20/20 program on the devil-worship hysteria circa mid-80's. This is what it was like.
This presentation pre-dates Geraldo's "Exposing Satan's Underground", and really got the bandwagon wheels rolling on the fictional phenomina. The FBI has since proven the SRA allegations false, and these tales remain an urban legend. Preserved here for archival purposes.
As tends to be the typical case, with the exception of The Church of Satan segment, the key word remains "devil-worshippers", or heretical reverse christians, not actual Satanists. It is maintained that there are Satanists, then there are nuts.
* See: this article.
Satanic ritual abuse
Satanic ritual abuse, or SRA, is an alleged practice of an organized network of Satanists engaging in brainwashing and abuse of victims, especially children, throughout the United States or even the world. The term Satanic Ritual Abuse is often used interchangeably with Sadistic Ritual Abuse, a broader term that refers to any and all ritualistic abuse. This is especially the case in psychology. Claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse remain controversial and law enforcement sources, criminologists, psychologists, and religious affairs commentors generally consider this belief false or at least grossly exaggerated. At present, press and media figures and much of the public treats claims of Satanic ritual abuse with great skepticism. Many sociologists class the public outcry in the 1980s concerning SRA as an example of a public moral panic.
Those who believe that there is organized Satanic ritual abuse going on in the United States claim that large numbers of people there are ritually murdered annually. Some sources claim Utah State Prison psychologist Al Carlisle estimated between 40,000 to 60,000 people are ritually murdered annually in the US. However, Al Carlisle was quoting another person's estimate, and acknowledged the figure would have to be much lower. The FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) statistics list only 16,504 total homicides reported to law enforcement in 2003. See Crime in the United States - 2003.
There is no generally accepted evidence of a statistically significant number of murders due to SRA. Despite widespread claims, no firm evidence of any organized network of Satanic ritual abuse has been presented in court. The panic slowly faded in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance concludes: "In the early 1990s, we analyzed reports on SRA from both believers and skeptics. We tentatively concluded that the skeptics are correct; there is no international Satanic conspiracy ritually abusing and murdering children. We have been tracking the SRA movement ever since, and have not seen any hard evidence to change our conclusions."  In addition, the FBI has concluded that a widespread SRA conspiracy simply does not exist.
The Church Of Satan condemns the ritualised abuse of children or any that are unwilling to participate in any activities. It also seriously condemns any illegal activites, unless fully justifiable.
The belief that certain people worship evil principles or entities, and use magic powers against others, commonly known as witchcraft, is probably as old as mankind and can today still be found in many cultures. For example the early Christian writer Epiphanius of Salamis in the fourth century CE accused the Gnostic sect of the Borborites of abortion and consuming the babies.
The earliest claims that organised groups systematically and repeatedly torture and kill others in the context of devil worship can be found in the European witch-panics. For instance, in 1334 there was a trial of 63 presumed witches in Toulouse, France, who were accused of worshipping Satan, eating infant flesh, engaging in sexual orgies with others and with Satan himself. Eight of them were burned and the rest imprisoned. Earlier witch panics are usually not well documented, especially when there was no official trial. Witchhunting in Europe reached a peak in the 16th and 17th centuries, when many mass trials against presumed worshippers of Satan took place.
Even though some religious fundamentalists continue to believe in the occult power of witchcraft, most religious leaders deny that actual magic exists and denounce these accusations. They typically characterize the accused to have been singled out for being mentally ill or otherwise different. The Roman Catholic Church continues to appoint exorcists and teach that Satan is "the prince of this world", and that the work of mediums and spiritualists, even when not ordered directly towards Satan, is opening the door to him. Prominent exorcists like Father Gabriele Amorth believe that witchcraft is the source of 90% of demonic afflictions.
Reports of SRA began occurring as early as the 1960s and coinciding with numerous cattle mutilations in the southwest of the USA.  Following the publication of books purportedly by survivors or perpetrators, concern over SRA became more prominent, and in the 1980s a "Satanic panic" appeared to descend on some American Christian communities. According to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, an "SRA industry" sprang up in this period, with self-appointed experts taking money to educate law enforcement and private citizens on the alleged threat.
During this period, evidence for SRA primarily took one of two different forms:
questioning of children who, according to investigators, reported being the victims of SRA.
"recovered memories" of adults who discover allegedly repressed memories of Satanic ritual abuse, when they underwent various forms of psychotherapy.
Claims of SRA have included many different elements, but most often include shocking and disgusting behavior, inappropriate and violent sexuality, and the suggestion of imaginative cruelty:
- Ritual sacrifice of animals and people of all ages including carrying out sacrifices in the British House of Commons.
- Cannibalism, including forced cannibalism including cooking babies in microwaves
- Keeping people naked in snake-filled cages
- Inflicting spider bites
- Urinating into the victim's mouth or over their body
- Burying people alive
- Crucifixion and similar tortures
- Electric Shock
- Chemical Injections
- Summoning supernatural beings
- Sleep Deprivation
- Sensory deprivation Tanks
- Black Masses
- Mock Marriages
- Forced pregnancies
- Sexual abuse, including ritual sexual abuse of children of all ages
- Murder (estimates go up to 10,000 a year and higher)
- Necrophilia (sex with the dead)
- Infiltrating politics, the police, and the legal and medical profession
- Funding research into the false memory syndrome
A number of people claiming to be experts on SRA appeared on popular television programs in the 1980s and early 1990s. Wiccan investigators have pointed out that reports of the supposed procedures of Satanic abusers are inconsistent between these individuals and believe that the promoters are either lying or mentally ill. Others suspect that the promoters of SRA claims are simply very good at appealing to viewers' morbid curiosity; programs detailing SRA have often had large audiences.
In 1987, Geraldo Rivera hosted the first of a series of special reports on his primetime television program discussing alleged epidemics of Satanic ritual abuse. He stated that: "Estimates are that there are over 1 million Satanists in this country [...] The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town."
Following this series of programs, outbreaks of SRA-based hysteria occurred in towns and cities across the United States, particularly concerning allegations of Satanic practices by teenagers, and accusations of Satanic practices at nursery schools. Rivera's programs were very important in expanding popular belief in SRA.
The first case of alleged SRA occurred in Kern County, California in 1982. Initially, two couples were accused of having formed a sex ring to abuse their children; in the end some 60 children testified to the truth of various bizarre allegations. Long prison sentences resulted, all of them being overturned on appeal, largely because the children had been subjected to suggestive interrogation techniques, many had later recanted, and there was no physical evidence. The two couples spent 12 years in prison before being released; one defendant in a similar Kern County case waited 20 years for his release. Another defendant remains in a mental hospital for sex offenders because he had a prior conviction of child abuse. See Kern county child abuse cases for details.
One famous false case of SRA involved a large number of children at McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California in 1983. Under interrogation techniques such as the Reid technique, which was originally designed to trick adults into confessing, small children told police they had been sexually abused, forced to murder infants, and drink blood (see blood libel). They also recalled being flushed down the toilet and abused in sewers, taken into an underground cavern beneath the school, flying through the air, and seeing giraffes and lions. The original accuser appears to have been an alcoholic schizophrenic whose claims derived from her mental illness. Eventually the case collapsed under its own weight, but several completely innocent people were ruined financially and socially by association with the case.
Beginning in 1983, a series of abuse claims were made in the small town of Jordan, Minnesota. Twenty-four adults were charged, but ultimately exonerated. The case was popularized in part by Big Black's song, "Jordan, Minnesota."
About forty similar incidents have occurred elsewhere, mainly in the United States, including the town of Edenton, NC, but also in Martensville, Saskatchewan. The remains of a small infant girl, first dubbed 'Baby X' and later 'Kristina Angelica James,' were discovered near Rupert, Idaho in the early 1990s, and the body was considered evidence of SRA activity. Yet no unambiguous evidence linking the girl's death to SRA was ever found.
Several "mass child abuse" scares took place in Germany (in Coesfeld, Worms and Nordhorn), where violent rituals and underground tunnel networks were sometimes alleged; all the accused were later acquitted. Two widely publicized cases of similar mass hysteria occurred in the north of the Netherlands, one in Oude Pekela in which a clown was the alleged main perpetrator and another in Emmer-Erfscheidenveen in which the common theme of secret tunnels and basements featured prominently. No trace of evidence was ever found and all the accused were exonerated.
Three widely publicised cases in the United Kingdom were in Rochdale, Orkney, and Nottingham. In the Nottingham case, social services investigations into a Broxtowe Estate family with multigenerational child sexual abuse and neglect became sidetracked into a wild goose chase looking for Satanic cults, with wilder and wilder allegations being investigated. Nottingham council organised an inquiry into the events of this case, which cast so poor a light on the competence of the social services that the council unsuccessfully tried to block distribution of the final report. The authorities in the Orkney investigation were criticised for carrying out dawn raids to 'rescue' suspected victims from their families, without explanation, then taking them by helicopter or boat to the Scottish mainland, only to later have to return them after the accusations turned out to be groundless.
In 2004 the naked body of an apparently African male child was found in the River Thames, in London, and allegations have been made that the child was sacrificed in a ritual, either Satanic or animist in nature, and that many other Third World children had met like fates having been brought into the UK as child asylum-seekers, or displaced distant relatives of people who had recently immigrated. Subsequently reports have been made concerning children of African-immigrant families who have been abused because members believe them to be possessed by devils (strictly speaking, in these cases, the abuse is inspired by a version of Christianity, not Satanism, since the victims, not the perpetrators, are believed to be satanically influenced). (See Torso in the Thames)
The West Memphis Three is another case involving SRA accusations.
In 2004, the legal defense team of Scott Peterson, charged in the murder of his wife Laci Peterson, alleged that the real killers may have been members of a Satanic cult. They never produced any evidence to support these claims and Peterson was found guilty of the crime.
In 2005 after a string of child abuse cases were discovered in Finland, the media claimed the actions to be satanism -related, which was later debunked.
The key problem in cases of SRA relying on children's testimony is the methodology by which such testimony is obtained. Children are very suggestible and will generally try to please the adult who interacts with them. On the other hand, social workers and therapists working with children believed that children would not openly talk about the abuse they suffered because of shame, or that they might even have repressed the memories of the abuse and that these memories would have to be recovered. In general, investigators worked under the assumption that the abuse had happened and needed to be discovered through aggressive questioning over a prolonged period of time. Investigators also sometimes relied on "diaries" where children were supposed to relate their experiences, or on the interpretation of drawings and of doll play. All these techniques are now regarded as highly problematic as they rely strongly on the interpretation of the investigator and encourage the child to mix fantasy and reality.
The questions asked were typically yes/no questions: "Did person X touch you there?" Even if the child answered no, the next question might be something like "When he touched you, did you like it?" No matter what the child answered to the second question, it was taken as evidence that the abuse had happened. Negative answers, on the other hand, were interpreted as "denial" (in the Freudian sense of a defense mechanism) and had to be penetrated. As such, the children's testimony was in reality very much based on the adults' world view. This type of questioning is based on the Reid technique.
Some perpetrators of the SRA panic were themselves mentally ill. Diana Napolis, an outspoken online advocate of the idea of the existence of SRA (under the pseudonym "Curio"), and personally involved in several SRA investigations as a social worker, was committed to a mental institution in 2003 after harassing and threatening Steven Spielberg and Jennifer Love Hewitt and claiming that she was controlled through "psychotronic weaponry."
Hypnosis and false memories
Beyond the Satanic ritual abuse scares which were directly based on questioning children, a large number of adults came forward in the 1980s and 1990s and claimed to have recovered memories of severe, often Satanic ritual abuse in their childhood. Later investigators diagnosed many of these adults as mentally ill. While criminal charges were rarely pressed because of the long time that had passed since the alleged abuse, media coverage of these adult testimonies nevertheless contributed to the belief that Satanic abuse was, in fact, a widespread phenomenon.
Many of the women who reported such memories had previously seen therapists specializing in child sexual abuse, or read books like The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, which encouraged them to recover their allegedly existing memories of severe abuse in their childhood. At the time, some child abuse therapists used a technique known as recovered memory therapy (RMT), which worked from the presumption that the patients were so severely abused that their memories of it were repressed in childhood and could only be recovered by a specialist. This approach has involved hypnosis and drugs to stimulate the recovery of memories of abuse.
Critics of recovered memory therapy, like Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters (Making Monsters. False Memories, Psychotherapy, And Sexual Hysteria), view this practice as fraudulent and dangerous. They base this assertion on several claims:
Traumatic experiences which obviously have happened, such as war time experiences, are not "repressed"—they are either forgotten or remembered clearly in spite of attempts to suppress them.
The "memories" recovered in RMT are highly detailed. According to RMT literature, the human brain stores very vivid memories which can be recalled in detail, like a video tape. This belief contradicts virtually all research on the way memories work.
The patient is given very extensive lists of "symptoms" including sleeplessness, headaches, the feeling of being different from others etc. If several of these symptoms are found, the therapist suggests to the patient that they were probably sexually abused. If the patient denies this, they are "in denial" and require more extensive therapy.
During the questioning, patients are openly encouraged to ignore their own feelings and memories and to assume that the abuse has happened. They then explore together with this therapist, over a prolonged period of many months or even years, how the abuse happened. The possibility that the abuse has not happened at all is usually not considered.
According to these critics, RMT techniques used for "reincarnation therapy" or "alien abduction therapy" are comparable to the techniques used in Satanic ritual abuse therapy. To verify the false memory hypothesis, researchers like Elizabeth Loftus have successfully produced false memories of various childhood incidents in test subjects. This is viewed as further evidence that comprehensive false memories can be produced in therapy.
RMT critics also point to the bizarre nature of Satanic ritual abuse stories and claim that, in many cases, such stories are provably untrue. They believe that all or most SRA memories are produced by the therapists through extensive suggestive questioning. Some of them also believe that multiple personality disorder is primarily or exclusively a product of that therapy or self-suggestion. RMT practitioners generally deny such claims, or hold that they are only true in a minority of cases, and believe that their work is sound when practiced properly. However, critics respond that the failure of mental health professionals to distinguish false memories from real ones abnegates this entire line of therapy.
Main article: Allegations of Satanism in popular culture
The SRA panic also targeted role-playing games, especially Dungeons & Dragons, as a cause of ritual abuse. Science fiction writer Michael Stackpole has written an extensive report about this movement. .
Patricia Pulling, who claimed that her son killed himself because he played Dungeons & Dragons, had stated that these games are secret instructions for suicide and Satanic abuse, or a "back door to Satanism." She later obtained a private investigator's licence and launched a crusade against roleplaying (although she often appeared to erroneously believe the term was interchangeable with 'Dungeons & Dragons', the dominant game on the market).
One of the best known and most parodied of Jack Chick's tracts, Dark Dungeons, echoes this viewpoint. First published in 1984, the tract remains in print as of 2006, although it has been revised (the original version also claimed that the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis were "occult books", because they could be found in occult book stores.)
The earliest modern account of Satanic ritual abuse can be found in Freud's letters regarding his therapeutic work with a patient named Emma Eckstein. Eckstein described to Freud experiences similar to the ritual abuse survivors of the last few decades, which included sexual abuse and ritual bloodletting. Freud was so disturbed by these disclosures that he theorised "we may have before us a residue of a primaeval sexual cult".
A more recent account of ritual Satanic torture was the book Michelle Remembers, written by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist (and later husband) Lawrence Pazder and published in 1980. It was accompanied by features in People magazine and the National Enquirer, as well as numerous appearances on radio and television. Smith claims to have memories of seeing ritual human sacrifice, various forms of torture, and contact with supernatural beings. She has not produced corroborating evidence of these allegations, and both of Michelle's sisters and her father have denied everything in her book.
This book was followed in 1987 by Nightmare: uncovering the strange 56 personalities of Nancy Lynn Gooch authored in collaboration by Gooch, Emily Peterson and Lucy Freeman; and in 1989 by Suffer the Child by psychologist Judith Spencer, who described a patient with similar memories. Both of these books were best-sellers.
Lauren Stratford's 1988 Satan's Underground, which detailed her supposed childhood Satanic abuse, was the first book (aside from the 1965 novel Rosemary's Baby) to describe in detail allegations that cultists force young women to serve as "breeders" of babies raised for sacrificial purposes.
Stratford's account is one of the more thoroughly investigated claims of such abuse. Lauren claimed to have given birth to three children in her teens and early twenties. Yet, none of her friends, relatives, or teachers recalled these births or ever seeing her pregnant. However, they did recall her engaging in self-mutilation, while Lauren claimed that her scars were the product of her torture at the hands of Satanists. The year of her father's death was also inconsistently reported: Stratford claimed it was 1983 while the official record and all other testimony pointed to 1965 as the correct date. The team of journalists who discovered these inconsistencies published them in Cornerstone magazine as Satan's Sideshow in 1990. Satan's Underground was subsequently withdrawn from print by its publishers.
In her book Ghost Girl (1991), child psychologist Torey Hayden writes about a girl named "Jadie" who attended her class for mentally ill children. Jadie repeatedly spoke about participating in events which may have been either satanic ritual abuse, or a series of films about same in which she had taken part. The book's focus is not ritual abuse, but rather the difficulty professionals have in interpreting bizarre or unusual behavior. Authorities never discovered the truth about Jadie's claims, but she was eventually taken away from her parents and placed in a foster home. The book was a source in a case of false accusations of incest and ritual murder in Sweden in 1999.
A 1995 German book Vier Jahre Hölle und Zurück (Four Years of Hell and Back), by an author using the pseudonym "Lukas", describes purported first-hand experiences of a teenager who inadvertently became a member of a Satanist sect and later escaped. He wrote that he was subjected to various forms of torture and was forced to commit crimes.
In 2006 David Frankfurter publishes Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Ritual Abuse in History.
Many other personal accounts of Satanic ritual abuse exist, some of which allege the existence of an SRA conspiracy. With the rise of the Internet, stories of Satanic abuse, often very graphic and disturbing, can be found online.
Parallels to reports of alien abduction
California-based therapist Gwen Dean noted 44 parallels between alleged alien abductions and Satanic ritual abuse. Both emerged as widespread phenomena in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and both often use hypnosis to recover lost or suppressed memories.
Furthermore, the scenarios and narratives offered by abductees and SRA victims feature many similar elements:
Both are typically said to begin when the experiencer is in their youth.
Both are said to involve entire families and to occur generationally.
The alien examination table that is reported is similar to the Satanic altar in those accounts.
Both phenomena feature a strong focus on genitals, rape, sexuality and breeding.
Witnesses often report that the events happen when they are in altered states of consciousness.
Both phenomena feature episodes of "missing time" when the events are said to occur, but of which the victim has no conscious memory. (Bryan, 138-139)
Contrast & Compare
To clear the pallet, watch Speak of The Devil: The Canon of Anton LaVey: