Added: August 30, 2014 – Last updated: March 5, 2016


Author: Ross E. Cheit

Title: The Witch-Hunt Narrative

Subtitle: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children

Place: Oxford and New York

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 2014

Pages: 544pp.

ISBN-13: 9780199931224 (hbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | American History: U.S. History | Cases: Offenders / Margaret Kelly Michaels; Cases: Others / McMartin Preschool Case; Offenders: Teachers; Prosecution: False Accusations, Wrong Convictions; Types: Child Sexual Abuse



* Amazon (Limited Preview)

* Google Books (Limited Preview)

* Oxford Scholarship Online (Restricted Access)


Author: Ross E. Cheit, Department of Political Science, Brown UniversityResearchGate


  Preface (p. ix)
  List of Illustrations (p. xix)
Part I: The Rise of the Witch-Hunt Narrative
  1. Introduction: The Infamous Child Sexual Abuse Cases of the 1980s (p. 3)
  2. The McMartin Preschool Case (1983-1990) (p. 17)
  3. Scrutinizing the Evidence of a National Witch-Hunt (p. 87)
  4. History Ignored: Silence, Denial and Minimization (p. 151)
  Conclusion I (p. 196)
Part II: The Triumph of the Witch-Hunt Narrative
  5. The Turning Point: State v. Michaels (p. 203)
  6. Going to Extremes: State v. Fuster (p. 283)
  Conclusion II (p. 355)
Part III: Recent Developments
  7. The Legacy of the Witch-Hunt Narrative (p. 365)
  Acknowledgments (p. 409)
  Bibliographic Notes (p. 413)
  Notes (p. 417)
  Index (p. 487)


»In the 1980s, a series of child sex abuse cases rocked the United States. The most famous case was the 1984 McMartin preschool case, but there were a number of others as well. By the latter part of the decade, the assumption was widespread that child sex abuse had become a serious problem in America. Yet within a few years, the concern about it died down considerably. The failure to convict anyone in the McMartin case and a widely publicized appellate decision in New Jersey that freed an accused molester had turned the dominant narrative on its head. In the early 1990s, a new narrative with remarkable staying power emerged: the child sex abuse cases were symptomatic of a 'moral panic' that had produced a witch hunt. A central claim in this new witch hunt narrative was that the children who testified were not reliable and easily swayed by prosecutorial suggestion. In time, the notion that child sex abuse was a product of sensationalized over-reporting and far less endemic than originally thought became the new common sense.
But did the new witch hunt narrative accurately represent reality? As Ross Cheit demonstrates in his exhaustive account of child sex abuse cases in the past two and a half decades, purveyors of the witch hunt narrative never did the hard work of examining court records in the many cases that reached the courts throughout the nation. Instead, they treated a couple of cases as representative and concluded that the issue was blown far out of proportion. Drawing on years of research into cases in a number of states, Cheit shows that the issue had not been blown out of proportion at all. In fact, child sex abuse convictions were regular occurrences, and the crime occurred far more frequently than conventional wisdom would have us believe. Cheit's aim is not to simply prove the narrative wrong, however. He also shows how a narrative based on empirically thin evidence became a theory with real social force, and how that theory stood at odds with a far more grim reality. The belief that the charge of child sex abuse was typically a hoax also left us unprepared to deal with the far greater scandal of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, which, incidentally, has served to substantiate Cheit's thesis about the pervasiveness of the problem. In sum, The Witch-Hunt Narrative is a magisterial and empirically powerful account of the social dynamics that led to the denial of widespread human tragedy.« (Source: Oxford University Press)


Cheit, Ross. »The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children.« 30th Annual University of Wisconsin-Madison Conference on Child Sexual Abuse. Madison 2014.

Cheit, Ross. »The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children.« 29th San Diego International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment. San Diego 2015.


Bazelon, Emily. »Abuse Cases, and a Legacy of Skepticism: ‘The Witch-Hunt Narrative’: Are We Dismissing Real Victims?« The New York Times (June 9, 2014). – Full Text: The New York Times (Free Access)

Berry, Jaron. »How the ‘Witch Hunt’ Myth Undermined American Justice.« The Daily Beast (July 12, 2014). – Full Text: The Daily Beast (Free Access)

Bowman, Cynthia G. »The Legal System and Child Sex Abuse.« Law & Social Inquiry 41(1) (Winter 2016): 267-283. – Full Text: Wiley Online Library (Restricted Access)

Curcio-Alexander, Julia. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 43(1) (March 2015): 123-124. – Full Text: Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (Restricted Access)

Epstein, Helen. The Arts Fuse (September 27, 2014). – Full Text: The Arts Fuse (Free Access)

Grant, Anne. Providence Journal (April 27, 2014). – Full Text: Providence Journal (Free Access)

Johnson, K.C. »Revisionism Gone Wild.« Commentary (September 1, 2014). – Full Text: Commentary (Free Access)

Whitaker, Emilie. The Sociological Review 63(3) (August 2015): 738-740. – Full Text: Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (Restricted Access)

Wikipedia: History of the Americas: History of the United States | Types of rape: Child sexual abuse / McMartin preschool trial, Wee Care Nursery School abuse trial