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Stolen Innocence

An AIA review of Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy
Written by Doris Sanford and illustrated by Graci Evans
Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1990

Copyright 1994 by Gretchen Passantino.
My eyes opened in the dark bedroom. I could only see the small, hunched shape of my seven year old son as he stumbled toward the bed. Paul's soft sobs had wakened me. "Mommy, Mommy, hold me, Mommy! Don't let the bad guy get me, Mommy!" I lifted the edge of the covers and settled him into bed between my husband and me. Paul buried his face in my shoulder and clung tightly to my neck. I snuggled him close and stroked his back.

"It's okay, Baby, Mommy and Daddy are here." I continued murmuring reassurances to him, praying for Jesus to give him peace. Slowly he quieted and drifted to sleep, secure in my arms. Such a big, strong, fearless boy -- and yet so vulnerable. His baby sitter had let him watch a violent, scary thriller on video and this was the third night he had fallen victim in his dreams to the bad memories. I carefully controlled my anger at the baby sitter. After all, she hadn't meant to scare Paul. She thought it was a good movie. The bad guys were really bad, but the good guys won. And it was a "reality-based drama," not some psycho thriller science fiction monster. And yet here was my young son, only in first grade and already trying to grapple with the moral consequences of international drug dealing, political torture, and cold blooded murder. No child should be exploited by fear, even unwittingly, even when it's "reality-based."

Vicarious Victimization

Exploitation by fear is the problem with Multnomah Press's Hurts of Childhood series' newest addition, Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child's Book about Satanic Ritual Abuse. Combine an impressionable toddler, a caring, over- protective parent, and this book and you have the ingredients to produce terror in a hurting, vulnerable child. Satanic ritual child abuse is devastatingly horrible, and its victims should be comforted, nurtured, and healed with the very best in committed, loving, biblical counsel. But we do not need "counseling aids" that can produce vicarious victimization.

Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy is a twenty-four page picture book for children between the ages of five and eleven, with lavish, full-color illustrations. The simple text probably is designed to be read aloud by a parent or therapist. The back cover summarizes the story: "When five-year-old Allison's parents begin to see a change in her behavior at home, they seek professional help for her. They find that Allison and other children have been ritually abused at a day care center. Thus begins Allison's recovery through counseling and through her parents' affirmations that it was not her fault, that she is precious and loved, and they will keep her safe."

The text is noticeably obscure perhaps partly since "the 'storyline' has been presented in vignettes -- little glimpses -- into many possible ways ritual abuse occurs." Author Doris Sanford told us she purposely "coded" the text as a way of reaching fearful child victims, but also admitted that a non-victim child might be "confused or angry" at the lack of clarity. Even so, the catalog of reported ritual activities is clear in the dialog.

The pictures, confusing for most children, include "coded" details as well as explicitly frightening scenes, such as the Halloween ritual in the barnyard with a noose, naked children in a ritual circle, and black robed figures.

The text and pictures' double meanings may have been used as "clues" to abused children, but it sends a different and frightening message to non-abused children: what you think is good is bad, no matter what. The juxtaposition of normal items with the abnormal could confuse children into thinking, for example, that if the pentagram in the picture is evil, then so must be the cross next to it. The perpetrators are all dark skinned and dark haired, so a child may conclude that dark people are ritual abusers. The first picture of the day care room is littered with "clues" such as cups of juice (the abused child will recognize drugged drinks), the pregnant teacher (translate "baby breeder for Satan"), or the pictures of bunnies (representing the all-seeing, all-hearing abusers as well as the real bunnies tortured and killed to warn against telling secrets). A conscientious parent may well be used by this book to instill insecurity and fear in the unexposed child.

In fact, objective data and hard evidence do not support any of the presumptions on which this book is based. There is no evidence of a widespread satanic conspiracy, no evidence of widespread ritual abuse, no evidence that the many "adult survivors" have credible stories, and no evidence that the value of this kind of book outweighs its dangerous, exploitative ability to frighten children instead of protect.

The strongest "argument" for the truthfulness of this scenario is the anecdotal stories of "adult survivors" who have been "treated" by therapists who are pushing their own subjective illusions about the phenomenon. Some therapists with preconceived ideas transfer those ideas to adult survivors, whose testimonies are then used to transfer the ideas to children, so that both adults and children can corroborate the therapists' preconceived ideas. The therapists argue in a circle:

  1. The conspiracy exists.
  2. My patient, from fear of the conspiracy, represses her experience.
  3. I reassure her the conspiracy is real and I believe her.
  4. Then She "remembers" the conspiracy.
  5. Therefore, the conspiracy exists.

Another circular argument is added from this first illogical argument:

  1. Adult survivors tell us this is a widespread conspiracy.
  2. Children who we suspect have been ritually abused don't talk.
  3. I tell them the adults' stories.
  4. Then they tell us their own stories.
  5. Therefore, the children corroborate the adults and both corroborate the therapists.

On the contrary, the data and evidence instead suggest that there is no widespread conspiracy. Further, ritual abuse evidence points to a few isolated perpetrators. To date no objective public information or evidence has been produced to support any "adult survivor," and the stories of some "survivors" have been proved false by the evidence. There is also evidence that children's perceptions of reality can be manipulated, even by those with good intentions, and the result can be fear and emotional damage.

Children are extremely impressionable. Dreams, memories, movies, stories, and television are often as real to young children as everyday life. When trust in parents and a desire to please adults combine with this impressionability, it is little wonder that children sometimes believe and say they have experienced what actually has not happened to them. Dr. Lee Coleman, a Berkeley psychiatrist and expert in child sexual abuse, explained, "It's not a matter of a child's statement only being either true or false. A third possibility is that a child, particularly a young one, may be neither lying nor telling the truth, but what he or she believes is true, based on the questioning of the child by over- zealous, biased investigators, using props and leading questions, perhaps even things like this book." Coleman expressed to us his concern for these children, describing them as "victims of sloppy, unprofessional and biased therapists who are harming the very children they say they're trying to help." A major study by UC Berkeley's Family Welfare Research Group reports that, merely after listening to stories about child abuse, 20% of the preschoolers questioned believed normal parental touching such as being bathed or tucked into bed was "bad."

The Lauren Stratford Connection

After we had decided to review this book, a colleague passed on interesting information. Lauren Stratford told him that she was the actual author of Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy! Were this true, the book would be not only potentially harmful, but its credibility irrecoverably damaged by Stratford's demonsrated history of story telling. In a subsequent conversation, Lauren said she hadn't written the entire text, but was closely consulted on the manuscript and contributed important details. (In my follow-up interview recently, she declined to discuss her involvement at all.)

We called Multnomah Press's Senior Editor, Al Jenssen, who told us Lauren didn't write the book, but before her own book was exposed, Multnomah used her as a consultant on the project. She provided research and "looked at" one of the earlier drafts. Stratford's close friend Lynn Laboriel recently told us Lauren was very involved in the book, that her input on the book had improved it, making it less distressing to troubled children. "I saw her make changes [to the manuscript], that greatly increased the value of the message." Doris Sanford told us she had read Satan's Underground, but that Stratford's actual involvement was slight, consisting of two or three phone calls "supportive of the project and encouraging us," and a large packet of research. "Perhaps Lauren's book encouraged Multnomah concerning the need for our book, and Multnomah may have sent her a copy after they approved it, but we didn't."

Jenssen added that after Stratford's book was exposed all information used in the book obtained from her was double checked with other sources. Jenssen told us Stratford originally believed she would have a much greater involvement in the project, and "she could have felt bad that we didn't follow through" as discussed. Jenssen declined to give us his opinion on Stratford's current credibility.

Interestingly, Jenssen did not volunteer to us that he was the editor Harvest House Publishers used to heavily edit Satan's Underground before it was published. That double involvement may be relate to what Sanford told us, that she had not considered writing this book until Multnomah approached her with the need.

Conclusion

Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy was released in July, 1990 and 7,600 copies are in print. Sanford told us the book was marketed primarily to mental health professionals, school counselors, parent organizations, and support groups. Jenssen added that sales through secular bookstores were stronger than to Christian markets. Marketing spokesman Dick Sleeper agreed, but told us the book is also "plugged in well to Christian bookstores." In other words, the book is readily accessible to the general public and to small children.

Sanford is a conscientious author. I have recommended some of her previous children's books. I cannot recommend this book, and I believe strongly that it represents the danger when well-meaning professionals substitute anecdotal experiences from untrustworthy sources for legitimate evidence.


The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26


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