What can you do if you suspect ritualized abuse?

How can you prepare yourself to listen to experiences of ritualized abuse?

Please find here some tips from people who are in touch with someone expressing experiences of organized, ritualized abuse.

  • Whatever relationship you have with that person – therapist, doctor, teacher, friend – the content and scope of what they tell you will be profound.
  • Reactions such as bewilderment, disbelief, aversion, disgust, fascination, a mix of strong emotions are likely to occur in everyone who encounters this topic.
  • The fact that the other has the courage to speak out indicates that there is at least a seed of hope and trust present.
  • Keep in mind that you are dealing with a person who is seriously psychologically damaged in the ability to trust themselves and other people.
  • Therefore, sufficient caution is needed in this contact.

The tips below are intended to help you navigate the conversation.

What can you do if you suspect ritualized abuse?

  • Listen with an open mind and open heart.
  • Ask open questions in a way that leaves space for the other person to answer them or not, in their own way.
  • Listen with commitment, without emphasizing emotions.
  • In your attitude, in everything you say and do, make sure to recognize and value the other person’s autonomy.
  • Leave the other space, ownership and responsibility for their own life and choices.
  • Validate the person in their power to survive all they have experienced.
  • Be aware of the following possibilities:
    • that the person may go back and forth between telling you about experiences and then trivializing or denying them;
    • that there may be distortions in their perception of time;
    • that you can – without noticing this – be in a conversation with different personality parts of that person, causing discontinuity in the conversation, that what you have just been told is suddenly not remembered or denied, emotional shifts, etc.
    • that (the color of) your clothing or the use of certain words can be experienced as a trigger for cult experiences. Seriously consider the account of the other person. In addition, state what this means for you. You do not have to promise never to wear certain clothes again, or to stop using certain words.
  • When the other gets into a state of re-experiencing: work towards getting them back to the here and now. Be very concrete in your request (like: that scene fades, and you will now come back to the here and now, in this room) and involve their senses, by naming what is here and now (look and notice where you are, hear the sounds, feel the chair you are sitting on, your feet on the ground).
  • When child personality parts manifest themselves, work towards getting the person back to an adult state well before the conversation is concluded, especially if they are driving or need to take public transport.
  • Pay attention to the time limit for your conversation or session.
  • Finish the conversation in a way that is affirmative for the other as a person and offer the possibility for next conversation.
  • Be clear about the (im)possibilities of contact between the conversations (telephone, e-mail, SMS), about the frequency thereof, and whether or not you will answer.
  • At the end of the conversation, take time to discuss what it was like for them to have discussed this and how they will deal with this in the near future.
  • If necessary and possible, provide concrete support for dealing with everyday life. This can become a structured part of the conversations.
  • Take down time for yourself after the conversation to process what you heard and experienced.
  • Do not process on your own what has come your way. Find someone with a duty of confidentiality, whom you trust in relation to this topic and who is willing to support and provide input.

What should you AVOID if you suspect ritualized abuse?

  • Do not make promises that you are not sure you can keep.
  • Do not say the other person can trust you.
  • Do not ask “why?” questions; these can all too easily be interpreted as reproach.
  • Do not ask questions that may suggest you are wondering about the truthfulness of what is being told.
  • Also, do not say that you believe everything the other person tells you. This could give the other person the feeling that they are not allowed to make mistakes concerning facts and memories. It is better to avoid the word “believe”.
  • Do not fill in facts for the other person (oh, so how it played out, was….).
  • Do not suggest how it might have happened.
  • Do not fill in emotions or experiences for the other person.
  • Take the other person’s (potential) fear that the cult is anywhere and everywhere seriously, but do not go along with the fear. Help them develop discernment wherever possible.
  • Do not pressure them to leave the cult. Keep in mind that it may well feel safer for them to (still) follow the network instead of leaving. He / she may feel pressured and / or concerned about loved ones.
  • Do not try to get the person to report to the police.
  • Do not take on responsibilities that do not belong to you, but belong to them.
  • If you have information about organized or ritualized abuse in the Netherlands and / or surrounding countries, we highly appreciate it if you can let us know.