Police in London have looked into more than 30 cases of child abuse over the last one year that have somehow been traced back to belief in spirit possession and witchcraft. The investigations range from allegations of children’s heads being banged violently to drive out the devil to them having chilli peppers smeared in their eyes for similar results. Other cases brought to the Metropolitan Police’s attention include children being drowned in bathtubs to wash away spirits and them also being forced to consume noxious fluids so their systems can be cleansed during exorcism ceremonies. What are worse however, are the increasing allegations of ritualistic sex abuse. Recently, two minors even came forward to confess they were raped in attacks linked to witchcraft. After looking into all the reported cases, police in London fear they have discovered only the tip of the iceberg, as most cases continue to remain unreported.
A new documentary for all front line professionals who work with minors has recently been produced so teachers and social activists can learn the signs that reveal a child has faced sexual abuse in the name of witchcraft or black magic. The film is scheduled to be released at an event organized by the Metropolitan Police along with the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service later this year.
Police are of the opinion that much of the abuse is part of a hidden secret, kept inside families, and in worse cases, within faith communities. Terry Sharpe, Detective Superintendent from the Metropolitan’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command, believes it is most important to remember child abuse is abuse, irrespective of religious or cultural sensibilities.
“Abuse linked to belief is a horrific crime which is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths. A number of high-profile investigations brought the issue of ritual abuse and witchcraft into the headlines but it is important that professionals are clear about the signs to look for. Families or carers genuinely believe that the victim has been completely taken over by the devil or an evil spirit, which is often supported by someone who within the community has portrayed themselves as an authority on faith and belief. Often in the perpetrators’ minds, any abuse is not going to affect the victim because he or she believes the child is effectively not there anymore and the abuse is directed at whatever has possessed the child. The victim is often convinced that this is the truth and that the abuse is 'normal' behaviour. Regardless of the beliefs of the abusers, child abuse is child abuse. Our role is to safeguard children, not challenge beliefs. We investigate crimes against children, but our main aim is to prevent abuse in the first place. This is a hidden crime and we can only prevent it by working in partnership with the community,” he said.
Kevani Kanda is only one of the many survivors of such ritualistic sex abuse. After recovering from her childhood trauma, Kanda went on to present a BBC documentary titled ‘Branded a Witch’ that addresses this horrid issue from a victim’s perspective.
“As a survivor of ritual abuse I have witnessed at first hand the harm which belief-related abuse can result in. Globalisation means that paranoia over witchcraft and spirit possession is no longer confined to developing nations. Mass migration has made this a pervasive problem worldwide. It is not confined to cities or areas where there are large migrant communities. Belief-related abuse can result in significant physical, emotional harm, neglect, sexual abuse and even death,” she said.
In 2000, the Metropolitan Police set up Project Violet to look into child abuse cases that are linked with witchcraft and black magic. The initiative came after 8-year-old Victoria Climbie was killed in Haringey by Marie Therese Kouao and Carl Manning. Kouao was Climbie’s great aunt and Manning, Kouao’s boyfriend. Two years later, Kristy Bamu was tortured and murdered by Magalie Bamu and his partner Eric Bikubi, who believe Bamu was, in fact, possessed.
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