Ritual abuse can be defined as organised sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, which can be systematic and sustained over a long period of time. It involves the use of rituals, with or without a belief system. It usually involves more than one person as abusers. Ritual abuse usually starts in early childhood and involves using patterns of learning and development to sustain the abuse and silence the abused.

Most sexual abuse of children is ritualised. Abusers use repetition, routine and ritual to force children into the patterns of behaviour they require, to instil fear and ensure silence, thus protecting themselves. Sexual abuse of a child is seldom a random act: it usually involves the abusers in thorough planning and preparation beforehand.

Some abusers organise themselves in groups to abuse children and adults in a more formally ritualised way. Men and women in these groups can be abusers with both sexes involved in all aspects of the abuse. Some groups use complex rituals to terrify, silence and convince victims of the tremendous power of the abusers.

Some abusers organise themselves round a religion or faith and the teaching and training of the children within this faith, often takes the form of severe and sustained torture and abuse.

Ritualised child sexual abuse is about abuse of power, control and secrecy. Ten years ago many people found it difficult to believe that fathers actually raped their children, yet survivors of such abuses spoke out and eventually began to be listened to and believed. Ritual abuse survivors, when they try to speak out about their experiences, face denial and disbelief from society and often fear for their lives from the abusers.