Social workers flagged problematic family years before ‘satanic' sex abuse

Two young girls at the centre of a dysfunctional Marsaskala family were flagged by social workers as being at risk, at least seven years before one of their boyfriends overpowered their household

The case in question deals with the ruse crafted by a man, who caused a family to believe a demon was overpowering the entire household
The case in question deals with the ruse crafted by a man, who caused a family to believe a demon was overpowering the entire household

Two young girls at the centre of a dysfunctional Marsaskala family had been flagged by social workers as being at risk, at least seven years before one of their boyfriends, today facing criminal charges, allegedly manipulated them and their mother into carrying out horrific sex acts on each other.


Day 1 of the trial

Day 2 of the trial

This emerged as the trial of their alleged abuser continued before Madame Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera in the afternoon.

Psychologist Dr. Louisa Eminyan, the eldest daughter’s therapist, had requested social workers to assist during a meeting requested by the girl, after hearing details of what had transpired over the phone. “Over time the girl realised that there was no demon and spoke to me.”

The girl was already attending regular psychotherapy sessions but in December 2018, she was clearly terrified, and two session cancellations followed. After that came the request for an urgent meeting.  “She looked terrified at first, but as she opened up, she appeared amazed and relieved that we were going to help her,” she recalled. “She lived through difficult experiences… but she was living with her grandparents at the time and had created a boundary. She had displaced herself.”

A social worker at Appogg prepared a risk assessment for the eldest daughter, saying she was no longer feeling safe at home, because of threats to her life. “Before leaving the house, the boyfriend had threatened to kill her grandparents – with whom she lived at the time.”

Despite encouraging her to file a police report, the girl was very reluctant. “She was afraid and reluctant to go through the process. She filed the report after we promised to support her all the way.”

Her younger sister, 15, had already been flagged by child protection services and was supposed to be residing with her paternal grandparents, but was living with her parents and boyfriend anyway. “She [elder sister] told us that her mother was involved in the occult and that her sister’s boyfriend was using this belief to control the entire family, in particular her mother.”

Social workers then accompanied the elder sister to the Marsaskala police station and a risk assessment was requested. She was classified as being at high risk of abuse.

The Appogg social worker told the court that the elder sister had reported her younger sibling as appearing indifferent to the sexual abuse at home. “Her mother and sister would beg her to come home because the accused would do something bad to them. When she had gone to a restaurant with her boyfriend, they had called her up to tell her that he was threatening to set fire to the house unless she came home immediately.”

She said the accused used the mother’s history of dabbling with the occult to convince her that she had “opened the door to the devil”. The girl had opined that her mother’s attempted suicide was a cry for help. “She said that it was the only way her mother could leave the house. Otherwise her mother’s going to work was controlled and her phone had been seized by the accused.”

The social workers and police made plans to take the accused into custody, allowing the women to be taken into a shelter. The accused opened the door, but the younger sister tried making a scene with exaggerated expressions of affection towards the elder sister, in the social worker’s presence.

At home, the windows had been closed with thick curtains blocking all outside visibility.

Under cross-examination, the social worker said the ‘violence’ box had not been ticked on the risk assessment because on the day it was compiled, there was no visible violence.

However, it emerged that the children had already been on Appogg’s radar years before when they were aged 12 and 8, because of the family’s dysfunction. Eventually the case had been closed, she said. The witness did not know why, she said.

A witness from the shelter Dar Merhba Bik told the court the elder daughter had been a resident there on two occasions in 2019, having been referred by a social worker from the police domestic violence unit. “She had behaved politely. She looked scared, tired and was going through a lot in recounting her story,” she recalled. Another witness from the shelter said the girl had admitted that “her sister’s boyfriend was making her life very difficult... She was very depressed. Worried about her family. Very depressed. She had been studying at MCAST and this situation was also affecting her studies.”

Elder sister’s boyfriend

The final witness to testify is the eldest sister’s boyfriend, who identified the accused in the courtroom.

He said he only realised about the abuse that was happening when, in subsequent dates with the elder daughter, she would receive phone calls telling her to go back home. “The more it happened, the more I knew that something was going on because my girlfriend would be scared, like, terrified... As it progressed, I eventually found out what was going on. But the first few times I just helped her out.”

The witness said the elder sister had told she had been beaten at the house by ‘the demon’, of which she had shown bruises on her legs. “At first she would say that she bruised easily... then she said she knew it was probably [the accused] and not the demon. Basically the accused… would terrify the whole family by forcing them to do stuff. By beating them. Throwing water on her at night, making her sleep in the cold.”

His family helped the girl file her initial police report. “They pushed her to call the police.” She contacted her former social worker and a full report was made. After that she moved to the shelter and later on, she moved in with him.

But the witness said he did not know the details of the abuse, and under cross-examination, said he could “not do much” when his girlfriend claimed a demon haunted the family. “I was trying to understand exactly what she was talking about. I had never experienced such a thing, so I tried to understand the situation.” He did not believe in demons, he said.

Case continues

Court expert Stephen Farrugia Sacco also gave evidence from an examination of mobile phones, two laptops and two PlayStations found in the house. “One of the laptops had true positives for the keywords [mother’s name] [eldest daughter’s name] sex, satanic, voodoo, John Vella, possession, and their surname, as well as some videos,” he said.

The prosecution declared that it had concluded its evidence.

The parties jointly declared that a DNA expert could be exempted from testifying as no DNA traces had been found on the evidence.

The trial continues tomorrow.