Time isn't really a flat circle.
April 7, 2014 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Everyone old enough remembers the moral panic during the 1980s surrounding Satanic Child Abuse--a memory refreshed most recently by HBOs hit, True Detective. The most famous case, of course, was the McMartin Preschool trial, which exemplified the panic surrounding satanic child abuse in day cares. As time passed, many felt that the allegations of abuse constituted a modern day witch-hunt. However, scholar Ross Cheit's new work (“The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children,”) dispels many of the myths surrounding the events which still loom large in the American memory.

Some choice quotes from reviewers:

Cheit’s "argues that a long-held belief about those child sexual-abuse cases is wrong. That witch-hunt view says that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people were wrongly convicted of child sexual abuse during a time of social hysteria.

After 15 years of research, Cheit, a political science and public policy professor at Brown, writes in his book that the cases were far more complex than they’re often portrayed. He argues that the witch-hunt narrative ignores credible charges of child abuse and dismisses medical evidence that children were harmed."

"Much of the reason the witch-hunt narrative has prevailed, according to Cheit, is that it’s easier for people to believe that child sexual abuse doesn’t happen because the topic itself is taboo. Cheit cites the work of Dr. Suzanne M. Sgroi, who wrote in 1978 that “the sexual abuse of children is a crime that our society abhors in the abstract but tolerates in reality.”
Communities have been known to rally around people convicted of this crime, Cheit writes."

"But did the new witch hunt narrative accurately represent reality? As Ross Cheit demonstrates in his exhaustive account of child sex abuse cases in the past two and a half decades, purveyors of the witch hunt narrative never did the hard work of examining court records in the many cases that reached the courts throughout the nation. Instead, they treated a couple of cases as representative and concluded that the issue was blown far out of proportion. Drawing on years of research into cases in a number of states, Cheit shows that the issue had not been blown out of proportion at all."

The political is personal, and in other venues, Cheit talks about his repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.
posted by MisantropicPainforest (68 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh. Freaky! Just started watching this show over the weekend. Will have to read through all this. I can remember having religious family in Oklahoma during the late '80's and early '90's and they were all over this stuff. Everyone had their copy of the book This Present Darkeness.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:47 AM on April 7, 2014


Anything investigating the satanic is by definition a witch hunt. Can't have it both ways.
posted by Brian B. at 6:49 AM on April 7, 2014 [16 favorites]


Interestingly, there were cases like this in the UK and Sweden too, the latter had Södertäljefallet which I remember well as it was in the newspapers almost daily. In Södertälje the parents of a teenager were accused and both were convicted.
posted by dabitch at 6:50 AM on April 7, 2014


Anything investigating the satanic is by definition a witch hunt. Can't have it both ways.

Um, no, and saying so demonstrates a profound ignorance of modern Pagan worship.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:51 AM on April 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


An important counter-argument here came 15 or so years ago with Elaine Showalter's Hystories.
posted by mikewebkist at 6:52 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Um, no, and saying so demonstrates a profound ignorance of modern Pagan worship.

Categorically, if there are assumed satanic witches, then it may exclude any others.
posted by Brian B. at 6:53 AM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


50 bucks to read the study? No thanks.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:58 AM on April 7, 2014


So basically, the idea that there are child molesters everywhere is incorrect, and the idea that there are child molesters nowhere is incorrect. Yep, absolutism generally sucks.
posted by Etrigan at 7:01 AM on April 7, 2014 [14 favorites]


Cheit writes that five or six of the defendants were charged with “heinous crimes they did not commit,” but the witch-hunt narrative ignores the smaller story, the one that includes “evidence of abuse and the travails of the children.”
Depressing. Bad guys getting away while innocent people get their name sullied in court.

I had the McMartin Preschool case confused with the satanistic ritual abuse moral panic that originated in the United States in the 1980s, hence previous comment.
posted by dabitch at 7:06 AM on April 7, 2014


50 bucks to read the study? No thanks.

You can also get books at your library, they should be able to interlibrary loan it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:08 AM on April 7, 2014


How powerful is a narrative if someone very nearly in the sweet spot like me - an avid television-watcher, though sub-adult, in the 80s, and a goth to boot - is unaware of it?

I had never been under the impression that "hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people were wrongly convicted of child sexual abuse". I was under the impression that law enforcement/media tried to apply the satan-worship narrative over a lot of everyday, non-satanic, but still criminal crime. I suppose I became aware of false "repressed" memories as a result (particularly of McMartin), but I don't think I ever had the impression that more than a handful of cases were absolutely false.

But really, back in the day newscasters invoked satanic panic the way we do terrorism today: "At this time, it is unknown if the [vandalism/unexpected demolition/homicide/etc] was related to satanic rituals." Bogeyman gotta boogie, same as it ever was.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:24 AM on April 7, 2014 [22 favorites]


So basically, the idea that there are child molesters everywhere is incorrect, and the idea that there are child molesters nowhere is incorrect. Yep, absolutism generally sucks.

Yes, and another option is that while many cases probably didn't get into the court system, that didn't stop a number of "experts" from making inflated claims about rape cults killing hundreds of infants, which created a hostile environment for members of minority religions in many parts of the country.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:24 AM on April 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


I would love hear Elizabeth Loftus comments in particular, Cheit and her have fought over this issue for years.

http://www.nature.com/news/evidence-based-justice-corrupted-memory-1.13543
posted by KaizenSoze at 7:25 AM on April 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


In similar news, the idea that there is an epidemic of false memories of child abuse implanted by incompetent or malevolent therapists is dubious at best, and the people who advocate that idea most vehemently (the False Memory Syndrome Foundation) are an advocacy group formed by rich accused child molesters in order to aid their defense in court (and that's still their main function today).

The "Satanic Panic" narrative dovetails conveniently with the "false memory epidemic" narrative.
posted by edheil at 7:35 AM on April 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have noticed it seems to come up rather often that there is hysteria about childhood sexual abuse and we must guard against this hysteria when actual techniques to prevent or stop child abuse are taken. It's true, we should guard against hysteria but I do think expanding on the realities that child abuse is much more common than we think and people passionate about stopping it is not innately "hysteria".

So I think exposure about this will be very beneficial and decrease the use of "Yeah but we probably shouldn't do anything too extreme to stop child abuse because remember all that fake sexual abuse scandal hysteria stuff in the 80's?" comments I see in discussions about this.
posted by xarnop at 7:39 AM on April 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's surely enough to say we shouldn't do anything too extreme because, well, it is too extreme.
posted by Justinian at 7:41 AM on April 7, 2014


Well personally what I find is that people seem to think any measure is too extreme if it might inconvenience people or pressumes child abuse is wide spread. I find that problematic.
posted by xarnop at 7:43 AM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I had the McMartin Preschool case confused with the satanistic ritual abuse moral panic that originated in the United States in the 1980s

No, that case involved similar bizarre allegations of supernatural powers. Witches flying around and whatnot.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:50 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think hysteria does hurt because it encourages the groups in question to circle the wagons, deny, and suppress reporting. Maybe this is a walk and chew gum thing. I have no problem with ideas like mandatory reporting, buddy systems, and zero tolerance policies for groups that work with children, and objecting to sensationalistic exaggeration where child abuse is used to support a political agenda not in the interests of survivors.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:53 AM on April 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


I agree with you CBrachyrhynchos, I just think who defines what is hysteria and what is in the interest of survivors is probably where it gets a bit more complex.
posted by xarnop at 7:58 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


If this were a Wikipedia article, every mention of this "long-held belief" would be followed by [who?].
posted by Sys Rq at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


My impression about the period was that people, especially those involved in child care like the McMartins, were accused of numerous horrible acts and "satanic" imagery when there was little to no evidence that actual abuse occurred.

The truth, which is sadly still the truth, is that child abuse isn't done by "satanic" monsters who abuse many children or by strangers who abduct them, but by parents, relatives, or authority figures in a child's life. There are very few cases of individuals abusing many children, but there are many cases with individual children being harmed, or an abuser being a serial abuser of kids over a long period of time.
posted by mikeh at 8:01 AM on April 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


The greatest abuse in McMartin was at the hands of the expert witness, Kee McFarlane. The child who started it all made a public apology in 2005, admitting he made it all up.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:03 AM on April 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


the people who advocate that idea most vehemently (the False Memory Syndrome Foundation) are an advocacy group formed by rich accused child molesters

By which you mean "formed by parents who had their families torn apart by accusations that the therapist and the victim later admitted were not true", right? Because that's a somewhat more accurate descriptor.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:11 AM on April 7, 2014 [18 favorites]


I should have linked to the OUP description of the book in the FPP. It provides a pretty good summary of the books central claims Here it is:

"In the 1980s, a series of child sex abuse cases rocked the United States. The most famous case was the 1984 McMartin preschool case, but there were a number of others as well. By the latter part of the decade, the assumption was widespread that child sex abuse had become a serious problem in America. Yet within a few years, the concern about it died down considerably. The failure to convict anyone in the McMartin case and a widely publicized appellate decision in New Jersey that freed an accused molester had turned the dominant narrative on its head. In the early 1990s, a new narrative with remarkable staying power emerged: the child sex abuse cases were symptomatic of a 'moral panic' that had produced a witch hunt. A central claim in this new witch hunt narrative was that the children who testified were not reliable and easily swayed by prosecutorial suggestion. In time, the notion that child sex abuse was a product of sensationalized over-reporting and far less endemic than originally thought became the new common sense.

But did the new witch hunt narrative accurately represent reality? As Ross Cheit demonstrates in his exhaustive account of child sex abuse cases in the past two and a half decades, purveyors of the witch hunt narrative never did the hard work of examining court records in the many cases that reached the courts throughout the nation. Instead, they treated a couple of cases as representative and concluded that the issue was blown far out of proportion. Drawing on years of research into cases in a number of states, Cheit shows that the issue had not been blown out of proportion at all. In fact, child sex abuse convictions were regular occurrences, and the crime occurred far more frequently than conventional wisdom would have us believe. Cheit's aim is not to simply prove the narrative wrong, however. He also shows how a narrative based on empirically thin evidence became a theory with real social force, and how that theory stood at odds with a far more grim reality. The belief that the charge of child sex abuse was typically a hoax also left us unprepared to deal with the far greater scandal of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, which, incidentally, has served to substantiate Cheit's thesis about the pervasiveness of the problem. In sum, The Witch-Hunt Narrative is a magisterial and empirically powerful account of the social dynamics that led to the denial of widespread human tragedy."

[emphasis added]
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:20 AM on April 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


I dunno, there were some recent discussions of alleged child abuse right here on MeFi recently where the "Don't you remember all those false accusations from the daycare trials in the 1980's? False memories of child sexual abuse are SO COMMON and SO EASY to create it's just like the Salem witch hunts all over again!" seemed to have an awful lot of traction.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:32 AM on April 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


The False Memory Foundation is a controversial group that has likely helped some families who have legitimately been falsely accused but has likely also served the interests of discrediting many children trying to report sexual abuse by painting them as unreliable narrators who shouldn't be believed as was a common response to Dylan's accusations. There is really no way to present a case for children as unreliable narrators that doesn't let many abusers off the hook because the case relies heavily on the testimony of the child which if easily discredit becomes essentially a pass for any perpetrator with only one accusing child which is common.

Putting kids through this sucks:

"We were examined by a doctor. I took my clothes off and lay down on the table. They checked my butt, my penis. There was a room with a lot of toys and stuffed animals and dolls. The dolls were pasty white and had hair where the private parts were. They wanted us to take off their clothes. It was just really weird."

...and honestly there is often not anything visible on genitals to prove molestation anyway or even rape especially much after the fact and if you're inserting things into a child's genital areas despite their discomfort and pain to find out how stretched out their areas are I would argue if they haven't been violated against their will before the examination they sure have been after. And if you're not doing anything but taking a glance I really question whether this does much at all or is worth what it puts the child through. Evidence of blood could be found from undergarments, semen can only be found within a day or two of the alleged abuse, otherwise what is really the point of putting kids through this other than prove you did something to seem "Scientific" and have "real evidence"? If it's within 24 hours and there's really a chance of getting physical evidence of DNA I think there's a valid argument to be made for it but this doesn't sound like that at all.

Having someone look at your genitals to "see what abuse has happened" sounds like a freaking traumatic thing to have someone forcibly do to you whether you've been abused previously or not, though people experience things in various ways.
posted by xarnop at 8:47 AM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would love hear Elizabeth Loftus comments in particular

Respectable researchers have been publishing credible evidence of corroborated recovered memories for at least 20 years. Loftus published a pop-science book called "The Myth of Repressed Memory" in 2013. I can't imagine any evidence convincing her to change at this point.

She can take her take her "memory is fallible" testimony to murder cases, or pretty much any area where the science is equally valid but genuine victims are less likely to be silenced.
posted by catalytics at 9:11 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's impossible to discuss the issue of whether repressed memories are true or false, generally, without really appreciating the impact of the McMartin-Buckey trial, because you did have people falsely accused of ritual satanic abuse and you did have false "repressed" memories used as evidence in the trial. It's also worth quoting the last paragraph of the Wikipedia entry:
Federal funding was also used to arrange conferences on ritual abuse, providing an aura of respectability as well as allowing prosecutors to exchange tips on the best means of obtaining convictions. A portion of the funds were used to publish the book Behind the Playground Walls, which used a sample of children drawn from the McMartin families. The book claimed to study the effects of "reported" rather than actual abuse but portrayed all of the McMartin children as actual victims of abuse despite a lack of convictions during the trial and without mentioning questions about the reality of the accusations.[41][42] Another grant of $173,000 went to David Finkelhor who used the funds to investigate allegations of day care sexual abuse throughout the country, combining the study of verified crimes by admitted pedophiles and unverified accusations of satanic ritual abuse.
So, yeah, there was a backlash against it which in turn may have gone too far, but that in no small part is because there was an entire satanic-abuse industry which popped up virtually overnight.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:49 AM on April 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


We had to go to one of those workshops on identifying satanic abuse in your community. Most of us were very skeptical. However, given the larger context we were dealing with in Detroit (crack, AIDS, teen shootings) a lot of the social workers I worked with were ready to believe anything.
posted by kanewai at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2014


People do weird and crazy things. Then it goes too far and we collectively come to our senses, after which no one can understand how it could have happened in the first place. Wait a while and memories fade, and someone will come up with a new narrative and one tiny step at a time the crazy thing sounds reasonable to a lot of people.
posted by bongo_x at 10:12 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, it's been less than six months since Fran and Dan Keller were freed after more than 20 years in Texas prisons, convicted on allegations that barely met the "witch trial" standard.
By the time the Kellers' six-day trial began in November 1992, the list of monstrous acts had mushroomed.

The children recounted being served blood-laced Kool-Aid and being forced to have videotaped sex with adults and other children. Sometimes the Kellers wore white robes and lit candles before hurting them, the children said.

The children also accused the Kellers of forcing them to participate in dismembering cats, dogs and a baby. Bodies were unearthed in cemeteries, including one where an adult passer-by was shot and dismembered with a chain saw, they said. The children recalled several plane trips, including one to Mexico, where they were sexually abused by soldiers before returning to Austin in time to meet their parents for late-afternoon pickup at the day care.(1)
according to the coverage of the case I have read, no physical evidence was ever found for any of those claims.

I haven't read the study cited in the write-up ($$) but I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt that the author was meticulous and accurate in his scholarship.. And I have no doubt that reaction against the excesses of the ritual abuse panic was exploited by others who were actually guilty of child abuse. But while it's probably true that there were not "thousands" of people convicted based on the satanic ritual abuse panic, stories like the Kellers' show that that panic was a real thing which had devastating effects on the lives of the accused (and probably on the assumed victims as well.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:36 AM on April 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


probably on the assumed victims as well.

Yeah, one point made by much of the reporting on recovered memories was that the act of creating the "recovered" memories made patients undergo something very like the emotional trauma of torture and molestation (though of course, not exactly the same). The therapists who did it had the best of intentions, but they nonetheless did terrible things not just to those falsely accused, but also to those who did the accusing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:00 PM on April 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seriously, catalytics? I'm supposed to take a self-reported survey of psychologists as both proof of recovered memory and that there is no such thing as falsely created memories? As opposed to Loftus's experiment-based papers?

Every mass-perpetrator child abuse case in the 80s and 90s that I saw much detail on were utter horror shows of prosecutorial misconduct and public hysteria. Physically impossible things taken as serious testimony. Utter lack of real evidence. The most mundane of details taken as proof of abuse. Defenders of the accused suddenly finding themselves accused as well. So yeah, either kids were creating memories in response to the questioning and desires of their elders or they were lying for same.
posted by tavella at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Just hearing mention of the Satanic Panic makes me wince. I spent grade school and middle school tormented by assholes who told everyone I was killing goats and babies because their parents had taught them about "those Satanist kids at school."
posted by haplesschild at 12:57 PM on April 7, 2014


Chiet's book would not have restarted this crucial discussion if he were a woman recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse. Fortunately, since he's a man, people see him as credible.
posted by gentian at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2014


My understanding is that essentially the same technique is used to recover memories of past lives. Has Cheit or anyone else now shown that to be a myth?
posted by in278s at 1:44 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


if he were a woman recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse

If he was a woman recovering memories of satanic childhood sexual abuse, we'd be right in doubting their credibility.
posted by ymgve at 1:53 PM on April 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seriously, catalytics? I'm supposed to take a self-reported survey of psychologists as both proof of recovered memory and that there is no such thing as falsely created memories?

If you did, you'd be wrong. Obviously. No one, including Cheit, would argue that children can't be made to remember thing that didn't happen. Loftus, however, has argued children cannot "forget" trauma and then recover those memories later. There is a solid body of evidence indicating that recovered memories can often be corroborated. (Random studies, not necessarily the best of them.)

Look, Loftus' studies indicate that human memory is fallible. Her work on eyewitness testimony is excellent. She uses the fallibility of human memory to argue that traumatic memories cannot be forgotten/repressed and later recalled, though. (I'm assuming - I've read some of her research but not her new book.) There is enough evidence to the contrary that I find that irresponsible, especially because her arguments stand to silence and re-traumatize people who have already been deeply hurt.
posted by catalytics at 2:03 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


That traumatic memories can be lost and that they can be fabricated are two sides of the same coin. Memory is well-established to be extremely malleable. I have no doubt that people have legitimately recalled forgotten abuse later in life. The question is whether a great enough proportion of "recovered memories" is legitimate that one should, say, admit them as evidence in court. And, considering how much of what is considered scientific in a courtroom already looks positively porous by the standards of real science I'd say lets please not have any more of that.

Also that's not a new book by Loftus, it's from 1994. I will not assume one way or another whether she in fact insists that recovered memory is *never* accurate, because I too have not read the book.
posted by atoxyl at 2:15 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


As someone whose younger brother was sent to McMartin Preschool (I either dodged a bullet or missed out on a great anecdote, having been sent to Knob Hill Preschool) I have followed all of this pretty closely.

The only certain conclusions I can draw are:

1. People get very strong opinions about this issue, and many are prepared to bloviate about those opinions, given a platform.

2. If you do not happen to agree with someone's strongly held opinion about this, you are either 1) fully complicit in the worst possible thing that can ever happen to a human being, or, 2) a gullible camp follower of the worst possible conspiracy nuts.
posted by Danf at 2:58 PM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


She can take her take her "memory is fallible" testimony to murder cases, or pretty much any area where the science is equally valid but genuine victims are less likely to be silenced.

You seem to think that the insight that "memory is falliable" is a disingenuous, even sinister tool only brought up when it can silence children. This is incorrect It's quite regularly brought up in murder cases, assault cases, and others where "genuine victims are less likely to be silenced." It's why courts have begun depending less on eyewitness testimony and line-ups, for example, now that it's been proven that leading questions can manufacture memories which the witness will later swear up and down are exactly what s/he saw.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:06 PM on April 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


My BS detector just tripped and sent me to yellow alert...

I was in NC during the Little Rascals Day Care fiasco...and I have to say, that does loom large in my mind... But dubious claims like this don't help:

"The belief that the charge of child sex abuse was typically a hoax also left us unprepared to deal with the far greater scandal of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church."

Who ever thought that the charge of child sex abuse was typically a hoax? What people concluded was that patently bizarre claims about Satanic sex-abuse cults are almost always false. Which people should have concluded long before they did...

(Also, a much more minor point: leaning so heavily on the trendy hedge-word 'narrative'...not a great sign...)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 3:39 PM on April 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also that's not a new book by Loftus, it's from 1994.

Speaking of memory being fallible... Yup, 2013 is the date of the reissue with modern cover, not the original. And she really did publish two books on the subject between 1992 and 1994. That makes Loftus a bit more sympathetic, at least. Most of the work showing corroboration for recovered memories came out after the book.
posted by catalytics at 3:46 PM on April 7, 2014


My wife and I covered the Little Rascals aftermath many years ago. The possibility of some child abuse in these situations may exist, but at a far more limited scope than the sensationalized stories and over-zealous prosecutions would have it. In that case, coached memories and bad police work seemed evident. NC journalist Lew Powell has a website dedicated to the case.
posted by Buckley at 3:50 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


So this hits pretty close to home for me. My mother is a victim of abuse, and these stories of SRA were our story for many years. My mother has been in and out of hospitals over the years. Different doctors have diagnosed her across the spectrum of disorders, including Multiple Personality Disorder and Schizophrenia. (The Christmas as a teenager when a doctor suggested we give gifts to each of her personalities was quite memorable.) For many years I held a lot of resentment for one of my mother's best friends, a lay therapist and leader of a local religious survivors group back in the late 80s, who triggered most of my mother's memories and breakdowns through memory recovery exercises. Those exercises led to much of the woman I remember as a child crumbling away.

The SRA stories made sense for a time, because our family was embedded in a fundamentalist religious environment where demons and possession were real phenomena. Then as I became an adult and left that culture behind, I came to the conclusion that clearly her memories were artificially constructed and "unreal." (Also refracted through my perspective as a neo-pagan in my 20s. Yeah, really.)

And certainly a good number of doctors over the years have tried to ground my mother by convincing her that her ritual abuse memories weren't real. But that only created even more pain and confusion for her, setting back her healing. Her personal reality and "truth" is that in addition to other rapes she experienced, she was ritually abused many times on altars by figures in black robes. It is as clear and sure to her as the sun rose this morning and will set this evening. My family and our doctors have gathered enough evidence form the family to recognize there was actual abuse, and we even know who the culprits were, now long dead. These seeds lie at the heart of the situation, but don't really help at all in healing my mother.

At one time, I had hoped my mother could be restored to the woman of my childhood, but I now recognize that woman in my memories wasn't as healthy I thought I remembered. Our focus now is for her to find as much peace and stability as she can have. It is all about making her as comfortable as possible for the rest of her life. This is about what she needs and wants, not what any of the rest of us think that "ought to be," and that is OK. My father is a true saint, because his life is now dedicated to giving her the stability she needs. Turns out that sometimes that is enough.

That, and the human mind is an amazingly delicate and mysterious instrument.
posted by insert.witticism.here at 3:54 PM on April 7, 2014 [14 favorites]


Worth noting that Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno cut her teeth on prosecuting this sort of thing.

Some felt she went too far. No surprise there.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:17 PM on April 7, 2014


"The belief that the charge of child sex abuse was typically a hoax also left us unprepared to deal with the far greater scandal of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church."

And that’s how the story gets re-written and shit from the past gets redeemed.
posted by bongo_x at 4:18 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Now I understand where this article is coming from: the writer seems to think that people who think child sex abuse charges are *sometimes* false therefore must think that child sex abuse charges are *usually* false. What nonsense.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:11 PM on April 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


the writer seems to think that people who think child sex abuse charges are *sometimes* false therefore must think that child sex abuse charges are *usually* false.

I've encountered a LOT of people who think that child sex abuse charges are *usually* false, so I can't say as I blame him.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:55 PM on April 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I guess if every time a person claims they were abused as a child there is at least someone who has to say "But you know how often these memories are false so who knows" and they have to deal with that when they need support, a community reminding each other how these claims are often false so no one should REALLY believe it...

It is a thing, that most survivors have some experience with if they've ever talked about their child sexual abuse among people and especially the public, even if they don't mention anything about recovered memories but ESPECIALLY if they mention recovered memories. They get therapists who raise eyebrows, peers who snicker about it behind their backs (and I have listended to this snickering)...

I am surprised many people think this is such a rare thing... or that it doesn't deserve to be countered for the sake of people it harms.
posted by xarnop at 7:08 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess people saying "This thing the author is talking about probably doesn't happen so often" sounds very dismissive like, who cares since it probably isn't that common.

I mean it happens enough that it hurts a lot of people, isn't that enough for it to matter?
posted by xarnop at 7:09 PM on April 7, 2014


I mean it happens enough that it hurts a lot of people, isn't that enough for it to matter?

Well, as has been well documented, false accusations based on fabricated memories happen enough that they hurt a lot of people, so is that enough for it to matter?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:51 PM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would love hear Elizabeth Loftus comments in particular, Cheit and her have fought over this issue for years.

Loftus previously.
posted by homunculus at 11:55 PM on April 7, 2014


Sure. But probably not to the point you stomp out what this author is saying to talk about it. That the whole point is that people tend to bring up what the author is saying to allow themselves to doubt survivors claims more.
posted by xarnop at 3:53 AM on April 8, 2014


To the point people seem to be pretending survivors don't deal with being disbelieved all the time and this is a major way that people use to further that disbelief and feel very legitimate in doing so.
posted by xarnop at 3:56 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing is, ThatFuzzyBastard, is that is there any evidence that false accusations of child sexual abuse happen more often than, say, false accusations of murder, robbery, arson, embezzlement, etc?

You simply don't here people saying:

A: "When I was a kid I got jumped and someone stole my wallet"
B: "Well are YOU SUREE??????"
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:41 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


If someone says that "when I was a kid, witches jumped me and stole my wallet" yes, in fact I would say that.
posted by tavella at 6:13 AM on April 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


The thing is, ThatFuzzyBastard, is that is there any evidence that false accusations of child sexual abuse happen more often than, say, false accusations of murder, robbery, arson, embezzlement, etc?

I don't have a strong opinion on the incidence of false allegations of child abuse, but I'm not sure this is a fair comparison for the simple fact that it's basically unheard of to be accused of, say, robbery years after the fact and convicted on the testimony of a single witness.

Put differently, if you can point to a case where someone was picked up when he was 21 for an alleged arson when he was 14, convicted, and sentenced to 45 years in prison (with much suspended but over 7 to serve), the comparison will be fair. Because that actually happens with sex abuse cases.
posted by dsfan at 6:23 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


W/r/t arson, if someone files an insurance claim for their home burning down, they will most certainly have insurance agents knocking on their door asking "Did it *really* burn down accidentally?" In the case of robbery, murder, embezzlement, etc., yes, the authorities most certainly do investigate whether the claim is false. Victims are grilled, sometimes with extreme prejudice, and the accused gets a presumption of innocence until evidence *other than victim's testimony* can be found. That's how the legal system works.

It's certainly true that this process is vastly more traumatic for a victim of molestation or rape than a victim of a burglary. And that sucks. But I'm not willing to accept that the solution is to simply believe all claims until proven otherwise and maybe, judging from how you talk about the McMartin case, not even then. For a century in America, false claims of sexual assault were the engine of racial terrorism. I do not share your confidence that this would not happen again.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:18 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


And that is terrible. But it is often with information like that that people respond to people who simply need support from their community and are not even pressing charges. I think the legal system needs to change, but that is a different conversation than that people who have been abused as children tend to be doubted for many different reasons-- and the thing the author is talking about is a reason many people offer as proof not to believe when any given person says something has happened to them.

That the legal system is messed up is not proof that sexual abuse is so rare that our first response to someone saying it happened should be doubt and the idea of how fallible children's memories really are. People tend to want to minimize how often child abuse occurs for any reason they can find because the reality of it is so disturbing we want and sometimes need distance from it. I want that too even though there are many people I am forced to have in my life who have actually abused children.

Obviously it's worth calling out a system that is actually persecuting people for flying on a broom or summoning spirits, that's a good thing, but what some people might not know is that the subject of how sex abuse accusations are SO OFTEN false is a very common response survivors hear if they dare to talk about it all, not even pushing charges just talking about it.

Pointing out that those false accusations and fake memories may not be as common as people think, and don't represent a good reason to immediately doubt any person talking about their abuse is a very good thing to do. It's not survivors faults if the legal system handles things wrong and society shouldn't take each new person that says they have been abused and take out it's anger at the system handing things badly on them, and use that as an opportunity to point out how often memories of abuse are fake.
posted by xarnop at 8:23 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think we may be conflating a couple of different issues here:
  • Conviction vs. investigating (or trying) the case in the first place
  • Officials believing a crime might have happened vs. society at large believing a crime might have happened
  • “Satanic” sexual abuse vs. regular sexual abuse
There’s also the issue of prejudice: in an ideal world, of course, there wouldn’t be prejudice at all on the part of individuals, society at large, investigators, or courts.

I’d LIKE to be as impartial as Solomon, myself. But, I admit that it’s a bit difficult. I’ve been through it from the child’s side, and I’ve seen firsthand how willing, able, and eager adults whose job it’s supposed to be to protect the most vulnerable members of society are to deny, cover up, and blame the victim. Even well-meaning ones just don’t want to believe it’s happening and turn to denial as a coping mechanism.

So I have to be up front and say that my prejudice will probably always err on the side of worrying about the more vulnerable party in the equation rather than the ones who can ostensibly speak and fight for themselves.

***

I’m probably to blame for wandering off-topic and introducing the conflation in the first place, and after this post I’ll check out of the thread. If the mods feel that this has been a derail from talking about the links, I have no objection to them deleting it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:26 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


People tend to forget that "innocent until proven guilty" via an adversarial justice system is the standard for criminal proceedings where life, liberty, and property are on the line. It's not the standard we use for civil proceedings, and shouldn't be the standard for things like friendship, fellowship, leadership, trust, or employment in some cases. It shouldn't be the standard for therapeutic settings where I need to talk about the things that make me crazy and my abusers will not be named outside of that office.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


W/r/t arson, if someone files an insurance claim for their home burning down, they will most certainly have insurance agents knocking on their door asking "Did it *really* burn down accidentally?" In the case of robbery, murder, embezzlement, etc., yes, the authorities most certainly do investigate whether the claim is false. Victims are grilled, sometimes with extreme prejudice, and the accused gets a presumption of innocence until evidence *other than victim's testimony* can be found. That's how the legal system works.

I think people are talking about two different things here.

No one is saying that the legal system should unwillingly accept all prima facie accusations of childhood sexual abuse.

However, what I think we are saying is that, when private citizens (like here on Metafilter) talk about accusations of childhood sexual abuse, we shouldn't seriously entertain the possibility of fabricated recovered memories, if there is no evidence that the accusation we are discussing is the product of a fabricated recovered memory.

For example:

X says: "So and so said they were molested by $famousperson"
Y says : "Yes well lets talk about how they could be making it up because that is a real possibility. Dontcha remember the widespread false accusations of child abuse back in the 80/90s? It could be a case of that you know"

IMO, I think Y is out of line.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:37 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


So this is about Woody Allen, then? Because in that case, there is some evidence that the accusation is the product of a fabricated recovered memory, specifically the conclusion of the only body of professionals that actually investigated and spoke to the witness, as well as the statement by another member of the family, as well as a consistent pattern of falsehood from the parent accused of creating the story. In the absence of all that, the case would be stronger, but with it, things get very murky, and it seems negligent to simply brush it off.

I've had friends abused and successfully prosecute. I've had friends abused and be disbelieved. And I've had friends fabricate stories of abuse (generally due to mental illness, but in one case from malice) with sometimes quite serious consequences. I'm not willing to just believe any story if it's about someone I don't know, and the OP article, which hides its research behind a paywall and mostly traffics in innuendo and flat untruth, does little to convince otherwise.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:02 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those too young to remember the "Satanic panic", here's a good primer. I don't know where Cheit gets the idea that people believe there were "hundreds if not thousands" of victims (though if you count the children who were convinced they'd been horribly abused as victims, which I would, the numbers certainly go up). But there were definitely quite a few people who did decades in prison for crimes that were just so obviously unreal that it's hard to believe anyone could have convicted them for it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:57 PM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


If I had more time, I'd check out Cheit's work firsthand. Based purely on the promotional material, however, I'm a bit frustrated by what seems like a bait-and-switch. There really were child abuse "witch hunts", such as the McMartin case. It's just that actual child abuse was, and remains to be, many, many, many times more common than the witch hunts ever were. The fact that child abuse is real, pervasive, and taboo exists alongside the fact that there have also been "witch hunts" on the topic.

It would be interesting to read a nuanced book about what this seeming paradox actually says about things. Why is it that child abuse is often reviled in the realm of fantasy, while also being often tolerated in reality? Why do people have an outsized fear of "stranger danger", when familial child abuse is not only much more common, but often tolerated and ignored in reality? Why do people bend over backwards to Otherize child abusers, when the eerier reality is that they're often trusted and even beloved members of their community? Why are people so in love with punitive theater in the vein of Megan's Law and To Catch A Predator-style, even though there's no evidence that they actually help anything?

Also, it's super weird to invoke the McMartin case, as if you're going to refute the common understanding of it, except...it doesn't appear that people have misunderstood the McMartin case at all? Just that people wrongly assume that cases *like* the McMartin case are more common than they are.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:07 AM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


There really were child abuse "witch hunts", such as the McMartin case. It's just that actual child abuse was, and remains to be, many, many, many times more common than the witch hunts ever were. The fact that child abuse is real, pervasive, and taboo exists alongside the fact that there have also been "witch hunts" on the topic.

Yeah, I'd agree with that 100%. The absolutism of the quoted material is what makes it so dubious.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


« Older Let The Healing Begin   |   In the hall of the mountain king, betrayal never... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments