n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Ritual crime : anthropological considerations and contributions to a new field of study

Volume 20, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093


The occurrence of criminal activities that have been associated or classified as falling within the category of what can be called "ritual crime", has received widespread attention in the media in recent years. However, the nature of this kind of criminal activity makes it a difficult issue to deal with in a simplistic manner. In the media, ritual crimes are usually reported on for the sake of sensationalism, with reports mainly concerned with the occurrence of Satanism or Satanist-related activities. If, for example, a ritual murder has allegedly occurred, the media tend to report only the murder but rarely follow the criminal investigation undertaken by law enforcement officers to solve such a case. Police departments have gone as far as establishing law enforcement structures or units specifically for the purpose of dealing with ritual crime. Given the controversial nature of ritual crime, opinions on its existence are varied, ranging from scepticism, apparently as a result of a lack of verifiable evidence, to religious fundamentalist acceptance, which is based on religious beliefs and not on the verification of evidence. However, not enough is known about the ritual crime phenomenon to warrant any justification for preferring one point of view to another. In this paper, it is suggested that knowledge of anthropology could assist law enforcement officers and policy makers in obtaining a more informed perspective on the issue of ritual crime and how to deal with it. Within the context of globalisation, multiculturalism and religious pluralism, understanding the belief systems of local communities becomes crucial in both the investigation of ritual crimes and the creation of legislation to cope with it. This field of investigation could provide new areas to explore while also contributing towards anthropological research, which could be of possible benefit not only to law enforcement, but also community development.

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