A Dutch investigative radio program on organized abuse with ritual elements
n the Netherlands, Argos, an investigative journalistic radio documentary, conducted research into organized ritual abuse in 2019-2020. During this period, they collected the experiences and stories of over two hundred victims of organized sexual abuse. A hundred and forty victims told them about organized abuse with ritual elements’. In a radio documentary (2), Argos highlighted their stories and discovered unsettling similarities.
As a psychotherapist, working at a Trauma Centre specialized in treating people with Complex PTSD and severe dissociative disorders, I am often confronted with stories of severe abuse, including at times organized abuse (for example child exploitation, child porn and/or child prostitution) and even ritual abuse (like satanic rituals, torture or offering animals or babies), having started in early childhood. In a few cases, the abuse is still on going.
I learned from Suzette Boon, who was my colleague-supervisor from 2008 until 2014, how to manage the difficulties in therapy and how to stay healthy and remain interested in working with these severe traumatized adults. In the ESTD Newsletter of March 2014, she stated:
In the past, the issue of satanic ritual abuse (SRA) has led only to heated controversy and media attention, in the Netherlands as well as elsewhere in the world. This has not contributed to a better understanding of clients who report such trauma histories. Clinicians in the Netherlands (myself included) were portrayed as half-wits who were deceiving their clients into believing that they had been subject to this kind of abuse, or who were foolish or over-involved enough to accept the validity of their clients’ reports unquestioningly. (Boon, 2014).
Based on these experiences, I learned that psychotherapy is the only thing we have in our hands to help clients to get a way out and become better. Indeed, I do believe that psychotherapy can make a difference in healing and working towards safety. However, I also see that organizations that can help with safety measures or are capable and competent to conduct judicial investigation should do their part of the job. And that’s very difficult, if not impossible, if (part of) those organizations think that DID is due to fantasy proneness and if they think that the therapists are part of the problem, because of their over-involvement or their suggestive way of treating them. This is the situation in the Netherlands.
I think it is very important that organized abuse with ritual elements evolves from a non-subject, or a subject of heated discussion, to a serious issue that deserves serious attention, within the psychological field, as well as within the justice department and the social domain. That is the reason why I decided to speak up in the documentary of Argos–with the risk of repeating history, but hopefully helping to create a chance to change the future.
Sanne Terlingen and Huub Jaspers, the journalists who conducted this documentary at Argos, did some impressive work, giving a voice to Marinke, a survivor of organized sexual abuse, her close friend, and mother in law, who both shared their experiences from their own perspective. Besides them, a colleague psychotherapist and myself were interviewed and talked about our experiences in working with survivors of organized ritual abuse. Terlingen en Jaspers did not based their story only on the Dutch situation, but interviewed a number of experts from Germany, Switzerland and Australia. All of them are convinced that organised ritual abuse does exist.
This article will highlight the Dutch situation, especially the role of the National Team of Experts on Extraordinary Cases of Sexual Abuse (LEBZ). Then the most important statements made in the documentary by different international experts will be summarized. And finally the consequences of the broadcast will be discussed, including the political attention at this moment.
The Dutch situation
In the Netherlands, in the police system as well as among research psychologists, there still exists scepticism and doubt about the existence of organized ritual abuse. So, besides the ‘normal’ reluctance victims of sexual abuse have about sharing their story, let alone report it to the police, we are confronted with a prevailing tide of opinion that ritual organized abuse does not exist. On top of that, the National Team of Experts on Extraordinary Cases of Sexual Abuse, the LEBZ, stated on the police website, that their main objective is to identify false accusations of sexual abuse, and to protect wrongfully accused people from prosecution. It also states that ‘neither in The Netherlands, nor anywhere else in the world, any evidence of ritual abuse has ever been found’. If people do report sexual abuse with ‘ritual characteristics’, it was prescribed by law until 2017 that these police reports should be referred to the LEBZ in the early stages of an investigation. Nowadays, it is still assumed that that is the way it works. Although it is not prescribed anymore, many people think it is and are reluctant to file a report. Although the journalists of Argos did a lot of effort to get some answers from the LEBZ on their questions, about their main objective and their so-called objective approach to this kind of reports, while the formation of the research psychologists (part of the LEBZ) have an excessively preference for the socio-cognitive model for developing DID, their official answers remain unsatisfactory. Terlingen en Jaspers also wanted to ask them their opinion about the overlay they found between the stories of the victims, for example the location of the abuse. They are still waiting on a substantive response.
What do the international experts say about the existence of ritual organised abuse and what is needed to take this kind of severe abuse serious in health care, politics and in the police-system?
In 2014, Franziska Schubiger, chief research at the Kantonspolizei in Zurich, did research on improving truth finding with complex traumatised victims of sexual abuse. She focused on victims of Ritual Abuse who had developed a Dissociative Identity Disorder. In the documentary of Argos, she stated that it is important for the police to be open for the knowledge of trauma-experts. A police detective wants to know as much as details as possible about the crimes which are conducted. And when they take the report and ask questions to obtain detailed information, they unintentionally trigger the victim, who starts to dissociate. Victims are often not able to tell what exactly happened. The police detective needs to know that is part of the disorder (and not a sign that the person or his/her statement is unreliable) and has to try to create a safe environment, with some adjustments. And even then, sometimes it is not possible for a victim to meet the requirements.
Johannes Willem Rörig, in 2011 appointed German national commissioner for child abuse, has no doubts about the existence of ritual, organized abuse. He had several conversations with victims of sexual abuse with organized ritual features. As a representative of the German government, he wants to make clear that they are doing their best to support research and keep it on the political agenda.
Claudia Fischer, a German journalist, is the founder and the coordinator of the Infoportal Rituelle Gewalt. She thinks it is very important that journalists investigate this subject and give attention, because they are able to bring all perspectives together, for example the psychological consequences for the victims and the criminal evidence. She gives a few examples about sexual abuse and murders with ritual features, which are documented in the Infoportal (www.infoportal-rg.de/). She also gives some explanations given why it is so difficult to get the accused convicted. For example, the international structures of the networks and poor cooperation between different countries, even between different regions in one country, make it difficult to get the right information at the proper places.
Suzanne Nick, a clinical psychologist and researcher from the university-clinic of Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, treats for almost 20 years with victims of extreme violence. She conducted research on the experiences of professional therapists who work with victims of organized ritual abuse. One of the important conclusions of her studies is that therapists find it very hard to deal with the on-going threat and feel themselves unable to help their clients get safe (Nick et al., 2019).
Michael Salter, an Australian criminologist at the University of New South Wales, is an expert on criminal networks and sexual child abuse. He differentiates between three kinds of organized sexual abuse: 1) Within the family, where children are exploited by (one of the) parents; 2) within communities who are focussing on vulnerable children, for example which are in foster care; and 3) within institutions where custody is taken over and children are exploited. Research shows that one of three victims of these kinds of organized abuse reports ritual features. Salter states that he saw the evidence of ritual abuse at different crime scenes (https://www.organisedabuse.com/).
Follow-up on the radio broadcasts
So, internationally and especially in our neighbour-county Germany, there is a very different point of view regarding the existence of organised ritual abuse, the credibility of the survivors, and the role of the therapists. Unfortunately, since Terlingen and Jaspers are investigating ritual organised abuse, history is repeated, at some level. The editor-in-chief Argos, Harry Lensink, states in the documentary, that he received an email of Peter van Koppen, professor of Law and Psychology (and member of the LEBZ, 1999-2005): “Van Koppen warned me. I’ll read what he wrote me: ‘Within the scientific society, the widely held consensus is that therapy related to trauma imposes upon clients, usually women, a made-up, non-existent past as well as brand-new issues. An important part of those new problems is made up of the battlefield that’s created within families. That’s because an important part of many of those therapies is to file a police report against the alleged perpetrator. A renewed interest in repressed memories can as such be very harmful to public health’.”
Two interesting assumptions are not consistent with the experience of many psychologists who work with these survivors, including myself. First of all, a group of survivors report they are still being abused and exploited. So, it is not (only) about “repressed” memories. The other mistaken assumption is that filing a police report is an important part of the therapy. The amount of people who filled in the survey and did not filed a report is much bigger than those who did file a report. And the amount of reports filed about sexual abuse with ritual features is very small, only three the last seven years, LEBZ stated. So this assumption does not match in practice.
Since the documentary of Argos was broadcasted, a lot of things have happened. The LEBZ has removed their main objective, i.e., to identify false accusations of sexual abuse, and to protect wrongfully accused people from prosecution from their website. Different forms of media (newspapers, social media) have given attention to this subject. The patient advocacy association for DID (Caleidoscoop), the Expertise-centre about Transgenerational Organised Abuse, and several psychotherapists who work with survivors demanded attention for this subject. A few politicians asked the Minister of Justice and Security questions. Furthermore, there has been a political voting in the House of Representatives about two subjects. First, a proposal was made about conducting research about organised sadistic sexual abuse of children. Second, there was a proposal about conducting independent research at the LEBZ, their scientific substantiation and their vision, their role and their task perception, the official and unofficial goals, their methods, and the results of the past years. Both were adopted unanimously.
A difficult and risky development right now for keeping the subject on the Dutch agenda, in a serious way, is the upcoming attention in (social) media about conspiracy theories in which it is suggested that organized abuse with ritual elements is happening in a worldwide network with high-ranking persons. All kinds of issues are added up, and this important subject can get lost in the overkill of extreme statements, over-emotional reactions and, as a reaction on this, scepsis.
It is too soon to conclude whether or not I made the right choice to speak up as a psychotherapist, in order to help getting this difficult and charged issue to a next level (understanding, taking it serious, doing research and finding justice). But I am glad the subject is on the agenda again and will be, because too many people are speaking up right now to ignore the presence of this horrible way of abusing and exploiting people.
(1) Christel Kraaij is a Dutch clinical psychologist-psychotherapist, who works for more than a decade with severe traumatized adults in trauma-specialized centres, departments of several mental health institutions. She is specialized in the treatment of DID and, in particular, adults who report having dealt with or are still dealing with [How about?: having experienced or are still experiencing (“dealt with” is rather ambiguous)]organized abuse with ritual elements. Besides treating survivors, she gives lectures and offers supervision about DID treatment and the effects of suffering from organized ritual abuse (Kraaij & Van der Knoop, 2017). Contact address: email@example.com
(2) This documentary aired on Dutch national radio (NPO Radio 1) on June 27, 2020. Original title: Glasscherven en duistere rituelen. https://www.vpro.nl/argos/lees/nieuws/2020/glass-shards-and-dark-rituals-english-transcript-.html
Boon. S. (2014). The treatment of clients reporting (ritual) abuse by organised perpetrator networks: A reflection on nearly 30 years of experience and in private practice. ESTD Newsletter, 3(6), 4-12.
Kraaij, C. & Van der Knoop, A. (2017). Ritueel misbruik en mind control als onderdeel van het levensverhaal van de patiënte Een dilemma in psychotherapie [xxx]. Psyche & Geloof, 28(4), 171-183.
Nick, S., Schröder, J., Briken, P. & Richter-Appelt, H. (2019). Organisierte und Rituelle Gewalt in Deutschland: Praxiserfahrungen, Belastungen und Bedarfe von psychosozialen Fachkräften. Trauma und Gewalt, 13, 114-127.