Over the past decade, the number of cases of ritualistic abuse of children reported to the police has risen year-on-year, with 27 cases being investigated this year. Since 2004, a total of 148 cases have been referred to the police. It is believed that the number of these cases is likely to be greater but many are not reported to the authorities and are kept hidden in the communities.

The abuse suffered includes children being dunked in a bath, swung around by preachers, smacked and having chilli peppers rubbed in their eyes in order to “drive out the devil” as well as sexual abuse linked to witchcraft.

High-profile cases linked to this belief include the murder of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu in East London in 2010. He was accused of using witchcraft and tortured and drowned by his sister and her boyfriend on Christmas Day.  In February 2000, Victoria Climbie, aged eight, died after being beaten, burned with cigarettes and forced to sleep in a bin liner in a bath by her great-aunt and her boyfriend who claimed she was possessed. They were found guilty of her murder in 2001. The same year, the torso of a young boy was found floating in the Thames. It is believed he may have been the victim of a ritual sacrifice.

Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe, from the Metropolitan Police’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command highlighted that 

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.

He emphasised that

“regardless of the beliefs of the abusers, child abuse is child abuse and it is important that professionals are clear about the signs to look for”.

To this end, a new training film for professionals who work with children, such as teachers, healthcare staff and social workers, has now been produced in order to help them spot the signs that a child is being abused in the name of witchcraft.