Ritual Abuse

Most abuse is ritualised in some way and generally people accept that children can be subjected to a range of terrifying and repetitive abusive experiences. One definition of ritual abuse is when one or more children are abused in a highly organised way, by a group of people who have come together and subscribe to a belief system which, for them, justifies their actions towards that child. This usually extends into family involvement and may have been practised as a religion or a way of life for years. Although survivors speak of differing experiences, many elements are common :

  • Elaborate rituals, “games” set ups and “ceremonies”.

  • Systematic emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

  • Being used in child pornography and prostitution.

  • Being forced to take drugs and alcohol.

  • Being tortured almost to the point of death.

  • Being forced to participate in the abuse of others.


If you are a Survivor of Ritual Abuse you may feel

TRAPPED - you may feel that you cannot escape. Although it can be difficult to get away from such abuse, it can be done. Many survivors have successfully escaped and lead normal lives.

FEAR – that you or someone else may be killed, that you may be re-involved, fear of talking, of reprisals, fear that they have power over you, loneliness, disbelief etc. These fears are understandable and are based on past or present experiences. It is possible to overcome this though it takes time and courage.

DISTRUST – you may feel that you can trust no-one at all. This is completely reasonable given that you have never had someone trustworthy in your life. Trust has to be earned by people and in time you may feel that someone has earned it enough to be trusted a little.

If you are Supporting a Survivor of Ritual Abuse

BELIEVE -why would s/he lie? Only two parties know what happened, the abusers and the survivors. Survivors must be allowed to tell and be believed. Believe what s/he is saying even although you may find it difficult especially as the memories s/he is telling may, at first, be fragmented and confusing.

LISTEN – to what she has to say and let her take her time, it will not be easy for her to start talking about events that she has kept silent about for a long time. It may be difficult for her to begin to feel trust in you or safe enough to talk to you.

RESPECT – both her/his feelings and decisions. Remember s/he has their own coping mechanisms which have helped him/her survive the abuse. These may still be needed by him/her.

REMEMBER – it is not his/her fault. No-one asks to be abused and s/he cannot be blamed for any part of it. S/he cannot be blamed for participating in an act that s/he did not understand, was forced into, or in which s/he had no choices that weren’t abusive. The blame lies only with the abusers.

RECOGNISE – the courage it takes for a survivor to speak must be recognised. It takes a great deal of courage to face fears and also to talk about the abuse particularly in a climate of disbelief. You must recognise that this abuse does really happen.

What about my Feelings?

You may feel shocked, horrified, upset, sick etc. by what you are hearing. The feelings you are experiencing are justified, but may add to the upset for the survivor. She may feel responsible for upsetting you and you must remember that you are hearing this but s/he has lived through it and survived. It is important to seek support for yourself and further support for her/him if required. You can contact SAFELINE for advice and where to go for help

SAFELINE operates a telephone helpline in the UK – the number is:            0808 800 5005      

It is staffed on Monday and Wednesday and Friday evenings, between 19:00 and 22:00 and on Tuesday and Thursday between 19:30 and 21:30. These times may vary according to holidays etc. There is a 24hr answerphone available for messages.