Ralph Underwager (28 July 1929 – 29 November 2003) was an American minister and psychologist who rose to prominence as a defense witness for adults accused of child sexual abuse in the 1980s and 1990s. Until his death in 2003, he was the director of the Institute for Psychological Therapies, which he founded in 1974. He was also a founder of Victims of Child Abuse Laws (VOCAL), a lobby group which represented the interests of parents whose children had been removed from their care by social services over abuse allegations, and he was a founding member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.


Underwager was married to Hollida Wakefield.

He earned a masters degree from Concordia Seminary of St. Louis and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He was a pastor of Lutheran churches in Iowa and Minnesota.

Founder of VOCAL

Underwager first appeared in court as a defense witness for two of the accused in the 1984 Jordan, Minnesota case, one of the earliest attempts to prosecute alleged organized child sexual abuse in the United States. On the stand, Underwager argued that the children’s testimony of abuse was the result of brainwashing by social workers using Communist thought-reform techniques.[1] The accused couple were acquitted, and they joined with Underwager to form VOCAL, a lobby group for people who had been accused of child abuse by social services.[2]

Within a year of its establishment, VOCAL claimed 3000 members in 100 chapters across America.[3] VOCAL members picketed hospitals, courts and social service departments who they characterized as staffed by “Gestapo-like” “fanatics”, “quacks and zealots” who remove children solely based on “rumours”.[4] Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, VOCAL made several attempts to have legislation passed that would limit the powers of child protection services. Nationally, VOCAL campaigned to lift the burden of proof in child protection cases to a criminal standard.[5] In Florida, VOCAL lobbied to restrict mandatory reporting requirements.[6] VOCAL criticized child abuse prevention programs, claiming that they create sexually aware children who might misinterpret innocent touch from an adult.[7]

Career as a defense witness

Underwager was a prolific defense expert for people accused of child sexual abuse. By the late 1980s, he had appeared in court on behalf of defendants in child sexual abuse cases more than 200 times in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.[8] In court and in the media, Underwager claimed that 60% of women sexually abused in childhood reported that the experience was good for them,[9] he characterized child protection investigations as nothing less than an "assault on the family as an institution"[10] and he alleged that 75% of mothers alleging sexual abuse in custody proceedings suffered from a "severe personality disorder" that prompted them to manufacture false allegations.[11] He claimed that forensic interviews with children inevitably lead the child to confabulate an account of satanic ritual abuse because the "fantasy world of children is filled with mayhem, murder, cannibalism, blood and gore".[12] He claimed that all forensic interviews with children provoked this sadistic sexual fantasy life, creating "psychotic" and sexualized children who were "ruined for life".[13]

Anna Salter claimed that in response to her criticism of his courtroom testimony and for claiming he lied in order to help child molesters evade punishment, Underwager filed several unsuccessful suits against Salter as well as other threatening actions.[14]

Interview controversy

Underwager was forced to resign from the advisory board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and curtail his public activities because of an interview he and Hollida Wakefield—his wife and also an FMFS advisory board member—had given to Paidika, the Journal of Paedophilia. This interview was given by Underwager and his wife Wakefield in the context of their view that the best prevention programs for sex-abuse of children were those that focused on stopping the actions of abusers. In the interview Underwager and Wakefuield specifically stated that sexual contact between adults and children is always harmful, a position that they first explicated in their 1988 book and repeated in their 1994 book Return of the Furies.[15] Underwager claimed that "radical feminists who have self-styled themselves as sex-abuse experts" had taken the interview out of context and misrepresented his answers, reiterating previous statements that he believed "sexual contact between an adult and a child is [n]ever acceptable nor can it ever be positive."[16]


  1. Summit, R. C. "Ritualistic Child Abuse: A report on the seminar presented by Professor Roland Summit for the New South Wales Child Protection Council, Sydney", NSW Child Protection Council, 1994, p 14
  2. Hechler, D. The Battle and the Backlash: The Child Sexual Abuse War. Lexington, Massachusetts; Toronto, Lexington Books, 1988.
  3. Meinert, D. "Two-thirds of all child-abuse reports groundless, says study", San Diego Union-Tribune, 1985, p1-6
  4. Formanek Jr, R. "Child Abuse Waning", The Record, 11 November 1985, p. 1; Gentry, C. and P. Basofin "Group's Ad calls HRS "Gestapo-like"", St Petersburg Times, 17 October 1989, p.b 1; O'Morain, P. "Irish Group Is Linked To Opponents of Child Abuse Programmes In US", Irish Times, 25 June 1996, p. 7
  5. Shirk, M. "Fewer Cases of Abuse Confirmed", St Louis Post-Dispatch, 23 September 1990, p. 1
  6. Emery, E. and R. Flack "Plan would overhaul child abuse reporting / Lawmaker seeks greater protection for parents", Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, 13 February 1991, p1
  7. Chung, L. A. "Abuse Experts Clash About Child Witnesses", The San Francisco Chronicle, 1 February 1985, p25
  8. Grant, L (1994-04-25). "Tricks of the Memory". The Guardian: pp. 8. 
  9. Lightfoot, L (1993-12-19). "Child Abuse Expert Says Paedophilia Part Of `God's Will' - Dr Ralph Underwager". The Sunday Times. 
  10. Duncan, D (1997-05-03). "Children's testimony in sexual abuse cases remains controversial". The Seattle Times: pp. B9. 
  11. Dvorchak, R (1992-08-22). "Custody Fights Use Sex Charge as Weapon". The Arizona Republic: pp. A1-8. 
  12. Struck, D (1986-12-29). "Little Found to Substantiate Accounts of Bizarre, Satanic Child Abuse". The Baltimore Sun. 
  13. Smith, L (1992-09-13). "Truth Can Be Victim In Child Sex Abuse". Chicago Sun-Times: pp. 30. 
  14. Salter, A (1998). "Confessions of Whistle-Blower: Lessons Learnt". Ethics & Behavior 8 (2): 115–124. 
  15. Underwager, Ralph and Hollida Wakefield. Return of the Furies. (Peru, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, 1994) p. 64-66
  16. Underwager, R; Wakefield H (1994). "Misinterpretation of a Primary Prevention Effort". Issues in Child Abuse Accusations 6 (2): 96–107. 
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Ralph Underwager. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.