Thursday, August 6, 2015

We Believe the Children

We Believe the Children by Richard Beck
PublicAffairs: 8/4/15
eBook review copy, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781610392877

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 rather than 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 media coverage 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 purposes.

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