Believe the Children?rnChild Abuse and the American Legal Systemrnby Philip JenkinsrnWc may begin with a nightmare, hnagine that ou arernthe parent of a preschool child aird that one da- policernand child-protection officials appear at your door. Thcv informrnyou that a teacher or daycare worker suspects that vour childrnhas been abused and that subscc[ucnt interviews with therapistsrnhave proven this fact to their satisfaction. Moreover, it is clearrnto them that you and your spouse arc the abusers. As an cmergencvrnmeasure, the child and anv siblings will be removed to arnfoster home while you face among the most serious and damningrncriminal charges of all. If you are verv luckv indeed, ournmay recover your child within several months or no more thanrna year or two. If you are less fortunate, the child will be adopted,rnand you and vour spouse will be imprisoned in an cnironmcntrnwhere molesters are the most despised and persecutedrnpopulation.rnAll this mav sound horrific enough, but then vou discoverrnthe tcstimonv that has ruined your life. It turns out that thernoriginal stories can be traced to the fantasies of one derangedrnadult, perhaps a neighbor or teacher, seeking revenge for therninjustices he or she bcliex’cs to have suffered in carl’ life. Oncernstarted, this gave therapists and investigators the ammunitionrnwith which to proceed. Through dcceptivch innocent tacticsrnof “play therapy,” through the use of dolls and pictures, intensernpeer pressure, and simple old-fashioned leading questions,rnthe child was induced to make statements thatrnapparently pointed to abuse. Of course, tlie child’s testimon-rnalso included a great deal of material that could only be fantasyrn—impossible accounts of meeting famous people or eartoonrncharacters, talcs of hidden tunnels and flving machines,rnstories of being bad^ceued in microwave ovens or dangled o’crrnalligator pools. However, the investigators believed that suchrnPhilip Jenkins is a professor in the Administration of justicernDepartment at Pennsyhania State University.rnadornnrents did not discredit the essential truth of the chargesrnand even conspired to insure that no jury ever become aware ofrnthe more blatant fantasies. Prosecutors thus select the plausiblernelements and portray the therapeutic process as a heroic cooperativernendeavor between victimized child and dedicatedrnprofessional.rnIf am part of this scenario appears outrageous or improbable,rnthen ou have not been following the course of the Americanrnchild abuse panic that has been under wav since the ear-rnIv 198()’s. Ever’thing outlined here is based on one or more ofrnthe celebrated cases of the last decade, and most elementsrnhave more than one source or parallel. In the McMartinrnpreschool case that loegan in California in 1983, the epicenterrnwas a schizophrenic woman who believed that her son hadrnbeen abused at the school (as well as at home, church, andrnmanv public places in the neighborhood). She also believedrnthat he had been repeatedly mutilated by his abusers, thoughrnthcv had mvstically repaired anv ob’ious wounds, and thatrnthe had taken him thing. Naturallv, this was enough to persuadernthe local police to recommend that all children whornhad attended the school be taken for therapeutic examination,rnwhich dul- found that a large number had been subjectedrnto like molestation.rnChildren do their best to accommodate puzzling rcc[uestsrnfor tales of outlandish behavior. In the Jordan case of 1984,rnthev told of being taken to sinister orgies, where all the menrnlooked like F.lvis and where the bare-breasted women werernHawaiian or Japanese (this was in rural Minnesota). The alligatorsrnand microwave bad:)ccues stem from the recent Edentonrnaffair in North Carolina. Several child witnesses have beenrnclearlv bemused by probes for information about wrong orrnunpleasant acts associated with the genital area; and thus thcvrnhave produced accounts that the innovative molesters havernurinated or defecated on thenr. I low would they know better?rn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn