Assessing Credibility of Children's Testimony in Ritual Sexual Abuse Allegations1

Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager*

ABSTRACT: In alleged ritual child sexual abuse, there is seldom any corroborating evidence and the case hinges on the statements of young children. Although the behaviors alleged are bizarre and improbable, adults accept them as true since it seems impossible that a child would lie or fantasize such detailed and unusual accounts. However, crucial to assessing credibility is a careful analysis of adult social influence on the children involved. When children are subjected to multiple formal and informal interviews, sessions of therapy, and interactions with adults who believe that ritualistic abuse is real, the adults inadvertently shape, mold, and reinforce the stories and drive children into their fantasies. When this happens, the child is likely to internalize the details and believe in the truth of the stories. Understanding this process of social influence is central to assessing the credibility of children's testimony.

Allegations of ritual abuse of children have received much attention in the past few years and there has been a recent proliferation of professional literature on this topic. We have been consulted in approximately 15 cases involving allegations claimed to be satanic ritualistic sexual abuse along with others where equally bizarre allegations were made but no one claimed it was ritualistic abuse. We have over a hundred professional articles in our resource file and the number is rapidly growing. There have been presentations on this topic at professional conferences, representing a wide variety of opinions.

The evidence for satanic ritual abuse conspiracies comes from two main sources-the reports from "survivors" and their counselors of "repressed" memories that were uncovered during therapy, and allegations involving young children, primarily in day care cases, such as McMartin. These two different sources are used to bolster one another by those who believe such allegations are true. We are limiting this discussion to those based upon statements elicited from young children.

In cases involving young children, the ritual abuse allegations most often occur in a multi-perpetrator, multi-victim situation, such as the day care setting. However, some children, in the divorce/custody battle of parents, produce descriptions of abuse said to be satanic and ritualistic. We have also been involved in cases where both parents were accused of ritual abuse with their own children.

Whether such allegations are true has been hotly debated in the professional community. There are some who believe there is a world-wide conspiracy of Satan worshipers who sexually molest and torture untold numbers of children in bizarre and sadistic rituals (e.g., Cozolino, 1989; Ritual Abuse Task Force, 1989; Summit, 1984, 1990). Similar allegations of satanic ritualistic abuse have surfaced in England, Holland, Australia, and New Zealand. In England Christy and Walton (1991) claim the allegations there can be traced to workshops and seminars conducted by Americans claiming expertise in satanic ritualistic abuse.

There are others who openly look upon belief in a world-wide satanic conspiracy as total nonsense (Gonzales, 1990). Those professionals who are skeptical see the claims as resulting from collective hysteria or rumor panics, as similar to the UFO sightings, or as an example of urban legends that may be firmly believed but are false (Balch & Gilliam, 1991; Best, 1991; Ellis, 1991; Hicks, 1990, 1991; Nathan, 1991; Rossen, 1989; Victor, 1990, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c). In this approach a major causative factor is the current social upheaval and the resulting ambiguity. An analysis by Underwager and Wakefield (1991) presents an argument that belief in these claims represents and derives from the personal pathology of the believer.

There have been no findings of physical evidence corroborating the claims of satanic cults, human sacrifice, orgies, or a widespread conspiracy. Despite hundreds of investigations by the FBI and police, there is no independent evidence supporting the existence of organized cults of outwardly normal people who engage in ritual abuse, animal and human sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism of children (Charlier & Downing, 1988; Hicks, 1990, 1991a, 1991b; Jenkins & Maier-Katkin, 1991; Jones, 1991; Lanning, 1989, 1991; Martin & Fine, 1991; Mulhern, 1991a; Noll, 1989; Putnam, 1991; Richardson, Best & Bromley, 1991; Russell, 1991; Victor, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c; Voelpel, 1989).

Lanning (1989, 1991) observes that it is impossible for a conspiracy as complex, including as many people, and engaging in such extreme acts to continue without someone talking about it. Groups that actually engage in secret rituals and commit murders and violence, such as the Mafia and the Ku Klux Klan, are known very quickly because there are bodies and someone talks. In addition, conspiracy requires organization. Hicks (1991a) comments about one instance of an alleged satanic cult:

Further, in order to organize the events in which Smith participated, the Satanists must have shown skills of conference planning: obtaining snakes, making robes, arranging for members to give believable excuses to stay away from their jobs, ensuring no witnesses, arranging with cemeteries to exhume bodies, having effigies made, nabbing babies for sacrifice, efficiently cleaning up sacrificial messes, and so on. Yet no one could verify any of the details (p. 144).

It is poor or ineffective organization that apparently caused the failure of the coup attempted by the hard line communists in the Soviet Union. These were men who were life long bureaucrats and experienced conspirators. The skill and competence required to maintain the satanic conspiracy described by the believers would have to exceed any level ever known in history.

There are disturbed people who abuse and murder children. The disturbance may well include unusual religious mentation and an obsession with strange rituals. Some of these people may abuse a child in a bizarre and sadistic fashion. This may sometimes look like a satanic ritual, a possibility that becomes more probable given the current media attention and publicity. Therefore, allegations of ritual abuse must be carefully investigated and not immediately dismissed even if one rejects the notion of an organized conspiracy. In addition, there is always the possibility that the child may have been abused in some fashion, even if the ritual abuse allegations are not true.

In cases involving allegations of bizarre sexual abuse of children, there is seldom any corroborating evidence and the case hinges on the statements of young children. Although the behaviors alleged are highly improbable, adults may accept them as true, reasoning that it seems impossible that a child would make up such detailed accounts. In evaluating such cases, it is necessary to carefully reconstruct the sequence of events. The circumstances surrounding the original disclosure and the contact the child has had with adults must be traced along with the statements reportedly made by the child as the case progresses.

A false accusation is seldom a deliberate fabrication made by a child or encouraged by an adult, although this may happen occasionally in divorce and custody disputes. Instead, media coverage of sexual abuse, including adult "survivors" of satanic ritual abuse, widespread publication of so-called "behavioral indicators," and proliferation of child sexual abuse prevention programs may result in adults becoming hypersensitive to the possibility of abuse. The adults then question the child and inadvertently mold, shape and reinforce the statements about abuse.

The Growing Network of Believers

Important to understanding the development of statements about ritual abuse in children is the growing network of believers who regularly interact with one another (Hicks, 1991; Mulhern, 1991c; Victor, 1991c). Kee MacFarlane and Roland Summit were the first mental health professionals to advance claims about a satanic, ritualistic abuse conspiracy. This was based on the experience of MacFarlane in interviewing the children in the McMartin case (see Underwager and Wakefield, [1991] and Hicks [1991a] for a discussion of the influence of the McMartin case). What is not generally understood is that the children whose accusations were included in the trial denied being abused until after they were interviewed at Children's Institute International (CII) by MacFarlane and other staff members. The investigation by the Manhattan Beach police began on August 12, 1983 and got nowhere. At the request of the District Attorney's office, MacFarlane interviewed the first child on November 1, 1983, almost three months after the investigation had begun. The McMartin case was made at CII.

By June, 1984, the CII staff had interviewed nearly 400 children who had been at the McMartin preschool and claimed that 369 had been molested. By this time the allegations had grown to include bizarre and horrifying accusations. MacFarlane testified about ritual abuse before a congressional subcommittee in 1984 (Bromley, 1991) and at around the same time Roland Summit urged the National Symposium on Child Molestation to accept children's accounts of blood sacrifices and sadistic sexual ceremonies as true (Summit, 1984).

When MacFarlane testified in 1984, she was asked to support her claim of a ritual abuse conspiracy. She said that she heard about a child in another state giving the same parody of a nursery rhyme and describing the naked movie star game that she claimed to have heard from the McMartin children. She was referring to the Montessori school case in Reno, Nevada (Crewdson, 1988). What she did not tell the committee was that early on the Reno investigators had been in frequent contact with the investigators in the McMartin case.

An analysis of videotapes of the interviews of children in the Reno case shows leading questions, coercion, and repeated attempts to confirm the expectations of the police investigators (Underwager & Wakefield, 1985). This suggests that the communication between the investigators from Reno and those in Los Angeles is the cause of the similarities between the elicited accounts.

Since MacFarlane and Summit's initial public statements, conferences, networking, and training seminars have generated a growing network of professionals who firmly believe in the reality of the ritual abuse claims (Gonzales, 1990). Hicks (1991a & 1991b) describes this in terms of law enforcement personnel, whom he terms "cult cops." The impact of satanic and ritual abuse seminars conducted by American "experts" in England is described by Christy and Walton (1990). Mulhern (1991b) systematically analyzed 14 satanic cult/ritual abuse training seminars held between 1987 and 1990 and concludes that these seminars are focused on converting the participants to the uncritical belief in the realities of such cults.

The result of these networks is that if the professional interviewing the child has been been to a training conference or seminar, or has otherwise been exposed to the the beliefs of this network and accepts them, the interviewer may well attempt to validate the hypotheses about ritualistic abuse. When this happens, statements about ritual abuse are apt to be elicited from the children.

Evaluating Cases of Alleged Ritual Abuse

Memory is Reconstruction

Understanding the nature of memory is necessary in evaluating ritual abuse cases. Memory is reconstruction and not recall, a fact that is solidly established in psychology and is supported both by laboratory studies and in surveys (Dawes, 1988; Goodman & Hahn, 1987; Loftus & Ketcham, 1991; Loftus, Korf, & Schooler, 1989). Although people introspectively believe that their memories are a process of dredging up what actually happened, as though a videotape had been made in the brain and is being replayed, in reality our memories are largely determined by our current beliefs and feelings. Dawes (1988) notes:

Our recall is often organized in ways that "make sense" of the present-thus reinforcing our belief in the conclusions we have reached about how the past has determined the present. We quite literally "make up stories" about our lives, the world, and reality in general. The fit between our memories and the stories enhances our belief in them. Often, however, it is the story that creates the memory, rather than vice versa (p. 107).

Loftus and Ketcham (1991) describe the reconstruction process and how people can come to believe firmly in events that never happened:

Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective facts but subjective, interpretative realities. We interpret the past, correcting ourselves, adding bits and pieces, deleting uncomplimentary or disturbing recollections, sweeping, dusting, tidying things up. Thus our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality; it is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba like creature with powers to make us laugh, and cry, and clench our fists. Enormous powers — powers even to make us believe in something that never happened (p. 20).

Adult Social Influence

Crucial to assessing credibility in cases of alleged ritual abuse is a careful analysis of the adult social influence on the children involved. When children are subjected to multiple formal and informal interviews, sessions of therapy, and interactions with adults who believe that the abuse is real, the adults may inadvertently create the stories and drive children into their fantasies. When this happens, the child is likely to internalize the details and believe in the truth of the stories. Therefore, understanding this process of social influence is central to assessing the credibility of children's testimony. Although repeated and/or suggestive interviews do not mean that a child has not been abused, they make it very difficult to sort out what, if anything, may have happened. The influence of multiple interviews over time by persons who have a prior belief about what they think happened and who ask suggestive questions is discussed by several researchers in the recent APA book edited by John Doris (1991).

A number of researchers have examined the factors of memory development, cognitive and moral development of children, and suggestibility of children to adult social influence (for discussions of this see Doris, 1991; Garbarino & Stott, 1989; Lassiter, Stone, & Weigold, 1987; Lepore, 1991; Lindsay, 1990; Loftus & Ketcham, 1991; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988; Underwager & Wakefield, 1990). There is no doubt that children can be led to produce accounts of events that did not happen. This does not mean that children lie, but rather they are victimized by adult biases and expectations (Wakefield & Underwager, 1988).

The most publicized examples of repeated, coercive interviews have been McMartin (Cody, 1987, 1989, 1990) and Jordan, Minnesota (Humphrey, 1985). However, we have reviewed hundreds of hours of videotapes from cases throughout the country and found similar behaviors by adult interviewers in many other cases. (We have provided a detailed analysis and complete transcripts of 10 representative real world interrogations [Underwager & Wakefield, 1990]. Also, see Bravos [1991] and Coleman [1989b] for examples of the McMartin interviews.)

No psychological experiment could ever come close to reproducing what is often done in the real world when children are interviewed. No human subjects review committee would ever permit such a study and any psychologists who tried to do it would lose their license. Because a videotape or audiotape can document the adult behaviors toward children and show the level of coercion (DeLipsey, & James, 1988), currently some professionals are advising against videotaping or audiotaping in order to prevent a defendant from knowing what the adults did.

Assessing Interviews

The use of procedures with doubtful or nonexistent reliability and validity adds to the potential contamination of the interviews. These unsupported procedures include drawings, projective tests, play therapy, and anatomical dolls (Dawes, 1988; Levy, 1989; Mantell, 1988; Terr, 1988; Underwager & Wakefield, 1990; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988). The suggestive nature of such techniques is increased when the interviewer directs the child "to pretend."

Recent tools such as the Projective Story Telling Cards (Northwest Psychological Publishers, 1990) which contain explicit drawings of ritualistic abuse, and Don't Make Me Go Back Mommy: A Child's Book About Satanic Ritual Abuse (Sanford, 1990) are being used in interviewing children when satanic ritual abuse is suspected. Both of these contain explicit and frightening pictures illustrating satanic rituals and are used to encourage the child to describe the abuse. The highly suggestive and emotionally loaded nature of these stimuli can only increase the probability of false positives in developing allegations of satanic ritualistic abuse.

It is possible to interview a child in a way to get at the truth. Several professionals have suggested how to conduct an unbiased evaluation and noncontaminating interviews. (For example, see Daly, 1991 & 1992; Quinn, White, & Santilli, 1989; Raskin & Yuille, 1989; Slicner & Hanson, 1989; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988; White, 1990). Recently, there has been information on Criterion Based Content Analysis/Statement Validity Analysis. This is a European procedure for interviewing children suspected of being abused and for analyzing the resulting interview. It assumes that an account based on a real memory of an actual event will differ in content and quality from accounts that are based on fabricated, learned, or suggested memory. The procedure requires a relatively complete statement obtained as soon as possible after the child has disclosed an incident and the interview must be designed to obtain as much free narrative as possible and leading questions and suggestions must be avoided. The entire interview is tape-recorded and transcribed for later analysis (Köhnken & Steller, 1988; Raskin & Esplin, 1991; Rogers, 1990; Undeutsch, 1988).

When there are allegations of satanic, ritual abuse, the professional may be asked to assess a case after others have interviewed the child. If the initial evaluation and interviews have been conducted by someone else, careful examination of the procedures along with an analysis of the progress of the case is necessary to assess possible contamination (Wakefield & Underwager, 1988; White & Quinn, 1988). When children have been subjected to leading and coercive interviews, the contamination may have so affected their recollections that it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine the truth. Therefore, a careful analysis of all contacts with the child in which abuse was discussed is necessary.

A recent example of how children can be taught to believe they have been satanic ritual abuse victims was in a Cook County, Illinois case. John Fittanto was charged with sexual abuse of two children. The judge heard several days of testimony including 10 straight days of testimony by a 7-year-old girl who gave detailed descriptions of ritual abuse with robed, singing, and chanting adults who drugged children, forced them to drink blood, eat excrement, and drink urine, and performed child sacrifice, cannibalism, and torture. The child had undergone multiple sessions with Pamela Klein, self-styled expert in satanic ritualistic abuse, who was one of the Americans conducting the seminars in England (Pope, 1991). The judge ruled that the testimony was bizarre and incredible and that the girl had clearly been repeatedly coached (Hamilton, 1991).

Children's Fantasies

The content of children's fantasies include violence, monsters, bizarre acts, and much anxiety material. If an adult is convinced a child has been abused, despite the child's denials, the adult is likely to repeat questions in an attempt to get statements about abuse. Children, in this situation, may then answer questions they do not understand and about which they have no information (Hughes & Grieve, 1983; Linkletter, 1957). Their fantasies may supply their answers.

After over 20 years of interviewing over 15,000 children Art Linkletter made this observation:

". . .' Cause they have big crocodiles down there and if people don't listen to me I can sic the crocodiles on them.'

This bloodthirsty theme runs through the mind of many a mild-mannered darling. It would frighten you to know how often the curly blond locks of a little princess cover a head filled with mayhem" (Linkletter, 1957, p. 25).

Bloch described the fantasies of children this way:

It abounded in beasts of terrifying mien, in cruel witches and monsters who pursued their victims with unrelenting savagery. In those preserves the air continually vibrated to the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns, corpses hung from trees, and streams ran red with blood. "Do you want to help me run? The monster is after us," was the way three-and- one-half-year-old Ellie introduced a fantasy that lasted more than a year. . . . I was instructed by a five-year-old in the slaughter of multitudes by a carefully worked out routine that inevitably ended with out dumping the imaginary corpses over the roof and then brushing "the blood and dirt off our hands." I have spent many a session being shot to death and then revived only so that I might be shot again (Bloch, 1978, p. 2).

Ames (1966) and Pitcher and Prelinger (1963) analyzed the stories of young children and found that the majority of children at every age tell stories with themes of violence. The findings of the two studies agreed to a marked extent.

Wakefield and Underwager (1988) observe:

In instances where children are subjected to intense and frequent questioning and further details are sought across a period of time the progression of the story goes from an initial "touching" to fondling, to oral, genital, and anal penetration, to some form of drug use, to pictures being taken, to monsters, or witches, or people dressed in strange ways behaving in a bizarre fashion (i. e., twirling rainbow colored snakes about the children, keeping bears, training deer to urinate and defecate in children's mouths . . .) to ritual killing of animals, ranging from gerbils, birds, and squirrels to bears, deer, lions, and elephants. The final step is some form of violence to children, including torture, mutilation, and murder.

This common progression, noted in cases from Alaska to Florida and Maine to California, suggests that repeated interviews tap into an ever deeper layer of the kind of fantasies children are known to have. . . . Some professionals claim that these stories may be true and support this claim by pointing out the similarity of the stories across the country. . . . But we are convinced that this very similarity results from the questions professionals, who are familiar with the well publicized cases, ask the children (p. 300).

When adults who believe in satanic ritualistic abuse question children so as to drive them into their most horrifying fantasies and lead them to produce erroneous accounts of the most perverted and twisted acts from the darkest corners of the human mind and soul, this is not an innocent or innocuous experience. The effect on a child who has not been abused at all is devastating. It is a betrayal of the responsibility of adults to children to teach them about reality and to assist them to distinguish personal fantasies from our shared common human experience.

Behavioral Indications and Checklists

A trigger for suspected sexual abuse is often one of the so-called behavioral indicators. Lists of behaviors believed to be caused by sexual abuse (e.g., Council on Scientific Affairs, 1985; Cohen, 1985; Sgroi, 1982) have been widely disseminated and publicized. The behaviors on the lists are extremely inclusive; nearly every problem behavior ever detected in children has been offered by someone as a sign of possible child sexual abuse. As a result, an adult may suspect abuse when these behaviors are observed in a child. The adult may then question the child in a way that elicits statements suggesting abuse.

However, there is a high probability that any normal child might at some point show one or more of these behaviors. The behaviors on the lists are known stress responses, and therefore are found in many different situations, including conflict between parents, divorce, economic stress, wartime separations, father absence, natural disaster, physical, emotional, but nonsexual abuse, or almost any stressful situation children may experience (Emery, 1982; Hughes & Barad, 1983; Jaffe, Wolfe, Wilson, & Zak, 1986; Porter & O'Leary, 1980; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980; Wolman, 1983). Children who are distressed for whatever reason may show their distress in a variety of ways. There are no behavior or set of behaviors that occur only in victims of child sexual abuse.

Therefore, relying on behavioral indicators to assess possible sexual abuse will likely result in mistaken decisions. Levine and Battistoni (1991) note that none of these indicators, in any combination, have been found to be valid without a direct statement by the child about sexual involvement or sexual knowledge. Besharov (1990) points out that the behavioral indicators, by themselves, are not a sufficient basis for a report.

Even age-inappropriate sexual play or knowledge, which is thought to be a more reliable sign than other behavioral indicators, cannot be used as proof of abuse. What children normally do sexually is more frequent and involved than most people assume (Best, 1983; Gundersen, Melas & Skar, 1981; Martinson, 1981). Friedrich, Grambsch, Broughton, Kuiper, & Beilke (1990) asked mothers of 880 nonabused 2- to 12-year- old children to complete questionnaires concerning sexual behavior. Although behaviors imitative of adult sexual behaviors were rare, the children exhibited a wide variety of sexual behaviors at relatively highly frequencies.

Special checklists said to indicate satanic or ritual abuse have been distributed and used by social workers and police officers investigating ritual abuse claims. The most widely circulated of such checklists was developed by Catherine Gould who lists "symptoms characterizing satanic ritual abuse not usually seen in sexual abuse cases" (Hicks, 1991, p. 245). Gould's checklists are promulgated through cult seminars across the country and contribute to the identification of children as having been ritually abused (Hicks, 1991).

Many of the items on Gould's checklist have the same difficulties as do the more traditional lists of "behavioral indicators"-most of the symptoms are innocuous and common to growing up. A few, such as semen stains or venereal disease, are legitimate signs of sexual abuse but cannot be used to infer that the abuse was satanic or ritualistic. However, if a child shows some of the signs on the checklist, the interviewer using such a list is likely to come to premature closure about the reality of the ritual abuse and interview the child in a way geared to confirm these suspicions.

To use nondiscriminatory signs to make a discrimination is a logical error that increases the likelihood of false positives. It is also a mistaken notion of covariance and correlation and will lead to false notions of causation. Checklists that advance the idea there are indicators that can be used to make a classification decision but do not provide any empirical, quantifiable data to demonstrate such claims will not lead to accurate decisions.

Assessment of the Accused

Although there is no "profile" of a child sexual abuser, there are characteristics associated with people known to sexually abuse children. Most known child molesters have difficulties with impulse control and many are inadequate, lacking in self- confidence, and have deficiencies in their ability to establish satisfying and appropriate intimate relationships. In general, the more deviant the behaviors committed by the abuser, the less likely it is that the person committing the abusive acts will be psychologically normal (Wakefield & Underwager, 1988).

There is no research on the personality characteristics of ritual abuse offenders. Therefore, evaluating persons who have been accused of satanic ritual abuse is based on common sense and past experience with known perpetrators of sex offenses and homicides (see Rogers, 1991, for an excellent discussion of this). If the behaviors alleged are highly deviant, such as inserting lighted candles and other objects into the anuses and vaginas of children, engaging in defecation and urination as part of the abuse, torturing animals and children, and murdering and eating children, we would expect the perpetrator to be highly disturbed.

In contrast to this, a common finding in the allegations of ritualistic abuse involving day care centers is that the alleged perpetrators do not fit any known pattern of sexual abusers. David Finkelhor and his colleagues (Finkelhor, Williams, & Burns, 1988; Finkelhor, Williams, Burns, & Kalinowski, 1988), in a national study of 270 day care cases,1 report that 40% of the perpetrators were women. These women tended to be intelligent, educated, highly regarded in their communities, and not likely to have a history of known deviant behavior. Many of these apparently normal women were said to have engaged in extremely deviant, low frequency behavior, including oral-genital penetration, urolagia and coprophagia, and ritualistic, mass abuse. Hicks (1991) observes: "To maintain, then, that day-care matrons constitute sexual deviates who prey upon children is to create a new kind of criminal" (p. 217).

Therefore, in assessing the credibility of children in ritual abuse cases, the characteristics of the perpetrator must be considered. If the behaviors alleged are highly deviant and sadistic and the individual accused is psychologically normal with no history of deviancy or unlawful behavior, the discrepancy must be considered. It is highly unlikely that a normal, functional, nonpathological individual would engage is such behaviors.

Case Examples

As a way of illustrating how ritual abuse allegations may develop and grow and of illustrating the type of analysis which must be made in these cases, we are presenting three case studies. The first is a day-care type case which is similar to those such as McMartin which are prototypes of ritual abuse cases involving young children; the second involves allegations against parents in an intact family; and the third involves allegations which arose in a divorce and custody battle. In describing these cases we have disguised the identities. However, each detail and each allegation is taken from an actual case.

Case # 1

Case # 2

Case # 3


Cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse are complicated and difficult to deal with. All professionals in the field acknowledge that children are abused, sometimes in horrifying ways. Although there is no empirical evidence for the existence of organized multigenerational cults which ritually abuse and torture children, each case must be carefully evaluated since there is always the possibility of more ordinary abuse underlying the bizarre allegations or even a highly disturbed individual sadistically abusing a child in what may appear to be a satanic ritual.

Each case must be evaluated in terms of the quality of the child's statement, the circumstances under which the allegations surfaced, the characteristics of the person(s) accused, and the nature of the alleged abusive behaviors. In addition, the progress of the case over time and the adult social influences on the children must be carefully studied in order to understand how the allegations developed. It is our experience that when there are allegations involving ritual abuse, animal and human sacrifice, blood, urine, and feces, and murder and cannibalism of children, the most parsimonious explanation is that believing adults inadvertently taught such accounts to the children.

The impact of developing such accusations by adult behaviors that influence nonabused children to produce fabricated accounts of abuse must be considered. Surely a concern for children should lead to every possible effort to increase accuracy and avoid severely harming children through adult bias and stupidity.



1. The Finkelhor et al, study has been harshly criticized for its methodology, especially the fact that it includes an indeterminate number of cases, such as McMartin, which ended in dismissals or acquittals, or convictions that were later reversed.  See for example, Coleman (1989a), Wakefield and Underwager (1991), and Nathan (cited in Hicks, 1991).  [Back]

1 A version of this paper was first presented at a symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, New Orleans, November 8, 1991.  [Back]

* Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield are psychologists at the Institute for Psychological Therapies, 5263 130th Street East, Northfield, MN 55057-4880[Back]

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