TIME Media

What John Grisham Got Right About Child Pornography

2014 Bookexpo America - Day 3
Author John Grisham attends the 2014 Bookexpo America at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on May 31, 2014 in New York City. Taylor Hill—Getty Images

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a syndicated columnist.

There is clearly something wrong with a justice system in which people who look at images of child rape can be punished more severely than people who rape children

Last week John Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers, triggered a storm of online criticism by arguing in an interview with The Telegraph that criminal penalties for possessing child pornography are unreasonably harsh. Grisham, who has since apologized, spoke rather loosely, overstating the extent to which honest mistakes account for child porn convictions and the extent to which those convictions expand the prison population.

But he was right on two important points: People who download child pornography are not necessarily child molesters, and whatever harm they cause by looking at forbidden pictures does not justify the penalties they often receive.

Under federal law, receiving child pornography, which could mean downloading a single image, triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of five years—the same as the penalty for distributing it. Merely looking at a picture can qualify someone for the same charge, assuming he does so deliberately and is aware that web browsers automatically make copies of visited sites. In practice, since the Internet nowadays is almost always the source of child pornography, this means that viewing and possession can be treated the same as trafficking.

The maximum penalty for receiving or distributing child porn is 20 years, and federal sentencing guidelines recommend stiff enhancements based on very common factors, such as using a computer, possessing more than 600 images (with each video clip counted as 75 images) and exchanging photos for something of value, including other photos. In a 2009 analysis, federal public defender Troy Stabenow showed that a defendant with no prior criminal record and no history of abusing children would qualify for a sentence of 15 to 20 years based on a small collection of child pornography and one photo swap, while a 50-year-old man who encountered a 13-year-old girl online and lured her into a sexual relationship would get no more than 4 years.

Nine out of 10 federal child-porn prosecutions involve “non-production offenses”: downloading or passing along images of sexual abuse, as opposed to perpetrating or recording it. As a result of congressional edicts, the average sentence in such cases rose from 54 months in 2004 to 95 months in 2010, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The penalties have become so severe, the commission noted, that judges frequently find ways to dodge them, resulting in wildly inconsistent sentences for people guilty of essentially the same conduct. In a 2010 survey, 71% of federal judges said mandatory minimums for receiving child pornography are too long.

State sentences can be even harsher. Dissenting from a 2006 decision in which the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a 200-year sentence for a former high school teacher caught with child pornography, Vice Chief Justice Rebecca Berch noted that the penalties for such offenses were more severe than the penalties for rape, second-degree murder, and sexual assault of a child younger than 12.

These draconian sentences seem to be driven largely by the assumption that people who look at child pornography are all undiscovered or would-be child molesters. But that is not true.

The sentencing commission found, based on criminal records and additional information in presentencing reports, that one in three federal defendants convicted of non-production offenses in the previous decade had known histories of “criminal sexually dangerous behavior” (including prior child pornography offenses). Tracking 610 defendants sentenced in fiscal years 1999 and 2000 for 8.5 years after they were released, the USSC found that 7% were arrested for a new sexual offense.

Even allowing for the fact that many cases of sexual abuse go unreported (as indicated by victim surveys), it seems clear that some consumers of child pornography never abuse children. “There does exist a distinct group of offenders who are Internet-only and do not present a significant risk for hands-on sex offending,” says Karl Hanson, a senior research officer at Public Safety Canada who has co-authored several recidivism studies.

Another argument for sending people who look at child pornography to prison, emphasized by the Supreme Court in its 1990 decision upholding criminal penalties for mere possession, is that consumers create a demand that encourages production. Yet any given consumer’s contribution to that demand is likely insignificant, and this argument carries much less weight now that people typically obtain child pornography online for free.

Defenders of harsh penalties for looking at child pornography also argue that viewing such images imposes extra suffering on victims of sexual abuse, who must live with the knowledge that strangers around the world can see evidence of the horrifying crimes committed against them. But again, any single defendant’s contribution to that suffering is apt to be very small.

Tellingly, people who possess “sexually obscene images of children,” such as “a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting”—production of which need not entail abuse of any actual children—face the same heavy penalties under federal law as people caught with actual child pornography. That provision, like the reaction to John Grisham’s comments, suggests these policies are driven by outrage and disgust rather than reason. There is clearly something wrong with a justice system in which people who look at images of child rape can be punished more severely than people who rape children.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a syndicated columnist.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexual abuse

We Need to Make It Easier for Pedophiles To Seek Help

Recently released audio purports to reveal the actor Stephen Collins admitting to molesting children.
Recently released audio purports to reveal the actor Stephen Collins admitting to molesting children. Jordin Althaus—ABC/Getty Images

All too often, our attention, resources and shock are focused on what happens after a crime is committed—we need to be asking how we can prevent child sex abuse

I don’t know Stephen Collins. Or his wife. Or their therapist.

All three are embroiled in a child sexual abuse investigation that has likely taken on added significance given the release of an audiotape in which Mr. Collins appears to admit to illegal sexual behavior against three girls. The revelation was shocking, and it leads to a familiar set of questions.

To me, one stands out: How could this have been prevented?

As a public, we’re always shocked to learn that an apparently upstanding citizen has molested children. The news flies in the face of our collective perception that sex offenders are monsters. But there are two problems with this perception.

It blinds us to warning signs when a potential offender is someone we know, love or respect—someone who is patently not a monster: The teenage boy who prefers the company of little kids to peers. The step-father who insists on putting the girls to bed by himself. The pediatrician who asks parents to “wait outside.”

And the idea that all sex offenders are monsters, and monsters are unpredictable, draws resources and political attention away from effective prevention efforts. We spend far more to address sex crimes after they happen.

In a case in which I served as an expert witness, “Tommy,” age 12, was convicted of sexually abusing his younger cousin. He spent five years in a juvenile prison—about $50,000 per year, to the cost of taxpayers—and another five years in a sex offender civil commitment program—another $63,000 a year. Never mind the court costs. By the time Tommy was released, his home state had “invested” over half a million dollars in him. By comparison, the priciest violence prevention programs rarely cost more than $10,000 per family.

Yet we don’t have prevention programs that target adolescents at risk of sexually abusing children, even though they account for more than 50% of cases. All the emphasis is on after-the-fact policies. We must treat victims. We must detect and stop offenders. But if we really want to reduce harm, we need a stronger culture of avoiding the problem to begin with.

In my 25 years of research on sex-offender assessment, treatment and policy, I’ve met hundreds of offenders and reviewed the records of thousands of boys and men charged with sex crimes. But until last year, I’d never spoken with a non-offending pedophile. And until I did, I really did not recognize their existence. They were largely invisible, because the stigma and risk of coming forward to ask for help was simply too great.

Everyone loses when we ignore this group of non-offenders. I’ve spoken to young men who were horrified to realize they were attracted to younger children in adolescence, and that they were not growing out of their attraction. They described appalling childhoods, living in self-imposed isolation for fear of being discovered and labeled a pedophile. Several expressed self-loathing. Many considered suicide. As adolescents, they wanted help controlling their sexual impulses, but had nowhere to turn for help.

In Germany, where therapy is confidential (and where recording conversations without peoples’ knowledge or consent is illegal), thousands have reached out to the Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, which specifically targets men and adolescent boys—both ones who have acted on their impulses and ones who haven’t—attracted to children.

In the U.S., the stigma of pedophilia and the fear of criminal consequences is so great that non-offending pedophiles rarely seek help. Those who do may be turned away by professionals who are untrained or unwilling to help. These adults and adolescents are left to struggle on their own. Many – too many – do not succeed.

The best prevention programs focus on the individuals at highest risk of offending. But to get those individuals into an intervention, we must destigmatize the act of asking for help. The problem behavior must remain stigmatized, of course. But the act of asking for help should be met with encouragement and effective professional interventions.

When we hear about the next supposedly upstanding citizen offending against children, we’ll still ask how it happened. But it’s so much more effective to ask how we could have stopped it from happening in the first place. We will have that answer only when we insist on reasonable resources to develop a culture of prevention.

 

Elizabeth J. Letourneau is Director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Associate Professor, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexual abuse

Childhood Sexual Abuse Raises Heart Disease Risk In Adulthood

Researchers link early sexual abuse to greater risk of developing blocked heart arteries

Sexual and physical abuse during childhood can have long term effects on both mental and physical health, and previous studies have linked childhood sexual abuse to a greater risk of heart attack and other heart events—but it has been unclear exactly why. New research published Thursday in the journal Stroke adds to the case, showing thatwhether or not women had other risk factors for heart problems, a history of childhood sexual abuse remained a strong potential contributor to their atherosclerosis.

“What was a surprise was that when we controlled for [heart disease] risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, the association didn’t go away. We just couldn’t get rid of the association,” says Rebecca Thurston, director of the Womens’ Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, who led the research with a team of colleagues.

MORE: Viewpoint: Why a Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Law Could Backfire

More than 1,000 middle-aged women of various ethnic backgrounds from across the U.S. had yearly clinical exams beginning in 1996 for 12 years. At the end of the study, they also answered questions about sexual and physical abuse and had an ultrasound of their carotid arteries. About a quarter of the women reported being sexually abused as a child, and a similar percentage reported the experience as an adult.

When Thurston compared the women’s answers to their ultrasound, she found that those who reported childhood sexual abuse showed higher rates of plaque buildup in their arteries. They also had hearts and vessels that looked about two to three years older than those of women who hadn’t been abused.

MORE: Psychological Abuse: More Common, as Harmful as Other Child Maltreatment

Thurston’s findings suggest that whether or not the women had other risk factors for heart problems, their history of childhood sexual abuse remained a strong potential contributor to their atherosclerosis.

Thurston plans to continue the work by studying women who have had heart events – in this study, only women without heart disease were included – to see if the correlation still holds. She also wants to better understand how the early abuse affects women in later life. There is some evidence that traumatic experiences may change the stress response system in lasting, and possibly permanent ways.

While none of the women had signs of heart disease at the start of the study, Thurston says the results hint that physicians should be considering childhood experience, particularly traumatic ones, as part of comprehensive heart care for women. If the results are validated, then they might lead to ways of intervening with stress reduction or other psychological techniques to hopefully slow down the hardening of the arteries and lower their risk of heart disease.

TIME United Kingdom

UK Police Arrest 660 Suspected Pedophiles

Arrests follow a string of pedophilia scandals in the country

UK police have arrested 660 alleged pedophiles following a six-month investigation. The suspects include doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers and former police officers.

The UK’s National Crime Agency said Wednesday that the operation occurred across the UK and involved 45 separate police forces. The agency estimated that over 400 children have been protected as a result.

The operation, which was kept secret until the arrests were made, involved targeting those accessing pedophilic images online. A total of 39 of those arrested were registered sex offenders though the vast majority was unknown to the police. Those who have been charged are accused of a range of crimes, from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual abuse.

“This is the first time the UK has had the capability to coordinate a single targeted operation of this nature. Over the past six months we have seen unprecedented levels of cooperation to deliver this result,” said the agency’s deputy director general, Phil Gormley.

This spate of arrests follows a string of pedophilia scandals that have dogged the UK. Last week, allegations were made that politicians in the 1980s repeatedly abused vulnerable children.

This news was given greater credence amidst the UK’s ongoing police inquiry, Operation Yewtree, into the abuse of children by high-profile celebrities. Many of the alleged assaults happened decades ago.

TIME

X-Men Director Teases Sneak Peek of X-Men: Apocalypse

James McAvoy portrays Charles Xavier in a scene from "X-Men: First Class." The “X-Men” franchise will get another boost in 2016 with the release of “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
James McAvoy portrays Charles Xavier in a scene from "X-Men: First Class." The “X-Men” franchise will get another boost in 2016 with the release of “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Murray Close—AP

The director of 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' has posted an Instagram photo of the beginning of the next 'X-Men' film

Get excited, Marvel fans: The director of X-Men: Days of Future Past posted a photo of the treatment for X-Men: Apocalypse, the next film in the franchise.

Director Bryan Singer created a new Instagram account Tuesday to which he immediately posted the image. Singer’s picture shows part of the first page of the treatment for X-Men: Apocalypse. The treatment, which can be thought of as a detailed synopsis, seems to continue where the post-credits scene of X-Men: Days of Future Past left off.

The film opens in Ancient Egypt. We’re immediately confronted with the four horsemen — Pestilence, War, Death and Famine — who are the servants of Apocalypse, the film’s main villain.

The photo has done more than set fans’ pulses racing. The image, and a photo Singer tweeted last week of him and the film’s co-writers, indicate that the director will be working on the film, something which some observers doubted after allegations of sexual abuse emerged against the director in April and May.

TIME Criminal Justice

West Virginia School Sued for Ignoring Sex Abuse Claims

The students accused of sexually abusing other classmates are related to employees of the school district

Local school officials ignored allegations that two middle school boys sexually abused their female classmates at Burch Middle School, West Virginia’s attorney general says. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says that officials at the school in the city of Delbarton even interfered in a police investigation into the incidents and punished the girls who made the allegations.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday asks the defendants — who include the Mingo County School Board, the superintendent, the school principal, the guidance counselor, a coach at the school, the boys and their parents — to prevent further abuse and not to interfere with state police investigations, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit says girls complained to a guidance counselor of non-consensual groping and molestations “oftentimes forcible in nature.” The two girls, who were 13 at the time of the incident, named the same two boys — who are both related to Mingo County school system employees —in their complaints. The alleged gropings took place on a school bus, in the computer lab and on a field trip during the 2012-2013 school year. At one point, two of the boys surrounded one girl on a school bus seat and sexually abused her, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit goes on to say that when the allegations were reported, the principal misled the girls’ parents to believe they had called the police but did not, and the coach said the girls could not prove anything because there were no eye witnesses. The principal later told a state trooper that he could not take statements from students because he was “disrupting the learning environment.”

The principal declined to comment on the allegations to the Associated Press.

[AP]

TIME Vatican

Vatican Reveals It Punished Thousands of Priests For Sex Abuse

SWITZERLAND-UN-VATICAN-CHURCH-CHILD-SEX-ABUSE-RIGHTS
The Vatican's Ambassador to the United Nations Monsignor Silvano Tomasi (R) gestures next to Vatican Secretary of State Professor Vincenzo Buonomo (L) during a hearing before the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture on May 5, 2014, in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI—AFP/Getty Images

The Vatican's ambassador released comprehensive figures during the second day of grilling by a U.N. committee that monitors an international convention against torture, claiming to have defrocked hundreds and sanctioned thousands of priests in the last decade

The Vatican on Tuesday revealed a rare, year-by-year tally of how many priests it had disciplined over the past decade for alleged sexual abuses against children.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, a Vatican ambassador, revealed to a United Nations committee that the Vatican had defrocked a total of 848 priests and sanctioned another 2,572 over the last 10 years, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A U.N. committee charged with monitoring an international convention against torture has been investigating whether the Vatican’s senior officials are liable for the abuses, and whether it constitutes torture under the terms of the treaty.

[WSJ]

TIME abuse

Study: Teenage Jocks More Likely to Abuse Girlfriends

Oceanside Pirates junior varsity team line up against the Mira Mesa Junior varsity team as they play high school football in Oceanside
A new study links sports aggression and relationship abuse among high school students © Mike Blake – Reuters

Those playing both basketball and football are most likely to abuse their partners, a new study finds

A new study claims to show a link between sporting aggression and relationship abuse, finding that the likelihood of a teenage boy ill-treating his girlfriend is about twice as high if he plays football or basketball.

Inspired by the apparent correlation between violent sports and dating abuse among college athletes, the study examined data from 1,648 male students in relationships from 16 high schools in California.

Those playing sports such as football and basketball were more likely to have abused their partners either physically, sexually or psychologically than those who didn’t play sports, or those who were wrestlers, swimmers or tennis players.

Teens who only played football were about 50% more likely to have abused their partner, according to study, which was conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

[Reuters]

 

 

TIME E.U.

Study: One Third Of E.U. Women Suffer Abuse

One in ten claims to have experienced sexual violence by age of 15

A comprehensive and damning report published Wednesday revealed the “extensive” levels of abuse faced by women across the 28-member states in the European Union.

Published by the E.U. Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the survey of 42,000 women aged 18-74 across the E.U. found a third of women in Europe (62 million) had suffered a physical or sexual assault. 1 in 10 women also said they had experienced some kind of sexual violence from an adult by the time they reached 15. Another 1 in 10 had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

“The enormity of the problem is proof that violence against women does not just impact a few women only – it impacts on society every day,” said FRA director Morten Kjaerum. Worryingly the report found that some two thirds of women did not report the most serious incident of partner violence to the police or any other organisation.

When the data was broken down by country, the findings showed that Denmark and Finland were among the countries with higher rates of women indicating they had experienced physical and/or sexual abuse (52 and 47 percent respectively). Women in Poland reported the lowest levels of abuse. The report authors suggested this might be because increased gender equality could lead to more disclosures of violence.

TIME feminism

Woody Allen, Feminism, and ‘Believing the Survivor’

2012 Los Angeles Film Festival - "To Rome With Love" - Arrivals
Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

How a new feminist dogma asks us to throw reason to the wind — harming both men and women

The revived sexual abuse allegations against filmmaker Woody Allen have become the newest gender-war battlefield. Renewed claims by Allen’s 28-year-old adopted daughter, the former Dylan Farrow, that he sexually assaulted her more than two decades ago have generated an intense debate about the facts and the issues. Yet some voices, all from the feminist camp, are saying that there shouldn’t be a debate at all: We must “believe the survivor” and condemn the perpetrator. While allegations of child abuse certainly should be taken seriously, the assumption that such an accusation equals guilt is repugnant and dangerous — not only to innocent men but to women too.

Writing for The Nation, Jessica Valenti argues that if we believe Dylan Farrow’s account leaves any room for doubt, it’s because “patriarchy pushes us to put aside our good judgment.” After all, says Valenti, we know that sexual violence against women and girls is pervasive and vastly underreported, and victims come forward at great personal cost.

(MORE: Dylan Farrow Fires Back At Woody Allen’s Denial Of Sex Abuse Claims)

What about the fact that the charges were originally made during a bitter breakup and custody dispute between Allen and Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow? If you think this is relevant, the feminists say, you are embracing the misogynist myth of vengeful women using sexual abuse allegations as a weapon. In fact, asserts Zoe Zolbrod in Salon.com, “research shows that it is not more common for accusations made during custody battles to be proved false than it is for any other sex abuse accusation,” with only 1% to 6% of abuse charges found to be maliciously fabricated; what’s more, writes Zolbrod, custody-related false accusations usually come from fathers, not mothers.

But these claims are contradicted by a major Canadian study that tracked more than 11,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in Canada in 2003. While reports of sexual abuse made during custody or visitation conflicts are fairly rare — the study identified 69 such cases — they are also quite likely to prove unfounded. Child protection workers substantiated just 11% of these charges, while 34% were “suspected” to be valid but not fully confirmed; 36% were classified as unsubstantiated but made “in good faith,” and 18% as deliberately false. By contrast, the rate of false allegations for all child sexual abuse reports was 5%. (The claim that malicious accusations in custody disputes come mostly from fathers is based on an earlier phase of the same study. However, fathers’ false reports were overwhelmingly of child neglect and sometimes physical abuse; false charges of sexual molestation were more likely to come from mothers.)

(MORE: Dylan Farrow’s Child-Abuse Accusations: What We’ve Learned About When and How Children Should Confront Abuse)

In a 2007 U.S. survey of child welfare workers, 80% reported having seen cases in which a child was coached to make false allegations of sexual abuse, usually by the mother in a custody dispute; more than a fourth said they had encountered 20 or more such cases. Notably, as author Kathleen Faller pointed out, these estimates came from professionals inclined to be supportive of children; it is also worth noting that three-quarters of them were women.

Research cannot tell us anything about the specific allegations made against Allen in 1992. But it does show that, statistically, there is at least a 50-50 chance that sexual abuse charges brought in such circumstances are groundless — either deliberately false, or sincere but mistaken. And the lines between malice and mistake are not always clear. When you’re ready to think the worst of your ex, innocent parent-child contact — playful roughhousing, cuddling, helping a child get dressed — can seem suspect.

In the Allen/Farrow case, this is magnified by Farrow’s discovery that Allen, her 56-year-old longtime partner, was sexually involved with her adopted daughter. While Soon Yi Previn was an adult (her birthdate is unknown but her age was in the range of 18 to 20) and Allen had never acted as her stepfather, even his defenders generally agree that the affair was sordid and grossly inappropriate. While this does not make Allen a pedophile, Farrow may well have seen the relationship as quasi-incestuous child abuse, coloring her perception of his conduct toward Dylan.

(MORE: When Bystanders Are as Bad as Abusers)

Does Dylan Farrow’s present-day insistence that she was abused by Allen prove that it’s true? Not necessarily; children can be coaxed into false memories, especially when they want to please an adult, and such memories can last. Some of the now-grown “victims” in the day-care sexual abuse scandals of the 1980s, now widely recognized as hoaxes, still believe that they were abused and claim to have painful flashbacks. Of the dozens of children who testified in the notorious McMartin Preschool case in California, only one has recanted.

The claims and counterclaims over Dylan Farrow’s accusations and Woody Allen’s defense will keep flying, with partisans lining up on both sides. I have, for the record, no strong investment in Allen’s innocence; I am not a major fan of his work or his person, both of which display an obnoxious streak of narcissism. My concern is with the attacks on the presumption of innocence — perhaps “only” in the court of public opinion, but with likely spillover into the legal system — and the state of our conversation on gender.

It is appalling when a feminist blogger derides talk of the presumption of innocence and calls for hearing both sides as ways to “undermine the victim”; when Nicholas Kristoff, the New York Times columnist who published Dylan Farrow’s letter on his blog, gets attacked for merely conceding that we cannot be sure of Allen’s guilt; when people who raise questions about the evidence are bashed as rape apologists and misogynists. It is particularly appalling when Valenti, hailed as a leading feminist voice of her generation, asserts that we must “start to believe victims en masse.”

Such arguments are ostensibly rooted in female solidarity. Indeed, Valenti seems so unconcerned with male lives that she even ignores the molestation of boys — who reportedly account for up to 40% of sexually abused children — and mentions only girls’ victimization. This brings to mind the words of British philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards in the 1980 book, The Skeptical Feminist: “No feminist whose concern for women stems from a concern for justice in general can ever legitimately allow her only interest to be the advantage of women.”

Yet undermining the presumption of innocence is not good for women, either. In the 1980s, the first wave of feminist zealotry on child sexual abuse — based on the idea that such abuse was a ubiquitous patriarchal atrocity and even a tacitly condoned method of training girls into submission — helped feed the day care sex-abuse scare and the rise of “recovered memories” of incest. Feminists, including recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Gloria Steinem, played a shameful role in promoting this frenzy. Then, too, the battle cry was, “Believe the victims.” And the real victims included many women.

(MORE: Is It Still O.K. to Have a Favorite Woody Allen Movie?)

Some were day care workers like Margaret Kelly Michaels, the New Jersey preschool teacher who spent five years in prison before being exonerated. Some were mothers and grandmothers like Shirley Souza, the Massachusetts woman convicted of child molestation after her grown daughter underwent recovered-memory therapy and two granddaughters were heavily pressured to “disclose” abuse. Some were patients like Patricia Burgus, who sought treatment for depression and was brainwashed into believing she was raised in a satanic cult, repeatedly raped, and forced to participate in cannibalism.

Feminist dissenters who questioned the panic, such as psychologist Carol Tavris and journalist Debbie Nathan, were accused of colluding in anti-woman backlash. In 1993, after the left-wing magazine Mother Jones ran a critical story on recovered memory, Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman accused the magazine of promoting “the myth that hysterical women fantasize about sexual abuse” and siding with men’s attempts to silence and discredit women who speak out about sexual violence.

Today, few doubt that Mother Jones was right and Herman was wrong. Yet similar attacks continue on those who won’t toe the “Stand with Dylan” party line.

Perhaps we still haven’t learned the larger lesson. A movement that demands belief in one person’s accusations against another as a matter of faith, not fact, is not a movement for justice. It is a lynch mob waiting to happen.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.

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