SOME ON RITUAL ABUSE TASK FORCE SAY SATANISTS ARE
Skeptics scoff at claims that Subcommittee is
attacked with diazinon -- even in county meetings.
There are dozens of commission and committee
meetings every week in Los Angeles County's massive Hall
of Administration, but in only one will you hear serious
discussion of members being slipped a mickey through air-
At meetings of the Ritual Abuse Task Force, a corps
of well-meaning men and women use the clout of county
authority to warn of satanic abuse they claim forces
thousands of young people into unholy rituals including
human sacrifice, torture and orgies.
On Monday, several task force members repeated their
longstanding claim that satanists are poisoning them and
other satanic abuse survivors-and their therapists-by
exposing them to a toxic pesticide pumped into their
offices, homes and cars. One woman claimed she was even
poisoned during a task force meeting.
The supposed victims say they suspect satanists of
slipping diazinon, a chemical compound used in bug sprays
and powders, into air-conditioning vents to silence them.
"I can't believe I'm sitting here listening to
this," said Paul J. Papanek, chief of the county's toxics
epidemiology program. "This is outrageous."
Task force member Stephanie Sheppard had asked
Papanek-and members of the media-to attend Monday's
meeting. Sheppard then called on the alleged victims to
prove their bizarre claims or keep quiet and stop
wasting taxpayers' time and money".
None of the 43 supposed victims has produced any
medical proof that the ailments-including headaches,
dizziness, numbness and memory loss-are caused by poi-
"The integrity of the task force is severely on the
line," said Sheppard, an out-of-work artist who says she
is a survivor of ritual abuse. "If people are making
those statements, they need to back them up."
Sheppard later added that claims such as those made
by her colleagues do nothing but undermine the already
shaky reputation of the 4-year-old, 14-member task force,
which is a subcommittee of the county's Commission for
"They are blaspheming the whole ritual abuse thing,"
she said. "It's like they've shouted wolf too many
Indeed, at a time when the Board of Supervisors has
been meeting just five floors below the task force to
dismantle county health care programs, lay off part-time
employees and cut all other services because of a severe
budget shortfall, some are questioning whether the group-
and particularly its obsession with poisoning-is not just
a little frivolous.
One county employee suggested that the task force
has not been disbanded because it is one of the few that
actually make money.' Since 1989, the task force-made up
of therapists, alleged victims and religious leaders-has
sold a handbook that outlines the telltale signs of
ritual abuse. More than 17,000 copies of the handbook
have been sold at $1 apiece, more than enough to offset
the costs of the task force.
Many mainstream psychologists and law enforcement
officials insist that it is extremely unlikely that
thousands of people have been forced to participate in
satanic rituals, as alleged survivors claim.
The task force was formed at the request of
Commission for Women Chairwoman Myra Riddell, a psy-
chologist who also serves as chairwoman of the ritual
abuse group. She said she had noticed an increase in the
number of her patients who recalled experiencing satanic
abuse as children.
During Monday's meeting, Ridden did not directly
address the poison claims, saying only: "It's not a
question of disbelief. It's a question of what action we
want to take." She did not return telephone calls later
in the day.
Others were more vocal, demanding answers about why
there were so many similarities in symptoms reported by
those who believe they have been poisoned.
"Why is this group feeling so awful and feeling so
awful in the same kinds of ways?" asked task force member
Vicki Graham-Costain, a psychologist who treats people
claiming to be victims of ritual abuse.
Papanek said Graham-Costain's question was a good
one, but he said he did not think they were poisoned.
"I certainly did not hear any evidence of diazinon
poisoning," he said after the meeting. "If you seriously
think you have been poisoned, you don't come to the
eighth floor of the county building. You go see a
Papanek said it is possible to become sick by
inhaling diazinon through vents, but usually only if
large quantities are present.
Several of the alleged victims, who did not identify
themselves at the meeting, said they have seen doctors
but that their cases have not been reported to county
health officials-a violation of the state health and
safety code, if true.
After the meeting, task force member Catherine A.
Gould, a clinical psychologist noted for treating victim
of satanic abuse, said she would produce lab results
Monday afternoon documenting diazinon poisoning in two
patients. She had not provided the information by Monday
evening and she said she was "trying to find some people
willing to go public."
Gould said she was also poisoned after she brought
the issue before the task force in March, and that the
poisoning caused her to experience blurred vision and
failed memory. Yet, she admitted, she never had a blood
test or went to a doctor to determine what ailed her..
"I never got tested," she said. "Everyone said you
can't find this in a work-up."
But Papanek said diazinon is fairly easy to detect
with the proper tests, and he questioned why supposed
victims rarely sought medical help. One woman who
claimed to have been poisoned said her doctor told her
that "it was all in my head."
The Ritual Abuse Task Force of the Los Angeles County
Commission for Women was formed in 1988 to deal with what
was perceived as an increase in the number of people who
claimed to have been abused in satanic rituals as
children. However, many mainstream psychologists and law
enforcement officials dispute the notion that thousands
of people have been forced to participate in satanic
rituals. Horrible childhood "memories" of such abuse are
likely to be suggestions made in treatment by
psychotherapists rather than actual recollections, these
By AARON CURTISS,
TIMES STAFF WRITER
December 1, 1992
Los Angeles Times