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Study Finds No Proof of Child Abuse by Satanists

November 08, 1994|From Associated Press

DAVIS, Calif. — A study of alleged child abuse by satanists found no evidence that any organized cults ritually abuse or kill children, and experts say the federally funded review raises questions about the stories of survivors who say they are drawing on recovered memories.

"There was evidence of individual acts of extreme abuse with religious connections, but absolutely no evidence about large satanic cults--nothing," said co-author Phillip Shaver, chairman of the UC Davis psychology department.

The study of 12,000 accusations is the first attempt to catalogue and assess cases of ritual abuse nationwide. It "should make people even more cautious about the vagaries of memory," said Pamela Freyd, executive director of the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

The researchers mailed 45,000 questionnaires to law enforcement groups, psychiatrists and psychologists. They found that 2% of the therapists were treating most of the alleged ritual abuse survivors, including one psychologist who reported 2,000 cases.

"I'd like to know where they're getting all these cases," Shaver said. "Either everyone in the community knows that they are willing to deal with this sort of case . . . (or) they are helping to create those cases."

Believers in organized satanic cults--alleged survivors and their healers--scoffed at the study.

"Anthropology has thousands of cases on record of spiritual sacrificial groups," said Craig Lockwood, author of a book on ritual abuse. "Why would this human impulse come to a grinding halt in the 20th Century here in the United States?"

California's most prominent abuse accusations focused on McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach. Parents and students alleged in 1984 that the owners abused the children in secret rituals. The claims were never proved in the subsequent trial, which cost taxpayers $15 million.

In Sacramento, three therapists are being sued by parents who contend that their daughter's memories of ritual abuse were planted after she sought treatment for depression. Other legal challenges to ritual abuse therapy are under way in Texas, Chicago and Minneapolis, Freyd said.

A small fraction of the 3 million reports of child abuse in the United States every year have religious overtones, said Deborah Daro of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

Bette Bottoms, a University of Illinois psychologist who co-authored the study, said a bigger problem than satanism is child abuse by parents with more conventional religious beliefs.

"Our data indicate that more abuse is occurring in the name of God than in the name of Satan," Bottoms said. "It is important that some people realize that."

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