Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Review: We Believe the Children by Richard Beck

From Goodreads:
During the 1980s in California, New Jersey, and New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, daycare 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, and legislatures took action to fend off the new threats facing the country’s children. 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. 
But, none of it happened. It was a decade-long outbreak of collective hysteria – on a par with the Salem witch trials.
Using extensive archival research conducted in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, 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 that had been intensifying for some twenty years. At the root of these accusations were competing visions of society and what it was that threatened it most.
Incredibly well-done, particularly from a research perspective.  Beck has clearly done exhaustive research on the topic and cites his sources impeccably, which are my two main sticking points in non-fiction.  In addition, however, his writing is easy to read and process and keeps the reader moving at a decent pace.  It isn't overly academic or wordy.  I also appreciated the conservative amount of interpretation done on Beck's part.  He doesn't jump to great conclusions or make high handed pronouncements, but he does do a great job of connecting cultural mores of the time with the tragic instances of false accusations and explains to a general audience why he believes the two are related.  I was convinced and fascinated and found it both a great history and thought-inspiring subject matter.

Entertainment Value
It's a subject and portion of cultural history that I find absolutely fascinating, so I was drawn to the book by the title alone.  That said, I think the book does a great job of keeping the reader's interest and of mixing the author's analysis with the historical facts.  It's both a biography and an analysis of the social and cultural implications - and both of these themes makes for great reading.  I wouldn't call it a page-turner, but I think it's a great work for those who are interested in the phenomenon.

I was born in 1984 and grew up hearing about these trials and the supposed prevalence of Satanic Ritual Abuse.  So I was intrigued by the title and felt like the book delivered well.  If you're interested in the topic, it's a must read, and I think those interested in the effects of the Sexual Revolution, the impact of feminism, and the time period will also be intrigued, as will those who have a special interest in psychology or the recovered memory movement.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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