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STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

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What Is Ritual Abuse? A detailed overview of ritual abuse

by Cheryl Rainfield, 2007

Warning: The contents of this article may be triggering. If you’re a survivor, you may want to read it gradually at different times or with a supportive friend or partner. It also might be a good idea to make sure that you are in a safe space while you read this, and for some time afterwards. You might want to remind yourself of a safe place inside you that parts can go if they need to. It’s a healing and nurturing thing to respect your limits and boundaries, and what you can hear, for now.

Ritual abuse is frequent, prolonged, and systematic physical, sexual, and psychological torture used to control children and adults that uses mind control, calculated torture, rituals, and an ideology within an organized secret group setting. The abuse is used to harm, manipulate, control, and indoctrinate the victim, and ensure her long-term silence, co-operation, and participation. Ritual abuse is perpetrated to gain complete control over the victim, and to gain power and money.

Ritual abuse often includes, within rituals: frequent and painful rape; gang rape; forced impregnation; forced abortions; forced child pornography; forced child prostitution; torture; dismemberment or witnessing dismemberment; electroshock; confinement (especially in cages, coffins, and pits); human and animal murder and sacrifice (being forced to witness murder, participate in murder, or be threatened with death); cannibalism; mind control and cult conditioning; techniques to increase the effectiveness of mind control (starvation; thirst; isolation; drugs; physical pain and torture; exhaustion; rape; constant assault of the senses); forced ingestion of substances such as urine, blood, feces, vomit, and flesh; and the constant threat of death, torture, and rape.

Ritual abuse is torture; it is a calculated attempt to: break the victim's spirit; control the victim's mind and reality; replace "normal" responses such as compassion with hardness; and create another generation of functioning cult members who are loyal to the cults who tortured them.

Ritual abuse can happen within formal, organized cults (such as KKK, Masonic, Satanic); informal cults (such as child-prostitution cults made up of members from other cults); intergenerational family cults within the home; or informal cults situated in places that have access to children such as schools, day cares, camps, community centers, or churches. Some victims of ritual abuse may be abused by only one cult, while others are abused by numerous interconnected cults.

For many victims of ritual abuse, their perpetrators involve all or most of their extended family (intergenerational cults), as well as other formal cult members, and may also include (or have members impersonate) people in positions of public power and authority. Ritual abuse within formal and/or intergenerational cults often begins at birth, and can continue into adulthood. This reinforces that there is no safe place, no escape, and nowhere to turn to for help. In my experience, ritual abuse breaks down into four basic categories (categories I have coined to better understand ritual abuse): formal ceremonial, formal non-ceremonial, informal ceremonial, and informal non-ceremonial. A victim may experience some or all of these forms of ritual abuse.

Formal ceremonial ritual abuse is planned, calculated abuse that is perpetrated by members of a formal cult that meets regularly to abuse, and that occurs in structured formal rituals, where specific rituals, ceremonies, traditions, rules, and steps are followed, and one specific ideology is represented and focussed on during the ritual. It focuses on group indoctrination and reinforcement of cult messages. The formal cult has a designated leader, and the other cult members have specific positions, roles, and status. The formal cult uses and/or has access to: formal ceremonial equipment, symbolic objects, and attire specific to that cult; weapons; induced-dissociation and accessing-parts techniques; drugs; musical instruments and specific sound-producing equipment; oils, incense, and scent; fire in various forms; altars; victims to torture and murder, dead bodies, blood, and bones; large buildings or areas to abuse in; resources and money; and connections to other cults. Cult members and children know and follow precise jobs within the ceremony; there are places and times for everything, and known rules to follow. Nothing must be out of place in these ceremonies, and everything is done carefully, deliberately, and in a restricted, regulated fashion. Ritual phrasing is used, and often formal or archaic language.

Formal ceremonial ritual abuse usually occurs at night between midnight and five am, in places such as graveyards, churches, vacant buildings, fields, forests, parks, privately owned land, underground buildings and tunnels, and other places that are large enough to house a group of people, fit the ceremony, and provide escape routes. This is the type of abuse that seems to be most discussed (and misrepresented) in the media.

Rape is almost always a part of formal ceremonial ritual abuse. Other forms of abuse and torture that are used are: murder/sacrifice; impregnation; birthing; cannibalism; torture; psychological torture; repetition of ideology and beliefs; forced dissociation; etc. Formal ceremonial ritual abuse is deliberate, structured, calculated, and relies on tradition, repetition, terror, and group dynamics.

Formal non-ceremonial ritual abuse is planned, calculated abuse that is perpetrated by members of a formal cult that meets regularly to abuse, and that does not use formal rituals but instead uses structured, pre-determined abuse scenarios to target a particular child or group of children to enforce or reinforce specific cult messages, training, and/or programming. The formal cult has a designated leader, and the other cult members have specific positions, roles, and status. Cults in formal non-ceremonial abuse not only use and have access to the same equipment as in formal ceremonial ritual abuse, but they also use and have access to: specialized torture equipment and weapons; isolation, confinement, and sensory deprivation receptacles; torture, induced-dissociation, and personality-creation techniques, knowledge, and research that is handed down for generations and frequently improved upon and added to; detailed information about the specific victim, and specific recommendation on which focussed torture and programming techniques to use on the victim and when for specific desired outcomes; sound and visual equipment; sophisticated recording and duplicating equipment, including cameras, video recorders, computers, etc.; computers and other technology; and elaborate theatrical and cult equipment, makeup, masks, and props, including equipment and uniforms from hospitals, police, fire fighters, psychiatrists, funeral homes, morgues, etc.

Formal non-ceremonial ritual abuse usually occurs at night, before and after formal ceremonial ritual abuse, and may also occur during daytime rituals, in the same places that formal ceremonial ritual abuse occurs in (graveyards, churches, vacant buildings, fields, forests, parks, privately owned land, underground buildings and tunnels, and other places that are large enough to house a group of people, fit the ceremony, and provide escape routes), as well as in other locations (at night) such as: empty warehouses; shopping malls; schools; government buildings; beaches; factories or meat processing plants; restaurants; car washes; stadiums; underground tunnels (such as those built for public transportation); etc.

Children are taken off by themselves or focussed on in a group, where that child receives torture and programming that is specific to her. Abuse can happen on a one-to-one adult-to-child basis, on a group-of-adults to one-child basis, or a group-of-adults to a number-of-children basis. Cults may also force a child to torture or abuse another child, while others watch and goad her on. The abuse can also move from one situation to another throughout the hours of abuse-for example, the victim being programmed and tortured alone in a room by a cult member, and then being taken outside with a group of children, where that programming is reinforced in the abuse and torture that follows.

Formal non-ceremonial ritual abuse involves frequent rape; extreme and repeated physical torture; psychological torture; formal programming; murder/sacrifice; cannibalism; confinement and isolation; forced prostitution and pornography; impregnation, abortions, and birthings; false-context abuse; and induced dissociation and splitting.

Formal non-ceremonial ritual abuse is deliberate and calculated. It often allows cult members to become violent, aggressive, and cruel, and to increase their feelings of power over the child.

I often call both formal ceremonial and formal non-ceremonial ritual abuse "formal ritual abuse," unless I want to make a distinction between them, since they are usually perpetrated by the same formal cult and by the same or some of the same cult members within hours of each other; often occur in the same places; overlap and closely reinforce each other; are highly structured, calculated, and formal; and are distinct from informal ceremonial and non-ceremonial ritual abuse.

Informal ceremonial ritual abuse is planned abuse that is perpetrated by one or more adults who meet informally to abuse, who may each belong to different formal cults, or to their own informal cult (such as intergenerational family cults, criminal-based cults such as mafia or biker, lower-income cults, or self-made cults), where the abuse occurs within informal rituals, often using a mishmash of ideologies, rituals, ceremonies, steps, or rules from a variety of formal cults, as well as those created by the perpetrators. The abuse is not as structured or as formal as formal ritual abuse, and the perpetrators may each vie for the position of leadership or for a particular role within the abuse. Informal ceremonial abuse usually occurs in a perpetrator's home, private club, secluded area such as a deserted park, privately owned land, barn, boat, etc., and in some cult communities may also occur during the daytime in the child's school, neighbourhood, community centre, church, social function or group (such as brownies, church study group, etc.).

The informal cult members may have access to some ceremonial equipment, symbolic objects, and attire specific, usually from a variety of cults; some torture equipment and weapons, but usually those that they have bought or found themselves in the open market, or have at home; cameras and video recording equipment; limited computers equipment; limited drugs; limited theatrical props, if any; limited victims to torture and murder (animals are usually murdered); limited limbs, blood, and bones. The abuse often occurs both in the daytime and/or in the evening, before the child is taken to formal ritual abuse.

Any ideology or cult can be used or represented, and sometimes several different cults are presented at once. The ideology and/or symbols used may change back and forth within the ceremony, each time the abuse occurs, or more slowly over time. Some perpetrators or intergenerational cult families create their own ceremonies. The perpetrators often draw their own symbols, which may be crude or not completely accurate representations of symbols from formal cult abuse, or may be creations of the individual cult members, themselves. Members decide themselves what they will or will not do, and any rituals or ceremonies used are often a mishmash of those from formal cults, or self-designed.

These informal ceremonies are often used to reinforce specific programming or cult messages that a programmer from a formal cult has told a parent that their child needs. Or they may be used to punish a child after a report from a specific cult member (citing the child's disobedience, lack of loyalty, slowness to learn, resistance, etc.). They are also used to establish and reinforce those messages that the child's parent decides they most want to teach the child, or to groom the child for a position in a particular formal cult. Ceremonies can also be used by perpetrators to present themselves as having more status or power than they do within a formal cult-or to take on a different cult role. Sometimes, informal ceremonial ritual abuse is used to mock a specific formal cult that the perpetrators are feuding with, resent, or for some reason want to undermine. They may also be used to confuse the child as to the rules of a particular formal cult, and so create more chaos and resulting torture for the child during formal ceremonial and non-ceremonial ritual abuse.

Forms of abuse that are frequently used are: rape; gang rape; physical torture; psychological torture; impregnation; abortions; drugging; murder (especially of animals); cannibalism; etc.

Informal non-ceremonial ritual abuse is sometimes planned, usually spontaneous abuse that is perpetrated by one or more adults, usually the child's parents, other family members from intergenerational cults, and/or members from various formal cults, that does not use any ritual or ceremony, or specific ideology, but that may use or incorporate cult symbols, attire, pieces of ceremonies or cult language, and that reinforces some cult messages from formal cults. The abuse is not structured, and may happen spontaneously, with tools or equipment that may be lying around the house or that the perpetrator has within easy access. The abuse may also be based on what the perpetrator has herself or himself experienced, or dreams of perpetrating. Informal non-ceremonial ritual abuse usually occurs in the perpetrator's home, or in a secluded, private informal setting, such as a cottage, car, boat, barn, privately owned land, private club, or meeting place, and may also occur during the daytime in the child's school, neighbourhood, community centre, church, social function or group (such as brownies, church study group, etc.).

The informal cult members may have access to some ceremonial equipment, symbolic objects, and attire, usually from a variety of cults; some torture equipment and weapons, but usually those that they have bought or found themselves in the open market, or have at home; cameras and video recording equipment; limited computers equipment; limited drugs; limited theatrical props, if any; limited victims to torture and murder (animals are usually murdered); limited limbs, blood, and bones. The abuse often occurs both in the daytime and/or in the evening, before the child is taken to formal ritual abuse, and can occur at any time, except during formal ritual abuse.

This abuse can be crude, violent, and harsh, and for the victim can feel unexpected or unpredictable. Individual perpetrators may lose control, but if they do so and damage the child in a visible way, they are usually severely punished by their "father cult" (the formal cult or cults they are most closely aligned with) and thus often quickly learn to contain the damage to the victim to areas that can be covered by clothing and are not visible in non-cult, outside-world time-or to treat the wounds quickly afterwards.

Forms of abuse that are frequently used are: rape; gang rape; physical abuse and torture; psychological abuse and torture; impregnation; abortions; forced pornography; forced prostitution; drugging; murder (especially of animals); cannibalism; and haphazard attempts at programming. Although some of this abuse may not, on its own, be considered ritual abuse by others, because it happens in the context of other ritual abuse and by ritual abusers, and because it usually reinforces cult programming and personality creation, I consider it all a part of the ritual abuse.

Any ideology can be used in ritual abuse; the ideology seems more a means of keeping the victims silent, blaming them, increasing the effectiveness of the torture and programming, and rationalizing the perpetrators' behavior than any real belief. However, there are always some cult members who seem to fervently believe their ideology, especially if it reinforces oppression and violence. Cults also often incorporate and twist aspects and symbols from popular belief systems and religions into their torture and programming, such as: symbols, phrases, icons, rituals, and ideology from Christian, New Age, Native American, Buddhist, and Jewish religions, and from feminist, environmental, and peace movements; popular holidays such as Christmas, Hallowe'en, and Easter; popular songs, books, movies; popular sayings and symbols; and nursery rhymes, thus the victim is constantly bombarded with things that reinforce learned cult messages and programming, outside of the actual abuse. Birthdays are also focused on in formal cults, twisted to be "death days," where the child is taught to attempt to kill herself if she is not still being abused within the cult.

Ritual abuse is perpetrated by secret, closed groups, or cults. Not all cults ritually abuse. However, the ones that do are usually highly organized. Some formal, highly organized cults that ritually abuse use ideologies from Nazi, KKK, and Masonic groups; Mormon, New Age, Christian, Satanic, Wiccan, and other religious groups; and government, military, or criminal groups. Other less organized, more informal cults that ritually abuse, such as women-only cults, men-only cults, child pornography cults, and child prostitution cults, are often made up of interrelated members from formal cults and intergenerational family cults. In my experience, cults are interconnected, and share members, victims, money, and resources.

For victims of ritual abuse, the abuse can feel all-pervasive, deep, and terrifying, especially when all four categories of ritual abuse are used (as they often are). For the victim, it may feel like ritual abuse is everywhere-a constant, unrelenting reinforcement of dehumanizing messages and abuse.

Escape and safety is often a gradual process, since: so many people in the victim's life are usually involved; memories come back as fragments (which can hinder or slow down the process of identifying perpetrators and escaping from them); ritual abuse is so extreme and heinous that it may take telling many people before the victim is believed; and dissociation is key to both surviving the abuse and to setting off programming (cult conditioning) to keep the victim compliant and abusable. In addition, life partners (husbands/wives, or lesbian/gay spouses) are often picked out by cult, with one spouse in the role of abuser and the other in the role of victim, to perpetuate the ritual abuse and keep the victim tied to the cult. Support, safety, inner communication and co-operation, co-consciousness, and being able to remember and talk about the abuse (and be believed) all greatly help survivors to escape ritual abuse.

If the survivor is still being ritually abused when she begins to look at programming or memories, or tries to get herself safe, the abuse will most likely escalate-but the survivor will not be killed, nor will anyone she loves (who is not part of the ritual abuse) or tells. It's important to keep working on healing and on ways of getting safe. Healing and safety can happen.

Ritual abuse and the atrocities committed during ritual abuse are not new, nor are they so different from atrocities that have historically been committed and continue to be committed globally, such as genocide, human sacrifice, slavery, systematic gang rape used in war (known as "ethnic cleansing"), physical and sexual abuse, illegal imprisonment, illegal and unethical medical experimentation, political torture, and the Holocaust. What is different in ritual abuse is that all the torture and programming: occurs in the same context, is perpetrated by family members and people the victim is supposed to love and trust, often occurs from birth into adulthood on a frequent basis (thus the impact is more pronounced, and the control exacted over the victim is deeper), and is deeply hidden within our society and behind the guise of upstanding citizens and supposedly loving families. In addition, there are usually no allies or safe people that the child can turn to.

Ritual abuse, like many other atrocities, reveals that human beings are capable of hurting others in inhumane ways. Yet we are also capable of great compassion, kindness, and love. It is the choices we make that define who we are, and the compassion we can find within ourselves that makes a difference.

Healing is possible. Joy and comfort can be found. Safety can be made. It just takes strength--which all survivors have--and the ability to reach out to others, to trust one's intuition, and a desire to heal. I believe more and more victims are choosing to heal--and more people are listening, and willing to offer some compassion. There is hope.

Note: For an added definition and more specific details of abuse and torture that occur in ritual abuse, see: Report of the Ritual Abuse Task Force-Los Angeles County Commission for Women

©Cheryl Rainfield, 2007

back to Ritual Abuse and Programming

If you like this article, you may post it on your website or use it in your print publication, as long as you provide a link back to my site (http://www.CherylRainfield.com), and credit me. I'd also really like to know where you put my article, but you don't have to let me know in order to use it.