Ritual abuse is an extreme, sadistic form of abuse of children and non-consenting adults. It is methodical, systematic sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, which often includes mind control, torture, and highly illegal and immoral activities such as murder, child pornography and prostitution. The abuse is justified by a religious or political ideology. 

A ritual is an action that has symbolic meaning. It may be private, like taking a good luck charm to an exam, or public (socially shared) like saluting the flag. 

Rituals may be reserved for rare occasions such as births, unions, deaths, changes of social status, or may be used daily. Examples are saying grace or “gesundheit” or kissing a child goodnight. 

The term ritual abuse is generally used to mean repeated, extreme, sadistic abuse, especially of children, within a group setting. The group’s ideology is used to justify the abuse, and abuse is used to teach the group’s ideology. The activities are kept secret from society at large, as they violate norms and laws.

Any ideology can be twisted or adapted to abusive ends. In the United States, Canada, and Europe, people have reported being ritually abused under the banner of Satanism, Christianity, various pagan and pantheistic belief systems, white supremacy movements, Naziism, Santeria, Voodoo, etc. At the present time, Satanism is either the most common ideology under which ritual abuse is practiced or it is receiving the most attention. 

Ritual abuse is perpetrated by men and women from all walks of life and geographical areas, both rural and urban. The percent of the population that perpetrates or that is victimized is unknown.