The Challenge of Ritualistic Child Abuse


  • Sharon M. Valente PhD, RN, CS, FAAN

    1. Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and consultant to the psychiatric nursing staff, VA Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA.
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Survivors of ritual abuse have endured physical and psychosexual trauma typically compounded by mind-altering drugs. Some abused children have never known a trustworthy adult to protect them from harm. Children often cope with the anxiety and terror of abuse through psychological defenses such as denial, self-hypnosis, and dissociation, but more extreme responses such as self-mutilation or multiple personalities may occur. Reports of ritual abuse of children are so shocking and bizarre that professionals initially respond with confusion and disbelief (Cozolino, 1989). Nurses need to assess clues and detect symbols of abuse in drawings or flashbacks, to build trust, and to monitor their attitudes and countertransference. Nurses are in a critical position to detect and begin healing wounds of ritual abuse.