Dominion Sunday Times
Wellington, New Zealand.

Sunday, September 01, 1991.

Satanic curses
by Jenny Long

Police and counsellors are finding evidence of ritual abuse in New Zealand. Jenny Long reports

A naked child is tied to the altar. The high priest wears purple, the devil is robed in red.

Men and women in black cloaks chant as they circle the child.

The circle of worshippers moves forward and hands are put all over and in the child's body.

Sometimes the cameras will click for the pornographic photographs which are finding their way to overseas magazines.

SENIOR Sergeant Laurie Gabites, of Upper Hutt police, says he knows of a satanic cult in his area, and other cults in other parts of New Zealand.

Evidence has come from former members, and others who have passed on information which the police accept as genuine, Mr Gabites says.

While the cults themselves are not illegal, the child abuse clearly is.

Wellington counsellors Jocelyn Frances and Ann-Marie Stapp say they have been horrified by descriptions of ritual abuse given by survivors.

A natural reaction is to refuse to believe it exists, because it's so horrific.

"But then we hear from another survivor, and you have to keep on working to find out more so people can be made aware that it is happening," Ms Stapp says.

The two counsellors are members of Ritual Action Group, formed earlier this year.

They describe the group as a loose network of people who see the need to raise awareness of ritual abuse in New Zealand.

Ms Frances and Ms Stapp agreed to begin the research, sponsored by the Family Violence Prevention Co-ordinating Committee. They called, through groups of sexual abuse survivors and women's groups for survivors of ritual abuse to contact them.

Ms Stapp and Ms Frances, who are trained social workers, are giving a workshop about their research at a Christchurch conference next week.

They have so far talked in depth with three survivors of ritual abuse and several more have contacted them and want to talk. Ms Frances and Ms Stapp use the word survivor rather than victim, saying it is much more positive.

The ritual abuse seems "very middle class", Ms Frances says. "We're not talking about smutty men in dirty overcoats here."

One survivor says the group she was in included her father as well as a lawyer and the family doctor.

Another survivor reports the abuse of three generations, giving no one the chance to escape.

All accounts talk of the sophisticated mind-control, and such abuse of body and mind that by the age of six the child is controlled by the cult.

The mind-control compels ritual abuse victims to keep the secret of their abuse, and of course most children believe that what is happening to them is simply the norm for all children. Ms Stapp says. Sometimes both the child's parents were cult members, sometimes just one.

Ms Frances says, as with all sexual abuse, the main aim of the perpetrators is to get power over another person.

For the cults, the spin-offs are the "big money making businesses" of child pornography, prostitution or shop-lifting.

Evidence is coming from those being counselled. Often, they had sought the counselling for other problems, such as alcohol and drug abuse. During counselling, they recall the ritual abuse.

Mitchell Whitman, an American counsellor who has just finished six seminars in New Zealand, says he has been contacted by several victims of ritual abuse while here.

One woman came up to him after the seminar, so pleased that someone was talking openly about it.

"It's very important to believe witnesses and acknowledge the abuse exists, because it is only then we will find out its true extent," Mr Whitman says.

The woman, very frightened, said she had been drugged and manipulated by her husband she did not find out till after her marriage her husband was a cult group member.

She divorced and then found out something of what had been done to her son.

Mr Whitman said the son reported having been urinated on, and made to eat feces, as well as being sexually and physically abused.

Mr Whitman said he "found them "credible witnesses, but very frightened. It was the first time they had told anyone about the abuse".

Mr Whitman, whose visit here was sponsored by Youth With a Mission, works as a counsellor in the United States and Canada. He says it has been accepted for some time that ritual abuse existed in those countries.

The definition of ritual abuse adopted by the counsellors is: Physical, sexual and psychological abuse that is systematic, ceremonial and public."

Ms Frances says "anywhere ritual exists, there is potential for abuse".

Counsellors cite the church and masonic lodges as places with well-defined rituals but stress this does not mean they are taking part in ritualistic abuse.

Counsellors and police all draw parallels between the way society many years ago did not accept the existence of child sexual abuse, and how it is now widely recognised and acknowledged.

Social Welfare Department senior advisory officer Anne Caton says overseas speakers tell of how they thought they were used to dealing with the complexities of sexual abuse, but ritual abuse is so much harder.

"Part of the process seems to be the creating of a lot of confusion in a child's mind. The process is all shrouded with mystery and that's a part of its nature."

ONE staff member in the past year had said informally she was dealing with an adult who had come forward after being sexually abused as a child. With the new awareness, it seemed that what she described may have been what we now call ritual abuse, Ms Caton said.

Overseas cases which have been prominently reported in New Zealand include a New Zealand born Scottish minister who was accused this year of involving children and families in ritual abuse, in the Orkney Isles. The case was dismissed by the court, but the British Government has announced an inquiry into satanic or ritual abuse of children.

Mr Whitman finds many similarities between Canada and the United States (where there are documented cases) and, he says, "it would be shortsighted to think it did not exist here".

New Zealand pastors, counsellors and psychiatric nurses at seminars had all told him they had seen evidence of it here.

Mr Gabites says while the cults may not involve many people, "we need to stop even one child being abused in this way".

Mr Gabites had a study tour to the United States last year, looking at how the police respond to child sexual abuse, and ritual abuse was part of that.

In pornographic magazines there, he was shown photographs of children, some of which had been sourced to New Zealand.

Possession of child pornographic magazines here is not illegal, but speaking personally, Mr Gabites would like to see it outlawed.

That way, it would be easier to pick up the people with the magazines, and to try to identify the victims from their photographs.

This would give police another avenue for identification of victims, so they could be helped. "Generally the only way we get information at the moment is if the victims themselves come forward, and that puts them through another ordeal." There are levels of involvement in the cults, and some teenagers are "dabblers" in ritual abuse. Symptoms may include the wearing of symbols like upturned crosses or pentagrams. Mr Gabites says.

Parents who are concerned or want information about their children should contact the police, social welfare or other agencies to talk, as should other people who have information about involvement in cults, Mr Gabites says.

Illustration: For the cults, the spin-offs are the "big money making businesses" of child pornography, prostitution or shop-lifting.