Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

Utah advances bill to criminalize ritual child abuse, echoing 1980s satanic panic

By 37ci3 Feb23,2024

After an evening of emotional testimony from activists, self-described victims and law enforcement officials, Utah lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that would criminalize the ritual sexual abuse of children — a code critics say is unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Sponsored by Republican state representative Ken Ivory, House Bill 196 defines ritual abuse as abuse that occurs as “part of an event or act intended to mark, commemorate, or solemnize a special event or significance in a religious, cultural, social, institutional, or other context.” does. The bill lists specific acts that fall under the proposed definition: child abuse, including animal torture, cruelty or cannibalism, or forcing a child to swallow urine or feces, enter a coffin or grave containing a corpse, or take drugs . ritual.

At a hearing Wednesday, several adults who described themselves as survivors of ritualistic child sexual abuse urged lawmakers on the state House Judiciary Committee to support the bill. Their testimonies included nightmares: devil worship, animal torture, forced servitude, rape, cannibalism, child prostitution and mind control — assaults so physically and emotionally traumatic that victims said they repressed memories of their abuse.

Kimberly Raya Cohen, a 53-year-old activist who runs a nonprofit and leads local summits on ritual abuse, told lawmakers that “everything that’s mentioned in this bill” has happened to her. Cohen has appeared on dozens of podcasts over the years tell him the story: being tortured and forced to participate in human sacrifices as part of satanic religious rituals led by family members, neighbors and church leaders. She told NBC News that no one has been charged with the abuse she recounted as an adult.

“Utah has an incredible opportunity to lead the nation in naming and acknowledging that this horrific abuse is real,” he said.

If the bill passes, Utah would be the first state in decades to pass a law codifying ritual abuse. Several states passed similar laws in the 1980s and ’90s, at the height of hysteria over satanic ritual abuse, but few, if any, were prosecuted. Since then, federal law enforcement agencies, scholars, and historians have all pointed to it paucity of evidence due to widespread allegations of ritual abuse and warned of lasting legacies of national panic, including lie claims, wrongful arrests and wasted law enforcement resources.

“This bill is an excellent example of panic legislation rushed together based on the testimony of a few women who recall a history of childhood satanic ritual abuse,” said Mary deYoung, professor emeritus of sociology at Grand Valley State University. documented the harms of satanic panic. “This is a bill that we’re really angry about and that responds with a ‘must be the law’ approach.” And we do not think that it can be implemented in a way that will bring any benefit to the society or ensure that justice is established.”

But Ivory described ritual abuse as commonplace in Utah, citing anecdotes from voters and a statewide study as evidence. It was announced in 2022 The Utah County Sheriff’s Office said it has resulted in more than 130 tips. Ivory characterized these tips as individual sacrifices.

That investigation, led by Utah Sheriff Mike Smith, who supported the bill, led to the 2022 arrest of David Hamblin, a former therapist accused of sexually abusing children in the 1980s. His ex-wife, Roselle Anderson Stevenson, was arrested last August and accused of sexually abusing a child decades ago. Hamblin and Stevenson have yet to enter a plea. Hambly’s lawyer said in a statement that he “strongly denies the allegations”; Stevenson’s lawyer said he “vehemently denies the allegations”.

Their pursuit has declined events in the courts accusations that investigators mishandled witness statements and that the investigation was politically motivated from the start. Prosecutors disputed those allegations in court filings, but a judge found them sufficient to dissuade the Utah County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting Hamblin’s case.

Smith defended the integrity of his investigation and told lawmakers Wednesday that his years of investigation into ritual sexual abuse in the state made him a laughing stock, but that he believed the accusers.

“I was attacked, made fun of, so I made memes about myself,” he said. “There’s no doubt these things happen in Utah,” Smith said. “I believe it happened, I believe it happened.”

Lt. Jason Randall, the county’s lead ritual abuse investigator, says the new bill will help legitimize the case and encourage more victims to report their abuse, as a sign that authorities won’t discount what might appear to be unbelievable allegations. will do. When asked by lawmakers what in the current code prevents Randall from prosecuting child abusers, Randall replied, “Faith. Belief.”

Utah’s proposed bill and the county sheriff’s investigation have drawn national attention conservative media and an online network of conspiracy theorists who believe the case will prove that the claims that fueled the satanic frenzy of the 1980s were true all along, and that Satanists still sexually abuse, kill, and cannibalize children. In blogs, videos and podcasts, several self-described Internet investigators have accused hundreds of Utahns of participating in satanic ritual abuse rings.

Utah’s role in the panic of the 1980s was significant. Many of them the first known cases Cases of alleged ritual abuse have emerged in the state, including as central figures in the movement therapists those who use hypnosis and manipulative Interviewing techniques for recovering memories from alleged child victims and scholars who made some of the earliest claims of widespread satanic ritual abuse. Local media has been brought forward claims.

In 1990, the governor of Utah was formed Group of workers spent $250,000 in public funds to address widespread ritual abuse. Investigators interviewed hundreds of victims in more than 125 alleged cases alone one of them concluded with judgment. A final report In 1995, the state’s attorney general suggested that there was evidence of isolated cases of abuse involving the rituals, but that there was no widespread plan to abuse children in this way. The report states: “Unconfirmed are numerous reports of abuse by ‘survivors’ who claim to be supporters of human sacrifice, sexual abuse of minors, torture and other atrocities committed by well-organized groups. It exists at every level of government, every social status, and every state in the country.

From national studies Ministry of Justice and National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect found no evidence to support allegations of widespread ritual abuse. And child sexual abuse is shockingly common; In the US, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims. according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unintended harms associated with ritual abuse panic, deYoung said, include “ripple effects” on child victims of sexual abuse. “When the greatest risk to children is at home, with family, friends or the local parish priest, we spend time, resources and energy chasing after strangers in robes and hoods. Yet where the greatest risk lies, we lack the same moral outrage.”

California, Illinois, and Idaho were among the earliest states to pass laws deYoung said the criminalization of ritual abuse in the 1980s in response to allegations of satanic threats to children, primarily in child care facilities. A handful other states followed suit.

While some states still have these laws on the books, others moved away with their after the consequences of the panic became clear.

In Utah, the Judiciary Committee voted 1 to 1 on Wednesday to send a ritual abuse bill to the full House; if accepted there, it will go to the Senate. No one testified against the bill. In his dissenting vote, Rep. Brian King, one of the two Democrats on the committee, questioned the need for it, noting that state law already criminalizes physical and sexual child abuse. The bill would differentiate the crime and classify it as a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Ivory, the sponsor, acknowledged the crimes were already crimes, but said a special law was needed because the crime was “so heinous.”

Rep. Republican Kera Birkeland wept as she addressed the audience during the hearing. “I had no idea this was happening in our state,” he said. “We believe in you.”

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