The Nature of the Allegations
Normal parenting behaviors such as bathing, toileting, tickling may
be mistakenly labeled as sexual abuse. Rosenfeld and his colleagues (Rosenfeld
et al., 1986, 1987) stress getting normative information on nakedness, genital
touching and bathing practices before deciding whether any of these behaviors
support a suspicion of sexual abuse since they found that many behaviors
which could trigger suspicion of abuse occurred often in normal families.
In many cases of false allegations, the behaviors alleged are simply implausible.
Here, it is necessary to attend to the base rates. There is information
about the behavior of known sexual abusers (e.g., Erickson et al., 1988;
Kendall-Tackett and Simon, 1992, Wakefield and Underwager, 1994a, 1994b).
In actual sexual abuse physical violence is rare. Vaginal and anal penetration
are rare in very young children because it is so painful. Bribery is more
common than threat. When there is no corroborating evidence, and the behaviors
alleged are highly improbable, it is unlikely that the allegations are true.
Allegations involving satanic ritual abuse must be treated very skeptically.
Although there have been presentations on this topic at professional conferences
along with media attention to such cases, there have been no findings of
physical evidence corroborating the claims of satanic cults, human sacrifice,
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 (Hicks, 1991; Lanning,
1992; Mulhern, 1994; Richardson et al., 1991; Victor, 1993; Wakefield and
Underwager, 1992, 1994b).
Occasionally disturbed people abuse and murder children, and the disturbance
may include unusual religious mentation and rituals. There may be claims
that such a person' s behavior looks like a satanic ritual. In addition,
the child may have been abused in some fashion, even if the ritual abuse
allegations are not true. But there is simply no evidence for organized
conspiracies of outwardly normal people who ritually abuse and torture children.
Mental health professionals who believe in the facticity of bizarre, improbable
claims should be confronted with the lack of hard evidence for the allegations.
The more bizarre the story, the more unlikely it will appear to be true
to the finder-of-fact. The less credible will be an expert who admits to
believing in the satanic cult conspiracy. But, at the same time, the judge
or jury needs to understand how the interrogation process can induce a child
to make statements about implausible abuse, and may even result in memories
for events that never happened.