Posts Tagged Richard Beck

Special Issue on The Witch-Hunt Narrative

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.

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What Beck Left Out

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: 

  1. 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. 

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“Hundreds of people were sent to jail on these imaginary charges”

April 28, 2014

Screenshot 2014-04-26 14.46.48Proponents 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?

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