During the 1980s in California, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, day care workers were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of committing horrible sexual crimes against the children they cared for. These crimes, social workers and prosecutors said, had gone undetected for years, and they consisted of a brutality and sadism that defied all imagining. The dangers of babysitting services and day care centers became a national news media fixation. Of the many hundreds of people who were investigated in connection with day care and ritual abuse cases around the country, some 190 were formally charged with crimes, leading to more than 80 convictions.
“Intellectually nimble… [Beck’s] argument should prove far more enduring than all the lies and self-deceptions, so credulously believed in the 1980s, that this book does a devil of a job correcting.”
“Understanding a moral panic requires perspective—distance from the emotional heat of anger and anxiety. Sometimes it is precisely those who didn’t live through it who are best suited to providing that perspective. In WE BELIEVE THE CHILDREN: A MORAL PANIC IN THE 1980S, Richard Beck accomplishes this difficult feat, and he does so calmly, detail by meticulous detail…. A thorough account... His important book gives readers who don’t know the story—or who think it is over, so 20th century—an understanding of its lingering, pernicious effects on our lives…. Mr. Beck’s book is valuable because it is timely and comprehensive. He not only tells the story of a moral panic with a fresh eye but provides context, identifying the forces that preceded it as well as those that fed it and have kept it going today.”
“[Thirty] years ago America was described as experiencing an ‘epidemic’ of sexual abuse in day care. Richard Beck, an editor at N+1, does a herculean job of investigating why this happened in his absorbing book WE BELIEVE THE CHILDREN.”
“In this sharp, sensitive debut [Beck] deftly examines all the forces that came together in this strange moment in our history.”
It would take years for people to realize what the defendants had said all along—that these prosecutions were the product of a decade-long outbreak of collective hysteria on par with the Salem witch trials. Social workers and detectives employed coercive interviewing techniques that led children to tell them what they wanted to hear. Local and national journalists fanned the flames by promoting the stories’ salacious aspects, while aggressive prosecutors sought to make their careers by unearthing an unspeakable evil where parents feared it most.
Using extensive archival research and drawing on dozens of interviews conducted with the hysteria’s major figures, n+1 editor Richard Beck shows how a group of legislators, doctors, lawyers, and parents—most working with the best of intentions—set the stage for a cultural disaster. The climate of fear that surrounded these cases influenced a whole series of arguments about women, children, and sex. It also drove a right-wing cultural resurgence that, in many respects, continues to this day.