Ritual abuse


Leaving an organised ritual structure is a difficult, life-long undertaking whereby the perpetrators do all they can to prevent it. The victims therefore require personal and professional support from all possible sides.

++ Warning, this text contains triggers ++

Overview of contents

What does it mean to escape?

Leaving an organised ritual structure begins with remembering the abuse suffered and the slow realisation that the abuse is still taking place.

Escaping means witnessing the terror in their own face, realising what has happened and confronting it.

Escapees disconnect from their trusted network and the individuals who bind them there. This is a painful process and a great feat that can take years. Not only must they confront their memories; they must also ensure their personal safety. Cults do not allow people to distance themselves from the group easily. They continually attempt to remind the individual of their importance to the group by threatening and mentally demoralising them. They use every tool at their disposal to trigger the ingrained ideals. Escapees are thus not only confronted with the horrors of their past but must also face present-day challenges: threats by the perpetrators and understanding the ideals and behavioural patterns that have been ingrained into them.

Having a dissociative identity is both a strength and challenge along this journey. Some identities want nothing more to do with the abuse while others are reluctant to break off contact with the group for various reasons, such as out of fear or a feeling of belonging. Certain identities feel loyalty towards the cult and sympathise with its ideology and therefore do not want to leave. They have a deep connection to the main perpetrators. However, each victim has identities that had to perpetrate abuse themselves and feel a great sense of guilt as a result. Starting afresh means taking a huge step. In addition to the burden of guilt, they are also susceptible to blackmail due to their activities being filmed by the perpetrators.

Some identities find it difficult to shed the behaviours and beliefs ingrained into them. Whenever someone reestablishes contact with the cult, the trauma resurfaces. However, there are also personalities that choose to make a new start and grapple with the issues of identity and freedom.

How does it feel to leave?

Leaving is far more difficult than simply changing an address or name. Although this external withdrawal is an important step, it is the internal withdrawal that takes years to process. This is the path to finding courage. It is a road that often involves one step forwards, two steps backwards with the promise of a life and freedom at the end.

Sometimes, everything feels dark around you as you can’t just throw out the experiences, learned behaviours, mindsets and beliefs like old clothes. Many things only become clear after distancing yourself from it all.

There is a great sense of anxiety as the world outside of the cult is totally different to the one portrayed by the perpetrators all your life. Everything is strange and new.

Slowly, step by step, you familiarise yourself with this world and learn how to live in your own body. You discover that this world has so much more to offer than pain, suffering and darkness. You suddenly find people who want to give you a home. A home in which nobody gets hurt and where you feel safe and protected. Gradually, you begin to trust. At some point, you ask yourself the question: Who am I? / Who are we?

Daring to escape

Leaving a cult can be different for victims depending on the type of group. The nature of its structure can vary along with the question of whether the cult will try to prevent an escape or not by using threats and violence. For some who leave, secure accommodation with spatial distance from the perpetrators is very important. For others, links to a local support network of therapists, advisors and friends are essential.

However, one thing is clear in all cases: withdrawal takes time and requires long-term support from other people. People who instil courage and listen are just as important as those who provide professional therapy. Those supporting escapees need to lend an open ear and allow room for issues such as own perpetration, guilt and shame without judgement. In the case of ritual abuse, it is clear that while withdrawal requires an external step, it primarily involves an internal process. Victims who have been subjected to years of targeted manipulation, torture and brainwashing need time to understand these patterns and learn their own thoughts, feelings and actions.