Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ross E. Cheit's "The Witch-Hunt Narrative"

Ross E. Cheit is professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University. He has a Ph.D and law degree from the University of California Berkeley, and is the author of Setting Safety Standards: Regulation in the Public and Private Sectors.

Cheit applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology and the Sexual Abuse of Children, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In the end, the jury did not see the case as a witch-hunt or as a proven case of mass molestation. Instead, the jury acquitted Ballard on fifteen charges and found her guilty on one count of sexual abuse concerning one boy…
The Witch-Hunt Narrative challenges the conventional wisdom that hundreds of people were falsely convicted of child sexual-abuse in America in the 1980s and early 1990s. The book examines the best evidence offered for this claim and finds, first, that various lists of such cases come nowhere near substantiating the claim. The book then examines dozens of cases in specific, including the Ballard case from Memphis, Tennessee (on p. 99), and three in great detail (the McMartin Preschool case, the Kelly Michaels case from new Jersey, and the Country Walk case from Dade County, Florida). Based on original trial court research, the book tells a more complicated version these cases than has ever been told.

The conventional wisdom about these cases, which I call “the witch-hunt narrative,” is that they were all “just like McMartin” – all without factual basis, all functions of social hysteria. My book argues that there were only a handful of cases that come close to resembling McMartin (and even the McMartin case included some credible evidence of abuse). The Ballard case, discussed for several pages, including page 99, is one of the cases that comes close. There were terrible injustices in the Ballard case to three defendants and to fifteen daycare workers who lost their jobs. But even that case does not fit the witch-hunt narrative completely. There was also credible evidence of abuse early in the case, evidence that should not be written out of history just because it does not fit the witch-hunt narrative.

The Witch-Hunt Narrative, the first academic book based on comprehensive research of these cases, offers a lively account that challenges the conventional wisdom and raises important questions about the implications for child protection.
Learn more about The Witch-Hunt Narrative at the official website/blog and the book's Facebook fan page.

--Marshal Zeringue