Ritual abuse usually involves repeated abuse over an extended period of time. The physical abuse is severe, sometimes including torture and killing. The sexual abuse is usually painful, humiliating, intended as a means of gaining dominance over the victim. The psychological abuse is devastating and involves the use of ritual indoctrination. It includes mind control techniques which convey to the victim a profound terror of the cult members…most victims are in a state of terror, mind control and dissociation.
(Los Angeles County Commission for Women, 1989)
Most people have heard the term ‘ritual abuse’, in particular ‘satanic ritual abuse’ but the reality is that ritual abuse can exist with or without a belief system linked to religion. Many survivors report that any belief system was secondary to the group’s desire to severely abuse, control and frighten others (Oksana, 1994). Ritual abuse is often referred to as ‘organised abuse’. According to the ISSTD (International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, 2011) a substantial minority of those with complex dissociative disorders (dissociative identity disorder or DDNOS/Other Specified Dissociative Disorder) report having been subject to ritual abuse.Laurie Matthew (2012) says:

I definitely think it is the word ritual which causes people to question, to feel uncomfortable, or even just disbelieve. It seems almost incredible that such things would happen, but too many of us know exactly how bad the lives of many children are. A great deal of child pornography shows children being abused in a ritualised setting, and many have now come forward to share their experiences, but there is still a tendency to say it just couldn’t happen.


Many people have heard that ‘satanic ritual abuse’ is a ‘myth’ or a ‘hoax’. This suggestion was promoted by many in the media during the 1990s (Noblitt & Perskin, 1995), and combined two common errors: firstly, that ritual abuse is only reported within a satanic group, and secondly that ritual abuse simply does not happen. Two influential reports are often called upon to support this view: a Department of Health report, The Extent and Nature of Organised and Ritual Abuse, and the FBI-funded Investigator’s Guide to Allegations of ‘Ritual’ Child Abuse, commonly known as the Lanning Report. The former was written twenty years ago by an anthropologist, Professor Jean La Fontaine, and the latter stated that no substantive evidence existed for ritual abuse (Lanning, 1991). However, neither author interviewed survivors—the actual witnesses—and neither acknowledged that a number of the case reports in their studies did in fact result in convictions for ritual abuse (La Fontaine, 1995; Gould, 1995).

Further media reports that ritual abuse is a ‘myth’ have been promoted by the British satirical magazine Private Eye. Their most recent comments on the subject (editions 1302, 1325 and 1334) have not been attributed in the publication to a particular author, although comments on various websites suggest they are the work of Rosie Waterhouse, journalist and lecturer. Waterhouse has written at least fourteen articles on the same topic for the magazine and claims to have been researching the ‘myth’ of Satanic Ritual Abuse for over twenty years (City University, 2014). In reality, therefore, the ‘evidence’ for RA/SRA being a ‘myth’ is restricted to a couple of reports over two decades old and a satirical political magazine. The theme of denial however continues today despite the growing number of convictions for ritual abuse in Britain, and many more worldwide, including convictions for satanic ritual abuse which involves both forensic physical evidence and the witness testimony of survivors (Oksana, 1994; SMART, 2014; Morris, 2014).

Evidence of ritual abuse that does not involve religious or spiritual beliefs is even more extensively documented. In the United States soon after World War II, the CIA funded military-based ritual abuse programmes known collectively as Project MK-Ultra. Psychiatrists induced amnesia, dissociative identities and new memories (Epstein et al, 2011), while also experimenting with LSD, sensory deprivation, electro-convulsive treatment, brain electrode implants and hypnosis (Ross, 2000). A United States Senate hearing in 1977 entitled Project MK-Ultra: the CIA’s Program of Research into Behavioral Modification investigated these abuses, which were carried out in several countries, and both the US and Canadian governments paid compensation to some survivors of the ‘brainwashing’ experiments. A Scottish psychiatrist, Dr Donald E. Cameron (1901-1967), was extensively documented as carrying out these abuses whilst working with psychiatric patients in Canada (Ross, 2000). Dr Colin Ross, a psychiatrist and researcher in the field of dissociative disorders, published extensive Freedom of Information requests and cited earlier academic research in his book Bluebird: Deliberate Creation of Multiple Personality by Psychiatrists (Ross, 2000). He found that many members of the largely discredited False Memory Syndrome Foundation in America were colleagues of or co-authors with scientists responsible for ritual abuse within MK-Ultra programmes.


Myth #1: All ritual abuse is ‘satanic’

Survivors of ritual abuse have reported religious or political motivations within diverse groups including neo-Nazis, Masons, Ku Klux Klan, Catholic Church, Protestant churches, Mormons, Judaism, witchcraft-practising groups (e.g. Wiccan, paganism and neopaganism), voodoo, Santeria, Druid and Celtic rites, crime gangs, the training of child soldiers in Africa, and government experiments (such as MK-Ultra) (Miller, 2012; Oksana, 1994; Miller, 2014). Referring to all ritual abuse as ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse’ (SRA) does a great injustice to survivors of other forms of ritual abuse and, as Salter (2013) states, any assumption that ‘a professed spiritual motivation for abusing children necessarily reflects the offenders’ actual motivation seems naïve at best, and at worst it risks colluding with the ways in which abusive groups obfuscate responsibility for their actions.’

Myth #2: All survivors of ritual abuse have dissociative identity disorder

Whilst many survivors of ritual abuse do have dissociative identity disorder, psychotherapist Dr Alison Miller, who is experienced in working with this client group, believes that the majority have a form of Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (formerly known as DDNOS Type 1), which is similar to DID but in which the separate dissociative parts of the personality do not take executive control of the person’s body (Miller, 2014; ISSTD, 2011). However, as with other forms of abuse, ritual abuse will only lead to a dissociative disorder if the person is subject to the trauma at a sufficiently young age. People who are traumatised later in life will not develop a dissociative disorder, which is partly developmental in nature, but are more likely to develop post traumatic stress disorder (ISSTD, 2011; Lacter, 2011). Vulnerable adults or young people can be drawn into ritually abusive groups, and some people become involved after marrying a member of a group or through a step-parent or other relative (Matthew, 2001).

Myths which can prevent survivors from healing include the belief that they themselves are evil and a danger to others, that abusers are everywhere, that abusers are extremely powerful or have infinite power (which, if true, would make redundant the need for them to hide their abuse), and that nobody outside the abuser group can be trusted (Matthew, 2001; Miller, 2012). These myths are lies and false beliefs, often intentionally created through the abuse in order to protect the abusive group and encourage a survivor’s lifelong obedience and loyalty (Miller, 2012). A significant number of survivors have however healed from their experiences of ritual abuse and some have written autobiographies of their experiences.

Laurie Matthew, founder of the charity Izzy’s Promise, which supports survivors of ritual abuse, states:

There are many people who constantly deny that there is such a thing as ritual abuse. All I can say is that I know there is. Not only have I been a victim of it myself, but I have been dealing with survivors of this type of abuse for almost thirty years. If there are survivors, there must be something that they have survived. (Matthew, 2012)


Survivors of ritual abuse often feel intense shame and guilt, particularly about forced perpetration. This can cause intense suicidal feelings and an inability to disclose parts of the abuse, or even admit to themselves that it happened (Miller, 2014).


The purpose of mind control (a combination of brainwashing and indoctrination) is to:

compel victims of ritual abuse to keep the secret of their abuse, to conform to the beliefs and behaviours of the cult, and to become functioning members who serve the cult by carrying out directives of its leaders without being detected within society at large.

(Los Angeles County Commission for Women, 1989)

Alison Miller states that the only way to fully control a person’s mind without the person having any conscious awareness of it is through

the abuse and torture of small children, separating parts of their minds that are then indoctrinated and trained individually as the abusers see fit.

(Miller, 2012)

In Who Dares Wins, Laurie Matthew writes:

The process they [abusers in a ritual abuse group] use on survivors is designed to break the will and personality of the person until they become as nothing…with no will of their own…no identity…then they rebuild the person and shape their will in order to…try and make the person one of them…thus gaining power. If abusers hold all the power, becoming one of them can, for some, be the only means of survival. However, this doesn’t always work. Instead survivors often find other ways of regaining their own power and fighting back.

(Matthew, 2012)

Ritual abuse means robbing a person of their own free will. The survivor becomes a tool of the perpetrator group. The blame and responsibility sits with the abuser(s) who chose to manipulate the child, who taught the child how to perpetrate before forcing or tricking the child into it, and lying to trick the child into taking the blame and believing that they are ‘evil’ (Miller, 2014).


Denial seems to be particularly common and is an obvious way of attempting to cope with the unbearable reality of the abuse. Chapter Twelve of Alison Miller’s book Healing the Unimaginable is entitled ‘Maybe I made it all up’ and Chapter Fourteen of Chrystine Oksana’s book Safe Passage to Healing also tackles the same subject. Therapists are not in a position to tell their clients what happened to them: survivors need to work through the memories to discover the truth for themselves, and to separate the tricks and lies used in childhood from reality (Miller, 2014). Several parts/alters may remember the same event in different ways, so finding the truth relies on co-operation between the entire dissociative system, rather than prematurely judging the parts who act or have acted in ways that are not yet understood and for which there is no empathy (Miller, 2014).


Survivors of ritual abuse who have been subject to mind control often have very specific triggers that are used by the perpetrators. Many survivors have ongoing current contact with their abusers and some dissociative parts are likely to contact these perpetrators if the survivor begins to remember or deal with the abuse (Miller, 2014). Members of abusive groups use specific words, sounds or signs (such as certain types of touch or unusual visual ‘cues’) to trigger an automated response in the survivor, such as making a particular dissociative part take control and perform a harmful action, interfere with therapy, stop further disclosures, or return to the group. Some survivors have amnesia for current contact with perpetrators and parts may be trained to report back to abusers when a survivor moves away. Some survivors refer to words which are used as mind control triggers or ‘access codes’ (Miller, 2014). Dissociative fugues may also occur on specific dates or periods within the calendar—this is a situation wherein a dissociative part takes executive control and travels some distance with other parts unaware of what has happened or why. Some survivors have been abused according to important dates in the abusive group’s ideology and so dissociative fugues may be a risk on those days (Miller, 2012).


Complex dissociative disorders are associated with an increased risk of self-harm and suicide attempts. The risk is even greater where ritual abuse is part of the history as some parts may be trained to commit suicide in order keep the group’s secrets. However, a helpful step can be to work out a comprehensive safety plan in advance, which can make it more difficult for parts to act in harmful ways (Oksana, 1994). It may be possible, for example, to ask the GP to limit the amount of medication prescribed at once; it can be helpful to have a trusted person, or even a part within the dissociative system, to keep careful watch on dates which have been difficult in the past; and where feasible it can be helpful to work internally to ask parts to notify the main ‘host’ person of actions which are due to programming, in order to prevent or nullify them.

Some survivors use strategies to avoid deliberate triggers during days which are likely to be difficult, such as having someone else check the post and screen texts or emails, along with turning off the phone or answering machine. Speaking out and naming abusers to trusted people in authority can also provide some protection.

Jeannie Riseman’s article on simplifying complex programming, available here, gives very useful examples of how to deal with mind control. She writes:

When I have thoughts or urges that seem cult-related I firstly label it as soon as I become aware of it. Secondly I refuse to act on it. Thirdly I let the issue go—I don’t brood on it.

She also talks about educating other parts and then giving those parts the choice of whether to make changes, rather than trying to force through those changes internally.


The information around ritual abuse can be very overwhelming, both to survivors, partners and therapists. However, in the words of Alison Miller:

Programming boils down to human beings using time-honoured torture and deception and indoctrination techniques on children, with dissociation as its lynchpin.

(Miller, 2012)

All survivors, no matter how many parts they have, or what experiences they have been through, can unlearn the abusive lessons of childhood and begin to choose how to act of their own free will. Ritual abuse can be beaten.



Taken in isolation, abuses carried out as part of a ritual can easily go unrecognised. Ritual abuse is highly organised and planned and is often carried out by groups rather than individuals. Many survivors have reported experiencing many of the following elements:

Forced perpetration

Being forced or coerced into harming or killing an animal or another person, such as by torture (Oksana, 1994; Miller, 2014).

Psychological abuse

Harm or threats of harm to loved ones, pets, or other victims, often used to keep silence or to force perpetration (Miller, 2014).


Being given a ‘choice’ between two horrific acts, such as being raped or choosing someone else to be raped (Oksana, 1994).

Lies, tricks and technology

These can be used to install false beliefs, such as that the person is always being watched and listened to (microphones), being forced to watch films and told the film is reality, or being convinced that they are ‘crazy’, for example by alien abduction role-playing combined with hallucinogens, faking a person’s death and then having that person present and healthy the next day (Oksana, 1994; Lacter, 2011).

Forced to take drugs

Sedatives, hallucinogens, stimulants and memory-loss drugs are often used to lower resistance or to make tricks more effective (Oksana, 1994).

Non-human dissociative parts/alters

Stage magic, robes and props including costumes, candles and lighting effects, when combined with lies and drugs especially, can create parts who believe that they are demons or spiritual beings who cannot be harmed. Forcing a child to behave like an animal can create parts who believe that they are animals (Miller, 2014).

Torture, especially kinds which do not mark the body

This includes deprivation of food, water or sleep; suffocation; sensory deprivation (as used at Guantanamo Bay); water torture/drowning and electro-shock. A person refusing to comply will be tortured until another dissociative part appears who is willing to perform an abhorrent act (Oksana, 1994; Lacter, 2011).

Use of restraints and confinement

These are used to terrify and to invoke a feeling of helplessness (Oksana, 1994; Lacter, 2011).

Forced participation in child pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking

This may include being forced to perform sexual acts or physical abuse on other children, and drug money being used to fund the group.

Using snakes, spiders, maggots, rats and other animals

To induce fear and disgust (Lacter, 2011).

Forced ingestion of offensive bodily fluids and matter

This includes blood, urine, faeces, flesh and vomit (Oksana, 1994; Lacter, 2011).

Forced pregnancy and killing of newborn babies

The baby may be used for ritual purposes such as sacrifice. The pregnancies are often hidden, to prevent police investigation of the disappearance or death of the baby, and delivery may be induced early to coincide with ritual dates (Miller, 2014; Matthew, 2001).

Creation of a large number of dissociative parts

This may involve the creation of dozens or even hundreds of parts. Many will be ‘fragments’ rather than complete alters. For instance, one memory of abuse may be split between several parts, each holding a different aspect of the memory (sound, pain, visuals, feelings) (Miller, 2014).

Mind control

Also known as ‘programming’. Some parts are deliberately created and indoctrinated into the group’s belief system, so that they can be given a role by the perpetrators, for example self-harming to punish another part for talking about the abuse; returning to the perpetrator(s) on particular dates; reporting back about anything disclosed to other people; preventing the person’s mind from taking in any information which can act against the programming (Miller, 2014; Lacter, 2011).

Internal punishments

Some dissociative parts can be given the ‘role’ of punishing others for talking about abuse or revealing secrets. These can take many forms including self-harm, suicide attempts, hallucinations of graphic violence, or sudden amnesia for previous therapeutic work (Miller, 2014).

Sudden, impulsive desires to self-harm or attempt suicide

A indication of this is when these are very specific and don’t appear to relate to emotions. Some survivors describe self-harm in specific patterns (Miller, 2014).

Sadistic and horrific abuse

This includes sexual torture, forced sex with animals, gang rape of children, desecration of the dead and training in S&M roles (Oksana, 1994; Miller, 2014; Miller, 2012).

Chronic pain

This is especially pain which does not appear to have a physical or organic cause, so may instead be ‘body memories’, that is to say flashbacks of pain from unprocessed trauma (Miller, 2014; Oksana, 1994).