cover image We Believe The Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s

We Believe The Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s

Richard Beck. PublicAffairs, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61039-287-7

N+1 editor Beck surveys the wild allegations, surreal trials, and sensational atmosphere of a child abuse panic that gripped the United States during the 1980s, while lucidly analyzing the intellectual and political climate that made it possible. From affluent Southern California to America’s heartland, allegations of molestation quickly escalated into lurid investigations of supposed networks of Satanic cults abusing children. The case of the McMartin preschool, where therapists and social workers interviewed hundreds of children as part of an investigation leading to a 105-count indictment against five teachers (and, at six years, the longest trial in American history), lends the book its narrative arc. Interspersed chapters document the reactionary backlash against the sexual revolution and the welfare state in favor of the nuclear family (where most child abuse actually happens), as well as the emergence of radical theories in psychology that enabled gross coercion and muddied legal waters. Beck marshals extensive research into an absorbing dissection of a panic whose tremors still affect us today. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)