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A Child is defined as anyone under the age of 18.

Organized & Ritual Abuse (ORA)

Organized abuse is a serious but poorly understood form of sexual violence. Organized abuse involves multiple adults who conspire to sexually abuse one or more children. Organized abuse can include the sexual exchange of children between perpetrators as well as the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material. 

For some victims, organized abuse ceases in childhood, but organized abuse can also continue into adulthood. Many adult victims of organized abuse report that they continue to experience sexual assault and exploitation.

It is relatively common for children and adults in treatment for sexual abuse to disclose organized abuse. In clinical settings, up to one fifth of sexually abused women and children disclose organized abuse when asked. Surveys in Australia, North America and the United Kingdom indicate that between 10% and a third of mental health practitioners have encountered a client disclosing organized abuse.


Ritual Abuse is "abuse that occurs in a context linked to some symbols or group activity that have a religious, magical or supernatural connotation, and where the invocations of these symbols or activities are repeated over time and used to frighten and intimidate the children."  Ritual abuse consists of the brutal physical, sexual, and psychological abuse inflicted on children, adolescents, or adults, and involving the use of rituals.

Ritual abuse is "Repeated, extreme, sadistic abuse, especially of children, within a group setting. The group's ideology is used to justify the abuse, and the abuse is used to teach the group's ideology. The activities are kept secret from society at large, as they violate norms and laws."

 Ritual abuse is a characteristic of particularly abusive groups, and is typically associated with the torture of children and adults and the manufacture of child abuse material. Despite vocal skepticism about the existence of ritual abuse, it has been a feature of high-profile child sexual abuse convictions in the United States and the United Kingdom. Professionals in a range of contexts continue to report encountering child and adult victims of ritual abuse.

Organized abuse victims and survivors typically present with complex trauma, typified by “the core problems of affect dysregulation, structural dissociation, somatic dysregulation, impaired self-development, and disorganized attachment patterns” (Ford and Courtois, 2009: 13). Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a common diagnosis in this group. DID develops in response to early, overwhelming and chaotic traumatization. Survivor testimony suggests that some perpetrator groups may encourage or induce the development of dissociative responses in child victims in order to inhibit disclosure and ensure their compliance during sexual exploitation.

Ritual abuse usually involves repeated abuse over an extended period of time. The physical abuse is severe, sometimes including torture and killing. The sexual abuse is usually painful, sadistic and humiliating, intended as a means of gaining dominance over the victim. The psychological abuse is devastating and involves the use of ritual indoctrination. It includes mind control techniques which convey to the victim a profound terror of the cult members and of evil spirits they believe cult members can command. Both during and after the abuse most victims are in a state of terror mind control and dissociation. (ASCA, 2002).


Survivors of ritual abuse may give varying descriptions of their experiences. However, a number of factors generally feature across accounts including:

  • The abuse includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse

  • The abuse constitutes a range of criminal acts

  • It is systematic, can be ceremonial and often occurs within a group setting (usually more than one perpetrator at a time, but not always)

  • Like all abuse, ritual abuse is about power and control, but is designed to more expressly meet the needs of a group, with the specific purpose of indoctrination into that group’s belief system or ideology

  • Mind control techniques or programming plays a significant part in keeping group members faithful to the group and its needs. Much of this programming is about engendering a sense of terror within group members, so that they will not leave the group or expose the group’s criminal practices to outsiders.


Survivors’ accounts of their experiences of ritual abuse also include attempts to clearly distinguish this kind of abuse from other kinds of abuse they may have experienced. For example, in Sara Scott’s book, The politics and experience of ritual abuse: beyond disbelief (2001, p.62-80), women survivors of childhood abuse, including ritual abuse, clearly distinguished between their experiences of more “regular” forms of familial abuse, and their experiences of abusive cult ritual, prostitution and child pornography. However, all of these women’s accounts illustrated that the different kinds of abuse and exploitation they survived were interconnected within a culture where the abuse of women and children is normalized – a daily reality.


Survivors have also questioned the fact that the term ritual abuse has become too broadly applied. For many survivors ritual abuse, where a belief system or ideology plays a key role in abusive ritual, must not be confused with “ritualistic abuse” –abuse which is perpetrated in a habitualized manner, such as the sexual abuse of a child perpetrated on a daily basis.


The term and practice of ritual abuse has also been closely linked with other categories and practices of abuse, including: –

a) “organized abuse”, which refers to the abuse and exploitation of children through organized crime (prostitution and pornography) and pedophile rings;

b) institutional abuse, which refers to the abuse of persons within political and social institutions, such as within schools, orphanages and mental health facilities etc.;

c) “organized, sadistic abuse” which is often used as an umbrella term across these kinds of abuse, wherein ritual abuse features as a more extreme example.


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