06 October 2004

Witch Hunt

I just finished reading No Crueler Tyrannies. It's about the massive child sexual-abuse prosecutions in the 80's and 90's. Most of us in the criminal law community know of these cases and the unjust convictions which came from them. I suspect that many in the "real" world know of them as well since they've received a good deal of press as case after case was overturned on appeal or habeus by incredulous appellate court judges.

Still, it was shocking to have these cases brought to life. In case after case it points out how children were brainwashed in multiple sessions with adults insisting the child had been abused despite the child's denials. Often parents helped because they were told that the very fact their child was denying everything meant something had happened or the parents were given a laundry list of "symptoms" so broad that any worried parent could find some "indicator." When the children finally began making up stories there were many so fantastic that they could not be believed: rapes while kids were tied to trees, next to a road, in front of the whole kindergarten class, orgies led by the pastor at church after services, knives and forks stuck in private places (with nary a physical harm); robots being involved in the rapes; etc:
This witness too had testimony to give about a robot at the school - one who had bitten her arm and warned children not to talk. Under cross-examination she gave further details.

Q: What color was the robot?
A: Silver

Q: Silver. Did it have lights on it?
A: Yes

Q: And was it a big robot or a little robot?
A: Big.

The picture of the robot as it finally emerged was of a green, yellow, and silver creature with lights, which moved on wheels. The witness agreed, further, that the robot was someone like R2-D2 from Star Wars.
p. 37-38
"Experts" would then come to court and testify that what the children had said was true and make bizarre claims:
Prosecution expert Eileen Treacy explained. A child's emphatic denial that anything happened was in fact proof that the child had been victimized, she informed the jury.
. . . .
A parent noted her child no longer cared for tunafish. This had significance, Treacy told jurors: "It's well known that the smell of tuna fish is similar to the odor of vaginal secretions.
p 14-15.
Prosecutors brought incredible numbers of charges against individuals:
Within the first few months of investigation, more than forty people were arrested on similar charges - several charged with 2,400 and more counts of sexual abuse. One woman was charged with 3,200 charges of child rape.
p. 101
The majority of the cases the book covers have been overturned; in a couple the accused remains in prison despite an almost universal belief that the conviction is unjust.

Turning to the book itself: It is one sided. The prosecutors' points of view are not put in a favorable light. I suspect that given the opportunity to speak "on background" many of these people would speak of the fact that in those times it seemed like these things were really happening and they were fed a bill of goods by a bunch of quacks and hornswogglers who claimed to be experts in the field.

As well, all the people accused are described in rather glowing terms. I'm sure the cases the author chose were those wherein the people involved were not such that their characters muddled the issue. I'm also sure that the people described in the book are most likely innocent (not merely "not guilty"). Still, sometimes the descriptions of the accused make them seem just a little too goddy-goody.

The book's format is a collection of smaller stories with one larger story interwoven among them - alternating chapters. I'm not sure why this method is used but it's not very enjoyable. I'd rather have read it as a collection of stories.

Overall, it's an interesting read. Not the best written but the subject more than makes up for any inadequacies.

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