Another problem for survivors can be panic attacks. These are very distressing and often just seem to appear out of the blue. Sometimes they happen during or after flashbacks. Sometimes they happen for no apparent reason that the survivor can think of. A panic attack is very frightening for a person. The heart races and flutters, sweat breaks out, breathing becomes fast and more difficult, the chest becomes tight and painful and there are often intense feelings of extreme terror. Frequently the feelings are so intense that the survivor believes they are about to die.
Because the attacks are so dreadful, the person may try to avoid the place they were in when it happened. Sometimes the panic attacks happen when the survivor leaves the house. This can lead to the person not going to the places they normally would or even stopping going out at all.
Panic attacks may happen when the survivor thinks a particular thought for example the thought of escaping, or sees something that triggers the attack. Ritual abuse survivors may well have been programmed through the abuse and brainwashing to feel terror under certain conditions. The panic attacks make it difficult for the survivor to think clearly and may make it more difficult for the survivor to get help. The panic may also continue to keep a survivor silent and still under the control of the abusers.
There are ways of helping survivors deal with these attacks and the sooner they are tackled, the less chance there is of them developing into a major problem.
Things that can help during panic attacks are:
Be with, and stay with the person to reassure them that they are going to be okay. Keep talking and reassuring throughout the attack.
Remind the person to try to breathe properly. Sometimes breathing into a paper bag can help if the person starts to hyperventilate.
Help them to slowly count while breathing in and out e.g. slowly say, “breathe in, one two, three….breathe out, one, two, three.” Breathe along with the survivor.
Suggest they go to the difficult places with a friend. Even though this will trigger an attack, they will learn that through facing up to it, they can survive it.
Suggest they try self-talking or singing to self when the attack begins. Even counting backwards from one hundred or saying a rhyme or the alphabet has been known to help.
Encourage the survivor to learn relaxation techniques, which can be used during the difficult times.
Encourage the survivor to look closely at their surroundings. E.g. look at the trees, birds, children, the sky, houses, etc. In other words get them to begin to focus outwards of their surroundings rather that inward on self and feelings.
Remind the survivor that they have survived the abuse, they have escaped from the abuse and they can survive and face up to their fears and panic attacks.
Flashbacks are memories. Sometimes, survivors have a strong memory that seems very real to them, like they are actually re-living it. It can be so strong that they thing they are back in the place where it all happened. To them it can be so real that they see it, feel it, taste it and smell it. Often the memory repeats itself over and over again.
Other people can help the survivor by not panicking but just being there. There are many ways of keeping a survivor grounded in the present. Even if someone slips back into nightmare memories, you can help them pull out again. The main thing to remember is that they are not going crazy, they will not be damaged and will pull out of it eventually by themselves.
Ask the survivor, while not in flashback or panic, what the boundaries are with them. i.e. a hug or someone holding a hand might help some people, but is an intrusion if the survivor does not want or need it.
Talk and keep talking. Remind them they are safe. Remind them who you are and where you are. Try to get the survivor to breath slowly and deeply. Try to get focus and listening to you or other things that are around. i.e. radio, taped music, etc. If you can get the survivor to hear you, you can let them know that you weren’t there during the event. By listening to your voice, they can gradually pull away from the memory. Keep your voice quiet, gentle and steady. Keep using the survivors name as you are talking.
After the flashback encourage the survivor to talk about it. It may not be a good idea with some people to talk about it right away, but make an arrangement to talk about it soon. Some people do want and need to talk about it right away. Take your lead from the survivor in this. When talking about it, the flashback may come back. This is normal.
There are a wide range of beliefs and myths regarding ritualised abuse and the survivors of it. If people could only keep a more open mind rather than simply believing what they read in the press or have heard on the grapevine, we might eventually arrive at the more factual information. If we close our minds and dismiss accounts of survivors of anything, we will never know the truth. Even if it turns out that only one person in the world has experienced ritual abuse, in any of its forms, we need to know about it.
Facts and MythsRitual abuse doesn’t happen. The same worldwide disbelief happened when adult survivors of child sexual abuse first spoke out. Many people denied its existence. Survivors have no investment in lying, only abusers do. Many people do not believe survivors, yet more and more come forward and tell of their experiences. There are documented cases from different parts of the world, including cases, which have been proven in the courtroom. It therefore does happen.
Ritual abuse is in some way different from other forms of abuse. All abuse is ritualised and organised to some degree and is based on an abuse of power. While there may be differences in the specifics of any abuse and even in the beliefs of the abusers, ritual abuse is similar to other forms of abuse. It may be more extreme, in some cases, but the effects on survivors are very similar.
Ritual abuse is worse than other forms of abuse. All abuse is horrendous and can have devastating effects on survivors. It is an individual experience and no one can declare any form of abuse better or worse than any other. Abuse is not a comparative nor competitive thing and the effects on each person will be entirely unique to them.
Ritual abuse is everywhere. As with all forms of abuse, ritual abuse crosses all boundaries of race, class, culture, etc. It may not be everywhere, but it can certainly happen anywhere. It is not specific to one type of person.
Ritual abuse happens only in cults. Some does and some does not. Some abusers belong to cults or groups but ritual abuse can also happen within the family setting or an individual basis.
All ritual abuse is generational i.e. it runs in families. As with all kinds of abuse, most adults have choices. It can be that there is a family history of ritual abuse but survivors do get out of it and end the ‘tradition’. Some people choose to abuse in this way without any previous history of involvement in ritual abuse. People can be recruited into ritual abuse either directly because they are interested or vulnerable, or indirectly through pornography or prostitution.
All ritual abuse involves devil worship. Some does, some doesn’t. Abusers will use any excuse and/or tactic to hold and maintain their power over survivors including the use of a belief system. Other belief systems besides Satanism may also be used by abusers to take power over individuals, including Christianity.
Ritual Abuse survivors are taught from an early age that no one will believe them. The fact that this tends to be true re-enforces this.
Survivors are taught not to talk. They are taught that it would be a betrayal. They are taught that talking is a weakness.
Ritual Abuse survivors find talking difficult, as do most survivors. If you add to that the extent of the trauma and how talking about it can cause flashbacks, it sometimes becomes impossible to talk.
Survivors often believe that if they talk, they will die or someone will.
As adults, survivors can appreciate that what they might try to say will be unbelievable. Things may have happened that they know on a rational level just can’t be possible. They may also appreciate that there must have been trickery involved, but not know what it was.
The literal language that many survivors use while trying to talk can make it difficult for others to understand what they are trying to say.
People sometimes don’t ask or persist in asking in the right way. Many survivors need to be asked in a very direct manner.
Many survivors believe that it is pointless to try and talk about abuse.
Loyalty to the family and the group can run very deep.
RA survivors often feel that what happened to them was right. They often feel that they quite literally belong to the group and as such the group had a right to do anything at all to them. In this case, talking about it would not be a consideration for a survivor.
Many RA survivors who have tried to talk have experienced a severe backlash from the abusers.
If people generally, and publicly, do not believe that this type of abuse happens, it is next to impossible to get survivors to talk about it.
Self-injury can be very hard to understand, both for the people who do it and for those who support them. The main thing to realise, and accept about it though, is that it is a way of coping with difficulties. It is not madness, or attention seeking, or a suicide attempt. There are always very powerful reasons why a person chooses to injures self and, self destructive though it may seem to be, self injury is a usually a way of surviving usually in the face of great emotional pain and distress.
The reasons for self-injury are complex and can vary from individual to individual. Self-injury almost always begins in response to painful and difficult experiences in the individual’s life. Sometimes these stem from childhood trauma, though it can also be part of a distress or trauma experienced in adulthood. Often there is no single cause that can be identified for self injury, but it comes from a number of factors combining together in life which increase vulnerability and lead to a need to cope, or express feelings though self injury.
One of the ways that self-injury helps someone cope is by giving them some way, however painful, of dealing with their feelings. Many people who self injure feel unbearable distress, fear and tension. Hurting self can act as a kind of safety valve and bring a sense of great relief, which can help the individual cope better with life.
Self-injury can be about self-blaming and turning anger and frustration inwards. The person may take on all the responsibility for events that have happened in the past and so hurt self in order to punish self. The person often believes that they really deserve to be hurt.
Sometimes self-injury can feel like the only way a survivor can release feelings. The person may feel angry, sad or anguished and yet unable to shout, cry or speak to someone about it. Injuring self can, at the time, be the only means the survivor can think of expressing feelings.
Self-injury can be a way of avoiding dealing with feelings. It can be used as a means of numbing or distracting from the distress the survivor is feeling. Pain is used to distract away from other emotions that the survivor is unable or unwilling to feel or deal with at that time.
Some individuals feel that if they do not release some of the emotional distress through self-injury, then they would commit suicide instead. Therefore in this case self-injury is being used to keep alive.
Self-injury can be a way that an individual takes control over an aspect of his or her own live. This may be the only thing that the survivor has the power to control. Through self-harm the survivor can have some control or power, even if it is only the power and control to inflict wounds on self.
Self-injury can be a way of trying to communicate with others. An individual may need to make the pain visible to self and others. It can serve as a way of proving that the person is hurting and in need of care. The survivor may believe that they have no other means of communication that can be used.
The survivor may use self-injury to express anger or frustration or as a protest about something. The survivor may have no other means of registering protest or releasing feelings.
The survivor may use self-injury because she or he cannot ask for support in any other way. The person may never have learned to ask for support; or comfort, and support may have always been denied. Only through hurting self can the survivor then ask for support – ironically, support is then often denied because people misunderstand what the person is doing.
Self-injury may not, to the outside world, seem like a logical thing to do, yet, for many it serves the very practical purpose of helping the survivor cope with life and keep alive. It has its own logic and serves a function for the individual at the time.
For some people who experience severe trauma or abuse in childhood the only means of survival may be to develop what is sometimes known as Multiple Personality Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder. Society has the unfortunate habit of needing to diagnose, label and add the word ‘disorder’ to things not yet fully understood. In an attempt to move away from the idea that survivors might be disordered or needing treatment, many survivors prefer the term Multiplicity. A simple definition is having two or more personalities in the one body.
Different individuals can experience multiplicity differently. Some may hear voices in their heads, feel day dreamy or have parts of themselves, which deal with different situations that arise in everyday life. They can hold responsible jobs, raise families and cope well.
Some multiples have a lot of personalities. Some can switch between the personalities while having no contact with, or awareness of, them. The personalities may be different, in constant conflict with each other or abusive to each other, or to the body.
Multiples have the same problems associated with childhood abuse as anyone else. These problems may include feelings of isolation, guilt, shame, fear, anger, betrayal and powerlessness.
Most multiples continue to cope well throughout life and are creative and successful people. It is only when problems arise that there is a need to seek help. Often it is not the multiplicity itself, which is the problem, though sometimes this is seized on and a course of intervention designed to ‘cure’ the individual and integrate them into one whole person is pursued. This may be what is wanted by some, but certainly not all. More frequently, if the problem is associated with being a multiple i.e. time and memory losses or internal conflict, there becomes a need for the multiple to understand themselves better. Whatever the problem, each person needs to be treated as the highly complex and unique individual they are.
Self-injury is not a sign of deep disturbance or madness. It is a sign of distress and of someone trying to cope with life despite great emotional pain. Many people who self injure lead successful lives and have careers and families.
Self-injury is not a failed suicide attempt. It is a way of coping with life, not dying. Injuries are seldom life threatening. An individual may want to kill the feelings – not self. It can be a way of surviving through life.
Someone who self injures is not a danger to others. Self-injuring is directed at self not at others. Most people who self injure would never consider hurting someone else, only themselves.
It is not attention seeking and should not be ignored. Everyone needs and deserves attention. For some, self-injury is a desperate attempt to draw attention to what is wrong and they should have attention paid to their distress and its causes.
Many people who self injure hide their injuries from others. Self-injury has far more to do with coping than with seeking attention.
The attention that self-injury draws is usually very negative and further hurtful for the person. Seldom does it lead to helping an individual feel better about self or relieving the distress that caused it.
Self-injury is not usually done to manipulate others. By far the most important motivation is that it helps an individual cope. It is about self – not about the effects of it on others.
Self-injury is not an addiction or habit, which should be stopped. A person hurts self because of distress and it may be a coping mechanism, which has been habitually used, but it is not the behaviour, which is the problem but the pain and distress that gives rise to it. If the person is stopped she or he may develop a different coping strategy or hide what is going on.
People who self-injury do not enjoy the pain and do feel it. Some feel nothing at the time of injuring but later suffer from the wounds or burns. They may feel that they deserve pain or it may help them cope with a deeper emotional pain but they do not enjoy it.
People generally use the word ‘ritual’ quite liberally when talking about ritual abuse but as survivors are usually reluctant to go into any specific detail about what this actually means, many people are left with a very vague sense of what occurs. To begin to try and understand some of the things that go on during rituals, it is easiest to begin by thinking of an established and acceptable religion.
Many different religions of the world have their own particular trappings, symbols, language and set routines or rituals that they carry out at regular prescribed times, places and in a particularly revered manner. They have their hierarchy, ordained ministers of the faith and followers or worshippers. They employ methods of teaching the faith to the children from a relatively young age and often have particular levels of attainment, initiation and acceptance into the faith. These things are part of the worship and reverence of the people involved in the faith and as such are extremely important and powerful to them. These religions are mostly harmless to people and for many help them live a fulfilled and meaningful life.
Secret religions and groups that survivors talk about, often behave in exactly the same manner as legitimate churches, to a point. Many things described in catholic worship and other religions are done to some degree in cults and satanic worship. The big difference is that some of the secret religions are extremely abusive of some people during the worship, are praying to a different god and the rituals are designed to control and terrify victims. Many of the abusers claim to be believers in their faith and intent on worshipping their own deity in their own way, but groups which incorporate abuse as part of their worship will not do so openly as to do so, would, quite rightly, lead to prosecution in this and most other countries of the world.
Because the activities carried out during abusive satanic rituals are illegal, the places used are varied. The groups very carefully choose the places they meet in and then prepare the place for the rituals. Often the floor area to be used is covered with a large sheet of tarpaulin. The tarpaulin usually has the symbols used by the group painted or printed on it, and its main purpose is to prevent any evidence of the abuse from being left behind. Most groups have a tarpaulin, which is kept specifically for this purpose and it is often stored in places such as farm buildings or warehouses where it would not be seen to be out of place.
Before and more frequently during the rituals, symbols may be drawn in blood or other body fluids on the tarpaulin, on the walls or onto some individuals.
In addition, associated group symbols are drawn or hung on the walls, candles are set out at various points in the space being used and an altar is set up. The altar is frequently person sized and sometimes initially covered by an ornate altar cloth. Sometimes the various items to be used during the ceremony (knife, dagger, chalice, bowls, etc) are placed carefully on this altar. Often they are covered or wrapped in cloth or skin until the rituals begin.
From the perspective of most survivors, they are not usually involved in these particular preparations, unless they are being trained to perform rituals. Instead, for weeks before the ceremony, any survivors who have to take part are being prepared for what is to happen during the ritual. This, in reality, means that the abusers often take the survivor through their part in the proceedings to come over and over again until they are certain that the survivor will perform their part properly. This usually involves taking part in forced sexual activity of some kind, responding to the abusers demands in a multitude of different ways, both physical and sexual violence, and behaving exactly in the way that the abusers have decreed they must.
Often, the events organised by groups last for several days and on some occasions for weeks.
All survivors report that they are thoroughly cleaned and scrubbed before entering the proceedings and the cleansing is very abusive and intrusive. Often the cleaning includes inner cleansing such as making sure that the stomach and bowels are empty. The survivor may be told that this cleansing is essential so that their impurities do not tarnish the ritual, but it is probably more to do with making sure that survivors are not able to vomit etc, during the ritual.
Sometimes, at the beginning of the event, the survivor is dressed in a robe. Nothing is worn underneath. Survivors report the abusers’ reading from the group ‘Bible’, chanting, swaying and dancing themselves into frenzy. Often, the participants of the event, i.e. the abusers, stand in a close semi-circle round the altar and often survivors talk about being placed on the altar where they are then abused, firstly by those people who are officiating, and then by all group members.
Survivors talk about the different colours worn by abusers and survivors to indicate their status. Through the colours worn, everyone knows at a glance which position is held and where everyone is in the pecking order.
There is a large difference apparent in any group ritual between those with the power, who are there to enjoy themselves in their so-called worship, and those other people without any power who become the objects to be used and abused by the group. Though all may belong to the same group, equality simply does not exist in this kind of setting. Some people are members because they have chosen to be, other people belong because the group has chosen it to be that way for them and they have no choice in this.
During rituals, some groups, in addition to worshiping their particular god, carry out rituals designed to curse others or raise demons or even the devil himself. These rituals can be very frightening. There are often many minor and major demons that these people, or at least the ones who practise the magic amongst them, believe in and believe they can raise and control.
Though many survivors claim to have witnessed these ‘other world’ creatures appearing out of Hell on the command of some group members, extremes of fear and pain, dissociation and mind-altering drugs probably help them to appear to the survivor. Groups also ‘persuade’ some people that they have been possessed or are in fact representatives of these and other demons. The group, to assist the belief in these creatures, will give some survivors the names of the demons.
People are always demanding evidence of the existence of ritual abuse so that they can believe more readily that it happens or deny its existence more rigorously. Unfortunately, the abusers do not usually proof lying about for others to find. They do not want the world to know what they are doing and therefore do their best to carefully dispose of evidence.
There are many reasons for ritual abuse survivors of all ages becoming or being involved in prostitution. Though society often judges people who are involved in prostitution harshly and considers them to be making an active choice in what they are doing, this is not always the case. In fact, it is rare for survivors of ritual abuse (and other forms of abuse) to have any choice at all in this matter. It is very naive to assume that people who are selling sex have choices. The subject is far more complex than to be simply about people making choices.
For example, many adults who work in prostitution have reported being sexually abused as children. This can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, a lack of ability to say no to others, a disregard for their own feelings and even the belief that they are only there to be used sexually by others. Some people even come to the conclusion that what was taken from them in the past can now be paid for and do not regard sex as anything other than a means to an end.
In any case of child prostitution, the adult who pays for her or his services is always abusing the child. The child is not a prostitute and the actions of the child cannot be regarded as criminal. The child cannot be held responsible for the actions or inactions of adults and should always be provided with support and help rather than condemned by any system. In this case, the child is not a criminal, the involved adult is.
ChoosingSome survivors ‘choose’ to sell sex as a way of getting the money or goods they need to survive. Choices are often very limited for some people, in particular for some survivors of ritual abuse. Sometimes, when a survivor escapes from the abuse, they have a great deal of difficulty at first in getting somewhere safe to stay, money and enough food to survive. This difficulty can be compounded by the fear the survivor has of being found by the group and taken back. This fear is a very realistic fear and can make a survivor feel quite desperate. A survivor in this state of desperation is easy prey for pimps and other such people.
Similarly, some survivors in need of accommodation are often very grateful to men (or more rarely women) who pick them up on the street and offer them a roof over their head in return for sexual services. This can be the start of being used more widely in prostitution and can be a difficult situation to get out of. The pimp makes it very difficult for his ‘victim’ to ever be in the position of leaving. After all, the pimp can make a great deal of money out of selling a person for sexual purposes.
Though sometimes the survivor can get welfare benefits, this takes time and also the knowledge of, and information about, any entitlement to benefits. Welfare benefits take time to apply for and time to process. Meanwhile, the person has to find a way to survive. Some survivors may be able to get paid work but again, this can take some time to organise. Some survivors have little choice but to sell the only thing they have, for a while. For some survivors, the fact that they are ‘choosing’ rather than being overtly abused means that they can feel slightly better about themselves and their circumstance.
For those survivors who are attempting to change their identity and/or have never been registered at birth, there is a further difficulty in getting benefits or starting to work. Everyone needs to have identity papers and numbers these days for everything. Survivors fleeing from ritual abuse seldom have such identity papers with them. Some survivors or ritual abuse have no legal identity as they have never been registered anywhere. The time it takes to sort out getting proof of identity can be extremely distressing for survivors but without the right bits of paper and numbers, they can access very little in the way of benefits, healthcare, housing, education or anything else. Some survivors would never know where to even start with this.
Prostitution is a quick and relatively easy way to survive when there are so few other choices. There are always lots of people, mostly men, who are prepared to pay for sex. Prostitution is however, a dangerous way to survive and few survivors would wish to continue surviving in this way. It is not a real choice at all for the survivors who go into it.
Being TrappedSome survivors get into relationships with people who are seeking vulnerable people to abuse. They fall in love, believe that the person loves them in return and through a process of careful grooming at the hands of the abuser, end up trapped in a situation of being prostituted.
The abuser is at first loving towards them but in time changes and begins to manipulate the survivor into doing whatever the abuser wants. Often the survivor becomes so desperate to please the abuser that they will do almost anything for them. Because the demands of the abuser over time become more and more extreme and the punishment for not giving in to the demands also becomes more extreme, the survivor becomes too afraid to protest. The survivor becomes trapped.
Also, in the case of a survivor of ritual abuse, the level of confidence and self-esteem is often not high enough for the survivor to try and fight back against this kind of life. This, from the perspective of some survivors, may well be better than what was endured before. Some survivors would think it enough that they at least get some kind of love.
Sometimes the abuser makes certain that getting the person hooked on drugs further traps the survivor. This may even be a forced addiction or what seems like a choice to the survivor to loose themselves in drugs for a while. Whether forced to take drugs or not, the end result can be the same with the survivor dependant on the abuser to supply the drug. Depending on the drug and the state of dependency, the survivor has little choice but to agree to carry out the wishes or demands of the pimp. Getting off the drugs while in this situation is almost impossible. Getting out of the situation while drug dependent is equally very difficult.
Family Set UpSome abusers, within the family setting, introduce the survivor to prostitution while still quite young. As the survivor is already conditioned to accept being used for sexual purposes, they are much more accepting of their situation than other children might be. Most people are horrified to discover that this actually happens, but it is really only an extension of what some young people already experience at home.
In some cases it begins with the abuser i.e. the family members, sharing the young person sexually with friends and other family and, over time, moving on to selling the young people for sex to a wider range of individuals. Some young survivors are forced to go out onto the street and seek punters who will pay for their sexual favours. Often these survivors cannot return home until they have raised a specified amount of cash to bring home. The family income is supplemented by the income from the survivor and the family begin to expect this more regularly.
In some organised abuse situations involving groups of abusers, the young people are sometimes used to find other like-minded abusers who are then gradually drawn into the activities of the group. The young people are used to find adults who are open to sexual approaches from children. The young person can then take the adult into a situation where other adults can get photographic evidence or videos, which can then be used to blackmail them. This can be a useful source of income for groups and people can be blackmailed to carry out all sorts of tasks.
Prostitution and escort agencies can be very big business for groups and often, women in particular are kept involved in this line of work for as long as men will pay them for sex. Unfortunately, the market for sex is very large and growing.
Often survivors, who become, for whatever reason involved in prostitution, are a very short step away from becoming used in pornography also. Often the two run hand in hand and the survivor is actively used in both. Pornography is very big business and there is a huge hungry market out there, which is always seeking more and younger victims. The use of the Internet has greatly expanded this market and many young people are readily preyed upon by the lust and greed of adults.
In all of this, it is important to remember that children, young people and forced adults are the innocent parties, no matter what they are forced to do or how willing they appear to be.