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."
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:
- The conspiracy exists.
- My patient, from fear of the conspiracy, represses her experience.
- I reassure her the conspiracy is real and I believe her.
- Then She "remembers" the conspiracy.
- Therefore, the conspiracy exists.
Another circular argument is added from this first illogical
- Adult survivors tell us this is a widespread conspiracy.
- Children who we suspect have been ritually abused don't talk.
- I tell them the adults' stories.
- Then they tell us their own stories.
- 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
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
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
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.