Torture of the BodySurvivors have been gang raped, electroshocked, buried alive, hung from ceilings by their hands/feet, and drugged to increase their sense of helplessness.
Torture of the SpiritSurvivors are forced to choose in no-win moral dilemmas: "You can watch this cat be slowly tortured to death, or you can kill it." (Purpose: to get her to believe she is part of the cult, an evil person). It's not unusual for a girl to be forcibly impregnated, labor induced, and the baby killed. Children have been forced to sexually abuse another child for pornographic pictures. The cult will later use the pornography for blackmail.
- Torture of the MindSome cults set out to program (brainwash): for example: "When you hear the phone ring, you will jump out the window;" "when you receive a rose you will return to the cult;" "if you tell, I'll kill you, your friend, your dog." Cult members will say, "I love you" or "I'm helping you" while torturing (later, outside the cult, these words will evoke terror).
A child could be anesthetized, wake up with blood on her stomach and be told a thought-detector was inserted in her or a bomb that will explode if she tells anyone. A girl is raped, told it was by satan and she will have satan's child; she becomes terrified because in the world the cult has created for her, it seem that this could be true.
Cult members further distort her sense of reality by dressing up as priests, policemen, Big Bird, Mickey Mouse - so she learns that anyone could be a cult member and therefore no one is safe to talk to.
Who is Involved?
How and Why it Continues
Symptoms of previous ritual abuse
- She may have flashbacks (including body memories), and can go into physical shock.
- She may experience incredible culture shock outside the cult and have great difficulty trust-ing/relating to people.
- She may be confused about what happened, and sound incoherent when questioned.
- She may have multiple personalities.
- She may cut or injure herself to try to drive away the memories or punish herself for what she's been through..
Differences Between Incest and Ritual Abuse Survivors
It Takes an Extremely Long Time...for someone to accept that she is a ritual abuse survivor. A ritual abuse survivor is often aware that she is a survivor of incest or that she has multiple personalities long before she realizes that she is a survivor of ritual abuse.
- Trusting People...will be a big issue. She may feel that the cult is omnipotent. Who can she trust? Her therapist, a friend, us? She will be very scared that anyone she speaks to may be a part of the cult, or that the cult will find out that she is revealing what happened to her. She may not want to tell her name, and may ask if you are in a cult. It's a good idea to acknowledge her fear: "I can understand that you are very scared. It makes sense; it will go away in time."
Do not try to convince her you are not in a cult. (There are therapists who are in cults, and many survivors have experienced "fake therapy," so it is sensible for a survivor to be cautious.)
If we are not ourselves survivors of ritual abuse, then we must remember that her language and our language, though they use the same words, do not always mean the same things. In many cases words will mean their opposite in the cult; Love = Hate, Comfort = Pain. It is important to understand this if we are to form a con-nection with the survivor. To a survivor, "I want to help you" may mean "I am going to hurt you."
There is More Isolation and Less Support...for the survivor of ritual abuse. Because this is-sue has only recently begun to be talked about as a phenomenon that impacts significant numbers of people, there are very few support systems in place. And because the survivors feel that they are in danger, it is very difficult for them to reach out to anyone for fear of retribution from the cult.
- Contending with ProgrammingProgramming is when people are conditioned to respond in a certain way to a specific stimulus (a trigger). For example: someone hanging up the phone when you answer it, someone saying "I love you," or wearing the color black will provoke a set response such as "I've got to call the cult," "I'm going to kill myself," etc. Some people will seemingly react calmly, thinking, "Well, I just have to do it," while others will feel very anxious and may go into shock.
Resisting the message feels like "fighting for my life" while simultaneously feeling tremendously isolated, alienated and powerless. The impulses come very suddenly, with a sense of urgency - "I have to do this right now." They also go away abruptly. (This is very different from women who are suicidal, whose feelings develop over time).
There are "call-back" years (at 27, 30, 33, etc.) when the survivor feels she must go back or kill herself. Cults will develop multiple person-alities to manipulate, to call back to the cult. Resisting the programming brings up extreme panic, terror, and fear of dying. But we cannot stress enough that people are strong enough to resist programming and can heal. If survivors call here for help, they are resisting their programming.
A Survivor May Also Feel She was a perpetrator
- February 2. Candlemas. (lives on as Ground-hog day!)
- March 21 or 22. Spring Equinox
- May 1. Beltane. (lives on as May Day)
- June 21 or 22. Summer Solstice
- August 2. Lammas
- September 21 or 22. Fall Equinox
- October 31. Samhain (lives on as Halloween)
- December 21 or 22. Winter Solstice
- The full moon is often observed, and sometimes the new moon as well.
Handling Crisis Calls
Try to establish safety and support...but don't try to get her to dwell on remembering, especially if she is feeling like killing herself - there may be more triggers in the memory. Do not encourage her to talk about specifics, such as people and places, on the phone. Talking in depth about her experiences may be too much for her to handle. Our role should be to offer support in a non-threatening way. We should be aware that a satanic holiday, her birthday, or a call-back year may be behind a ritual abuse survivor's freaking out, even if she does not realize this.
Build a connection…She will feel very isolated, because to build connections with people may bring back memories of what relationships mean in the cult. Isolating herself may be her way of keeping safe. If she is able to reach out to us, she is taking a step toward breaking away from that isolation.
Counteract programming…She may be aware of the concept and remember her pro-gramming, or she may not. Be careful and deli-cate about what you say, and leave interpretations to her. "Sometimes people have reactions on days they were abused; does that seem true for you?" If she is aware of program-ming, you can remind her that the feelings will pass.
Encourage her to outsmart...her programming: If she knows something will trigger her, she can plan what she will do instead. For instance, she can plan to be with someone during a satanic holiday. Or she can prepare herself for being triggered and take steps to prevent doing harm to herself.
Reprogramming/deprogramming…The goal is to not be programmed. There is no quick fix. She will not be able to go to a therapist and just get "reprogrammed." Even if this were possible, what would be the point? She still would not be her own person. The healing process is very gradual, and takes place tiny triumph by tiny triumph. Some examples of actions that counter programming:
- Saying, "I'm a good person. I did not deserve ritual abuse."
- Making a friend
- Getting some support
- Telling someone, "I am a ritual abuse survi-vor"
- Realizing ,"I am still alive" (The more times I don't kill myself, the weaker the programming gets.)
Accept mistrust…She may say, "How do I know you are not in the cult?" thinking that you are a cult member. You can't prove to her that you aren't, and her fear is reasonable, given her experience. It's better to say something like, "I can't convince you, trust me as much as you feel comfortable. Or "it's good that you are cautious about who you trust at first." Trying to convince her that you are OK will not be helpful.
Counteract survivor guilt…Affirm her goodness. Assert that she didn't really have a choice. She was a tool used by the cult, not the initiator of any harm she was involved in. Don't get into "yes, but..." with her. If she argues, say, "I believe you are a good person, I believe you were used, but you need to decide for yourself."
- Don't expect her to feel all better after the call… Hopefully, she will have made a connection and not feel quite so isolated. But she may feel even worse. It is absolutely exhausting to work through these feelings and thoughts.
- Validate feelings, not programming… "Yes, that is what they told you, but I don't believe they put a bomb in your stomach." "Naturally you'd be terrified if they lied to you like that."
Share feelings…"I really feel sad that these things have happened to you. They never should have happened." "I'm angry that children get treated like that. It's more than not fair, it's outrageous."
If you say something that seems to trigger her...follow with something like, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." or "Maybe I used a word that upsets you." Don't feel too bad, because there is no way you can know exactly what her triggers are. If you stumble onto one, try to figure out what the trigger was and help her deal with her feelings.
- Set limits…It is not helpful to encourage her to go on and on. If she is spilling, telling her whole history, bring it to some focus. Tell her that other survivors find that, in the long run, it is helpful to talk for short, frequent periods, or to focus on one subject. If you end the call, leave her with a message of trust, such as "I know you have the power to take charge of your life and live with dignity."
Personal Safety and Competence
- Survey local therapists to locate people who have worked with ritual abuse survivors, or who are willing to learn about ritual abuse.
- If you have a drop-in center, make a note-book for ritual abuse survivors. Collect articles on ritual abuse as you come across them. Leave blank pages for people's feedback on books and resources.
- If you have access to the Internet, copy anything you want from the Ritual Abuse, Ritual Crime, and Healing Home Page. (http://www.ra-info.org).
- Join Survivorship to educate yourself and keep current on issues and events. (Survivorship. PMB 139, 3181 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110 or http://www.survivorship.org).