IN-DEPTH: Survivors Alleging Satanic Ritual Abuse Raise Awareness Amid Media Claims of ‘Panic’

IN-DEPTH: Survivors Alleging Satanic Ritual Abuse Raise Awareness Amid Media Claims of ‘Panic’
Kimberli Koen, a survivor alleging satanic ritual abuse. (Courtesy of Koen)
Sam Dorman
4/17/2023
Updated:
7/17/2023
0:00

Survivors alleging satanic ritual abuse (SRA) and their advocates are continuing a decades-long fight to advance their cases as media companies push a narrative that the type of abuse they allege is largely the creation of a social panic.

Last month, the South by Southwest film festival screened “Satan Wants You,” which “tells the untold story of how the Satanic Panic of the 1980s was ignited,” according to the festival’s website. Echoing years of skeptical news coverage, the description adds that “satanic rumors spread through panic-stricken communities across the world, leaving a wave of destruction and wrongful convictions in their wake.” Other “satanic panic” warnings can be found in recent coverage of cases in Scotland and Utah while the backlash against Sam Smith’s Grammys performance has prompted similar caution.
But for advocates like Cindy Metcalf, the “Satanic Panic” narrative is false and degrades the stories she encounters on a regular basis. In March, Metcalf’s newly formed group Relentless Hope held a meeting in the Salt Lake area for survivors to discuss potential legal options for pursuing allegations involving the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).
Cindy Metcalf, victims' advocate. (Courtesy of Metcalf)
Cindy Metcalf, victims' advocate. (Courtesy of Metcalf)

Joe Ward, who claims to have endured SRA as a child, told The Epoch Times: “Silence is [the perpetrators’] greatest weapon, exposure is how we combat it.” He, along with another self-described survivor, Jeanette Archer, run a Facebook page for survivors and are organizing a July conference in the United Kingdom as part of an effort to challenge SRA doubt. Ward added that “[b]rave victims are finally beginning to speak out all over the world again, and unlike the 70’s & 80’s, this time we refuse to be silenced.”
Kimberli Koen, who claims to have memories of SRA in an LDS context, also held an event at the University of Utah on Jan. 11. Dubbed the Restoring Freedom Summit, Koen’s conference focused on educating mental health professionals SRA while featuring discussions from therapists in the field. Last month, a Catholic exorcist, Fr. Chad Ripperger, similarly held a conference for educating mental health professionals on topics including SRA, which he says he’s come across during exorcism sessions.
While ritual abuse accusations cross denominations, recent events have drawn attention to the LDS church and Utah more specifically. Metcalf’s meeting came on the same day a Utah court approved bail for David Lee Hamblin, a former psychologist whom the Utah County Sheriff’s Office (UCSO) says was the target of a child abuse allegation corroborated by two witnesses.

“We’d like people to understand that these kinds of cases do happen, that ritualistic abuse does occur,” Sgt. Spencer Cannon, who serves as public information officer for the UCSO, told The Epoch Times. Cannon said UCSO would prefer Hamblin stay incarcerated but would “comply with the orders of the court.”

Last Fall, the UCSO accused Hamblin of ritualistic abuse while omitting a satanic aspect due to the nature of that specific incident. But victim statements from Utah’s Provo Police Department appear to show Hamblin’s own family members accusing him of systematic child sexual exploitation—including pornography, molestation, and prostitution—that spanned decades, included prominent members of the LDS community, and featured satanic rituals.

One of the alleged perpetrators was former Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, who has denied allegations he engaged in cannibalism and other horrific acts. The Church of Satan, which is named throughout the victim statements, also told Lifesite News it categorically opposed child abuse and that their records didn’t show Hamblin being a member.
The Utah County Sheriff's Office in Spanish Fork, Utah is investigating reports of "ritualistic child sexual abuse" in three counties spanning the years 1990 to 2010. More than 120 victims and witnesses who know of victims have come forward since the investigation began in April 2021. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
The Utah County Sheriff's Office in Spanish Fork, Utah is investigating reports of "ritualistic child sexual abuse" in three counties spanning the years 1990 to 2010. More than 120 victims and witnesses who know of victims have come forward since the investigation began in April 2021. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

A Satanic ‘Panic’? 

SRA testimonies often feature fantastical elements such as MK-Ultra programming at military bases, satanic ceremonies at Masonic temples, being prostituted to prominent politicians, and developing psychic or paranormal abilities. Others’ claims are more limited to, for example, local covens but include similar descriptions of child abuse and occult rituals.

The allegations are so severe that even survivors will acknowledge they are hard to believe. Nonetheless, victims’ testimonies often feature the same—sometimes obscure—perpetrators, tactics for abuse, and locations; as was the case with the hundreds of pages of victim statements naming Hamblin and others.

Alleged victims say that for years, they have encountered doubts and outright gaslighting over their own abuse. The doubts reach beyond local communities and into national media outlets, which blanket individual testimonies with warnings of a “satanic panic”—a purported social delusion that somehow fabricates memories on a society-wide level.

Annie Fukushima, who leads the gender-based violence consortium at the University of Utah and authored a book about migrant trafficking, told The Epoch Times: “Sort of turning [this] into a myth is very common when we talk about all forms of violence.”

“People say that about sexual violence,” added Fukushima, who helped host the Restoring Freedom Summit. “They say that about general forms of human trafficking. And I think that because something hasn’t happened to us in particular … a person hasn’t experienced something directly, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened to somebody else.”

After the UCSO requested tips on ritual abuse last May, media outlets followed by suggesting the whole episode was a form of hysteria in line with the “Q-Anon” conspiracy theory.

Cannon said he was “disappointed” in some of the coverage. He told The Epoch Times that “to say that this is hysteria and that it’s conspiracy-based—I find that at least mildly offensive that we have victims who come forward and they get the courage up to disclose something that happened to them.”

Since Cannon’s office requested tips in May, authorities have reportedly received at least around 150. The total number of SRA victims, however, is notoriously difficult to gauge as survivors and their therapists claim to encounter both intimidation for coming forward, as well as trauma so severe that it creates amnesic barriers to accessing that part of victims’ stories. It’s questionable whether researchers will ever reach a close estimate, but reporting from those who interact with alleged victims has offered limited insight into the problem’s scope.

The University of California, Davis tried studying the issue by surveying various entities that interact with victims. In 1995, it published a study (pdf) identifying 412 alleged ritual abuse cases reported from municipal law enforcement agencies, departments of social services, and district attorneys. Researchers surveyed clinicians and social workers, finding 387 child ritual cases and 674 for adult survivors.

Former FBI agent Ted Gunderson has been derided as a conspiracy theorist after giving speeches in which he alleged, among other things, widespread satanic abuse. Critical perspectives, like that of former FBI agent Kenneth Lanning, have noted a broader lack of evidence for the type of widespread, interconnected abuse often alleged by people claiming to be victims. For example, the UC Davis study concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to prove thousands of ritual abuse cases. The authors similarly said there was insufficient evidence of organized satanic networks abusing children.

Nevertheless, the authors noted the existence of physical evidence such as “tattoos, drawings, scars on a child’s or adult’s body, film, photos, ritual dolls, masks, costumes, etc.” Those types of details, along with accusations of similar abuse and locations, are the ones that victims and their therapists cite when discussing SRA allegations. The issue was apparently substantial enough for the Justice Department to promote two documents with information on the topic as well—a “Satanic Cult Awareness” guide and “Investigators’ Guide to Allegations of Ritual Child Abuse

Metcalf, the advocate, told The Epoch Times that her clients have named some of the same locations and perpetrators within the state. About 35 percent of her cases, she said after five years of working with victims, have involved victims being taken to military bases. As with the Provo, Utah, victim statements, Metcalf’s victims tell stories of specifically satanic abuse. According to her, they reference invocations of demonic entities like Molech, Baal, Satan, or Lucifer.

When asked about allegations that victims were fabricating stories of abuse, Metcalf said: “I have talked to people all across America that this has happened to— they don’t know each other, they don’t communicate with each other, but they tell me the exact same things. Right down to the robes, to the candles, to the cannibalism, drinking the blood.”

She noted that stories typically involve memories of similar rituals, including resurrection ceremonies, “marriages” to Satan as Koen noted at her summit, and mock baptisms.

Abusive rituals aren’t just symbolic either—at least according to Fr. Ripperger, an exorcist who discusses SRA in his book released last year on spiritual warfare. In an email to The Epoch Times, Ripperger’s case manager Kyle Clement claimed that during exorcisms, victims will manifest demons who, speaking through the victim, will identify the ritual whereby they entered a victim. Victims who allegedly endured rituals have told The Epoch Times of demonic entrance through rituals as well.

Clement noted alleged similarities in SRA in different parts of the world. Although there appear to be separate sects of satanism and occult practice, Clement argues that there are universal aspects reported by victims.

“In the same way that the Catholic Church is universal, there are universal aspects to satanism … the continuity of what a rural satanic ritualistic abuse case in Honduras says matches exactly with what an affluent New York City satanic ritualistic abuse case—they’re describing precisely the same rituals and rites and activities,” he said.

The History of SRA in Utah

Debate over a “panic” stretches back decades as have SRA allegations in both Utah and other parts of the world.
Within the LDS community, a memo leaked in 1991 showing Bishop Glen Pace claiming that he met with 60 victims—45 of which claimed to have witnessed or participated in human sacrifice. “[W]hen sixty witnesses testify to the same type of torture and murder, it becomes impossible for me, personally, not to believe them,” Pace wrote.
The memo appears to lend credence to SRA’s existence and the concept of repressed memory, which has been intensely scrutinized by the now-defunct False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF). Elizabeth Loftus, who recently testified for Ghislaine Maxwell’s defense team, served on the board of the FMSF. In 1994, she published “The Myth of Repressed Memory” and has argued that there is scant evidence exists for the concept of repressed memory. Instead, like a relatively recent BBC documentary, she’s emphasized the role of purportedly manipulative therapists or interviewers.

Jared Powell, a Utah-based therapist who spoke at the Restoring Freedom Summit, said that victims may experience distorted memories while processing the lingering effects, such as heightened arousal, of years-old trauma. “Memory isn’t designed to capture things exactly as it happened,” he said. “It’s designed to be adaptive and to help us prepare for whatever sort of risks and dangers surround us.”

Still, Powell says some clients have received some sort of “corroboration” for their memories. The victim statements from the Provo police department contain redactions but appear to come from multiple members of Hamblin’s family corroborating elements of each others’ stories, as well as the idea of a broader satanic ring operating within the LDS community.

Juab County Attorney Ryan Peters, who is prosecuting the most recent case against Hamblin, told this reporter last year that one of Hamblin’s daughters and “any other possible victims” had no “desire to comment or give an interview for this matter or any other.”

Like Powell, Tennessee-based therapist Amy Pfeffer generally scoffs at the idea that alleged victims are making up their abuse. In a statement to The Epoch Times, Pfeffer said: “Within my counseling practice and now my life coaching practice, I have seen anywhere from 30 to 40+ percent of my caseload include some aspect of mind control programming or Satanic ritual abuse. Believe me, these individuals would prefer their personal stories did not include this level of depravity.”

Tennessee-based therapist Amy Pfeffer. (Courtesy of Pfeffer)
Tennessee-based therapist Amy Pfeffer. (Courtesy of Pfeffer)
Richard Mull, who runs a ministry in Florida for SRA victims, told The Epoch Times that he was skeptical about its reality but came to be more certain after treating individuals from across the country. “[E]ven a skeptical care giver like myself would find it hard to not become fully convinced,” Mull told The Epoch Times. “There is no other explanation for these same experiences.”

However limited survivors’ memories may be, they often contain troubling recollections of purported abuse by usually trusted authorities who might be responsible for holding perpetrators accountable. Leavitt, for example, would have presumably been responsible for prosecuting Hamblin had he won his primary election last year.

Metcalf, echoing copious victim testimonies, said in the podcast interview that some “police are actually involved in these rituals. They keep watch, they make sure the wrong people don’t get into the building or to the house.” Troublingly, Bishop Pace also noted in his 1990 memo: “Not only do some of the perpetrators represent a cross section of the Mormon culture, but sometimes the abuse has taken place in our own meetinghouses.”

Clement has also indicated that SRA perpetrators have included Catholic clergy. He told The Epoch Times that victims offer details pointing to specific politicians and clergy.

“Usually, they don’t name names,” he said. “What they’re doing is describing a person to a specificity that you recognize who they are. Oftentimes, they don’t know who they’re talking about … It’s the same with regard to [the] Church but to clergy and to hierarchy. There are priests, bishops, and cardinals involved in satanic ritualistic abuse and satanic worship.”

Hamblin’s accusers go further than Pace in naming a series of alleged figures who were prominent in the LDS community. That includes Leavitt, who, during prior interviews, has acknowledged the existence of ritual abuse and said that Hamblin was his elder’s quorum president.

Alongside Koen in January was her own bishop, Jim Greene, who expressed his belief that SRA existed during an interview with The Epoch Times. “I don’t have a hard time believing that there are people who are serving as bishops that are involved or could be involved,” he said.

He added that “I don’t have any evidence or anything personally that I’ve experienced that says [the church] has not been handling this well.” When asked about the LDS church handled investigations into cases of SRA, he said: “I have seen nothing but compassion and a desire to be transparent.”

Metcalf, meanwhile, has alleged that LDS officials have thwarted and disrespected her victims’ attempts to get answers and justice. She’s currently exploring legal options for pursuing LDS officials and says multiple victims have named some of the same “high-ranking” individuals within the church.

“Based on my experience, the LDS church has not handled these cases well at all—even to the point of threatening victims with removal of endowments, removal of callings … and [removal] financial assistance,” she said. “Victims have been told to remain quiet and told not to speak about what happened to them.”

The LDS church did not respond to multiple requests for comment.