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satanic ritual abuse (SRA)

Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) is the name given to the allegedly systematic abuse of children by Satanists.

Since the mid-1970s, there have been widespread allegations of the existence of a well-organized intergenerational satanic cult whose members sexually molest, torture, and murder children across the United States. In the 1980s there was a panic regarding SRA, which was largely triggered by a fictional book called Michelle Remembers (1980) by Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder, M.D. The book was published as fact but has subsequently been shown to be a hoax by at least three independent investigators. Pazder was Smith's therapist. Subsequent to their book, they left their respective spouses and got married. It is unlikely that Michelle ever suffered abuse and it is likely that Pazder knew this. It is likely that her reports of abuse were “the hysterical ravings of an uncontrolled imagination” (Allen and Midwinter 1990). Pazder coined the expression 'ritual abuse.' He was consulted in more than one thousand SRA cases and can take credit for contributing greatly to one of the largest witch-hunts in recent history.

No hard evidence of Satanic Ritual Abuse in North America has been found. Nevertheless, the allegations were widely publicized on radio and television talk shows, especially on Geraldo Rivera's show.

A four-year study in the early 1990s found the allegations of satanic ritual abuse to be without merit. The study was conducted by University of California at Davis psychology professors Gail S. Goodman and Phillip R. Shaver, in conjunction with Jianjian Qin of U.C. Davis and Bette I. Bottoms of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Their study was supported by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. The researchers investigated more than 12,000 accusations and surveyed more than 11,000 psychiatric, social service, and law enforcement personnel. The researchers could find no unequivocal evidence for a single case of satanic cult ritual abuse.

A study published in 1992 by Kenneth V. Lanning—a Supervisory Special Agent at the FBI Academy—came to the same conclusion: there is no good evidence for a single case of SRA. Lanning has investigated SRA since 1981.

If there are thousands of baseless accusations, how do they originate? Most of them are said to originate with children. Since there is a widespread belief that children wouldn't make up stories of eating other children or being forced to have sex with giraffes after flying in an airplane while they were supposed to be in day care, the stories are often taken at face value by naive prosecutors, therapists, police officers, and parents. Yet, the researchers found that children are unlikely to invent stories of satanic ritual abuse on their own. They get lots of help from therapists, district attorneys, police investigators, and parents. There is ample evidence that therapists and law enforcement personnel encourage and reward children for accepting the suggestions of bizarre abusive behavior. They also discourage truth by refusing to accept no for an answer and forcing children to undergo interrogations until the interrogator gets what he or she is after.

One of the more pernicious consequences of the SRA witch-hunts was that many cases involving accusations of child abuse slipped beneath the media's radar. For example, while the McMartin preschool case in Los Angeles received extensive national media attention, a much more extensive witch-hunt in Bakersfield, California, went virtually unnoticed. In the 1980s, the office of District Attorney Ed Jagels prosecuted 46 people in eight alleged molestation rings. Twenty-two of thirty convictions were later reversed, including that of Jeffrey Modahl. Eight had the charges dropped and eight plea-bargained to keep them from doing time in prison.  One of those convicted died in prison. The rest served out their sentences.* The last of the accused, John Stoll, served 20 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in May 2004.

Prosecutors presented no physical evidence at Stoll's trial. None of the children were ever examined by doctors, even though some of the allegations included forcible sodomy. The case rested on testimony alone. According to four of Stoll's accusers—now adults—investigators (led by Velda Murillo, a social worker with the county's Child Protective Services) badgered them into fabricating stories of molestation, telling them that they could go home when they admitted that they were abused. A fifth witness testified that he has no memories from that part of his childhood. However, Stoll's son, Jed, still believes his father molested him. (Stoll believes his ex-wife planted or at least reinforced the molestation idea during a bitter custody dispute.*) Even so, a judge released Stoll because investigators had overstepped their boundaries by using manipulative questioning of the children that led them to lie.

An NBC Dateline program that aired October 22, 2004, interviewed several adults who, as children, had been coerced into testifying that they had been abused by their parents, and who have come forth to tell the court that they lied as kids. It was clear from watching these people that their lives have been seriously and adversely affected. They most certainly had been abused...by social workers, law enforcement interviewers, and prosecutors.

A summary of the Goodman et al. study may be obtained for free by calling the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at 1-800-394-3366.

See also New Age psychotherapies and repressed memory therapy.

further reading

books and articles

Crews, Frederick. (1997). Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute. New York Review of Books Reprint Edition.

Eberle, Paul. The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial (Prometheus, 1993).

Gardner, Martin. (2006). "The Memory Wars." Skeptical Inquirer. Part 1 is in vol. 30 no. 1, parts 2 and 3 are in vol. 30 no. 2.

Goldstein. Eleanor C. (1992). Confabulations: Creating False Memories, Destroying Families. Sirs.

Hertenstein, Mike and Jon Trott (1993). Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke. Cornerstone Press.

Loftus, Elizabeth. The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994).

Nathan, Debbie and Michael Snedeker. Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch-Hunt,(New York, NY: BasicBooks, 1995).

new Noll, Richard. 2014. "Speak, Memory." Psychiatric Times. Some mass cultural phenomena are so emotionally-charged, so febrile, and in retrospect so causally incomprehensible, that we feel compelled to move on silently and feign forgetfulness....As our medical schools and graduate programs fill with students who were born after 1989, we meet young mental health professionals-in-training who have no knowledge or living memory of the Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) moral panic of the 1980s and early 1990s. But perhaps they should. Cautionary tales may prevent the recurrence of pyrogenic cultural fantasies and the devastating clinical mistakes they inspire.[/new]

Ofshe, Richard, Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria (University of California Press, 1996).

Pendergrast, Mark. Victims of Memory : Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives 2nd ed. (Upper Access Book Publishers, 1996).

Victor, Jeffrey S. Satanic Panic : The Creation of a Contemporary Legend (Open Court Publishing, 1993).

Wright, Lawrence. Remembering Satan (Vintage Books, 1995).


The Ritual Abuse Panic

Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) The Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance Page on the new witch-hunt for satanic abusers of children

Over 40 cases of alleged ritual abuse


The Bakersfield cases - Injusticebusters


Satanic Media Watch and News Exchange (SMWNE) - A. O. Lap

Giving the Devil More Than His Due by David Alexander (The Humanist, March/April 1990)

"The Hard Facts About Satanic Ritual Abuse," by Bob and Gretchen Passaintino

1992 FBI report on ritual abuse

news stories

The mystery of Carole Myers When she was found dead at 41, Carole Myers left a statement saying she had suffered Satantic child abuse at the hands of her parents. But did she? It seems likely Myers became mentally ill and had delusions of satanic ritual abuse that were encouraged, not challenged, by those who treated her.


The Search for Satan, Frontline, originally aired 10-24-95, produced by Ofra Bikel and Rachel Dretzin ("untangles the mysterious web of satanic ritual abuse, psychiatric treatment, and insurance claims that escalated into millions of dollars. Were these professed victims of secret satanic cults really helped by the psychiatric care they received?" Frontline answers, No.)

For those who might come across Cult and Ritual Abuse: Its History, Anthropology, and Recent Discovery in Contemporary America by James Randall Noblitt and Pamela S. Perskin (Praeger Paperback 2000), read this review and this article.


Incredibly stupid police training video on Satanic cults

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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