and after the alleged abuse.
Events to be evaluated before the alleged abuse include:
- Background of victim.
- Abuse of drugs in home.
- Pornography in home.
- Play, television, and VCR habits.
- Attitudes about sexuality in home.
- Extent of sex education in home.
- Activities of siblings.
- Need or craving for attention.
- Religious beliefs and training.
- Childhood fears.
- Custody/visitation disputes.
- Victimization of or by family members.
- Interaction between victims.
Events to be evaluated during the alleged abuse include:
- Use of fear or scare tactics.
- Degree of trauma.
- Use of magic deception or trickery.
- Use of rituals.
- Use of drugs.
- Use of pornography.
Events to be evaluated after the alleged abuse include:
- Disclosure sequence.
- Background of prior interviewers.
- Background of parents.
- Co-mingling of victims.
- Type of therapy received.
e. Evaluate Contagion
Consistent statements obtained from different multiple victims are powerful pieces of corroborative evidence - that is as long as those statements were not "contaminated". Investigation must carefully evaluate both pre- and post-disclosure contagion, and both victim and intervenor contagion. Are the different victim statements consistent because they describe common experiences or events, or because they reflect contamination or urban legends?
The sources of potential contagion are widespread. Victims can communicate with each other both prior to and after their disclosures. Intervenors can communicate with each other and with victims. The team or cell concepts of investigation are attempts to deal with potential investigator contagion. All the victims are not interviewed by the same individuals, and interviewers do not necessarily share information directly with each other. Teams report to a leader or supervisor who evaluates the information and decides what other investigators need to know.
Documenting existing contagion and eliminating additional contagion are crucial to the successful investigation and prosecution of these cases. There is no way, however, to erase or undo contagion. The best you can hope for is to identify and evaluate it and attempt to explain it. Mental health professionals requested to evaluate suspected victims must be carefully selected. Having a victim evaluated by one of the self-proclaimed experts on satanic ritual abuse or by some other overzealous intervenor may result in the credibility of that victim's testimony being severely damaged.
In order to evaluate the contagion element, investigators must meticulously and aggressively investigate these cases. The precise disclosure sequence of the victim must be carefully identified and documented. Investigators must verify through active investigation the exact nature and content of each disclosure outcry or statement made by the victim. Second-hand information about disclosure is not good enough.
Whenever possible, personal visits should be made to all locations of alleged abuse and the victim's homes. Events prior to the alleged abuse must be carefully evaluated. Investigators may have to view television programs, films, and videotapes seen by the victims. It may be necessary to conduct a background investigation and evaluation of everyone, both professional and nonprofessional, who interviewed the victims about the allegations prior to and after the investigative interview(s). Investigators must be familiar with the information about ritual abuse of children being disseminated in magazines, books, television programs, videotapes, and conferences. Every possible way that a victim could have learned about the details of the abuse must be explored if for no other reason than to eliminate them and counter the defense's arguments.
There may, however, be validity to these contagion factors. They may explain some of the "unbelievable" aspects of the case and result in the successful prosecution of the substance of the case. Consistency of statements becomes more significant if contagion is identified or disproved by independent investigation. The easier cases are the ones where there is a single, identifiable source of contagion. Most cases, however, seem to involve multiple contagion factors.
Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy are complex and controversial issues in these cases. No attempt will be made to discuss them in detail, but they are documented facts (Rosenberg, 1987). Most of the literature about them focuses on their manifestation in the medical setting as false or self-inflicted illness or injury. They are also manifested in the criminal justice setting as false or self-inflicted crime victimization. If parents would poison their children to prove an illness, they might sexually abuse their children to prove a crime. "Victims" have been known to destroy property, manufacture evidence, and mutilate themselves in order to convince others of their victimization. The motivation is psychological gain (i.e. attention, forgiveness, etc.) and not necessarily money, jealousy, or revenge. These are the unpopular, but documented, realities of the world. Recognizing their existence does not mean that child sexual abuse and sexual assault are not real and serious problems.
f. Establish Communication with Parents
The importance and difficulty of this technique in extrafamilial cases involving young children cannot be overemphasized. An investigator must maintain ongoing communication with the parents of victims in these abuse cases. Not all parents react the same way to the alleged abuse of their children. Some are very supportive and cooperative. Others overreact and some even deny the victimization. Sometimes there is animosity and mistrust among parents with different reactions. Once the parents lose faith in the police or prosecutor and begin to interrogate their own children and conduct their own investigation, the case may be lost forever. Parents from one case communicate the results of their "investigation" with each other, and some have even contacted the parents in other cases. Such parental activity is an obvious source of potential contamination.
Parents must be made to understand that their children's credibility will be jeopardized when and if the information obtained turns out to be unsubstantiated or false. To minimize this problem, within the limits of the law and without jeopardizing investigative techniques, parents must be told on a regular basis how the case is progressing. Parents can also be assigned constructive things to do (e.g. lobbying for new legislation, working on awareness and prevention programs) in order to channel their energy, concern, and "guilt".
g. Develop a Contingency Plan
If a department waits until actually confronted with a case before a response is developed, it may be too late. In cases involving ongoing abuse of children, departments must respond quickly, and this requires advanced planning. There are added problems for small- to medium-sized departments with limited personnel and resources. Effective investigation of these cases requires planning, identification of resources, and, in many cases, mutual aid agreements between agencies. The U.S. Department of Defense has conducted specialized training and has developed such a plan for child sex ring cases involving military facilities and personnel. Once a case is contaminated and out of control, I have little advice on how to salvage what may once have been a prosecutable criminal violation. A few of these cases have even been lost on appeal after a conviction because of contamination problems.
h. Multidisciplinary Task Forces
Sergeant Beth Dickinson, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was the chairperson of the Multi-Victim, Multi-Suspect Child Sexual Abuse Subcommittee. Sergeant Dickinson states (personal communication, Nov. 1989):
"One of the biggest obstacles for investigators to overcome is the reluctance of law enforcement administrators to commit sufficient resources early on to an investigation that has the potential to be a multidimensional child sex ring. It is important to get in and get on top of the investigation in a timely manner - to get it investigated in a timely manner in order to assess the risk to children and to avoid hysteria, media sensationalism, and cross-contamination of information. The team approach reduces stress on individual investigators, allowing for peer support and minimizing feelings of being overwhelmed."
The team approach and working together does not mean, however, that each discipline forgets its role and starts doing the other's job.
The investigation of child sex rings can be difficult and time consuming. The likelihood, however, of a great deal of corroborative evidence in a multivictim/multioffender case increases the chances of a successful prosecution if the crime occurred. Because there is still so much we do not know or understand about the dynamics of multidimensional child sex rings, investigative techniques are less certain. Each new case must be carefully evaluated in order to improve investigative procedures.
Because mental health professionals seem to be unable to determine, with any degree of certainty, the accuracy of victim statements in these cases, law enforcement must proceed using the corroboration process. If some of what the victim describes is accurate, some misperceived, some distorted, and some contaminated, what is the jury supposed to believe? Until mental health professionals can come up with better answers, the jury should be asked to believe what the investigation can corroborate. Even if only a portion of what these victims allege is factual, that may still constitute significant criminal activity.
There are many possible alternative answers to the question of why victims are alleging things that don't seem to be true. The first step in finding those answers is to admit the possibility that some of what the victims describe may not have happened. Some experts seem unwilling to even consider this. Most of these victims are also probably not lying and have come to believe that which they are alleging actually happened. There are alternative explanations for why people who never met each other can tell the same story.
I believe that there is a middle ground - a continuum of possible activity. 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. The problem and challenge, especially for law enforcement, is to determine which is which. This can only be done through active investigation. 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. After a lengthy discussion about various alternative explanations and the continuum of possible activity, one mother told me that for the first time since the victimization of her young son she felt a little better. She had thought her only choices were that either her son was a pathological liar or, on the other hand, she lived in a community controlled by satanists.
Law enforcement has the obvious problem of attempting to determine what actually happened for criminal justice purposes. Therapists, however, might also be interested in what really happened in order to properly evaluate and treat their patients. How and when to confront patients with skepticism is a difficult and sensitive problem for therapists.
Any professional evaluating victims' allegations of "ritual" abuse cannot ignore or routinely dismiss the lack of physical evidence (no bodies or physical evidence left by violent murders); the difficulty in successfully committing a large-scale conspiracy crime (the more people involved in any crime conspiracy, the harder it is to get away with it); and human nature (intragroup conflicts resulting in individual self-serving disclosures are likely to occur in any group involved in organized kidnapping, baby breeding, and human sacrifice). If 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. The discovery of the murders in Matamoros, Mexico in 1989 and the results of the subsequent investigation are good examples of these dynamics.
Overzealous intervenors must accept the fact that some of their well-intentioned activity is contaminating and damaging the prosecutive potential of the cases where criminal acts did occur. We must all (i.e., the media, churches, therapists, victim advocates, law enforcement, and the general public) ask ourselves if we have created an environment where victims are rewarded, listened to, comforted, and forgiven in direct proportion to the severity of their abuse. 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? Are we increasing the likelihood that rebellious, antisocial, or attention-seeking individuals will gravitate toward "satanism" by publicizing it and overreacting to it? The overreaction to the problem can be worse than the problem.
The amount of "ritual" child abuse going on in this country depends on how you define the term. One documented example of what I might call "ritual" child abuse was the horror chronicled in the book A Death in White Bear Lake (Siegal, 1990). The abuse in this case, however, had little to do with anyone's spiritual belief system. There are many children in the United States who, starting early in their lives, are severely psychologically, physically, and sexually traumatized by angry, sadistic parents or other adults. Such abuse, however, is not perpetrated only or primarily by satanists. The statistical odds are that such abusers are members of mainstream religions. If 99.9% of satanists and 0.1% of Christians abuse children as part of their spiritual belief system, that still means that the vast majority of children so abused were abused by Christians.
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. Professionals in this field must accept the fact that there is still much we do not know about the sexual victimization of children, and that this area desperately needs study and research by rational, objective social scientists.
If the guilty are to be successfully prosecuted, if the innocent are to be exonerated, and if the victims are to be protected and treated, better methods to evaluate and explain allegations of "ritual" child abuse must be developed or identified. Until this is done, the controversy will continue to cast a shadow over and fuel the backlash against the validity and reality of child sexual abuse.
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd Ed., Rev.). Washington, DC: 1987.
Breiner, S.J., Slaughter of the Innocents: Child Abuse Through the Ages and Today. New York: Plenum Press, 1990.
Brown, R., Prepare for War. Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1987.
Brunvand, J.H., The Vanishing Hitchhiker. New York: Norton, 1981.
Harrington, Walt, "The Devil in Anton LaVey". Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post Magazine, February 23, 1986, pages #6-17.
Lanning, K.V., Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis (2nd Ed.). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1987.
Lanning, K.V. (1989). Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral Analysis. Washington, DC: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
LaVey, Anton, The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon Books, 1969.
Mayer, R.S., Satan's Children. New York: Putnam, 1991.
Michigan Department of State Police, Occult Survey. East Lansing, Michigan, 1990.
National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) News, June-October 1988, page #3.
National Incidence Studies on Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children in America. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 1990.
Prattanis, A., "Hidden messages", Wellness Letter. Berkeley, California: University of California, January 1991, pages #1-2.
Rosenberg, D.A., "Web of Deceit: A Literature Review of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy", Child Abuse and Neglect #2, 1987, pages #547-563.
Rush, E., The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.
Smith, M., & Pazder, L., Michelle Remembers. New York: Congdon and Lattis, 1980.
Siegal, B., A Death in White Bear Lake. New York: Bantam, 1990.
"Stranger-Abduction Homicides of Children", Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Justice, 1989.
Stratford. L., Satan's Underground. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1988.
Terr, L., Too Scared to Cry. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
Timnik, L., "The Times Poll", Los Angeles Times, August 25-26, 1985.
Virginia Crime Commission Task Force, Final Report of the Task Force Studying Ritual Crime. Richmond, Virginia.
12. Suggested Reading
a. Cooper, John Charles, The Black Mask: Satanism in America Today. Old Tappen, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990.
Probably the best of the large number of books available primarily in Christian bookstores and written from the Christian perspective. This one, however, is written without the hysteria and sensationalism of most. Recommended for investigators who want information from this perspective.
b. Hicks, Robert D., In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991.
Undoubtedly the best book written to date on the topic of satanism and the occult from the law enforcement perspective. Robert D. Hicks is a former police officer who is currently employed as a criminal justice analyst for the state of Virginia. Must reading for any criminal justice professional involved in this issue. Unfortunately, in the chapter on "Satanic Abuse of Children", the author appears to have been overly influenced by extreme skeptics with minimal or questionable credentials in this area. The book is easy to read, logical, and highly recommended.
c. Richardson, James T.; Best, Joel; & Bromley, David G.; Eds, The Satanism Scare. NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1991.
The best book now available on the current controversy over satanism written from the academic perspective. The editors and many of the chapter authors are college professors and have written an objective, well-researched book. One of the great strengths of this book is the fact that the editors address a variety of the controversial issues from a variety of disciplines (i.e., sociology, history, folklore, anthropology, criminal justice). Because of its academic perspective it is sometimes harder to read but is well worth the effort. The chapter on "Law Enforcement and the Satanic Crime Connection" contains the results of a survey of "Cult Cops" and is must reading for law enforcement officers. The chapter on "Satanism and Child Molestation: Constructing the Ritual Abuse Scare"was written, however, by a free-lance journalist who seems to take the position that these cases involve little or no real child abuse.
d. Terr, Lenore, Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.
An excellent book written by a psychiatrist that provides important insights into the nature and recallability of early psychic trauma. For me, Dr. Terr's research and findings in the infamous Chowchilla kidnapping case shed considerable light on the "ritual" abuse controversy.
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