by Brian Siano 4404 Walnut Street 3F Philadelphia,
PA 19104 Internet Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
"To what end or purpose is this sacrilegious
offering of children, and how does it benefit the devils?. . . The first reason arises
from their pride, which always increases; as it is said: 'They that hate Thee have lifted
up the head.' For they try as far as possible to conform with divine rites and ceremonies.
Secondly, they can more easily deceive men under the mask of an outwardly seeming pious
action. . . And the third reason is, that the perfidy of witches may grow, to the devils'
own gain, when they have witches dedicated to them from their very cradles."
From the Malleus Maleficarum, the Inquisition's official
reference on witchcraft (circa 1484)
20/20 and Geraldo Rivera notwithstanding, the incidence
of exorcisms and witch-burnings has dropped off appreciably since the days of Torquemada.
To most of us, this represents progress; if we're accused of bewitching the cattle, we
won't have to choose between Repent While Suffering or Die Horribly. We don't start
mustering up infidels for an auto da fe when the crops go bad anymore. We hope that five
hundred years of progress has taught us to approach our problems with a degree of
But the temptation to see Satan lurking in the woodpile has stayed with us, and over the
past ten years or so, talk shows, law-enforcement training programs, and parents' seminars
have been organized to discuss a so-called epidemic of occult-related crime. As a result,
some therapists are treating Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) as a distinct psychiatric
disorder-- caused by real Satanic Rituals.
However, a growing number of experts have raised strong objections to these theories,
describing them as a modern-day version of the Salem witch hunts. Researchers argue that
claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse have created a climate of suspicion over minority religious
faiths, mainly for evangelical and political purposes. Therapists and psychology
researchers question the methods used to elicit what they term "false memories"
of childhood cult abuse, incest, rape, murder, infanticide, and even
abduction by UFOs. The courts are now dealing with these accusations of abuse, brought by
adults against their parents.
It's a tricky field to navigate, and it could be littered
with broken families and confused victims in the near future.
All the Babies You Can Eat
So why should accounts of violent, bloodthirsty Satanists
be so credible? After all, the popular conception of devil worship was more like The
Devil's Rain, a B-movie that climaxed with Ernest Borgnine and John Travolta melting into
steaming goop. But Satanism has suddenly reasserted itself as the Ultimate Evil, requiring
legions of purported occult experts on Geraldo to talk about a range of influence spanning
from Charles Manson to heavy metal music. Aren't there worse things to worry about?
"In the 1880s," says Gerry O'Sullivan, "there was a Parisian publisher
named Leo Taxil who was famous for his scurrilous anti-Catholic tracts. Then one morning
he proclaimed his conversion to Catholicism. Shortly thereafter, he declared that he had
unearthed the doings of the Satanic Masonic sect called the Paladins. He began publishing
the memoirs of a woman named Sophia Walden, who claimed to have left the order. For two
years this fed into an anti-Masonic hysteria in Europe, and there was even a Papal
Benediction given to Sophia Walden, whom no one had even met. After a few years, Taxil
broke down and confessed that he'd made it all up. It's interesting that one hundred years
ago, you also saw nativist stories in the United States about Masons, Catholics and
Mormons who were allegedly kidnapping children and holding them as slaves. And a hundred
years later, we seem to be experiencing more of the same."
If anyone should be able to summarize the history of Satan rumor- panics, it's O'Sullivan.
He is a co-author of Satanism in America, the first critical examination of the various
claims of Devil-worship circulated in the mid 1980s. He is also co-author (with Edward S.
Herman) of The Terrorism Industry, another jaundiced look at how a set of claims are
circulated by a small culture of mutually-reinforcing experts. (Currently, O'Sullivan is
an instructor in the humanities at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science-- and
in the spring, he'll be teaching a course on, surprise, surprise, New Religions.)
The Leo Taxil story is typical of our conversation, which runs over a landscape of arcane
and obscure subjects that have little to do with car bombs, right-wing think tanks and lit
crit. There's the theology of Anton LaVey's Church of Satan ("Basically, it's
ritualized Social Darwinism; very law and order, socially conservative, with a carefully
cultivated image of outrage"), the first Satanist in America ("Herbert Sloan. He
operated his church out of his barbershop, and he used to serve apple juice and
cookies during his services"), and the role of "liminal spaces" like
abandoned houses and graveyards in folklore.
"The Satanic panic," as O'Sullivan terms it, "has evolved out of a subgenre
of evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian literature-- namely, the conversion narratives
of allegedly former occultists and Satanists. Over time, these conversion narratives
gained an incredible amount of popularity in evangelical and fundamentalist
circuits." There were, in fact, three seminal documents that shaped the modern
Christian folklore on Satanism-- Mike Warnke's The Satan Seller, Lawrence Pazder and
Michelle Smith's Michelle Remembers, and Lauren Stratford's Satan's Underground. Most of
this material has been substantially discredited, even within the Christian community.
The Satan Seller, first published in 1973, purported to tell of Warnke's college days as a
high-ranking Satanist in the mid-1960's. Warnke, a proteg of evangelist Morris
Cerullo, also claimed to have been a member of that ultraconspiracy, the Illuminati during
this time. (But it wasn't until he found Jesus that he began making real money; his
ministry currently grosses two million dollars a year. The IRS recently revoked his
tax-exempt status.) The Christian magazine Cornerstone, in a fine display of
a movement policing its own, reports that college friends of Warnke's remember him as a
likeable, not-very- offensive storyteller. Beyond a little Ouija board play, Warnke's
circle of friends had never gotten anywhere near the Satan worship, gang rape, and
major-league drug dealing that Warnke describes. When told of Warnke's current claims of
those days, most of his friends from the period responded with laughter or questions like
"Is this a joke?"
During the 1970s, Jack Chick Publications-- the people behind those wallet-sized comic
book tracts we've all been handed on street corners-- was one of the main sources of
lurid, no-middle-ground accounts of how Satanists Are Lurking Everywhere. One of their
major authorities was John Todd who, like Warnke, claimed membership in the Illuminati.
Between a spat with Warnke over who-claimed-what-first, and his increasingly terrifying
and grandiose conspiracy theories, Todd's star fell as Warnke's soared.
The Satanists in Chick's comic books not only have magic powers that really work, but they
control the news media, the local police, and even the Catholic Church. Satanists, like
most Chick unbelievers, are drawn with wattled and depraved faces, and they have subtle,
pop- culture names like "Sabrina," "Endora," and "Mrs.
Damien" so readers get the point. In Spellbound,
Sabrina and her pals are called into recording studios to fuse a netherworld demon into
the master tapes of rock albums. Dark Dungeons tells how fantasy-gamer Debbie is initiated
into using the real spells, until she finds Jesus and heroically burns her Dungeons and
Dragons equipment. Little Mandy learns to levitate tables at a slumber party in The Poor
Little Witch, and before long, she's knocking back infant's-blood cocktails with the rest
of the gang. In other Chick tracts, occultists are depicted
putting razor blades in Halloween apples, eating human fingers, and abducting unwary
hippie chicks for sacrifice. Even Old Scratch himself holds up a board meeting in Hell to
gloat over the TV show Bewitched.
"Keep in mind that this is a very Manichean world view," says O'Sullivan,
"and for them, Satanism is simply reverse Christianity. Now, the literature suggests
that most child sexual abuse occurs within the home, and there's an increasing number of
incidents of pastors and priests who are accused of abusing children. But in this central
mythology of the family besieged and fortified, the people who threaten your children are
outside the family, and outside of Christianity. There's a certain win-win logic involved
where some Fundamentalists have decided that no Christian could abuse children to this
extent-- ergo, they're really Satanists.
"The Satanist has taken the place of the mythical stranger in a raincoat-- and
scapegoating day-care centers is part of the whole Christian right crusade. It's a war to
get women back into a purified, insulated home."
But it wasn't until the 1980 publication of Michelle Remembers, by Lawrence Pazder and
Michelle Smith, that hypnotically-enhanced accounts of torture and ritual murder began
circulating. "The kind of religious folklore involving Satanism and spiritual
warfare, that had long been believed and listened to in church basements, was eventually
picked up as truth by the news media, police officers, psychological paraprofessionals and
social workers," says O'Sullivan.
Michelle Remembers is based on Michelle Smith's narratives of SRA, gathered when she
underwent hypnotic therapy under Pazder's direction. Efforts by both the Committee for the
Scientific Evaluation of Religion and MacLean's magazine to verify Smith's stories turned
up nothing-- even though Smith's Satanists cut off the middle finger of their left hands
as an offering to the Devil, which should make them pretty conspicuous. Psychiatric
anthropologist Sherril Mulhern, after reviewing Pazder's
transcripts, noted that the Satanic themes were introduced by Pazder himself during the
therapy while Michelle was under hypnosis.
Satan's Underground by Lauren Stratford (real name: Laurel Wilson), published in 1988,
continued the trend toward more lurid stories. According to Cornerstone, Stratford was a
woman with severe and tragic psychological problems-- one friend recalls her compulsively
cutting her own arms with a paring knife to gain sympathy, and another reports that
Stratford was retelling stories from the book Sybil as though they'd happened to her.
Eventually, Stratford was claiming she'd been present during the Satanic rituals allegedly
conducted at the McMartin Preschool, but her videotaped testimony-- with elaborate
accounts of having been a breeder of babies for ritual sacrifice-- was deemed Not Credible
by the McMartin parents. (On talk show appearances, Stratford also gave different
estimates as to how many babies she gave birth to for sacrifice.)
These books were the beginning of a flood of "Satan seminars" and educational
materials for parents and police that constituted, in O'Sullivan's view, "evangelism
posing as criminology." Informational materials provided by these sources frequently
failed to make any distinction among Satanists, neo-Pagans, fans of Aleister Crowley, punk
rockers, headbangers and modern Druids; even Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism were
characterized as Satanic at one point or another. Telltale signs
of devil-worship to look for in teenagers included falling grades, hateful stares, the
word REDRUM, and the flaunting of hierarchy. Symbols such as the anarchists' circle-A, the
peace sign, the Blue Oyster Cult's inverted-question-mark, and even Mr. Spock's
Live-Long-and-Prosper" handsign were interpreted as ancient Devil- worship glyphs at
one time or another.
Tax monies were used to send law-enforcement officials to these seminars and subscribe to
their materials-- O'Sullivan mentions File 18, a newsletter published by Larry Jones's
Cult Crime Impact Network, which operated out of the basement of the Trinity Fellowship
Church of Boise, Idaho. "When you're concerned about the separation of church and
state, these are important points to ponder." Another perennial source of Satan-crime
claims are the minions of Lyndon LaRouche, whose magazine Investigative Leads is
circulated to police departments around the country.
From a somewhat more secular source, a training video from AIMS media Ritual Crime:
Guidelines for Identification purports to discuss telltale signs of ritual crime (inverted
pentagrams, 666, the backwards "NATAS" and even the absence of blood) as well as
the rapidly growing category of "systematic child abuse, often in pre- schools or
other child care situations." "The officers note behavioral changes in children
which may be tip-offs to ritual abuse, and they outline the proper procedures for
investigations that will lead to successful prosecutions." These delicate and subtle
issues in forensics are discussed on a videotape that runs all of eighteen minutes. . .
and costs your local police department $345.00 per copy. Rentals are $75.00.
And subtlety and caution are certainly needed, especially when it comes to mystical
symbology. "Back in Control," an Oregon program currently offering Family
Training Workshops, once issued a booklet that included the Star of David as a diabolic
symbol. Their reasoning? "If you know anything about the occult, you'll know that
it's the exact opposite of Christianity. That's what the occult is."
"Back in Control" was endorsed by Parents' Music Resource Center founder (and
prospective Second Lady) Tipper Gore in her book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society.
The PMRC bills itself as an information resource for concerned parents; for twenty
dollars, they provide a thick stack of news reports and clippings on Satanism and
rock-related crimes. Included in this material are lyrics of heavy metal songs, the
suicide notes and pledges to Satan written by disturbed teenagers, and news accounts of
suspected Satanic crimes from around the nation. Many of the materials are ads for
guidebooks and seminars from such partisan sources as Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons
(BADD), the American Family Foundation, and the International Cult Education Program. Only
one article that expresses any doubt on the matter is included-- a brief notice about the
release of the Satanism in America report. If the PMRC is an information resource, it's
certainly a selective one.
This demonization of different subcultures, linking them to harmful mental and physical
effects, has become a popular tactic these days. It's not enough to just dislike
something; one has to show that it's as physically or psychologically harmful as dioxin or
PCP. In a notorious passage in The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom described, in
lurid Humbert Humbert detail, twelve-year-olds forsaking Plato and Aristotle and throbbing
sexually to rock music on their Sony Walkmans. More recently, Michael Medved has portrayed
the film industry as a decadent, soul-sick coterie of dissolute leftists in Hollywood Vs.
America-- an image that isn't very different from Jack Chick's caricatures of gays,
Satanists, and secular humanists. If one is convinced that a rotten elite is polluting our
society with garbage culture, then it's a lot easier to believe in clandestine groups of
baby-killers and blood-drinkers. Or, as Gerry O'Sullivan puts it, "Boo Radley's
always living somewhere."
In striking contrast to the Satan hysteria, Ed Maxwell, a Delaware police officer,
conducts workshops on occult beliefs and law enforcement that stress understanding and
restraint. "We're responsible to maintain people's ability to worship, as long as
they don't break local laws. In the past, if a police officer saw a group of Pagans
holding a ritual around a bonfire in the woods, they might automatically think, 'Oh, this
is Satanic, a baby's about to be killed.' In reality, it's their First Amendment right to
practice that, as long as no laws are broken."
Maxwell's seminars are designed to avoid the kind of subculture- demonization that many of
the Satan-mongers encourage. "We do an awareness type of thing, saying, 'This is what
the occult is.' We try to break down the areas of Paganism, Afro-Cuban Religions, give a
little background, and say as long as they don't cross that imaginary line, they're
protected by the First Amendment. When they cross that line, you're dealing with a crime.
You don't go arrest a Satanist. You arrest a criminal."
O'Sullivan points out that accounts of Satanic rituals and child abuse became
progressively more baroque as time went by, almost trying to outdo each other in a spiral
of horrors. Warnke's 1973 account (The Satan Seller) does not describe any ritual
killings; but twenty years later, and after the precedents of Stratford and Smith, he
suddenly managed to recall child murders and ritual torture for his 1991 book Schemes of
By 1985, 20/20 had done a program on the subject with Mike Warnke as a consultant, and the
Geraldo show had brought on Dr. Rebecca Brown, author of He Came to Set the Captives Free,
and who could have stepped whole and breathing from Ken Russell's film The Devils.
"Brown" was the pseudonym of Ruth Bailey, a former physician who'd had her
license revoked in Indiana for a variety of professional transgressions. These included
diagnosing brain tumors and cancers as the work of
demons, telling her patients that other physicians were actually demons and devils,
addicting her patients to Demerol, and medicating herself on the stuff as well.
Five hundred years after the Inquisition, the mainstream culture was back to hunting
witches again. . . and it was no longer unreasonable to believe in blood-drinking devil
cults lurking in every neighborhood.
"Getting in Touch" with Cotton Mather
Gerry O'Sullivan believes that we're entering another resurgence of the Satanic Panic.
Claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse are being circulated among those he diplomatically
describes as "well- intentioned, but misinformed" therapists, who are more
impressed with the apparent sincerity, consistency, and narrative quality of repressed
memories than with forensic verification of the
stories. Rather than passing muster in peer-reviewed scientific journals, the standard
documents on Satanic cult claims-- rituals, robes, chants and prayers, shapes of daggers,
kinds of torture, etc.-- are circulated at conferences in a kind of samizdat of
photocopied papers, outlines and standard questionnaires.
The charge is corroborated in part by George Ganaway, Director of the Ridgeview Center for
Dissociative Disorders in Atlanta. "Many of the clinicians in my field began to
attend seminars held by authorities around the country, who were reporting that their
patients seemed to be telling similar stories about transgenerational mega- cults involved
in human sacrifices. The people who attended these seminars would go back to their
practices with lists of questions for their patients in the trance state, and began to
report stories from their own patients."
Rev. Kathleen Roney-Wilson, of the Somerset County Chaplaincy Council in New Jersey,
presents accounts of children being forced into animal sex and mind-shattering rituals in
her article "Healing Survivors of Satanic Sexual Abuse." She warns that the
article "is not intended as a horror story. . . nor is it intended to conduct a witch
hunt" before leaping right into accounts of child torture. Roney- Wilson rhapsodizes
about "pain corridors" and the Great Darkness before asserting that "If
there is any hope for those who have been abused by satanic groups, it lies at the foot of
the Cross of Jesus Christ."
Multiple Personality Disorder crops up a lot in the Satan literature. An extremely rare
syndrome, MPD is related to childhood abuse, and is perhaps the only psychological
mechanism that could explain why survivors fail to remember several years' worth of
traumatic events. It also begs the question as to how someone with multiple personalities
can also be integrated enough to conduct complex rituals, as well as conceal multiple
murders. In many guides, it is suggested that Satanists, through a process of ritual
torture, murder, and mind games, actually instill MPD in children to ensure cult control
over their minds and to discredit their testimonies later on!
The Rev. Dr. Gary Lee of Heartways Counseling and Consultants (formerly Heartways
Ministries), who works with SRA survivors in Illinois, estimates that perhaps two to three
percent of the United States' population-- that's five to eight million people-- are
actively involved in Satanic ritual abuse. According to Lee, a typical satanic group will
kill between seven and twenty people a year. He also claims that these sacrifices tend to
be babies kidnapped from hospitals, and that abortion clinics
allow cults to use aborted fetuses in their rituals.
Locally, Rosalind Dutton, a therapist and senior partner of the Wissahickon Counselling
Associates, has been holding monthly support group meetings for Satanic Ritual Abuse
survivors for three years. Unlike many of the sources of SRA claims, she describes a
non-hypnotic process where an adult first experiences some kind of anxiety or fear, begins
to remember traumatic incidents later on, and details about sexual abuse and Satanic
rituals emerge through later therapy.
Supporting Gary Lee's 2-3% figures, Dutton says that "There are animals that are
sacrificed, and children are made to eat parts of the animal. Children have to kill other
children in order to live: they're told that if they don't do this, they will die. They're
put in cages and sold to other groups." Dutton also supports the claims of
infanticide, child murder, ritual torture, and breeders that
others have circulated.
In response to these horror stories, Gerry O'Sullivan says, "The great thing about
Satanists-- at least, as they're depicted by evangelicals and therapists-- is that they
don't exist. They're not going to come forward and say, 'We only killed two children last
year, not twenty. Get it right!'"
Grand Guignol Romper Room
Apart from the say-so of former Satanists, is there any solid evidence that these horrible
events are going on? If a Satanic group averages twenty members, Gary Lee's figures would
give us, at least, 250,000 separate Satanic groups in the United States, responsible for,
at least, 1.75 million murders every year. This is a death rate higher than that of the
Vietnam War by several orders of magnitude. (Using Lee's higher estimates, we'd have 7.5
million Satanists committing 7.5 million murders a year--
nearly three times the population of Philadelphia.) If we charitably estimate an average
Satanic group at a thousand members, this would provide 5,000 groups committing a low-end
yearly estimate of 35,000 murders-- a number well in excess of the 20- 23,000 murders,
solved and unsolved, that are committed every year.
"Where do we get rid of 35,000 bodies?" asks Ed Maxwell. "That's 700 bodies
per state. In a state like Delaware, in a bad year, you might have twenty murders.
Delaware's a small state-- we'd notice 700 fresh graves."
Have any SRA survivors, flush with vivid memories of Satanic masses and multiple
infanticides, ever provided enough verifiable evidence to convict anyone for these
thousands of murders? In a word, no. In over twenty years, Mike Warnke has never provided
police with any information about the Satanists and drug dealers he claims to have known.
Michelle Smith's and Lauren Stratford's allegations haven't led to anyone being convicted
for several hundred infant murders. And not one Satanic Ritual Abuse survivor has provided
any evidence that would expose this nationwide conspiracy of Satanists, who ostensibly
have a track record of butchery that beats out Hitler's.
To explain this, Rosalind Dutton says, "It's very complicated. . . No one has been
found guilty when it's been brought to the legal system because people don't believe it.
The people who are involved in this are at every level. There are doctors who do not
record the fact that babies are born because they're being killed. There are doctors that
do not record the hospital work that they do. There are judges who are part of the Satanic
cult who would never convict anybody. There is hardly anywhere
where we as people could really find a fair hearing."
To George Ganaway, this is a familiar story. "In Michelle Remembers, sacrifices
involved burning bodies in open fires. When forensic experts pointed out that an open fire
isn't hot enough to completely burn a body, the stories began to change. It became that
bodies were being burnt up in crematoriums, and undertakers were part of this cult. Those
stories were checked out and shown that they couldn't be true. Then they came up with
stories of portable crematoriums on wheels that they'd keep out of sight. When someone
presented information that would contradict that belief [such a crematorium would need
massive amounts of fuel, and it'd be the size of a Mack truck], the individual would come
up with a new explanation." There are reports that some therapists wish to change the
designation of Satanic Ritual Abuse to Sadistic Ritual Abuse-- possibly because the
stories of baby-murders have met with so much disbelief and so little substantiation.
"I understand that it boggles the mind," says Dutton. "It's not something
our brains can assimilate. It's something that's happened for centuries. It isn't a recent
phenomenon. Satanic Ritual Abuse has its origins in Europe, a long time ago. Historians
talk about it happening in the Middle Ages." Gerry O'Sullivan points out that many of
these accounts were blood libels against Jews and slanders against heretics-- and
supported by confessions obtained through torture by the Inquisition. "It's very
interesting, three hundred years after the Salem witch hunts, to see a small group of
rather credulous mental health professionals resurrecting old myths," he says.
Those Weren't the Days
Outside, it could be the last warm Saturday of the year. But Pamela Freyd is sitting in a
windowless room at the University City Science Center, assembling a mass mailing for the
False Memory Syndrome Foundation. During our interview, she hands me Xeroxed reprints of
articles and scientific papers discussing the dynamics of hypnosis, group therapy,
survivor stories and the impact of Courage to
Heal, an influential book in the incest recovery movement. It's been Pam Freyd's job since
March, as the Foundation's Executive Director, to try to clarify some very arcane issues
of human memory and trauma.
"Parents were calling therapists with stories that they'd been falsely accused, by
their adult children, of things the parents vehemently denied," she explains.
"About twenty percent of them were accused of Satanic ritual abuse, and as many as a
third of the parents we've surveyed had no idea what they'd been accused of. Their adult
children had gone into therapy of some sort and recovered repressed memories.
"The stories we're documenting are limited to those that come out of a particular
circumstance: when there are people who claim that they've never had any awareness of
something, who go into a therapeutic setting, and who recover memories that other people
say are not true. The first step as a group was to see if, indeed, there was such a
problem." And since March, the Foundation has been in contact with 1,400 families
that are facing accusations and/or lawsuits based on recovered memories.
(These families include Pamela Freyd's; her adult daughter has made similar accusations
against Freyd's husband.) "What's at issue are the methods used to elicit those
memories, and what happens as a consequence of the memories."
Some of the memory-recovery methods that the Foundation considers warning flags include
hypnosis, the use of sodium amytal, trance work, body massages, group sessions and reading
self-help books. Remember, two of the seminal books on Satanic Ritual Abuse-- Michelle
Remembers and Satan's Underground-- were based on the hypnotically-recalled memories of
Freyd points out that "None of those methods are known to provide memories of a kind
that are necessarily reliable. In fact, if a memory is enhanced by hypnosis, it's not
allowed as testimony in a criminal trial. Although these memories are extremely vivid and
compellingly real to the people who have them, they're not necessarily based on events
that actually happened."
In the 1950s, a federal research mandate to understand hypnosis-- prompted by dramatic
stories of "brainwashed" wartime prisoners, a la The Manchurian Candidate-- led
to a quantification of what psychologist Herbert Speigel termed the Grade Five Syndrome.
Grade Fives were highly suggestible, extremely susceptible to trance states, compliant
with the directions of their therapists, and vulnerable to introspective therapy
As Pam Freyd points out, people enter a therapy situation "expecting to find an
answer, seeking help." Indeed, Grade Fives seem to thrive in therapy situations--
there's a marked tendency to confabulate, to create fantasies that the person believes as
being real. Even non-directed group therapy can encourage this; especially when the people
getting the healing attention are the
ones with the most sensational stories.
"There is virtually no reliable way to differentiate
accurate from inaccurate memories without outside corroboration," says George
Ganaway. "Experimental hypnosis studies have shown that one can induce the
individuals to confabulate memories and experiences that never happened, and to make up
details that are just as vivid and accompanied by intense emotions."
To illustrate this, Ganaway cites an experiment by the aforementioned Speigel. "He
hypnotized an otherwise healthy volunteer to believe that there was a Communist conspiracy
afoot to take over the country. When the subject was interviewed by a local news
broadcaster, in order to sound more convincing, he began making up details of attending
the hatching of the plot in a theater in Sheridan Square, with details about the theater,
the loft, the posters on the wall, the beer they drank, and the people involved. None of
those people ever existed. The subject didn't know where this belief came from, so in
order to explain it, he had to invent more and more convincing details to support
George Ganaway may have caught a glimpse of the future of the debates over false memory
syndrome. While attending a conference on UFO abductions at MIT, he "described to
them the Satanic ritual abuse experiences, and how closely they parallel the UFO abduction
experience-- including the entire baby-breeding phenomenon and the idea of serial
abductions. The people at the conference had never heard anything about the Satanic Cult
experiences. They thought that was so bizarre.
"They said that, obviously, the Satanic Ritual Abuse memories have to be screen
memories for actual alien abductions, and the aliens had planted their memories of the
cult experiences. Now, if you go to the Satanic Ritual Abuse seminars, they'll tell you
the opposite; they'll say that the UFO abduction experiences are all screen memories for
actual satanic cult experiences."
The issue of child sexual abuse virtually guarantees the Foundation some degree of
controversy. Even the question of how often it happens is open to debate. The most
widely-circulated estimate is that it happens to one in four people. A study from the
National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, estimates that two-tenths of one percent of
the population has been sexually abused as a child. Another study, from the National
Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, states that estimates have ranged between 6%
and 62%; the Foundation's newsletter says this variance "tells us we do not have
reliable information on the problem." "If people are genuinely concerned about
addressing the issue of child sexual abuse," says Freyd, "collecting accurate
data should be a top priority."
Add to this a certain ambiguity over what constitutes rediscovery of repressed memories in
adults. Courage to Heal states that "If you are unable to remember any specific
instances. . . but still have a feeling that something abusive happened to you, it
In the wake of the McMartin Preschool scandal, the battle cry "Believe the
Children" has become the name of a national organization for parents who believe
their children's testimonies of sexual and Satanic abuse-- despite the lack of
corroborative evidence. And Believing the Children isn't easy when adults have acted as
mediators, as the case of Seattle's Bill and Kathleen Swan demonstrates. The San Jose
Mercury News reports that, on October 2 of 1985, Lisa Conradi was hired as a substitute
teacher at the pre-school of the Swans' three year old daughter, Kimberly. Inside of her
first half-hour on the job, Conradi had interrogated Kimberly-- no notes were taken, so
what really was said is unknown-- and pegged her as a victim of child sexual abuse.
Within three days, Kimberly was taken into protective custody, and a month later, the
Swans were arrested. They were eventually convicted of child sexual abuse, mainly because
the jury and the courts of appeal decided that three year-old children do not make up
stories about sexual abuse. No physical evidence of sexual abuse was ever found, but as of
this writing, the Swans are serving a 50-month sentence, and awaiting a circuit court
ruling in the summer of 1993. (In July, Kathleen was
allowed to see her daughter-- the first time since 1986.)
It has since turned out that Lisa Conradi, the substitute teacher who first accused the
Swans, had a history of finding allegedly abused children in several other day-care
centers where she'd worked. Claiming to be a survivor of child sexual abuse, Conradi has
also boasted, "I've turned in at least 20 kids," and of going from door to door,
accusing her neighbors of having abused her own children. There are people, Conradi said,
"who would say I'm on a witch hunt and am a fanatic because I don't like to see kids
abused, and when I see it, I turn it in."
Laura Davis, one of the co-authors of Courage to Heal, sees the Foundation as part of a
backlash, saying that "We have become effective enough to make an impact on people
who have an investment in abusing children, hiding abuse they're committed, denying their
spouse's abuse. . . Add the people who don't want to believe that so many children are
abused, and there's a sizable number to oppose us. . ."
Freyd takes the critics very seriously, although she admits that some of it is "just
off-target. There is not an issue whether there are such things as repressed memories.
It's known that there are." She acknowledges that "For many years, people
couldn't look at the issue, and incest is so horrendous that people shut it off. But
people who ordinarily would use their skills of critical analysis have suspended them just
because the topic is sexual abuse."
But the prospect of well-meaning therapists discrediting the issue through bad methodology
raises Freyd's concern. "I have seen a tremendous change for women in being able to
come forth to say you've been abused or assaulted in some way. The awareness of abuse has
come to the fore. I would hate to see us lose that."
In the meantime, a lot of families have been shattered, and at least one person is
currently in prison over the matter. Paul Ingram, the former Chief Civil Deputy of
Thurston County, Washington, is currently serving twenty years in prison for rape-- on the
basis of what could be false memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse.
In September of 1988, Ingram's 22-year-old daughter Ericka attended a Christian retreat,
where she claimed that Ingram had raped her when she was five years old. Within a few
weeks, Ericka was accusing Ingram of having raped her nearly every night for the past
seventeen years. Her younger sister Julie, also at the retreat, began a similar series of
When confronted, Ingram maintained his innocence at first. But, in keeping with his
church's doctines on "Satanic deception," Ingram acknowledged to the
interrogators that his memories of the events might have been blocked. According to Dr.
Richard Ofshe in The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Ingram
was repeatedly told that sex offenders frequently repress their memories, and the
interrogators promised him that, if he admitted his guilt on the matter, his memories
The records of subsequent interrogations (23 sessions, over a five-month period)
demonstrated how those memories eventually did come back. A psychologist whom Ofshe calls
"Dr. Smith" participated in the interrogations; Dr. Smith led Ingram through a
series of relaxation techniques that, in Ofshe's estimate, "dramatically heightened
suggestibility and trance logic." While Ingram was in this dissociative state, the
interrogators made helpful suggestions to visualize the events that Ingram was accused of.
During this time, Ericka Ingram-- prompted by a reading of Satan's Underground-- was
claiming that 25 babies had been murdered by Satanic cults, and Julie was talking about
having nails driven through her flesh and arms of dead babies being inserted into her
vagina. Both daughters claimed that they'd been forced to attend hundreds of Satanic
rituals where these horrible events took place. No evidence was ever found to support
these claims, but Paul Ingram had no trouble 'visualizing'
them under Dr. Smith's interrogation.
In May of 1989, Ingram, at the urging of the prosecutor, pleaded guilty to six counts of
rape. The visits by the interrogators and Dr. Smith stopped, and within a month Ingram's
confidence in his pseudo- memories had evaporated. He is, however, still in prison.
Like we said, it's a good thing we don't burn people at the stake these days.