The Menendez case raised questions about just why andrnwhen ordinary’ Americans had come to accept sucli an apocalypticrnview of the extent and severit)’ of intra-family abuse. Thernbeginning of the trend can be dated quite precisely to 1962,rnwhen an epoch-making article in the journal of the AmericanrnMedical Association, “The Battered Child Syndrome,” declaredrnthe discover}’ of baby-battering, which resulted from thernviolence that parents inflicted on small children. Professionalsrncame to see physical abuse as a common phenomenon whichrncould pose a lethal danger to the young. By the mid-1970’s,rnthese perceptions were disseminated by the media, demandingrna prompt ofiFieial response. Politically, the issue offered widernappeal: Ever’one could agree with a measure to protect vulnerablernchildren, and liberals and feminists supported a campaignrnagainst the patriarchal family. In 1974, Senator WalterrnMoudale sponsored a federal law which mandated the reportingrnand investigation of abuse allegations and promised matchingrnfunds for states that identified abused children and prosecutedrnabusers. The measure justified the creation of state andrnlocal agencies whose whole raison d’etre depended on the investigationrnof child maltreatment—originally physical violence,rnbut soon including sexual abuse. Mandatory reportingrnswelled abuse statisHcs, though basing investigations on anonymousrnreports opened the way to a high volume of groundless orrnmalicious charges. Abuse seemed to be vast in scale and indiscriminaternin its victims.rnBy the 1980’s, exploding abuse statistics were giving a potentrnweapon to critics of traditional family structures, especiallyrnto feminists who could claim that the nuclear familyrnwas an arena of rape and battering. It was rhetorically vital tornshow not just fliat such abuse occurred on a vast scale, but thatrnits consequences were lifelong and deadly. We heard repeatedlyrnthat abuse victims were at high risk of becoming juvenilerndelinquents or adult violent criminals. Therapists argued thatrnrepeated child abusers had themselves been abused as children,rnwhile abused women became the wives of abusers andrnconnived in crimes against a new generation of children. Atrnthis point, the questionable theory of the cycle of abuse becamernentrenched in therapeutic orthodoxy. And if in factrnabuse (broadly defined) affected one-third or two-thirds of thernpopulation, the implications were staggering. Was societyrnbreeding a new generation of millions of potential molesters?rnIdeas about the effects of family abuse were reinforced by arnpowerful therapeutic trend, as the failings and anxieties encounteredrnby adult patients were traced to forgotten instancesrnof early abuse, which therapists recovered through hypnosis orrnsuggesfion. Once identified as incest survivors, patients couldrnconfront their problems and begin a process of healing their innerrnchild, usually through self-help groiqjs of comparable survivors,rnall struggling to free themselves of the bitter legacy ofrntheir “toxic” parents. In the most extreme cases, the child victimsrnwere believed to have retreated into secret dream refugesrnwithin their minds, constructing alternative personalitiesrnwhich would reappear sporadically throughout their lives.rnThus was born the myth of multiple personality disorderrn(MPD), a hugely influenfial (and lucrafive) subset of the therapyrnindustr)’.rnThis was the era in which the “dysfunctional family” becamerna catchall explanation for personal sins and failings, arnprocess described in Wendy Kaminer’s hilarious anatomy ofrnhuman gullibilit}’, I’m Dysfunctional—You’re Dysfunctional.rnTheorists of the dysfunctional family extended that damningrnterm to at least 90 percent of American households, but if a vastrnmajorit)’ of families are dysfunctional, what norm is being ap-rnContrary to received wisdom,rnvirtually no crediblernevidence exists for the prevalencernof child abuse, and even lessrnfor its long-term effects.rnplied to assess “functionalit)'”? By definition, we cannot all bernabnormal.rnThough these ideas about abuse, dysfunetionality, and so onrnhave come to be thoroughly insfitufionalized, it is striking justrnhow recently so many of them have been developed: Theyrnwould have been utterly strange to all but a handfiil of therapistsrnjust 20 years ago. The sharpest change from earlier orthodoxiesrnis in the hariu said to be caused by child abuse, especiallyrnof a sexual kind. Thirty years ago, the commonrnassumpfion was that such abuse was not likely to be terriblyrndamaging if the child had a supportive family and the casernwere not dragged through the bureaucratic channels of policernand courts. Today, of course, this view seems barbaric, becausernwe have been told that any sexual contact with an adult, evenrnof the most fleefing kind, devastates a victim’s entire life. Inrnfact, equally plausible research and case studies can be producedrnfor either die extremely optimistic attitude of the I960’srnor the pessimistic theories prevailing today. As is so often therncase in social science, once you know the ideological approachesrnof the scholars conducting the research, you can predictrnflieir findings prett)’ accurately.rnContrary to received wisdom, virtually no credible evidencernexists for the prevalence of child abuse, and even less for itsrnlong-term effects. Many modern assumptions about childrnabuse rest on foundations which, on closer examination, provernto be utterly insubstantial: For example, given the outpouringrnof articles and books on MPD, there still remains to be foundrneven one case of flic supposed disorder that will stand up to criticalrnexamination. The phenomenon may exist, but even if itrndoes, it occurs in perhaps a few instances in every million people,rnnot (as it sometimes seems) in every other client unwisernenough to wander into a psychiatric facilit)’ with some unspecifiedrnmalaise.rnMuch of the evidence for the whole ideology of abuse andrndysfunctionalit)’ stems from “monsters,” that is, from very highprofilerncases of extremely violent or criminal individuals subjectedrnto intensive examination, whose life stories are subsequentiyrnpublicized and popularized through the media. Theserntales can be found in himdreds of true-crime books or in documentariesrnbroadcast almost uightiy. Though these stories arerngenerally reported uncritically (“Wlieu Bob was a toddler, hernwas savagely beaten and repeatedly raped by his alcoholic fa-rn22/CHRONICLESrnrnrn