April 3, 2013

In my fruitless attempt to extract a retraction from the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, I quoted only the abstract of “Sexual Abuse of Children in Day Care Centers” by Susan J. Kelley, Renee Brant and Jill Waterman.

But because the 1993 article continues to be cited in the literature – most recently in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry – it deserves a more detailed review.

Most offensive to me is the authors’ use of ostensibly sophisticated statistics. For example: “The mean number of different types of sexual acts per child ranged from 5.3 sexual acts per child in (Kathleen Coulborn) Faller’s (1988) sample to 6.6 different types of sexual abuse per child in Kelley’s (1989) study.”

Can’t you just picture the authors’ computers straining under the weight of all their meticulous research? In reality, of course, the “mean number of different types of sexual acts per child” was… zero.

And the anecdotes! What ever were Kelley, Brant and Waterman thinking as their fingers typed such unfounded claims as these:

  • “Foreign objects used to penetrate children in day care center cases have included such items and pencils, needles, knives, scissors and crucifixes.”
  • “Allegations of pornographic photographs and videos being taken of children in day care center cases sometimes surface…. Unfortunately, in very few cases have law enforcement officials been able to locate the pornography.”
  • “Children who have been ritualistically abused describe participation in group ceremonies, use of chants and songs, adults dressed in costumes and masks, threats with supernatural powers….the sacrifice of animals, the ingestion of blood, feces and urine, and murders.”

Despite the authors’ unbridled certitude, they can’t help complaining that “One of the first complications in the evaluation of ritualistic abuse cases is the frequent disbelief and skepticism on the part of the professionals secondary to the bizarre and extreme nature of the allegations.”

“Complications,” indeed.