Ritual abuse can be defined as organised sexual, physical, psychological abuse, which can be systematic and sustained over a long period of time. It involves the use of rituals, which may or may not be underpinned by a belief system, and often involves more than one abuser. Ritual abuse usually starts in early childhood and uses patterns of learning and development to sustain the abuse and silence the abused. The abusers concerned may be acting in concert or using an institutional framework or position of authority to abuse children. Ritual abuse may occur within a family or community, or within institutions such as residential homes and schools. Such abuse is profoundly traumatic for the children involved.
Ritual abuse can also include unusual or ritualised behaviour by organised groups, sometimes associated with particular belief systems or linked to a belief in spiritual possession.