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NONE DARE CALL IT REASON:
Kids, Cults, and Common Sense
Robert Hicks/Law Enforcement Section Department of Criminal
Justice Services 805 E. Broad Street Richmond, Virginia 232l9
Talk prepared for the Virginia Department for Children's l2th
Annual Legislative Forum, Roanoke, Virginia, September 22, 1989
In an article on satanic cults in Family Violence Bulletin published
by the University of Texas at Tyler, Dr. Paula Lundberg-Love writes of a
seminar she attended entitled "Ritualistic Child Abuse and Adolescent
Indoctrination." Quoting the seminar instructor, who is president of the
Cult Awareness Council in Houston, Lundberg-Love writes that "some satanic
cults are created for the expressed purposes of child prostitution or the
production of child pornography" and that "'religion' has proved to be a
good 'front' for organized child prostitution and pornography rings."
Perhaps more damning as a reflection on our collective impotence, she
points out that "in many states, ritualistic behavior is not against the
law" (l989: 9).
In recounting the amazing and startling facts she learned, Lundberg-
Love offers the following insight about how satanists ply their trade:
There are also individuals within the cult to whom
particular tasks are assigned. Transporters are the
people who take babies and ship them out-of-state.
Spotters have the task of looking for recruits or
objects. Breeders are, as their name implies, used
for the purposes of breeding. The production of
'snuff' films (films in which an individual is
actually killed) is associated with these persons.
[The seminar instructor] suggested that juveniles
may be being used to transport these films across
the border. (Ibid.)
I can only admire Houston's Cult Awareness Council for their shrewd
investigative work in uncovering the clandestine mechanics of a satanic
international conspiracy so slick and sophisticated that its members remain
faceless, having never been identified, and its murderous activities remain
covert because the satanists leave no traces of their nefarious
undertakings. Yet the Cult Awareness Council has produced a model of the
cult's activities that is specific and detailed. But, of course, we have
no evidence of satanic child prostitution, no evidence that women breed
babies for sacrifice, no one has ever found a snuff film. But Lundberg-
Love's article has credibility: the article's author is the associate
director of the Family Violence Research and Treatment Program at the
University of Texas, Tyler.
I suggest that Houston's Cult Awareness Council, intentionally or
perhaps, worse, unwittingly, has become a conduit for a farrago of half-
truths, unsupported generalizations, vague musings, hysteria, and downright
ignorance fostered in part by Fundamentalist Christian groups with the
willing collusion of police and the so-called helping professions.
Lundberg-Love, by reiterating satanic nonsense to other professionals, has
shown irresponsibility stirred by an inability to think critically. Or
drop the "critically": an inability to think underlies claims about women
who breed babies for satanic sacrifices, about children forced to witness
human sacrifice in daycare centers, about teenagers transformed into
zombies by playing Dungeons and Dragons.
More insidious from my point of view is her observation that satanic
cults operate under the guise of religion and thus deserve First Amendment
protection, therefore precluding legal retaliation against these evildoers.
This observation begs the question of necessity. In times of stress,
people seek to proscribe or criminalize behavior that they imagine
threatens the larger public good. We must curtail civil liberties, for
awhile, some say, because of an immediate necessity to do so. Threats of
immanent harm from our enemies necessitate an abrogation of certain rights.
Illicit drug use has reached such epidemic proportions that we must of
necessity unlock closed doors in the Fourth Amendment to allow police to
conduct intrusive searches otherwise prohibited by the Constitution. We
must of necessity allow the government more power to protect us from
outsiders. Satanism presents such a threat to us that we necessarily must
ban certain forms of rock music to protect our children, remove books on
witchcraft and the occult from school libraries, confiscate Dungeons and
Dragons books on school property.
I maintain that although satanic or occult symbols seem to be enjoying
popularity today among teens, their presence does not betoken a lost kid,
one in satan's thrall. Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell has observed,
"Rooted in adolescent resentment of authority, [kids use] the terms and
symbols of the occult to express cultural rebellion rather than personal
belief" (l986: 257). If today you came to hear lurid tales of children
participating in pornographic movies produced by satan's film unit or of
demons nabbing teenagers while playing Dungeons and Dragons and forced to
kill their families, I'm going to disappoint you. Most of you not only
work with children in the capacities of educators, therapists, law
enforcers, but you also assume the role of advocates for children's
welfare. I ask you not to relinquish any of those roles but I do ask that
you not relinquish your critical faculties, as Lundberg-Love has done,
whenever you hear the words "ritualisic," "satanic," "occult," or "cult."
Do not dissolve your gray matter and willingly adopt as immutable
truths such ideas as: children never lie about sexual abuse; teenagers who
are Girl or Boy Scouts, members of a church, or good students cannot do
nasty things, or if they do, someone or something made them do it. Or that
teens have so little free will that lurking satanists will deceive them
into attending sex and drug parties and thereby swear them in as card-
carrying minions of The Evil One. Or that teens have so little judgment
where fantasy is concerned that we must absolutely control all that they
read and hear.
In particular, question glib assertions made at cult awareness
seminars. Analyze the cause-effect relationships foisted on you. Question
cult experts' credentials. As for law enforcers, you will find that most
police cult experts derive their expertise from attending other cult
seminars. I recently spoke opposite a State Police officer who gave a
slide program on satanism but admitted that he had never investigated a
putative cult crime; his work, rather, involved accounting. You could have
invited another speaker here today, one who purports that teens are in
great danger of satanic or occult influence and that, in particular,
Dungeons and Dragons damages kids' psyches. Patricia A. Pulling, though,
who heads Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), has no clinical
background, though parents frequently haul their misbehaving children
before her for an analysis of their satanic proclivities. She recently
represented herself at a Virginia cult seminar as being "a private
investigator with the state of Virginia" and noted that she had received
"innumerable degrees and awards." As far as I know, her innumerable
degrees extend to an AA from J. Sargent Reynolds Community College,
Richmond, but the private investigator business implies some association
with state government. In truth, she holds a state license to be a private
investigator, a pursuit requiring one week of classroom training. Period.
But beyond what she says, the publisher of her recent book, The
Devil's Web, refers to her as "a police detective." Such wishful
thinking smacks of dishonesty.
Yet popular speakers like Pat Pulling assert that 95 to l50 kids have
committed suicide related to playing Dungeons and Dragons. People at her
seminars nod sagely and gasp in astonishment that our government allows
such a game to exist. What is her proof of this assertion? In her
booklet, Dungeons and Dragons, she offers a series of newspaper clippings
to prove her point. In one, with no source cited, an Arlington, Texas, boy
killed himself with a shotgun in front of his drama class. The first
paragraph of the article notes that the boy "was a devotee of the fantasy
game Dungeons and Dragons and had a lead role in this weekend's school
play," an odd parallel comment, perhaps. An observation occurs further on
in the article that the boy enjoyed the game. But where is the causal
relationship? The article quotes the boys' friends as commenting on his
character, but no one quoted even links the game to the death. Yet this
article, for all its superficiality, counts as a statistical fatality (BADD
n.d.). And no one challenges this assertion at Pulling's seminars.
In The Devil's Web, Pulling defines Dungeons and Dragons as a "fantasy
role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape,
blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality,
prostitution, satanic type rituals, . . .and many other teachings. There
have been a number of deaths nationwide where [such games] were either the
decisive factor in adolescent suicide and murder, or played a major factor.
Since role-playing is used typically for behavior modification, it has
become apparent nationwide . . .that there is a great need to investigate
every aspect of a youngster's environment. . ." (l989: 179). Pulling
further states that fantasy role-playing games "are representative of the
many subtle ways in which occult influences can prey upon the minds of
children" (Ibid.: l02). But the game retails in images and symbols: kids
enact imaginary adventures through imaginary means, not by translating the
action to their everyday environment.
Pulling's main scare about D&D is that the game contains some bona
fide occult material, whatever that is. She seems to think that where game
designers use demons and monsters from the writings of medieval and late
l9th century English sources, that somehow the game takes on a pernicious
magic of its own. Pulling is alarmed at the nature of the demons and
monsters invoked by the game, but the monsters, often drawn from the
encyclopedia or from game designers' imaginations, bear no evil beyond what
people impute to them. If we bridle at D&D, then we must take offense at
the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a multitude of plastic toys found at
any shopping mall, comic books, Saturday morning TV, and the like. Demons,
monsters, creatures from space populate kids' imaginations and one easily
sees why: Star Trek, Star Wars, and like films ensure that space beings
take on an omnipresent reality, coupled with "legitimate" science.
Pulling also introduces a paradox and an insight: she claims that the
students most susceptible to falling within the spiraling path to hell are
bright boys with varied interests who may lack social skills. In other
words, nerds. The insight in all this focuses on the kids' interests. A
recent anthropological study of modern witches and magic in Britain
observed that many male adherents of magic groups had computer backgrounds,
an observation made by many people about D&D players (Luhrman l989: l06).
Anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann observes that these folks also read science
fiction in abundance. She speculates on why these people gravitate to
[S]everal possible explanations present themselves.
Perhaps the most important is that both magic and
computer science involve creating a world defined by
chosen rules, and playing within their limits. Both
in magic and in computer science words and symbols have
a power which most secular, modern endeavours deny them.
Those drawn to the symbol-rich rule-governed world of
computer science may be attracted by magic. . .One
reason that the fantasy games designed for the computer
may be so appealing may be because of the complexity of
the rules. Another explanation is the sense of mastery
and power when the machine obeys your dictates, which
may feel like the mastery of magic. . .The wizard commands
the material world, breaking the laws which seem to bind
it. (Ibid.: l07).
Massachusetts Institute of Technology sociologist S. Turkle has written at
length about young men's involvement with computers and D&D. I refer you
to The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, by S. Turkle, l984,
published by the MIT Press.
So Pulling scares parents by isolating from context specific rules
concerning particular demons, overlooking the game's intellectual
challenge: after all, since the game involves no board, players must rely
on imagery and imagination. If one removes the aura of a supernatural
netherworld from the game, and if one questions the shoddy evidence for the
game's links to teen murder and suicide, what is one left with? Just a
game. I make no apologies for ruining anyone's scapegoat for the world's
ills, if you do find the game scary. Quite possibly some people find the
game a mental accessory to a criminal propensity: but question closely any
convicted murderer who claims that D&D made him do it. Sociopaths need no
such justification, but when confined to prison cells contemplating a bleak
future, why not blame one's behavior on a game?
But back to Pulling's model of the D&D player. Those kids who are
intelligent with poor social skills simply defines the process of growing
up. By imbuing games with some supernatural taint, we deny kids their own
intelligence and ability to make choices. When the Pasadena, Texas, school
board decided to ban the l960's peace symbol from school property, they did
so because a cult seminar advised teachers that the symbol is satanic:
that interpretation derives from Christian publications that describe the
upside-down cross as a mockery of Christianity. How do the kids react?
One twelve-year-old said, "If they ban peace symbols, they'll have to ban
basic geometry because of all its lines and circles" (Time, July 3, l989).
These kids ain't fools: they usually separate faddish symbols from serious
evildoing. But if they know that the symbol offends some adults, what do
you suppose they'll do? A counselor at the Bon Air detention facility in
Richmond told me that rooms for kids come equipped with a Bible. One
teenager took one look at the Bible and challenged the counselor: he
demanded The Satanic Bible, the one published by Anton LaVey, founder of
the Church of Satan, in l969. Now, the counselor has been challenged: who
might win this little power struggle? If the counselor leaps back, makes
the sign of a cross, and in an hysterical voice cries out, "Get thee behind
me, Satan," guess who wins? In this case, the counselor blandly replied,
"Sure. I'll see what I can do. Tell me where I can find a copy." For
those of you who are worried about that response, I can only attribute your
worry to not having read The Satanic Bible. Read it and you'll agree with
religious scholar Gordon Melton who has referred to it as "assertiveness
training with a twist." The book does not even praise a supernatural devil
and instead relies on Satan's symbolic history in our culture. Further,
unlike parts of the Christian Bible, The Satanic Bible very explicitly
warns readers not to physically harm children nor anyone else.
I noted the influence of Fundamentalist Christianity on not only the
D&D ideology but on other aspects of the satanic cult bruhaha. Much of
what Pulling and cult cops and other self-proclaimed experts parley to
audiences comes from Christian sources. For example, the earliest
denigration of D&D I could come up with, from l980, says this:
Some endeavors offer a greater temptation for ego to
manifest itself in us, however. The next thing to
actual defeat of others and self-exaltation as rulers
over the vanquished is the voluntary, imaginary role-
playing that is offered by such games as Dungeons and
Dragons. . .It is not without knowledge that Dungeons
and Dragons was devised. But it is the knowledge of
an evil that mingled the Babylonian mystery religions
with a luke-warm 'Christianity.' (Dager l980)
The same thoughts have been conveyed to cult awareness audiences again
and again and again. I asked you earlier to sift such information,
question it, analyze it, and ask the credentials of these experts. Among
the books prominently displayed at cult seminars are two by Rebecca Brown,
MD, He Came to Set the Captives Free and Prepare for War. Ken Lanning, FBI
special agent who specializes in child sexual abuse investigations, raises
the issue of cult seminars not defining terms, using the "words satanic,
occult, and ritualistic" interchangeably (l989:4). Lanning particularly
cites Brown's contributions to this confusion as her "doorways" to demonic
infestation (to use Lanning's term) include horoscopes, vegetarianism,
yoga, biofeedback, homosexuality, fraternity oaths, along with the standard
fantasy role-playing games, Church of Satan, the Hare Krishna movement, and
so on. So who is Rebecca Brown and why does she wield authority? Her
title gets attention: she has appeared at seminars and on television, no
less. What's her background?
In l984, she was known as Ruth Bailey, MD, and she practiced medicine
in Indiana. That year, she lost her license. Medical examiners concluded
that she knowingly misdiagnosed such ailments as leukemia, various blood
diseases, and even brain tumors in patients who were not in fact suffering
from these problems. Bailey said that she had been "chosen by God" as the
only physician who could diagnose such maladies which were caused by
demons. And, further, other doctors could not diagnose these problems
because the doctors themselves were demons. As a result of these
diagnoses, she prescribed her patients with massive doses of Demerol and
the addicted patients had to undergo detoxification. Besides administering
drugs to patients, Bailey had another novel method up her sleeve: she
would "share" the patient's disease by injecting herself with "non-
therapeutic amounts" of Demerol, taking three cubic centimeters of the
stuff hourly, injecting it in the back of her hands or inside her thighs.
The psychiatrist who examined her said that she suffered from "acute
personality disorders including demonic delusions and/or paranoid
schizophrenia" (Medical Licensing Board of Indiana l984). She later moved
to California, changing her name to Rebecca Brown through a change-of-name
petition entered into the Superior Court, County of San Bernardino, in
l986. There are a few lessons here. Be careful not to accept facile
explanations of misbehavior at face value. Don't uncritically accept a
source because it has a Christian message.
By refusing to define "satanism," "occult," and "ritualistic," cult
experts can unleash these words to fit any social dilemma, misbehavior, or
human failing they wish. And they do. The lack of definition aids and
abets the conspiracy theory fanned by Pulling and the cult cops. These
cult cops take as evidence of a conspiracy the presence of like symbols
across the country. They further surmise that the presence of a spray-
painted inverted pentagram underside a bridge in San Francisco not only
means the same thing as one on a bridge in Norfolk but that some satanic
supramind, the international conspiracy has organized people to wreak havoc
on us all. This conspiracy, of course, supposedly recruits children, teens
especially. Pulling and the cult cops would have us suspend heaps of
disbelief to accept that the D&D player who peers into the occult through
game playing gets yanked by some mind-control cult into an abrupt
personality change characterized by violence and hate. No one wants to
consider other, more mundane explanations for personality changes and mood
swings, apparently. But in the face of a complete absence of evidence for
a conspiracy, some cult cops can find only feeble argument.
Take Idaho police officer Larry Jones, who authors the Cult Crime
Impact Network newsletter, a Fundamentalist-biased periodical widely read
by cult cops. In defense of the lack of evidence, Jones tosses the
question back: "'To people who say, prove to me these secret cults exist, I
say, prove they don't'" (Springston l989). To this inanity, I find the
reply easy: since my orientation to the cult scare concerns law
enforcement, a perspective Jones should share, I say that police officers
have no obligation to prove that the satanic mastercult doesn't exist.
Police officers operate under well-founded reasonable suspicion to look
into suspected wrongdoing, and they make arrests based on probable cause.
Both reasonable suspicion and probable cause have fairly precise
definitions supported by reams of case law. I can't prove that UFO's
exist, but just prove to me that they don't. I can't prove that termites
built the Great Pyramid, but just prove to me that they didn't. When
Richmond Bureau of Police Lieutenant Lawrence Haake was asked whether he
had any evidence of satanic sacrifices of people, he admitted he didn't but
added, "'No evidence can be evidence'" (Ibid.) Sure, perhaps, but no
evidence can also mean that none exists. Many cult cops have indeed
asserted that the lack of any evidence testifies to the satanic cult's
success at covering their tracks. Well, if you're backed into a corner, try
tossing skepticism back into the lap of the skeptic. Pulling maintains
that many unsolved homicides might be sacrificial victims and says, "'They
certainly have found a number of unsolved murders with no motive, haven't
they?'" (Ibid.) Some have gone unsolved, yes, but one cannot logically
conclude that satanists did them. But I almost forgot: these shifty
satanists, says Pulling, include the intelligentsia and power brokers of
our society, so we might as well cave in than resist (Briggs l988). Better
devil red than dead.
Which brings us back to definitions for a moment. A satanic
ritualistic killing, to the cult cops, ought to be defined as a killing
performed in propitiation of satan. We certainly have plenty of killers
around who claim a satanic motivation, but killers simply adopt an ideology
that justifies or explains what they would do in any case. The argument
that a true satanic killing would therefore implicate those mild, middle-
class, suburban engineers and doctors and lawyers simply vanishes upon
scrutiny: such folks haven't yet been arrested for these sacrifices. So
much for satanic crime. On to "occult." As Lanning points out, "Occult
means simply 'hidden,'" a term unconnected with crime, but used by cult
cops to refer "to the action or influence of supernatural powers. . .or an
interest in paranormal phenomena" (l989:5). But Lanning rails against the
use of "ritualistic," since folks who point fingers and yell "ritualistic!"
forget that ritual governs our lives in benign fashion. Again, Lanning:
"During law enforcement training conferences on this topic, ritualistic
almost always comes to mean satanic or at least spiritual. Ritual can
refer to a prescribed religious ceremony, but in its broader meaning refers
to any customarily repeated act or series of acts. The need to repeat
these acts can be cultural, sexual, or psychological as well as spiritual"
(Ibid.: 7). He concludes: "The most important point for the criminal
investigator is to realize that most ritualistic criminal behavior is not
motivated simply by satanic or religious ceremonies" (Ibid. 9). I refer
you to Lanning for an extended discussion of the word.
We've attached some meaning to "ritual," "occult," and "satanic
crime," so we're left with "cult." Definitions of the word depend on the
scholarly purposes they serve. But I have not been so concerned with the
academic treatment of the word, but rather its current connotation in cult
awareness seminars. I agree with Gordon Melton that "[t]he term 'cult' is
a pejorative label used to describe certain religious groups outside of the
mainstream of Western religion" (l986:3) The pejorative quality of the
label is borne out by the attributes heaped on cults by cult experts: that
cult members must swear obedience to the all-powerful leader, that cults
pursue ends that justify the means, that cults retain members through mind
control methods. This language has been pretty consistently applied to
nonconformists for a few centuries now. Rather, I agree with Melton that
"Cults represent a force of religious innovation within a culture" (Ibid.),
but Melton's social science approach to categorizing and studying cults
doesn't mesh with the cult seminar use of the term. In a very broad sense,
cults don't even have to be religious. Cult cops assume that two or more
kids who hang out together and wear upside down crosses, pentagrams, and
Ozzy Osborne buttons might be cult members. This kind of cult in former
days we called a clique. Now, we are to assume that such kids have gotten
sucked into a black hole of mind control, manipulation by satanic
recruiters, all unwarranted assumptions. But some cults we know to promote
violence. Let me name a few: The Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord;
The Christian Conservative Church of America; The Church of Jesus Christ
Christian (Aryan Nations) (all described in Melton l986). Sorry, though:
I couldn't come up with any satanic groups which promote the militarism of
these Christian organizations.
More directly, when we allow cult seminar presenters to rant away
without defining their terms or by being explicit about what they know and
don't know, we play a dangerous game. Gordon Melton observes that when
people speak of "them" as satanic, or as an enemy, or as a criminal cult,
we thereby "express [our] contempt of others and . . .assign them a status
outside the realm of God's chosen, and hence of lesser worth, [which] is
the religious equivalent of secular terms such as 'nigger,' 'kike,' or
'wop'" (Ibid. 259). When the Matamoros murders hit the headlines, the
newspapers dubbed them "satanic," a term that disappeared within a week as
it became obvious to investigators that the murders had nothing to do with
satanic cults. But the labels that stuck involved foreign experiences such
as Palo Mayombe and Santeria, words most Americans heard for the first
time. But to dub the killings as Santeria or Palo Mayombe, drawn as
perverse cults by the press, amounts to impure and simple racism. What I
cannot understand is the Fundamentalist Christian diatribe against
non Christian beliefs that have been tagged as cultic. As I have pointed
out, cult cops freely label groups as cults and therefore imply a threat to
one's free will. But as the historian Jeffrey Burton Russell has pointed
out, such people "claim that a belief in the Devil erodes human
responsibility, but Christianity has always insisted that the Devil has no
power to coerce or compel the human will" (l986: 300).
I hope I have forced your attention to the importance of developing
solid definitions for social problems. Precise definition provides the
best map through which to explore the phenomena of children's behavior.
But, of course, you know this. Simply don't forget it when cults enter the
fray. Imprecision and casual name-calling by cult awareness seminars has
led to severe consequences for both children and adult child advocates. I
would like to cite one example, one, unfortunately, which I stress is not
unique. But my example illustrates how the helping professions may ignore
suggestions of actual physical or mental abuse and instead pursue claims of
satanic goings on in daycare centers and in the process the counselors,
therapists, and police end up abusing children.
Since l983, the country witnessed the first of many cases of purported
satanic abuse of children in daycare centers, beginning with the McMartin
case in California, followed quickly by the Jordan, Minnesota case, and
they continue to happen. The best and most critical examination of such
cases appeared in a series of investigative reports published in a Memphis
newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, last year. Journalists Tom Charlier and
Shirley Downing found that these cases were "not really about ritual child
abuse at all. [They] are about the dangers of popular justice, a less-
than-skeptical press and the presumption of guilt" (l988). Over a hundred
cities have witnessed the same pattern: a single incident of alleged abuse
by a single child mushroomed into mass accusations of parents, daycare
center workers, and even prosecutors and police. The children's stories
which launched the cases were usually uncorroborated by physical evidence
or even adult testimony. Further, the nature of the prosecutory system
itself fanned the flames of accusation. By the time such cases entered
court, the news media greedily reported children's stories of devil
worship, nude dancing with daycare staff, varieties of sexual assault,
human and animal sacrifice, nude photography, bondage, drowning, cooking
and eating babies' limbs, and so on. And the investigators, who pursued
evidence of crime, acted as advocates by removing kids from their homes
before their parents had even been investigated, much less charged with
Unfortunately, these stories reveal that prosecutors, allied with
parents, adopted as an unqualified truth the assertion that children don't
lie about abuse. Yet investigators asked children leading questions,
interviewed them as many as 50 times in some cases, refused to accept kids'
denials that satanic abuse took place, offered rewards or exerted pressure
to obtain correct testimony from them. One case, in Bakersfield,
California a few years ago, produced prison terms totalling 26l9 years for
seven defendants, which set a record (Mathews l989).
The Bakersfield case began in l984 when a girl reported to her mother
that two men had "touched" her in a peculiar way. Within a year's time,
the one allegation evolved into a sex abuse ring, satanic rituals, and
infanticide (what follows derives from a report of the Office of the
Attorney General, California, l986). Twenty-one children had been placed in
protective custody away from their homes. How did this happen?
Once removed from their homes, the children endured repeated
questioning by police, therapists, and welfare workers. Further, the
sheriff's department interviewed children in isolation while in protective
custody. Parents were arbitrarily arrested and released with no charges
filed. The deputies, most of whom had virtually no training in child abuse
matters (and had not even attended mandatory California inservice training
in the subject, although they found time to attend a satanic cult seminar),
simply deferred their questioning of children to a child protective
services worker, described as zealous for her unqualified belief that the
children maintained the truth under questioning. Yet the questioning
occurred repeatedly, even after the sheriff's deputies discussed the case
before church groups and evolved their own beliefs about what was
occurring. The deputies received virtually no supervision and no one
coordinated the efforts of the three agencies trying to investigate the
case. In all, l9 victims were interviewed l34 times. Searches yielded no
evidence of sexual abuse or satanic crime, yet the deputies did not follow
cues which required physical evidence gathering. For example, many kids
claimed to have been drugged during cult rituals, yet no one tested them
for drugs. Efforts to obtain any corroborative physical evidence were
feeble or nonexistent. Further, deputies did not even furnish verbatim
interviews with the children, instead simply paraphrasing the interviews
and offering in the transcripts unsupported conclusions.
Once in custody, kids mingled and had many opportunities to "cross
germinate" their stories. Very significantly, the child witnesses first
denied that their parents were involved in the satanic molestations, but
after repeated questioning under the direction of the zealous therapist,
children not only implicated their parents but also many investigators in
the case. The sheriff's deputies and the social worker conducted their
inquisition based on the premise that "children do not lie." This meant
that investigators took children's statements at face value and neglected
to do further corroborative work. The following interview took place
between a suspected parent-abuser and the social worker:
Social worker: Okay, ah. . .you know when children, when
children tell law enforcement or Child Protective Services. . .
Suspect: Uh huh.
SW: About somebody we believe children, okay.
S: Uh huh.
SW: Especially little, ah, would involve children but these are
just, you know, four, four, five and six-year olds. . .
S: Uh huh.
SW: Okay, and they don't have, they shouldn't have knowledge of
this stuff, they have a lot of knowledge, a lot of explicit
details, knowledge, they say cream was being used. . .lotion.
S: Have you seen, you know, TV nowadays though, the parents let
their kids watch.
SW: Okay, people often do accuse TV, but still children don't
fantasize about sexual abuse and they don't implicate their own
S: Uh huh.
S: Uh huh.
Deputy: Let alone themselves.
SW: Yeah, let alone themselves, especially when they're, when
they are feeling so badly about and they know it's wrong.
S: Uh huh.
SW: Okay, it's just they, some you know, if they aren't gonna,
if they're mad at their dad and that's when they may say physical
S: Uh huh.
SW: But, ah, they're not gonna say sexual.
S: Uh huh.
SW: It just doesn't happen.
S: Uh huh.
SW: So we, we do believe the children.
S: Uh huh.
SW: Okay, that you are involved.
S: Then no matter what I, what I say doesn't even matter then?
SW: Well, yeah of course it matters, but, but our stand is that
we believe the children.
S: Uh huh.
SW: At all cost, cause that's our job and that's, that's what
our belief is.
Quoting further from the California Attorney General's report of the
matter, "This dependence upon and deferment to staff of Child Protective
Services--who perform functions quite different from police officers in a
child abuse investigation--focused the interviews primarily on protecting
the child at the expense of investigating and determining the facts in the
case. While protecting the child was certainly critical, once that had
been assured the criminal investigation should have been the Sheriff's
deputies' primary concern."
Let's talk about the interviews with children for a moment. The
California Attorney general found that deputies departed from standard
interview practice and virtually ignored the complexities that obtain when
the person interviewed is a child. "Deputies generally did not question
the children's statements, and they responded positively or said something
to reinforce their previous allegations. . . They applied pressure on the
children to name additional suspects and victims, and questioned them with
inappropriate suggestions that produced the answers they were looking for."
Interviewers, both police and social workers, used leading and suggestive
questions, gave quite overt positive reinforcement when they received
answers they sought, rather than giving neutral responses. In some cases,
interviewers demanded answers; sometimes they threatened the children; in
other cases they confused them. A sample:
Interviewer: Okay, you said that they touched the privates before they
stabbed the baby? Did they take the clothes off the baby before they
stabbed the baby? Did they take the clothes off the baby when they touched
the privates? And then they had you go up and stab the baby? So, did the
baby--was the baby's clothes still off after they'd taken them off and you
had to stab the baby?
And in a flagrant abuse of investigative technique, a deputy had wanted to
use an anatomically-detailed doll in an interview, but although deputies
had them on hand, they had no training in their use. So one deputy told a
child, "I forgot my dolly then you could point. You want to point on me?"
Let me point out that deputies did pursue the satanic claims, but
found alleged homicide victims alive; they searched lakes where bodies
supposedly were deposited and found none; in fact, they uncovered no
evidence to prove any satanic assertions. The satanic connection, by the
way, didn't even emerge in the case until after nine months of interviews
with the kids. One psychiatrist in another daycare center case observed of
the repeated interviews, "If [the investigator] get[s] a child to the point
where they believe they've helped kill a baby or eaten flesh, I want to
know whether you're a child abuser" (Charlier and Downing l988).
As two Pennsylvania State University criminal justice professors have
pointed out, "If children denied victimization, then it was assumed they
were concealing the truth, which must be drawn out by some inducement or
reinforcement. The therapeutic process thus became an infallible
generating mechanism for criminal charges," a remark made about the
McMartin case that applies to Bakersfield also. (Jenkins and Katkin l988:
30). Psychiatrist Lee Coleman, who with journalist Debbie Nathan is writing
a book about the daycare cases, adds that
The interviewers assume, before talking with the child,
that molestation has taken place. The accused persons
are assumed to be guilty, and the thinly disguised purpose
of the interview is to get something out of the child to
confirm these suspicions. It is all too easy, with
repeated and leading and suggestive questions, to get a
young child so confused that he or she can't tell the
difference between fact and fantasy. (l986: 8).
There are three great tragedies in all this: one, that real physical
or sexual abuse of a child will pass uninvestigated; two, that children are
abused by the criminal justice process, children who are victims of nothing
except not telling stories that investigators want to hear; third, that
innocent adults will have their lives ruined. One young imprisoned mother
in the Bakersfield case, whose children have been placed in foster care,
looks forward to freedom one day, but she does not want to be united with
her kids. She says, "'I'm scared of kids. I'm scared to death of kids. . .
I'm glad I can't have any more" (Mathews l989).
One might place the burden of blame for a shoddy investigation on the
sheriffs' deputies, since the law enforcers were charged with detecting
lawbreaking and arresting offenders. And, of course, seven women still
languish in prison. But what of therapists, psychiatrists, and
psychologists? Although the satanic nature of the daycare allegaions has
only recently begun to appear in professional literature, purportedly
scholarly studies have taken the satanic abuse claims quite uncritically.
The uncritical treatment of the subject is bound to influence other
professionals more prone to be convinced by tables of data with chi-square
tests than to question the data in the tables.
For example, Susan J. Kelly, R.N., Ph.D, Boston School of Nursing,
even elaborated a typology of ritual abuse (building on the work of family
violence expert David Finkelhor, of whom more in a moment) and discussed
satanic philosophy by noting its "fundamental tenet that followers have a
right to abundant and guilt-free sex of every description. Moreover,
because Christianity believes that children are special to God, satanism,
which negates Christianity, considers the desecration of children to be a
way of gaining victory over God" (l988: 229). This description of satanic
ideology amounts to pure dogma, perpetuated and elaborated by the cult
awareness seminars and the press. Like other therapists, Kelly imputes the
the cult presence surrounding child abuse to the usual mind control methods
employed against members and so on. No one, apparently, wants to consider
the proposition that some child abusers, who may go to elaborate and
imaginative lengths to intimidate children into not revealing the abuse,
may employ satanic trappings to do just that. Therapists such as Kelly
have also ignored the inquisitorial process that produces arrests and
convictions, as in the Bakersfield case, preferring not to confront the
issue of leading children to contrive satanic scenarios to please eager
I find that David Finkelhor's latest book, Nursery Crimes: Sexual
Abuse in Daycare, not only perpetuates the satanic dogma but using
mathematical analyses of bad data, it emerges with a new class of offender.
The study examined cases in 270 daycare centers, but the cases had to be
"substantiated" before inclusion in the data. In order to be
substantiated, the study team had to find only one professional agency
associated with a case who believed that abuse occurred. And this study
swept up all of the much-publicized daycare center abuse cases such as
McMartin and even Bakersfield. So the study takes as a working assumption
that the allegations in the satanic ritual abuse cases are true. While the
study makes insightful remarks about child abuse and attempts a
comprehensive look at abuse, the victims, and the abusers, the inclusion of
the satanic cases renders the study yet more dogma masquerading as science.
I said that the skewed data created a new class of offenders. Every study
of child sexual abuse portrays offenders as almost exclusively men, usually
acting alone. The rare cases involving women usually find them complicit
as the consequence of involvement with a man: a boyfriend or husband, for
example. Yet the satanic ritual cases involving daycare centers have
almost entirely focused on the women running the centers. And the
allegations hold that women, entire daycare center staffs, ran satanic
parties replete with mass sex abuse, child pornography, and the like. I
should hope that the Bakersfield case suggests to you that other dynamics,
to use the social work term, govern the sensationalistic cases.
Nonetheless, Finkelhor and his colleagues pronounce that "Female
perpetrators were significantly more likely than men to have forced
children to sexually abuse others and to have participated in ritualistic,
mass abuse" (l988: 45).
In rather limp fashion, Finkelhor notes that the satanic allegations
have emerged in some daycare cases months after abuse investigations have
begun under some other pretext. Unlike some investigators who find the
delay evidence that children have been coached to tell such stories, he
holds that children may need months of therapy before finding the strength
to tell the satanic tales. But Finkelhor's conclusions present a mixed
bag. On the one hand, he singles out the marauding women, "We recommend
that parents, licensing, and law-enforcement officials be educated to view
females as potential sexual abusers" (Ibid.: 257) Yet he advises that we
"avoid a disproportionate focus on day-care abuse" because abuse in the
daycare setting amounts to a relatively small percentage of abuse overall.
The idea of pervasive satanic cults which influence and intimidate
children should not supplant a reasonable, cautious inquiry, for law
enforcers and therapists alike. Ironically, despite the cult seminars
which contrive images of the faceless, tenebrous evil that grips us from
the bowels of hell, the tentacles of demons wrapped around kids' necks, the
cult experts who teach the seminars often conclude with common-sense
advice. For example, Woman's Day magazine printed "A Parent's Primer on
Satanism" recently (l988). The primer noted that bright, bored,
underachieving, talented and even gifted teens are susceptible to cults.
Watch for kids exhibiting personality changes or mood swings; kids who drop
friends and favorite activities in exchange for other activities and
friends; who keep secrets, particularly about new friends; receive erratic
grades; misbehave; wear satanic symbols on jewelry, T-shirts, and the like.
Now, if one removes the cult from all of this, one is left with teens
growing up, dealing with social pressures, handling puberty, running at
full tilt on massive doses of pizza and hormones. But what's a parent to
do? Woman's Day suggests not to panic; observe the child; if the teen
listens to rock music with offensive lyrics, listen to what the child
listens to. "If [the lyrics] disturb you, talk to him or her about it.
Ask what the words mean to your child" (Ibid.). No matter what ill we
believe threatens our children--whether communists, satanists, The Beatles
or Twisted Sister--the advice is the same: don't panic; observe; listen;
talk. Don't ignore satanic symbols or paraphernalia, but don't imbue them
with cosmic significance, either. Rely on your professional experience and
training to guide your rational inquiry about satan in teens' lives. Don't
panic, and trust children, teens particularly, to behave responsibly most
of the time, and don't leap to satanic excuses to explain misbehavior.
Addendum: Investigation of Child Sexual Abuse Resources
Cult seminars sometimes suggest that women breed babies for sacrifice, that
runaway or throwaway kids become sacrificial fodder. For a perspective on
missing kids, consult "First Comprehensive Study of Missing Children in
Progress," OJJDP Update on Research, April, l988. A related study is
"Stranger Abduction Homicides of Children, OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin,
January, l989. Suggestions on new professional thinking for handling child
sexual abuse cases can be found in "Prosecuting child sexual abuse--new
approaches," by Debra Witcomb, Research in Action, National Institute of
Justice, May l986 (reprinted from NIJ Reports/SNI l97. A related article,
"Prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse: Innovations in Practice," appeared in
the NIJ Research in Brief, November, l985, also by Debra Witcomb. Perhaps
the best overall investigative guide is the l987 manual, Investigation and
Prosecution of Child Abuse published by the National Center for the
Prosecution of Child Abuse. Some discussion of the problems associated
with anatomically-detailed dolls in child abuse investigations can be found
in "Using dolls to interview child victims: Legal concerns and interview
procedures," NIJ Research in Action, by Kenneth R. Freeman and Terry
Estrada-Mullaney, reprinted from NIJ Reports/SNI 207, January/February
l988. A review of the dolls' legal issues can be found in "'Real' Dolls
Too Suggestive," by Debra Cassens Moss, American Bar Association Journal,
December l, l988. The ABA Journal also carried another article by Moss in
its May l, l987 issue, "Are the Children Lying?" which discussed the
sensationalist daycare center cases.
Antiwar or Antichrist? Time, July 3, l989.
B.A.D.D., Dungeons and Dragons, no date, Richmond, VA.
Briggs, E. Satanic cults said to entice teens with sex, drugs.
Richmond Times Dispatch, March 5, l988.
Charlier, Tom, and Downing. Shirley. Justice Abused: A l980s
Witch-Hunt. The Commercial Appeal, January, l988, Memphis. (six-
Coleman, Lee. Therapists are the real culprits in many child
sexual abuse cases. Augustus, l4 (6): 7-9, l986.
Dager, Albert J. A Media Spotlight Special Report: Dungeons and
Dragons. l980. Santa Ana, California.
Finkelhor, David; Williams, Linda M., Burns, Nanci. Nursery
Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care. l988. Beverly Hills: Sage
Jenkins, Philip, and Katkin, Daniel. Protecting Victims of Child
Sexual Abuse: A Case for Caution. The Prison Journal,
Fall/Winter l988: 25-35.
Kelley, Susan J. Ritualistic Abuse of Children: Dynamics and
Impact. Cultic Studies Journal 5(2): 228-236, l988.
Lanning, Kenneth V. Satanic, Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law
Enforcement Perspective. Unpublished ms., l989. FBI Academy.
Luhrmann, T. M. Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic
in Contemporary England. l989. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press.
Lundberg-Love, P. Update on Cults Part I: Satanic Cults.
Family Violence Bulletin 5(2): 9-l0, l989.
Mathews, Jay. In California, a Question of Abuse. The
Washington Post, May 3l, l989.
Medical Licensing Board of Indiana. Findings of Fact,
Conclusions of Law and Order, Cause #83MLD038 in the Matter of
Ruth Bailey, MD. Filed October 2, l984.
Melton, J. G. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. l986.
New York: Garland Publishing Company.
Office of the Attorney General. Report on the Kern County Child
Abuse Investigation. Sacramento, l986.
Pulling, Patricia A. The Devil's Web. l989. Lafayette, LA:
Huntington House, Inc.
Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Mephistopheles: The Devil in the
Modern World. l986. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Springston, Rex. Experts say tales are bunk. (Two-part
article). The Richmond News Leader, April 6-7, l989.
A Parent's Primer on Satanism. Woman's Day, November 22, l988.
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