The Price of Neverland Part 4: Whose Witch-Hunt?

The Trial That Unleashed Hysteria Over Child Abuse - The New York Times

As discussed in part one of this series, in the 80s and 90s a narrative was developed by the media, and then picked up by academia, that most of the high profile child abuse scandals of the era amounted to  “witch hunts.” That is, a person or group of people was wrongfully accused and, after what amounted to a show trial, sentenced to please a public mob mentality. 

It is often implied or directly stated that not only were the accused sentenced unfairly, but that the children, their parents, or social workers were inventing wholesale that abuse occurred in the first place, either out of hysteria or for personal gain. In his book deconstructing this idea, The Witch Hunt Narrative, Ross Cheit painstakingly goes through a plethora of cases associated with this sentiment and shows that in nearly all of them, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that abuse did occur. Cheit’s study is far too big to go into in detail here, but it is worth looking at in part, specifically with regard to the McMartin Preschool Trial. 

McMartin Was Not a Witch Hunt

The origins of the witch hunt narrative, Cheit claims, lay in the allegations of abuse at McMartin preschool which  led to a highly publicized trial in 1984. Even before journalists would run with the notion of a witch hunt, some of the parents, who Cheit calls “McMartin loyalists,” insisted that the allegations were nonsense. One such parent, Ellen Chapman, said she was “totally appalled that people were going to discredit the school.” 

On January 6, 1984, Chapman’s daughter, Breanna, screamed in pain as she urinated. Chapman observed her daughter and noticed she was “very red and very swollen.” She asked Breanna if anyone had harmed her, to which Breanna said that, “Ray had spit in her face and hurt her arm” (This took place before the media had taken an interest in the allegations of abuse at the school). Chapman assumed that by “Ray” her daughter meant some other child with that name. In reality she meant Ray Buckey, a teacher at McMartin whose family would become the focus of the investigation and trial. 

Buckey’s family owned McMartin and first came under suspicion in August 1983, when Matthew Johnson told his mother, Judy, something about “Mr. Ray” using a thermometer on him. This was intended to explain blood Judy noticed on her son’s anus. Matthew was examined by a family physician, a medical room doctor, and a pediatrician with experience in child abuse. As Cheit points out, this evidence is almost always ignored by those pushing the “witch hunt narrative,” who instead insist Judy Johnson was delusional when she first claimed Matthew had been abused. 

Judy Johnson died in December 1986. Her death was supposedly caused by alcoholism. However, the Los Angeles Herald noted in a story about Johnson that she had been quite “strong and healthy” in 1983, following a daily routine of jogging coupled with a diet of health food. At this time Judy’s aversion to alcohol was so strong that she “brought sparkling apple juice to neighborhood parties…” (Shawn Hubler, “Driven to Her Death,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner March 8, 1987).

According to Cheit, “There is no evidence in the record of the McMartin case that Johnson was mentally unstable when she took her son to the emergency room on August 12, 1983.” Chet points out that, “There was medical evidence from several doctors, though virtually all of the medical evidence in the McMartin case would later be dismissed as baseless in the witch-hunt narrative. But that stark position was not even endorsed by Dr. David Paul, the expert the defense brought from London to counter the medical evidence in the case.” By the time of Johnson’s death, the McMartin case had been national news for two years. She asked the DA’s office to place her in protective custody because of threats she says were left on her answering machine. The DA claimed these fears were “groundless.” 

Prosecutor Stevens said of Judy Johnson, “I found her pleasant and very lucid.”  After leaving the DA’s office in 1986, Stevens told screenwrite Abby Mann that it was the McMartin case which pushed Johnson over the edge. Abby Mann and his wife Myra would pen Indictment: The McMartin Trial, an HBO film which cemented the official story of McMartin as a witch-hunt in the public consciousness. Cheit says that the transcripts of the conversations between Stevens and the Manns show that they “formed a view of Johnson that went against what Stevens told them on the subject.” Stevens once “pushed Mann to explain why he kept coming back to Johnson. Mann’s answer: because she had “a suspect personality.” Stevens did not agree; nor did he waiver, in these conversations, in the view that nothing in Johnson’s life tainted the origins of the case in August 1983.” 

There are several strange things about Indictment. Cheit does not entertain all of these facts in his book, but I believe they are worth mentioning here. First, despite being a product of the witch hunt narrative which, sometimes intentionally, misrepresents the case, it was co-produced by Oliver Stone, who has made a reputation for himself as a Hollywood “truth teller.” Second, it fails to touch on the spookier dynamics of the career of its protagonist, who is based on the main lawyer on the Buckeys’ defense team, Danny Davis.  

David Beck notes in his firmly pro-witch hunt narrative book We Believe the Children: Moral Panic in the 1980s, that Davis “spent much of the previous five years defending young, wealthy Americans with ‘boutique’ drug operations, and his most recent defense, of a pilot caught with six hundred kilos of cocaine, had gone very well” (emphasis mine). 

Cheit explains that because there were ultimately seven defendants in the McMartin case, “every witness was subject to possible cross-examination by 7 defense lawyers.” According to Beck, Davis was the defense lawyer who concocted this strategy, later described by deputy District Attorney Glenn Stevens, as “inhumane” and “monstrous.” Others, according to Cheit, described Davis’s methods as “trial by ordeal.” 

To recap, we have a lawyer who made a good chunk of change defending bourgeois drug dealers, including a pilot who made the type of narco-flights which would become infamous during the Iran-Contra affair, using an already traumatic trial to psychologically brutalize very young witnesses. This strategy was employed to win a case where medical evidence had more or less proven the children were abused by someone at McMartin.

In 1989, Davis acquired McMartin preschool from the Buckeys. He claimed this was partially a form of payment and would spend “several thousands of dollars,” according to Beck, to refurbish the school after it was burnt down by an unknown arsonist. 

To return to the evidence, Cheit notes that the witch-hunt narrative has employed a peculiar argument to dismiss the medical evidence found in examining Matthew Johnson. “Since Matthew was neither maimed nor killed,” goes the argument, “he must not have been sodomized.” Pioneers of the witch-hunt narrative, such as Debbie Nathan, have never acknowledged that this line of reasoning was rejected by the defense’s own expert.  Furthermore, attempts to discredit “some of the most relevant evidence in the case,” by Dr. Paul, that same defense expert, fell flat. 

Two doctors-Woodling and Gordon-testified for the prosecution, saying that one girl’s anus was significantly damaged and that there was a “very high probability” she was “a victim of anal penetration.” Dr. Gordon asserted that pictures of the cavity were, “markedly abnormal” and that there was “evidence of injury and trauma to the anal verge.” Woodling concurred, calling it a “significantly scarred anus” that was “significantly deformed.” The defense’s Dr. Paul attempted to contradict this by referring to a photograph from a British medical journal that was, unbeknownst to him, about corroborated trauma from sexual abuse. He would also try to argue against medical evidence of abuse in another girl by saying what the doctors found could be considered “Normal wear and tear.” As Cheit says, “It is difficult to ascertain what kind of ‘wear and tear’ Dr. Paul thought a four-year-old girl would have sustained.” 

Dr. Paul’s own methods were bizarre and medically unnecessary. For instance, he would insert his finger into a child as a form of measurement. Paul also refused to take medical history from a child and claimed he could tell the honesty of children simply from “eye contact.” Despite this, the peddlers of the witch-hunt narrative have only good things to say about Dr. Paul. If it was an internally consistent theory, the witch-hunt narrative would define Dr. Paul as a child molester and a quack. 

Significant medical evidence appeared in at least five of the other children who participated in the first McMartin trial. Cheit concedes that “there were definitely issues of overdiagnosis” but points out that among these five kids “there are findings that would still be considered significant today contradicting the central claim in the witch hunt narrative: that there was virtually no meaningful evidence of sexual abuse in the case.” After investigating the entirety of the McMartin case and all of its various peculiarities, Cheit concludes that there were numerous instances of mistakes made by various entities involved in the McMartin trial on the children’s behalf, particularly with regard to the nonprofit group Children’s Institute Inc. However, the medical evidence is clear that there was indeed abuse that transpired within McMartin preschool, and the way both the first and second trials were carried out ensured that the testimony of children would not be taken seriously.

“The claims of a national witch-hunt are much stronger than the evidence that has been offered in support,” Cheit writes. “There are no national data; instead, there are scores of comparisons to McMartin & various lists of people who were allegedly falsely accused or convicted. But the comparisons do not stand up to close analysis. There were clearly some poorly investigated and poorly charged cases, but fewer and far between than what the witch-hunt narrative claims. There is no evidence of one hundred cases or, as some have claimed, hundreds or even thousands of cases.” 

Freud’s Folly

So whose agenda does the “witch hunt narrative” serve? As outlined in Part 1 of this series, Cheit describes “powerful social forces” which have their origin, “in the era before child sexual abuse was “recognized” as a social problem.The primary forces are secrecy, silence, & disbelief.” These forces “foster an ‘air of denial’, the polar opposite of the ‘air of accusation’ that practically defines the witch-hunt narrative.”  Cheit describes the “discovery” of the physical abuse of children as not occurring until roughly the late 1800s, with the pioneering work of Ambroise Tardieu and Paul Brouardel respectively. Their work would not be followed up on in any significant way until the 1940s. It would still be the mid 1980s before serious work was done to try and establish physical abuse of children as a widespread problem in Western culture. 

One example of this work was Jeffrey Masson’s scholarly effort to return to Freud’s “seduction theory” nearly one hundred years after Freud himself discarded it. For Masson, this theory, which posits that the origin of hysteria was to be found in infantile sexual traumas, “should have been the very cornerstone of psychoanalysis.” According to Masson’s 1984 essay on the topic, “The psychiatrists before Freud who had heard seduction stories had accused their patients of being hysterical liars and had dismissed their memories as fantasy. Freud was the first psychiatrist who believed that his patients were telling the truth.”

Freud announced his “seduction theory” in a 1896 paper titled The Etiology of Hysteria, which he gave to the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology. He would later say this paper cemented him as “one of those who had, disturbed the sleep of the world.” To describe the “infantile sexual scenes” Freud used the words Vergewaltigung (rape), Missbrauch (abuse), Verführung (seduction), Angriff (attack), Attentat (a French term, meaning an assault), Aggression, and Traumen (traumas). The only term here which implies some form of willful participation of children is “seduction”; the others each suggest violence directed against children channeled through the sexual behavior of adults. After several attempts to present these theories to the public were met with a cold reception, Freud felt alienated from the larger psychoanalytic community. “I am as isolated as you could wish me to be,” Freud wrote in a letter to his friend Willhelm Fleiss. “The word has been given out to abandon me, and a void is forming around me.”

In 1905, Freud publicially retracted the seduction theory. To summarize Masson’s opinion, this had mostly to do with a botched surgery that Fleiss, at the time a high profile nose and throat specialist whose work is now regarded as pseudoscience, performed on Emma Eckstein, a patient of Freud’s who played a large role in Austria’s early feminist movement. Despite Fleiss and Freud’s best efforts, Eckstein’s response to the gruesome and absurd surgical procedure only worsened by the day. To protect Fleiss’s reputation (along with his own, considering he recommended Eckstein visit Fleiss), Freud located the source of Eckstein’s post-op condition within her psyche. 

In order for this to make sense, Freud had to alter his earlier opinions on “seduction theory” so that Eckstein’s memories of childhood abuse, which had caused her troubles in adulthood that inspired Freud to send her to Fleiss in the first place, were actually fantasies of her own perverse mind.  As Masson puts it, “to efface the external trauma of the operation, it would prove necessary to construct a theory based on hysterical fantasies, a theory whereby the external traumas suffered by the patient never happened, and were inventions.”

The way Freud and Fleiss conspired to blame their victim, as well as said victim being an early participant in the struggle for female liberation, ties the suppression of Freud’s seduction theory to the general, institutional sexism of the era. And in the letters Freud sent to Fleiss regarding Eckstein, we can see an attitude which links this sexism to the general tolerance of child abuse which pervaded Western culture unchallenged until the mid-20th Century. One letter in particular sees Freud compare Eckstein to a witch: “I dream, therefore, of a primeval devil religion whose rites are carried on secretly, and I understand the harsh therapy of the witches’ judges.” 

Masson elaborates on this connection:

Freud was implying here that the Sabbats (part of a ritualized religion in which sexual perversions were acted out) were real events. He seems to have been saying: The torture and the murder of the witches are understandable, for the judges were attempting to curtail a heinous cult.

Unpleasant chains of associations are set off: if Fliess was the judge, and Eckstein was the witch, then Freud, as the observer, suddenly understood why Fliess had to be so harsh in his punishment of her—she was, during the operation, secretly enacting her own ritual; using Fliess’s operation as a kind of somatic compliance, she bled not in response to Fliess but in response to her own private, internal theater of fantasy. So if she nearly bled to death, it was not because of Fliess but because of her own perverse imagination.” 

It is a largely held sentiment that Freud’s ditching of seduction theory is what drove him to establish the now well known benchmarks of psychoanalysis, later adapted into the disciplines that make up “psychotherapy” in general. Masson argues that in doing so “Freud had abandoned an important truth: that sexual, physical, and emotional violence is a real and tragic part of the lives of many children.”

Whose Mind Control? 

I believe that the “witch-hunt narrative” was, at least in part, an act of projection by the media. This projection enunciates their own project; to find in mental health specialists trying their best to, without precedent, deal seriously with the hidden epidemic of child abuse (sometimes having to confront large-scale, organized networks of the bourgeois and/or State apparatus in the process) villainous bureaucrats who wanted to abridge American civil liberties for the enrichment of their various organizations. 

The “Witch Hunt” theory inverts the reality of many instances of systemic child abuse; it says children are unreliable at best, cynical at worst & it is those who attempt to give them a voice who are abusers. In the coverage of high profile child abuse scandals, the media often disseminated the sentiment of Reaganism par excellence;  the only authority which counts is that of the individual patriarch pursuing his self-interest. Anything else is an attempt by either “special interest groups” or Big Government to sneakily extract something from the patriarch.

The “Witch-Hunt” narrative is also similar to recent phenomena such as Russiagate or Havana Syndrome in that it meets the definition of a conspiracy theory but is peddled by the supposedly rational skeptics who cringe at those things traditionally labeled as conspiracy theories. As Cheit says, “the narrative certainly appears to have begun with a conclusion and then sought information to support it, using documents and claims provided by defense lawyers as primary sources, and even as co-authors and ‘fact checkers.’ It is, in short, the defense view of history. (Emphasis mine). 

Cheit writes elsewhere in the book: “With an army of research assistants and a substantial budget for photocopying and travel, it was still not possible to cover a few dozen cases completely. But none of these challenges or limitations are mentioned in the works that are the foundation of the witch hunt narrative. Indeed, none of the magazine articles about the case were based on a comprehensive examination of trial transcripts. Yet these accounts have been accepted, repeated, and enshrined in the academic literature of fields ranging from sociology and law to psychology and English, where they are written about in the extreme language of the witch-hunt narrative.” (Emphasis mine)

Furthermore,, “systematic studies contradict” the idea that child molesters receive overly-strict sentences. “Eight percent received more than twenty years in prison.” But the witch-hunt narrative insists this kind of strict sentence is doled out at nearly every child sex abuse trial. “What kind of sex abuse hysteria is there,” Cheit asks,”if 30-40% of convicted child molesters avoid prison & the vast majority of those sentenced receive a light sentence? Wouldn’t the hysteria result in high incarceration rates & lengthy sentences? What happens in reality is the opposite.” In conclusion, Cheit asserts that psychologists & physicians tasked with taking seriously cases of child abuse for the 1st time in American history were pioneers, who may have made mistakes, but were asked “to respond to a problem that was suddenly recognized as serious, with little guidance & few precedents.” 

We should add that these pioneering psychologists and psychiatrist were also working against forces that have a political-economic interest in antagonizing anyone who seriously interrogates the cultural and institutional tolerance of child abuse, as outlined in part 2 of this series. 

In detailing how the witch hunt narrative evolved with regard to McMartin, Cheit gives us a compelling example of the lengths taken by such forces. Not long after the second trial came to an inconclusive end in 1990, Douglas Besharov wrote for the National Review, The only evidence against the Buckeys was the children’s statements.” (Emphasis mine). 

As we have seen, this idea is patently false. But that didn’t stop it from spreading like a disease through the mainstream media. Los Angeles Times media analyst David Shaw published a four part series titled “Where Was Skepticism in the Media?” Dorothy Rabinowitz published an article in Harper’s blaming the supposed hysteria of the McMartin case for influencing the outcome of a related trial involving daycare worker Kelly Michaels. But the real crystallization of the witch-hunt angle came with Debbie Nathans’ June 1990 article for the `Village Voice titled “What McMartin Started: The Ritual Abuse Hoax.” 

Consider the work of Carol Tavris. In a 1993 article for the New York Times Book Review, Tavris warned of the “incest survivor machine.” Tavris scrutinizes a checklist from The Courage to Heal, a book written to help survivors of incestuous abuse accept and overcome the trauma of such an experience. She concludes that, “The list is general enough to include everybody at least sometimes. Nobody doesn’t fit it.”

According to Tavris, the problem is not that there now exists a movement to “encourage victims of childhood molestation to speak up” but that those with the most leverage over it seek to “expand the market” of victims who can then be “treated with therapy and self-help books.” Tavris ridicules the “formula based on an uncritical acceptance of certain premises about the nature of memory and trauma” upon which this industry supposedly relies. Opening with a turn of phrase she obviously thought very clever, Tavris launches into a comprehensive but undoubtedly paranoid denouncement of virtually every prominent book and researcher in the incest recovery network:

In what can only be called an incestuous arrangement, the authors of these books all rely on one another’s work as supporting evidence for their own; they all endorse and recommend one another’s books to their readers. If one of them comes up with a concocted statistic — such as “more than half of all women are survivors of childhood sexual trauma” — the numbers are traded like baseball cards, reprinted in every book and eventually enshrined as fact. Thus the cycle of misinformation, faulty statistics and unvalidated assertions maintains itself.”

Tavris suggests that readers look to the work of “eminent memory researcher” Elizabeth Loftus, who Tavris claims was successful in injecting “false memories”  into people’s minds. Loftus sits on the board of the National Center for Reason and Justice, whichis essentially a lobby group for those accused or convicted of child abuse, with Debbie Nathan. As discussed in part one of this series, Nathan awarded a convicted child pornographer for his Playboy essay downplaying the prevalence of child pornography in America. Fellow board member Roger Lancaster is a “cultural studies scholar” at George Mason University, one of many attempts by the infamous Koch brothers to normalize their hyper-libertarian ideas through academia. 

Another alumnus of George Mason, Nathon Larson, ran to represent Virginia’s 10th congressional district in the 2018 midterms. Larson, had just gotten out of a 16 month stint in prison for threatening to assassinate Barack Obama, included the legalization of child pornography in his campaign manifesto. 

Larson argued that it was in fact Jews and Leftists who “crusade” against child pornography and that 89.9 percent of those convicted of child pornography possession are white. “It does seem like these laws are being used to target white America for persecution,” Larson says. He  also argues against age of consent laws, argues in favor of abolishing child labor laws, and states that pedophilia should be “tested in one of our laboratories of democracy.” According to a Vice article covering Larson’s campaign, “He said that he got his start in radical libertarianism at George Mason University, where the economics department has come under fire for allowing Charles and David Koch to handpick professors in exchange for donations.” The Koch brothers have a long history of rubbing shoulders with fascist organizations and individuals, including an earlier attempt at a University which hosted and published Holocaust deniers. 

Interesting to consider in light of another National Center for Reason and Justice board member, Hugo S. Cunningham. A former military intelligence analyst and software developer, Cunningham champions causes on his personal website that are “mostly libertarian, centrist, or conservative.” (His words).

 Below these causes, Cunningham hosts several “documents of the Far Left and Far Right” ostensibly because he is against “extremism” in general. However, the documents of the Far Right includes numerous fascist manifestos and works of Holocaust denial, while those of the “Far Left” are limited to a handful of “favorable views of Stalin.” He says that the article “Did Six Million Really Die?”, which argues that 100,000 rather than six million Jews died in the Holocaust, “might be worth looking into.” At the top of the list is a link to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 


Before joining an organization giving a platform to such noble characters, Loftus was a member of the even shadier False Memory Syndrome Foundation. According to a 2002 critique of the FMSF by S.J. Dallam, the Freyds were compelled to create the FMSF in 1992 after their own adult daughter, Jennifer Freyd, accused them of abusing her as a child. “Although the FMSF was billed as a scientific organization,” Dallam writes, “its actions were mainly geared toward defending parents against abuse accusations and blaming them on psychotherapists.” 

As the name suggests, the Freyds and others  joined together to push the theory of “false memory syndrome.” This is a name for the supposed implanting of fake memories into a patient during therapy or hypnosis. “A review of the relevant literature,” says Dallam, “suggests that the existence of such a syndrome lacks general acceptance in the mental health field, and that the construct is based on a series of faulty assumptions, many of which have been scientifically disproven. There is a similar lack of empirical validation for claims of a “false memory” epidemic.”

Instead, Dallam proposes, the interest in legitimizing the FMSF’s theories first by parents accused of abuse themselves and then by the mass media and academia, stems from the same social forces Chiet points to in his work.

“The legal system,” notes Dallam, “has historically viewed children as property of their parents & professionals have discounted women’s reports of incestuous abuse as wishful fantasies.” Legal & psychological experts, as we have seen, tend to “be overly suspicious of and unresponsive to reports of sexual abuse.” Therefore, in the aftermath of McMartin and the general libertarian backlash against the rising tide of serious attempts to build comprehensive child welfare in America, it was almost inevitable that a group such as the FMSF would rise. False Memory Syndrome is a concept “advanced by parents and professionals as an alternative explanation for delayed memories of sexual abuse.”

Among these “professionals” is Dr. Louis Jolyon West. West  signed a Nov. 1, 1994 FMSF newsletter and his archives at UCLA host a folder that shows he was a member of the FMSF advisory board from 1993-1994. 

West was a prominent participant in the CIA’s MK-Ultra experiments with mind control and social engineering. He is known for “examining” Jack Ruby, Patty Hearst, Sirhan Sirhan, and (allegedly) Timothy McVeigh throughout the course of their respective trials. As Tom O’Neill documents in his book Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Hidden History of the 60s, West also retained an office at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. This was at the same time that Charles Manson and an early version of his Family not only regularly attended the clinic, but lived right around the corner. West’s other achievements include killing an elephant by feeding it a megaton of LSD and helping cover up a case wherein the military, likely in collaboration with the CIA, psychologically abused a man to the point that he murdered a little girl. 

O’Neill quotes from letters in West’s archives sent to fellow MK Ultra researcher Sidney Gottlieb. In these letters West proposed, “techniques for implanting false information into particular subjects … or for inducing in them specific mental disorders” and claimed that, via hypnotic suggestion, he could make it that, “An individual who insists he desires to do one thing will reveal that secretly he wishes just the opposite.” Around this time, West also supervised a study in Oklahoma City where he hired informants to infiltrate teenage gangs and engineer a “fundamental change” in ““basic moral, religious or political matters.” He called this experiment, “Mass Conversion.” 


Another “professional” hosted by the FMSF was Ralph Underwager, a pastor who became an expert witness at many of the high profile child abuse cases of the 80s and 90s. Cheit notes that at one point Underwager compared the “witch hunt” of the time to tactics deployed by “Red China.” Beyond his hysterical anticommunism, Underwager’s testimony was also problematized by the fact that he had given a rousing defense of pedophilia in Paidka: the Journal of Paedophilia:

What I have been struck by as I have come to know more about and understand people who choose paedophilia is that they let themselves be too much defined by other people. That is usually an essentially negative definition. Paedophiles spend a lot of time and energy defending their choice. I don’t think that a paedophile needs to do that. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. I am also a theologian and as a theologian, I believe it is God’s will that there be closeness and intimacy, unity of the flesh, between people. A paedophile can say: “This closeness is possible for me within the choices that I’ve made.” Paedophiles are too defensive. They go around saying, “You people out there are saying that what I choose is bad, that it’s no good. You’re putting me in prison, you’re doing all these terrible things to me. I have to define my love as being in some way or other illicit.” What I think is that paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness, they can say, “I believe this is in fact part of God’s will.” They have the right to make these statements for themselves as personal choices. Now whether or not they can persuade other people they are right is another matter.” 

The Freyds themselves were rather unsavory characters. Ten months after Jennifer Freyd accused her parents of abuse, Pamela published a letter in Underwager’s journal alleging without evidence that Jennifer had been coerced to make the accusations while under hypnosis. In doing so, Pamela slut shamed her own daughter, calling her “sexually promiscuous” and implying this meant she couldn’t be trusted. Pamela further claimed that Jennifer  was “professionally unproductive, anorexic, and sexually frustrated.” 

When Jennifer told her side of the story, it was revealed that she had never undergone “memory recovery.” Instead, her memory of the abuse emerged spontaneously at home after a therapist simply asked if she had ever been abused. Even after this development, Jennifer didn’t try to sue her parents nor publicly shame them. According to Jennifer’s memoir, she never meant to even cut them out of her life completely, and only ended communication with them after “repeated and intense efforts to communicate constructively.”  Many members of Jennifer’s extended family were themselves estranged from Pamela and Peter by this time and ended up taking her side in the conflict. In a public statement, Peter’s brother said, “There is no doubt in my mind there is severe abuse in the home of Peter and Pam…The False Memory Syndrome Foundation is a fraud designed to deny the reality that Peter and Pam have spent most of their lives trying to escape.” 

The extensive lack of empirical evidence for “false memory syndrome” bears this out. Dallam goes so far as to call the theory pseudoscience, noting that:

“To date, no empirical validation has been offered for ‘False Memory Syndrome’ as a diagnostic construct; nor have the symptoms that characterize this putative syndrome ever been systematically described and studied. As a result, “False Memory Syndrome” has never been accepted as a valid diagnosis by any professional organization and usage of the term has been the subject of heated criticism in peer reviewed scientific journals.” 

According to Dallam:

““The FMSF has responded to such criticism by admitting that it does not have any evidence for its syndrome besides the stories that it hears from those who call the foundation seeking help

‘We wish to emphasize the existence of a condition that needs to be considered and then confirmed or rejected when further information emerges. For that aim, the term “false memory syndrome” is satisfactory (“Our Critics,” April 1993, p. 3).’ “

The FMSF claim that victims of repeated abuse will remember the events no matter what and thus any “recalled” memory of anything other than a singular instance of rape is by definition false. But the actual scientific research generally points in the other direction. Dallam writes:

“At last count, over 68 studies have documented the reality of recovering forgotten memories of trauma (Brown et al., 1999). At the same time, research has shown that the misremembering of childhood events is more often characterized by forgetting negative experiences that actually happened than it is by remembering ones that did not (Brewin, Andrews, & Gotlib, 1995). In addition, the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals (i.e., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.) recognizes memory problems to be a common feature of five post-traumatic conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, dissociative disorder not-otherwise-specified, and dissociative identity disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).” 

Dallam continues:

“…substantial proportions of those who recover memories of abuse have been able to find external corroborative evidence to support their memory (e.g., Andrews et al., 1999;Chu, Frey, Ganzel, & Matthews, 1999; Dalenberg, 1996).5  After reviewing the evidence, Scheflin and Brown (1996) suggested that if courts require an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether repressed memories are reliable, then they “must, consistent with the science, hold either that such memories are reliable or that all memory, repressed or otherwise, is unreliable” (p. 183).” 

Several studies have shown that most people who recover repressed memories do so without any intervention from psychotherapists at all. Even when memories are recalled while the subject is seeing a therapist, this is largely the result of gentle, non-intrusive questions that are asked to most patients. Schelfin and Brown (1999) tested the former assumption: 


“….by examining the types of therapy received by 30 former patients who sued their therapists for implanting false memories. Scheflin and Brown reported that none of the cases fit the profile of the patient being misled in treatment and subsequently correcting their misperceptions. Instead, they found that patients tended to re-evaluate their perceptions of their therapy after pressure from their families and significant exposure to the views of false memory proponents. In addition, ” none [italics in original] of the 30 cases could be classified narrowly as `recovered memory therapy,’ and none had a single-minded focus on recovering memories” (p. 685).

Forensic psychologist Richard Lanyon has said,  “Clinical evidence suggests that in denying an actual molestation, it is not uncommon for the man to vigorously denigrate & vilify the child..to loudly proclaim his innocence, to present unsolicited evidence of a frame-up…” With this in mind, consider that, according to Dallam, between 1980-1984, only 7% of stories regarding sexual abuse of children focused on false accusations of child abuse. After the False Memory Syndrome Foundation’s creation in 1992, that number shot up to 85%. It is obvious that, in the public imagination, the accused perpetrator began to usurp public sympathy from women and children. 

Likewise, the myth of “False Memory Syndrome” led to an exponential increase in the number of therapists who were too afraid to believe their patients when they spoke of childhood abuse. One woman ended up committing suicide over this. “A London newspaper recently reported that a young woman committed suicide after being told by a therapist that her memories of abuse by her father were false,” Dallam writes. “The mother confirmed the abuse and lodged a formal complaint against the practitioner who treated her daughter.” 

As Dallam concludes: “The “False Memory Syndrome” is a controversial theoretical construct based entirely on the reports of parents who claim to be falsely accused of incestuous abuse…The current empirical evidence suggests that the existence of such a syndrome must be rejected.”

Conclusion 

The release of the aforementioned film, Indictment, came as the witch-hunt narrative became the conventional wisdom regarding child abuse cases in the United States.. As we have seen, this narrative was the result of:

1) a general denial of the prevalence and even “importance” of child abuse to modern Western culture, partially formalized by psychology’s reluctance to confront childhood abuse as a source of mental distress from the beginning

 2) a related incentive of various individuals and organizations associated with hyper-conservative “libertarianism” to shift public sympathies in cases of child abuse or organized rings of child traffickers and  pornographers from the victim to the perpetrator. (Is it any surprise, then, that not only is James Woods, the actor who portrays Danny Davis in Indictment, not only a massive supporter of the Republican Party’s Trump-affiliated extreme right but also an alleged sexual abuser of young actresses?)

We have seen that the continued tolerance of child abuse is tied inextricably to continued tolerance of the subjugation of females to the patriarchal biases of Western culture. This statement may seem preposterous, considering how far women have supposedly come since the 60s and 70s in the West. But if we consider HIllary Clinton as a symbol, we can see the real form this “progress” takes; the abandonment of radical feminism’s attack on the most toxic components of masculinity and the new strategy of attempting to outdo men in this realm of domination.

Just as Hillary defended Bill Clinton from accusations of rape and wrote off the Clinton’s closeness with both Trump and Epstein, what passes among liberals today for “feminism” is simply an extension of the right to rape and exploit children and teens with little to no repercussions to the female sex. Consider the trend of female school authorities abusing young boys being interpreted by many Westerners as a harmless and even sexy “first time.” Again, it should come as no surprise that South Park, which has been the most notable expression of libertarian ideology for nearly 2 decades in mainstream pop culture, had an episode depicting anyone repulsed by said trend as a humorless prude. 

We have also seen that “the witch hunt narrative” and its sibling, “false memory syndrome,” meet any reasonable criteria for “conspiracy theory.” Yet they are taken for granted and even dogmatically defended by those bastions of “respectable” mainstream media and academia that are usually so quick to denounce conspiracism and the “paranoid style in American politics.” This points to an act of projection by these forces which covers up the fact that they are the ones conspiring against children and their parents, often with the help of some of the most elite members of the national security state and public relations industry.

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