Dorothy Rabinowitz is apparently so worried that the #MeToo movement is enhancing the credibility of victims of sexual abuse that she wants to scare people into thinking that McMartin Preschool case (circa 1984-1990) — or at least her version to is, which omits *all* evidence of guilt — is some kind of cautionary tale for our time.
But the real caution is against “columnists” like Rabinowitz, whose work is never been subject to careful fact-checking. Her review of the McMartin film on Oxygen last weekend is chock full of errors. She even takes the film to task for not including a claim about Judy Johnson that is a figment of the reviewer’s imagination.
But for starters, Rabinowitz claims that the McMartin case began “with a phone call” from a crazed mother. But the Manhattan Beach Police did not begin this case on the word of Judy Johnson. Instead, they were moved by the medical evidence of anal trauma on her son. Johnson did not come to the police station on August 12; she went to her family doctor who, after examining her son, referred the boy to an Emergency Room. That doctor recommended that the boy be examined by a specialist. The pediatric specialist is the one who reported to the Manhattan Beach Police Department that “the victim’s anus was forcibly entered several days ago.”
Facts like these are documented in court records and in the entire chapter devoted to the McMartin case in my book. Rabinowitz, like so many others who pontificate about the McMartin case, has never actually read the transcript. Instead, she provides endless assertions that are not borne out by the record.
Yes, the McMartin case grew to encompass many false allegations. Those were all dropped before trial. But the notion that the entire case was a hoax or it all a witch-hunt is absurd, when one looks at the actual evidence in the case.
The Unlearned Lessons of McMartin started this blog, more than 5 years ago. Sadly, that post remains an evergreen.
April 6, 2018
April 2, 2018
There is a lot of talk these days about the need for transparency, replication, and integrity in science. Dr. Stephen Lindsay, Editor in Chief of Psychological Science, is an admirable ambassador of these values. The journal holds itself out as the leading peer-reviewed journal publishing empirical research.
But is Dr. Lindsay willing to correct errors in his own work?
Lindsay (with co-author Deborah Poole) once wrote that Eileen Treacy, who testified for the state in the Michaels case, was a “unlicensed, self-proclaimed expert.”  In fact, she had significant qualifications: she had a master’s degree in psychology, she was advanced to candidacy in a doctoral program and writing a dissertation about sexually-abused children in foster case, and she was directing a licensed clinic that provided services to sexually-abused children.
More important, her expertise was not, by any measure, “self-proclaimed.” To the contrary, Dr. Treacy (who had earned her doctorate by the time Lindsay and Poole published this statement) responded to questions from both sides in a pretrial hearing and the judge made the decision that she qualified as an expert. The fact that her expertise was granted by the judge contradicts the claim that her expertise was somehow “self-proclaimed.”
I have pointed this out to Dr. Lindsay who, to his credit, took the matter under consideration and engaged in polite dialogue over email. His eventually told me that he thought his characterization was accurate because she was not a licensed psychologist. (She worked at a licensed facility, however, was practicing under the laws of New York, and had a license from the State Department of Education; but I agree that reasonable minds could differ on this point.)
But the meaning of the phrase “self-proclaimed” is not up for grabs. It means “without endorsement by others.” So the judge’s endorsement flatly contradicts Poole and Lindsay. I have pointed out to Dr. Lindsay that his characterization is flatly contradicted by the judge’s finding.
His response today: he has “spent enough time” on this.
Really? Who lacks the time to make corrections when corrections are due? Apparently, the editor in chief of Psychological Science.
 Poole & Lindsay, “Assessing the accuracy of young children’s reports: Lessons from the investigation of child sexual abuse,” Applied and Preventive Psychology, 7:1-26(1998).
March 2, 2018
JoAnn Wypijewski recently made the ridiculous claim in The Nation that the day-care abuse cases of the 1980s were “entirely concocted.” This remarkable piece of sex abuse denial is disproven by The Witch-Hunt Narrative, a massively-researched account of cases that Ms. Wypijewski has never bothered to examine. But her utter ignorance of these cases has inspired a Twitter-based idea: the backlash history project. In the coming year, I will tweet out various reminders of facts and events from these cases that writers like Ms. Wypijewski would rather ignore and probably never knew in the first place. It will provide Ms. Wypijewski and the entire Twittersphere with dozens of reminders over the coming year of the substantial evidence that existed in the misconstrued day-care abuse cases of the 1980s and early 1990s.
February 10, 2018
Nobody in their right mind would claim Larry Nassar is innocent after 150-plus women testified so powerfully at his sentencing hearing. But Gunther Fiek, the Larry Nassar of Georgia, still has supporters who claim he is innocent, even after being convicted of eighteen counts of child molestation and three counts of aggravated child molestation. Fiek was a martial arts instructor at Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Days before his sentencing he said: “Maybe I did touch the kids in some way, maybe inappropriately. But it wasn’t with intent or for sexual purposes.” Wasn’t with intent? He unintentionally touched kids inappropriately, over and over again? Hardly a denial. But apparently good enough for some people. So what if he was “more touchy with my students than I should have been.”
If you want to see the face of sex-abuse denial in American today, it is an organization with the Orwellian name, the National Center for Reason and Justice. Under their version of “reason” and “justice,” a man who admitted touching children inappropriately is somehow the victim. Then again, this organization also supports Paul Shanley, who offered the same twisted defense that Nassar did when he said “those girls kept coming back.” If you read their defense of Fiek, which never mentions his admission, it boils down to children were “interrogated” (in other words, asked questions) and that “elicited accusations” (in other words, evidence of guilt). But the word of a child is never enough with NCRJ. Neither is the word of eighteen children. Even when the man admits he touched them “inappropriately.”
This is hardly a fringe group. Professor Elizabeth Loftus is one of their advisors. I wonder if she read this article:
February 3, 2018
Most people who watched the Larry Nassar sentencing hearing were moved by the courage and pain of his victims. Some of the women could not bear to appear in person. A court official read Annette M. Hill’s letter. Hill, a former MSU athlete, was particularly critical of the MSU administration because, as her letter said: “If they had only taken action on the first report, it would have saved me and all the other athletes standing before us today from a life of pain and agony.” Hill reported being suicidal.
In a disgraceful essay just posted online, freelance writer Mark Pendergrast declared that Hill probably has “illusory memories.”
Why? Because Ms. Hill said she had “suppressed” her memories of these events for years. Pendergrast has been on a mission to discredit any abuse claim that might be associated with repressed memory since his two adult daughters cut him off in the early 1990s. But Hill did not say that she recovered her memory in therapy. (Nor is there any evidence that was true of his daughters.) Hill just used the word “suppress.” Which is probably what many other victims of Nassar did.
In this cultural moment when it seems that victims of sexual abuse might stop being discounted and dismissed unfairly, Mark Pendergrast reminds us that there are still people all too willing to dismiss victims without cause.
February 2, 2018
January 28, 2018
Frank Fuster’s defenders, undeterred by the mountains of evidence against him (see the entire ch. 5 of The Witch-Hunt Narrative), continue to make false statements about his convictions (plural) for child sexual abuse. The most recent example is Mark Pendergrast’s claim that Frank Fuster’s conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct was wrongful because Fuster “passed two lie detector tests, but the jury was never told” (Memory Warp, p. 213). Pendergrast, who holds himself out as an “independent scholar,” provided no citation for this claim. In an earlier publication, however, he attributed this assertion to nothing more than an interview with Frank Fuster himself.
But there is no evidence in the court file that Fuster ever took a lie detector test or tried to get one entered at trial, where he declined to take the stand. The only test results in the court file are the MMPI tests that found him to be “compulsive and paranoid” with a “strong need to see himself as extremely virtuous.”
Moreover, a careful examination of court records in Fuster’s 1985 case demonstrates that Frank Fuster is a compulsive liar. Take his 1969 arrest for shooting man to death after a minor traffic accident, all witnessed by a off-duty police officer. Fuster pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in that case. But in the Country Walk case, he testified “when I was twenty years old, couple of months before becoming New York City police officer, I’m accused of being a murderer.” He also claimed that the off-duty officer “set him up.”
But Fuster was not training to be a police officer; he was a salesman at the Minx Fur Company! As his parole report indicates: “much of the information [Fuster] provides differs from that available” in court records. “It does not appear that he accepts full responsibility for killing the victim.” (See pp. 339-341 of The Witch-Hunt Narrative for details and citations). Indeed, Fuster testified at his Parole Revocation Hearing in 1985 that his manslaughter conviction was actually “a crime that did not take place.”
There is much more. Fuster actually testified in the Country Walk case that there was no day care center in his house, even though there clearly was. He claimed not to own masks that were found in his home and that adults had seen him wear. This is the man who Mark Pendergrast accepts at face value. One wonders whether Pendergrast knew some of these facts and chose to ignore them, or whether he never did the research in the first place.
January 24, 2018
The sentencing hearing is over and 169 victims of Larry Nassar’s provided heart-wrenching testimony about the effects of sexual abuse. These brave women proved much more than that Larry Nassar was a serial sex offender. Their testimony also speaks volumes about how sexual abuse is disclosed: slowly, in bits and pieces, and often long after the abuse occurred. Some of these women had never told anyone, others had tried to tell someone and were called lairs, and others only slowly realized that what was had been done to them was abusive.
The experience of these women disproves the frequent assertion by Dr. Maggie Bruck that delayed disclosures are suspect and that true abuse is disclosed quickly and completely. (See Cheit, pp. 394-400, for a fully-documented discussion of the Marzolf case, where Dr. Bruck made this claim, even though there was an adult witness to the abuse.) Under Dr. Bruck’s view, any child who does not disclose everything quickly and fully is somehow suspect. Every single victim of Larry Nassar would be dismissed by that way of thinking.
It is not surprising that defendants are willing to pay for such testimony. What is surprising is that someone offering such baseless assertions qualifies as an expert on the topic.
November 30, 2017
Most people agree that the now-famous allegations against Roy Moore constitute the kind of sexually predatory behavior for which there is no excuse. Thirty-year olds should not be trying to have sex with teenagers. But this case has been spun by some as a story about the moral defects of the Right. “The capacity of Republican voters to overlook and justify credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault cannot be overstated,” they intoned over at Slate.
But the capacity of a certain kind of liberal to overlook and justify credible allegations of child sexual abuse cannot be overstated either. That is precisely what they do at “National Center for Reason and Justice,” an organization with an Orwellian name that fits well in the age of Trump. This organization was so determined to discredit the recovered memories of the primary complainant in the criminal case against Paul Stanley that they were had no difficulty overlooking credible allegations from at least 19 other men.
What is their reason for siding with the convicted sex offender? They cite JoAnn Wypijewski, whose article in Counterpunch, “The Passion of Paul Shanley,” actually allows that Shanley presented “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 by Shanley bears remembering during this national moment of reckoning: Read the rest of this entry »
June 17, 2017
Bill Cosby, it should be remembered, also cried witch-hunt. Defendants in sexual assault cases often do. The 35 women who told their stories to New York Magazine demonstrate the absurdity of that claim. The inability of those women to obtain any justice is evidence of how statutes of limitation and other evidentiary rules protect people like Cosby. The jury that deadlocked today heard from only two of the now 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault. Here is one they did not hear from:
March 30, 2017
The Journal of Interpersonal Violence has published its Special Issue about The Witch-Hunt Narrative (Vol. 32, No. 6). Here is the Abstract of my contribution, a response to the other articles and comments:
The articles and comments in this issue bear out the enduring impact of The Witch-Hunt Narrative. There is not sufficient space to acknowledge or respond to most of this feedback. This response corrects an error that was identified by one commenter and it responds to questions raised by another commenter about my analysis of the “Concerned Scientists” brief. This response also documents how Wood, Nathan, and Beck have misapplied the term ritual abuse, misstated the facts of many cases, and promoted “mythical numbers” that significantly exaggerate the number of false convictions. These critics are wrong about the only three cases they discuss in detail. The McMartin Preschool case began with credible evidence of child sexual abuse that continues to be distorted by critics. The Keller case began with even stronger medical evidence that is not diminished by the dubious and incomplete “retraction” of the Emergency Room doctor. The Fuster case involved overwhelming evidence of abuse, medical and testimonial, that continues to be distorted or overlooked by critics. Those who promote the witch-hunt narrative rely on selective use of evidence to reach an apparently predetermined result. That is politics and advocacy, not scholarship. This dismissive approach to children’s testimony has caused documented harm to children.
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 Shanley, defrocked priest and convicted pedophile, covered 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: Read the rest of this entry »
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).
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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.