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Ritualist abuse of children may be occurring in Utah, but a two-year investigation by the Utah attorney general's office has concluded there is insufficient evidence "to substantiate with physical evidence the incidents reported to them."

"Using the standard for criminal prosecution, investigators were unable to support the cases substantially to justify filing of criminal charges, and in some cases, the alleged incidents were beyond the statute of limitations," the report stated.The attorney general's investigation was launched in 1992 when then-Gov. Norm Bangerter recommended a $250,000 appropriation to investigate reports of ritual abuse and ritual crimes.

Investigators Mike King and Matt Jacobson subsequently met with hundreds of Utahns who claimed to have been victims of satanic, physical or sexually motivated ritual crimes. Only one of the cases ever resulted in criminal charges.

In another case, "both the mother and the father admitted to serious sexual and physical crimes against the (three) children and named several other individuals who were also involved," the report stated. "The crimes occurred over 25 years ago, but this case does indicate that serious sexual and physical abuse can happen and that it is perpetrated by those who cloak their crimes in ritualistic activity."

The report acknowledged there have been few attempts to prosecute perpetrators of ritualistic abuse, citing problems with victims' memories and the lack of corroborating physical evidence.

Much of the evidence supporting the existence of ritual abuse was derived from "recovered memories," a condition in which traumatic childhood memories are blocked at an early age and recalled only after intensive therapy. Most courts have ruled that the results of hypnotherapy are not admissible in court.

"Even when hypnosis is not directly involved, there is enough controversy about the entire issue of recovered memories in the field of psychology that the courts are unlikely to admit such evidence without showing that the memory of the victim is reliable," the report stated.

Investigators were cautious not to discount ritualistic crimes altogether. They cited the case of the Zion Society in Ogden where some 100 people claimed membership in an organization that advocated the sexual abuse of children. Twelve individuals were convicted of crimes against children.

The report also stated there is no evidence that Utah law enforcement officials have ever refused to investigate a reported incident of ritual abuse. It also indicated that officers who have closed cases as "unfounded" are marked as secret participants in the occult and have received threats or intimidating letters.

The attorney general's investigation marks the first time Utah officials have conducted a comprehensive investigation into the issue. A handful of other states and the FBI have conducted similar probes.

In the past two years, more than 125 cases alleging occult and ritual activity have been reported to the attorney general's office. About 40 of those cases involved reports of homicides wherein "victims had been killed while involved in ritual ceremonies."

In each case, "victims giving personal accounts of involvement with homicides could not produce enough evidence to warrant an investigation. The times, dates, names or places could not be identified."