We Believe the Children by Richard Beck
eBook review copy, 352 pages
We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s by
Richard Beck is a highly recommended examination of the panic over
alleged horrific abuse by day care workers in the 1980's. Beck is
primarily focusing on the history of the allegations, why it may
have happened, and several other topics related to the discussion
presenting new information about this time in history. I vividly
recall all the outrage and panic coverage over these cases in the
1980s when the McMartin Preschool became a whispered household word
and accusations of satanic ritual abuse was seemingly everywhere.
"[I]n California, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts,
Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, day care workers
were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of committing horrible
sexual crimes against the children they cared for. These crimes,
social workers and prosecutors said, had gone undetected for years,
and they consisted of a brutality and sadism that defied all
imagining. The dangers of babysitting services and day care centers
became a national news media fixation. Of the many hundreds of
people who were investigated in connection with day care and ritual
abuse cases around the country, some 190 were formally charged with
crimes, leading to more than 80 convictions."
I also recall some of the more sensational and less than stellar
surrounding the outbreak (Geraldo Rivera) as well as coverage on
20/20 and 60 minutes. For all the accusations, outrage, and charges,
though, no evidence was found for many of the claims. The McMartin
case, one of the longest and most expensive trials in history, resulted
in no convictions.
Beck, an editor at n+1, a New York-based literary magazine,
examines how social workers, therapists and police officers helped
induce children to tell elaborate stories about abuse that never took
place. The methods used by these professionals and investigators
encouraged children to lie and tell those investigating what they wanted
to hear. The whole atmosphere at the time was akin to a witch hunt, and
Beck does make the comparison to the Salem Witch trials, with the
difference being the accused witches were later given an apology.
There is a lot of extraneous information included in this presentation
of the facts, including multiple personality disorder and recovered
memory therapy along with anti-pornography efforts and Christian
concerns about the family. Some of this extra information, while
interesting, could have been reduced or eliminated. Becks ultimate
theory as to why he thinks the societal hysteria took place is
interesting, although I'm not sure I totally agree with his conclusions.
This is well written and well researched look at the fear that created a
cultural disaster. Beck includes plenty of documentation to support the
research in his presentation. My advanced reading copy included the
footnotes and the final book will have an index.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy
of PublicAffairs for review