Sunday, October 30, 2005

Lucianne links to this story from one of the children involved in the horrific McMartin Pre-School child abuse case. If you remember, this was the long running trial from the 1980s in which little children were interviewed over and over again and alleged that the teachers at the McMartin Pre-School had abused them terribly. The case dragged on for seven years, and, because he was denied jail, Ray Buckley, the grandson of the founder of the pre-school, spent about five years in jail. He was never convicted of anything.

This case became infamous for the suspicion that the repeated questioning of small children planted false memories which were then believed because "Why would children lie?"

Now, one of those children tells his story in the Los Angeles Times and it will just make you sick at heart.
I remember them asking extremely uncomfortable questions about whether Ray touched me and about all the teachers and what they did—and I remember telling them nothing happened to me. I remember them almost giggling and laughing, saying, "Oh, we know these things happened to you. Why don't you just go ahead and tell us? Use these dolls if you're scared."

Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn't like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. It was really obvious what they wanted. I know the types of language they used on me: things like I was smart, or I could help the other kids who were scared.

I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do. And I thought they wanted me to help protect my little brother and sister who went to McMartin.

Later my parents asked if the teachers took pictures and played games with us. Games like "Naked Movie Star." I remember my mom asking me. She would ask if they sang the song, and I didn't know what she was talking about, so she would sing something like, "Who you are, you're a naked movie star." I'm pretty sure that's the first time I ever heard that: from my mom. After she asked me a hundred times, I probably said yeah, I did play that game.
Read the rest. You'll want to cry for the way that these people's lives and the lives of other people such as Amiraults in Massachusetts and those accused in the so-called Wenatchee Sex Ring in Washington State were ruined in this witch hunt atmosphere of the 1980s and early 1990s. Dorothy Rabinowitz did heroic work detailing some of the bizarre logic and unbelievable testimony that was used to trump up these cases in her excellent book, No Crueler Tyrannies. This is not to say that child abuse never happens but that overanxious parents, overzealous prosecutors, ambitious journalists and politicians could take advantage of the hysteria created by one of these cases to ride the publicity to fame. You might remember that it was prosecuting such cases that first brought fame to Janet Reno as a district attorney in Miami. One victim of Reno's, a decorated police officer, was convicted on similar such trumped-up charges and spent 12 years in prison. PBS has more information from a Frontline special that will just sadden and anger you.

This was the hysteria that prevailed in that period. Now, we look back and shudder that such an atmosphere reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials could have prevailed in the modern United States. But it did. May we show more wisdom and skepticism in the future. I just wish that some of those politicians and prosecutors would pay a price for having ruined so many lives. Read the story in today's L. A. Times and you'll know who perpetrated the real child abuse in the McMartin Pre-School case. Imagine all these children having had to live with the knowledge that they told these lies and were used to ruin people's lives. What a burden they must feel. This is what the author of the story, Kyle Zirpolo, says about how this whole experience ruined his relationship with his mother, who, to this day, doesn't believe his denials of sex abuse.
But the lying really bothered me. One particular night stands out in my mind. I was maybe 10 years old and I tried to tell my mom that nothing had happened. I lay on the bed crying hysterically—I wanted to get it off my chest, to tell her the truth. My mother kept asking me to please tell her what was the matter. I said she would never believe me. She persisted: "I promise I'll believe you! I love you so much! Tell me what's bothering you!" This went on for a long time: I told her she wouldn't believe me, and she kept assuring me she would. I remember finally telling her, "Nothing happened! Nothing ever happened to me at that school."

She didn't believe me.

We had a highly dysfunctional family. We argued and fought all the time. My mother has always blamed anything negative on the idea that we went to that preschool and were molested. To this day, she believes these things went on. Because if they didn't, how can she explain all the family's problems? To this day, I can't open up with her about my personal problems. She's always asking me why I never do. That one night skewed our relationship.
Mr. Zirpolo finally confessed this story to Debbie Nathan, a writer who has written about the making of these modern witch hunts and the type of testimony involved in Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt. When you read about how these people were accused and the children encouraged and pressured to tell stories about how they were abused, your blood will chill. It is amazing that anyone would risk working with young children after reading one of these stories.

Students are always amazed when we discuss the Salem Witch Trials and can't understand how such hysteria could sweep through a community to the point that people were executed on the basis of such flimsy evidence. Well, the Salem hysteria was finished in less than a year. This modern hysteria continued for well over a decade. We are not so much wiser today than those 17th century Puritans.

UPDATE: The Anchoress has some thoughts on how this hysteria has affected how we raise our children. My children were little girls in the 1980s when these stories were so rampant and I certainly kept a much tighter watch over their play than my parents ever did for me. They never had the experiences I did of riding a bike all over town and exploring creeks and woods by myself.

Although I never really believed these stories of day care abuse. I just didn't believe that any nine or ten year old kid would have such detailed memories of things that happened when they were toddlers. And the evidence was so flimsy, simply resting on these memories and testimony of little kids with absolutely no physical evidence. What a mass suspension of common sense our country went through in those years. And think of all the lives ruined, both the accused and accusers.

UPDATE: I finally remembered the name of the case in Edenton, North Carolina, that had strikingly similarities to the other day care child abuse trials: Little Rascals Day Care. Ofra Bikel did three chilling documentaries on the story of the seven people accused of over 400 counts of child molestation and they spent years in jail despite clear juror and prosecutor misconduct. Read the summary of the case and your blood will child that this happened so recently in our country.