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We Believe the Children: The Story of a Moral Panic

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During the 1980s in California, New Jersey, and New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, daycare 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 During the 1980s in California, New Jersey, and New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, daycare 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. Children across the country painted a nightmarish picture of their abuse, some claiming they had been taken to graveyards, sometimes to kill animals, and sometimes to dig up bodies, which were removed from their coffins and stabbed. In some cases, investigators said that the abusers were filming the crimes on behalf of international child pornography rings. The dangers of babysitting services and day care centers became a national news media fixation, and legislatures took action to fend off the new threats facing the country's children. 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. But, none of it happened. It was a decade-long outbreak of collective hysteria—on a par with the Salem witch trials. Using extensive archival research conducted in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, and drawing on dozens of interviews conducted with the hysteria's major figures, n+1 editor Richard Beck shows how a group of legislators, doctors, lawyers, and parents, most working with the best of intentions, set the stage for a cultural disaster. Psychiatrists and talk therapists turned dubious theories of trauma and recovered memory into a destructive new kind of psychotherapy. Social workers and detectives employed coercive interviewing techniques that led children to tell them what they wanted to hear. Local and national journalists fanned the flames by promoting the story's salacious aspects, while aggressive prosecutors sought to make their careers by unearthing an unspeakable evil where parents feared it most. Beck tracks the panic all the way to its decline at the end of the decade, as parents and prosecutors were finally forced to reckon with the total lack of physical evidence underpinning the story. Yet at the heart of We Believe the Children is the idea that the conditions that made this frenzy of accusations possible were very specific to their moment in American history. The climate of fear that surrounded these cases influenced a whole series of arguments about women, children, and sex that had been intensifying for some twenty years. At the root of these accusations were competing visions of society and what it was that threatened it most.


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During the 1980s in California, New Jersey, and New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, daycare 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 During the 1980s in California, New Jersey, and New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, daycare 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. Children across the country painted a nightmarish picture of their abuse, some claiming they had been taken to graveyards, sometimes to kill animals, and sometimes to dig up bodies, which were removed from their coffins and stabbed. In some cases, investigators said that the abusers were filming the crimes on behalf of international child pornography rings. The dangers of babysitting services and day care centers became a national news media fixation, and legislatures took action to fend off the new threats facing the country's children. 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. But, none of it happened. It was a decade-long outbreak of collective hysteria—on a par with the Salem witch trials. Using extensive archival research conducted in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, and drawing on dozens of interviews conducted with the hysteria's major figures, n+1 editor Richard Beck shows how a group of legislators, doctors, lawyers, and parents, most working with the best of intentions, set the stage for a cultural disaster. Psychiatrists and talk therapists turned dubious theories of trauma and recovered memory into a destructive new kind of psychotherapy. Social workers and detectives employed coercive interviewing techniques that led children to tell them what they wanted to hear. Local and national journalists fanned the flames by promoting the story's salacious aspects, while aggressive prosecutors sought to make their careers by unearthing an unspeakable evil where parents feared it most. Beck tracks the panic all the way to its decline at the end of the decade, as parents and prosecutors were finally forced to reckon with the total lack of physical evidence underpinning the story. Yet at the heart of We Believe the Children is the idea that the conditions that made this frenzy of accusations possible were very specific to their moment in American history. The climate of fear that surrounded these cases influenced a whole series of arguments about women, children, and sex that had been intensifying for some twenty years. At the root of these accusations were competing visions of society and what it was that threatened it most.

30 review for We Believe the Children: The Story of a Moral Panic

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Poppy

    An incredibly well-researched and riveting overview of the satanic panic and preschool abuse scandals that rocked the 80s, as well as the cultural causes and results thereof. It is a dense book, and definitely a history text as opposed to a piece of investigative journalism, but the author says so at the very top, so if that's not your thing, you've been warned (twice). There are many incredible accounts of individual cases within this paranoid event in American history, but if you want an An incredibly well-researched and riveting overview of the satanic panic and preschool abuse scandals that rocked the 80s, as well as the cultural causes and results thereof. It is a dense book, and definitely a history text as opposed to a piece of investigative journalism, but the author says so at the very top, so if that's not your thing, you've been warned (twice). There are many incredible accounts of individual cases within this paranoid event in American history, but if you want an exhaustive resource of the whole tangled narrative to refer back to, this is it. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in satanism, ritual child abuse, recovered memories, multiple personalities, "witch hunts," the 80s, the nuclear family and its declining grip on American culture, or the structure of accusation and verification. Though the events the book covers are clearly very different from what is happening as I write this (it is 2018, and a lot of accusations of sexist abuse have come to light in the last year, but generally from adult women, and not typically "recovered" memories but living ones), it is a good message of warning that the human brain is fallible, and that the impulse to unquestioningly "believe the victim" is not without consequence. I couldn't help but think about this comparison consistently throughout, even as I regularly saw the dissimilarities as much as the similarities. Remembering history is, as ever, the responsibility of a person who wants to change the future.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    A majority of American's can recall the national hysteria associated with the McMartin Preschool Daycare Scandal that resulted in the costliest trial in US history:(1987-1990), with no convictions against daycare providers, all charges dropped. "We Believe The Children: The Story of Moral Panic In The 1980s" by Richard Beck is an exceptional and important book examining a modern day witch-hunt often compared to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. In 1983 Judy Johnson reported to the Manhattan Beach A majority of American's can recall the national hysteria associated with the McMartin Preschool Daycare Scandal that resulted in the costliest trial in US history:(1987-1990), with no convictions against daycare providers, all charges dropped. "We Believe The Children: The Story of Moral Panic In The 1980s" by Richard Beck is an exceptional and important book examining a modern day witch-hunt often compared to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. In 1983 Judy Johnson reported to the Manhattan Beach CA. PD that her 3 year old son had been molested at the child's daycare McMartin Pre-School. The PD sent form letters alerting the parents who sent their children to this childcare facility advising them of suspicious abuse activity. This started a wide spread panic and crisis among the parents seeking to protect their children, and this shocking national ordeal began. Later, Judy Johnson was hospitalized with symptoms of acute paranoid schizophrenia, she died in 1986. Hundreds of children were interviewed at the Los Angeles Children's Institute International (CII) which was operated by abuse expert Kee MacFarland. It was first believed that children couldn't lie, were terrified into silence, the widespread abuse had occurred undetected over a long period of time. Atomically correct dolls were introduced in hours of long interviews, questionable improper tactics were used to prompt or suggest vivid, dramatic, bizarre, unbelievable false accusations. When these allegations and stories were checked out for verification there wasn't any factual evidence or proof ever found. "The Witch Hunt Narrative" (2014) Ross E. Cheit observed that the methods used to interview children weren't appropriate, yet avoids direct criticism of the CII. The national panic didn't stop with the daycare scandal. A host of psychological illnesses and disturbances were studied by sociologists and psychiatric experts, social workers, therapists: Multiple Personality Disorder, Satanic Ritual Abuse, Recovered Memory Syndrome were popular topics, a variety of bestselling books were written about these subjects. Untold lives were ruined, some families broken by false allegations. "Michelle Remembers" (1989) by Michelle Smith and Dr. Lawrence Pazder was a bestselling portrayal of ritualistic satanic child abuse and later discredited. Beck illustrated how easily society was manipulated by pseudoscience, mass media, and how widespread delusion and obsession can spiral out of control with devastating results. Not all of the parents believed their children had been harmed at the McMartin Pre-School. Instead, they stopped returning calls of investigators and kept a low profile during the investigation and chaotic trial. We will never know of the outcome if they had publically voiced their views. Ms. Magazine covered the case and aftermath, though the public had understandably grown mistrustful and weary of the scandal focus by 1993. Feminists nationwide were always concerned with working conditions and guilt over leaving small children while working. As the moral panic subsided, it was a tremendous relief for the average working mother to know that the average daycare center was a good and safe place for her child. Richard Beck is the associate editor at N+1 Magazine, this is his fourth book. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Horrocks

    There's been a bunch of other reviews, so I'll just add a few personal observations: The moral panic Beck is describing arrived in New Zealand a little later, with the Christchurch Civic Creche case that began in 1991. The story of that case has been told in Lynley Hood's excellent A City Possessed (2001). Reading Hood's book some years ago was a deeply uncomfortable experience, as the investigation, trial and aftermath of that case had led to many intense discussions and arguments at the time. There's been a bunch of other reviews, so I'll just add a few personal observations: The moral panic Beck is describing arrived in New Zealand a little later, with the Christchurch Civic Creche case that began in 1991. The story of that case has been told in Lynley Hood's excellent A City Possessed (2001). Reading Hood's book some years ago was a deeply uncomfortable experience, as the investigation, trial and aftermath of that case had led to many intense discussions and arguments at the time. Knowing people involved in child protection meant I had some sense of the way that case had gripped professionals in the field. And becoming a parent soon after Peter Ellis' conviction meant I was also affected by the general atmosphere of fear, unease and suspicion surrounding child care centres, babysitters and schools (not to mention parenting). I'd like to think I was aloof and sceptical throughout, but the truth is that despite many doubts, I was not entirely immune. And after all there were plenty of sensible, intelligent professionals assuring everyone that the evidence was convincing. It wasn't, of course. But the "Believe the children" mantra was so powerful and seductive - even though, as Beck makes abundantly clear, many investigators only believed the children when they said what everyone wanted to hear. Anyway, it's strange reading a book on this by an author who is so young he probably has no memory of the 1980s himself. As a result, I can't help but feel he's missed some of the texture of the times - or maybe that's because New Zealand's version of the panic was a little different? Either way, he's writing what he perceives as history, whereas to me this feels like recently current affairs. The cultural forces at play in the 80s are still relevant today, and a public mention of many of these cases (not to mention that of Peter Ellis) is still likely to spark ferocious debate. I also found myself wanting a little more journalism: follow-up interviews with participants today. But that clearly wasn't part of Beck's plan for the book, and he does a good job of telling the story and drawing out some of the underlying themes. My memory is that Lynley Hood's book goes considerably deeper; that she uses the Christchurch case to unpack some of the most complicated aspects of the panic as a whole, whereas Beck brushes over it all more lightly. But perhaps that memory is coloured by the impact it had on me at the time and the mulling over it I've done since? After all, memory is a complicated thing...

  4. 5 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    No clear or set protocol on how to interview children led to suggestive interrogations which led to truly off-the-wall accusations, social panic, and so on. This was a somewhat fascinating read, but it definitely couldve been better organized. Im not sure Id recommend it. I think a quick google search might give you enough to get the gist of what occurred. No clear or set protocol on how to interview children led to suggestive interrogations which led to truly off-the-wall accusations, social panic, and so on. This was a somewhat fascinating read, but it definitely could’ve been better organized. I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I think a quick google search might give you enough to get the gist of what occurred.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Trin

    Fascinating, horrifying, deeply depressing. I recently read a novel that featured the Satanic Panic, a subject about which I knew a cursory amount. I felt like that book barely scratched the surface about what was awful/interesting about the wave of false accusations against day care providers in the 1980s -- I was right -- so I thought it would be a good idea to read a book that looked at this phenomenon in more depth. I was sort of right? This book is incredibly well-researched and Fascinating, horrifying, deeply depressing. I recently read a novel that featured the Satanic Panic, a subject about which I knew a cursory amount. I felt like that book barely scratched the surface about what was awful/interesting about the wave of false accusations against day care providers in the 1980s -- I was right -- so I thought it would be a good idea to read a book that looked at this phenomenon in more depth. I was sort of right? This book is incredibly well-researched and well-argued, but man is it a bummer. Beck doesn't come across as merciless or cynical -- he's pretty clearly a progressive -- yet it's hard not to read this book, especially in the era of Trump, and not think that any social progress won't be followed by a sharp turn toward conservatism and ludicrous moral outrage. Also: that our justice system isn't hideously broken. (It is so, so hideously broken.) So I can't say I really recommend this book outside of academic or other research interests, but it is very well done. And it does hammer home my suspicions that that novel I read was really not very good.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    On every page there is something to disturb, whether its depictions of satanic child abuse, coercive interrogation of minors or miscarriages of justice. What else could a reader want? The hysteria of falsely recovered memories, cult murder conspiracies and What about the children? moral repression is charted by Richard Beck in his book WE BELIEVE THE CHILDREN: THE STORY OF A MORAL PANIC IN THE 1980s with honesty, fairness and critical thinking that is unbiased and still has a point of view. That On every page there is something to disturb, whether it’s depictions of satanic child abuse, coercive interrogation of minors or miscarriages of justice. What else could a reader want? The hysteria of falsely recovered memories, cult murder conspiracies and “What about the children?” moral repression is charted by Richard Beck in his book WE BELIEVE THE CHILDREN: THE STORY OF A MORAL PANIC IN THE 1980s with honesty, fairness and critical thinking that is unbiased and still has a point of view. That point of view is that the a shift in thinking about abuse as being made up of social-economic and political as well as psychological causes to strictly psychologic created unreliability and accusations based solely on faith. That abuse is based on a discrepancy of power, not sex, and the fundamental motivation for the overreaction to child abuse cases in daycare centers was a backlash against the dismantling of the nuclear family as women gained rights and equality. There is just so much to recommend about this book, from its ethical stance to its entertaining if tragic content. But don’t be too smug as you read of people’s craziness because we’re all capable of the same mass delirium.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This was a really cool book. Richard Beck combines a lot of the facts and opinions around child abuse and mental health into an easy to understand format. The book isn't all that dark but it is raises some interesting questions about paranoia, abuse, and the reliability of children in court cases. Overall I think this book ties in a lot of confusing topics into an easy to follow book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Yael

    Control. It's all about control. If you feel you have lost control over and have no explanations for very important aspects of life, things you can't bear to confront consciously, then you look about to see what you can control, or think you can, and try to explain them. If you can't explain and search for a solution to the biggest problems, you try to find a problem you can control, or, at least, try to explain. Your repressed fears become an atmosphere you can't escape, an intolerable burden to Control. It's all about control. If you feel you have lost control over and have no explanations for very important aspects of life, things you can't bear to confront consciously, then you look about to see what you can control, or think you can, and try to explain them. If you can't explain and search for a solution to the biggest problems, you try to find a problem you can control, or, at least, try to explain. Your repressed fears become an atmosphere you can't escape, an intolerable burden to your emotional self, and you look around for something you can project your fear onto, and then attack it. Or, lacking the ability to do battle with it yourself, get authority figures to do battle with it for you. And, all the while, the real cause of your fear, a proverbial elephant in the living room, goes unmentioned and ignored while you and, perhaps, your friends, neighbors, relatives, and others fasten on something else as the culprit, something you can deal with -- which may not even be real. This is how mob violence starts, often aided and abetted by powerful people who can use such fear and violence to further their own aims. It's also how many political movements have gotten their start, and it is rarely productive of anything save a great deal of noise, lots of confusion, and grave injustices which may end up disrupting or even ending the lives of innocent bystanders accidentally caught up in human mayhem directed at a nebulous or even imaginary target. If you feel that your life is spiraling out of control for reasons that have little or nothing to do with you, the human need for the feeling of having control over our lives is such that you are very likely to fasten on something, anything, that gives you at least the deeply-felt illusion that things are under your control, or could be. And it on just that dynamic that so many lives have been heavily damaged or actually destroyed by well-meaning, badly frightened people down through history. If nothing else, the witch-hunts ancient and modern -- the ones of the Middle Ages as well as the political witch-hunts of the 20th Century -- certainly testify to that./ During the 1980s, the last decade of the Cold War, with the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over the whole world, the unconscious, deeply repressed fears of nuclear Apocalypse so many Americans suffered from erupted in rumors and speculations that at least one or as many as twenty satanic covens were lurking in every neighborhood, seducing youngsters into engaging in "the occult," kidnapping young women to be bred to produce babies which would then be sacrificed to Satan, and otherwise doing everything to bring about The Triumph of Evil. More and more Americans, from frightened homemakers to prominent businessmen as well as numerous members of various civilian police forces, were drawn into such beliefs thinking, with so much smoke, there must be fire around here somewhere. By the end of the 1980s, especially thanks to tabloid journalism and television specials, numerous people who had done no real harm were rotting away in prison, their pleas for justice unheeded by not only the general public but also the courts, in prison on the strength of accusations that had no actual basis in fact. All in the service of deeply repressed fears about nuclear Apocalypse and all the horror it might wreak at any moment, given conscious expression in the form of satanic figures who didn't exist, institutional child-molesters who had molested no one, and a paranoia that in some areas seemed to swell and swell until they encompassed whole neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities, and perhaps even states. And, right on cue, in the latter half of the year 1991, with the downfall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, it all came to a screeching -- and, one hopes, a shame-faced blushing -- halt. As described in Richard Beck's We Believe the Children, during the 1980s in states ranging from California, Oregon, and Washington to New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and many others, day-care workers were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of perpetrating horrific sexual crimes against the very children they cared for. Social workers, prosecutors, and psychiatrists and psychologists employed by local and state governments said that these crimes had gone undetected for years, consisting of a sadistic brutality that defied all imagining. The dangers of day-care centers and babysitting services became fixations of national news media, especially the tabloids and Geraldo-style "investigative reporting." Of the many hundreds of people who were investigated in connection with day-care and ritual abuse cases all over the country, more than 190 were formally charged with such crimes, leading to more than 80 being convicted. As in the time in Europe of the great, literal witch-hunts that took place when weather, famine, disease, and war made life utterly uncertain for the common run of people, America in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the McCarthyite Communist "witch"-hunts, and the post-bellum American South before the energetic pursuit of civil rights for both black Americans and the poor whites -- both kept "down" by authorities over them by aiming the two groups at each other in order to make sure that neither group would turn against those who had them both in their power, the "satanic," ritual-abuse, and child-molestation fears of the American people in the 1980s were driven by unconscious fears of things most Americans had no control over and which could conceivably lead to their doom. Years later, people began to realize what the defendants had said all along: that these persecutions wee the product of a decade-long outbreak of collective hysteria on a par with all earlier instances of group fears about nebulous and even imaginary evils in the face of real and uncontrollable evils, whether of war, famine, and pestilence, or literal witches, or Communists, or any of the other things that frantic people fasten on as foci for their fears and targets to be taken down and destroyed, all in the name of unconscious terror as impossible to deny as Winston Smith in George Orwell's 1984 terror of being eaten alive by rats. Beautifully written and meticulously documented, author Richard Beck shows how a group of legislators, doctors, lawyers, and parents -- most having only the best of intentions (but we all know what that road is paved with!) -- set the stage for a cultural disaster. The climate of terror that surrounded these cases influenced an entire series of discussions about women, children, and sex. It also drove a right-wing cultural resurgence which in many respects continues to this day, especially among the religious right, driven by, among other things, the specter of radical Islamic fundamentalism and the horrors perpetrated by such extremist groups as Islamic State. And the terrible existential insecurities underpinning all such cases of group hysteria show no sign of abating. In fact, they are likely to get worse over time, as will the group hysterias that are then associated with them. Reading this book will give the reader at least some preparation for dealing with whatever the future brings of such uncertainties, be the latter concerned with crop failures, weird and unpredictable weather, wars and rumors of war, catastrophically failing economies, ghastly emerging diseases, or a combination of all of these.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Julie G

    Writing Incredibly well-done, particularly from a research perspective. Beck has clearly done exhaustive research on the topic and cites his sources impeccably, which are my two main sticking points in non-fiction. In addition, however, his writing is easy to read and process and keeps the reader moving at a decent pace. It isn't overly academic or wordy. I also appreciated the conservative amount of interpretation done on Beck's part. He doesn't jump to great conclusions or make high handed Writing Incredibly well-done, particularly from a research perspective. Beck has clearly done exhaustive research on the topic and cites his sources impeccably, which are my two main sticking points in non-fiction. In addition, however, his writing is easy to read and process and keeps the reader moving at a decent pace. It isn't overly academic or wordy. I also appreciated the conservative amount of interpretation done on Beck's part. He doesn't jump to great conclusions or make high handed pronouncements, but he does do a great job of connecting cultural mores of the time with the tragic instances of false accusations and explains to a general audience why he believes the two are related. I was convinced and fascinated and found it both a great history and thought-inspiring subject matter. Entertainment Value It's a subject and portion of cultural history that I find absolutely fascinating, so I was drawn to the book by the title alone. That said, I think the book does a great job of keeping the reader's interest and of mixing the author's analysis with the historical facts. It's both a biography and an analysis of the social and cultural implications - and both of these themes makes for great reading. I wouldn't call it a page-turner, but I think it's a great work for those who are interested in the phenomenon. Overall I was born in 1984 and grew up hearing about these trials and the supposed prevalence of Satanic Ritual Abuse. So I was intrigued by the title and felt like the book delivered well. If you're interested in the topic, it's a must read, and I think those interested in the effects of the Sexual Revolution, the impact of feminism, and the time period will also be intrigued, as will those who have a special interest in psychology or the recovered memory movement. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marti

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Have you ever seen someone ride a hobbyhorse? That's what this book was like. The author had his eyes fixed firmly ahead on his progressive ideas and he was riding determinedly towards them. Any day now. He just had to keep going. And going. And . . . never got anywhere. Basically, the entire book can be summed up by these fevered thoughts: "Freudian." "Repression." "Nuclear families are bad." "Everyone secretly wants the nuclear family to die." "Hysteria." "Ronald Reagan." "Repression." "Did I Have you ever seen someone ride a hobbyhorse? That's what this book was like. The author had his eyes fixed firmly ahead on his progressive ideas and he was riding determinedly towards them. Any day now. He just had to keep going. And going. And . . . never got anywhere. Basically, the entire book can be summed up by these fevered thoughts: "Freudian." "Repression." "Nuclear families are bad." "Everyone secretly wants the nuclear family to die." "Hysteria." "Ronald Reagan." "Repression." "Did I mention that everyone secretly wants the nuclear family to die?" Bleh. I honestly couldn't tell you much about the book otherwise because the actual facts of the cases were presented so awkwardly that the details just refuse to stick. Every once in a while, he'd throw in Freud, mention feminism, or sneer derisively at socio-cultural conservatism. Randomly, it seemed. I just totally did not buy his story, on any front. Yes, the 80's were full of weird hysteric overreactions and confusing the symptoms with the cause, but hindsight is 20/20. And in this author's case, hindsight is exceedingly narrow. Sometimes I wondered if he was secretly espousing a NAMBLA-type view, since he seemed to discount any and all criticism of child molestation. In other words, my friends, don't waste your time.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Budman

    I could hardly be a better target reader for We Believe the Children -- I was fairly obsessed with the satanic/daycare/child-abuse/recovered-memory panic(s) of the late '80s and early '90s and read every published exposé. And I was very much hoping that Beck would pull together these various cases (McMartin, Amirault, Friedman, Kelly Michaels, etc.) in a larger narrative that can help us understand why they happened at that particular time and what it says about us then and/or now. The raw I could hardly be a better target reader for We Believe the Children -- I was fairly obsessed with the satanic/daycare/child-abuse/recovered-memory panic(s) of the late '80s and early '90s and read every published exposé. And I was very much hoping that Beck would pull together these various cases (McMartin, Amirault, Friedman, Kelly Michaels, etc.) in a larger narrative that can help us understand why they happened at that particular time and what it says about us then and/or now. The raw material is still great, and Beck uncovers any number of choice details and quotations from the ludicrous investigations and trials. But too much of this book is undigested: dense chunks of reportage and legal narrative, with surprisingly little context. (Surely the most important thing about the McMartin case, twenty-five years later, isn't the details of the parents' witch-hunt credulity, excerpts from the investigators' clueless manipulations of the children, or the courtroom tick-tock.) At book's end, we still don't quite see how these various cases fit together, and Beck doesn't do enough to guide our understanding of them and offer perspective from 2015.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Papaphilly

    A truly scary read. This is not about the McMartin child molestation case per se, but the sociological study that led to the trial. We Believe the Children: The Story of a Moral Panic is much more, it is about how a society can go into mass panic and those trying to do right end up doing so much harm in the name of good. Think of the Salem Witch Trials, but with cameras. Richard Beck wrote a truly haunting book that left me nauseated. He explains the background history that led to this moment in A truly scary read. This is not about the McMartin child molestation case per se, but the sociological study that led to the trial. We Believe the Children: The Story of a Moral Panic is much more, it is about how a society can go into mass panic and those trying to do right end up doing so much harm in the name of good. Think of the Salem Witch Trials, but with cameras. Richard Beck wrote a truly haunting book that left me nauseated. He explains the background history that led to this moment in time. It is both intense and convoluted, but it is also well documented and easy to follow. Politics are talked about, but this is not about politics. It is about the politics of society and how guilt of parents lead to the wrong conclusions. More importantly, he explains the case in such a way the reader is left with a much better understanding of how hysteria can cloud the best minds. A great read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    AdiTurbo

    This book has an important story to tell - about how a case of social hysteria, aided by the media, can cause the destruction of many lives, as well as a lack of a more serious treatment of social issues and the people damaged by them. The book is very well-researched, but not very well edited. It has a fascinating story at its heart, but the amount of detail is overwhelming sometimes, and not all of it is necessary. It makes the book drag on a bit. Also, this is no light reading. I found it This book has an important story to tell - about how a case of social hysteria, aided by the media, can cause the destruction of many lives, as well as a lack of a more serious treatment of social issues and the people damaged by them. The book is very well-researched, but not very well edited. It has a fascinating story at its heart, but the amount of detail is overwhelming sometimes, and not all of it is necessary. It makes the book drag on a bit. Also, this is no light reading. I found it difficult to deal with some of the horrid descriptions and had to put it down from time to time to get away from it all. All in all, this book adds much to the understanding of what happened, and is important to read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s, by Richard Beck, is a compelling book about the satanic ritual abuse, childcare sexual abuse, and repressed memory scandals that rocked the U.S. in the 1980s and early 90s. The autobiography Michelle Remembers and the McMartin preschool trial are thoroughly covered to highlight the hysteria and witch hunt against epidemic sexual abuse. Beck analyzes the legal, psychological, and sociological events that led to these scandals, and the backlash “We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s,” by Richard Beck, is a compelling book about the satanic ritual abuse, childcare sexual abuse, and repressed memory scandals that rocked the U.S. in the 1980s and early ‘90s. The autobiography “Michelle Remembers” and the McMartin preschool trial are thoroughly covered to highlight the hysteria and “witch hunt” against “epidemic” sexual abuse. Beck analyzes the legal, psychological, and sociological events that led to these scandals, and the backlash afterwards. A cautionary tale for prosecutors, therapists, and media outlets, “We Believe the Children” documents the devolution of good intentions. As Beck points out, “prosecutors asked their child witnesses to do nearly all the heavy lifting in court,” forgoing hard evidence and incontrovertible proof with the manipulated stories of children “as young as three and almost never older than nine or ten.” As Beck rightly highlights: “Resources that might have been directed towards addressing the real causes of child abuse—simply put, these are poverty, the relative powerlessness of women and children within the nuclear family, and the patriarchal organizations of many workplaces, schools and other social institutions—were instead used to fend off bogeymen. This misrecognition of the problem of child abuse and the misallocation of money and energy that resulted were, in a sense, part of the point. As disruptive and painful as the day care sex abuse cases were to those involved, addressing the real causes of child abuse would have been a much more difficult and disruptive task.” Beck is highly critical of conservatives and liberals, noting that homosexuals’ “supposed predisposition to pedophilia,” the power structures of the nuclear family, pornography, chauvinism, and Satanism were to blame for the “epidemic” of child sexual abuse. This is perhaps best highlighted in Beck’s investigation of the 1980s “nonfiction” “Michelle Remembers”—“a tour-de-force of un-self-awareness”—and his inquiry in the Kee MacFarlane’s inquisition of the children involved in the McMartin case, where therapists were detectives, soothsayers and prosecutors. If these stories were fiction, they would be over the top. “Satanic Abuse Task Forces” searched for hidden dungeons and Satanic sex chambers, while children were coaxed into telling elaborate stories of being bitten by sharks at the behest of their abusers, undergoing ritual abortions, and forced enemas. Unfortunately, the telling of these stories is true, and had devastating consequences. For example, Bernard Baran, an openly gay man whose sexuality was used against him in court, was convicted of sexually abusing five children. Regarding one of Baran’s supposed victims, Beck notes, “when social services interviewed the boy, however, he unambiguously claimed to have been abused by his mother’s boyfriend, who was never charged with a crime.” Perhaps Rosanne Barr best exemplifies the mentality that led to the hysteria of “epidemic” sexual abuse. Regarding the question, “‘Were you sexually abused as a child?’” Rosanne states: “there are only two answers, one of them is ‘Yes,’ and one of them is, ‘I don’t know.’ You can’t say, ‘No.’” This mentality fit perfectly with Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder, which were created to explain the elaborate ways adults who were abused as children were able to forget their abuse for years, only to have it resurface in a therapists office. Looking ahead, Beck rightly highlights today’s moral panic: children as sex offenders. He notes, “the specter of predators lurking even among the elementary school population eventually caused some states to begin including children on public sex offender registries.” [Full disclosure, I’ve worked for state governments regarding child sex offender laws] Federal acts like the Adam Walsh Act (AKA, Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act), compel States that adopt the Act to place some juvenile “offenders” on sex offender registries. This includes children and teens who take naked selfies and send it to friends, and teens who have sex with teens. Beck highlights, “Today juveniles constitute more than a third of all people thought by police to have committed a sexual offense against a minor, with some 4 percent of the total offending population under the age of twelve.” In my own research, one government report found that individuals under the age of 18 account for 23% of reported cases of child sexual abuse. (Snyder, H.N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident, and offender characteristics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.) Rightly, however, Beck pokes holes in these studies. For example, when discussing retrospective studies conducted on college campuses, Beck asks: “If preschoolers and sixteen-year-olds alike were classified as children, and if “abuse” referred to everything from repeated violent assault to incest to fondling to isolated incidents of exhibitionism, how could one reasonably expect to find uniformity in people’s responses to child abuse?” Perhaps most unsettling about the ritual abuse and day care abuse scandals of the 80s, and today’s juvenile sex offender hysteria, is that it quashes honest inquires in real problems. Two-thirds of sexual abuse happens at home or by individuals who in the victims’ “circle of trust.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Administration on Children, Youth and Families. (2007) Child Maltreatment 2005. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.) Though it’s true that some children and teens do abuse other children, many of these cases are only considered “abuse” because of overzealous laws, overprotective parents, or ambiguities around what constitutes abuse. Further, children who actually are abusers are overwhelmingly repeating learned bad behavior, are themselves victims of sexual abuse, and should be treated as victims and not as offenders. Do I believe everything Richard Beck wrote? Not quite. Also, his delivery—while entertaining (I laughed out loud at some of his sly remarks)—can come across as condescending, but how can it not when you’re discussing a book like “Michelle Remembers?” That said, “We Believe the Children” is a worthy read because it is compellingly written (quite a feat given the topic), an appropriate length, and applicable to law enforcers, policy makers, lawyers/prosecutors, psychologists/therapists, parents, and everyone in between. My genuine hope for this “We Believe the Children,” based on my experience working as an advocate for people who have been sexually abused and my policy work in three states, is that this book leads to honest discussions about the true nature of childhood sexual abuse. In a society were “yes means yes” receives lauded front page headlines; a book like “Not Gay” (published by NYU Press) dismisses “do-or die” frat and military sexual hazing as “cultural” and “hyper-heterosexual;” and two fifteen-year-olds who engage in consensual sexual activities gets them both listed as sex offenders for 25 years; society is a long way from addressing the causes and resolutions to child (and adult) sexual abuse. “We Believe the Children” is a great place to begin the conversation. Thank you NetGalley and Perseus Books Group for providing me with an ARC.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Micah Unice

    I can't get enough of the history of satanic panic in the 80's/90's. This was my fourth nonfiction read on it. It was a deep dive. The McMartin Preschool trial is its focal point, but it covers all the peripheral hallmarks: the Country Walk Daycare case, the Wee Care case, Mike Warnke, Lawrence Pazdar & Michelle Remembers, the David Finkelhor report, Geraldo Rivera, the Friedman case...Beck accounts for them all in detail. The book is so comprehensive, in fact, that it became a little I can't get enough of the history of satanic panic in the 80's/90's. This was my fourth nonfiction read on it. It was a deep dive. The McMartin Preschool trial is its focal point, but it covers all the peripheral hallmarks: the Country Walk Daycare case, the Wee Care case, Mike Warnke, Lawrence Pazdar & Michelle Remembers, the David Finkelhor report, Geraldo Rivera, the Friedman case...Beck accounts for them all in detail. The book is so comprehensive, in fact, that it became a little daunting sometimes. I didn't quite understand the structure. It certainly isn't chronological. At a certain point I had to stop focusing on the direction and just go with the narrative flow. I was never bored, so it probably doesn't matter. He gives a lot of detail about Kee MacFarlane's life & career that I hadn't read before. In my view she was a core driving force of the panic, but most books & articles treat her like an incidental player. I came away from this feeling like I have a little bit of a grasp on her character for once. I wouldn't recommend this to someone whose interest is casual. It's a commitment. But if you're looking to get into the cogs and guts of the panic, this might be the only book you'll ever need.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    In the 1980s, a strange kind of hysteria swept across the United States. Concerned parents would turn their children over to therapists or investigators, who would subject the children to repeated interviews until the children began to reveal horrific tales of sexual abuse, torture, and strange rituals. Fears of satanic ritual abuse at the hands of daycare workers and babysitters lead to hundreds of criminal charges and very long prison sentences that are not overturned until the late 1990s and In the 1980s, a strange kind of hysteria swept across the United States. Concerned parents would turn their children over to therapists or investigators, who would subject the children to repeated interviews until the children began to reveal horrific tales of sexual abuse, torture, and strange rituals. Fears of satanic ritual abuse at the hands of daycare workers and babysitters lead to hundreds of criminal charges and very long prison sentences that are not overturned until the late 1990s and early 2000s. In We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s, journalist Richard Beck takes several steps back to look at not only what happened in cases like the McMartin Preschool trials and its aftermath, but how it all came about in the first place. Reading the book was like standing in the middle of a hurricane as events spiraled out of control. Our vantage point shows us multiple points where the panic could have been stopped…but also shows us how powerless we are to actually stop the storm... Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    This book is incredibly too long and I was pretty certain I wouldnt finish it, but I ended up reading the whole thing. The cases are interesting, but there is a lot of depth to subjects other than just the daycare panic. There are extensive parts of (very long) chapters dedicated to Satanism, the anti-pornography movement, and multiple personality disorder/repressed memories. The mishandled interviewing of the children in these cases was covered very thoroughly, but still made for an interesting This book is incredibly too long and I was pretty certain I wouldn’t finish it, but I ended up reading the whole thing. The cases are interesting, but there is a lot of depth to subjects other than just the daycare panic. There are extensive parts of (very long) chapters dedicated to Satanism, the anti-pornography movement, and multiple personality disorder/repressed memories. The mishandled interviewing of the children in these cases was covered very thoroughly, but still made for an interesting read. Most of what he covered happened to align with my interests so it was very readable, if very heavy-handed. I enjoyed the feminist interpretation and contextualization of a lot of events, but some parts went over the top even for me. There are some pretty bold claims made without much evidence. One I had highlighted was “The goal was to make women too insecure and anxious to make use of any of the freedoms they had won for themselves.” I would by no means consider it unbiased and it could do with some MAJOR editing down, but it was a very enjoyable read that happened to be right up my alley. A random overdrive find. Still can’t believe I read about 800 e-book pages of this in 2 days. It deserves a giant trigger warning for sexual assault and abuse, it goes into great detail about the kinds of acts the adults in these (many, many) cases were accused of, but for the most part, the author makes it very clear that almost none of them could have actually occurred. I’m curious what others would say on the subject just because this book was written with such obvious passion, but not enough to add to my 800+ pages of reading about this any time soon.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mickey

    I have been on a legal injustice binge lately, thanks to the Making a Murderer documentary, so when I saw this book in my local librarys new non-fiction display, I picked it up, thinking I would get a few more hits on that vein. Im not an avid follower of the cases, and I know only the basic facts. I remember reading about the day care cases in my grandmothers stash of womens magazines in the 1980s. The allegations were lurid and hard to digest (I was in grade school), and they were presented as I have been on a legal injustice binge lately, thanks to the Making a Murderer documentary, so when I saw this book in my local library’s new non-fiction display, I picked it up, thinking I would get a few more hits on that vein. I’m not an avid follower of the cases, and I know only the basic facts. I remember reading about the day care cases in my grandmother’s stash of women’s magazines in the 1980’s. The allegations were lurid and hard to digest (I was in grade school), and they were presented as a national epidemic. Also, I saw a documentary a few years ago following some of the former students of one of the schools who eventually recanted as they discussed how the experiences affected their lives. (The only detail I remember is one of the men could not bear to change his daughter’s diaper, fearful of losing her to accusations of sexual abuse.) While the trials (particularly the McMartin trial) were recounted faithfully and the author gives good background information on the history of child abuse and psychiatry, I found his insistence on blaming the political conservatism of the 1980’s to be without any factual basis. Even when the evidence points to feminist participation, he explains it away as a result of an errant desire to remain relevant. There seems to be a lot of revisionism going on there and that damages the book’s overall effectiveness. I think one of the best books I’ve read that discusses a social panic is Marc Aronson's Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials. Although it is a YA book, it makes a point to lead the reader towards understanding the factors that caused such a panic to form and what allowed it to spread. In contrast, Beck seems to put too little effort into investigating and too much effort into castigating and defending. That’s unfortunate as it conveniently sidesteps any self-reflection or self-doubt by placing the blame on the evils of the Reagan era. Some assertions were simply untrue: So, despite the feminist rhetoric of books like Courage to Heal, recovered memory therapy rests on the chauvinistic vision of female weakness perfectly in keeping with the reactionary times. From the anticrime campaigns that began to fill the country’s prisons to the day care cases that helped expand prosecutorial powers in state government, victimization was turned to many conservative political ends in the 1980’s. Recovered memory was part of the political shift. (page 234) and There is a direct link between child abuse hysteria and antifeminism (page 264) Why anyone would be interested in hearing a drawn-out defense of feminism’s role (and I don’t think they caused it), I don’t know. It seems a waste of a bigger and better story that could’ve been told here. One chapter that I thought was interesting was the one that dealt with two cases of child abuse within a family (although, again, I have to wonder what relevance it has to the overall theme of child abuse accusations that plagued day cares). The first story about the Friedmans sounds fascinating enough on its own, but it doesn’t connect to the author’s theory of the allegations of ritual child abuse in day cares being the result of a Freudian response to changing social mores. There were many topics in this book that didn’t seem to be relevant. I’m generally very easy-going about extra information, but so much time is spent on so many diverse topics that are never linked together to make a cohesive whole.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    We Believe the Children is about the spate of daycare child abuse cases which hit the news in the 1980s and, as its subtitle reveals, Richard Beck is not impressed at the way those cases were handled: by the police, by the mental health professionals, by the prosecutors, by the judges, by the news media, and even, or perhaps most especially, by the parents. Using the McMartin trial in California as his primary exemplar, Beck explores the political, social, and psychological underpinnings of the We Believe the Children is about the spate of daycare child abuse cases which hit the news in the 1980s and, as its subtitle reveals, Richard Beck is not impressed at the way those cases were handled: by the police, by the mental health professionals, by the prosecutors, by the judges, by the news media, and even, or perhaps most especially, by the parents. Using the McMartin trial in California as his primary exemplar, Beck explores the political, social, and psychological underpinnings of the hysteria surrounding the daycare child abuse cases, eventually concluding that this hysteria was driven by a conservative society trying to repress - to hide from itself - two unpalatable truths:First, the nuclear family was dying. Second, people mostly didn't want to save it.As an attorney, I was both fascinated and appalled by the conduct of those who investigated and prosecuted the McMartin case. I was particularly interested in the changes to the criminal justice process advocated by the McMartin parents, including a new hearsay exception which would allow the parents of alleged victims below the age of 8 to tell juries what their children had told them about the abuse, rather than the children testifying themselves. Beck suggests that such an exception would have violated the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause, an argument with which I might have agreed before the Supreme Court's June 18 decision in Ohio v. Clark. (To be fair, the galley I reviewed pre-dated that decision, so Beck couldn't have taken it into account.) My biggest complaint was that, once Beck began discussing the psychological factors contributing to social hysteria, he spent far too many pages on the debate surrounding multiple personality disorder ("MPD"). While I am generally interested in psychology, and might well want to read a book about MPD, this discussion was only tangentially related to the McMartin case, which I expected to be the focus of this book. We Believe the Children was informative, especially for someone who remembered the daycare ritual abuse panic but didn't know the true story, and many of Beck's insights are equally applicable to more current social issues, from gay marriage to the Confederate flag. I recommend it to anyone interested in sociology, psychology, or the criminal justice process. I received a free copy of We Believe the Children through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (I just have to add an additional note here. At one point, while describing the responses to Judith Levine's 2002 book Harmful to Minors (which controversially suggested lowering the age of consent to 12), Beck expresses his outrage: "The University of Minnesota Press was deluged with more than eight hundred angry phone calls and e-mails even before Harmful to Minors had been shipped to retail outlets, meaning that the letters were written by people who could not possibly have read the book." I found it ironic to read this passage in a book which I have read and reviewed but which is not due to be published until August 4.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    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 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.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    I heard about this book in the context of Pizzagate, a fabricated scandal involving ritual child abuse by elites in a pizza shop, usually happening to be of the opposite political party. It was so silly I had no idea how anyone could possibly believe it. A quote about the panic in this book sums up my own response to this conspiracy theory quite well: if you ask me to believe in a systematic network of fiends, then Goddamn it, I want facts and figures...And why, if these horrors are still going I heard about this book in the context of “Pizzagate”, a fabricated scandal involving ritual child abuse by elites in a pizza shop, usually happening to be of the opposite political party. It was so silly I had no idea how anyone could possibly believe it. A quote about the panic in this book sums up my own response to this conspiracy theory quite well: “if you ask me to believe in a systematic network of fiends, then Goddamn it, I want facts and figures...And why, if these horrors are still going on, is the pseudonymous author writing a novel about it, instead of banging down the doors of every judicial office in the country?” (Letter to the Editor, Ms. Magazine, May/June 1993). Little did I know that in the 80s, accusations every bit as ridiculous were embraced by the media, law enforcement, and the country. ____________________________________ “We Believe the Children” addresses a series of judicial proceedings from around the US in the ‘80s, that are so bizarre, so captivating, and so filled to the brim with dark humor that there not being a wider awareness of them is pretty shocking. A phenomenon rivaling—honestly, flat out extending beyond the craziness of, only without executions—the Salem Witch Trials began with the infamous McMartin daycare trial, which was the longest and most expensive trial in American history at that time. The book interweaves this narrative with many others from around the country; all of them revolving around accusations of sexual molestation of children. It’s possible that some of them happened; although far more likely that some milder version than what ended up being charged (some of the charges were completely outlandish). Central to the understanding is the way investigators, social workers, and psychologists would pry information out of the children, almost bullying them into confessions that of which they honestly couldn’t understand the implications. They would incept ideas into the children’s heads and repeat the questions hours and hours on end, until finally the children would learn to simply say what the interrogators wanted to hear. Bringing up more parallels to Salem, many of these accusations had the common thread of “ritual abuse”—Satanism. The perpetrators were alleged to take the kids to churches or graveyards and have them slaughter animals or eat the corpses of animals. They would be accused of penetrating a child with a crucifix, throwing a child into a school of sharks (where they would miraculously escape unscathed), or playing “naked games” sometimes in broad daylight. No physical evidence would ever materialize in any of these ritual abuse cases, but tens of thousands charges were filed, sometimes in single cases. In at least one case, there’s convincing reason to believe that a man convinced himself to fabricate a memory of false “repressed” memory of himself abusing his daughters. He, like many others, served significant jail time, most of them based solely on witness testimony. Even the people who got off were ruined economically and socially. The 2 McMartins who had bore the brunt of the accusations spent years in jail for a “not guilty” verdict. The zaniness of these narratives are leavened by Beck’s cultural critique of the era. Taking a close look at feminism, politics, and psychology, Beck forms a complex but sometimes hard-to-follow thesis, that I think pretty decently puts the “ritual abuse” panic into a decent causal framework and gives it renewed urgency in today’s world. Beck argues that the panic resulted from the misogynist roots of psychology, anti-feminist backlash to the 60s/70s feminist movement (partly driven by some feminists allying with conservatives on this issue), and a basic understanding of hierarchy as such. It sounds counterintuitive, but the role of the “nuclear family” is central, and why it’s important that it is so centrally focused on daycares. It began at a daycare with a male caretaker. The entire idea that the woman should be the homemaker is inherent, if unconscious in the panic—that’s the theory behind the conservative backlash that coincided with the Reagan era. With the feminists, it was a chance to seek revenge on abusers by finally listening to the people who are abused. It is not unreasonable to say that both sides, along with psychologists and law enforcement, acted in good faith. The unconscious forces of the collective have always defined large elements of society. To draw many parallels to today is probably stretching; however, it’s not entirely unreasonable to view the #MeToo movement with a shade of skepticism in this light. That said, distinctions are obviously plentiful. The #MeToo movement is primarily happening in the court of public opinion, whereas the ritual abuse panic was being litigated in actual court. The taboo against skepticism toward accusers is reminiscent of the titular “we believe the children tagline”. It’s often argued that it’s probable that some innocent men’s reputations will be swept up in the rebalancing of sexual power dynamics, and that’s a sacrifice that has to happen. Because it’s a non-state matter, it’s a reasonable enough argument, probably. Finally, the fine-line between conservatism and feminism seems to be reappearing, although it’s unclear that conservatives are actually conservative in the argument. In the new dichotomy, some #MeToo-oriented people have came out not only to tell their story about sexual assault or even sexual harassment, but sometimes just cases of socially awkward encounters that turned sour. These sort of bad sexual experiences, when they once might have just been incompatibility, now conjure up parallels to the stories that were told to the interrogators. Could there possibly be a psychological “reward” for the trauma that could cause someone to massage their awkward story into abuse? These are all questions to consider when moving forward. Some prominent feminists have come out in criticism of the #MeToo movement, calling it overreach. The dissenters are essentially saying the same thing as what is being said here: the movement, though it appears feminist in nature, might be overstepping into conservative territory. (Disclaimer: I am not opposed to the #MeToo movement in its current iteration) My biggest quibble with the book is its lack of rhythmic breaks: I believe the book had a total of 1 section break and 10 chapters. The wide breadth of subject matter made it a particularly challenging read, even if engaging. I definitely don’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions, or at least the definitive nature of them. A couple off the top of my head: multiple personality disorder, though clearly proven problematic in this book, seems to be at least implicitly discarded as a made-up illness. This may well be the case, but I would have loved to see a little more recent data on how the greater psychology community feels about this diagnosis. In terms of one of the closing remarks—that marriage is declining, the implication that the nuclear family is dying—for better or for worse, it deserves a big asterisk in my opinion. The US is in deeply precarious economic territory and offers little economic incentive for family planning. This, combined with the neoliberal crapstorm that the 80s brought along with the ritual abuse scare, is a huge impediment to marriage that should be considered. Money is the number one reason for divorce, at least last time I checked.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura Jordan

    A fascinating mixture of history, sociology, psychology, and true crime (although in this case, the crime was perjury rather than child abuse). Why is it that we as humans are willing to believe the most horrible things about one another? What does this say about our ability for self-delusion, about the miasma of fears and anxieties concerning modern life that surround us? And in this case, it wasn't even an issue of "believing the children," but more of believing the disturbing fantasies we had A fascinating mixture of history, sociology, psychology, and true crime (although in this case, the crime was perjury rather than child abuse). Why is it that we as humans are willing to believe the most horrible things about one another? What does this say about our ability for self-delusion, about the miasma of fears and anxieties concerning modern life that surround us? And in this case, it wasn't even an issue of "believing the children," but more of believing the disturbing fantasies we had unconsciously put into their mouths...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ozy Frantz

    A fascinating exploration of the Satanic Panic. I knew that the interviewing techniques used on the children were bad, but it's honestly astonishing to me how bad they were: at one point an interviewer told a child that not confessing is stupid and they don't want to be stupid, do they? An important take-home is that you can't take information about how often people lie in one context and apply it carelessly to every other context. It's probably true that children rarely spontaneously falsely A fascinating exploration of the Satanic Panic. I knew that the interviewing techniques used on the children were bad, but it's honestly astonishing to me how bad they were: at one point an interviewer told a child that not confessing is stupid and they don't want to be stupid, do they? An important take-home is that you can't take information about how often people lie in one context and apply it carelessly to every other context. It's probably true that children rarely spontaneously falsely accuse someone of raping them, and retractions of such spontaneous accusations can be assumed to be a result of threats or abuse from the rapist. However, that certainly doesn't mean that no child will falsely accuse someone of raping them when badgered and emotionally abused into doing so, or when deceived into believing the accusations are a game. Similarly to the Cadaver King and the Country Dentist, which I also read recently, this book highlights the unreliability of much forensic science. The pseudoscientific "wink test" was used as evidence: if the child's anus opened ("winked") when touched, the child must have had anal sex. Not only is this not true-- there is normal variation in the wink reflex-- it had its origins in homophobic nineteenth-century attempts to figure out who was secretly gay. In addition, doctors falsely claimed that many normal variations in children's vaginal appearance were, in fact, wounds produced by rape. I also found the defense lawyer's strategy in the McMartin preschool case fascinating. Knowing that it was a panic, he wanted to drag out the trial as long as possible until the panic was over. The McMartin preschool case remains the longest and most expensive trial in US history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dustybooks

    This is mostly an account of the McMartin preschool case, in which a run of fantastic accusations against day-care employees caused a kind of nationwide hysteria over molestation by caregivers, then to the Satanic cult myth that was still at least partially legitimized by the time I was in school in the early 90s. With clean, sharp prose and surprising quickness and wit, he extrapolates to other aspects of the Moral Majoritys takeover of culture during the Reagan years and draws a line to modern This is mostly an account of the McMartin preschool case, in which a run of fantastic accusations against day-care employees caused a kind of nationwide hysteria over molestation by caregivers, then to the Satanic cult myth that was still at least partially legitimized by the time I was in school in the early ’90s. With clean, sharp prose and surprising quickness and wit, he extrapolates to other aspects of the Moral Majority’s takeover of culture during the Reagan years and draws a line to modern conservatism. As an account of the many errors in judgment and crazed leaps of logic that caused McMartin, this is both fascinating and infuriating — I can’t imagine a better book on the subject, which has always fascinated me, and I never knew of the connections to the widespread diagnosis of Multiple-Personality Disorder and other pop psych phenomena of the era. That the book feels unfinished is an inevitable outgrowth of the basic refusal of America to atone for what happened; it’s practically forgotten now, and the issues it revealed in the problems of theoretical family life and American perceptions of sex and abuse remain unresolved. Some will bristle at the author’s conclusions in the last chapter, but it’s hard to imagine mounting a serious case that he’s wrong about any of it. Your heart goes out to all of the children and many of the adults involved even as the absurdity of the entire event remains staggering.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    I remember the daycare sex rings, the satanists sacrificing animals in parks after dark, people with hundreds of personalities fighting for airtime. Seemed reasonable, and it all made life seemed a little more exciting - the thought that beneath the facade of normalcy there were vast seas of perversion. But, then, nothing...I assumed that everyone snapped out of the psychosis and moved onto something else. This book outlines how it all happened, chronologically and factually, but also socially I remember the daycare sex rings, the satanists sacrificing animals in parks after dark, people with hundreds of personalities fighting for airtime. Seemed reasonable, and it all made life seemed a little more exciting - the thought that beneath the facade of normalcy there were vast seas of perversion. But, then, nothing...I assumed that everyone snapped out of the psychosis and moved onto something else. This book outlines how it all happened, chronologically and factually, but also socially and politically. The first two thirds is mainly endless examples of hysteria and credulity leading to massive injustice. The McMartin preschool case is the centrepiece, but there are *so* many other examples. It’s well written, but starts to be exhausting. The last section pulls together threads of politics, psychology and sociology and makes some interesting points about how it all lead to this completely insane crisis. In the end, it’s pretty depressing. Thirty years later people have learned nothing, and Geraldo Rivera has yet to answer for his crimes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    I absolutely threw myself into this book. It was engaging, packaged entertainingly and frankly I desperately enjoyed it. Beck takes on a few tangents but they are cleverly relayed and tend to inform the broader story- there were times when I found myself on Google looking at feminists I'd never heard of simply to learn more about them despite the seeming irrelevance to the subject at hand. This was intimidatingly researched and every rabbit hole I went down linked both to an interest aside from I absolutely threw myself into this book. It was engaging, packaged entertainingly and frankly I desperately enjoyed it. Beck takes on a few tangents but they are cleverly relayed and tend to inform the broader story- there were times when I found myself on Google looking at feminists I'd never heard of simply to learn more about them despite the seeming irrelevance to the subject at hand. This was intimidatingly researched and every rabbit hole I went down linked both to an interest aside from the book at hand, and back to the story I was engaged in. The author usually phrases the objective facts of the cases but very occasionally interjects with a sardonic truth in a way that endears you to him. He has an awareness that while this was a serious and sad time in the history of America and frankly, the world, there is an absurdity underlying the sincereness with which not only the McMartin but so many other cases were pursued. If you are at all interested in this period of history or mass hysteria I would highly recommend this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Duffy

    I've been reading and listening to podcasts about the Satanic Panic for about a year now. This book was one of two that looked really interesting. I hate to say it but this book is dull. It's just super factual. It has none of the emotion or the horror of the panic in it. I highly recommend listening to Convicted on Spotify. Not only do you get the story of the panic, you get to hear interviews with both the children and their wrongly accused parents. One of the most heartbreaking things I heard I've been reading and listening to podcasts about the Satanic Panic for about a year now. This book was one of two that looked really interesting. I hate to say it but this book is dull. It's just super factual. It has none of the emotion or the horror of the panic in it. I highly recommend listening to Convicted on Spotify. Not only do you get the story of the panic, you get to hear interviews with both the children and their wrongly accused parents. One of the most heartbreaking things I heard in that podcast was an old recording where a 4-6yo kid (whose parents were accused of being part of a Satanic sex ring) was crying "I want my mommy." And the cop replies "Just say what I told you and you'll see her." What the kid said got mommy sent to prison. The idea that someone would sit there and figuratively twist a child's arm to get them to say what the doctor/police/prosecutor wants and not stop until they got what they wanted is terrifying. Knowing that if one of these people got ahold of your child and would turn them against you is what made the Satanic Panic so horrifying.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Willis

    This is an incredibly intelligent analysis of the Satanic Panic in the 1980's and 90's. Centering the book around the infamous McMartin case, Beck explores the history that fed the panic, as well as the major flaws in the numerous child abuse cases. Beck raises serious doubts regarding the veracity of the charges of Satanic ritual abuse. While it's clear some of the cases did involve legitimate child abuse, many likely did not or were overblown to include charges of ritual abuse. Though not This is an incredibly intelligent analysis of the Satanic Panic in the 1980's and 90's. Centering the book around the infamous McMartin case, Beck explores the history that fed the panic, as well as the major flaws in the numerous child abuse cases. Beck raises serious doubts regarding the veracity of the charges of Satanic ritual abuse. While it's clear some of the cases did involve legitimate child abuse, many likely did not or were overblown to include charges of ritual abuse. Though not mentioned, Beck's book even makes cases like the West Memphis Three make more sense in light of the panic. He also questions where the real abuse occurred as children were hounded in the interrogation room, given invasive physical exams, and had images of their genitalia on full display in courtrooms. Lastly, the book examines the long-term impact of the panic on law and culture. We Believe the Children is an important read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Serena

    A challenging read for sure - if you're looking for a true crime-aligned rehashing of the McMartin preschool trial or its mirrors throughout the country, you've come to the wrong place. Beck takes us back both before, during, and after the panic to reveal his two-part argument about how this could have possibly happened. I noticed many of the reviews complain that it's off topic, and they don't see the connections that Beck is making. All crime, whether real or imagined, has intense A challenging read for sure - if you're looking for a true crime-aligned rehashing of the McMartin preschool trial or its mirrors throughout the country, you've come to the wrong place. Beck takes us back both before, during, and after the panic to reveal his two-part argument about how this could have possibly happened. I noticed many of the reviews complain that it's off topic, and they don't see the connections that Beck is making. All crime, whether real or imagined, has intense social-political-etc. antecedents and consequences, and that is what this book is about. Beck's conclusions open larger questions of how we are still conceiving of the family as an institution, psychology as a discipline, and how we understand the development of sexuality in children and teenagers.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Downward

    a very uncomfortable book about the moral panic surrounding the accusations of several members of daycare staffs across America of molesting children. it's as much a history of the mcmartin daycare scandal as it is a history of the psychology of child abuse going back further than freud and examining the history of blown up concepts such as multiple personality disorder and freud's seduction theory. a lot of this is critical of reactionary politics, but it does a good job of criticizing a a very uncomfortable book about the moral panic surrounding the accusations of several members of daycare staffs across America of molesting children. it's as much a history of the mcmartin daycare scandal as it is a history of the psychology of child abuse going back further than freud and examining the history of blown up concepts such as multiple personality disorder and freud's seduction theory. a lot of this is critical of reactionary politics, but it does a good job of criticizing a liberalism and specifically a feminism that doesn't function intersectionally. this book is a successful condemnation of the 80s as it analyzes the conditions that led to these results.

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