120420FinkelhorApril 20, 2012

David Finkelhor’s “Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care” (1988) helped lay the foundation for the moral panic that would soon engulf Edenton and so many other ill-starred towns.

Finkelhor, a respected and widely published sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, built a Potemkin village of statistical tables – “Victim Characteristics by Type of Perpetrator,” etc. – that concealed the utter worthlessness of his data. He was wrong from the first chapter, accepting unsubstantiated claims of ritual abuse as reality, to the last, recommending that “parents, licensing and law-enforcement officials be educated to view females as potential sex-abusers.”

This is from a recent exchange Finkelhor and I had via email:

Q: In “Nursery Crimes” you accept that ritual sexual abuse did in fact occur at Little Rascals, McMartin, Wee Care, etc., and give little credence to the “backlash” against such prosecutions. Has your position changed?

A: This was a while ago and I have not revisited the case. Our research did not conduct any independent review of the evidence, but simply coded the conclusion of the investigator we interviewed. So I was neither an authority about the validity of claims at the time or at the present.

Q: Yes, I understand that your research and analysis relied entirely on “local investigating agencies (that) had decided that abuse had occurred” (p. 13).

But I’m not finding in “Nursery Crimes” any skepticism about these prosecutorial allegations. In fact, the book seems only to reinforce the belief that satanic ritual abuse was a frequent occurrence in the nation’s day cares. Am I misjudging it?

Stephen Ceci and Maggie Bruck are but two of the researchers who have detailed the contaminated interview techniques that supported each of these cases. And of course almost all the defendants eventually went free, either when charges were dropped or their guilty verdicts overturned.

Would you consider returning to this subject and, if you so chose, changing your public position? I know the defendants – innocent citizens who saw their lives crushed by unfounded charges – would appreciate it.

No response yet to my second question. If I receive one, I’ll post it.