|| Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited
A two-hour videotape presentation with same title is also
|| Richard A. Gardner
|| Creative Therapeutics © 1990
155 County Road, P.O. Box R
Cresskill, NJ 07626-0317
The fourteen chapters of this latest book by Richard Gardner
are in keeping with Dr. Gardner's ability to produce timely and thoughtful
analyses of problematical situations involving children. He intends for this
book to describe and clarify what he believes is a national scandal — the high
level of false accusations of child sexual abuse.
The first chapter sets forth what he sees as the basic
problem. Our society has become obsessed with sexual abuse. Next, in Chapter 2,
he presents a Freudian understanding of childhood sexuality. He concludes that
the normal child shows a wide range of sexual interest, fantasies, and sexual
behavior, although adults have difficulty accepting this reality of childhood.
In Chapter 3 he states his case for the belief that sexual abuse prevention
programs do more harm than good. Based upon his experiences as a child
psychiatrist, Chapter 4 briefly describes the development of a hypersexuality in
our society with a change in mores in the direction of greater explicit sexual
stimuli and a broader range of sexual behaviors. In Chapter 5 he deals with nine
factors that may account for parent's readiness to be involved in the obsessive
preoccupation with sexual abuse. The most controversial factor may be his
discussion of parental greed — that is, the benefit from suing for money damages
based on the claim a child has been sexually abused.
Chapter 6 is the longest and most strongly written. Dr.
Gardner exposes the weaknesses, errors, and venality of self-styled
"validators" who affirm and support claims of sexual abuse. This
chapter contains some of his harshest judgments and shows his highly critical
view of the process by which the child protection system responds to an allegation of sexual abuse.
Chapter 7 presents his view of what actually happens to children in the
development of an allegation of sexual abuse. When the allegation is false, the
child is victimized and abused by the system and adults who erroneously accept
an allegation. Chapters 8 through 12 are brief but pungent discussions of
various professionals involved in handling sexual abuse allegations. They are
physicians, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, and therapists. In each case, Dr.
Gardner criticizes the behaviors attached to the role and the nature of the
involvement in the system's response.
Chapter 13 presents factors Dr. Gardner believes contribute
to the development of mass hysteria in our society. He is likely to get the most
emotional response to his discussion of the role that feminist thought and
rhetoric may play in fueling the hysteria. At the end, in Chapter 14, he
compares what he sees happening today to the climate and the behaviors of the
seventeenth century witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts.
Dr. Gardner has produced provocative and, indeed, seminal
books in the past. His early Boys and Girls Book About Divorce
was the first
book for children aimed at responding to the needs of children in a family in
the process of divorce. His games and techniques for doing therapy with children
were highly innovative when introduced and are currently widely used by
professionals of all types who interact with children. In this book his
provocative, often controversial, insights and ideas continue his commitment to
the welfare and well being of children and his readiness to be direct and
forthright in addressing those adults whose behavior toward children may be ill
informed, in error, or simply foolish.
The strength and value of this book is in its presentation of
the thinking of a brilliant, creative, and courageous intellectual pioneer.
is not a typical scholarly book with lots of references, criticisms of
methodology, and citations of research studies. Rather, it is the thought and
insights of a perceptive and compassionate human being written in a white heat
of passionate indignation at the stupidity, arrogance, and folly of adults who
use and exploit children in pursuit of their own bias or personal agendas.
His vehement and detailed criticism of professionals who
style themselves validators of sexual abuse allegations is the strongest section
of the book. However, in this discussion, Dr. Gardner's lengthy criticism of the
failure of American education as a root cause of the inadequacies of putative
validators is too lengthy. While many of his criticisms of the educational
establishment may be cogent and accurate, it could be said more succinctly and
the connection with the errors of validators made more explicit.
The videotape presentation covers the same ground as the
book. However, in his own inimitable style Dr. Gardner adds details, insights,
and thoughts not found in the book. He draws upon his broad experience to
support his views which are essentially psychodynamic. The book and videotape
together form a powerful teaching duo. A group could read the book and then meet
to view the videotape. This could be followed by a group discussion that would
be sure to be lively and spirited. The videotape is two hours and might best be
split into two to four segments followed by discussion of the portion viewed.
Some people will be angered and offended by this book. They
will be those who believe the present system for responding to accusations of
child sexual abuse is fine and works well. Others will be pleased and
enthusiastic. These will include those whose lives have been damaged by the
present system. Some will be able to gain increased understanding of what can be
corrected, strengthened, and improved. If this then results in actual increments
in the compassion, accuracy, and effectiveness of the bureaucracy and the
procedures, once again Dr. Gardner will have provided the kind of intellectual
leadership and trail blazing that has characterized his past work;
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological
Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.