Ritual Abuse Survivors in the United States, 1994

Data Archive > U.S. Surveys > Religious Groups > Members or Leaders > Other > Summary


Beginning in the 1980s claims of “Satanic ritual abuse” received considerable attention in the popular media. Ritual abuse survivors claim to have been physically and sexually molested by secretive, underground groups of Satanists. Many ritual abuse survivors further claim that Satanists have the ability to erase memories of their abuse. Hence, survivors often attempt to recover “repressed” memories of ritual abuse with the help of therapists. With the spread of ritual abuse claims in the 1990s, dozens of therapists began to specialize in the subject.

In 1994 the principal investigator conducted an anonymous survey of ritual abuse survivors. In addition to questions about the survivors’ abuse history, the survey included items designed to reproduce Bennett’s Past Month Isolation Scale (PMI) and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD). A set of demographic questions asked respondents about their gender, age, occupation, income, education, race and marital status.

Ritual abuse survivors are difficult to survey. A common theme in the therapeutic literature about ritual abuse is the constant danger posed by the Satanic cults that survivors claim to have escaped. The ritual abuse literature reports that Satanists will use “triggers” to lure the survivor back into the cult, or may try to kill the survivor should his or her memories threaten the group. Thus, survivors and their therapists display considerable reticence about talking to outsiders regarding their claimed experiences. To our knowledge this release represents the first publicly available data on this controversial movement.

Data File
Cases: 50
Variables: 102
Weight Variable: None
Data Collection
Date Collected: 1994
Collection Procedures
Since there existed no known means of contacting individual ritual abuse survivors, the principal investigator utilized the methods of Driscoll and Wright (1991) using therapists who specialized in ritual abuse as the vehicle of distribution.

Therapists were given two incentives to participate in the study. First, they were informed that the questionnaire was completely anonymous, so that they could assure their patients that cult members could not locate them with the information. Further, therapists were promised a report summarizing the findings of the survey, which included several questions regarding the survivor’s experiences, history of abuse, and methods used to recover the memories.

A snowball sampling process was utilized, as many therapists provided the names of others working with ritual abuse survivors. Twenty-four therapists were contacted, of which sixteen therapists agreed to participate. The principal investigator sent the therapist the requested number of questionnaires, with return postage. Therapists then informed their clients of the project. Those that agreed to participate completed the survey. Of 150 questionnaires mailed to therapists, 51 were returned.
Principal Investigators
Christopher D. Bader, Ph.D. (Baylor University)
Related Publications
Bader, Christopher. (2003). “Supernatural Support Groups: Who are the UFO Abductees and Ritual Abuse Survivors?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42(4): 669-678.

Driscoll, Lynda N. and Cheryl Wright. 1991. “Survivors of Childhood Ritual Abuse: Multi-generational Satanic Cult Involvement.” Treating Abuse Today 1(4):6-10.
Notes
The history of ritual abuse claims is complicated, controversial and beyond the scope of this file summary to adequately present. The principal investigator recommends the following books for those wishing an overview of the issue:

Richardson, James T., Joel Best and David Bromley. 1991. The Satanism Scare. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine De Gruyter.

Victor, Jeffrey S. 1993. Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend. Chicago, Illinois: Open Court.