Call for Policy to Increase Protection for Victims of Ritual Abuse in San Diego, Part I (Svali Blog Post)

This information is mirrored from

Oct 5, 2002 – © Ellen Lacter, PhD

Introduction by svali: Often, in today’s climate in which court systems and Child Protective Services all too often turn a blind eye to the problem of ritual abuse, it can be easy to fall into discouragement, or wonder if things will ever change. Luckily, there are advocates for survivors who have decided that change IS possible, and that by delineating problems with our current methods of dealing with ritual abuse, and outlining methods to begin solving these problems, that help-and hope-can be given to survivors. I greatly admire Ms. Lacter’s courage and thoughtfulness in this statement, and the honest questions she asks in this letter that she has sent to various public organizations in San Diego. Her thoughts are objective, based on reality, and well-organized, and my fervent hope is that those it is addressed to will hear her out. You can read more articles by Ellen Lacter on her site at… where this article was originally published.

Call for Policy to Increase Protection for Victims of Ritual Abuse in San Diego, Part I

by Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D., October 4, 2002 (reprinted with the permission of the author)

I. Problem: Lack of Protection for Victims of Ritual Abuse in San Diego County

Victims of ritual abuse in San Diego receive little or no protection due to problems in the functioning of the following public organizations:

A. District Attorney’s Office

B. San Diego Union-Tribune

C. Civil Grand Jury of San Diego County

D. Children’s Service’s Bureau and Treatment, Evaluation, and Resource Management Team

E. Law Enforcement

F. Family Court

A. District Attorney’s Office

The District Attorney’s office presently appears to treat all reports of ritual abuse as false and to have a policy of not investigating or prosecuting these cases.

Mark Sauer, in his September 21, 2002, article, “Abuse or Unfounded Fear” in the San Diego Union-Tribune, reported that he interviewed the present District Attorney, Paul Pfingst. Sauer reports the following statements by Paul Pfingst:

1. Pfingst: “This theory [ritual abuse] was completely debunked in the early ’90s”.

2. Sauer: “District Attorney Paul Pfingst expressed grave concerns that a widely attended and influential conference would feature workshops on ritual abuse, since he has seen no evidence that such cases exists” (Re: two workshops on ritual abuse and therapy with survivors being included at a large Family Violence conference in San Diego on September 25 to 28, 2002.

3. Pfingst: “If someone wants to go back to teaching that satanic ritual abuse claptrap, we’re going to have a serious discussion about whether law enforcement in San Diego should respond and expose it for what it is.”

4. Pfingst: “[T]he abuse conference as a whole looks like a well-put-together event. It’s unfortunate they have this ritual abuse stuff involved. I plan to have someone there monitoring those presentations and reporting back.”

Pfingst’s statements communicate that the official position of the current District Attorney’s office is to discount and discredit claims of ritual abuse. District Attorneys should not discount reports of any kind of crime. Ritual abuse laws and special ritual crime police units exist in other jurisdictions in the United States. District Attorneys should be interested in protecting crime victims and prosecuting criminals based on the evidence in each case. In cases of ritual abuse, Pfingst appears to be interested in protecting the perpetrators and prosecuting the victims and advocates.

There is no question that some child abusers use Satanic or witchcraft symbols and concepts to frighten children into submission and silence. There is also no question that some criminals worship Satan or witchcraft deities. There is a large body of psychological and criminal evidence of ritual abuse. Numerous court decisions (criminal, family, juvenile, and civil) have been based on findings of ritual abuse. One list is periodically updated and published on the world-wide web by “Karen Curio Jones” (… In August, 2002, 65 cases were presented in this archive. Many cases are yet to be archived. And in many ritual crime cases, they cannot be archived, because prosecutors omitted the ritualistic components of the crimes to avoid defense claims that charges were based on religious intolerance.

The most recently documented ritual crime case may be that of Russell Smith. On September 4, 2002, United States Marshals in Oregon arrested Russell Smith, accused child rapist and self-proclaimed Satanist. He was wanted by the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia for rape and sodomy of a child. According to authorities, Smith convinced a young girl to become involved in satanic rituals, and part of those rituals involved having sex with her ( Police found in his basement a goat’s skull with a pentagram drawn on it, black robes, girls’ underwear, and ceremonial candles. His license plate read “100P666”. Smith was profiled on “America’s Most Wanted” on 8-31-02. The broadcast led to his arrest. Due to this evidence, the Satanic group he founded as Rev. Sorath, “Order of Perdition”, has since excommunicated him (Washington Post, 8-27-02, p. B03, 8-30-02, p. B01).

There can be no argument that reports of ritual abuse must be taken seriously. Yet, Paul Pfingst discounts them globally. If Russell Smith had been sighted in San Diego prior to his arrest, would Pfingst have instructed law enforcement to ignore the report?

Paul Pfingst abuses his power as District Attorney by stating that he will have law enforcement “respond” and “monitor” the conference presentations and “report back”. The District Attorney’s office has no jurisdiction to monitor professional education. Pfingst’s comments appear to be thinly veiled threats of action by law enforcement against psychotherapists who treat and teach about treatment of victims of ritual abuse. He implies that there is something illegal about teaching about treatment for ritual trauma. His comments demonstrate a lack of interest in protecting the right of free speech of psychologists, therapists and ritual abuse survivors who wish only to share their knowledge of how to assist these crime victims. There is no place for the District Attorney or law enforcement in matters of free speech or academic freedom, except to enforce the constitutional right of everyone to express their views.

It has been suggested by some that Paul Pfingst is actually concerned about ritual crime, but has been affected by pressure to “look the other way” due to tremendous influence by the media (next section) and expensive civil judgements and prior failed prosecutions of ritual abuse.

San Diego County has paid large financial damages in cases in which ritual abuse was alleged and later judged to be unfounded. The criminal prosecution of Dale Akiki, his acquittal, and subsequent lawsuits against numerous agencies and parties, cost San Diego County in both financial damages and public censure of the District Attorney and Child Protective Services.

David Icke (… provides the following details on the Akiki case and lawsuits: Dale Akiki was charged with 35 counts of child abuse and kidnaping in 1991. Akiki and his wife acted as volunteer baby-sitters at the Faith Chapel in Spring Valley, California. On Sundays, they watched the children while their parents were attending services next door. Many children who were baby-sat said that Akiki had killed animals and drunk their blood in front of the children, and engaged in other satanic and sexual rituals. Akiki was acquitted of all charges in November, 1993. It was the longest and most expensive trial in San Diego history, costing millions. Carol Hopkins (more on her later) testified for Akiki and was among those who called for the ouster of District Attorney Ed Miller (Los Angeles Times, 11/30/93)… Six months later, Miller was turned out of office after receiving only 11% of the popular vote. Public backlash over ritual abuse cases has been blamed for his defeat. Akiki’s acquittal prompted a grand jury inquiry into the investigatory methods employed in the case. In September 1994, Akiki and his wife filed suit against prosecutors, therapists and the church. Akiki claimed emotional distress, slander, libel, false imprisonment, professional negligence and civil rights violations. The county and other defendants eventually settled the suit and Akiki received over $2 million. The Religious Tolerance web-site (… provides the following additional information: “Dale and Sharon Akiki’s [sic] brought a civil lawsuit against San Diego County, Faith Chapel Church, 9 therapists, Children’s Hospital, businessman Jack Goodall, and his wife Mary Goodall. The action was settled out of court in 1995-JAN. The county’s share of the settlement, which is believed to be less that 40% of the total award, was 768,750.”

Everyone is very sympathetic to San Diego County wishing to avoid 1) prosecution of innocent people, 2) expensive lawsuits, and 3) embarrassment to public agencies. False accusations of child abuse wreak emotional devastation on the accused and the children. No one wants the county to waste money, when there are so many deserving people in need of services. And it is to everyone’s advantage when public agencies perform their functions well and are trusted by the community.

However, there is no question that many reports of ritualistic abuse are founded. There will come a day when law enforcement investigators, psychotherapists, and child protection workers can share their information, with no fear of reprisal, with an Interagency Investigative Team trained in the special considerations involved in investigation and prosecution of ritual abuse, and protected by legislation to carry out its work. (For an analysis of the special considerations involved in these investigations, see “Forensic Considerations in Ritual Trauma Cases, by Sylvia Lynn Gillotte, Attorney-at-Law,… ) When the truth about ritual abuse is publically exposed, San Diego’s leaders and citizens will be moved to action to protect its victims.

B. The San Diego Union-Tribune

The San Diego Union-Tribune is, by far, the most widely circulated newspaper in San Diego County.

For the past ten years, reporters Mark Sauer and Jim Okerblom have written a series of articles for the Union-Tribune discrediting victims of ritual abuse and their advocates, including therapists treating ritual abuse victims and patients with recovered memories of childhood abuse, professional organizations advocating for victims of ritual abuse, police officers investigating reports of ritual abuse, legislators who have tried to introduce anti-ritual crime legislation, and now, professional education about ritual abuse. This biased reporting has greatly contributed to convincing a good portion of the San Diego community that ritual abuse does not exist, has exerted tremendous political pressure on public agencies and political candidates, and has had a devastating impact on victimized children and adults, resulting in their not being believed by many mental health professionals, and reduced protection by law enforcement and the courts. Due to this media blitz, and the parallel media campaign of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), some therapists discount histories of ritual abuse provided by their clients, and diagnose these clients as delusional rather than as having a trauma disorder. Incorrect diagnosis results in the provision of the wrong psychiatric medication and the wrong type of psychotherapy, exacerbating, rather than ameliorating, the abuse survivor’s psychological pain.

Sauer’s Union-Tribune article of September 24, 2000, “A Web Of Intrigue” may be the best example of his strange agenda to discredit victims of ritual abuse and their advocates. Sauer paints “Karen Curio Jones”, who researched the ritual abuse archive discussed above, and who has posted her concerns about ritual crime on the internet, as a dangerous “cyberstalker”. Yet, Sauer quotes Detective Susan McCrary about “Jones”: “She hasn’t made any physical threats. Everything’s been done in a public forum” (San Diego State Police Department). Sauer writes, “Who is Curio and why is she saying such nasty things about us on the Internet?” “Us” refers to:

1) Mark Sauer

2) Carol Hopkins, Deputy Foreperson for the 1991-1992 San Diego Grand Jury Report No. 8 “Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues”. That report was criticized in the 1992-1993 San Diego Grand Jury Report as not being “in the best interest of threatened children”, as misrepresenting facts, and as having caused a dramatic decline in the number of children removed from abusive and neglectful homes in San Diego County, while these numbers climbed in other California counties.

3) Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D., an outspoken proponent of the “False Memory Syndrome”, which is not recognized as a disorder by the majority of mental health professionals. Two formal complaints were lodged with the American Psychological Association (APA) in December, 1995, against Loftus alleging that she deliberately misrepresented facts in her published statements about two legal cases involving delayed memories, a serious breach of professional ethics. Loftus resigned from the APA a month later, claiming her resignation was unrelated to the complaints.

4) Michael Aquino, publicly self-proclaimed Satanist and founder and high priest of the “Temple of Set” (official website at: In 1987, Aquino was investigated by the United States Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) in a case of alleged child abuse at the Child Development Center at the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco. CID issued a report, titled it, and admitted to the record. Michael Aquino sued the army, “seeking to amend the Army’s criminal investigation report and recover damages”, contending that decisions “were tainted by consideration of the irrelevant factor of his Satanist religious beliefs” (this example illustrates why allegations of ritual abuse are generally omitted from charges and prosecution of child abuse, as explained above). The court denied Aquino’s motions to amend the files, concluding that “there was sufficient evidence from which the Army decision-maker could determine that probable cause existed to believe that [Aquino] committed the offenses” (reference: Aquino vs. Stone 768 F. Supp.529; and p. 4. Other Altars: Roots and Realities of Cultic and Satanic Ritual Abuse and Multiple Personality Disorder, 1993, Minneapolis, Minnesota; CompCare Publishers).

An August 20, 1998 “San Diego Reader” article, “The Memory Wars”, describes a social relationship between Mark Sauer, Carol Hopkins and Elizabeth Loftus. Sauer should not publish articles such as “A Web of Intrigue” when he feels personally attacked by one of the players, and is on a friendly basis with her opponents. He cannot be unbiased, and in so doing, he fails in his responsibility to the public and abuses his power as a reporter.

Ellen Lacter, Ph.D., submitted an opinion piece to the San Diego Union-Tribune on September 29, 2002, objecting to the premises in Sauer’s September 24, 2000, article, “A Web Of Intrigue”. The newspaper did not respond and the opinion piece was not published. It is posted on the world-wide web at:…

Similarly, on June 16, 1994, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article entitled; “Chasing Satan in Sacramento”, blatantly ridiculing legislation proposed by California State Senator Newton Russell, SB 1997, which “sought to add three years to the sentence of anyone convicted of molesting a child “as part of a ceremony, rite or any similar observance.” This law was scaled down and became law in 1995 as section 667.83 of the California Penal Code, and was subsequently repealed. Ellen Lacter, Ph.D., immediately wrote a letter to the Editor of the San Diego Union Tribune objecting to Sauer’s article. Her letter was not published. There was no response from the newspaper except a letter from Mark Sauer disagreeing with her points.

On September 21, 2002, the San Diego Union-Tribune published another Sauer article, “Abuse or Unfounded Fear”, with his typical agenda of arguing that ritual crime does not exist. Sauer objected to two workshops on ritual abuse being included at a Family Violence conference in San Diego on September 25 to 28, 2002 with over 150 presentations.

Between 16 and 20 people wrote letters to the Editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune providing the “Ritual abuse exists” perspective. None of the articles were published. Many of these letters were diverted to Sauer, who responded with his typical points. It is unknown whether the letters editor read either the many writer’s letters or Sauer’s responses.

In theory, there should be an ethical wall between the editorial function of the newspaper and the news function. This was breached by referring the letters to the editor to Sauer. The writers did not address their letters to Sauer and did not intend for him to read or respond to them. The writers intended the letters to be considered by the editorial department for publication. The writers did not wish to engage in a dialogue with Sauer. Rather, they wished to engage in a public dialogue concerning ritual abuse in a letters-to-the-editor section of the newspaper.

Some of the letters to the editor were critical of Sauer’s impartiality regarding the subject of ritual abuse, and were written to draw this to the attention of the editors. To refer the letters to Sauer for a response, rather than investigating and acting on the complaints of biased reporting, is an abdication of responsibility. It is the duty of the newspaper to publish unbiased accounts of the news. Where bias occurs, the newspaper must take steps to eliminate it.

The Union-Tribune’s long history of suppressing views of ritual abuse that differ from those of Mark Sauer is very troubling. We live in a diverse community where people have different views on many matters of public interest. One of the main forums for discussion of differing views is the letters-to-the-editor section of the newspaper. In San Diego, the newspaper market is dominated by the Union-Tribune. When the Union-Tribune refuses to permit expression of differing views on controversial matters, it is not fulfilling an important part of its mission. Sauer is not entitled to express his views free from scrutiny and public comment. By refusing to print any of these letters to the editor, the newspaper is allowing Sauer’s views to go unchallenged. This failure takes on great importance in subjects such as ritual crime, which effect the safety of the public.

Many of the letters to the editor in September, 2002, were critical of comments made by Paul Pfingst, incumbent District Attorney who is being challenged for office in the November election in what appears to be a close race. Pfingst’s comments appear to be thinly veiled threats of action by law enforcement against psychotherapists who treat and teach about treatment of victims of ritual abuse. The Union-Tribune should have expressed grave concern that a candidate for District Attorney implied that there is something illegal about teaching treatment for ritual trauma. Instead, the Union-Tribune remained silent. What is worse, they permitted Pfingst’s comments to go unchallenged by failing to print the many letters to the editor which disagreed with Pfingst. It is not responsible journalism to publish statements by a candidate for public office as news, and then not permit opposing viewpoints to be published as well.

C. Civil Grand Jury of San Diego County

Two reports by the San Diego County Civil Grand Jury have also had dire consequences for victims of ritual abuse.

1. 1991-1992 Grand Jury Report No. 8 “Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues”. This report, for which Carol Hopkins was Deputy Foreperson, states that, “The Jury found that there is no physical evidence of satanic ritual child abuse in San Diego County. There is evidence and considerable professional testimony that the existence of satanic ritual abuse is a contemporary myth perpetuated by a small number of social workers, therapists, and law enforcement members who have effected an influence which far belies their numbers”. The report also states; “The Grand Jury is aware that the Department of Social Services has reevaluated the investigative protocols on ritual and satanic abuse. The social worker who investigated in this area has been reassigned and the Ritual Abuse report is no longer being distributed by the Commission on Children and Youth. This is as it should be.” (see:…

A 1992-1993 (June 29, 1993) San Diego Civil Grand Jury Report entitled, “Protect the Child, Preserve the Family Report”, strongly criticized the 1991-1992 Grand Jury Report No. 8 as not being “in the best interest of threatened children”, as misrepresenting facts, and as having caused a dramatic decline in the number of children removed from abusive and neglectful homes in San Diego County, while these numbers climbed in other California counties. The 1992-1993 report also cited preliminary evidence of an increase in infants’ and children’s deaths caused by abuse and neglect in San Diego County following the 1991-1992 Grand Jury report, although the numbers were too small for statistical analysis.

2. June 1, 1994, Grand Jury Report No. 7a; “Analysis of Child Molestation Issues”. This report is prefaced with a letter to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors that begins with, “In December of 1993 the 1993/94 San Diego County Grand Jury received a number of requests to investigate the prosecution of the Dale Akiki case. One of these requests was from a member of the Board of Supervisors and subsequently caused the entire Board of Supervisors to unanimously vote to appropriate a supplemental budget for the Grand Jury to prepare a report on child molestation prosecutions within the criminal justice system.” This Grand Jury investigation “found no evidence of satanic ritual child molestation in San Diego County.” It concluded; “There is no justification for the further pursuit of the theory of satanic ritual child molestation in the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases.” Among the recommendations to the District Attorney’s office are:”94/47: “Discontinue the use of the Interagency Investigative Team Protocol developed by the MV/MP Ritualistic Abuse Task Force in December 1990”, and, “#94/50: Refrain from the use of the theoretical concept of satanic ritual child molestation as the basis of criminal prosecutions.”…

Mark Sauer refers to the findings of the 1994 report in his article, “Chasing Satan in Sacramento”.

Early in the summer of 2002, the San Diego Civil Grand Jury web-page listed all reports since 1997 or 1998, and only a few prior to 1997. The earlier reports included the two reports arguing against the existence of ritual abuse, that is, the 1991-1992 Report No. 8 “Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues”, for which Carol Hopkins was Deputy Foreperson, and the June 1, 1994, Grand Jury Report No. 7a; “Analysis of Child Molestation Issues”.

The Grand Jury website did not list the 1992-1993 Grand Jury Report, “Protect the Child, Preserve the Family Report”, that strongly criticized the 1991-1992 report, “Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues” as not being “in the best interest of threatened children”.

Ellen Lacter, Ph.D. telephoned the Grand Jury phone number posted on the web-site in late Spring, 2002, and spoke to a woman who said she was the head of the Grand Jury. Dr. Lacter explained her concern about 1991-1992 Report No. 8 being included on the site, while the 1992-1993 report critical of that report was omitted. The individual she spoke with was very receptive and said she would look into this. Dr. Lacter re-checked the site in September, 2002. Sadly, the 1991-1992 Report No. 8, “Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues”, remains published:… but the 1992-1993 report is nowhere on the site.

This selective posting of these Grand Jury reports suggests that individuals with influence within the Grand Jury or other County agencies continue to support both the 1991-1992 report and its foreperson, Carol Hopkins, in spite of the fact that the Grand Jury itself determined in 1992-1993 that the 1991-1992 report misrepresented the truth and posed a danger to children.

On July 25, 2002, Carol Hopkins, filed a formal complaint to the San Diego County Civil Grand Jury “regarding any County funds or support for the 7th International Conference on Family Violence” due to the inclusion of presentations on ritual abuse, dissociation, and parental alienation syndrome.

In her complaint, Carol Hopkins, presented her views on the issue of ritual abuse. She accused Dr. Lacter, a presenter for the workshop, “Psychotherapy with Ritual Abuse Survivors” of participating in “a shared delusion”. Hopkins, referring to Dr. Lacter’s website, wrote; “This is homegrown hysteria, promulgated by Ellen Lacter but fed by county dollars” (Dr. Lacter’s website is… Hopkins ends her letter stating, “It is my belief that if you consult the FBI or district attorney Paul Pfingst he will confirm the fact that there have been no confirmed cases of Satanic Ritual Abuse either in San Diego County or elsewhere”.

On September 12, 2002, the conference main sponsor (the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute (FVSAI)) informed the ritual abuse workshop presenters that San Diego County Grand Jury members had contacted them to request passes to the 7th International Conference on Family Violence and would be attending the two workshops on ritual abuse to “check them out”.

Grand Jury members did attend these two workshops on September 25, 2002.

The Grand Jury “checking out” these two workshops raise a number of concerns:

1. The Grand Jury has very questionable jurisdiction over workshops presented at an international conference. The San Diego County Grand Jury website states that it is “to serve as a sentinel a group of impartial citizens that can review the methods and operations of the County of San Diego” (… This conference is not a county function. The county does not fund this conference.

2. The Grand Jury has no grounds to interfere with academic freedom and free speech.

3. The Grand Jury should question the motives of a complaint by Carol Hopkins, since the Grand Jury report for which she was Deputy Foreperson (no. 8 in 1991-1992) was found to misrepresent the facts in a subsequent Grand Jury report (1992-1993).

4. Carol Hopkins, in her complaint to the Grand Jury, states, “It is my belief that if you consult the FBI or District Attorney Paul Pfingst he will confirm the fact that there have been no confirmed cases of Satanic Ritual Abuse either in San Diego County or elsewhere”. Hopkins suggests interested parties contact Paul Pfingst (as she did in the summer of 2002 when she attempted to interfere with San Diego Pastoral Counseling Center providing a class, “Ritualistic Abuse: The Healing Journey with Survivors of Ritualistic Abuse”). Hopkins freely bandies Pfingst’s name around as an ally. Has Pfingst abused his political power to pressure the Grand Jury to “check out” these workshops? The Grand Jury is not an arm of the District Attorney’s office. In fact, the Grand Jury has the authority to investigate the functioning of the office of the District Attorney.

Interest in protecting San Diego County financially may have influenced the Grand Jury to “check out” these classes. As discussed above, San Diego County has had a huge price to pay in financial damages for its prior involvement in claims of ritual abuse. But, of course, safety of crime victims cannot be sacrificed to these concerns. And good public policy, protocols, and legislation can be established to reduce the risk of lawsuits.