June 28, 2013
“Children can lie, but research shows that they do not fabricate detailed descriptions of adult sexual acts unless they have experienced or witnessed them. Studies also show that children have good memories and that even preschoolers can remember key events like sexual abuse. One problem is that repeatedly molested children have great difficulty distinguishing one act of abuse from another and linking abuse to specific dates….
“In the McMartin case, we learned… to minimize the use of leading questions during interviews…. While the verdict comes as a disappointment to the children in the case, their courage and willingness to testify for weeks on end has been a catalyst for change that will protect countless other children.”
– From Believe the Children adviser Civia Tamarkin’s interview with John E. B. Myers, professor at McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific, in “The McMartin Nightmare” (People magazine, Feb. 5, 1990)
As his faculty bio notes, Professor Myers has long been “one of the country’s foremost authorities on child abuse,” especially in tracing its historical context, but he seems to have been excruciatingly slow to recognize the fraudulence of “satanic ritual abuse” claims. Although he stopped short of declaring the McMartins guilty, Myers clearly stationed himself in the “child saver” camp, more sympathetic toward serial interviewer Kee MacFarlane than toward the defendants whose lives she devastated.
In a journal article five years later, Myers would acknowledge “growing skepticism regarding children’s credibility,” at the same time warning of a “real danger that the pendulum will swing too far in the direction of disbelief.”
More recently, Myers addressed McMartin in “Child Protection in America: Past, Present, and Future” (2006), crediting it with raising the standard for interviewing, but concluding that “In the final analysis, we will never know what happened at the McMartin Preschool. From the outset, the case divided people into ‘true believers’ and skeptics….”
In “The Backlash: Child Protection Under Fire” (1994) Myers had added a most curious footnote: “I have no opinion regarding the guilt or innocence of any of the McMartin defendants.” How could he – a law professor! – acknowledge the corruption of the child-witnesses’ testimony, yet doubt the defendants deserved a “not guilty” verdict?
Almost 20 years later, I wondered whether Myers might have formed an opinion.
His emailed response: “No idea about guilt or innocence.”