In new book, Brown University professor aims to discredit ‘witch-hunt narrative’ of child sexual-abuse cases

April 1, 2014 Comments Off on In new book, Brown University professor aims to discredit ‘witch-hunt narrative’ of child sexual-abuse cases

In new book, Brown University professor aims to discredit ‘witch-hunt narrative’ of child sexual-abuse cases
March 23, 2014
By Kate Bramson Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — For decades, a view has persisted that a series of child sexual-abuse cases connected with child-care centers during the 1980s were witch hunts, fueled by social hysteria, that ended in wrongful convictions of many innocent people.
A new book by Brown University professor Ross E. Cheit, “The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children,” explores the cases at the heart of that belief.
After 15 years of research into the history of child sexual-abuse cases, the political science and public policy professor seeks to discredit the “witch-hunt narrative.”
In an interview with The Providence Journal, Cheit said that those who believe this theory ignore even credible charges of child abuse and dismiss medical evidence that children were abused.
“I want to provoke discussion,” he said.
Much of the reason the witch-hunt narrative has prevailed, according to Cheit, is that it’s easier for people to believe that child sexual abuse doesn’t happen because the topic itself is taboo. Cheit cites the work of Dr. Suzanne M. Sgroi, who wrote in 1978 that “the sexual abuse of children is a crime that our society abhors in the abstract but tolerates in reality.”
Communities have been known to rally around people convicted of this crime, Cheit writes.
“We often minimize and deny so as to allow us to avoid seeing things we would rather not see. Turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children has a long history in this country.”
According to Cheit, the witch-hunt narrative often includes a “hero,” a journalist perhaps, who helps an innocent person escape a false conviction.
Unlearned Lessons of the McMartin Preschool case
It was the longest criminal trial in American history and it ended without a single conviction. Five people were charged with child sexual abuse based on extremely flimsy evidence. Some parents came to believe outlandish stories about ritual abuse and tunnels underneath the preschool. It is no wonder that the McMartin case, once labeled the largest “mass molestation” case in history, has come to be called a witch-hunt. In a commentary to a Retro Report earlier this month, Clyde Haberman, former Times reporter, repeated the view that the  case was a witch-hunt that spawned a wave of other cases of “dubious provenance.”
But does that description do justice to the facts?
A careful examination of court records reveals that the witch-hunt narrative about the McMartin case is a powerful but not entirely accurate story. For starters, critics have obscured the facts surrounding the origins of the case….recently asserted that the McMartin case began when Judy Johnson “went to the police” to allege that her child had been molested.
….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 him 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.”
Although Judy Johnson died of alcohol poisoning in 1986, making her an easy target for those promoting the witch-hunt narrative, there is no evidence that she was “psychotic” three years earlier. A profile in the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, published after Johnson died, made it clear that she was “strong and healthy” in 1983 and that she “jogged constantly and ate health food.” ….
The witch-hunt narrative has replaced any complicated truths about the McMartin case….It wasn’t all a witch-hunt….
http://blogs.brown.edu/rcheit/2014/03/31/unlearned-lessons-of-the-mcmartin-preschool-case/
https://blogs.brown.edu/rcheit/
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