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The term "ritual abuse" is used to mean different things: it can mean "ritualistic" abuse: repetitive, planned out, compulsive abuse by an isolated perpetrator. More frequently, it describes abuse by an organized group of people, most often by a satanic cult. This presentation is about abuse in satanic cults.
The abuse is used to gain ultimate control over another human being, control by torture of the mind, body, and spirit. The abuse happens as part of a ritual. It can happen at any time but is especially likely to happen on a child's birthday and on satanic holidays, which include May 1, Halloween, Easter, the solstices, and Christmas. The cult tries to destroy any kind of life-affirming connections based on caring, replacing them with connections based on torture and death.
Because the abuse begins when the individual is a young child, the effects are deeply ingrained. The child is not developmentally sophisticated enough to understand what is happening to her/him. Both girls and boys are victimized, and both men and women are perpetrators. In this presentation we will be talking about women, though most of these issues can be generalized to men.
A child could be anesthetized, wake up with blood on her stomach and be told a thought-detector was inserted in her or a bomb that will explode if she tells anyone. A girl is raped, told it was by satan and she will have satan's child; she becomes terrified because in the world the cult has created for her, it seem that this could be true.
Cult members further distort her sense of reality by dressing up as priests, policemen, Big Bird, Mickey Mouse - so she learns that anyone could be a cult member and therefore no one is safe to talk to.
Anyone can be involved. Often at least one parent is involved, and it can be a whole extended family. It can be pretty unorganized (a bunch of local guys), or very organized with networks that span the country. Some cults even have international connections.
Authority figures are often perpetrators. The child is in the untenable position of being expected to respect and obey adults who torture her. Doctors are sometimes associated with cults, to give medication, to keep someone alive while bringing her to the brink of death, to perform "magick" (e.g. fake) surgery. People who work for the FBI, lawyers, police, people high up in government, have been said to be satanic cult members.
The abuse occurs in many different settings, including homes, day care centers, churches and outdoors. In day care centers, the child is told that her parents know this is happening and want it to happen but "don't you ever tell them about it." In churches, children are forced to participate in satanic rituals by cult members who also worship God.
Children don't tell because of fear of being killed and guilt about the acts they have been forced to commit. The child does not understand that she really had no choice and feels a terrible respon-sibility for the decisions she was forced to make.
Parents who are not involved in cults don't imagine that such a thing could be happening because ritual abuse is so far from their experience and their view of the world. Some warning signs in children are: problems going to the bathroom, problems eating certain foods, fear of certain colors, nightmares, and not wanting to be separated from parents. But the fact is that any of these warning signs can look like "normal" problems of development.
Many mental health professionals question if it really happens or believe some survivors but think most are making it up. Ritual abuse is a terrifying subject and it is often easier for people to deny that it occurs than to deal with it.
Many survivors do not remember until years after the abuse occurred because one of the defenses for dealing with such overwhelming trauma is to forget that it ever happened. When they do remember, they think they must be crazy - because how could such an insane thing really happen?
The credibility of every ritual abuse survivor is on trial. That is why it is so important for us as listeners to be supportive and open-minded. A survivor may seem crazy to someone who has never been involved with a satanic cult because of the defense mechanisms she has developed to survive:
Societal structures also have a vested interest in disbelieving survivors. The idea of ritual abuse is so terrifying that society reacts by denying that it could happen. The same thing happened with the idea of battering and incest; because people didn't believe it happened, for them, it didn't exist. Acknowledging that ritual abuse is a problem is the first step towards dealing with it.
Do not try to convince her you are not in a cult. (There are therapists who are in cults, and many survivors have experienced "fake therapy," so it is sensible for a survivor to be cautious.)
If we are not ourselves survivors of ritual abuse, then we must remember that her language and our language, though they use the same words, do not always mean the same things. In many cases words mean their opposite in the cult; Love = Hate, Comfort = Pain. It is important to understand this if we are to form a connection with the survivor. To a survivor, "I want to help you" may mean "I am going to hurt you."
Resisting the message feels like "fighting for my life" while simultaneously feeling tremendously isolated, alienated, and powerless. The impulses come very suddenly, with a sense of urgency - "I have to do this right now." They also go away abruptly. (This is very different from women who are suicidal, whose feelings develop over time).
There are "call-back" years (at 27, 30, 33, etc.) when the survivor feels she must go back or kill herself. Cults will develop multiple personalities to manipulate, to call back to the cult. Resisting the programming brings up extreme panic, terror, and fear of dying. But we cannot stress enough that people are strong enough to resist programming and can heal. If survivors call here for help, they are resisting their programming.
Survivors are plagued by it. She may say, "Why do I have the right to survive? I've seen others die." She may feel she chose to kill someone or chose to kill rather than be killed. This guilt is made worse by the cultural myth that you are a weak person if you succumb to torture. The truth is that any child will choose life over death and that most adults would succumb to the intensity of torture experienced in these cults. Feeling guilt is also a defense against grief; focusing on how bad you were instead of how helpless you were.
This is not true. She did not choose to initiate any of the acts. She was not in a situation in which she could have refused to participate. This is important for us to keep in mind if she reveals anything awful that she did. She was fighting for her life.
It's good to know when a holiday is coming up because you will be prepared for more calls. Just asking a caller if they are aware of the holiday can be very helpful; even survivors with many years of healing often "dissociate" (e.g. forget) holidays.
The ceremonies usually take place the eve of the holiday and sometimes last for three days or a week. When holidays cluster together, as they do in the spring and late December, survivor reactions are especially strong.
Different cults observe different holidays or stress one more than another, depending on their traditions. Here is a list of the most common ones.
Until now, we have used 'she' instead of 'he/she.' Yet 50% of the children abused in cults are male. Except for impregnation, abortion, and birth, boys are abused in all the same ways that girls are.
Male survivors, because of our culture, have even more problems remembering their abuse and asking for help. Men are supposed to be strong and self-sufficient, aggressive enough to fight off any attack. Our mythology says that men and boys are never raped, especially not by women. And yet there are fewer resources for men - fewer shelters, fewer books on healing from abuse, even fewer knowledgeable therapists.
Male callers tend to be more isolated, more afraid of being blamed or scapegoated (even to being presumed to be perpetrators), and have more authority problems than women callers. And we have less experience dealing with male survivors, and therefore haven't had the chance to work through our own feelings about wounded men.It's often helpful to acknowledge these facts and to validate men's unique burdens as survivors.
You will undoubtedly pick up some of your caller's feelings, just as you do in other situations. Fear is especially contagious.
To our knowledge, no telephone crisis counselor has been physically hurt by a cult. The cult is more apt to harass the former member or her immediate family. If you can handle somebody with a partner on crack, PCP, or alcohol, you have more than enough skills to protect yourself from cult harassment.
Your fear is normal, though. It comes from your ability to empathize - the very trait that makes you effective in your work! Your fear is also stronger if you are just beginning to talk to ritual abuse survivors and the whole concept is still foreign, frightening, and exotic. You don't know what to believe, or whether you can trust your own instincts.
In the beginning, you may also feel totally incompetent. It helps to remind yourself that ritual abuse survivors are just people, badly hurting people, but just people like yourself. All your skills, everything you already know, will be helpful. You do not realize it, but just listening is a precious gift to a ritual abuse survivor.
As always, support, further training, and making sure you take good care of yourself and have a rich life will help you overcome fear and insecurity.
|Disclaimer:||Fort Refuge is a strictly peer project, run by people who have been hurt and are trying to recover from the impact of this trauma. Anything you read on this website is an opinion only, based on personal experience of the author, and is not to be used in place of counseling, therapy, or medical or legal advice. If you or someone you know is currently in crisis or in an emergency situation and needs professional help - please call a hotline or your local emergency services; they can refer you to a qualified professional in your area.|