The Witch-Hunt Narrative

The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children

A highly recommended new book that calls into question how society views accusations of child sexual abuse. A series of prosecutions against day care workers in the 80’s were widely viewed as overly zealous, particularly after many of the convictions were overturned. The book is based on 15 years of careful research by Ross E. Cheit, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Brown University and his students. Cheit shows that almost all of these day care abuse cases were based on real evidence of child abuse. This book documents how misinformation promulgated by the media and by professionals led to the public perception of an epidemic of false accusations.

Articles and Reviews of the Book

How the ‘Witch Hunt’ Myth Undermined American Justice

The Daily Beast, by Jason Berry

July 12, 2014

Innocent people persecuted by a legal system out of control? A professor of political science and public policy at Brown University, Cheit has 68 pages of footnotes, with an array of legal citations; Cheit mounts a rigorous argument that the witch-hunt—innocent people persecuted by a legal system out of control—is a concocted myth.

Mythical Numbers and Satanic Ritual Abuse

The Huffington Post, by Ross Cheit

July 11, 2014

It’s a mythical number that skeptics never question. And it’s come up again and again in the national press for decades.

It’s purportedly the number of victims from the infamous child sexual abuse cases of the 1980s and 1990s. Not child victims, though. The victims are said to be adults who were falsely charged and often convicted of sexual abuse, victims of a witch-hunt.

…as the witch hunt narrative took root, prosecutors became increasingly reluctant to bring cases, the media sided with the defense, and children were less likely to be believed — all based on a narrative that is at its core inaccurate.

Witchhunt Narrative’ Retells ’80s Day Care Abuse

WeNews May 23, 2014

by Wendy Murphy

For readers who learned about these cases from conventional media, this book will be a shocking revelation of how reporters skewed criminal cases to the disadvantage of victims. Now it seems an awful lot of abused children deserve an apology.

Abuse Cases, and a Legacy of Skepticism

‘The Witch-Hunt Narrative’: Are We Dismissing Real Victims?

The New York Times June 9, 2014

McMartin was the first of a series of prosecutions in the 1980s that have come to be seen as a collective witch hunt, in which panicked parents and incompetent investigators led children to make up stories of abuse by adults at day care centers and preschools.

At first, the news media ran with the lurid accounts of abuse, but then some skeptical reporters questioned the prevailing narrative and discredited the snowballing allegations. The pendulum swung from credulity to doubt.

But what if the skeptics went too far? What if some of the children were really abused? And what if the legacy of these cases is a disturbing tendency to disbelieve children who say they are being molested?

Those are the questions that frame this new book by Ross E. Cheit, a political scientist at Brown University who spent nearly 15 years on research, poring over old trial transcripts and interview tapes.

Book review: A scholarly, engaging look at ‘witch-hunt’ narratives

Providence Journal April 27, 2014

by Anne Grant

Ross E. Cheit’s book begins with the 1983 charges against staff at the McMartin Preschool. The case stretched over seven years, but produced no convictions — only a widespread consensus that it had been a “witch-hunt” and had unfairly targeted the accused. That narrative prevailed until now…. Cheit’s book is a tour de force against the witch-hunt fabulists and those suggestible enough to believe them….

Cheit’s book is a tour de force against the witch-hunt fabulists and those suggestible enough to believe them.