Who Was Abused?
September 24, 2004 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Who Was Abused ? There are several ways to view the small white house on Center Street in Bakersfield, Calif. From one perspective it's just another low-slung home in a working-class neighborhood, with a front yard, brown carpeting, a TV in the living room. Now consider it from the standpoint of the Kern County district attorney's office: 20 years ago, this was a crime scene of depraved proportions... [and] this time, through Ed Sampley's eyes. Twenty years ago he was one of the boys molested in the house where sex abuse was part of the weekend fabric. That's what he told Kern County investigators. That's what he told a judge, a jury and a courtroom of lawyers... Now for the first time in 20 years, Sampley is back in the driveway of that small white house. ''It never happened,'' he tells me. He lied about Stoll, an easygoing divorced father who always insisted the neighborhood kids call him John rather than Mr. Stoll and let them run in and out of his house in their bathing suits, eat popcorn on the living-room floor and watch ''fright night'' videos. More Inside
posted by y2karl (46 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We are a society that, every fifty years or so, is afflicted by some paroxysm of virtue--an orgy of self-cleansing through which evil of one kind or another is cast out. From the witch-hunts of Salem to the communist hunts of the McCarthy era to the current shrill fixation on child abuse, there runs a common thread of moral hysteria. After the McCarthy era, people would ask: But how could it have happened? How could the presumption of innocence have been abandoned wholesale? How did large and powerful institutions acquiesce as congressional investigators ran roughshod over civil liberties--all in the name of a war on communists? How was it possible to believe that subversives lurked behind every library door, in every radio station, that every two-bit actor who had belonged to the wrong political organization posed a threat to the nation's security?

Years from now people doubtless will ask the same questions about our present era--a time when the most improbable charges of abuse find believers; when it is enough only to be accused by anonymous sources to be hauled off by investigators; a time when the hunt for child abusers has become a national pathology.

--From the Mouths of Babes to a Jail Cell
Dorothy Rabinowitz,
Harpers Magazine (May 1990).

Dorothy Rabinowitz, author of No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times, was writing of Kelly Michaels Wee Care Day Nursery Case in Maplewood, New Jersey in 1985.

That first link comes from the 42 Multi-Victim Multi-Offender Court Cases With Allegations Of Sexual And Physical Abuse menu which comes from the Canadian website Ontario Consultants for Religous Tolerance, aka ReligiousTolerance.Org, which is a hella website, in my opinion.

See also

Who is Hurting the Children? - The Political Psychology of Pedophilia in American Society

Why does the act of sexually molesting a child seem to command our collective outrage and desire for vengeance while acts of ignoring, humiliating, or starving that same child do not? Why is the sexual innocence of children passionately defended while their innocent victimization by abusive or neglectful families and an insensitive social order evokes only an arms-length sympathy?

Some social critics like James Kincaid have suggested that we romanticize the sexual innocence of childhood in order to deny our awareness of the nuances of erotic desire that do exist between adults and children. Since the time of Freud, the sexuality of children has been hotly debated. Most experts--and many parents--would agree that children are sexual beings, that they have the capacity for sexual pleasure, even if they don't always understand how to regulate it. And there is equally no doubt that adults sometimes have sexual feelings for children. Any parent who has watched a son or daughter come of age is aware of how powerful this pull can be and to what lengths both parties go to avoid this embarrassing tension. Certainly there can be no doubt about the sexual energy inherent in adolescence, since it is constantly exploited by advertisers who use images of nubile girls and boys to sell everything from jeans to Pepsi.

Since our consciences are especially intolerant of incestuous forms of sexuality, the scene is set for us to externalize the conflict and direct our punitive judgments at the pedophile rather than our own impulses. We defensively sanitize and desexualize ourselves and our children in order to reassure ourselves and others that we are free of any desires even remotely connected to childhood sexuality.

Nevertheless, I don't think that this theory of guilt and projection adequately explains the vituperative intensity of our society's hatred of the pedophile. Instead, I think that our defense of childhood virtue and innocence is so extreme because it bundles with it all of the ways that we, ourselves, feel--but cannot acknowledge feeling--afraid, rejected, unfairly taken advantage of, betrayed, subordinated to the self-interests of others, and helpless. At the deepest level of our psyches, we cannot compassionately face our own innocent victimization and, instead, project it onto the picture we create of the sexually virtuous and naïve child.

Nightmare at the Day Care: The Wee Care Case

Witchhunt Information Page

The Day Care Child Sex Abuse Phenomenon

The Daycare Abuse Trials of the 1980s and the
Salem Witchcraft Trials: Some Parallels

frontline: innocence lost: Other Well-Known Cases | PBS

And why are we so committed to this myth of pedophilia, so committed to retelling the story and reinforcing the myth? Because this pedophilic myth satisfies our own prurient interests. Repeating the myth allows us to participate openly (and legally) in pedophilic activity through the displacement of our own desires onto the Other. Safely distanced from the Other, we insist on vilifying them in a very public manner, whether it is through irate calls to Oprah or extended courtroom squabbles like those in the McMartin case. Having exorcised our wrath and indignation to the satisfaction of all those around us, we are then free to leer at the young Brooke Shields and fantasize about Macaulay Culkin or Cindy Brady. Such, at least, is Kincaid's startling and rather disconcerting thesis.
posted by y2karl at 6:26 PM on September 24, 2004

Interesting stuff, y2karl. Coincidentally, California has recently passed legislation that will place convicted sex offenders' faces and home addresses online. Hope this doesn't derail too much.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:53 PM on September 24, 2004

YES BECAUSE HE NEVER DID A THING LIKE THAT BEFORE AS ASK TO get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting to that old faggot Mrs Riordan that he thought he had a great leg of and she never left us a farthing all for masses for herself and her soul greatest miser ever was actually afraid to lay out 4d for her methylated spirit telling me all her ailments she had too much old chat in her about politics and earthquakes and the end of the world let us have a bit of fun first God help the world if all the women were her sort down on bathing-suits and lownecks of course nobody wanted her to wear I suppose she was pious because no man would look at her twice I hope I'll never be like her a wonder she didnt want us to cover our faces but she was a welleducated woman certainly and her gabby talk about Mr Riordan here and Mr Riordan there I suppose he was glad to get shut of her and her dog smelling my fur and always edging to get up under my petticoats especially then still I like that in him polite to old women like that and waiters and beggars too hes not proud out of nothing but not always if ever he got anything really serious the matter with him its much better for them go into a hospital where everything is clean but I suppose Id have to dring it into him for a month yes and then wed have a hospital nurse next thing on the carpet have him staying there till they throw him out or a nun maybe like the smutty photo he has shes as much a nun as Im not yes because theyre so weak and puling when theyre sick they want a woman to get well if his nose bleeds youd think it was O tragic and that dyinglooking one off the south circular when he sprained his foot at the choir party at the sugarloaf Mountain the day I wore that dress Miss Stack bringing him flowers the worst old ones she could find at the bottom of the basket anything at all to get into a mans bedroom with her old maids voice trying to imagine he was dying on account of her to never see thy face again though he looked more like a man with his beard a bit grown in the bed father was the same besides I hate bandaging and dosing when he cut his toe with the razor paring his corns afraid hed get blood poisoning but if it was a thing I was sick then wed see what attention only of course the woman hides it not to give all the trouble they do yes he came somewhere Im sure by his appetite anyway love its not or hed be off his feed thinking of her so either it was one of those night women if it was down there he was really and the hotel story he made up a pack of lies to hide it planning it Hynes kept me who did I meet ah yes I met do you remember Menton and who else who let me see that big babbyface I saw him and he not long married flirting with a young girl at Pooles Myriorama and turned my back on him when he slinked out looking quite conscious what harm but he had the impudence to make up to me one time well done to him mouth almighty and his boiled eyes of all the big stupoes I ever met and thats called a solicitor only for I hate having a long wrangle in bed or else if its not that its some little bitch or other he got in with somewhere or picked up on the sly if they only knew him as well as I do yes because the day before yesterday he was scribbling something a letter when I came into the front room for the matches to show him Dignams death in the paper as if something told me and he covered it up with the blottingpaper...
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:58 PM on September 24, 2004

Why does the act of sexually molesting a child seem to command our collective outrage and desire for vengeance while acts of ignoring, humiliating, or starving that same child do not?

Sorry but this just sounds like that rationale of a paedophile.

And since when has child sexual abuse been a "myth"?
posted by pixelgeek at 7:05 PM on September 24, 2004

(y'know, i thought the metatalk argument was perhaps overblown, but seriously, you really do seem to like the small tag, y2karl. unless you're using it here ironically.)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:12 PM on September 24, 2004

Sorry but this just sounds like that rationale of a paedophile.

And that sounds like McCarthy-era paranoia.
posted by jpoulos at 7:21 PM on September 24, 2004

ok, now i feel bad (in light of matt's "are we really that bitchy and negative" thread) so i'll contribute a non-snark. i do find it sort of strange that western society condemns child molesters, and yet we let people sell products by using barely-teens in britney spears outfits wiggling like sluts on the tee-vee. it's just ad people making money off the dirty lechers out there. not cool.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:22 PM on September 24, 2004

There are plenty of myths surrounding sexual abuse of children, the most prominent being that people outside the family of the child are the most frequent perpetrators of the abuse. But people would rather believe that it's "Internet chat room predators" and "pedophile rings" who are the main danger, not mom and dad and Uncle Ernie.
posted by digaman at 7:23 PM on September 24, 2004

Why does the act of sexually molesting a child seem to command our collective outrage and desire for vengeance while acts of ignoring, humiliating, or starving that same child do not?

what about ignoring, humiliating, or starving that child for sexual gratification?
posted by quonsar at 7:27 PM on September 24, 2004

And since when has child sexual abuse been a "myth"?

We do know that FBI statistics on "classic abductions" of children (i.e., those that involve strangers taking a child physically away and doing harm) total between 100 and 200 per year. Put those figures in perspective: There are 350,000 intrafamily abductions per year. Somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 of the kids abducted by family are physically abused, between 3,000 and 20,000 sexually molested. (Because these figures are compiled with numbers from different agencies with different reporting schemes and, more important, different definitions of the key terms, it is perhaps more accurate to use mean figures here: About 60,000 of the kids abducted by family members are physically abused; roughly 12,000 are sexually molested.)

And, at any rate, so far all the multiple victim, multiple offenders day care sex abuse cases turned out to be hoaxes.

The article in the first link is about the damage done to one now grown child manipulated into giving false witness against an adult in such a case.

Now, here's the particulars of another case linked above:

Margaret Kelly Michaels, 25, an employee of the Wee Care Day Nursery of Maplewood NJ, was charged with 235 counts of sexual assault against 20 of her students. The charges were laid in 1985 and were related to incidences which were supposed to have occurred three years earlier. The children accused Ms. Michaels of:

licking peanut butter off of their genitals.
playing a piano while naked.
forced the children to drink urine and eat feces. (None of the parents noticed odors of urine or feces on their children when they picked them up from school)
assaulting them with silverware, a sword and Lego blocks.
forcing them to play the "cat game" where they all got naked and licked each other.
amputating children's penises. "Joey" said: "We chopped our penises off." (Not one penis was found to be missing).
sucking one child's penis.
scraping a boy's nipples with a fork.
putting a real car and tree on top of one of them.
inserted forks, knives and spoons in a boy's private parts.
changing one child into a mouse.

Excerpts from Transcripts of Interviews with Children in the Wee Care Day Care Case

Investigator: What are these things [pointing to a doll]? What we all have here? Breasts or boobies? What do you want to call them?

Child: You're teaching me.

Investigator: I'm not teaching you. I'm asking you. Come on. Don't go throwing stuff around like that.

Child: Stop teaching me this stuff.

Investigator: You got to learn somehow. . . .

When an interviewer coerces a child into "remembering" sexual abuse when no such sexual abuse in fact happened, who then is the sex abuser ?
posted by y2karl at 7:41 PM on September 24, 2004

Why does the act of sexually molesting a child seem to command our collective outrage and desire for vengeance while acts of ignoring, humiliating, or starving that same child do not?

Sorry but this just sounds like that rationale of a paedophile.

And since when has child sexual abuse been a "myth"?

Here is what was written previous to that sentence:

As a psychotherapist who has treated dozens of victims of child sexual abuse, I understand how traumatic it is when an adult molests a child. The child usually feels invaded, exploited, confused, and frightened, and the psychological damage can be even greater if, during the abuse, the child is even the slightest bit aroused. When someone who is supposed to protect you instead hurts you, or hurts you in the guise of loving you, your very sense of reality can become compromised. Victims of sexual abuse often blame themselves for their own victimization, and even come to feel that love, itself, is dangerous. The psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold has described traumas like this as "soul murders."

And, yet, as a psychotherapist I find myself disturbed by what seems to me to be our society's fixation on pedophilia, not because such abuse doesn't deserve attention, but because the intensity of this attention dwarfs that paid to nearly every other type of damage done to children today, damage that is often much greater than that incurred by at least some children who have been molested. Nothing, however, stirs up more passionate outrage than sexual abuse. Witness the media coverage of the current scandals in the Catholic Church. When defrocked priest John Geoghan of Boston was sentenced to ten years hard labor for one incident of fondling a ten-year-old boy at a public swimming pool, the punishment was generally viewed as perfectly fitting the crime (Geoghan is alleged to have committed far more heinous acts with many other children, but at the time of sentencing, these had not been proven). Death itself is often considered the only appropriate punishment for child molesters, who are viewed as so despicable that they draw the violent contempt of even the most sociopathic criminals while in prison.

When it comes to the sexual abuse of children, something seems out of balance in our collective scales of crime and punishment. The California judge who heard the case of accused child molester Jerome Wilhoit told his courtroom during Wilhoit's arraignment that if someone had molested his own daughter, his attitude would be, "you touch her, you die." The trial was on the front page. The fact that Wilhoit was not only acquitted on all charges but later judged to be "factually innocent" didn't quite make it to page one. We all remember the infamous case from the 1980s involving the McMartin Pre-School, a case lasting six years, costing the State of California fifteen million dollars, and in which over 400 children were interviewed by so-called "experts." The defendants were acquitted on all counts. And who is not aware of the danger posed by satanic cults that kidnap and use children for dark sexual purposes? No one, except perhaps for the FBI who has yet to find hard evidence of the existence of even one of them.

I realize that for every instance of a false accusation based on false memory, there are dozens of cases of unreported abuse, and that the advent of child abuse reporting laws in the 1970s and 1980s were an important victory for child protection advocates and for feminists seeking to bring domestic violence of all kinds out of the patriarchal closet in which it had always been hidden. Nevertheless, I think that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Obviously, child molestors need to be apprehended and punished—and treated whenever possible—in order to protect their current and future victims. But our collective outrage at sexual abuse so dwarfs our recognition of other forms of childhood trauma that such outrage begins to look like more than a simple concern for the real victims of the pedophile.

For example, if you ask most psychotherapists to describe the most common and devastating traumas they see in the lives of the children they treat or in the childhoods of their adult patients, sexual molestation would not usually be at the top of their lists. In statistics released by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2002, over 60 percent of the officially reported cases of maltreatment of children involved neglect, while barely 10 percent involved sexual abuse. In my own practice, I see the damage done by neglect and other forms of emotional deprivation much more than I do the trauma of sexual abuse.

"Neglect" is a simple label for a complicated situation. It doesn't only refer to the absence of a parent but to the presence of a disturbed attachment as well. At the least, children require consistency and empathy. By virtue of either psychological or social pathology, many parents can't provide a secure and protective connection to their children, systematically ignore their children's emotional cues, resort to violence or shaming as forms of discipline, or use their children to mirror and remedy their own attachment needs. This results in a situation every bit as neglectful of the child's needs as one in which the parents are simply absent. Such children grow up with terribly low self-esteem, lack the ability to comfort themselves, and feel guilty and responsible for their own suffering. They have a hard time feeling real empathy for others, including their own children, and can't create and sustain a loving relationship. They feel disconnected and undeserving of the good things in life, develop depressions and severe anxiety disorders, and may often turn to drugs or violence in order to numb these feelings. These handicaps usually last a lifetime and are inevitably passed on to the next generation. The human devastation created by these sorts of dysfunctional families is profound.

Further, social and economic hardship in a culture that only celebrates financial success surely worsens the harm done to children by unhealthy attachments. While emotional neglect and abuse definitely span all social classes, the strains of economic insecurity, poverty, and racism, along with the absence of social support and services—including those aimed directly at children—for poor and working families inevitably leads children unprotected and psychologically vulnerable. Twenty-seven million children—37 percent of all children in America today—are categorized by the Census Bureau as "near-poor" or poor, defined here as a family of three earning $27,000/year or less. Nine million children are without any health insurance. Many of these children are being psychologically damaged each and every day by an environment that cannot see them, cannot hear them, cannot take care of them, and isn't interested in trying.

I'm not necessarily equating the psychological harm of poverty and illness to that of sexual abuse, but I am pointing out that when pathological caretaking meets a social environment filled with hardship and devoid of support, the psychological damage that befalls such children is accentuated. And, yet, the children imperiled by neglect, indifference, and poverty don't appear on milk cartons, they aren't plastered on the front pages of our newspapers, or appear as the lead story at CNN. Typically, no one goes to jail for the crime of "narcissistically using your child as an extension of yourself," or "demeaning your children because you feel demeaned," or "being so drunk and depressed that your children had to raise themselves."

Now, does that really sound like the rationale of a paedophile?
posted by y2karl at 7:50 PM on September 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sorry but this just sounds like that rationale of a paedophile.

Wow, you must love the ACLU.

Ever think maybe that the statement comparing child neglect to molestation was in the spirit of raising awareness for the former, not rationalizing the latter?

Just saying, before you get all verklempt...
posted by Busithoth at 7:52 PM on September 24, 2004

Well, let's not start a witch hunt over it, OK?
posted by y2karl at 7:56 PM on September 24, 2004

What was your position on recovered memories and ritual abuse back in 1989, y2karl?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:42 PM on September 24, 2004

Other than being a bit more well informed, exactly the same as they are now. I was surrounded by people my age with young children at dinner parties could not obsess enough about strangers lurking around playgrounds or about the dangers their children faced at day care. I got interested in the social construction of social problems and the malign effects moral entrepeneurs have had on our common culture early on. And you?

I thought the McMartin PreSchool case,,and all such similar cases thereafter were witchhunts from the git go and I have always vehemently disbelieved in recovered memories. I come from the same town as Elizabeth Loftus, after all. And you?
posted by y2karl at 10:57 PM on September 24, 2004

I suppose I could have written that more clearly--I would go to parties and listen to friends and friends of friends go on and on about sexual attacks on children. It was creepy. It was pretty clear to me that some deep voodoo was going on--especially after the huge hog wallow Oprah and Geraldo and their ilk had with the McMartin Case. They were throwing meat to wolves rather than cows with all that. That Kelly Michaels story the Doroty Rabinowitz wrote for Harpers in 1990? I still have my copy.

I had some read Rene Girard by then, as well.

On a related topic, see here. My own working thesis is that stories of attacks on children are, at least in part, projective attacks on children. But won't anyone think about the children? is a fine mask for scapegoating random strangers. Too bad it fucks up so many kids in the process, huh?
posted by y2karl at 11:18 PM on September 24, 2004

What, are you kidding?

It does such a great job of prepping parent and child for the security society!

I may may be tweaking y2k a bit, but gawl-lee, what was up b/t 1980 and 1990 in terms of American military and "national security" activities? Why, the terror war in Central America, that's what!

Raping nuns and murdering them by dropping bricks on their heads might well be viewed as causing a level of psychic backwash, I'll say.
posted by mwhybark at 11:33 PM on September 24, 2004

I had some read

Why Yoda like write I?
posted by y2karl at 11:36 PM on September 24, 2004

The same. But at that time I was involved with the rape crisis and (general) survivor movement, as well as with feminism of course, and the party line was extreme credulity which made my life in this regard complicated.

I should say, however, that in regard to my rape crisis work, I saw my role there (and the role of rape crisis in general) to be an advocacy role where truth-seeking at best was beside the point and at worst counter-productive.

In the social activist (not specifically advocacy) context, however, I think truth-seeking and intellectual integrity are very important and I was greatly dismayed by the hysteria.

In particular, setting aside all the ways in which it was essentially socially reactionary (preying upon the social discomfort of mothers not being the primary caregivers), I felt it was deeply counter-productive to the cause to which it was ostensibly aimed and hurtful to the people it aimed to protect. The disproportionate fear of sexual abuse committed by daycare workers and other semi-strangers is in my mind functionally equivalent to the disproportionate fear of stranger rape. The reality is that it is someone very close to you that is most likely to abuse you as a child or rape you as an adult—a reality that most people find deeply frightening because, after all, there's no avoiding placing some trust in the people closest to you. The psychological solution to this deep unease is to transfer the fear to some ostensibly more controllable target: the daycare center or the dark parking lot. Great efforts are made to make these places feel more safe, and thus a false sense of increased security is created. Meanwhile, the threat from uncle Albert or Bill the coworker are not reduced.

I read this article when it appeared in the NYT. It's been a few days, IIRC. But I strongly suspect that I attended a talk by the Prof from El Paso mentioned in the article. Actually, at the rape crisis center, I believe. His appearance was to provide some balance against the POV presented by an police detective specializing in ritual abuse, and a survivor. It was a touchy meeting, with emotions running very high.

By the way, I recommend Harvard psychologist and memory authority Daniel Schacter's recent popular book on memory. He's very critical of the recovered memory movement. It's true that repression is a very real aspect of memory, but it turns out that people don't repress memories the way the recovered memory movement assumes. And, of course, errors of commission rather than omission are far more common and prominent in memory.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:45 PM on September 24, 2004

A problem with a lot of these investigations was that kids, past a fairly young age, are pretty good at figuring out what you want to hear from them.

Another was the numerous "testimonials" from kids attesting to the "abusers" flying through the air, and murdering people (who were found to either have never existed or be still alive) in front of the "victims".

It's easy to stir up hysteria in society, whenever children are involved. Look at TV ads from the ONDCP for example. Look at the absolute shit fit that overtook the US when something "not suitable for children" happened at the Super Bowl (despite the fact that very young children don't seem to mind having a breast shoved in their face several times a day for a year or so). A lot of these so-called "experts" just wanted to believe because it was that important in their judgement to do so, and they overlooked common sense and other evidence to come to a conclusion which had been decided from the start.
posted by clevershark at 12:02 AM on September 25, 2004

...I felt it was deeply counter-productive to the cause to which it was ostensibly aimed and hurtful to the people it aimed to protect.

A personal story--I have known two women who, at the hands of therapist true believers in recovered memory, broke with their fathers after they became convinced they had forgotten somehow that they were molested as children. One broke with her father completely, and he died of cancer before she began to question what she had chosen to believe. Now she has to live with that. Another broke with her therapist and reconciled with her father on his deathbed. But she ended up a year later telling me things about how her therapist was phoning in messages about how crazy she was and having them broadcast over the intercom where she worked--she was hearing voices. She never was that grounded to begin with and that whole episode was enough to tip her over into schizophrenia. I don't know what happened to her.

That whole Courage To Heal crowd has a lot to answer for.

Memory and Manipulation
posted by y2karl at 12:13 AM on September 25, 2004

Well, I think Courage to Heal is a great book. The survivor movement is not equivalent to the recovered memory movement and it's neither fair nor helpful to tar it with that brush. Yes, there's a lot of people within the abuse survivor and feminist movements that jumped on the recovered memory bandwagon and did a lot of damage as a result.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:19 AM on September 25, 2004

There's a fine line between victim protector, and victimizer. Any one in a position to protect victim rights is in a position to abuse. Police are trained (we hope) to protect citizens rights as the primary goal, and not to "get the bad guys" which leads to abuse. Same thing can be said for these false memory people, who trained them? They are basically vigilantes going after the bad guys and in the end they were victimizers, not victim protectors.
posted by stbalbach at 12:52 AM on September 25, 2004

EB, I recall reading The Courage To Heal in the mid 90s when I was doing volunteer work in a half-way house for teens with mental illness. Maybe they don't say this in current editions, but I clearly remember (yes, that's ironic, isn't it) a grab-bag list of symptoms in book that they said were indicative of repressed memories of abuse. I felt soiled and upset after reading it, even though I know for a fact that nothing ever happened to me. I think that book is in the recovered memory camp all right.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:56 AM on September 25, 2004

I'm always interested in reading articles on this topic.

When I was much younger (14; 1982), I was babysitting my (step-)niece, who I think was maybe 3. I'd babysat her many times before that but had been part of that family for a little less than a year. My step-sister and her husband had gone out to a play or something and weren't going to be home for many hours. Their family was the first that I knew that owned a VCR and I loved going over and watching movies.

I put Heather to bed and dropped something in the player and settled in to watch. Rocky, I think.

At some point, I became aroused. What can I say? I was 14. I began to masturbate. I closed my eyes to better picture my fantasy. When I reopened them, it was because Heather spoke. She was standing next to the couch, saying she couldn't sleep. I was of course embarrassed, but figured she was so young she had no idea what was going on anyway. I brought her back to her bed and read her a story.

When her parents returned home, she was fast asleep and I, of course, did not mention the incident.

A few months passed and, one day after school, my mother came to me in tears asking what had happened the last time I babysat Heather. I said I didn't know what she was talking about. She asked if I "touched" the girl. I said I had not. She begged me to promise it was the truth. It was, so I did. I asked what this was about and she said she didn't quite know yet, but Heather's mother had called her, furious. Apparently, Heather's father had undressed in front of his daughter and she pointed at his penis and said my name. The parents jumped to conclusions. Perhaps any parent would. (I don't know as I've never been one.) They had spoke to a friend who was a shrink. He advised them to go to the police and they were considering it.

My mother, who insisted that my step sister had always hated her, told me that she thought my step sister was going to use this "information" as a wedge to drive her away from my step dad (who had not been told anything by anyone). My Mother assumed not that my step-sister had jumped to conclusions about something "other" that had happened that night--but that she'd manufactured the episode to have the upper hand. (An important detail is that until my mother remarried the year before, I had lived without a father. I was delighted that my mother had finally found someone who would love her after a succession of men who wouldn't, but now it appeared as though my hormones were going to render me fatherless, and her alone, once again. It was hard for me to imagine being responsible for anything more devastating, and this only intensified my believing that I must stick to my guns: nothing happened.)

My mother insisted that she and I visit a lawyer, which we did. He asked me the same question my mother had (had I "touched" Heather). I answered him honestly but did not give any further details. Again, I was young and rather terrified. In addition, the thing had become so large and absurd that admitting I was "merely" masturbating seemed even more embarrassing.

The lawyer told us not to worry unless the police were called, at which point we were to get back in touch. Thankfully, they were never contacted.

My step sister and her husband (and their daughter) never broached the topic with me. In my youth, when I was still living with my parents, I would always make sure that I was conveniently out of the house when they visited. I probably saw them, oh, a dozen times in the next 11 years, after which point I moved out, and I think I've seen them once since then. I have not seen Heather since, I would guess, 1986.

Long story short: this all happened 22 years ago. I've never told anyone (who it would matter to) about the masturbation thing.

Every time I read one of these articles/books or see a film/docu about this topic, it occurs to me that there's this little girl (obviously a grown woman now, in her mid-20s) who thinks that her uncle molested her when she was 3, when, in reality, I was just a shy, embarrassed kid who did something (not so) stupid and then wasn't mature enough to explain what had happened or comprehend the consequences. I simply thought: If they don't call the police, it will just go away. Now that I am mature enough to explain it, I haven't. Why? Because I'm terrified of a) opening old wounds; b) not being believed; and c) being told that I am lying, wrong, or burying a memory of the truth.

My step father, who I love very much--and not just because he finally gave my mother the love she deserved, but because he is the only truly decent man I have ever met--would be devastated if he thought that I had "touched" his granddaughter. He turned 84 on Tuesday, has Parkinson's, and has had a hard life. I often wonder: after he's gone, will I attempt to set this straight? Am I a fool to think it can ever be set straight? I don't know the answer to either question and don't know if I ever will.

Thanks for the links, Karl.
posted by dobbs at 1:39 AM on September 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

Truth and reconciliation

In the first edition of "The Courage to Heal," Bass and Davis actively encouraged women to believe they had been abused, even if the women themselves initially had doubts about it. "So far, no one we've talked to thought she might have been abused and then later discovered that she hadn't been," they wrote. "The progression always goes the other way, from suspicion to confirmation. If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were."

After their discussion, in the third edition of "The Courage to Heal," of the many reasons why the "backlash" should not be countenanced, Bass and Davis nevertheless knuckle under to it and admit that "mistakes were made." They proceed to offer advice to women who might be doubting whether their treatment has really uncovered genuine memories, acknowledging that a "few" bad therapists might have caused a "few" patients to develop mistaken memories.

But irresponsible therapy techniques were only part of the reason for the vast eruption of "recovered memories" in that era. The explosion of accusations and family destruction was nurtured during a decade of an immense, almost hysterical popularization of the idea that many common social and emotional problems were caused by repressed histories of childhood sexual abuse. Books like "The Courage to Heal" fed directly into that zeitgeist and actively encouraged people to assume that if they were in psychological distress, repressed childhood sexual abuse was very likely the cause. Therapists convinced that the problem was widespread used hypnosis and considerable powers of suggestion to persuade doubtful patients that abuse was the source of their troubles.

Once patients believe in their repressed memories and have invested socially and emotionally in their absolute truth, they are often encouraged to "drain the abscess" of the experience by a process called abreaction, pioneered by Freud a hundred years ago. It's a process by which therapists induce patients to "relive" the painstakingly assembled "memories" as if they were actually happening...

There's only one problem: There's no scientific evidence -- or even consistent descriptive evidence -- that memory recovery or abreaction actually works. Not only did it become increasingly clear to Freud that many of his patients' "memories" couldn't possibly have happened, but his patients also failed to get better following the big cathartic crises he engineered for them.

In fact, some of them got worse, as countless patients did while undergoing similar therapy a century later. It was common for late 20th century recovered-memory therapists to search "deeper" for more and more hidden memories when the "purging" of the first ones didn't cure their patients. As a result, the recovered memories often expanded into more and more horrible outrages -- with predictable effects on patients whose psychological lives were already fragile.

The practice often initiated or accelerated "flashbacks," so that patients experienced spontaneous, hallucinatory moments of the recovered abuse scenarios in their waking lives. Christian psychologist Paul Simpson, a one-time promoter of recovered-memory therapy and the author of "Second Thoughts: Understanding the False Memory Crisis and How It Could Affect You," notes that these supposedly "cathartic" experiences can have devastating effects. "As patients experience more traumatic flashbacks, they begin to decompensate -- their personality and ability to function deteriorate dramatically. As decompensation increases, they are told that their psychotic breakdown is proof that what they fantasized is real."

The emotionally excruciating effects of recovered-memory therapy are addressed reassuringly in "The Courage to Heal." Bass and Davis describe the "emergency phase" of the process that begins when the memories of abuse have been uncovered and accepted as real: "You may find yourself having flashbacks uncontrollably, crying all day long, or unable to go to work. You may dream about your abuser and be afraid to sleep."

"I just lost it completely," one woman told Bass and Davis. "I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping ... I was afraid to stay in the house alone. I would go out in the middle of the night and hide somewhere, behind a Dipsy dumpster or something ... Physically, I was a mess. I had crabs. I hadn't bathed in a month. I was afraid of the shower." Bass and Davis note that for some survivors, the "emergency phase" can last for years, "with only short breaks in intensity." But, they say, the good news is that "it won't last forever."

Yet sometimes it does "last forever," if the abuse survivor finds that she can't take the pain of her awful realizations anymore. "Maria Meyers," a woman who finally came to believe that the "memories" of abuse that she had developed in therapy were false, wrote a response to the death of a fellow patient in a 1994 edition of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation newsletter. Far from having helped her or her friend, recovered-memory therapy turned them both into basket cases.

"Some therapists justify the worsening condition of their patients by telling them, 'You have to get worse before you can get better,'" Meyers wrote. For her, the "getting worse" part of her therapy "didn't mean getting a little more confused or a little more depressed. It meant nearly going insane. It meant retrieving memories so horrid and terrifying I couldn't eat or drink and ended up on IVs ... People are losing families, friends, jobs, and their homes. They are filing for bankruptcy after spending months in hospitals ... [S]ome people give up ... Some people commit suicide."

As patients continued in recovered-memory therapy without gaining a cure for the problems that had brought them into therapy, the number of perpetrators in their memories also tended to expand. "The more I worked on the abuse," said one woman quoted in "The Courage to Heal," "the more I remembered. First I remembered my brother, and then my grandfather. About six months after that I remembered my father. And then about a year later, I remembered my mother. I remembered the 'easiest' first and the 'hardest' last. Even though it was traumatic for me to realize that everyone in my family abused me, there was something reassuring about it."
It's hard for someone outside this kind of therapeutic environment to know what was reassuring about the belief that one's entire family was a vile pack of incestuous sexual abusers. But patients often find themselves relieved to know that their emotional problems and social difficulties are not really their own fault, says Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist and the coauthor with Ethan Watters of the landmark 1994 book "Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria." In therapy, Ofshe says, "The hard questions are not about what choices the patient made and what she might do to change her current circumstances, but rather what was done to her."

The role of victim is seductive, and not just because it explains otherwise inexplicable missteps and failures. In the heady, angry heyday of the recovered-memory movement, it offered the opportunity to "start over" in life with a whole new identity and system of relationships.

The "chosen" family of the abuse-survivor community, unlike your original family, would never question or doubt you, and would always be accepting and supportive. You wouldn't be told to "straighten up and fly right," and you wouldn't be expected to put up with any people or behavior you found too distressing or challenging. No one would know of your failures in life unless you chose to tell them -- in your own way and from your own point of view. Your pain would be celebrated, your social and emotional dysfunctions forgiven as symptomatology beyond your control. There would be a sense of living through a period of high and necessary drama, and of bravely facing and dealing with something truly important. Best of all, you would not need to feel guilty for breaking away from a family that remembered your whole dismal history and had never given you what you felt you needed. A routinely bad childhood may not be enough to justify a clean and complete break, but an incestuously abusive one is.

Abuse survivors, perhaps understandably, tend to idealize the importance of family and overestimate the amount of unconditional love and affirmation people have a right to expect from each other. Many survivors' "pre-discovery" stories betray a disquieting undercurrent of disappointment with their families' emotional support and responsiveness, and the abuse diagnosis seems to validate and justify that discontent.

In "The Courage to Heal" Laura Davis inadvertently illustrates this concept with a dramatic rendering of the separation from her mother. "I've built this wall between us with careful, conscious precision," she writes in an elegiac tone. "I know I'm not the daughter you wanted, Momma. I've always known that. But with my wall close around me, I can see that you're not the mother I wanted, either, all-knowing, all-giving, all-protective."

In a later section, Davis composes a letter she wishes she could receive from her mother after six months of their estrangement. It is not just a letter of total acceptance and apology, but of virtual self-abasement, and it ends by congratulating Davis for her courage.

"I must step past my own denial and support you," Davis has her mother say. "As your mother, I want to give you whatever love and nurturing I can to help you get through this thing ... Laurie, I think you are incredibly brave to do this work. I am proud of you. Your willingness to face the truth of your life is an inspiration to me. I only hope I can face my own life with as much grit and determination." Davis reports with regret that her mother's reaction to the proposed letter was not a happy one, and that was when Davis realized that reconciliation was impossible: "I was not going to get what I wanted from my mother."

In the same section another woman writes of her mother, "Her love is not the kind of love I can believe in. She doesn't have the instincts of a lioness for her cubs, and that's the kind of primal love I need." Bass and Davis note in reply, without a trace of irony: "This fierce, clear love isn't available to many survivors from their families."

Perfect, "fierce, clear" love is not available from most families, period. And no parent can be "all-knowing, all-giving, all-protective." But recovering a memory of horrible abuse means not having to acknowledge the ordinary limitations of family love. As a victim of abuse, the survivor no longer has to make any concessions to the needs or feelings of others in her family.

She has suffered, and she is therefore the center of the family's emotional and moral universe. She must have all the power and control in her relationships with her family, and her family must, according to another checklist in "The Courage to Heal," accept the truth of the accusations without reservation, apologize, conform to the survivor's wishes, say only the right things, and let the survivor direct the relationship

Recovering Memory

In the course of the 1980s, in the United States and one or two other countries, but not elswhere in the world, there occurred a well-documented explosion of memories, recalled in therapy often after many years of oblivion, of childhood sexual assault. These memories were validated by other sources of information about the prevalence of sexual abuse of children, and by a feminist politics of consciousness-raising about incest. Within this context, memories of abuse were largely accepted -- by therapists, by courts, and by most of the people affected - as historical fact. Many American states amended their statutes of limitation to refer to the time of remembrance of abuse rather than the time of the event. The typical pattern is that of a woman entering therapy to try to come to terms with either a diffuse unhappiness or more specific disorders or addictions, and then recovering a buried memory of her childhood which contradicts her 'normal' memory and reveals it to have been a screen. Recovery restores a sense of meaning to a life without order.

Amongst the major supports of the recovered-memory movement is a large non-professional literature of self-help manuals, of which the most influential has been The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. The primary addressee of many of the manuals is a reader who has no memories of childhood sexual abuse; for this reader, the work performed by the manuals is that of producing a recognition through the conduct of spiritual exercises directed to the problem of disbelief.

Two major epistemological tools underly this process. The first is the principle that to disbelieve is to be in a state of 'denial', and so complicit with the systematic concealment that characterizes abusive families. The second, inverse principle is a 'positive' conversion of disbelief into proof of its opposite. 'The existence of profound disbelief is an indication that memories are real', and the absence of memories of abuse doesn't mean none took place:

Belief itself is a matter of exercise, of practice, of imagining oneself into the truth. Thus Fredrickson recommends that the reader should 'Let yourself know what the most hopeless or shameful problem in your life is. Try saying to yourself three or four times a day for one week, "I believe this problem is about my repressed memories of abuse". After a week, write down or talk over with a friend how you see the problem now. Speculate on how it may relate to how you were abused'.Various exercises follow. One is the use of a checklist of symptoms which will 'highlight common warning signals of repressed memories' and may provide 'clues to your abuse'. Typically, the symptoms are of the greatest generality, and, as Carol Tavris writes of the checklists scattered throughout The Courage to Heal , 'The same list could be used to identify oneself as someone who loves too much, someone who suffers from self-defeating personality disorder, or a mere human being in the late twentieth century.... Nobody doesn't fit it.'

Recovered memory's high priestesses

The single most destructive text of the survivor movement is The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse (1988) by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis.

Bass, a poet and writing teacher, drifted into incest counseling in the early 1970s when members of creative writing workshops she conducted began spinning sex-abuse narratives. Her credentials are self-manufactured; her ideas have been shaped by immersion in the recovery movement that began to coalesce around 12-step self-help programs in the late '70s, and in feminist polemics like Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will and Adrienne Rich's The Will to Change.

Bass's female partner is a professed abuse survivor. Davis, one of Bass's former students, is a lesbian who says she has recovered memories of sexual assault by her grandfather. Accordingly, The Courage to Heal and Davis's spin-off, The Courage to Heal Workbook, have a dedicated following among lesbians-- and, since Bass and Davis have turned some of their attention toward male victims, gay men. (Bass also contributed a foreword to Mike Lew's popular Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse.) Both coauthors, especially Bass, have been honored by gay and lesbian entities like Boston's Fenway Community Health Center.

The Courage to Heal Debunked

The Courage to Heal is grounded in total ignorance of research findings about the functioning of human memory. That should be no surprise. Its authors by their own admission have no training, education, or license to diagnose or treat mental illnesses. But as the old saying goes, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," and the authors of The Courage to Heal confidently promote their book as a tool for recovering from repressed memories of abuse that must have occurred--even if there is no evidence and a woman has no recollection of ever being abused. Would you allow an amateur with no medical training to operate on your heart? Of course not! Why, then, would any sensible person allow two amateurs to operate on her mind? The dangers are just as great. If you don't think so, read the retractor stories on this site.

The Courage to Heal encourages the simpleminded, scientifically illiterate misconception that the explanation for symptoms of unhappiness, depression, and almost any other complaint must be the presence of repressed memories, and invites women to rewrite their entire life and family histories around this belief. Would you invest your entire life savings based on the theory of cold fusion? Of course not. Yet The Courage to Heal encourages women to rewrite their entire life histories based on another theory, massively and spontaneously repressed memories, for which there is no more evidence than cold fusion.

The Courage to Heal versus the Experts
posted by y2karl at 6:21 AM on September 25, 2004

The Recovered Memory Movement: A Female Perspective

The recovered memory movement has victimized, in horrendous fashion, not only men, but mostly women, the latter group in the name of liberation, empowerment, and healing. Who are the major movers of this therapy gone amuck? When and why did the movement start and how did it proliferate? Above all, why did recovered memory therapy receive such enthusiastic approval from some feminist factions?

To start with, accusations based on supposedly repressed and recovered memories only began to appear in the mid-eighties, and reached epidemic proportions in the late eighties and early nineties. Prior to the mid-eighties, patients claiming that they had uncovered memories of childhood sexual trauma for which they had no previous awareness were rare or nonexistent (Goodyear-Smith, 1995). The outburst of allegations based solely on recovered memories coincided with the publication of several self-help memory-recovery books, all written by women (Bass & Davis, 1988; Blume, 1990; Courtois, 1988; Fredrickson, 1992; Maltz, 1992), and with proliferation of erroneous beliefs in massive repression. The Courage to Heal (Bass & Davis, 1988), the so-called bible of the recovered memory movement, was written by two women with no background in psychology or psychiatry. Probably the greatest irony is the fact that this openly anti-male hate literature encouraged therapy practices which have caused untold suffering to thousands of women.

posted by y2karl at 6:32 AM on September 25, 2004

What was your position on recovered memories and ritual abuse back in 1989, y2karl?

I'm sure that was a perfectly straightforward question, asked out of curiosity, but when I first read it it had a distinct flavor of "Are you now or have you ever been...?"

I saw my role there (and the role of rape crisis in general) to be an advocacy role where truth-seeking at best was beside the point and at worst counter-productive.

This is rather alarming. How can truth-seeking be "beside the point"?

y2karl: Seriously, guy, you're overdoing the small-tag quotes something awful. Nobody's going to wade through thousands of words of small type, so what's the point? Why not pick out a couple of particularly telling paragraphs and let interested parties go to the link? In this case, the first couple of paragraphs, where you bolded much of the text, would have made your point nicely.
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on September 25, 2004

... What was your position on recovered memories and ritual abuse back in 1989 ...

Well, I'm not karl, but:

I was painfully aware of the witch hunt that was going on in the '80s. The Kelly Michaels case was the real catalyst for me: just the sheer number of accusations and the short time span set off warning bells for me; then to read the actual accusations... how is it possible that they were ever taken seriously?

I never found the idea of constructed memories to be the slightest bit implausible. By 1989 (when I was 25), I had encountered many cases where my own vivid memory conflicted with the vivid memories of others; I'd begun to collect instances where my own vivid memory was clearly contrary to evidence of what had actually happened, as evidenced by things like receipts, notes, photographs, etc.

And I also knew how much a child wants to please an adult. I didn't have to learn that through any great trauma; any kid (or adult) can learn it, just by watching, and especially just by watching themselves. This is not rocket science, nor is it exotic post-modern french social science: It's stuff you already know and just don't want to admit to yourself.

Like others here, I found the '80s obsession with child-protection to be quite disturbing. It was clear to me then that this fear was so deep and elemental that it couldn't be challenged on a rational basis. But I don't think much has really changed since then. If anything, the situation has gotten worse, because even as we slowly but steadily discredit faulty "interrogative" techniques, the philosophies behind those technicques have become not just entrenched, but institutionalized.

As for the "every 50 years" metric: That just doesn't work. We got into this phase sometime in the early '80s, and we never got out of it.

AFAICS, this is merely one aspect of our society's continued downward spiral into irrationality. It makes me want to hold my head. Sometimes, America feels to me like a beatiful, insane lover: I know she'll try to kill me in my sleep some night, but I can't bring myself to forsake her.
posted by lodurr at 7:07 AM on September 25, 2004

I read "Courage to Heal" in my teens (probably about 15 or so years ago; I don't remember exactly, ha!) and thought it was crap then. I was, undeniably, with the police reports and hospital visit to confirm it, raped by a stranger when I was six. I have an absolute, almost cinematic memory of everything that happened right before the assault, and everything that happened right after the assault, but for the life of me, I cannot remember what actually happened during.

To that extent, I believe people can forget the worst part to protect themselves, but I don't believe for a minute that they can forget anything happened at all. While I understand that everyone's mind is different, I just don't buy it that people can mentally gloss over an entire, traumatic event like that, without a single awareness that something had happened, even if the details were unclear.
posted by headspace at 7:13 AM on September 25, 2004

y2karl: Seriously, guy, you're overdoing the small-tag quotes something awful.

This time I would not disagree. I have strong feelings regarding that book--which is by way of explanation, not an excuse. I will exercise a lighter hand in the future.
posted by y2karl at 7:33 AM on September 25, 2004

As for the "every 50 years" metric: That just doesn't work.

That quote is from an article written in 1990.

We got into this phase sometime in the early '80s, and we never got out of it.

I'm sure that Dorothy Rabinowitz would agree with your assessment today.
posted by y2karl at 7:37 AM on September 25, 2004

headspace: I wouldn't argue with you about that. But I think the nature of memory is such that people -- and especially children -- can lose sight of what's real and what's not.

This is easier to approach with mundane memories. My XSO and I used to have fierce arguments about things we remembered differently. When we dug into the details, we'd often discover that the "clear" memory often wasn't as clear as we thought it was. We each had our strong convictions, but one side or the other wouldn't hold up to evidence.

This is not to criticize you or call into doubt your experience. But it's been documented that memory is especially bad in traumatic circumstances -- i.e., when we conventionally trust it most. For myself, I find that deeply troubling, and always have, ever since I came to believe it -- maybe better, to undestand it (though I can't say for sure that I still do) -- many years ago. It's why I always (well, almost always) take "eyewitness" accounts with a grain of salt.

FWIW, I think that the memories we make up are usually very close to the real thing. They're the product of our narratizing minds, which are evolved to be really really good at reasoning through narratization. But what's good enough from an evolutionary perspective is clearly not good enough for legalism in modern life.

I don't have a solution here, BTW, so don't ask me.
posted by lodurr at 8:03 AM on September 25, 2004

fwiw, I read all (well, most anyway) of y2karl's little paragraphs...

dobbs, that must be such a frustration. If no one minded that the daughter had seen poppy's peepee, why were they not more open to the possibility that the earlier scenario had been similarly innocuous? Esp. if the girl wasn't upset.

headspace, I think one of the interesting things here is also the nature of forgetting - one of the ideas about repressed memories is that ultimately they're in there somewhere, and can be recalled if only you work hard enough. But maybe some events just don't get written in the long term memory - maybe fear or other intense emotional experiences actually make it difficult for the memories to directly coalesce unless you consciously think about it a lot right afterward or something.

I read this piece in the mag in print over the weekend and found it really interesting... I was in my teens in the eighties, but even then the stories just seemed too crazy to take seriously - satanic cults and all that. Luckily I didn't live in a paranoia saturated world, and my parents and their friends still skinny dipped with us kids and let us run around naked and stuff, in the summer (when we went to the country). Buncha hippies, they were. Which, despite occasionally embarassing moments when I was in private school later on (like my mom hitchhiking from the town to the school) I still think is a much better situation.
posted by mdn at 8:05 AM on September 25, 2004

Well, my experience with CtH is with my ex-wife, an incest survivor, and my sister, a survivor of sexual abuse by a babysitter. Neither case was a case of repressed memories. My ex-wife disclosed to her mother while the abuse was happening, my sister to me years later. But, again, in neither case was this recovered memories.

And both found CtH to be very helpful and working the workbook productive.

So, it seems to me that you're coming to this from the perspective of all the people that were encouraged by CtH to "recover" lost memories of abuse that didn't happen, and in anger about all the ensuing damage that caused. I agree with you.

But I think perhaps you might be forgetting that, you know, there actually are a lot of victims of child sexual abuse out there.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2004

This is rather alarming. How can truth-seeking be "beside the point"?

When that's not your role. The adverserial legal system is a good example of this. The institution as a whole has the function of truth-seeking and, hopefully, justice will be served. But there are components of the system that are not at all about truth-seeking and, in fact, truth-seeking can be counter-productive. A defense attorney's job is to defend the accused—it is not his/her job to themselves discover the truth of the matter. Legal ethics requires that they not do anything to actively conceal the truth, and certainly that they shouldn't lie; but it's not their job to be truth-seekers. It's not the prosecuter's job, either. This might not be the best example since so many people don't understand this about our legal system. But it's true.

When my ex-wife and I worked as rape crisis advocates, she had a client who really seemed to be nuts and was very likely making up many accusations against many different people. My ex was really conflicted over this. But after discussing it we decided that the raison d'etre of the rape crisis movement and for rape crisis centers and our own involvement, is because there was no surivivor advocacy operating in our social system. A rape victim was essentially handed from one party to another, each with an interest that is distinct from the interest of the rape survivor. A rape crisis advocate, on the phone, at the hospital, at hearings and trials—their role is be an advocate, a helper, for a group of people that have had very little voice. Okay? It's not an advocate's job to worry about who's telling the truth or not. That's someone else's job, and they'll do that job. It's not an advocate's role to truth-seek, they're not trained to truth-seek, and they're not in the position or have the resources to truth-seek.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:36 AM on September 25, 2004

My own working thesis is that stories of attacks on children are, at least in part, projective attacks on children -- y2karl

1. I agree with you 100 percent, karl (although I won't defend to the death your right to say it at such length in such tiny type).

2. God bless Dorothy Rabinowitz

3. What do you think of the Tony Hendra contratemps?
posted by Faze at 11:51 AM on September 25, 2004

why were they not more open to the possibility that the earlier scenario had been similarly innocuous? Esp. if the girl wasn't upset.

mdn, partially, I suppose, because they were never given the opportunity to be open to it because I never presented it to them. (But only partially--they could have come to that conclusion on their own.) Remember, they never spoke to me about it. Everything went thru my mother and, to her mind, I would guess, when I said "Nothing happened," it meant NOTHING, meaning there was no way for anyone to get from babysitting to molestation because I was simply babysitting.

As for the girl not being upset... I get the impression that's a common scenario in these cases. The people investigating assume that the child is either a) to young to know what happened, b) lying, c) repressing, etc., which is why these cases are so disturbing in the first place. They never take into consideration that the child may not be upset because nothing happened. Those investigating, as adults, of course, they "know better."
posted by dobbs at 12:39 PM on September 25, 2004

When there's a child saver stampede, the first to get trampled are the children.
posted by y2karl at 1:12 PM on September 25, 2004

When that's not your role.

I understand what you're saying, I really do. But at some point, we have to stop playing roles and be menschen.
posted by lodurr at 2:24 PM on September 25, 2004

Big respect for dobbs. That's a hard subject to broach.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:57 PM on September 25, 2004

Big respect for everybody. This is a great thread.

EB: It's not an advocate's job to worry about who's telling the truth or not.

Except that such accusations can ruin people's lives. It's bad enough being accused of, say, theft in court, but if you're acquitted you have a chance of going on with your life. If you're accused of child molestation (possibly with insertion of silverware and Satanic rituals) in the public press, you will never be able to live a normal life again. I just can't imagine limiting my vision to the emotional needs of my client and shutting out all the rest. It looks to me like you and your ex talked yourselves into moral blindness.

And karl, thanks for taking my remarks in the friendly spirit in which they were made!
posted by languagehat at 3:39 PM on September 25, 2004

languagehat: I would argue that the criminal justice system operates on a very different set of ethics. Defence lawyers try to get the best possible resolution for the defendent, the DA tries to get the best possible resolution for the people of the district. That is why victim's advocates are necessary, the police and DA are not working for the aleged victim, but for the district. We can argue about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. But victim's advocates fill a necessary role within a justice system that relies on advesarial advocates practicing ethical tunnel-vision.

There is another factor in regards to crisis counseling which is that in the middle of the crisis is the wrong time to start interrogating the person who is coming to you for help. In the middle of the crisis, you just do whatever active listening is needed to keep that person going to the next day, ("ok", "uh-huh", "I see", and occasionally repeating back to the person what they said is the limits of it.) When the person chills out, THEN you can engage in some critical evaluation.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:15 PM on September 25, 2004

Whoops, another thought.

I think part of the breakdown with a lot of the "recovered memories" thing came about when some advocates started pushing their own agenda as opposed to the victim's agenda. That is, the primary role of the victim's advocate is to listen to what the victim has to say, not to suggest to the victim what the advocate wants to hear.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:24 PM on September 25, 2004

Well said, KJS. One of the reasons I agree most strongly with the rape crisis movement, in particular, is that the folks that are supposedly there to help the victim really have their own agenda (which is okay) and, also, don't have the time to concentrate on helping the victim. I do think that as a result of rape crisis advocacy and similar activist movements the police and the hospitals and, less so in my opinion, the prosecuters, are more aware that, for example, someone needs to tell the victim what the hell is going on. It is better. But a bigger portion of what an advocate does is to explain what's happening in the process every step of the way. The reality is that when someone reports a rape to the police or shows up at a hospital, all these procedures go into effect, people rush around doing stuff, and they rarely tell the victim what the hell is happening. There just isn't anyone there with that much time for the victim, really. This is why I think a rape crisis advocate's job is so important and why it's so important not to compromise that role and jeopardize its ability to exist. People think that the police and the prosecuter are the victim's advocates, but they're not.

That said, while it's obvious that I'm very supportive of victim advocacy and services in extrajudicial circumstances, I have very deep concerns about the victims rights movements and its aim vis a vis changes in the law, trials, and sentencing, etc.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:52 AM on September 26, 2004

not that anyone's still reading this, but I wanted to say I agree about the importance of rape crisis counselors - as EB said, although people make stuff up, on the other hand, sometimes people really are victims. someone I know was brought into a hospital at 3am after having been pistol whipped and possibly raped by a stranger (who she had consensually talked to and walked with to a secluded area - she didn't have good judgment, obviously). She called and I took a taxi to the hospital right away, and even at that hour there was a rape counselor (volunteer) who showed up and was just a supportive presence. I mean, the victim had me, but I appreciated the counselor's presence too, because it was pretty emotionally upsetting just as someone close to the victim. The rape counselor knew how to talk to us & make things seem sort of okay.

This person did not know if she was raped because she had also been strangled and had lost consciousness, and the attacker had said he was going to rape her, but she just could not remember if he had. At the time it would have been absolutely horrible to have had someone there questioning whether this was fabricated or real, on what basis she was making these claims, etc. The strangulation was provable (she had spots all over her face from the lack of oxygen); the pistol whipping was too (bruises); but there was not evidence of rape. Eventually she basically decided he hadn't, but that had to be her conclusion, not one forced on her by critical counselors.
posted by mdn at 3:13 PM on September 27, 2004

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