Day care sexual abuse hysteria

Day-care sex-abuse hysteria was a panic that occurred primarily in the 1980s and early 1990s featuring claims against daycare providers of Satanic ritual abuse and several forms of child abuse.[1][2] A prominent case in Kern County, California, first brought the issue of day care sexual abuse to the forefront of the public awareness, and the issue figured prominently in news coverage for almost a decade. The Kern County case was followed by cases elsewhere in the United States as well as Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, and various European countries.

Significant cases

Kern County child-abuse cases

The Kern County child abuse case was the first prominent instance of accusations of ritualized sex abuse of children. In 1982 in Kern County, California, Debbie and Alvin McCuan were accused of abusing their own children. The initial charges were made by Mary Ann Barbour, the children's step-grandmother, who had a history of mental illness. Coercive interviewing techniques were used by the authorities to elicit disclosures of parental sexual abuse from the children. In 1982, the girls further accused McCuan's defense witnesses: Scott Kniffen, his wife Brenda, and his mother. Mary Ann Barbour reported that the children had been used for prostitution, used in child pornography, tortured, and made to watch snuff films. In 1984, each of the McCuans and the Kniffens was sentenced to over 240 years in prison. Their convictions were overturned in 1996.[3]

McMartin Preschool

The case started in August 1983 when Judy Johnson, the mother of a 2½-year-old boy reported to the police that her son was abused by Raymond Buckey at the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California.[1] After seven years of criminal trials, no convictions were obtained, and all charges were dropped in 1990. As of 2006, it is the longest and most expensive criminal trial in the history of the United States.[1] The accusations involved hidden tunnels, killing animals, Satan worship, and orgies.[4] Judy Johnson was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia[5][6] and in 1986 was found dead in her home from complications of chronic alcoholism.[7] Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin, were eventually released without any charges. In 2005 one of the testifying children retracted his testimony and said he lied, to protect his younger siblings and to please his parents.[8]

In The Devil in the Nursery in 2001, Margaret Talbot for The New York Times summarized the case:

"When you once believed something that now strikes you as absurd, even unhinged, it can be almost impossible to summon that feeling of credulity again. Maybe that is why it is easier for most of us to forget, rather than to try and explain, the Satanic-abuse scare that gripped this country in the early 80s — the myth that Devil-worshipers had set up shop in our day-care centers, where their clever adepts were raping and sodomizing children, practicing ritual sacrifice, shedding their clothes, drinking blood and eating feces, all unnoticed by parents, neighbors and the authorities."[9]

The trial was the subject of Indictment: The McMartin Trial, a made for TV movie that originally aired on HBO on May 20, 1995, starring James Woods.

Country Walk

In 1985 Frank Fuster, the owner of the Country Walk Babysitting Service, in a suburb of Miami, Florida, was found guilty of 14 counts of abuse.[10] He was sentenced to a prison sentence with a minimum of 165 years. Fuster's victims testified that his "unspeakable acts" included leading them in Satanic rituals and terrorizing them by forcing them to watch him mutilate birds, a lesson to children who might reveal the abuse.[10] Fuster had been previously convicted for manslaughter and for fondling a 9-year-old child.[1] Testimony from children in the case was extracted by Laurie and Joseph Braga, a husband-and-wife team who resorted to coercive questioning of the alleged victims when the desired answers were not forthcoming.[11]

Fells Acres Day Care Center

The incident began in 1984, when a 5-year-old boy told a family member that Gerald Amirault, administrator and handyman at the Fells Acres day care center, had touched his penis.[1] The boy's mother notified the authorities, and Gerald was arrested. The children told stories that included being abused by a clown and a robot in a secret room at the day care center. They told of watching animals being sacrificed, and one girl claimed Gerald had penetrated her anus with the twelve-inch (30 cm) blade of a knife (which left no injuries).

In the 1986 trial, Gerald was convicted of assaulting and raping nine children and sentenced to thirty to forty years in state prison; in a separate trial his mother, Violet Amirault, and sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, were convicted and sentenced to jail for eight to 20 years. He was released in 2004.[12] In 1995 a critical series of articles in The Wall Street Journal by Dorothy Rabinowitz alleged that the convictions relied entirely on testimony from the children that had been coerced by dubious interrogation techniques, with no corroborating evidence.[13][14] The chief prosecutor of both of the Amirault cases responded to the articles with statements that "the children testified to being photographed and molested by acts that included penetration by objects" and "the implication ... that the children's allegations of abuse were tainted by improper interviewing is groundless and not true."[15]

Bernard Baran

Main article: Bernard Baran

The first day care worker convicted was Bernard Baran. On October 4, 1984, a drug addicted couple who were police informants[16][17] called their contact in the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, police department to accuse Bernard Baran of molesting their son. The child had been attending the government operated Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) where Baran, an openly gay 19-year-old, worked as a teacher's aide. These parents had previously complained to the board of directors that they "didn't want no homo" around their son.[18][19] In granting Baran a new trial in 2006, the court equated homophobia in the Baran case with the other two prominent forces in day care panic cases, hysteria and suggestion.[20]

Within days of the first allegation, ECDC hosted a puppet show and delivered letters to parents notifying them about a child at the day care with gonorrhea. Five other allegations emerged. Baran was tried in the Berkshire County courthouse 105 days after the first allegation, a swiftness noted in the later court rulings. The courtroom was closed during the children's testimony, which Baran claimed violated his right to a public trial. Baran's defense attorney was later ruled ineffective. Baran was convicted on January 30, 1985, on three counts of rape of a child and five counts of indecent assault and battery. He was sentenced to three life terms plus 8 to 20 years on each charge. He maintained his innocence throughout his case.[21] In 1999 a new legal team took up his case. In 2004 hearings began in a motion for a new trial. In 2006, Baran was granted a new trial and released on $50,000 bail. In May 2009, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the new trial ruling, setting aside the 1985 convictions. The Berkshire County District Attorney's office dismissed the original charges and Baran's record was cleared.[22]

The Bronx Five

In The Bronx, prosecutor Mario Merola convicted five men, including Nathaniel Grady, a 47 year-old Methodist minister, of sexually abusing children in day care centers throughout the Bronx.[1][23] Rev. Grady spent ten years in prison before being released in 1996.

Praca Day Care

Three employees of a Bronx day-care center were arrested in August 1984 on the charges of abusing at least ten children in their care.[24] Federal and city investigators then questioned dozens of children at the day care. They used 'dolls, gentle words and a quiet approach.'[25] More children reported being sexually abused, raising the total to 30.[26] "Three more city-financed day care centers" also were investigated for sexual abuse.[27] On August 11, 1984, it was reported that federal funds had been cut off to the Head Start preschool program at the Praca Day Care Center and now four employees had been arrested.[28] In June 1985 the day care center was reopened with new sponsorship.[29] In January 1986, Albert Algarin, employed at the Praca Day Care center, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for 'raping and sexually abusing five children.'[30] It was reported in May 1986 that Jesus Torres, a former teacher's aide at the Praca Day Care "was sentenced to 40 years in prison yesterday for sexually assaulting two boys at the center.'[31] Franklin Beauchamp who had been 'convicted of nine counts of rape, sexual abuse and sodomy involving three children at Praca,' had his case overturned in New York state's highest state court in May 1989. 'The State Court of Appeals ruled that the indictment used to obtain his 1986 conviction was duplicitous, or not specific enough.'[32] On a web page from Frontline Innocence Lost Other Well-Known Cases PBS, it is stated that the "remaining defendants eventually had their convictions overturned as well."[1]

Wee Care Nursery School

Main article: Wee Care Nursery School

In Maplewood, New Jersey, in April 1985,[1] Margaret Kelly Michaels was indicted for 299 offenses in connection with the sexual assault of 33 children.[33] Michaels denied the charges.[34] "The prosecution produced expert witnesses who said that almost all the children displayed symptoms of sexual abuse."[35] Prosecution witnesses testified that the children "had regressed into such behavior as bed-wetting and defecating in their clothing. The witnesses said the children became afraid to be left alone or to stay in the dark."[35] Some of the other teachers testified against her.[35] "The defense argued that Miss Michaels did not have the time or opportunity to go to a location where all the activities could have taken place without someone seeing her."[35] Michaels was sentenced to 47 years in the "sex case."[36] Michaels "told the judge that she was confident her conviction would be overturned on appeal."[36] After five years in prison her appeal was successful and sentence was overturned by a New Jersey appeals court. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision and declared "the interviews of the children were highly improper and utilized coercive and unduly suggestive methods."[37] A three judge panel ruled she had been denied a fair trial, because "the prosecution of the case had relied on testimony that should have been excluded because it improperly used an expert's theory, called the child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, to establish guilt."[38] The original judge was also criticized "for the way in which he allowed the children to give televised testimony from his chambers."[38]

Glendale Montessori

In 1989, James Toward, owner of Glendale Montessori School in Stuart, Florida, entered an Alford plea to child sexual abuse charges and received a 27-year sentence. While technically maintaining his innocence, he allowed a guilty plea to be entered against him, convicting him of molesting or kidnapping six boys. His office manager Brenda Williams was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. She pled no contest to sex and attempted kidnapping charges involving five boys and she was released from prison in 1993 after serving five years. James Toward was placed in involuntary commitment due to the Jimmy Ryce Act. Toward and Williams were accused of kidnapping and sexually abusing six boys who attended Glendale as preschoolers in 1986 and 1987. Investigators knew about up to 60 victims, mostly from the ages 2 to 5.[39] Hearsay testimony was admitted at trial, and although he maintained his innocence, Toward plea-bargained to avoid an almost certain life sentence. Many parents and former co-workers supported Toward's assertions of innocence. Several of the victims had the same doctor (Allan Tesson), and the first child to make the claim was his secretary's and Tesson's patient. Tesson was sued in 1996 for $650,000 for implanting false memories of satanic ritual abuse and child pornography in an adult patient. During this lawsuit it was proven that Dr. Tesson frequently consulted with self-proclaimed experts in satanic ritual abuse including Corydon Hammond, Catherine Gould and Judianne Denson Gerber, on the subject of satanic ritual abuse and mind control.[40]

Little Rascals

In Edenton, North Carolina, in January 1989, a parent accused Bob Kelly of sexual abuse. Over the next several months, investigations and therapy led to allegations against dozens of other adults in the town, culminating in the arrest of seven adults.[41] Allegations included rape, sodomy, fellatio and bizarre acts characteristic of satanic ritual abuse. Despite the severity of some of the alleged acts, parents noticed no abnormal behaviour in their children until after initial accusations were made. Bob Kelly's trial lasted eight months and on April 22, 1992, he was convicted of 99 out of 100 against him; all convictions were unanimously reversed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals on May 2, 1995. The remainder of the defendants received a variety of sentences.[42]

Dale Akiki

Dale Akiki was a developmentally-delayed man accused of satanic ritual abuse in 1991. Akiki, who has Noonan syndrome, was along with his wife a volunteer baby-sitter at Faith Chapel in Spring Valley, California. The accusations started when a young girl told her mother that "[Akiki] showed me his penis", after which the mother contacted the police. After interviews, nine other children accused Akiki of killing animals and drinking their blood in front of the children. He was found not guilty of the 35 counts of child abuse and kidnapping in his 1993 trial.[1] In 1994, the San Diego County Grand Jury reviewed the Akiki cases and concluded that there was no reason to pursue the theory of ritual abuse.[43] On August 25, 1994, he filed a suit against the County of San Diego, Faith Chapel Church, and many others, which was settled for $2 million.[44] Akiki's public defenders received the Public Defender of the Year award for their work defending Akiki.

Christchurch Civic Crèche

Main article: Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis

Peter Ellis, a child-care worker at the Christchurch Civic Crèche in New Zealand, was found guilty on 16 counts of sexual abuse against children in 1992 and served seven years in jail. Parents of the alleged abuse victims were entitled to claim NZ$10,000 (equivalent to about US$11,000 in 2010) in compensation for each allegation from the Accident Compensation Corporation, regardless of whether the allegations were proved or not. Many victims' families made multiple allegations. Four female co-workers were also arrested on 15 charges of abuse, but were released after these charges were dropped. Together with six other co-workers who lost their jobs when the centre was closed, they were awarded $1 million in compensation by the Employment Court in 1995, although this sum was reduced on appeal. Peter Ellis has consistently denied any abuse, and the case is still considered controversial by many New Zealanders.[45]

Martensville satanic sex scandal

In 1992, a mother in Martensville, Saskatchewan, alleged that a local woman who ran a babysitting service and day care center in her home had sexually abused her child. Police began an investigation and allegations began to snowball. More than a dozen persons, including five police officers from two different forces, ultimately faced over 100 charges connected with running a Satanic cult called The Brotherhood of The Ram, which allegedly practiced ritualized sexual abuse of numerous children at a "Devil Church".[46]

The son of the day care owner was tried and found guilty, then a Royal Canadian Mounted Police task force took over the investigation. It concluded the original investigation was motivated by "emotional hysteria."[47] In 2003, defendants sued for wrongful prosecution.[48] In 2004, Richard and Kari Klassen received $100,000 each, their share of the $1.5 million compensation package awarded for the malicious prosecution.[49]

Wenatchee child abuse prosecutions

In Wenatchee, Washington, in 1994 and 1995, police and state social workers undertook what was then called the nation's most extensive child sex-abuse investigation.[1] Forty-three adults were arrested on 29,726 charges of child sex abuse involving 60 children. Parents, Sunday school teachers and a pastor were charged, and many were convicted of abusing their own children or the children of others in the community. However, prosecutors were unable to provide any physical evidence to support the charges. The main witness was the 13-year-old foster daughter of a police officer, Robert Perez, who had investigated the cases.[50] A jury found the city of Wenatchee and Douglas County, Washington, negligent in the 1994–1995 investigations. They awarded $3 million to the couple who had been wrongly accused in the inquiry.[51]

Escola Base

In São Paulo, Brazil, March 1994, several press agencies published a series of reports that six people were involved in sexual abuse of children, all students of Escola Base, a day care and school located in the neighborhood of Aclimação. The six defendants were the owners of the school, Maria Aparecida Shimada, Ichshiro Shimada, their employees, and Paula Monteiro Maurício de Alvarenga, plus one of the student's parents, Saulo da Costa Nunes and Mara Cristina France.

According to the complaints made by parents, Maurício Alvarenga, who worked as school bus driver, took the children during the day to Nunes and Mara's home, where the abuses were committed and filmed. The police chief Edélcio Lemos, without verifying the veracity of the allegations and based on preliminary reports, released the information to the press.

The disclosure of the case led to the destruction and looting of the school. Its owners came to be arrested. However, the police investigation was dropped for lack of evidence. There were no signs that the allegations were in any way well founded.

With the closing of the investigation, the accused initiated the legal battle for compensation. Besides the company 'Folha da Manhã', other organs of the press were also sentenced, besides the government of the state.[52]

Maternal schools Asilo Abba, Sorelli, Carboni and San Filippo Neri

In Brescia, Italy, December 2001, a child has problems in sleeping, the mother contacts a psychologist who works with a child abuse association. The psychologist believes that the child has been abused. Some teachers suspect about a janitor, who gets jailed. The voice spreads, and more children get involved in more accusations. Various teachers get jailed. Many children are moved by their parents to the nearby school Sorelli. After a few months these children, supported by the same experts of abuse, start to make accusations agains the new teachers. Then, some parents move their children to a new school, Carboni. After a few months new teachers are accused. Children are then again moved to one more new school, San Filippo Neri. Again, they make new accusations against the new teachers. Finally, judges recognize the collective hysteria, and accused people start to be released. The full innocence of all accused people is recognised in 2008. [53]

Otreau child abuse prosecutions

The Outreau trial was a 2004 criminal trial in Northern France on various counts of sexual abuse against children. The affair began when some school teachers and social workers noticed “strange sexual behavior” from four children in a local school. The trial and the appeal trial revealed that the main witness for the prosecution, convicted for the abuse, had lied about the involvement of other suspects, who were in fact innocent. Several innocent suspects had nevertheless spent years jailed on remand and one had committed suicide. On April 24, 2009, the Conseil supérieur de la magistrature sentenced the public accuse officer Fabrice Burgaud to a reprimand. The Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the minister of justice Pascal Clément and President Chirac officially apologised to the victims in the name of the government and of the judicial institutions.[54]

Causes

Anxiety

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, more and more mothers were working outside of the home, resulting in the opening of large numbers of day-care centers. Anxiety and guilt over leaving young children with strangers may have created a climate of fear and readiness to believe false accusations.[9][55]

False allegations when interviewing children

Children are vulnerable to outside influences that lead to fabrication of testimony.[56] Their testimony can be influenced in a variety of ways. Maggie Bruck in her article published by the American Psychological Association wrote that children incorporate aspects of the interviewer's questions into their answers in an attempt to tell the interviewer what the child believes is being sought.[57] Studies also show that when adults ask children questions that do not make sense (such as "is milk bigger than water?" or "is red heavier than yellow?"), most children will offer an answer, believing that there is an answer to be given, rather than understand the absurdity of the question.[58] Furthermore, repeated questioning of children causes them to change their answers. This is because the children perceive the repeated questioning as a sign that they did not give the "correct" answer previously.[59] Children are also especially susceptible to leading and suggestive questions.[60]

Some studies have shown that only a small percentage of children produce fictitious reports of sexual abuse on their own.[61][62][63][64] Some studies have shown that children understate occurrences of abuse.[65][66][67]

Interviewer bias also plays a role in shaping child testimony. When an interviewer has a preconceived notion as to the truth of the matter being investigated, the questioning is conducted in a manner to extract statements that support these beliefs.[59] As a result, evidence that could disprove the belief is never sought by the interviewer. Additionally, positive reinforcement by the interviewer can taint child testimony. Often such reinforcement is given to encourage a spirit of cooperation by the child, but the impartial tone can quickly disappear as the interviewer nods, smiles, or offers verbal encouragement to "helpful" statements.[59] Some studies show that when interviewers make reassuring statements to child witnesses, the children are more likely to fabricate stories of past events that never occurred.[57]

Peer pressure also influences children to fabricate stories. Studies show that when a child witness is told that his or her friends have already testified that certain events occurred, the child witness was more likely to create a matching story.[68] The status of the interviewer can also influence a child's testimony — the more authority an interviewer has such as a police officer, the more likely a child is to comply with that person's agenda.[69]

Finally, while there are supporters of the use of anatomically correct dolls in questioning victims of sexual abuse/molestation, there are also critics of this practice.[70] Critics argue that because of the novelty of the dolls, children will act out sexually explicit acts with the dolls even if the child has not been sexually abused.[70] Another criticism is that because the studies that compare the differences between how abused and non-abused children play with these dolls are conflicting (some studies suggest that sexually abused children play with anatomically correct dolls in a more sexually explicit manner than non-abused children, while other studies suggest that there is no correlation), it is impossible to interpret what is meant by how a child plays with these dolls.[70]

Timeline

  • 1982 Kern county child abuse case
  • 1983 McMartin preschool trial in California
  • 1984 Fells Acres Day Care Center
  • 1984 Bernard F. Baran, Jr., Convicted January 30, 1985; first known conviction of a day care worker
  • 1985 Bronx Five case
  • 1985 Wee Care Nursery School in New Jersey in April
  • 1987 Cleveland child abuse scandal in England
  • 1989 Glendale Montessori sexual abuse case in Stuart, Florida
  • 1989 Little Rascals Day Care Center scandal in Edenton, North Carolina
  • 1990 All charges dropped in McMartin preschool trial
  • 1991 Christchurch Civic Creche, New Zealand, involving Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis
  • 1992 Martensville Scandal, Martensville, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • 1994 start of Wenatchee Sex Rings case
  • 1996 Convictions in the Kern county child abuse case overturned
  • 2001 Dorothy Rabinowitz wins Pulitzer Prize for Commentary[71]

See also

Documentaries

Footnotes

References

Further reading

External links

  • , May 4, 2003.
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