How the ‘Witch Hunt’ Myth Undermined American Justice

July 13, 2014 Comments Off on How the ‘Witch Hunt’ Myth Undermined American Justice

How the ‘Witch Hunt’ Myth Undermined American Justice
Jason Berry  07.12.14

Innocent people persecuted by a legal system out of control? In The Witch-Hunt Narrative, Ross E. Cheit argues the media and courts have gone too far in dismissing evidence of abuse….

Accusations of ritual abuse and grisly cult behavior with Satanic overtones have been discussed at conferences on child abuse and treated in research literature since the mid-’80s. Kenneth Lanning, an FBI agent who specialized in child-abuse investigations for many years, found no evidence “of a well-organized Satanic cult” and said so in a research guide. And yet, writes Cheit, even though the FBI guide became Exhibit A for those scoffing at charges of Satanic abuse, “it actually recognized many activities described as ritual abuse and it cautions that there might be plausible explanations for children making such statements in other cases about sexual abuse.”

The absence of a well-organized cult does not mean the absence of ritualized abuse. Cheit provides several pages of numbing case studies on people who were prosecuted, sometimes with testimony from their traumatized children who finally grew old enough to unburden themselves. In Florida, a monster named Eddie Lee Sexton Sr. “ran his family like a cult, subjecting them to the kinds of rituals that…others claim is only imaginary,” Cheit reports. Sexton’s children showed authorities the burial place of an infant he had murdered. “Sexton, who told his children he was the devil, inflicted horrendous torture on his family, including sexual abuse.”

The most controversial case that Cheit explores, and the one he calls “the turning point” in the journalistic development of a witch-hunt narrative, is that of Margaret Kelly Michaels. In 1985, Michaels was arrested on the testimony of children at a New Jersey day-care center where she had worked. An attractive woman in her twenties, Michaels was convicted on 96 of 131 counts, with young children testifying. Michaels took the stand and denied the accusations.

Michaels was imprisoned while awaiting trial. An inmate she befriended would later testify that Michaels told her, “I didn’t mean to hurt those children.” The inmate had already been sentenced and made no deal with prosecutors. Cheit continues:

The jury did not hear additional evidence concerning disturbing sexual behavior in the Michaels family. The state offered evidence about her being groped by her father during an early jail visit. The incident was documented at the time and the prosecution found out about it only because a correctional official in a barbershop was heard talking about it… The judge deemed it too prejudicial to present to the jury….
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/12/how-the-witch-hunt-myth-undermined-american-justice.html

Witch-hunt narrative of child sexual abuse – many cases had substantial evidence of abuse, Footballer arrested for ritual murder attempt

February 28, 2014 Comments Off on Witch-hunt narrative of child sexual abuse – many cases had substantial evidence of abuse, Footballer arrested for ritual murder attempt

“The witch-hunt narrative is a really popular story that goes like this: Lots of people were falsely convicted of child sexual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s. And they were all victims of a witch-hunt. It just doesn’t happen to line up with the facts when you actually look at the cases themselves in detail….many of those cases had substantial evidence of abuse. The witch-hunt narrative is that these were all gross injustices to the defendant. In fact, what it looks like in retrospect is the injustices were much more often to children.”

Undergrad work integral to prof’s new book
Ross Cheit will talk Thursday on ‘love letter’ to student researchers who helped with book  By Gabrielle Dee Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 26, 2014  UNIVERSITY NEWS

Ross Cheit, professor of public policy and political science, will discuss the 15-year process of compiling his new book, “The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology and the Sexual Abuse of Children” in a talk Thursday at the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. Cheit sat down with The Herald to discuss the release of his book, the methods and challenges of trial court research and how the collective efforts of Brown undergraduates helped him compile his publication….

The title of the talk is “The Amazing True Story of How 81 Brown Undergraduates Helped Give ‘Extreme Research’ Its Name.” What exactly do you mean by extreme research?

What my book involves is original court trial research. So we are trying to go to trial courts and get documents, often transcripts, but a whole range of documents connected to criminal trials that were in the 1980s and early 1990s. And the cases are all highly contested child sexual abuse cases. So it turns out that because these are not in the computer era, and because they are child sexual abuse cases, in many cases protective orders and statutory protections on identity make these cases sealed. The cases were also enormous. It turns out the ability to just go find and copy the record in these cases takes enormous effort. In some instances, it’s almost heroic, what it takes to put together, this many years later, all the materials. And so at some point, we started calling it extreme research, when a student would work for six months to get a document that becomes one footnote in the book….

What do you mean by “Witch-Hunt” in the title of your book?

The witch-hunt narrative is a really popular story that goes like this: Lots of people were falsely convicted of child sexual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s. And they were all victims of a witch-hunt. It just doesn’t happen to line up with the facts when you actually look at the cases themselves in detail. But it’s a really popular narrative — I think it’s absolutely fair to say that’s the conventional wisdom. It’s what most people now think is the uncontested truth, and those cases had no basis in fact. And what 15 years of painstaking trial court research (says) is that that’s not a very fair description of those cases, and in fact many of those cases had substantial evidence of abuse. The witch-hunt narrative is that these were all gross injustices to the defendant. In fact, what it looks like in retrospect is the injustices were much more often to children….
http://newsle.com/article/0/126585716/

Footballer in police grips for ritual murder attempt
By Daily Guide Ghana  Thu, Feb 27th, 2014

A 22-year-old division two footballer who plays for Rex Football Club, Dansoman, has been arrested by the police for attempting to murder his biological mother for a money-making ritual.

The suspect, Enoch Adjei, currently in police custody, allegedly lured his 50-year-old sick mother from Jasikan in the Volta Region to Kasoa in the Central Region for the supposed sacrifice when the police accosted him.

He also had in his hand, a bag meant for the money, a pot to collect the mother’s blood and a sharp knife, which was to be used for the killing for the sacrifice. He was heading towards the shrine of the supposed spiritualist with the mother, when the police arrested them at Tetteh Quarshie roundabout, yesterday….

The suspect had confessed to the act and added that life had been difficult for the family, which was why he wanted to sacrifice the mother who is currently sick to save the rest of the family from a biting poverty.

The suspect is currently in police custody awaiting trial.
http://www.spyghana.com/footballer-in-police-grips-for-ritual-murder-attempt/

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