Abduction, UFO
During the 1980s, ufologists began to give a significant
amount of their time to consideration of accounts of individuals
who claimed to have not just seen various forms of spacecraft,
but to have been forcefully taken aboard them and forced to
undergo various kinds of medical-like procedures, the most
typical being different types of body probes. The UFO community
had to deal with accounts of people having direct contact
with entities in control of spacecraft. These were most often stories
of friendly contact with extraterrestrials who brought a
message of warning about the current trend of society which
should be countered by a new awareness of the Earth’s role in
the larger world of spiritual realities. The people claiming
these kinds of relationships with extraterrestrials were labeled
contactees and largely dismissed by ufologists.
The first reports that fit what was to become the general pattern
of abduction stories came in the 1960s. In 1961, a New
Hampshire housewife, Betty Hill, reported a UFO sighting to
NICAP (the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena).
During the course of the follow-up interviews by
NICAP investigators, unclear parts of the account came to the
fore. Among these were a missing two hours. The sighting had
taken place while Betty and her husband were returning home.
They arrived two hours later than they should have. Eventually
the couple went into psychotherapy and under hypnosis described
their meeting with a group of beings described as approximately
five feet tall, with a large hairless head, greyish
skin, large slanted eyes, a slit mouth, diminutive nose and ears,
and long fingers. They were taken aboard a spacecraft and examined.
A needle was stuck into Betty’s stomach. Before they
left, they were told to forget the experience, and as the spaceship
left the ground, their recollection of what had just occurred
The Hill’s story would possibly have been lost amid the vast
files of UFO reports if writer John Fuller had not discovered
the Hills and authored a book detailing the story that had been
revealed in the string of hypnotic sessions. Fuller’s 1966 book,
Interrupted Journey, along with the condensed version of the
story published by Look magazine, placed abductions on the
UFO community’s agenda. Admittedly, other accounts of
forced contact with extraterrestrials had been reported to various
UFO organizations. One, the story of a young Brazilian
man, Antonio Villas Boas, who claimed to have been abducted
in 1957, was published in 1965 in Flying Saucer Review, the respected
British UFO periodical. It was given a thorough review
following the publication of the Hill case. Taken aboard the
saucer, he allegedly had a blood sample taken and was forced
to have intercourse with a human-like woman, after which samples
of his sperm were retrieved and saved.
Though two thoroughly documented cases were now on record,
additional accounts were slow in coming. It was not until
the 1970s that a series of cases attracted renewed attention to
the abduction phenomena. In 1973, two shipyard workers,
Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker, were abducted as they
were fishing in Pasacagoula, Mississippi. Several others also occurred
that year. Then in 1975 six men in Arizona reported
that a coworker had disappeared as he approached a hovering
UFO. Travis Walton reappeared five days later and began to
recount his story of a forced encounter with the being aboard
the craft. Again that year, other less notable abduction cases
were reported, but equally important, a made-for-TV movie
about the Hill case ran on NBC on October 20. An increasing
number of cases were reported annually through the end of the
As the abduction reports often included an element of memory
loss, the encounters themselves were frequently years if not
decades prior to any investigator hearing of the abduction incidents.
Typical was the Betty Andreasson case. Though her reported
abduction occurred in 1967, the investigation by Raymond
Fowler did not begin until 1976 and his book recounting
the story did not appear until 1979. However, his The Andreasson
Affair (1979) and The Tujunga Canyon Contacts (1980) by Ann
Druffel and D. Scott Rogo prepared the UFO community for
a fresh consideration of the abduction stories during the next
Abduction stories would take center stage in the 1980s.
Leading the demand that ufologists pay attention to the abduction
cases was Budd Hopkins, a relative newcomer to the field,
whose 1981 book, Missing Time, recounted a number of abduction
cases he had uncovered. He also noted the similarities in
the cases: the gray humanoids who conducted the abductions,
the physical examination that included the taking of blood or
skin samples and attention to the reproductive organs. Hopkins’
work called attention to the fact that there were a large
number of cases with a number of similarities that could be
quantified. Growing interest in the work reached a new high in
1987 when popular horror fiction writer Whitley Streiber issued
a book, Communion, in which he told the story of his own
abduction. The book became a best-seller and brought attention
to the UFO community that it had not enjoyed since the
days of the Condon Report (1969). That same year, in a catalog
of cases issued by the Fund for UFO Research, folklorist
Thomas E. Bullard reported the existence of more than 300
cases. As a result of the attention given to abductions in 1987,
the number of reports would rise considerably.
These hundreds of cases, which have arisen from people independently
of others or awareness of abduction stories in general,
while varying immensely in details, tell a very similar
story. The abductee’s life is interrupted by strange beings and
their will to resist is impaired. They are taken aboard a spaceship,
sometimes levitation being an instrumental part, and are
subjected to an invasive physical examination. Generally, the
victim is forced to forget the incident and only years later,
prompted by troubling emotions possibly manifest in nightmares,
the victim engages in psychotherapy or hypnosis, during
which the memory of the abduction emerges.
The element of memory loss coupled with the intrusive invasion
of the body during the examination has given rise to comparisons
of the abduction stories with a very similar story of Satanic
ritual abuse in which under psychotherapy and/or
hypnosis, stories emerge of people having been forced to participate
in a Satanic ritual where they were raped. Subsequently
they forgot the incident(s). Together, the abduction and the Satanism
tales have created a new designation of the forgotten
memory syndrome.
As basic research on abductions occurred, investigators
sharply divided over their interpretation. Many ufologists, such
as historian David Jacobs, followed Hopkins in arguing for the
basic truth of the cases and saw the cases as the best evidence
of an extraterrestrial presence on Earth. More extreme elements
wove increasingly paranoid tales of government conspiracies
and compacts with hostile aliens. However, most abductees
have only sought to discover what had happened to them,
and have been happy to learn that others have had a similar experience.
Over time, they have sought for some larger meaning
in this incident. Most investigations have concluded that there
is no psychopathology in the abductee’s life and that he/she has
no reason to tell such a negative story.
Criticism of the literal acceptance of the story as indicative
of extraterrestrial contacts begins with the large number of reported
contacts. Given the present state of interstellar travel,
there is more than a little doubt that the number of spaceships
could or would come to earth to account for all of the contacts.
The many examinations, focused on reproductive organs, also
raise questions of the purpose of the body probing. What is to
be gained? Also, the stories, while supported by their consistency,
are quite free of independent supporting evidence. In many
cases, related to accounts of incidents far in the past, evidence
may have been lost. But over all, there has been little collaboration.
Some hoped for supporting evidence in items implanted
in the bodies of contactees, but such foreign items discovered
in abductees’ bodies have proved to be purely mundane in nature.
The lack of supporting evidence for the tales again emphasized
the similarity of abduction and Satanic abuse stories.
Others, both supportive and critical of the abductees, have
adopted alternate interpretations. Some UFO debunkers, led
by tradition critic Philip Klass, have dismissed the abduction
stories as either hoaxes or fantasies. Some psychologists have
supported a purely psychological interpretation. The most appealing
explanation, in that it also accounts for the very similar
Satanic abuse stories, grows out of the definition of the forgotten
memory syndrome. This theory suggests that the abductee
has experienced a real trauma, usually sexual abuse during his/
her childhood, but during attempts to recover the memory, a
story is constructed that both confirms the trauma but also disguises
it either in a Satanic cult or spaceship.
During the 1990s, an additional significant factor was added
to the abduction stories—they began to merge with the contactee
stories. Whitley Strieber called attention to this aspect of abduction
stories in the sequel to Communion, Transformation: The
Breakthrough (1988). In the latter volume, Strieber told of a series
of contacts with the ‘‘Visitors’’ that began in childhood and
his growing belief that their intrusion into human life was essentially
benevolent. He was eventually joined in this appraisal
by Leo J. Sprinkle, who had been conducting annual gatherings
for contactees each summer at the University of Wyoming.
As abductees joined the gatherings, over time, he discovered
the boundaries between their stories blurring. In like measure,
psychiatrist John Mack also found the stories of the abductees
whom he counseled also yielded to explanation when set in a
larger context of personal transformation and changes in consciousness.
They came to feel that the experience was best seen
as a harsh but necessary lesson leading to change and spiritual
growth. Both Strieber and Mack found a large audience in the
New Age community.
One cannot speak of a consensus in the consideration of abductions,
though through the 1990s, ufologists lost some of
their focus upon the accounts, possibly due to the lack of new
information. Research appeared to have reached somewhat of
a dead end. Like other areas of UFO research, they have not
led to hard physical evidence of extraterrestrials—a spaceship,
alien materials, or an alien.
Bullard, Thomas E. ‘‘Abduction Phenomenon.’’ In Jerome
Clark, ed. UFO Encyclopedia. Detroit: Apogee Books, 1999.
Druffel, Ann, and D. Scott Rogo. The Tujunga Canyon Contacts.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1980.
Fowler, Raymond. The Andreasson Affair. Englewood Cliffs,
N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979.
Hopkins, Budd. Missing Time: A Documented Study of UFO Abductions.
New York: Richard Marek Publishers, 1981.
Jacobs, David J. The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered
Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Klass, Philip J. UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. Buffalo,
N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988.
Mack, John E. Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. New
York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994.
Pritchard, Andrea, et al., eds. Alien Discussions: Proceedings of
the Abduction Study Conference. Cambridge, Mass.: North Cambridge
Press, 1994.
Strieber, Whitley. Communion: A True Story. New York:
Beach Tree/William Morrow, 1987.
———. Transformation: The Breakthrough. New York: William
Morrow and Co., 1988.