In most states in the USA and in many other countries worldwide, psychotherapists, other health practitioners, educators, childcare providers, and others who interface with children, are mandated to make suspected child abuse reports (SCARs) to child protective services (CPS) and law enforcement (LE) when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child, that is, a person under 18 years of age, is being abused.
Psychotherapists face many legal and ethical dilemmas when making reports of suspected child abuse within networks that perpetrate ritual abuse and networks that produce child rape and torture materials.
Note: The term, “child rape and torture materials,” generally refers to recorded and live-stream video of child rape and torture sold and/or traded to consumers, usually via the dark web.
In some cases, CPS and LE adequately investigate such SCARs, children may be protected, and alleged perpetrators may even be arrested.
However, it is my experience and the experience of many other professionals in fields of mental health, child protection, law enforcement, and the law, that SCARs that refer to ritual, ritualistic, or other networked child abuse are less likely to trigger investigations by CPS and LE than SCARs that do not reference such elements. Even if the SCAR omits reference to ritualistic or networked abuse, reports against such abuser networks carry significant risk of harmful outcomes to victims, to the individuals who conveyed suspicion of such abuse to the mandated reporters, and in some cases, to the mandated reporters themselves.
After a brief overview of the nature and scope of ritual abuse and the crime networks that produce child rape and torture materials, this article will discuss possible outcomes, beneficial and harmful, of filing SCARs that reference elements of such abuse, and the complex legal and ethical dilemmas that psychotherapists face when they suspect that a child has been abused in the context of these kinds of abuse.
I. The Nature and Scope of Ritual Abuse: A Brief Overview
Ritual, or ritualistic, abuse began to be known to the field of mental health in the late 1980s. There is no consensus definition of ritual abuse, but the following elements are often included:
1) the abusers seek to spiritually empower themselves and/or their deities in abusive ceremonies and practices, often including human sacrifice;
2) alternatively, the abusers may be motivated by ethnic-hate and political ideologies;
3) abuser networks usually include multiple perpetrators and multiple victims;
4) the abuse is best characterized as torture as it is systematic, extreme, and often involves taking victims close to death;
5) the abuse generally begins in infancy or young childhood;
6) the abusers systematically manipulate victims’ dissociative capacities and dissociated identities to coerce submission, to guard against disclosure, and to gain life-long control of victims (this is often referred to as “mind control” and “trauma-based programming”).
7) the abuse often involves coerced perpetration of abuse by victims against other victims;
8) and the abuse often involves filming children being raped and tortured.
Even in the case of less extreme abuse, few maltreated children come to the attention of CPS and LE (Gilbert, Kemp, Thoburn, Sidebotham, Radford, Glaser, & MacMillan, 2009). Sadly, progress in tackling child sexual abuse may currently be in retreat, including a reduction in rates of reporting suspected child abuse, largely due to the powerful backlash movements and media campaigns that began in the early1990s and continue to the present day (Nelson, 2016).
Ritual abuse is even less likely to come to the attention of CPS and LE, largely because ritual abusers put great time and effort into impeding victim disclosure through terrorization and psychological manipulation of their dissociative capacities.
Nonetheless, there is a solid research foundation substantiating the prevalence of ritual abuse. For example, in their national investigation of 270 cases of substantiated sexual abuse of 1,639 children in day care, Finkelhor, Williams, and Burns (1988) found 13% of the cases involved allegations of ritual abuse.
The “Extreme Abuse Survey (EAS) Series” was an international online study conducted in 2007 of, a) adults who identified themselves as survivors of extreme abuse, b) children 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 ritual abuse. The complete findings of the EAS are published online: http://endritualabuse.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Findings-from-the-2007-EAS-Series-June-25-2016.pdf
James Randall Noblitt and Pamela Perskin Noblitt devote a chapter to “Empirical and Forensic Evidence of Ritual Abuse” in their book, Cult and Ritual Abuse: Narratives, Evidence, and Healing Approaches, 3rd Edition (2014). Many studies in the Noblitts’ literature review describe torture-level abuse and many similar abusive practices across studies. The Noblitts and their publisher, Praeger, have allowed me to publish their chapter in full to my website: http://endritualabuse.org/empirical-and-forensic-evidence-of-ritual-abuse/
II. The Nature and Scope of the Child Rape and Torture Materials Industry: A Brief Overview
The mental health community is still largely unaware of an exploding multi-billion dollar child rape and torture material industry trafficked on the dark web. Also known as “hurtcore,” it includes rape, torture, mutilation, and murder (snuff films) of both boys and girls, often including infants and toddlers. The children are abused, filmed, and live-streamed by perpetrators in the community as well as in abuser-run facilities where they are either permanently enslaved or trafficked in and out to be filmed by abuser networks and prostituted to high-paying customers.
Anti-human-trafficking organizations and the media barely address this form of abuse. When they do, they acknowledge that the customers are world-wide, but tend to attribute production and distribution to the third world. They rarely expose the production, i.e., filming of children being raped and tortured, in developed countries—including children born in these developed countries, as well as trafficked to developed countries from other countries.
Joseph Campbell, Assistant Director of the Investigation Division of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2015, said that child pornography and exploitation in the United States had reached unprecedented, near-epidemic levels. He also said, “The vast majority of the children trafficked in the U.S. are not Mexican or Central American, but are American.” (Washington Examiner, July 30, 2015).
Europol’s 2015 report states that the top internet hosting countries of child abuse material were the United States (37%), Russian Federation (24%), Netherlands (16%) and Canada (11%) (The Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment Report, 2015).
The abuse increasingly includes actual and staged murder. For example, on September 30, 2000, the Guardian reported on a network of child rape and torture materials produced and distributed in Russia with customers arrested in Britain and Italy. In a video series titled Necros Pedo, children were raped and tortured until they died. Australian businessman Peter Scully is currently on trial in the Philippines for cyber-crimes within a lucrative international pedophile ring offering pay-per-view live-stream video of children being raped, tortured, and killed. One series of films named Daisy’s Destruction sold to customers for up to $10,000. Among the film’s victims were Liza (aged 12), Cindy (age 11) and Daisy (18 months), all tortured, brutally raped, and made to appear to be murdered. Investigators found Liza and Daisy alive, though Daisy had lasting injuries. Cindy had later been strangled to death by Scully. Two teenage girls were allegedly found naked and chained in an apartment Sculley rented (The Australian, March 13, 2018).
The industry is growing in prevalence, degree of sadism, use of toddlers and infants, financial profits, and sophistication of encryption and privacy networks, such as The Onion Router (TOR), designed to secure consumer anonymity (Brown, 2015; Schell, Martin, Hung, & Rueda, 2007). Organized, financially-driven, encryption-savvy, criminal networks effect a careful cover-up.
Law enforcement is not adequately funded or equipped to address this.
The most comprehensive documentation I have found of this criminal activity and its prevalence is a 2017 book by Lori Handrahan, Ph.D.: Epidemic: America’s Trade in Child Rape, Trine Day. She continues to publish findings from arrests, court rulings, etc., to her website: https://medium.com/@LoriHandrahan2.
III. Similarities of Child Abuse within Ritual Abuse Networks and Networks that Produce Child Rape and Torture Materials
Ritual abuse and abuse of children in the production of child rape and torture materials are more alike than different. Both are conducted within organized crime networks. Children are raped, tortured, filmed, coerced to abuse each other, and killed. The perpetrators use terrorization and psychologically-sophisticated methods to induce victims’ minds to form dissociated identities. They then condition abuse-bound identities to submit to abuser directives, to perform functions that serve the abuser network (such as luring additional victims), to guard against disclosure of the abuse, and to limit awareness of the abuse to the abuse-bound identities, largely dissociated from victims’ “normal-life” identities.
The main difference between the two kinds of abuse is that ritual abusers have ideological motivations in addition to the financial, sadistic, and pedophilic motivations of the producers of child rape and torture materials.
Furthermore, these two kinds of abuser networks are not mutually exclusive. They sometimes overlap in abuser membership and use of victims and facilities.
Ritual abuse has long been the subject of a large propaganda campaign to discredit its existence. This campaign was spearheaded by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) beginning in 1992. A series of embarrassing events (see: Whitfield, Silberg, & Fink, 2002) have since caused the FMSF to lower its profile. However, the campaign to discredit the reality of ritual abuse continues with great force on the internet (the Wikipedia page on Satanic ritual abuse reduces this abuse to a “moral panic”), in the popular press, and in some academic publications.
Although the crime of production of child rape and torture materials is not adequately exposed by the media and anti-human-trafficking organizations, I am not aware of any misinformation or disinformation media campaign to discredit its existence. This kind of abuse cannot be refuted as LE routinely seizes and electronically captures child abuse materials produced by these networks.
Given that these two forms of abuse are so similar and that ritual abusers only add an ideological aspect to their crimes, we can hope that the powerful evidence proving the existence of networks that produce and distribute child rape and torture materials will raise general awareness of the reality of ritual abuse and the credibility assigned to victim reports of ritual abuse.
IV. Potential Benefits of Filing SCARs of Suspected Ritual Abuse and Victimization by Networks that Produce Child Rape and Torture Materials
Reporting parties should consider the following potential benefits to filing SCARs of ritual abuse and abuse within networks that produce child rape and torture materials.
1) Multiple reports generally draw greater attention from CPS and LE. Prior reports may be on file from teachers, neighbors, healthcare providers, etc., about which a therapist or caregiver has no knowledge. The current SCAR may be the one that makes the difference in protecting a child.
2) SCARs that are made may come to the attention of other parties, such as teachers, neighbors, other therapists, etc., who may be encouraged to file their own SCARs, causing evidence to accumulate.
3) SCARs that come to the attention of abuser networks may act as a deterrent against further abuse because abusers may believe that authorities are conducting an investigation or that they will suspect foul play if further related abuse comes to their attention. However, abusers may also respond to SCARs that come to their attention with an escalation in torture-conditioning of victims in efforts to prevent further reports or provision of supporting evidence to LE or CPS.
4) When protective parents make SCARs of suspected ritual abuse, torture, or abuse of a child by a network that produces child rape and torture materials, or otherwise acts to protect such children, they run some risk that CPS, LE, courts, etc., will judge their concerns to be delusions, will assess them to be schizophrenic, etc., will subject them to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, and may place their children in foster-care, as discussed at length in sections VI and VII below. If a psychotherapist previously filed a SCAR of abuse in the case that included these extreme 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 such possible abuse, that parent would be at higher risk for psychiatric commitment and, in the process, runs the risk of losing custody of her or his children.
5) The more that psychotherapists as a profession file SCARs that include reference to ritual abuse, torture, or abuse of children by networks that produce child rape and torture materials, the more CPS and LE will be called upon to investigate such abuse. The more that psychotherapists fail to file SCARs of such abuse, the more it will be swept under the rug and the more free reign such abusers will have to abuse victims. It is my impression that this is exactly what has happened in the last 25 years in regard to ritual abuse.
6) Psychotherapy clients who report these forms of abuse in therapy may want their therapists to be spokespersons for hope, justice, and 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 a therapist as powerless, 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 children knowing full well that they would suffer terrible retaliation in response, and they did.
However, in my experience, survivors of these forms of abuse are more likely to judge a therapist who files a SCAR against such networks to be naive to the harsh reality of the power wielded by these well-organized, well-connected, criminal networks. I discuss this in detail in section VII.
V. Potential Harmful Outcomes for Failing to File SCARs of Suspected Ritual Abuse and Victimization by Networks that Produce Child Rape and Torture Materials
1) If a protective parent (or other caregiver) fails to file a SCAR when that parent first suspects abuse or fails to inform a child’s psychotherapist of suspected abuse for fear of harmful outcomes from a SCAR, and later, reports suspicion of abuse to the authorities, that parent is at risk of being judged as having failed to protect the child.
2) If a protective parent fails to file a SCAR when that parent first suspects abuse, and later, reports suspicion of abuse to the authorities, that parent may be judged by CPS, LE, or the courts as never having believed that any abuse took place, resulting in the later report being dismissed.
3) 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 file a SCAR when the abuse was first suspected, the risk increases that the Family Court will view that parent as having fabricated the abuse allegation as a weapon in the child custody dispute.
4) If CPS or LE investigates a case of suspected abuse and discovers that a psychotherapist failed to file a SCAR upon his or her original suspicion of abuse, investigators may consider the failure to file a SCAR as indicative of the therapist discounting the likelihood that any abuse occurred.
5) In legal actions to potentially protect or advocate for a child victim, such as seeking a petition for a restraining order against an alleged abuser, criminal prosecution of an accused abuser, or a lawsuit against an alleged abuser, if a child’s psychotherapist failed to file a SCAR upon his or her initial suspicion of abuse, the credibility of the therapist’s testimony concerning possible abuse is weakened and is likely to be attacked.
6) When psychotherapists fail to file mandated SCAR upon reasonable suspicion of abuse, there is significant likelihood that this failure to report will 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.
VI. Systemic Failures in Response to SCARs of Suspected Ritual Abuse and Victimization by Networks that Produce Child Rape and Torture Materials
Unfortunately, in my experience, the likelihood of protective action by CPS and LE is low and the risk of negative outcomes is high in response to SCARs related to ritual abuse, torture, and abuse by networks that produce child rape and torture materials.
Many factors result in inadequate, negligent, dismissive, and sometimes even hostile and punitive responses by CPS and LE to reports that reference elements of such abuse. Generally, CPS and LE give reports of such 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 extreme and networked abuse because the perpetrators are so skilled in covering their tracks. With victims with lives in the community, they use forms of torture that leave no apparent physical evidence. Much of the abuse is done in hidden and underground facilities and on private property. Many victims are born with no birth records. Homeless people who are abducted and victimized are not likely to be reported as missing. Bodies of murdered victims are disposed of by members of the network with 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 a child was abused. Information that psychotherapists include in SCARs and follow-up information from therapists are given relatively little weight. This is a tragic problem in cases of ritual abuse, torture, and abuse by networks that produce child rape and torture materials. These abusers terrorize victims to never disclose the abuse with specific focus on preventing disclosure to police and child protection investigators. These psychologically-savvy abusers skillfully manipulate victims’ minds to sequester awareness of the abuse in submerged, abuse-bound identities, while “front” identities are trained to appear normal. Victims with some conscious awareness of their abuse are well-practiced in hiding the high levels of fear that are 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 terrorization and skillful psychological manipulation are inevitable in such cases. They are likely to interpret a child’s failure to disclose abuse and a facade of apparent normalcy as indicative of no abuse. They mistakenly give little weight to the evidence that psychotherapists provide.
3) Few CPS and LE investigators understand that severely abused children typically dissociate their abuse, often have dissociated identities, and that Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a common response to extreme and early abuse.
4) If a psychotherapist or other party raises the possibility that a victim may have dissociated identities and DID, investigators are likely to dismiss it as fictitious. Investigators and courts often view DID as an invalid diagnosis, iatrogenic, or malingering.
5) Ritual abuse, torture, and abuse within networks that produce child rape and torture materials are so heinous and unthinkable, investigators may dismiss them as untrue based in their own, often unconscious, fear and revulsion.
6) Investigators who are not educated about such abuse often view these children as non-credible, mentally ill, or having been coached by their parents or overzealous psychotherapists.
7) If disclosures of such 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 mentally ill, delusional, or schizophrenic, because they usually have DID, prior psychiatric hospitalizations, sometimes substance abuse histories, etc.
8) In many cases, CPS and LE officials describe allegations of ritual abuse as “bizarre.” Special interest groups acting to completely dismiss the reality of ritual abuse have applied the term “bizarre” to this abuse for about 25 years. 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. I am not aware of this term being applied to abuse within networks that produce child rape and torture materials. However, the media and anti-human trafficking organizations are not doing enough to expose it.
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. In his report, he wrote:
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.
Lanning’s report is widely-cited by parties who advance the idea that ritual abuse does not exist and has been a significant contributing factor to the dismissal of allegations of suspected ritual abuse by CPS and LE.
10) Officials in LE and CPS tend to dismiss reports of ritual and other extreme abuse due to the large propaganda campaign by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) to discredit ritual abuse, government mind control, such as the CIA’s cold-war Project MK-Ultra, recovered memories of abuse, children’s abuse disclosures, DID, 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 of such abuse. Consequently, investigators often view allegations of extreme and networked abuse as myths or “conspiracy theories.”
11) CPS and LE often fear criticism in the media for investigating 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, LE, and District Attorneys (DA) fear lawsuits for addressing cases of ritual abuse, again driven much by the FMSF. Following a number of acquittals in prosecutions involving cases that included ritualistic abuse, CPS, LE, and the DA have been successfully sued.
13) CPS and LE may be pressured from “above,” e.g., the office of DA, not to investigate allegations of ritual abuse because of failed prosecutions in past such cases (e.g., the acquittals of Dale Akiki and the McMartin Preschool Case). About 10 years ago, I met with retired officials from a California county DA office and CPS office. They both said: “No one [in CPS, LE, the DA’s office] is going to touch these cases, they have been too badly burned.”
14) In some jurisdictions, grand juries have discredited the existence of ritual abuse.
15) The enormity of the allegations in ritual and other networked abuse, including multiple victims and multiple perpetrators in multiple abuse sites, overwhelm the investigative capacities of CPS and LE. These agencies are generally understaffed and underfunded. 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.
By way of example, since 2008, United Kingdom officials have been investigating a Rotherham case of gangs that may have abused more than 1,500 victims since 1997. The Independentreports that the investigation has cost more than £10m so far, and currently has a £6.9m annual budget and 144 officers working the case. A commissioned report found that authorities ignored reports of this abuse for more than a decade (The Independent, February 20, 2018).
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 and therapists 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 his book, The Witch-hunt Narrative (2014).
17) In the case of Family Court custody disputes, when one party enters any suspicion of abuse by another party into the dispute, that suspicion is often construed by CPS, LE, and the court as a weapon in the dispute, as a fabricated allegation to gain advantage in the legal action. If the abuse allegation includes elements of ritual abuse, torture, or abuse within a child abuse network, the risk increases that the abuse allegation will be dismissed as fabricated. This is the likely outcome even if the suspicion of abuse comes to the attention of authorities only in the form of a SCAR filed by a child’s psychotherapist or by a therapist treating a parent who provided information that caused the therapist to reasonably suspect abuse. In other words, parents need not initiate any allegation with the authorities to be viewed by LE, CPS, and the court as having fabricated the allegation.
18) Parties who are investigated as possible abusers, 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, their families, fellow officers, etc. Upon getting such a case, the officer may receive a photograph of his or her children playing in the yard or at a park, prompting the officer to cease or botch the investigation.
21) Officers and their loved ones may be killed by organized crime networks. Their murders may be made to look like suicides or vehicular accidents. Threats and suspicion of foul play are unlikely to be discussed beyond the CPS or LE agency.
22) CPS, LE, and the office of the DA are subject to corruption, 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). Large organized criminal networks plant their members in CPS and LE. If an abuse network does not include LE and CPS officials, victims will be convinced that the network has such authorities in their pockets, by having abusers dress in police uniforms, etc. Only a few dirty or compromised officers, especially in strategic positions, can sabotage an investigation by leaking information to offenders, destroying evidence, and/or closing cases. In many cases, the officer who takes the report takes it seriously, but officials higher up in the department stop the investigation.
23) If victims disclose spiritual effects of their abuse, e.g., worship of a deity, 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 disclose to the authorities that some of their dissociated identities have taken them back to their abusers, opened 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) When victims bring their injuries to the attention of doctors, hospitals, or LE, the injuries are often interpreted to be the result of self-harm, especially if the individual has a significant psychiatric history or alleges that the abuse was perpetrated by an organized abuser network.
VII. Potential Harmful Outcomes to Victims in Response to SCARs of Suspected Ritual Abuse and Victimization by Networks that Produce Child Rape and Torture Materials
In addition to the problems described above, SCARs that include reference to ritual abuse, torture, or abuse by networks that produce child rape and torture imagery can place victims, their children, protective parents, caregivers, and friends, in significant danger, in the following ways:
1) If a child abused by such networks is not afforded immediate and full protection in response to a SCAR, a highly unlikely outcome, and if the network discovers that a SCAR has been filed, there is significant risk of extreme retaliation against the child and/or against the adult victim who provided the information prompting the SCAR. Victims regularly report witnessing extreme torture in retaliation against victims judged by their abusers to be traitors. I know of corroborated cases of brutal punishment of victims who cooperated with the authorities to protect children.
2) Victims 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. I have interviewed victims who report that their abusers, in response to any act of “disobedience” by any victim, punish the whole group of victims, both children and adults.
3) Even if LE takes a SCAR seriously, even if the case is being criminally prosecuted, LE does not generally provide further protection of victims. LE takes a report, may investigate, may refer the case to the DA, may support a restraining order, but usually does not offer further protection.
4) If adult victims report that they themselves are being abused and that their dissociated identities return them to their abuser networks, open their doors to abusers, etc., they tend to be viewed by LE as consenting. LE has difficulty grasping how abusers successfully manipulate terrified dissociated identities.
5) When LE or CPS judge children, adolescents, and adults who report extreme and networked abuse to be mentally ill, delusional, schizophrenic, etc., there is some risk that they will be subjected to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization. Victims or organized criminal abuse fear that they will be abused in psychiatric hospitals, including punishment for their abuse reports. In some cases, this fear is realistic.
6) Both adult and child victims who have been coerced through torture to hurt or kill other victims are terrified that they may be judged by LE as accomplices and may be subject to arrest. It is highly unlikely that any negative LE outcome would come to child victims coerced through torture to harm others. Adult victims are much more likely to be judged as delusional, etc., than as accomplices. However, the fear of arrest and possibility of arrest should not be downplayed.
7) Victims may be arrested, convicted of perjury, and jailed simply for reporting their child abuse to the authorities if the crime network is sufficiently well-connected and powerful.
This is exactly what happened to Alisha Owen in the Franklin case, a nationwide pedophile network centered out of Omaha, Nebraska, that trafficked children out of foster-homes and Boys Town in the 1980s, coordinated, in great part, by a local credit union manager, Lawrence King.
Gary Caradori, Nebraska chief investigator in the case, interviewed Alisha Owen on videotape on November 7, 1989. Owen testified to abuse by the network beginning in August, 1983, when she was 14 years old and told Caradori that Lawrence King threatened her when she was 17. Owen’s videotaped testimony describing these threats is in minutes 41 to 42:20 of this interview: https://archive.org/details/GaryCaradoriInterviewsOfFranklinScandalVictims. Caradori’s report on Alisha Owen is also online: http://franklinscandal.com/links/sOwens_11_7_89.pdf.
On March 19, 1990, the Douglas County Grand Jury was impaneled to investigate the case. 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.
On July 23, 1990, when these hearings concluded, the grand jury indicted 21-year-old Alisha on eight counts of perjury. On May 17, 1991, the jury convened in the perjury trial of Alisha. On June 21, 1991, 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 was appealed on multiple acts of malfeasance, but the Nebraska judiciary did not waver.
On July 11, 1990, Gary Caradori and his 6-year-old son died in an airplane 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. A number of events surrounding this incident suggest that Aaron’s death was actually a murder, consistent with the fears that Alisha disclosed to Caradori.
In 2000, Alisha was released from prison. Alisha stands by her testimony to this day.
The Franklin case is thoroughly documented by Nick Bryant in The Franklin Scandal: A Story of Powerbrokers, Child Abuse & Betrayal (2009).
8) CPS may judge protective parents as delusional or mentally ill when they disclose information that prompts SCARs that include allegations of ritual abuse, torture, or abuse within networks that produce rape and torture materials. Such parents may be seen as subjecting their children to emotional abuse by believing that such abuse occurred, as fostering delusions, or as engaging the child in a folie a deux. In response, CPS may remove the child from that protective parent and may place the child in foster-care or with another family member. The child may even be placed with a relative who is an abuser in the crime network.
9) If one parent alleges that the other parent in an intact family has been abusing their child, CPS may view the alleging parent as having failed to protect the child up to that point, resulting in the child being taken into placement.
10) If a family is engaged in a Family Court custody dispute, and one parent alleges that the other parent abused the child within the context of ritual abuse, torture, or a network that produces rape and torture materials, or provides information to a psychotherapist that prompts a SCAR with these elements, the alleging parent runs a high risk of losing some or all of his or her custody and may be allowed only supervised visitation with the child.
Family courts generally dismiss most allegations of any kind of child abuse or domestic violence. They tend to view abuse allegations as fabrications, simply as weapons to gain advantage in the custody battle. If child abuse is substantiated, e.g., medical findings of genital injury, the court may be largely dismissive of the possibility that the abuse was perpetrated by a parent. When the evidence identifies a parent as the abuser, e.g., by a neutral witness to the abuse, a semen sample, the Family Court tends to downplay the traumatic impact of child abuse. It has a strong bias that children need both parents, that parents, even children, should forgive the abuser, move on, etc.
Even if a child’s first disclosure of abuse is to a therapist, a CPS worker, or a LE 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 of abuse by a parent, or based in behaviors that raise suspicion of abuse by that parent, are usually quickly judged by the Family Court to be biased against that parent and/or as having induced “false memories” of abuse. 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, or course, 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 parent 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 psychological evaluation of all family members by a court-appointed psychologist to evaluate custody and visitation. However, such evaluations generally do not include an adequate forensic evaluation specific to child abuse.
All of these problems in the Family Court are compounded when the abuse allegations include elements of ritual abuse, torture, or abuse by networks that produce rape and torture materials. In addition to the problems described above, the court may view alleging parents as delusional, schizophrenic, or even as psychologically abusing their children by holding such beliefs. Although rare, there is some risk that the court may judge such parents as an immediate danger to their children and call upon the authorities to commit them involuntarily to a psychiatric facility. Psychologists court-ordered to perform custody evaluations are unlikely to have any working knowledge of ritual and other organized abuse, DID, or the complexities of assessing such cases. There is a significant risk that the court will grant full physical custody, sometimes full legal custody, to the alleged abuser or to family members who are related to the alleged abuser.
Given these significant risks, in some cases, parents who have suspected ritualistic or other networked abuse of their children have chosen to never raise the issue with the Family Court to retain reasonable custody and to provide their children with an optimal experience in the time they have together.
11) Even if a child is removed from an abusive home, there is a risk that CPS will place the child in a home that is either a part of the child’s 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. However, the risk of unsafe foster-homes cannot be overlooked. In the Franklin case (#7 above), children were trafficked from foster-homes connected to the abuser network. Many adults describe being placed in foster-homes that were involved in their abuse.
12) Children victimized by these criminal networks and their protective caregivers are often terrified that a psychotherapist may file a SCAR that may place their child in increased danger. If a therapist files a SCAR against their wishes, they may no longer feel safe to participate in therapy. In efforts to keep their child safe, protective caregivers may feel compelled to pull the child 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.
13) The organized criminal networks may harass or otherwise retaliate against protective parents, foster-parents, etc., who file SCARs or who provide information to a psychotherapist that prompts a SCAR. However, murder of caregivers and reporting parties appears to be fairly uncommon because LE is more likely to thoroughly investigate murder and the abuser groups’ top priority is avoiding detection.
14) If a psychotherapist makes a SCAR based on the reports of a client subjected to these forms of abuse, there is a significant risk that the client will become dangerously suicidal. Such abusers torture-condition dissociated identities in their victims to “kill the body” or kill other identities who threaten to disclose the abuse or expose the abusers. Such torture-conditioned identities may not even understand that they share the same body and that to kill the body or other identities is to kill themselves. Alternatively, given the low likelihood that LE will judge reports of such abuse as credible, conduct an investigation, or offer any protection, the client may make a fully conscious decision to kill himself or herself to avoid the worse outcome, retaliatory abduction and torture. In providing therapy to such clients, managing the high risk of suicide is a constant challenge. Betraying such a client’s confidentiality by involving the authorities can further dangerously elevate this high suicide risk.
15) If the psychotherapist files a SCAR against the wishes of an adult client victimized by these extreme forms of abuse, 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 these abuser networks. Survivors regularly describe extensive torture-conditioning to prevent them from trusting therapists and engaging productively in the psychotherapy process.
If the abuse is ongoing, as is often the case, it is very difficult for victims to overcome the controls of their abuse networks. To lose trust in a therapist, especially a therapist informed about these forms of abuse, can mean that these victims lose any way to escape their abuser networks.
Victims of such abuse have valid reasons to believe that a SCAR may not protect any children and may place their own children, loved ones, friends, 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 abduction, torture, etc. The threat of torture is a high price to pay for a SCAR that may or may not protect anyone.
VIII. A Brief Note on Torture
Torture is unbearable by intent and torturers usually do not afford 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 the idea of torture, a reflexive thought may cross our minds: “No, I would resist; I would not be controlled; I would not stay silent; I would protect others; I would not submit to their will; I would not return for more abuse; I would not reveal things that would harm 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 extreme abuse for 25 years, I have come to believe a much darker truth – it is impossible to maintain one’s free will in the face of torture. Full submission is gained very quickly. A basic survival response kicks in and the victim submits to the will of the torturer, often even when not in their presence, 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, great sorrow, and moral injury that come 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.
IX. Potential Risks to Professionals from Filing SCARs of Suspected Ritual Abuse and Victimization by Networks that Produce Child Rape and Torture Materials
SCARs against ritualistic abusers and abusers that produce child rape and torture materials, and SCARS that reference such elements, may also yield negative consequences for mandated reporters, including psychotherapists. The possible negative outcomes include the following.
1) CPS and LE officials may turn on psychotherapists who file SCARs that reference these forms of abuse, portraying them within their own agencies, and to other institutions, as believing reports of abuse that are “bizarre,” as failing to assess the individuals who reported such abuse as delusional, or as themselves, delusional, over-involved, over-zealous, non-objective, having poor boundaries, conducting leading interviews, implanting memories, etc.
2) In response to psychotherapists’ SCARs that reference such elements, complaints may be filed against the therapists’ local, state-wide, and/or national governing and credentialing bodies, or to bodies that oversee local court-approved psychotherapist panels, for reporting bizarre allegations of abuse, for not assessing a disclosing client as delusional, for being delusional themselves, etc.
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. At the time, the woman reported information concerning suspected abuse that mandated me to file two SCARs.
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 ask me to appear at a hearing. The Board’s decision supports psychotherapists’ mandate to report all forms of suspected child abuse, including abuse that includes extreme, networked, and ritualistic elements.
3) Abuser networks may harass or threaten psychotherapists 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 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.
X. Partial Solutions to Psychotherapists’ Legal and Ethical Dilemmas Related to Filing SCARs of Suspected Ritual Abuse and Victimization by Networks that Produce Child Rape and Torture Materials
The following are partial solutions to some of the problems described above.
1) It may be preferable to include in SCARs only statements and observations related to simple physical or sexual abuse, omitting any reference to ritual abuse, torture, or abuse within networks that produce child rape and torture materials. Inclusion of such elements can weaken the credibility of the SCAR as a whole, increasing the likelihood that it will be quickly dismissed as “bizarre,” etc. Additionally, these forms of abuse are so abhorrent, they are challenging to assimilate, even by the authorities.
Physical and sexual abuse are against the law. But few, if any, criminal statutes exist specific to ritual or networked abuse. Although these forms of abuse are the most heinous, some of the elements are not illegal, e.g., inclusion of worship of deities within abuse. Also, defense attorneys may later use allegations of ritualistic elements within abuse to sidetrack legal proceedings into an issue of infringement on the religious freedom of the accused.
As in reporting any suspected abuse, and even more important in reporting abuse that includes torture, ritualistic, and networked elements, it is important that psychotherapists omit any opinion about whether the suspected abuse actually 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 child stated that….”
“The mother reported that the child said…”
“In play, the child represented being forcibly drowned.” “The [adult] client said that she witnessed…”
This approach of omitting details related to ritual abuse, torture, and networked abuse sounds reasonable in theory, but usually falls quite short in practice. It is very difficult to omit information specific to these forms of abuse when filing a SCAR. Victims’ disclosures, a key element in most SCARs, often refer to these aspects of their abuse. Children’s behavior issues and play often also suggest these elements. And once victims are interviewed, once information is gathered from caregivers, parents, therapists, teachers, etc., these 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 extreme and networked 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) 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 of such abuse, 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, fails to protect children and can place the therapy client, and possibly others, in greater danger. In such a case, the psychotherapist would document in the therapy record that there was not enough reasonable suspicion of abuse of now-children to mandate a SCAR given that the client’s perceptions and memories are highly unstable, confused, vary across dissociated self-states, may be distorted based in overgeneralized fear, etc.
4) Psychotherapists can work together with their clients to evaluate the scope and power of the abuser network in question. Children abused by smaller, less well-connected, networks will have a higher likelihood of CPS and LE protection in response to a SCAR. Positive outcomes are also more likely if the abusers are less skilled in psychologically manipulating victims’ dissociative processes to prevent disclosure. The more powerful the crime syndicate and the more adept at mind control, the greater the risk of a negative outcome. It can be very difficult to sort out these questions because most abuser networks work to cause their victims to believe that they are very powerful and well-connected.
All of these possibilities are only partial solutions. The psychotherapist who takes any of these approaches 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 these extreme forms of 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.
Psychotherapists face many serious clinical challenges and legal and ethical dilemmas in working with clients victimized within ritual abuse and/or networks that produce child rape and torture materials, 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 the childhood notion that help 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 abuse, particularly extreme and networked abuse, may not be forthcoming in our society at present.
Education about ritual abuse and networks that produce child rape and torture materials and legal reforms that incorporate knowledge about these forms of abuse are needed in all involved institutions, including CPS, LE, domestic violence programs, adult protective services, anti- human-trafficking organizations, legislation, the Family Court, District Attorney offices, 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 these forms of 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, and we become proactive.
We need the media to do a better job. The media, which largely creates social consciousness, has failed to adequately cover these forms of abuse. The media aligned in the 1990s with the propaganda campaign of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation to discredit ritual abuse, recovered memories of abuse, dissociation, DID, etc. It was a key player in the cover-up in the Franklin Case (Bryant, 2014; Goddard & Saunders, 2001).
Perhaps this is beginning to change. Many forms of extreme abuse have received increased media attention in recent years, including increased attention to the production and distribution of child rape and torture materials, human trafficking, clergy abuse, polygamist cults, the dark web, 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 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 extreme abuse.
However, I believe that psychotherapists will have to be the ones to lead the way in this battle to raise awareness and to overcome the large-scale denial of the existence of ritual abuse and abuse by networks that produce child rape and torture materials. Psychotherapists are usually the first responders, the ones with whom victims first share their stories, if they can share them at all. We understand psychological 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 (PTSD). 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, horror, and terrorization. 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 in order for them to be heard on a larger scale.
A large segment of psychotherapists who specialize in trauma and dissociation have worked with clients who report histories of ritual and other networked abuse and know that their stories are true. These therapists have witnessed dissociated identities, PTSD symptoms, and states of terror and panic that match their narratives. Many psychotherapists have corroboration for some of their cases. However, most of these clinicians use great caution in speaking about these forms of abuse in journal articles, conference presentations, amongst 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 (e.g., Dalenberg et al., 2012). With this 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, to acknowledge that extreme forms of abuse are a very serious social issue.
We need to publish more about these extreme forms of abuse in journals, to present more about them at professional conferences, and to welcome narratives of this abuse in our psychotherapy offices and psychiatric hospitals. Our professional organizations need to publicly acknowledge the reality of extreme abuse as much as we acknowledge other abuse. Content about extreme 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, psychotherapists need to more fully utilize the internet. This is where we can have the greatest impact in increasing awareness of ritual abuse, torture of children, and victimization by networks that produce and distribute child rape and torture materials. The internet is where survivors, other therapists, social service agencies, investigators, legislators, and the public at large can easily access information. I imagine a day when hundreds of therapists post articles on their websites that acknowledge the reality of these extreme forms of abuse and their painful aftermath. The more voices we have, the more pivotal a force are 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. We can be the impetus for institutions beginning to investigate SCARs of extreme child abuse as willingly as they investigate less severe abuse. We can work toward the day when victims will be able to report ritualistic and networked abuse to the authorities without fear of dismissal, and psychotherapists mandated to report suspected abuse of children 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 ritualistic 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 have grown largely 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! While a number of parties continue to downplay the prevalence and damage of child abuse (e.g., The Trauma Myth, by Clancy, 2011), classify therapists working with trauma and dissociation as charlatans and 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.
Psychotherapists need to talk more openly with each other about the kinds of problems set forth in this article, to better-support each other against people who seek to silence us, to stand beside victims and survivors as they work to be heard, and to amplify their voices to the institutions that can help to protect abused children and adults who are still being victimized by these powerful abuser networks.
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