Prosecutors and mental health professionals are angry at what they see as irresponsible actions by a private investigator who suggests child sexual abuse "rings" in Utah are fiction planted in children's heads by biased and overzealous therapists.
"There is no evidence of any therapist, Barbara Snow or anyone else, putting ideas into the kids' heads," said Assistant Utah Attorney General Robert N. Parrish. "I don't see anyone having the power and authority over children to do this. People wouldn't be able to pull this off successfully."Dr. Paul L. Whitehead, public affairs representative for the Utah Psychiatric Association, agrees. "It is unbelievable that any therapist could have that much power and control over the thoughts and ideas of children."
Snow, former clinical director of the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center, counseled victims of A. Brett Bullock, a Bountiful architect who was convicted a year ago of molesting young boys who lived in his former Bountiful neighborhood. She also was one of the principal therapists who testified for the prosecution in the Allan B. Hadfield trial.
Hadfield was convicted last December of sexually abusing his 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. Snow is one of three therapists counseling four Salt Lake County children who claim to be victims of another so-called child sexual abuse ring.
Private investigator Rikki Profita, who filed an affidavit in support of a motion for a new trial in the Hadfield case, insists there are too many similarities among the investigations. She said she has investigated five sexual abuse cases involving alleged child abuse "rings" - two in Bountiful, two in Lehi (including the Hadfield case) and one in Midvale. She said she was initially hired by Hadfield relatives to interview jurors at Hadfield's trial, but has since developed a burning curiosity about the case and its similarities to other child sexual abuse cases.
All of the cases, she said, involved strikingly similar and bizarre details concerning ritual abuse, satanic themes, costumes and games. Each case also involved Snow to some degree, she said.
"I thought I'd walked into a joke," Profita said, when a Bountiful woman recited, sometimes in the same words, a tale of child abuse virtually identical to that of the Lehi case. "And some of the instances happened within hours or days of the same accusations (in a different case). They used the same identical drawings and played the same games. How? How could they be so similar?"
Dr. David C. Raskin, a University of Utah psychology professor and polygraph expert who says he has "intimate knowledge" of at least two of the celebrated cases, asks the same questions. "If there are sexual rings, I have yet to see any concrete evidence of them," he said. "There are similar factors involved in the Lehi case and Bullock case in Bountiful, which raises more than a suspicion of evidence that Barbara Snow is a key player in many of those cases.
"It is not the law enforcement people who create these situations," Raskin continued. "It is poorly trained and confused mental health professionals who use inadequate techniques and have their own agenda."
Whitehead, a child psychiatrist who has also counseled some of the children in these cases, agreed there are similarities among the cases, but also significant differences in each case. "They have much in common as do most of the sex abuse ring cases identified around the country in recent years," he said. "But they don't have much more in common than they have in common with cases in other states."
Profita sees things differently, although she said she merely gathers information without drawing conclusions.
In addition to similar descriptions of the abuse, Profita said she also identified counseling techniques common to at least eight therapists, including Snow, in all five cases. She said, for example, that the children were first told of the difference between "good and bad touch." The therapist also repeated the allegations that were made by other children and hugged or encouraged the children when they gave "correct" responses and threatened them when they did not. She said the therapist would not accept denials from the children and persisted in asking the same questions in as many as 50 interviews.
"If you keep on asking the same question over and over again, the kids will catch on to what you want to hear," Profita said.
According to Parrish, there have been four law enforcement agencies, four treatment agencies and 14 therapists involved in the Lehi, Bountiful and Midvale cases. All 14 therapists separately have reported similar stories told by the 40 children who have claimed to have been involved in ritualistic sex abuse.
Parrish said most of the children have not been seen by Snow during the past two years, yet the children's stories stay the same and coincide when they talk with other therapists.
"If they were a product of her (Snow) instilling the ideas in their minds, the ideas would gradually change if they were not reinforced by the same techniques," Whitehead said. "Other therapists have not reinforced them; they have only listened to them."
He and other therapists adamantly deny using the "forceful and intimidating techniques described by Profita."
But Profita persists. She thinks it is incredible that so many people could be involved in such highly organized ritual abuse without some perpetrator confessing, either because of guilt feelings or through a plea bargain.
"It's hard to believe there are a lot of people committing these crimes without breaking the ranks, that there is no guilt and that there has never been an informant," she said.
Parrish concedes it is odd that none of the alleged ring members have come forward to confess.
"In every one of these multi-victim, multi-perpetration cases that have been so publicized across the country, the prosecutors have hoped for and expected that someone would come forward and give information about the ring," he said. "Despite good evidence to believe those rings do exist, not one has involved an informant and an adult who's willing to come forth and talk about it."
Nonetheless, he insists Profita is off the mark.
"She's trying to do the same thing that's been attempted in other parts of country. The idea is that if you have separate incidents where children are making bizarre allegations of satanism and you can't believe it's happening, then someone must be putting it in their heads. I see it exactly the opposite. When you compare cases that are almost identical, it probably is pretty good evidence of what's going on."
The prosecutor also said refusing to believe the abuse took place because it's "too bizarre" is dangerous.
"No investigator, private or public, is in a position to compare cases to say this one happened and this one didn't," he said. "All we can do is say, `This is what the kids are saying and this is the corroboration or lack of it.' But you can't say it's too bizarre and so we can't believe it."
Parrish said the attorney general's office is also investigating certain aspects of Profita's background that he said cast doubt on her credibility. He said, for example, Profita uses two different names - Rikki Profita and Regan Hunt - which is not illegal, but she also has two Utah driver's licenses with different names and different Social Security numbers.
Profita also used different names in several advertisements that ran in the May 1988 edition of the Utah State Bar newsletter. One ad requests work as a paralegal or private investigator on behalf of R. Hunt. Another litigation paralegal named Regan requests work in a separate ad, while a third ad asks attorneys who have defended accused child molesters in cases involving the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center or its counselors to contact Rikki.
"It is illegal to apply for different driver's licenses and to provide false information," Parrish said. "It's a pattern that seems to show an attempt to hide her past a little bit or possibly to use both identities depending on what served her best at the time."
Profita pleaded guilty to shoplifting $788 in clothing from Nordstrom in 1987. Parrish said such an offense, coupled with the aliases, raises serious questions about her credibility. He said her conviction would be used to impugn her testimony if she were to testify in any court proceedings concerning child sexual abuse cases.
Profita raises eyebrows even in the Hadfield camp. Brad Rich, Hadfield's defense attorney, said Profita has never worked on the Hadfield case. He also said he'd like to know who Profita really is.
Said Rich: "How can you use an investigator who would be impeached on the first question: What is your name?"
Profita acknowledged she used the aliases, but said it was only because she was recently married. (Rikki, she said, is a nickname.) As for the two Social Security numbers, she said she may have inadvertently given her son's number when she applied for one of the licenses.
She said the shoplifting conviction is irrelevant to her credentials as private investigator. She also said she is innocent of the charges, but decided to plead guilty at the advice of her attorney so she could avoid the stress of going to trial. In fact, she said she brought it up herself during conversations with an investigator in the attorney general's office to illustrate how people can be intimidated by the judicial system.
She said prosecutors are bringing up the shoplifting because they don't like what she's saying. "So they're shooting the bringer of bad news."
As for the charges that she isn't qualified to evaluate the situation, Profita acknowledges that she doesn't have as much experience as state detectives. She also concedes she does not have the expertise to determine just where therapists cross the line into coercion in child abuse cases.
"You're asking me (questions in) an area I have no expertise," she said. "All I can say is it doesn't appear to be working . . . . There is something wrong and there has to be some more definitive way to get at this. There has to be better evidence."