Abusive Behaviors Alleged in Two Samples of Likely False Allegations
Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager1
ABSTRACT: We conducted a preliminary descriptive study to examine
the types of abusive behaviors described when sexual abuse allegations
are likely false. We looked at the behaviors alleged in two
entirely different samples and compared the results to the types of
behaviors engaged in by actual child sexual abusers. Compared to
the behaviors of actual abusers, in these samples, the behaviors alleged
were of highly deviant and low base rate behaviors. The children
were much younger than in reported cases of actual abuse. In one
of the two samples, many more women were accused than has been reported
in the literature.
When allegations of sexual abuse are false, the behaviors alleged
often are of highly deviant abuse, such as anal or vaginal rape of
toddlers, violence, sadism, and even satanic ritual abuse. The
abuse is frequently said to have begun at a very young age, even at
infancy. The accused are not just fathers, but mothers and other
relatives are sometimes accused, often of acting together.
Such seemingly implausible claims are also found in the books and
articles by recovered memory therapists where they are uncritically
presented as actual events. Some examples:
|Steve believed his mother was sadistic and sexually abusive.
One of his first memories to return was of her feeding him in his
highchair. "I remember really liking what she was feeding
me. I was making pleasure sounds and kicking my feet in
anticipation of each bite. Then one bite was suddenly
hideous. It was so awful-tasting I started to gag and
vomit. Now I think she slipped a spoonful of calf feed into my
mouth" (Fredrickson, 1992, pp. 4l-42).|
|Colleen was only three when her grandmother began to fondle her
genitals whenever she slept overnight with her. Sometimes she
put things like pencils and hobby pins in Colleen's bottom and hurt
her (Fredrickson, 1992, p. 58).|
|(Allen, in a marathon treatment program for eating disorders, was
asked if he had been abused. He denied it but the group
confronted him saying he had the signs of an abuse victim. The
staff told him that if he followed their program he would find the
truth. He then uncovered memories about his father.) "I
learned/recalled my father's abuse; from the time I was an infant
(four to six months) until age six my father repeatedly sexually
abused me: forcing me to suck on his penis until he had an orgasm in
my mouth ... and inflicting a great deal of pain on me by squeezing
my testicles and by sticking his finger in my rectum, squeezing my
throat, choking me, and threatening to kill me if I resisted or
spoke a word" (Hunter, 1990, p. 197).|
|Vera was remembering being tied spread-eagled on a table with her
grandfather looming over her, holding a knife in one hand and a live
rat in another ... "He cuts the rope from around my neck
and starts to shove the rat in my mouth. I am squirming,
trying to get away, and he says, 'Do you want the rat or me?' Then
he puts his penis in my mouth. I hold real still because I
don't want him to push the rat down my throat" (Fredrickson,
1992, pp. 113-114).|
|Annette grew up in an upper-middle-class town in the
Midwest. Her father held the same managerial job for over 30
years. Both her parents were community leaders, active in
church affairs. Secretly they were involved with a group that
performed ritualized abuse according to a satanic calendar.
Town leaders, businesspeople, and church officials were all involved
in this cult. From infancy, Annette was abused in rituals that
included sexual abuse, torture, murder, pornography, and systematic
brainwashing through drugs and electric shock: "I was what they
called a 'breeder.' I was less than 12 years old. They
overpowered me and got me pregnant and then they took my
babies. They killed them right in front of me" (Bass
& Davis, 1988, p. 417).|
|The memory had just come for a woman in Ohio. She'd been
involved in a Twelve Step ritual abuse group for about a year.
She was six years old, maybe seven. She and some other
neighborhood kids had been taken to the woods, again, for another
ceremony. Shortly after arriving there, some chains were
brought out ... They picked out David, one of Pam's school
friends. David was seven too. As his legs were being
chained to the trees, the other children were told that David had
betrayed the cult. He had told one of the neighbors he had
seen his mother have sex with a dog. The children were told to
watch closely, because what was about to happen to David would
happen to them if they ever talked about the cult. And, as the
young child screamed in terror, his father approached him, and
taking a knife, savagely cut his son's tongue out. The boy was
then slowly skinned alive while the rest of the kids were forced to
watch (Ryder, 1992, p. 213).|
We have consulted on dozens of cases throughout the United States and
in other countries where there have been bizarre and completely
improbable accounts of murders, monsters, anal and vaginal penetration
of preschoolers, sex with animals, animal and human sacrifice, feces and
blood, and ritual abuse and torture. Other cases, not including
satanic ritual abuse, have involved equally implausible
allegations. Although the improbability of such behaviors should
have made these accusations highly suspect, investigators and therapists
found the stories believable enough to conclude that sexual abuse had
taken place. There have been criminal prosecutions and civil
lawsuits based on such claims.
How do these stories compare to verified abuse? This question
has practical significance in evaluating the truthfulness of a sexual
abuse allegation when the person accused denies the abuse and there is
no corroborating evidence. If the alleged behaviors are extremely
improbable and there is no corroborating evidence it is extremely
unlikely the accusation is true.
An accusation of specific behaviors can be evaluated in terms of the
antecedent probability, or base rate, of that behavior. When
evaluators are unaware of the usual behavior of child molesters or do
not consider base rates a factor in evaluating an allegation they may
conclude that a highly improbable alleged event is true. Because
of preconceptions about what things go together, evaluators may overlook
base rate data, thinking they have nothing to do with specific
cases. But doing so may result in an indeterminate but
unacceptable level of false positive decisions. The large body of
decision research strongly suggests that knowledge and use of base rate
information is a necessary part of increasing accuracy of decision
making (Einhorn & Hogarth, 1978; Gambrill, 1990).
We have consulted on dozens of day care cases throughout the United
States and in other countries where there have been bizarre and
improbable accounts of murders, monsters, anal and vaginal penetration
of preschoolers, sex with animals, animal and human sacrifice, feces and
blood, and ritual abuse and torture. Although the improbability of
such behaviors should have made these accusations highly suspect, often
investigators and therapists found the stories believable enough to
conclude that sexual abuse had taken place.
Research on the Behavior of Child Sexual Abusers
There is information about the behavior of actual sexual abusers,
although the studies vary as to the behaviors reported. This is
not surprising since the studies differ in terms of the sample studied
(community, college, clinical, prison, hospital, etc.), whether victims
or offenders are sampled, the method of obtaining the data (interviews,
questionnaires, hospital records, etc.), the sex of the victim, the
definition of terms, the specificity of the description of the behavior,
whether the abuse is intrafamilial or extrafamilial, and the adequacy of
the verification of the abusive acts.
The prison-based samples will underrepresent offenses such as
exhibitionism, since these may be considered misdemeanors and the
offenders unlikely to be sentenced to prison. The community-based
samples are likely to include more behaviors that are less
serious. Samples that depend upon retrospective data are subject
to the criticisms of all such studies concerning the unreliability of
retrospective data and interview data (Bradburn, Rips, & Shevell,
1987; Brewin, Andrews, & Gotlib, 1993; Briere, 1992; Dawes, 1994;
Halverson, 1988; Raphael, Cloitre, & Dohrenwend, 1991; Roy-Byrne,
Geraci, & Uhde, 1987). Despite this, the literature does give useful
information about the type of abusive behavior engaged in by actual
Tollison and Adams
Tollison and Adams (1979) describe the general behaviors engaged in
by the pedophile:
Pedophiliac behavior may involve caressing a child's body,
manipulating a child's genitals, or inducing a child to manipulate an
adult's genitals. Occasionally, the behaviors also include
penile penetration (partial or complete-vaginal or anal), oral sex,
and any practice utilizing the sexual parts or organs of a child so as
to bring the person in contact with the child's body in any sexual
manner. Pedophiliac acts may be homosexual or heterosexual in
nature and may include touching, caressing, masturbation, oral-genital
contact, and intercourse, as well as pedophiliac exhibitionism,
voyeurism, rape, sadism, and masochism ... Physical violence to the
child occurs in only 2 percent of instances ... (p.326).
Tollison and Adams report that most pedophilia victims are girls, at
a ratio of two to one, and that most heterosexual victims are between
the ages of 6 and 12, peaking between the ages of 8 and 11.
Homosexual pedophilia victims increase in numbers into puberty, the
result being a statistical overlap with adult homosexuality victims, but
the peak ages are between 12 and 15. They report that only a
minority of heterosexual pedophiles engage in penetration and
intravaginal coitus with their victims, and then mainly with the age
group over 14 and with their permission. In homosexual pedophilia,
the most common contact is masturbation done to rather than by, the boy
followed by fellatio.
The Kinsey Studies
The Kinsey report (Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953)
gives information about the preadolescent sexual contacts with adult
males in their sample of 4441 females. This was a retrospective
study which depended upon the recollections of incidents that occurred
years earlier when the women were children. There is no way to
substantiate the reports. Kinsey et al. defined an adult male as
one who was at least 15 years old and at least 5 years older than the
female, and obtained data as to the incidence, frequency, and nature of
the sexual contacts.
Kinsey et al. found that although 24% of their sample reported some
type of sexual contact with an adult male, nearly two-thirds of these
contacts were verbal approaches or genital exhibitionism. They
report that in only one case was appreciable physical injury done to the
child. The types of approaches and contacts reported in their
sample are in Table 1.
Nature of Sexual Contact Preadolescent Females
Reported with Adult Males in the Kinsey Study
|Nature of Contact
Exhibition, male genitalia
Exhibition, female genitalia
Fondling, no genital contact
Manipulation of female genitalia
Manipulation of male genitalia
Oral contact, female genitalia
Oral contact, male genitalia
|From Kinsey et al. (1953), N = 1075
Another type of data involves information from the offender rather
than the victim. In an early study, the Kinsey Institute (Gebhard,
Gagnon, Pomeroy & Christenson, 1965) collected information on the
sexual behavior of sex offenders during the offense. The sample
consisted of 1356 white males who had been convicted for one or more sex
offenses, 888 white males who had never been convicted for a sex
offense, but who had been convicted for some other misdemeanor or
felony, and 477 white males who had never been convicted for anything
beyond traffic violations.
Offenders were separately analyzed depending upon whether the
offenses were heterosexual or homosexual, whether they were against
adults, minors (age 12 to 16), or children (under 12), whether the
sexual contact was accompanied by force or threat, and whether the
victim was a daughter or stepdaughter. In the offenses against
unrelated children, both heterosexual and homosexual, where no force was
used, anal and vaginal penetration was very rare. In the great
majority of cases with girls, the sexual behavior consisted of petting
and fondling. Anal penetration did not occur. Mouth-genital
contact occurred in about one-sixth of the cases. The ages ranged
from 3 through 11; the average age was 8. In the cases with boys,
the most common behavior was masturbation (45%) followed by fellatio
(38%). Anal coitus only occurred in 4% of the cases. The
average age of the boys was 10.
In the incestuous offenses, coitus was performed in 9% of the cases
and attempted in another 9%. A large number (42%) used genital
masturbation and mouth-genital contact (39%). The average girl was
age 9 to 10; there was a definite tendency for the offenders to prefer
their older daughters.
The men who used force with children constituted only a small
percentage (6.6%) of the total offenses against children. When
force was used, the percentages of coitus (23%) and attempted coitus
(23%) were much higher than in the cases where no force was used.
Only 3% of their victims were under 5 years of age and more than half
were age 9 to 11. The group using force consisted entirely of
The proportion of offenses in which coitus was reported became
greater as the child became older. This held true among the
nonaggression and aggression cases as well as among the father-daughter
Erickson, Walbek, and Seely
Erickson, Walbek, and Seely (1988) examined data from 229 verified
and admitted child sex offenders from a locked prison-diversion
treatment program that also provides presentence evaluations for courts
in Minnesota. They corroborated self-report information during
clinical evaluations by police records, family interviews, previous
evaluations, and victim statements. When there were discrepancies,
the offenders were confronted during clinical evaluations. This
verification process is important since offenders often minimize the
extent of their abusive behavior (Hindman, 1988).
Erickson et al. (1988) reported that 70% of the victims were female,
26% were male, and only 4% of the offenders molested children of both
sexes. Approximately one-fourth of the victims of both sexes were less
than 6 years old, one-fourth were between 6 and 10, and half were
between the ages of 11 and 13. The frequency of abusive behaviors is
shown in Table 2:
Frequency of Behaviors described in Cases of
Child Molesting in the Erickson et al. Study
Nature of Con tact
|From Erickson et al. (1988), N = 229
Erickson et al. (1988) observe that vaginal and anal penetration was
very rare in young children; penile rectal or vaginal contact for this
age group usually consisted of touching the rectal or vaginal opening
with the penis and rubbing the penis between the legs. Attempted
insertion of offender's fingers into victims' vaginas was fairly common,
but insertion of fingers into the rectums was quite uncommon. It
was very rare for the offender to insert objects into the rectum or the
vagina. Descriptions of the pain of forceful anal penetration were
graphic and when it occurred the victims had to be held forcibly and
their cries muffled.
Bribery was more common than threat and incestuous sexual contacts
were often repetitive, with gradual progression from touch to
penetration. Although the wives of the incest offenders had a
varying amount of knowledge about what was going on, none participated
directly and none of the extrafamilial offenders had a female
collaborator. Erickson et al. note that the severity of the
offense in their sample is somewhere between a community-based sample
and an incarcerated sample and misdemeanor behaviors such as
exhibitionism are clearly under-represented. There were no reports
in their sample of elaborate sexual experiences involving urination and
defecation, sadistic and bizarre assaults, people in costumes and robes,
or ritual sacrifice, torture, and murder.
Kendall-Tackett and Simon
Kendall-Tackett and Simon (1987) studied 365 adults who entered a
child abuse treatment program between 1984 and 1985. Data on the
type of sexual molestation was available from 278 of the subjects.
This sample differs from the Kinsey et al. (1953) study because it uses
a clinical sample. It differs from the Erickson et al. (1988)
study because the sample was of victims rather than offenders. The
authors note that there is no way to substantiate the reports given by
Kendall-Tackett and Simon report that the average age of both male
and female victims at the onset of the abuse was 7.5 and that 97% of the
perpetrators were men. The frequency of abusive behaviors is shown
in Table 3:
Nature of Sexual Contact Reported with
Adult Females in the Kendall-Tackett & Simon Study
|Nature of Contact
|Fondling from the waist up
Fondling from the waist down
|From Kendall-Tackett & Simon
(1987), N = 278
The authors note that the percentage of intercourse is much higher
than that reported in a study by Finkelhor (1979), who found 4% (which
is similar to the 3% reported by Kinsey et al., ). The
reason for this difference is most likely that Kendall-Tackett and Simon
used a clinical population, whereas Finkelhor et al. and Kinsey et al.
used community-based samples. Erickson, et al. (1988), whose
sample was verified and admitted offenders, reported a proportion
(41.5%) similar to Kendall-Tackett and Simon.
There is no discussion of violent or bizarre abuse or satanic ritual
abuse in the Kendall-Tackett and Simon study.
Other Studies and General Conclusions
Despite the variability in the different research studies, some
generalizations can be made. Child sexual abusers are
overwhelmingly male and most child victims of sexual abuse are
girls. The average age of female victims is around ages 6 to 12;
some studies report that male victims are somewhat older. Most
victims know the offender. Most sexual behavior consists of
fondling, exhibitionism, masturbation, and oral or genital
contact. Anal and vaginal penetration of very young children is
rare. Males are more likely to be victims of attempted or actual
anal penetration than are females. Penetration becomes more likely
with an older child. Vaginal penetration is more common in
clinical samples compared to community samples. It is rare for an
offender to have a partner who participates in the abuse or to molest
children in groups.
Aggression and violence are not usually part of the behavior,
although Lang and Langevin (1991) state that the literature suggests at
least one in five child victims are subjected to force or
"gratuitous physical violence" as part of the abusive
act. In incest, a grooming process is generally involved (Christiansen
& Blake, 1990; Erickson et al., 1988; Farber, Showers, Johnson,
Joseph, & Oshins, 1984; Gebhard et al. 1965; Groth, Burgess,
Birnbaum, & Gary, 1978 Kendall-Tackett & Simon, 1987, 1992;
Kinsey et al. 1953; Mohr, 1981; Peters, 1976; Rimsza & Niggemann,
1982; Swenson & Grimes, 1958).
Erickson (1985) observes that vaginal and anal penetration are
extremely rare in young children: "All but the most hardened of
child sexual abusers tend to avoid anal intercourse with prepubertal children
because it is painful and some strategy must be utilized to muffle the
child's cries. It is impossible to accomplish without the use of
lubricants or with any degree of impotence."
Sadistic, bizarre or homicidal forms of child sexual abuse can occur
but are extremely rare. Gebhard et al. (1965) report that out of
their total of 18,000 interviews, no man or woman reported being
victimized as a child by a sadist. Langevin (1983) states that
sadistic behaviors in general are very rare and Tollison and Adams
(1979) report that coprophilia (sexual interest in feces) and urophilia
(sexual interest in urine) are quite rare and generally associated with
other deviant behaviors.
Dietz, Hazelwood, and Warren (1990) reported a sample of 30 sexually
sadistic criminals that included 43% who victimized one or more
children. Sexual sadists are sexually aroused by controlling,
terrorizing, injuring, torturing, and sometimes murdering their
victims. Dietz et al. report that most victims were strangers to
the offenders. This is different from other forms of child sexual
abuse where the offender is more likely to be related to or to know the
victim. Dietz et al. observe that cases of criminal sexual sadism
occur so infrequently in a given jurisdiction that it is difficult for
researchers to observe enough cases to make observations about them.
Difficulties with Some Research Samples
Researchers often observe that, despite their efforts, a nonabused
group may include subjects who were actually abused. But the
reverse is also true and false allegations may contaminate samples of
abused subjects. When reading research reports, the criteria used
for verifying samples as abused or nonabused must be carefully noted.
We suspect that some widely cited research on child sexual abuse is
contaminated by false cases. This research will therefore give a
misleading picture about the characteristics of child sexual abuse,
including the type of abusive behaviors. An example of this is the
report by Finkelhor and his colleagues (Finkelhor, Williams, &
Burns, 1988; Finkelhor, Williams, Burns, & Kalinowski, 1988) on 270
day care cases. Finkelhor et al. report that 40% of the
perpetrators were intelligent, educated, highly regarded women who had
no histories of known deviant behavior. These women were accused
of extremely deviant behaviors such as oral-genital penetration,
urolagia and coprophagia, and ritualistic mass abuse.
There are serious difficulties with the Finkelhor et al. day care
study. Although the authors required the abuse to be
"substantiated," their definition of substantiation was if any
one of the people assigned to investigate the report believed that abuse
was real, despite whoever else may have thought it was false.
Their sample includes an indeterminate number of cases which ended in
dismissals or acquittals, or convictions that were later reversed.
For example, the McMartin case in California and the Kelly Michaels case
in New Jersey are included. No conclusions whatsoever can be drawn
about the abusive behaviors alleged to have occurred in this study.
Another instance in which researchers have included likely false
cases of abuse in their sample is found in the 1993 book, Behind the Playground
by Waterman, Kelly, Oliveri, and McCord. The book describes an
ambitious research project on the effects of alleged sexual abuse in two
preschools compared to a control group of preschool children who had not
been abused. One of the abused groups was said to have experienced
ritualistic sexual abuse and these children were reported to have
suffered much more distress than the nonritualistically abused children.
However, the ritualistic abuse group is comprised of subjects in
preschool cases, mainly McMartin, where there were no convictions and
where there is a serious question as to whether the children were
actually abused. Therefore, the book is useless for describing
anything other than the probable effects on children who become involved
in these cases and may come to believe they were victims of ritualistic
abuse (see Schultz & Wakefield, 1993, for a discussion of this
These studies then find their way into review articles where
generalizations are made. For example, Kendall-Tackett, Williams,
and Finkelhor (1993) reviewed and synthesized recent research on the
impact of sexual abuse, including the characteristics of the abusive
behavior, and included the above two studies in their review with no
cautions or caveats. Their review was published in the Psychological Bulletin,
a major APA journal. This contamination of the literature on
sexual abuse with uncorroborated cases of improbable and bizarre abuse
is a significant problem.
We conducted a preliminary descriptive study to examine the kinds of
behaviors alleged when the abuse allegations were most likely
false. We looked at the behaviors alleged in two entirely
different samples and compared the results to the types of behaviors
engaged in by actual child molesters as is described above. We
hypothesized that the behaviors alleged in these two samples would
differ from those found in cases of actual child sexual abuse.
False Memory Syndrome Foundation Sample
This sample was taken from a questionnaire project from the False Memory Syndrome Foundation
(FMSF). In this project, lengthy questionnaires were sent to people
whose adult children have accused them of recovered memories of
repressed childhood sexual abuse. Subjects are people who
responded to newspaper articles or other media presentations in several
cities about the FMSF, a tax-exempt research and educational institution
formed in early 1992 that in two years had over 12,000 members.
Questionnaires were sent to samples of callers who reported that their
adult child had recently recovered a memory of repressed sexual abuse
that the caller denies.
The sample of questionnaires used in the present study are 398
surveys that were mailed out at various times beginning in February,
1992 and were returned as of July, 1993. All of the families deny
that the abuse happened. There has been no effort to make an
independent determination of the veracity of the denial. (See
Wakefield & Underwager, 1992b, 1992c and 1994 for a further
description of the FMSF questionnaire project).
The questionnaires gathered a wide range of information including
family socioeconomic status, educational level of the family and adult
child) psychiatric history, personality characteristics of the adult
child now and as a child (as reported by the parents), current stresses
or problems in the life of the adult child predating the allegations,
presence or absence of civil lawsuits, nature of the abuse allegations,
the number of people accused, the age of the child when the alleged
abuse began, the progression of the allegations across time, the nature
of the disclosure, the years the memory was repressed, whether the
allegations arose in therapy, the nature of the therapy provided, the
effects of the allegations on the families, etc. There have been
refinements of the questionnaires between mailings but the basic
information requested has remained the same.
For the present study the portions of the questionnaire that were
used were whether the accusing child was male or female, the age of the
accusing child during the period of the alleged abuse, and whether the
allegations were against mother, father, both mother and father,
siblings, grandparents, or other (if "other" the respondent
was asked to explain). The respondents were asked to describe the
abuse allegations that had been made. The respondents were also
asked specifically if the allegations included satanic cult or
The open-ended question asking for the specific accusations was coded
according to the abusive behaviors described. Three researchers
and two assistants went through the cases and discussed the definitions
and criteria until this question could be coded reliably.
Of the adult children making the allegations, 93% were females.
Table 4 indicates the age the accusing adult child maintains the abuse
began. In 84 of the questionnaires the respondent did not know or
respond or gave a nonspecific response such as "very young,"
so the 314 cases with a specific response were used to calculate the
The abuse typically was said to have begun at a very young age.
For 29% (92) of the cases, the alleged events began at under age
2. For 55% (169), the alleged events began from age 2 to 6.
Only in 16% (53) did the alleged events first happen at age 6 or
older. The median age for the age the accusing child claims the
abuse began is between age 3 and 4.
FMSF Questionnaire Sample:
Age the Accusing Adult Child Claims Abuse Started
0 > age < 1
1 > age < 2
2 > age < 3
3 > age < 4
4 > age < 5
5 > age < 6
6 > age < 7
7 > age < 8
8 > age < 9
9 > age < 10
Table 5 indicates the person accused.
FMSF Questionnaire Sample: Person Accused
N = 398
Both Mother and Father
Although fathers were usually the ones accused, mothers were often
accused along with the fathers. In one-third of the cases, a
variety of other persons were accused, most often along with the
parents. In a few cases, neither parent was accused and the
accused was an uncle or other relative. But in most of the cases,
others were accused along with the parents. This was especially
likely in the cases where ritualistic cults were alleged.
Over half (203) of the respondents appeared to have little idea
concerning just what it was they were alleged to have done and gave
vague responses such as "molesting," "sexual abuse,"
or we have never been told." But in the 195 cases where this
information was known, the allegations included a very high pro-portion
of extremely deviant and intrusive behaviors. Violence was alleged
in 41% of the cases, rape in 44%, and witnesses to the abuse in
42%. There were 67 cases involving allegations of satanic ritual
abuse, which is 34% of the 203 cases where the respondents knew the
nature of the allegations.2
The percentage of behaviors alleged for the 203 cases is shown in
FMSF Questionnaire Sample: Behaviors Alleged
N = 398
Vague, Don't Know, Not answered, "Sexual Abuse," or "Molesting"
Mentioned Specific Behaviors
Behaviors Alleged in the 195 Cases
That Mentioned Specific Behaviors
Masturbation and/or exposure
Forced abortions by parent
Witnesses or others involved
Satanic ritual abuse
Highly deviant behaviors
Examples of the types of behaviors classified as highly deviant are
shown in Table 7.
Examples of Behaviors Classified as Highly
Deviant in the FMSF
- Mother, father, and two babysitters forced her to sacrifice adults
- Incest by her father, two grandfathers, and one grandmother that
included satanic rituals, murder, and child pornography.
- Both grandmother and grandfather were involved in satanic rituals
and sacrifices of animals and babies. Her father also abused her.
siblings and mother were aware of this but have covered it up.
- In addition to anal, oral, and vaginal intercourse, objects, such
as knives, umbrellas, keys, and marbles, were inserted in her vagina.
- Satanic ritualistic abuse by adults including mother, father, and
maternal grandmother. Mother is the head cult priestess in the state.
Her brother is the Anti-Christ. She was raped by Satan and had a child
- Satanic ritual abuse by her grandmother which was observed by her
- Mother put her on a table under a light and stuck things in her
genitals while her father held her down. Her father raped her and
knocked her unconscious when she tried to stop him from raping her
sister. Parents cut up animals and held the children's hands in the
- Father abused her from infancy while mother watched. Raped by
older brother, uncles, and grandfather. Satanically abused by
grandmother. Father and uncle were involved in pornography, murder, and
- Abused in satanic abuse where she was tied up, raped orally,
rectally, and vaginally, and strangled until she lost consciousness.
- Father, mother, and grandparents abused her in satanic rituals
while wearing hooded black robes. Forced to drink urine and blood.
by grandfather while grandmothers and mother watched. Hung by her heels.
Abused with a hot poker, freezer, and washer wringer.
- Group sex with father and stepmother and siblings. Beat with bow
and arrow and razors. Father attempted to drown her.
- Murdered and dismembered young boys and buried the bodies in the
- Forced to have sex with a neighbor's dog and subsequently had a
baby that was half dog.
- Forced to have sex with her uncle and a dog. Head put in vice and
when she screamed, a penis was put in her mouth. Raped by someone
wearing a mask.
- Beaten, raped, burned with cigarettes, thrown outside naked,
given pills by her father and mother in an attempt to murder her.
- Raped by father and uncle. Father performed an abortion on her in
the coal bin with her two brothers helping.
- Repeated episodes of rape, oral sex, beatings, hands tied to bed,
torture with a coca cola bottle, and clothespins put on her breasts and
- Older sister held her down, blindfolded her, while father
ejaculated into her mouth.
- Father anally raped her and then rubbed her feces on her back.
After he got her pregnant he performed a home abortion on her while
laughing at her pain. Aunt, mother, and friend abused her. Father tried
to drown her. The doctor, who reported that he found no abortion scars,
was involved in a conspiracy to discredit her.
- Mother tied her to the kitchen table, threatened with a knife,
and forced her to perform oral sex on her.
- Father forced him to eat semen from a rusty pipe.
- Father tied her, while naked, spread-eagled to an iron bed and
placed a dead squirrel on her chest.
- Raped by father, mother approved. Gang raped by older brother
while younger brother watched and laughed. Molested by pastor.
- All family members were in a satanic cult. The mother was the
high priestess. Was chosen as a "breeder." The cult engaged in
murder and cannibalism.
- Was forced to watch the murder of three women, including one cut
up and put through a meat grinder at an uncle's meat market.
- Satanic cult abuse including father, mother, and grandfather.
taken to a ritual sacrifice by a lady in a green car. Was demon
possessed and exorcised. Father has multiple personalities.
- Abused in a satanic cult that included mother and father,
father's attorney, and the cantor of the synagogue.
- Abused by mother, father, stepmother, siblings, and grandparents
in a satanic cult. Mother was a breeder. She was forced to deliver and
kill 12th child borne by mother. Babies were kidnapped and killed.
Maternal grandmother was a witch. Weddings to Satan.
- Abused by mother, father, and parents' friends. Forced to
defecate on religious objects and smeared with excrement. Forced to
simulate copulation with dead and dying babies and siblings. Forced to
strap on a dildo and have intercourse with mother and female guests
while men sat her on their penises. When she became pregnant by her
father, she was forcibly aborted and the baby was stabbed to death.
- Abused by mother, father, grandparents, brother, teacher, and
father's business associates. Taken to witches' house where people in cages were eaten.
Tortured by electric shock, thumb
screws, and made to walk on hot coals and glass. A man was shot and an
old lady hanged.
- Abused by mother, father, strangers, blind uncle, nursery school teacher, and others.
Abuse included violent rape, rape with scissors,
killing babies, worshiping Satan, eating ears and other organs, and
being sold into child prostitution.
- Abused by father, mother, grandparents, brother, and brother's
friends. The abuse included torture, guns, knives, electrodes, carrots,
chicken pants and water hoses in bath by mother, anal and vaginal rape
and fish hooks in vagina by father. Raped by brother and his friends.
Impregnated and forced to have 4 abortions. Placed in small boxes with
dog feces and semen.
- Satanic cult included parents and family friends who are also
members of the KKK. Six adults molested 13 children. Killed cats and
made them drink blood. Tied hands and legs and beat her and put crochet
hooks in her vagina. Also abused grandchildren.
Divorce and Custody Archival Sample
The sample in this group was from 216 cases involving sexual abuse
allegations during divorce and custody we had seen in our forensic
practice from 1984 through 1991. The purpose of this archival
research project was to examine the characteristics of these cases.
We analyzed 216 cases of sexual abuse allegations involving 325
children. We classified the cases into three groups
"abuse likely true," "no abuse probable," and
"cannot determine on the basis of our judgment after reviewing the
file. In the "abuse likely true" group, in addition to
our judgment, either the accused admitted the abuse or the justice
system determined the abuse was real.
The "no abuse likely" group was further subdivided
according to the determination of the justice system. The group
used for analysis here was the sample of 134 cases where we classified
the group as "no abuse probable" and where the justice system
resulted in either no conviction in criminal court or a determination of
no abuse in family court. Although in research in this area there
is always the question of purity of groups, we believed this stringent
criteria would result in a relatively pure group where the allegations
were most likely to be false.
This sample is not random, since it came from cases where we were
asked by attorneys to evaluate and consult on the case. We are
therefore unlikely to see cases where the accused admits the abuse since
such cases are apt to result in a guilty plea without the retention of
experts. We are also less likely to see cases where the allegation
is retracted or determined to be unfounded by child protection.
HW reviewed the material available in the case files and recorded the
information using forms developed by both of us. We examined
variables such as the sex and age of the child, the origin and timing of
the disclosure, the type of any reported physical evidence, the nature
of the investigation, the type and quality of the evidence used by
investigators, the personality characteristics and behavior of the
parties involved, the nature of the allegations, and the characteristics
of the interviews and of the child's statement. In addition, we
rated the skill of the attorney who handled the case. The
information was then entered into a computer for tabulation.
For this particular study, we looked at the sex and age of the child
at the time the abuse was said to have occurred, who was accused, and
the nature of the sexually abusive behaviors alleged.
There were a total of 196 children involved in the 134 cases
classified as no abuse probable. Of these 72% were girls and 28%
Table 8 indicates the age of the child at the time the abuse was
alleged to have first occurred.
The abuse was said to have begun at a very young age, although not as
young as in the FMSF recovered memory sample. For 5% (10) of the
cases, the alleged events began at under age 2. For 67% (131), the
alleged events began from age 2 to 6. Only in 28% (55) did the
alleged events first happen at age 6 or older. The median age for
the age the abuse was said to have begun is 4.6.
Most of the accused were the fathers or stepfathers of the children,
although 6 women were also accused (5 mothers and 1 stepmother).
There were also 2 grandparents and 4 boyfriends. Of the total
accused, only 4% were females, which is consistent with what is known
about actual sexual abuse, where the offenders are overwhelmingly male.
Divorce and Custody No Abuse Probable Sample:
Age the Abuse was Alleged to Have Occurred
0 > age < 2
2 > age < 3
3 > age < 4
4 > age < 5
5 > age < 6
6 > age < 7
7 > age < 8
8 > age < 9
9 > age < 10
Table 9 indicates the types of behaviors alleged.
Divorce and Custody No Abuse Probable Sample:
Abusive Behaviors Alleged
N = 119*
Behaviors Alleged in the 119 Cases
Masturbation and/or exposure
Made child touch adult's genitals
Touched child's genitals with penis
Oral sex, either to or by child
(Oral sex to child)
(Made child perform oral sex)
Objects paced in vagina or anus
Other people included
Satanic ritual abuse
Highly deviant behaviors
|* In 15 of the total 134 cases in this category, the behavior alleged
was unknown so this analysis is only for the 119 cases where the specific
behavior alleged was available.
The allegations included a very high proportion of extremely deviant
and intrusive behaviors compared to cases of actual abuse.
Violence was alleged in 22% of the cases, others involved or witnesses
to the abuse in 11%, and highly deviant behaviors in 18%, including 5
cases of satanic ritual abuse allegations. Although fondling was
alleged in almost half of the cases, in only 18% was this all that was
Examples of the types of behaviors classified as highly deviant in
the divorce and custody sample are shown in Table 10.
Examples of Behaviors Classified as Highly
Deviant in the Divorce and
- The father brutally raped and beat the girl four nights in a row,
the brother (on a separate occasion) put his entire fist up her vagina
while wearing a mask and a Raggedy Ann costume.
- The father put toys into the child's vagina.
- The father put objects in the child's vagina, threatened to burn
her on the stove, and engaged in sexual activities Involving a dog.
- The father pushed a shovel into the child's private parts.
- The father pushed a spoon handle into the two girls' vaginas, put
Q-tips down their noses and throats, hit and bit them, and defecated on
them. The father wore the mother's blue nightgown, held the children
upside down naked and made them walk on their hands while blindfolded
outside in the back yard.
- The children were orally and anally abused in a hot tub with
several people while photographs were taken.
- A knife was inserted into the child's genitals.
- The father made the child lick his genitals clean, knocked her off
the bed, made her climb trees, and poked her with a stick that looked
like a sword.
- The father stuck marbles and sticks in the child's vagina, licked
her pee pee and then cut it up and threw it away.
- The father and his girlfriend were in a satanic ritualistic cult.
One night the father and his girlfriend entered the children's house
while the mother slept downstairs. The father had a knife and forced the
children to drink his urine and to drink blood while the girlfriend
defecated on the floor. Urine was then poured in their hair and they
were forced to eat the feces. The father and girlfriend then left the
house without awakening the mother.
- The father defecated on the child.
- Cats were involved in the sexual activities that included anal
and vaginal penetration.
- The child's penis was removed from his body, put in the father's
mouth, and then superglued back on.
- The child was abused in satanic rituals. The father took him
through the woods to a Halloween dance with naked men. A robot bear
ripped off the legs and arms of a man and all of the boys had to eat
human flesh. Photographs were taken during this.
- The father dug up dead bodies and dismembered them with a chain
- The father, wearing blue earrings, a pink dress, and a wig,
scratched the child's pee pee while wearing pink press-on fingernails.
The grandmother was in the house during this time. The abuse took place
in the bathroom which had a secret passage.
- The father called the children names and struck and laughed at
them during the abuse. He put a dog collar and chain around one girl's
neck and a wooden spoon up her crotch. A woman and the children's
grandfather were involved in the abuse. One girl was forced to bite the
other girl's crotch.
- The child was anally raped by the father while the father's
girlfriend held her down. Then, he urinated on her and they placed a
lighted candle into her vagina.
- Two children were subjected to an ritual orgy with 5 people,
including the elderly grandparents. The children were urinated on during
the abuse, and were forced to drink urine out of a baby bottle and to
eat poopy sandwiches.
- The father regularly subjected his two girls to ritual abuse.
children were tied to specially constructed "chain boards" and
then abused by the father and the father's girlfriend. The father kept
extra chain boards at different locations. Photographs were taken.
attended a satanic church where the adults wore devil costumes and the
children were forced to eat mouse stew during a satanic feast.
- The mother took the child to satanic rituals involving several
adults. During the abuse, the adults wore blue diapers into which they
urinated. Photographs were taken.
- The father pulled one child's hair, locked the children in the
freezer, put guns to their heads, put his penis into their mouths,
urinated on them, forced them to have sex with each other, swung the boy
by his penis, put a child's head in the toilet, gave the children drugs,
put sticks up their anus, and threatened them with a gun. This was
sometimes done with others present.
- The father rubbed a magic pink lotion on the child and then hit
her with a hammer and attacked her with pliers.
There are substantial differences between both of our samples and the
sexual behaviors reported by researchers in cases where the abuse is
most likely true.
In both the divorce and custody and in the FMSF samples, the abuse is
said to have begun at a much younger age than is found in cases of
actual abuse. Although some very young children are abused, most
victims are not preschoolers. The literature indicates the average
age is between ages 6 and 12. But in the divorce and custody
sample the median age the abuse was alleged to begin was between 4 and 5
and only in 28% was it at age 6 and older. In the FMSF sample, 29%
claimed to have first been abused at under age 2 and only 16% said the
abuse began at age 6 and older. The median age was between 3 and
Given the information on infantile amnesia, it is highly unlikely
that actual events from such young ages would be accurately
recalled. Adults and older children do not usually remember
incidents from their lives that happen prior to age 3 or 4 (Eisenberg,
1985; Fivush & Hamond, 1990; Howe & Courage, 1993; Loftus, 1993;
Nelson, 1993; Nelson & Ross, 1980; Pillemer & White, 1989;
Wetzler & Sweeney, 1986). Although Usher and Neisser (1993)
recently reported that some events can be remembered from age 2, there
is no indication that people can remember from birth to 2, as was
alleged in 29% of the FMSF sample. This inability to recall events
from an early age is a function of the normal process of growth and
development. The phenomenon of infantile or childhood amnesia
means that claims of remembering abuse that occurred at a very early age
Whereas real abuse almost always takes place in secret with no
witnesses or accomplices, both of these samples included a large
proportion where others were alleged to have either witnessed or
participated in the abuse. This was true for two-fifths of the
FMSF sample and one-tenth of the divorce and custody sample.
The behaviors alleged in both the divorce and custody sample and the
FMSF sample differ in substantial ways from what has been reported about
the behavior of actual abusers. The behaviors described in both of
these groups are much more unusual, intrusive, and deviant than has been
found in cases of verified abuse. One in five cases in the divorce
and custody sample and two in five in the FMSF sample included such
behaviors. Many of the purported behaviors are impossible or
completely unbelievable and others have such low base rates that the
probability of their actually occurring in a given instance becomes
Allegations of satanic ritual abuse were found in 5 (4%) of the
divorce and custody sample and in 67 (34%) of the FMSF sample. The
large proportion of satanic ritual abuse allegations reflects the media
attention to such allegations and has been seen in allegations in day
care and other cases. Preliminary data from a survey by the American Bar Association
indicated that approximately one-fourth of local prosecutors have
handled cases involving "ritualistic or satanic abuse"
The allegations in claims of ritual satanic abuse have not been
independently verified. Despite hundreds of investigations by the
FBI and police, there is no independent evidence of ritual abuse,
animal and human sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism of hundreds of
children by a conspiracy of apparently normal adults who are functional
and organized enough to leave no trace of their activities (Hicks, 1991;
Lanning, 1991, 1992; Putnam, 1991; Richardson, Best, & Bromley,
1991; Underwager & Wakefield, 1991; Victor, 1991a, 1991b, 1993;
Wakefield & Underwager, 1992a, 1992b, 1992c, 1994). But this
knowledge does not dissuade those who believe in their existence.
In only half of the FMSF sample had the accused parents been given
any details about what they were supposed to have done and the
percentages were calculated only on the half that reported specific
information. It may be that the questionnaires where the response
was too vague to code (i.e., "We've never been told just what we
were supposed to have done," "You sexually abused me from ages
2 to 8," "You molested me.") include a high proportion of
less deviant and extreme behaviors. But even if this were to prove
to be the case, the proportions of highly improbable and bizarre
allegations in this sample would still be much greater than has been
reported in cases of actual abuse.
There has been much publicity concerning adults who claim to have
recovered memories of "repressed" childhood sexual
abuse. The alleged abuse is often severe, is said to happen
repeatedly across long periods of time, and often involves bizarre
ritual satanic abuse. Some of these cases end up in court when the
adult "survivor" sues the alleged abuser. There is
seldom any corroboration of the alleged abusive acts. However,
therapists involved in uncovering the abuse stress the importance of
believing in the reality of the abuse as a therapeutic act, even when
the patient is uncertain.
Such recovered memories are likely to be generated by therapists who
unwittingly influence a suggestible and troubled client to construct
memories of childhood abuse. Often the alleged abuse is not
remembered until the adult sees a therapist who uses techniques such as
survivors' groups, dream interpretation, hypnotherapy, and self-help
books, such as The Courage to Heal ()()
(Bass & Davis, 1988). The "memories" often grow and
become more elaborate across time (see Wakefield & Underwager, 1994,
for an analysis of recovered memory therapy).
Therapists involved in such cases appear to lack understanding of
important concepts in psychology. They are apt to misunderstand
concepts such as repression, dissociation, traumatic amnesia, and
memory, to fail to accurately understand what takes place in hypnosis,
and to fail to appreciate the power of suggestibility and social
influence. They also do not understand the importance of
considering base rates when evaluating the likelihood of a hypothesized
The evaluation of sexual abuse allegations is difficult. In
divorce and custody disputes the cases are complicated by the young age
of the children involved, possible motivations of adults, and the need
to protect the rights, interests, and welfare of both the child and of
the accused parent. It is important to assess the type of behavior
alleged in light of the base rates for that behavior. If the
allegations do not fit what is known about actual cases of abuse or if
they include bizarre, improbable behaviors they appear more likely to be
false. Although there is no easy way to assess sexual abuse cases,
this information is an essential factor to consider.
In therapy with adults, therapists must not become convinced that a
client who reports no childhood abuse must nevertheless have been abused
because of the nature of the presenting symptoms. Therapists
making such assumptions run the risk of inadvertently suggesting and
reinforcing memories of childhood abuse that are false. If the
client initiates the claims of abuse in the course of therapy, knowledge
of what is likely or unlikely will help the therapist respond more
appropriately. It is not therapeutic to reinforce or encourage
false beliefs about abuse.
The results of the analyses provide important information for the
mental health professionals, therapists, and investigators who deal with
such cases. Many people appear to be unaware of the behavior of
actual sexual abusers. When professionals fail to consider
baseline probabilities, they are likely to inadvertently encourage false
allegations and even help create memories for events that never
|1 Hollida Wakefield and
Ralph Underwager are psychologists at the
Institute for Psychological Therapies,
5263 130th Street East,
Northfield, MN 55057-4880.
This article is adapted with permission of the publisher from
Return of the Furies: An Investigation Into Recovered Memory
©1994, Open Court Publishing Company, 332 South Michigan
Avenue, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60604.
This research was first presented at the Annual Meeting of
the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex,
Chicago, Illinois, November 6, 1993. [Back]
2 This is a higher percentage than has been reported elsewhere on
this research (Wakefield and Underwager, 1 992b, 1992c). The reason is
that in this analysis, the percentages were calculated only on the 195
questionnaires where the respondents were able to give specific
information about the nature of the allegations. If the percentage is
calculated using the entire sample of 398 questionnaires, it will be
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