In an article posted today in the Associated Press on Yahoo News brought back memories of one of the most unusual expert witness requests ever received. In the article from Yahoo News, Voodoo followers fear a backlash after two separate crimes against children were committed in the last two months. Due to similarities in the crimes, authorities have identified Voodoo rituals as a motivating factor in the injuries sustained by the child victims.
The two cases happened in Massachusetts. The first crime occurred in East Bridgewater, MA, when two sisters were arrested for restraining and burning a 5-year-old girl in an attempt to rid her of a demon. The child suffered permanent disfigurement. The violence against the child was described as a “Voodoo ritual.” Nearly a week later in Brockton, MA, a mother was arrested for stabbing two of her children in what the mother described as “Voodoo stuff.”
Two separate crimes, within close proximity, and both mentioning or characterizing rituals as related to Voodoo, have upset followers of local community members who practice Haitian Vodou, as they fear the crimes will result in a backlash against their culture and religion. The article explains “practitioners of Haitian Vodou, which adherents spell differently to distinguish it from other variants, say the religion does not sanction violence and fear the crimes will spark a backlash against their community.”
Reading this article sparked a memory of one of the most interesting cases presented to me during my time with Experts.com. It was not the most high-profile expert witness request I had ever received, but it was one of my first international expert requests.
The Child Witchcraft Expert Witness Request
Criminal defense counsel out of UK had contacted me via email. He was looking for several expert witnesses. His first two requests were common enough: forensic psychiatrist and child psychologist. It was the third request, for a Child Witchcraft expert, that forced me to do some in-depth research and search beyond our database to located the appropriate expert witness. First of all, I had no idea to what the attorney was referring. This was the first time in my life I had ever heard of the “Child Witch Phenomenon” or “Child Witchcraft.” As such, the research on the subject was basically to educate myself on the topic before I started contacting expert witness candidates.
While researching, I discovered… In several countries in Africa (Nigeria, Congo and others), there is a severe cultural and religious fear of witches as they are the crux of evil. According to this 2010 article from CNN, “Pastors in southeast Nigeria claim illness and poverty are caused by witches who bring terrible misfortune to those around them. And those denounced as witches must be cleansed through deliverance or cast out.”
Often, children are the ones accused of being witches. In order to cleanse the child, they are beaten, tortured, and sometimes buried alive. Some children have been stabbed to death in an attempt to free them from the witch’s grasp.
Religious leaders in some African countries have taken advantage of this belief in Child Witchcraft. They will offer to expel or exorcise the witch for a price. A pretty good way to make a living if you are dealing with a poor and uneducated populace. Rather than being made aware of mental health disorders that could be impacting a child’s behavior, these pastors have made a living preying on a family’s fear.
How did the case make it to the UK?
The UK has a large immigrant population. Those emigrating from areas in Africa where the Child Witch Phenomenon is rampant, now find themselves in a new country with new laws and a different appreciation of mental health disorders and treatment.
At the time we processed the referral for a Child Witchcraft expert witness, I recall there having been 10-12 UK-based criminal trials involving Child Witchcraft allegations. A child appears uncontrollable, possibly dealing with early onset mental illness, and the parents seek the counsel of religious leaders. Those leaders recommend exorcism. Exorcism involves violence, the child is severely harmed, the police get involved, and criminal complaints are filed. The prosecution begins.
Is this now happening in Massachusetts? Instead of the Child Witch Phenomenon, is the State dealing with a similar Voodoo-based phenomena?
How do we as a society, address these types of issues before the child is endangered and the parents are on trial? Is it a matter of educating parents, community, and religious leaders about mental illness? Do we need to improve awareness of treatment? Your comments are welcome!