Investigations of child abuse/neglect allegations in religious cults: A case study in Vermont


  • Dr Vanessa L. Malcarne Ph.D.,

    Assistant Professor, Corresponding author
    1. Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at San Diego State University
    • Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego State University, 6363 Alvarado Court, Suite 103, San Diego, California, 92120-4913, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • John D. Burchard Ph.D.

    1. Department of Psychology at the University of Vermont
    Search for more papers by this author


State investigations into allegations of child abuse and/or neglect are made particularly difficult when the adults involved refuse to cooperate with the investigation. Attempts by state agencies to investigate allegations of child abus/neglect made against noncooperative religious cults have proved particularly challenging, since the nature of these groups makes identification of and access to child and adult members problematic. Such cases prove especially difficult when religious beliefs held by cult members justify and even endorse physical discipline of children that many states would define as abusive. An illustration of these problems is provided by an in-depth description of a recent case in which state officials in Vermont attempted to investigate child abuse allegations against members of a religious cult. Social policy issues are discussed, and suggested statutory revisions are presented.