February 21, 2017
Milo Yiannopoulos has worn out his welcome. An old videotape just surfaced in which Mr. Yiannopoulos, as the NYT put it, “condones sexual relations with boys as young as 13 and laughs off the seriousness of pedophilia by Roman Catholic priests.” That was enough to lose Milo a book contract and an invitation to speak at CPAC. And it is encouraging that many people agree that such remarks are inappropriate, to say the least. But the fact remains that Milo Yiannopoulos’s repugnant views still find a warm welcome in America. And it comes from an organization with a perfect name for the age of Trump: the “National Center for Reason and Justice.”
The NCRJ “sponsors” cases in which they claim that criminal convictions for child molestation are somehow unjust. Here is an example of their “reason” at work: the NCRJ sponsors the case of Paul Stanley, defrocked priest and convicted pedophile, included in the award-winning film, Spotlight.
What is their reason? They cite writers like JoAnn Wypijewski, whose article in Counterpunch, “The Passion of Paul Shanley,” actually allows that Paul Shanley presents “an alarming picture of a priest obsessed with sex, one who exploited school settings or counseling sessions to make conquests.” But Wypijewski’s response to 19 affidavits attesting to sexual abuse heartens the NCRJ:
Yet repeatedly in the affidavits, the teenager faces a choice: to go away for the weekend with the priest after being propositioned, to climb into his bed naked, to travel alone to another state to visit him, or stay with him another night, or return for counseling, all after allegedly being molested or raped. Repeatedly, the teenager chooses the priest. In one affidavit, a 14-year-old comes to Shanley to talk about his worries; there is a full-body massage and a sleepover. He returns another time and there is a candlelight bath, Gregorian chants on the stereo, and the priest performs oral sex.
She, the NCRJ, and Milo Yiannopoulos, all see choices to be protected rather than behavior to be condemned, even with children as young as 14.
Judith Levine, one of six members of the NCRJ board of directors, once argued that football players in Sayreville, New Jersey should avoid prosecution entirely because the specter of being on a sex offender registry, even without prison time, is far worse than “having a finger inched up your anus.” Levine also presented the case a 23-year-old man manipulating a 13-year-old girl as “young love.” Another member of the board of directors, Debbie Nathan, once gave an award to Lawrence Stanley, a child pornographer.
Lacking reason or justice, the NCRJ stands as one of the only places in America where the unapologetic embrace of child sexual abuse is still considered fashionable. The NCRJ might disagree with Milo Yiannopoulos on many things, but they have a lot in common when it comes to the remarks that got him banned elsewhere in the world.
November 10, 2016
Dr. Eileen Treacy, a psychologist who testified for the prosecution in the Kelly Michaels case, has been the subject of remarkably unfair attacks by those who claim the Michaels case was a “witch-hunt.” There is a detailed section in The Witch-Hunt Narrative documenting numerous inaccurate claims about Dr. Treacy (Cheit, 2014, pp. 253-261). New York Supreme Court Judge Ralph Fabrizio has added to that material by clearly debunking the lingering claim by defense lawyers that Dr. Treacy’s actions in the Michaels case provide some basis for impeaching her testimony. They don’t. As Judge Fabrizio put it last April:
“Contrary to defendant’s argument, there was no judicial finding in the Michaels case that Dr. Treacy lied or that her testimony was not credible. The finding was that there was an insufficient foundation to support admission of her unobjected-to opinion that the behavior of the child victims in that case was consistent with their having been sexually abused…”
“…the Michaels court was not at all troubled by the testimony offered by Dr. Treacy which did explain factors that jury could consider to assess credibility of the alleged victims in terms of their delayed reporting. That is precisely the expert testimony proffered in this matter. The Court has already limited the scope of Dr. Treacy’s testimony to this area. Thus, the past ruling by the Michaels court has no impeachment value whatsoever. If anything, this line of cross-examination, if permitted, would tend to confuse the jury. At most, the Michaels ruling is a rebuke of the trial judge to allow a witness to offer legally inadmissible opinion testimony. This ruling has no impact on Dr. Treacy’s general credibility, let alone to her specific credibility concerning the subject matter of her proffered testimony in this case.” (People v. Wilson, Supreme Court of New York, Bronx County, Indictment No. 3089/2014)
October 18, 2016
The Washington Post “Fact Checker” turned up a remarkable story last week that has received little to no attention: Kathy Shelton’s description of Hillary Clinton forcing her to endure a psychiatric examination in 1975 is false. Shelton was the victim in a child rape case in which Hillary Clinton was appointed to represent the defendant. Shelton, who has become a virulent Clinton critic, recently claimed (on her gofundme page) that she was “sent for a psychiatric examination” in her case by Clinton. She told The Daily Mail that “one of her worst memories of the case” was being examined by appointed experts. She told them:
‘It got so bad that I told my mom I wasn’t going back, and whatever happened, happened,’ said Shelton. ‘It’s sad that a 12-year-old had to go through what I had to go through, because for days I cried and cried and cried over it.’
But the Washington Post turned up definitive proof that the psychiatric exam never took place. The motion requesting the exam was filed on July 28, 1975. The motion was denied the next day. The Post included a photocopy of the docket sheet. Read the rest of this entry »
September 6, 2016
A central claim that Stephen Ceci made about his research in 1993 was that his laboratory experiments involving child suggestibility “paled in comparison” to what happened in the Kelly Michaels case. If he admitted that what he did in the laboratory was actually much more repetitive and suggestive than the Michaels interviews, then the applicability of his research to the Michaels case would be questionable.
My book proves that the experiments he described were far more suggestive and repetitive than the investigative interviews in the Michaels case (see Cheit, 2014, pp. 274-275). Ceci’s experiment involved telling children week after week, for ten weeks, that something had happened to them. A minority of those children appeared to accept the suggestion after ten weeks. But no child in Kelly Michaels was interviewed that much or that way. So the claim that his laboratory experiments “pale” in comparison to the Michaels case is demonstrably false. Read the rest of this entry »
August 28, 2016
Spotlight received many accolades. The New York Times called it “a gripping detective story and a superlative newsroom drama, a solid procedural that tries to confront evil without sensationalism.” Spotlight later won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie portrays the journalistic effort, by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, to uncover widespread abuse by Catholic priests and the related cover-up by their superiors. Paul Shanley, one of the offenders highlighted in the movie, was described in the Globe as coming “to symbolize the alleged failure of the Archdiocese of Boston to control sexually abusive priests.”
Shanley’s eventual arrest and conviction is often hailed as evidence of how far we have come in acknowledging and confronting child sexual abuse in America. Maybe so. But there is an advocacy organization that still defends Shanley, minimizing or denying in its entirety his “trail of abuse,” as Maureen Orth put it in this article in Vanity Fair. The so-called National Center for Reason and Justice “sponsors” Shanley’s case notwithstanding 19 affidavits from Shanley’s victims. They stand with JoAnn Wypijewski, who acknowledges (near the very end of this lengthy, pseudo-defense) that these affidavits “present an alarming picture of a priest obsessed with sex; one of who exploited school settings or counseling sessions to make conquests.” She even allows that these accounts convey “clearly manipulative” behavior but she objects that 16-year-old boys are “capable of consenting” – adding “Regrets don’t negate the choice.” As to the 14-year-old boy, well, Wypijewski notes that he went back five or six times as well. She does not address his obvious inability to consent under law.
Paul Shanley has come to represent the failure of the Archdiocese of Boston to control sexually abusive priests. He also stands for something equally important to remember: the continued tolerance of such behavior by misguided advocates who stand with the convicted even in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt.
June 22, 2016
There is a disturbing article in The Daily Beast about Elizabeth Shannon Whittle, who “abused her quadruplets to within an inch of death” and was convicted of 13 counts of child abuse in 1999. The case began when a woman overheard Whittle, who had brought her 3-month-old to the Emergency Room, say “I think I shook him too hard this time. I may have broken his back.”
The child’s back was not broken, but his head was badly swollen and doctors found “a fractured skull, broken ribs, and other injuries, including retinal hemorrhage and a bleeding brain.” The infant’s three siblings were also found to have “rib fractures, broken limbs, and permanent brain damage.”
Whittle was sentenced to 172 years in prison, but she was released last Saturday. The article focuses on the strange reasons why she was released so soon. But what matters for the purpose of this blog is that Whittle clearly caused severe and permanent injuries by shaking her babies. Yet there is a movement in this country, led by Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project, to deny the existence of Shaken Baby Syndrome (referred to as Abusive Head Trauma by specialists). There is also a “documentary” film out now that denies the existence of this syndrome. The film features three defense “experts” who claim, based on mechanical models not actual cases, that the kind of injuries Whittle inflicted would have caused the baby’s neck to break. Since the boy’s neck was intact, they reason, Whittington must not have committed the charged crimes. Ditto her other three children, who all had brain damage but intact necks.
This case demonstrates that view is not true. But in modern day America, there remain filmmakers, writers, and defense lawyers who are dedicated to convincing the public that this kind of abuse is a “myth.” They claim it is all a witch-hunt.
May 5, 2016
There is an excellent editorial in the new issue of Journal of Trauma and Dissociation that discusses The Witch-Hunt Narrative in some detail. Here is a brief excerpt:
Cheit (2014) also addressed the scientific underpinnings of the witch-hunt narrative offered by memory researchers Ceci and Bruck. These authors provided samples of supposedly leading questioning by the psychologist who assessed the children in the Michaels case (Ceci & Bruck, 1995, pp. 116–118). Cheit compared Ceci and Bruck’s version of interview transcripts of supposedly leading questioning with the actual prosecutor’s office transcripts of the interviews and found that although Ceci and Bruck claimed to have lightly edited the transcripts, they excerpted and combined pieces from different interview days and sometimes altered the chronological order of excerpts. They also omitted critical responses from the children that made the abusive nature of interactions much clearer (Cheit, 2014, pp. 255, 258). This editing inaccurately portrayed the interviews and cast doubt on the prosecution’s case, thereby supporting the witch-hunt position.
Thanks to Bethany Brand and Linda McEwen for highlighting important parts of the book in detail.
April 28, 2016
Debbie Nathan holds herself out as a principled First Amendment advocate. She belongs to the National Writers Union and in 1989, she famously gave Lawrence Stanley, a child pornographer, the Free Press Association’s H. L. Menken Award. In 1994, she wrote an impassioned plea on the Witchhnt-List against the idea of suing the authors of The Courage to Heal. “The First Amendment cannot be sacrificed in the service of ANY cause,” she claimed. If a lawsuit went forward against the book she despises, Nathan said she would “condemn the suit.” Speech should be met with speech, not lawsuits, she said.
It turns out that Nathan’s commitment to free expression and the First Amendment has one glaring exception: it does not extend to those who criticize Nathan’s own work, even in a fully documented, scholarly book. It has been two years since The Witch-Hunt Narrative was published and it’s time to tell the story of how Debbie Nathan tried to prevent its publication. Days before the publication date of the hardcover edition, Nathan sent a libel threat to the publisher. She claimed that she knew she had been libeled by The Witch-Hunt Narrative and she promised to pursue her legal remedies in the US and in England if the book was published. Tellingly, she did not identify a single offending passage. The publisher was not intimidated and the book, which documents extensive errors and omissions in Nathan’s writings, was published without delay. Not surprisingly, Nathan never followed through on her baseless threat to sue. The time for any such suit has expired, but the time has just begun for telling the story of the faux First Amendment advocate who made a phony libel threat to try to stifle criticism of her own work.
February 29, 2016
We are pleased to announce two recent developments: (1) Oxford University Press has released The Witch-Hunt Narrative in paperback, and (2) Cornell law professor Cynthia Grant Bowman has a terrific review essay of The Witch-Hunt Narrative in the Winter 2016 issue of Law and Social Inquiry.
November 30, 2015
There is an excellent profile in the Providence Journal of Jim Scanlan, who is referred to as “Kevin from Providence” in the highly-acclaimed movie Spotlight. Scanlan never told anyone what had happened to him until well into adulthood. His inspirational story includes his ongoing work with an organization in Providence called ResilientKids.
One might think that the subject of Spotlight–how the Catholic Church covered up child sexual abuse–is well-known and widely agreed upon as a national disgrace. But it bears remembering that the so-called National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ) crusaded of behalf of Father Shanley. Never mind the affidavits from 19 other victims of Shanley’s. To the NCRJ, the fact that Shanley was convicted on the basis of a recovered memory outweighs any and all evidence of serial predation of minors.
Jesuit priest James F. Talbot, who pled guilty to abusing Jim Scanlan, later admitted to abusing 88 other victims. The NCRJ still defends Father Shanley, who may well rival that number.
October 6, 2015
The Providence Journal published an excellent article on Sunday about an ill-conceived law that is about to take effect in Rhode Island. The law increases the residency restrictions for sex-offenders living near public or private schools. As the story illustrates, the seemingly-small change from a 300-foot restriction to 1,000 feet means that “just a few slivers of the city” will remain open for residency. This policy will displace many people who have been living in the community without incident, it will make it difficult for them to find any place to live, it will probably create homelessness, and it will certainly marginalize people who we should be trying to reintegrate into the community. There is no evidence that it will increase public safety. Rather, it is likely to decrease it. It is, in short, terrible public policy.
Unfortunately, it has political support. These kinds of laws provide an easy opportunity for politicians to appear “tough” on sex offenders without actually doing anything about the problem. They also provide an opportunity for those who promote the witch-hunt narrative to ignore all of the significant ways in which the criminal justice system is lenient when it comes to sex offenders. As argued in my book:
The paradox of the contemporary sex offender in America is that we treat the group with leniency in many ways–failing to report suspicions, rallying around “upstanding” defendants, and meting out lenient punishments on many occasions–but we overreact about their release from prison (Cheit, p. 374).
Residency restrictions like this should be eliminated. At the same time, those who characterize our social and legal responses to sex offenders as “highly punitive” should recognize that this is not true in the criminal justice system in general. It is time to address both problems.
August 8, 2015
The witch-hunt narrative, as described in my book, has deep roots in American culture. It ranges from Salem Massachusetts to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. The power of those cautionary tales, however, causes many people to drop their skeptical guard when told that something is a modern day witch-hunt. So it is with the conventional wisdom about the highly publicized day-care sexual abuse cases from the 1980s.
Richard Beck, a comparative literature major from Harvard who works at a literary magazine, is the latest one spreading the witch-hunt narrative about those cases. His book, We Believe the Children, based largely on secondary sources, reaches the same conclusions that Debbie Nathan and defense lawyer Michael Snedeker offered twenty years ago. In both instances, the authors repeatedly omitted significant evidence that contradicts the witch-hunt narrative. Consider some examples of what Beck left out:
- Beck reduces all of the medical evidence in the McMartin case to a single paragraph and insinuates that there was no credible medical evidence substantiating sexual abuse (pp. 155-56). But Beck does not tell his readers that even defense lawyer Danny Davis allowed that the genital injuries on one girl were “serious and convincing.” Beck also did not mention that the vaginal injuries on another girl, one of the three involved in both McMartin trials, were considered as proving sexual abuse “to a medical certainty.” Beck also fails to mention that the case began when Judy Johnson saw a drop of blood. Beck allows that the boy was examined twice and, as he put it, both doctors reported suspected child abuse (p. 34). But Beck did not disclose the basis for those reports: the Emergency Room doctor observed the “red and roughened” area around the boy’s anus, concluding that there “appeared to be some friction like trauma to the rectal area.” The pediatric expert who subsequently examined the boy described discolored bruising patterns and said that his anal injury “was within the last week” (Cheit, p. 25). That is why Ray Buckey was arrested.
July 29, 2015
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recently began hearings in Australia. A story in the Sydney Morning Herald says that the Jehovah’s Witness Church in Australia “received allegations of child sexual abuse involving more than 1000 of its members over a 60-year period but did not report a single claim to police.” The opening day of the hearing included testimony from two victims who explained how they were blamed when reporting sexual abuse.
Is blaming the victim a relic of the past? Not based on what I heard on a panel earlier this month at the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Vienna, where Elizabeth Ainslie, who represents former Penn State president Graham Spanier, impugned the victims of Jerry Sandusky as untrustworthy. She referred to “men standing in line for checks,” and she questioned why none of them spoke up when they were children. She said several times that these men all came from “broken homes,” and she claimed that they “loved” Sandusky and that his charity did wonderful work.
I don’t know whether Graham Spanier is guilty of a crime. (He has been charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse.) But I know that he sent an infamous email where he characterized the decision to give Sandusky a “stern” warning, rather than reporting his behavior to child welfare authorities, as a “humane and reasonable way to proceed.” “The only downside for us,” Spanier said, “is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it.” There would be an additional downside, of course, for any child who was not protected because Penn State thought its reputation was more important than reporting Sandusky. But Spanier never mentioned that “downside.” Neither did his lawyer, when presenting in Vienna. Instead, she blamed those greedy, unreliable men for ganging up on that nice Mr. Sandusky.
Sad but true: blaming the victim is alive and well in 2015.
June 14, 2015
The tragic death of Beau Biden has put a spotlight on his brief and distinguished career. As Attorney General of Delaware, Biden oversaw the prosecution of pediatrician Earl Bradley in what many consider the most horrific child sexual-abuse case in state history. There were more than 100 victims; their average age was three and Dr. Bradley videotaped the abuse. He was convicted of fourteen counts of Rape in the First Degree and sentenced to fourteen life sentences. Beau Biden became a strong advocate of raising awareness about the sexual abuse of children. The Biden family recently created a foundation to continue this cause.
The Bradley case is notable for three reasons beyond the lurid details that have received the most attention. First, the case demonstrates the widespread problem of non-disclosure by children who have been sexually abused. The videotapes document more than 100 victims, very few of whom ever came forward in any way that has been documented. This includes children who had been choked or suffocated and subject to extreme sexual violence. Those who promote the witch-hunt narrative continue to reject the initial precepts of child abuse accommodation syndrome, asserting instead that delayed disclosures of sexual abuse are somehow unusual or suspect. This case illustrates the folly of those claims.
June 3, 2015
A Texas appellate court recently decided that Francis and Daniel Keller should not be declared innocent of child sexual-abuse charges from 1992. Those who promote the witch-hunt narrative have responded in high dudgeon. But their accounts of the case, like Radley Balko’s treatment in the Washington Post, are wrong in every particular. Specifically:
(1) The Kellers were never charged with, let alone convicted of, satanic ritual abuse. As explained in this article in the Huffington Post last July, those issues arose after the case was charged and involved children who were not part of the charges. The only reason those issues came into the Keller case is because the defense brought them up.
(2) Dr. Mouw’s “recantation” did not negate all of the medical evidence of abuse in the case. As anyone who bothered to read his affidavit can see, Dr. Mouw still admits that the original girl in this case had a tear in her vagina. Cathy Young has dismissed this evidence with the wild assertion that vaginal tears are normal in non-abused children, but virtually all research of “normal” genitals contradicts this claim. The Keller case began with a genital injury that Dr. Mouw does not deny. His “recantation” of the other finding strains credulity. It relies on the claim that Dr. Mouw had a clear recollection of this genital exam many years after he testified that he had absolutely no recollection of the exam.
May 10, 2015
Nicholas Kristof in the NYT: “Many Americans bristle at accusations that there is a ‘rape culture’ that sometimes tolerates sexual assault. Put aside the issue of terminology: Whatever you call it, there is no doubt that we have often been lackadaisical about addressing sexual assault.”
March 31, 2015
The first academic review of The Witch-Hunt Narrative has been published. It’s in the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, and it’s quite positive. I am particularly pleased that the review recognizes Arthi Krishnaswami’s amazing graphics.
January 31, 2015
One of the strangest and most revealing criticisms of my book is Cathy Young’s assertion that I did not acknowledge the use of “important materials” from the Satan’s Silence archive. The claim is strange because it is proven wrong by the clear acknowledgement on page 414 of the book; it is revealing because Ms. Young, by her own account, relied on Debbie Nathan’s word for this claim. Apparently neither one of them read the book carefully.
But Ms. Young was doubly wrong. Not only were the Satan’s Silence materials acknowledged quite clearly in my book–and Maggie Bruck, who provided them, was thanked a second time on page 411–but the materials were not, by any measure, “important.” Their primary value was in demonstrating how little archival material backed up Nathan and Snedeker’s book. And even the material that was supposed to be contained in this “archive” turned out to be less than Nathan and Snedeker claimed. The “archive” is almost entirely materials from the McMartin case. There were two boxes of interview transcripts from Children’s Institute International (CII), largely from children who were not even in the case. There were almost no materials from any of the other cases discussed in their book in the third box. And most of the non-McMartin documents that were purported by Nathan and Snedeker to be in this “archive” were not actually there. Nathan informed me in 2006 that those materials might be in a shed on her in-laws’ property in Wisconsin. She later told me that they were not there.
In sum, the “archive” is important, but not for the reasons that Cathy Young claimed. Instead, the “archive” demonstrates how little original research went into Satan’s Silence. It also demonstrates how Cathy Young was so dedicated to believing the witch-hunt narrative that she relied on the (incorrect) word of Debbie Nathan rather than on a careful read of the book that she was reviewing.
December 26, 2014
As the year comes to an end, The Witch-Hunt Narrative continues to generate positive publicity. Dr. Michael J. Salamon discussed the importance of the book in dispelling misconceptions about children as witnesses in his column this week on “Bill Cosby and Believability.” Looking to the New Year, I have already accepted invitations to more than a dozen academic talks and keynote speeches about The Witch-Hunt Narrative. Keep an eye on this page for details and updates.
October 28, 2014
I do not respond to personal attacks; smearing the messenger is a tactic that speaks for itself. But Cathy Young’s recent rant about my book contains such a glaring, and revealing, misstatement of science that it is worth pointing out. According to Ms. Young, who dismisses virtually all medical evidence of sexual abuse: “It is now known that anal and genital inflammations and lacerations in young children, once believed to be clear signs of sexual abuse, also occur frequently in kids who were not abused.” There is no scientific basis for the claim that genital lacerations occur frequently in non-abused children. Quite the contrary. According to a recent article in Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology:
Hepenstall-Heger et al. reported lacerations in prepubertal girls in both penile and digital penetration, but none were found in girls experiencing saddle injuries. Myhre et al. found no lacerations in non-abused 5- and 6-year-old girls. (Price, p. 134).
Read the rest of this entry »
September 12, 2014
We are back, after a summer hiatus, and ready for a year of lectures and blogging and other projects related to the book. Look for upcoming blog posts on the evidence in the Smith/Allen case, the flawed arguments still being made on behalf of Frank Fuster, and the baseless innocence claims made on behalf of Jonathan Peskin and, separately, “Junior” Chandler. Meanwhile, the Brown Alumni Magazine just published a nice piece about the eighty-plus undergraduates who helped give Extreme Research its name.
July 12, 2014
There is an excellent review of The Witch-Hunt Narrative today in The Daily Beast! The author is Jason Berry, the award-winning journalist who wrote the first major expose of the child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. His book Render Unto Rome won the Investigative Reporters and Editors 2011 Best Book Award. Berry’s review ends as follows: “Cheit’s revisionist history is grounded in a documentary record and obsession to distill truth from process; it is likely to be a controversial book, but it is one that journalists should embrace.”
July 10, 2014
This post elaborates on some of the evidence in the Keller case, discussed in an article that was just published on Huffington Post. The article, which is about the witch-hunt narrative writ large, argues that the evidence of abuse in the Keller case has been minimized or denied, while the “satanic” aspects of the case, which were never part of the charges, have been exaggerated.
- Dr. Mouw’s Testimony
The Keller case began the day that a mother took her daughter to the Emergency Room, after the little girl screamed “It hurts, it hurts” while urinating. The Emergency Room doctor, Dr. Michael Mouw, found two different signs of sexual abuse. Seventeen years later, the doctor told a reporter that his diagnosis was likely incorrect.
Dr. Mouw’s claim has been accepted at face value, without any apparent skepticism or scrutiny by those advancing the witch-hunt narrative. Yet, on close examination, there are two reasons to discount Dr. Mouw’s current claim. First and foremost, it is flatly contradicted by his testimony in 1992, when he said repeatedly that he had “no independent recollection” of the exam.  His subsequent testimony was based entirely on the notes he made at the time of the examination, conducted in 1991. Yet, Dr. Mouw now claims that “years later,” while attending a seminar, he realized that his diagnosis in this case was incorrect.  How could he possibly remember this examination “years later” when he had no independent recollection of it in 1992?
July 8, 2014
The Witch-Hunt Narrative was featured today in the second half of the Leonard Lopate Show on public radio in New York City. You can listen to the 30-minute interview here.
June 14, 2014
An advocacy group, named the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ), has written a response to The Witch-Hunt Narrative. Their response mischaracterizes the book in several important ways that are explained on this page. Their response also ignores almost all of the specific cases and evidence in the book. As it turns out, many of those cases are “sponsored” by NCRJ, meaning that the organization has been fundraising and advocating on behalf of the defendants in these cases. The book agrees with NCRJ’s position on the Baran case (pp. 126-28). But there are eight cases discussed in the book, sponsored by NCRJ, in which there was significant evidence of guilt. For readers interested in knowing more about that evidence, see the following passages in The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Kellers (pp. 144-47), Smith/Allen (pp. 149-50), Friedman (pp. 130-33), Fuster (pp. 283-354), Halsey (pp. 147-49), Krivacska (pp. 393-94), Malcom (pp. 134-37), and Rouse (pp. 394-400).
June 10, 2014
The Witch-Hunt Narrative is featured today on the front of the Science section of the New York Times. Emily Bazelon of Slate wrote the review. We appreciate Ms. Bazelon’s recognition that The Witch-Hunt Narrative is an important book and we are delighted to be placed in the middle of the discussion of many timely issues about our social and legal responses to the sexual abuse of children.
May 17, 2014
The disinclination of some people to believe that children have been sexually abused is a serious and under-recognized problem. It is a social problem that is clearest in individual cases, since even the most biased people always say “of course, sexual abuse is a problem.” A criminal case that is unfolding in Tennessee has unmasked the remarkable bias of Dr. William Bernet, whose custody evaluation in 2007 concluded that a young boy had not been sexually abused by his father. The father was awarded custody after Dr. Bernet told the court that the mother had a groundless “obsession” that her son had been sexually abused.
Four years later, according to this story in The Tennessean, an FBI investigation found “pornography and other items that the prosecutor said corroborated the boy’s story.” Criminal charges were then filed against the father. In a pretrial hearing, the prosecutor revealed that Dr. Bernet had omitted findings in his 2007 evaluation that the father had two risk factors correlated with pedophiles. Dr. Bernet also ignored the fact that the mother had taken the boy to a doctor after finding pubic hairs in his rectum and that the pediatrician had seen “fingertip bruising” on the boy’s buttocks. Faced with questions about this evidence, Dr. Bernet said the boy was “highly suggestible” and may share “delusional symptoms” with the mother.
The custody award has since been reversed and one hopes that justice will be done. The larger lesson is that a bias against thinking that children have been sexually abused, a bias that came out of the high-profile daycare sexual abuse cases of the 1980s, still exists and causes real harm to children. Being too prone to believe abuse allegations is problematic; so is being too prone to disbelieve them. But, as demonstrated in The Witch-Hunt Narrative, the former problem has been exaggerated, while the latter problem has barely been recognized.
May 9, 2014
The word “exoneration” has been given new meaning, and it includes people who were never actually proven to be innocent. This strange development is hidden in the small print of the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project of the Michigan and Northwestern Law Schools. The project has the worthy goal of documenting cases in which “someone convicted of a crime is officially cleared based on new evidence of innocence.” That is the common sense meaning of the word and it’s the definition prominently displayed on the home page of the project.
But buried in the glossary is a “more precise definition” that amounts to doublespeak. (You have to click “learn more” on the home page and then scroll down and click “glossary” to find this important qualifying language.) An exact quote from the “more precise definition” tells the story: “The evidence of innocence need not be an explicit basis for the official action that exonerated the person.”
What does that mean? It means that cases in which the defendant has not been “cleared based on new evidence of innocence” can count as exonerations. And the “evidence of innocence” is a judgment call made by those who run the project. Through this rhetorical sleight of hand, the Registry now includes cases labeled as “child sex abuse hysteria.” In short, the Registry has adopted the witch-hunt narrative. What it has not done is confront the evidence of abuse in those cases. If the “evidence of innocence” does not need to be subject to adversarial proceedings or be the explicit basis for the official action, then “exoneration” means nothing of the sort. It may reveal a lot about the politics behind the Registry, but it tells us little or nothing about the underlying evidence.
May 5, 2014
Proponents of the witch-hunt narrative argue that child sexual abuse cases in the 1980s were filled with claims of satanic ritual abuse. There is no question that there were parents and therapists who believed in this discredited idea. But such claims did not involve anywhere near as many criminal cases as many people assert.
The Witch-Hunt Narrative documents how many cases tagged as “satanic” did not actually involve such claims, and many cases that did also included significant evidence of abuse. Exaggerated claims about the nationwide prevalence of satanic abuse cases persist to this day. One mythical number that has taken hold is, “By 1991, 25 percent of prosecutors in the United States had handled at least one case involving satanic ritual abuse.” Here is what the original report said:
“Our question on ritualistic sexual abuse (i.e., cases with satanic or cult overtones) evoked a striking response. In our sample, fully 74% responded they had not prosecuted any cases involving these traits. Unprompted, prosecutors said they were unaware of such activity in their jurisdictions. This contradicts some of the media attention on the extent of ritualistic abuse” (Smith & Goretsky Elstein 1993, p. 29). Read the rest of this entry »
April 28, 2014
Proponents of the witch-hunt narrative claim that there were hundreds or even thousands of wrongful convictions in child sexual-abuse cases in the 1980s and early 1990s. A prime example of this claim comes from Richard Beck, who is working on a book that will add to the witch-hunt canon next year.
In November 2011, Mr. Beck wrote that “hundreds of people were sent to jail on these imaginary charges.” That claim, as documented in ch. 3 of The Witch-Hunt Narrative, does not stand up to scrutiny. At a recent event at Columbia University, we had the opportunity to ask Mr. Beck about the basis for his claim. He responded that he “wrote that before doing the research” for his book. He added that his statement was just “an internet thing.” This raises a few questions.
Does n+1, where his statement was published, have lower standards for its internet content than for its other publications? Is “truthiness” acceptable at n+1 so long as it’s just online? If not, will there be a correction forthcoming now that Mr. Beck apparently realizes that his claim is not true?
We also look forward to finding out, when his book comes out, whether Mr. Beck adjusted his viewpoint after realizing that what he wrote in 2011 was overblown. Will his book examine why this kind of exaggerated claim has been so widely accepted or will the book ignore that issue and cite, without criticism, the very writers and academics who have propagated these mythical numbers?
April 27, 2014
Tomorrow is the official publication date for The Witch-Hunt Narrative. Today’s Providence Journal has the first book review. Here it is.
April 25, 2014
The Witch-Hunt Narrative is featured today on two blogs devoted to reading: The Page 99 Test and the Campaign for the American Reader. Page 99 might not be the page we would have chosen to highlight; then again, it perfectly captures the complexity of the book. And the campaign for the American Reader; that’s a campaign that we strongly support!
April 21, 2014
The new issue of the Roger Williams University Law Review is a symposium from the 2013 conference on child witnesses. (Here is the foreword by Prof. Carl Bogus.) The issue includes an article on the Jordan, Minnesota cases by Ross Cheit and Andrea Matthews. Based on extensive original research, the article argues that the Jordan, Minnesota cases were far more complicated than the witch-hunt narrative has ever acknowledged.
Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker wrote the Jordan cases off with the assertion that “the Jordan youngsters accused their parents of murdering babies.” In fact, the police interviewed seventy children, thirty-two of whom were named in at least one criminal indictment. Five children eventually made fantastic statements about killing babies; sixty-five never did.
The article also reveals how history professor Philip Jenkins, who apparently did not conduct original research, conflated two children in the case, attributing statements made by a boy (J.B.) who made murder allegations to a boy (J.O.) with the same first initial, but who was earliest in the case and never made any such claims. Jenkins dismissed J.O. and virtually all of the other children in the case for little apparent reason. The article documents significant and overlooked evidence of abuse in the case.
The Jordan cases were a dual tragedy: people were charged who should not have been, and children were not vindicated who should have been. But the witch-hunt narrative remembers only one of those stories.