Organised sexualised and ritual violence

What is organised sexualised and ritual violence? What does it mean to be affected by it? Find out more about it and where you can find support.

What is organised sexualised violence?

Organised sexualised violence is defined as the systematic use of severe sexualised violence combined with physical and psychological violence against children, adolescents and adults.

It is committed by several perpetrators or networks of perpetrators. It often involves commercial sexual exploitation, for example, through forced prostitution or producing abusive images, so-called child or violent pornography.

What is ritual violence?

If an ideology is the reason for or used to justify violence, we call this ritual violence. There are very different forms of ritual violence and they are not always easy to clearly distinguish from one another.

Ritual violence not only refers to satanic rituals within a cult. Elements of ritual violence can occur in many different contexts. Religious cults often justify sexual abuse by claiming it is "God's will" or the will of some higher power. But ritual violence is not necessarily of a religious nature. Political beliefs, such as right-wing extremism, can also serve as an ideological justification. What’s more, ritual violence does not have to be organised violence. However, it is usually embedded in organised structures.

How are structures of violence organised?

Both organised sexualised violence and ritual violence often take place within strict hierarchical power structures.

In the case of ritual violence, the groups of perpetrators are often the family or the social environment. Victims are often "born into" such groupings. Sometimes families have been part of such structures for generations. This means that an attachment to the perpetrators, the group and its ideology is created in early childhood. In addition to having to keep strict silence about the group and the violence that takes place there, the perpetrators also demand absolute obedience. Furthermore, children and adolescents are often prevented from having contact with non-members from a young age through targeted manipulation. Anyone who tries to leave the group is put under pressure, blackmailed and persecuted.

What does dissociative identity disorder mean?

Dissociation is a natural psychological response to severe trauma that a person uses to protect themselves from feelings of loss of control. Dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociative disorder.

People can suffer from it as a result of being subjected to severe forms of violence, for example, fear of being close to death. In dissociative identity disorder, the personality is split into several identities in order to divide up the unbearable experience, which helps the person survive. Those affected by it often have memory gaps – such as of everyday events, their own actions, important personal information and traumatic experiences. These events were stored by other personalities and are not retrievable at that moment. For people who suffer from dissociative identity disorder it is particularly difficult to receive appropriate protection and support, because their stories may not seem plausible or believable.

What exactly is mind control?

In some cases, people are forced to function in a certain way and be obedient from early childhood through conditioning and programming within organised and ritualistic structures of violence. This is done using methods of mind control.

Mind control comes in various forms of mental manipulation. This can lead to a splitting of the child's personality into multiple identities through the systematic and repeated use of severe violence. Such feelings of dissociation are sometimes intentionally brought about because it gives the perpetrators full control over their victims.

In addition, dissociative identity disorder often leaves sufferers unable to recall memories of events because "another person" experienced them. Victims report that perpetrators take advantage of dissociation as a natural human psychological response in order to be able to control the inner structuring of a victim's identities. This can cause the victims to feel strongly dependent on the perpetrators. The perpetrators also often sexually exploit the manipulated victims commercially.

Many people wonder if such things really happen.

Organised sexualised violence is a form of organised crime. It occurs, for example, as part of so-called child pornography rings and human trafficking.

Law enforcement agencies repeatedly succeed in uncovering such structures and bringing the perpetrators to justice. Ritual violence, on the other hand, has so far received little recognition, and people often consider it implausible. And to make matters worse, victims who were mentally manipulated by the perpetrators often only remember things in fragments and in the form of flashbacks.

Flashbacks are memories of traumatic events and are usually experienced as a mental reliving of the trauma that they have no control over. Often, specific acts are only remembered years later in the context of trauma therapy or because certain things trigger flashbacks. These triggers can be very different. Even minor details such as smells or sounds can trigger a flashback.

All this means that statements made by victims are usually not reliable in a criminal trial and specific perpetrators cannot be identified. The 2019 balance report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse ("Unabhängige Aufarbeitungskommission") mentions a total of 117 hearings and reports on organised violence, 42 of which were on ritual violence. The sexual abuse fund (FSM) also receives many applications from people reporting "ritual abuse / abuse committed within a sect".

More information

  • Explanatory video of the Die Kinderschutz-Zentren e. V. and ECPAT Deutschland e. V. associations.
  • Help and support for victims of ritual and organised sexual violence
  • Recommendations for policy-makers and society by the expert "Sexualised violence in organised and ritual structures of violence" group ("Sexualisierte Gewalt in organisierten und rituellen Gewaltstrukturen")

Information for victims and survivors

How can I break free from these structures of violence?

Breaking away from organised and ritual structures of violence takes a long time and often involves many setbacks.

However, it is generally necessary in order to live a self-determined life and to free oneself from violence. Many victims and survivors say that it is helpful to seek outside support so that they do not have to walk this difficult path alone. People with dissociative identity disorder often face great challenges, especially at the beginning. Not all their personalities may choose to leave, which often leads to tension and behaviours that have the opposite effect.

Especially at the beginning, it may seem impossible to break off contact with the perpetrators, to stop destructive mental dynamics and to gradually detach yourself from the group. This is understandable and expected, because the victims are often put under enormous pressure by the perpetrators. But victims and survivors can only live a self-determined life by breaking away from these structures. As they break away, the victims and survivors may have to leave their former life behind and rebuild a new one.

It may be helpful for people who decide to break away and to cope with the setbacks and crises to think about the following:

  • Why do I want to break free from these structures of violence? What is it that makes me want to leave? What is (still) holding me back?
  • If I could live the life I want to live, what would I do? What would a better life be like? Is there anything I am good at and that I would be able to contribute (such as community involvement, creativity, nature conservation, etc.)?
  • Are there currently areas of my life I am happy with and I feel comfortable with? How can I make them even better and develop them?
  • Do I know people who would be able to help me break away? Who are they?
  • Do I know people who are good to me and who help me find new strength, even if they know nothing about the structures of violence? Who are they?
  • Can I already imagine a way out? What might that look like?
  • What would the next step be? Can I break this step down into smaller steps? What do I need to take the next step?

In the case of people with dissociative identity disorder, it might be helpful to ask these types of questions in the plural. To break away, it helps if as many people as possible can support this decision. The first question might then be: Why do we want to break free from these structures of violence? What is it that makes us want to leave? What is (still) holding us back?

Where can I get help?

In order to break away from organised and/or ritual structures of violence, it may be necessary to seek outside (professional) help.

While this may often seem like an impossible hurdle to overcome, it is a good idea to make this effort and to stick with it even when you feel frustrated or disappointed. The type of support needed can vary significantly. It can be helpful to first ask yourself what kind of support you need at this point in time to take the first step towards breaking free. Victims and survivors can ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do I need psychological or psychosocial support, for example, in the form of trauma therapy or from a specialised advice and counselling centre?
  • Do I need support in everyday life, such as a person who accompanies me when I need to visit public authorities? It might then be helpful to apply for individual case aid ("Einzelfallhilfe") or outpatient care in the form of integration assistance ("Eingliederungshilfe").
  • Is it important to find a safe place, such as a women's shelter?
  • Do I need legal advice, for example, from a lawyer?
  • Do I want more (self-)help information or to talk to other people in similar situations, such as in (online) self-help groups?

Finding the right places is often difficult. Address lists are rarely published, because that would give perpetrators access to them. But there are databases and support networks that provide information about support services for people who are victims of organised and ritual violence.

berta helpline

The Germany-wide free and anonymous berta telephone helpline offers consolation, advice and support for people wanting to leave organised sexualised and ritual structures of violence. It is part of the Sexual Abuse Help Line and is open on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Their phone number is 0800 30 50 750. The berta helpline was set up for victims themselves and for anyone who is worried about someone, has a suspicion or is looking for information on this subject.

Specialised advice and counselling centres

Specialised advice and counselling centres can help you find shelters or crisis facilities. Trauma outpatient clinics, which offer psychotherapy sessions, specifically trauma therapy intervention, can be a quick and useful first point of contact. Under "Finding help“ you can set filters to find specialised advice and counselling centres and therapy services that focus on ritual and organised violence.

The VIELFALT e.V.  association has maintained a database for several years that lists help services and makes these lists available to victims and survivors on request.

Trust your instincts

Unfortunately, it happens that (professional) persons question or even deny the veracity of the experiences people tell them about and the organised and ritual structures of violence behind it. This can be unsettling for victims and survivors. When seeking support, it is important that the person you turn to feels approachable and open and is a good match for you. For many victims and survivors, being open to embark on an unknown path together is important in a person who provides support. It is perfectly legitimate to be critical of a support service and to refuse the help if in doubt.

Do perpetrators have to be named?

You do not need to name the perpetrators to get advice and therapeutic support. To start criminal proceedings, however, they do have to be named.

To receive financial support, for example, under the victim compensation act (OEG), the violence you experienced must at least be described in outline. The description of the offence must be detailed enough so that the authorities ultimately consider it probable that it occurred as described. In this context, it is not necessary to name specific perpetrators or witnesses, but it can be helpful. It also makes sense to get support when you apply for victim compensation, for example, from a specialised advice and counselling centre. You can find more information about financial assistance here.

Information for helpers

Why is it so hard to get out?

Breaking away from organised sexualised and ritualised structures of violence is often enormously difficult for the victims.

The perpetrators often put them under huge physical and psychological pressure and threaten, blackmail or persecute the victims. The perpetrators always do what they can to avoid their offences to be proven. They therefore often try to make their victims look untrustworthy. At the same time, leaving the group often means abandoning your own family and the social environment in which you grew up. Because of their strong ties to the group, it usually takes a very specific reason or event for a victim to want to leave. They are also usually prohibited from talking about the group to outsiders, which means their suffering and the violence they experience remains hidden.

Sometimes, in people with dissociative identity disorder, some personalities cannot or are unwilling to break away from the grouping, making it even more difficult or even impossible to leave. A split personality can also mean that the victims are not even aware of what is happening to them. If they experience memory flashbacks, they are often unable to put them into context and coherently describe what happened.

How can I support victims?

Organised and ritual structures of violence and the people involved are extremely diverse, which means the kind of support needed depends on the individual case.

.You cannot necessarily immediately spot a person affected by organised or ritual violence, because that is precisely what perpetrators want to avoid at all costs.

One should listen with empathy and ask the person what type of support they are looking for. In a professional context in particular, questions should be open-ended and the victims should be given plenty of time to consider the questions.

Who can offer advice?

Eine Möglichkeit ist die bundesweite, kostenfreie und anonyme telefonische Anlaufstelle „berta“ beim „Hilfe-Telefon Sexueller Missbrauch“.

One option is the Germany-wide free and anonymous berta helpline, which is part of the Sexual Abuse Help Line. It can be reached on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 0800 30 50 750. This service offers consolation, advice and support for people who want to leave organised sexualised and ritual structures of violence. It is aimed at both the victims themselves and people who are worried about someone, have a suspicion or are looking for information on the subject.

Stories that inspire courage

Interview | victims and survivors

Being sexually abused by a woman was extremely damaging to my masculinity. I felt very conflicted for many years. It was really tough for me. It took me a long time to reconcile these two sides.

Nicolas Haaf

Member of the Council of Victims and Survivors

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Nicolas Haaf
Interview | Counselling

Such a sensitive and personal topic always needs courage. But I do believe that making a call helps. It is a first step, a first "mustering up the courage". And that alone often makes all subsequent steps much easier.

Tanja von Bodelschwingh

Counsellor at the Sexual Abuse Help Line

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Tanja von Bodelschwingh
Interview | Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse

We want to learn from these stories. That is the central element of coming to terms with what happened: Looking back should form the basis of learning for the sake of today and for the future.

Barbara Kavemann

Member of the Independent Commission for Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Barbara Kavemann
Interview | Self-help

In our self-help group, men can show their weaknesses and are not laughed at, but are respected. That alone is an experience: I don't have to play the tough guy, I can be seen to be vulnerable.

Max Ciolek

Member of the Council of Victims and Survivors

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Max Ciolek
Interview | Law

The developments I observe in many of the victims and survivors are very encouraging and motivating. Often they can find their old self again during this long process.

Petra Ladenburger
Lawyer

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Petra Ladenburger
Interview | People with disabilities

In acute crisis situations in particular, it greatly helps to seek advice from outside and not just stay in your own circle. We look at everything from an independent viewpoint and can help people view the situation neutrally.

Pia Witthöft

Head of the "Mutstelle" Counselling Centre

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Pia Witthöft

Sexual Abuse – we support you if you are looking for help and information.

anonymously, free of charge and across Germany

Give us a call – even if you're unsure

Talk to the advisors of the Sexual Abuse Help Line. Your call is anonymous and free of charge.

0800 22 55 530

Telephone hours:

Mon, Wed, Fri: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tues, Thurs: 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Send us a message

– securely and confidentially

The Sexual Abuse Help Line also offers advice by email. By registering, the advice service remains confidential.