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Day care sexual abuse hysteria

Day care sexual abuse hysteria was an episode that occurred in the 1980s involving false accusations of sexual abuse. A prominent case in Kern County, California, created a panic, which lasted for almost a decade. The Kern county case began a wave of copycat accusations that started in California and spread throughout the United States, as well as to Canada, New Zealand and some European countries. Some elements of the witch hunts of the 1600s and the red scare of the 1950s have parallels in the sex abuse hysteria. Those who oppose the hunt are then themselves accused, or those that are accused must name others involved to be given leniency.


Kern county child abuse cases

The Kern County child abuse case was the first prominent instance of accusations of ritualized sex abuse of children. It was in 1982 in Kern County, California, when Debbie and Alvin McCuan were accused of abusing their children. The initial charges were made by Mary Ann Barbour, the children's step-grandmother, to the police. Barbour had a history of mental illness. The authorities used coercive techniques to get the children to tell of abuse by their parents. In 1982, the girls further accused McCuan's defense witnesses: Scott Kniffen, his wife Brenda, and his mother. Mary Ann Barbour reported that the children had been used for prostitution, used in child pornography, tortured, made to watch snuff films. The McCuans and the Kniffens were each sentenced to over 240 years in prison in 1984. Their convictions were overturned in 1996. [1] [2]

McMartin preschool trial

The McMartin preschool trial started in 1983 when a mother with a history of false accusations accused the McMartin family of sexually abusing her child. After seven years of criminal trials, no convictions were obtained, and all charges were dropped in 1990. As of 2006, the longest and most expensive trial in the history of the United States. The accusations involved instances of hidden tunnels, killing animals, Satan worship, and orgies. [3] The ordeal adversely influenced the lives of hundreds of children, who are now young adults. Many people still maintain that the children were subjected to maltreatment at McMartin. Some stories from the case have spread around the world and been incorporated into similar instances involving false memories.

Fells Acres Day Care Center

The Fells Acres Day Care Center incident began in 1984, when a 5-year-old boy told a family member that Gerald Amirault, the bus driver at the Fells Acres day care center, had touched his penis. The boy's mother notified the authorities, and Gerald was arrested. The children told stories which included being abused by a clown and a robot in a secret room at the day care center. They told of watching animals being sacrificed, and one girl claimed Gerald had penetrated her anus with the 12-inch blade of a knife. In the 1986 trial, Gerald was convicted and sentenced to 30 to 40 years in state prison. He was released in 2004. [4]

Wee Care Nursery School

The Wee Care Nursery School in Maplewood, New Jersey in April of 1985. A nurse took the temperature of a 4-year-old boy with a rectal thermometer and the boy said: "That's what my teacher does to me at nap time at school." The comment was reported to the local authorities. The children were interviewed and the following accusations were heard from the children: 23 year old Kelly Michaels spread peanut butter on their genitals and licked it off and that she penetrated their rectums and vaginas with knives, forks and other objects. In August of 1988 after 11-months of trial, she was convicted of 115 counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to 47 years in the New Jersey state prison. After five years in prison her appeal was successful and she was released. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision and declared "the interviews of the children were highly improper and utilized coercive and unduly suggestive methods." [5]

Cleveland child abuse scandal

In the Cleveland child abuse scandal allegations of child sexual abuse were being made by Marietta Higgs, a pediatrician at a Middlesbrough, United Kingdom hospital. Using a technique known as reflex anal dilatation, in 1987 she diagnosed 121 children as victims of sexual abuse. Once the allegations had been made, social workers were compelled by law to remove the children from their families and place them in foster care. Initially public opinion favored the doctor and the social workers but as the number of cases increased a public inquiry was enacted, led by Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. The courts dismissed some of the cases but others were tried and prosecuted.

Little Rascals Day Care Center

The Little Rascals Day Care Center was in Edenton, North Carolina. In April of 1989 Bob Kelley was arrested and charged with child sexual abuse. By the end of the investigation 6 other people were charged, including a woman who was in a child custody case with her police officer husband, who had no connection to the facility or the Kelleys. On May 23, 1997, the prosecution dropped all charges related to the Little Rascals case against Bob Kelley and his wife. [6]

Christchurch Civic Crèche

Peter Ellis, a child-care worker at the Christchurch Civic Crèche in New Zealand, was found guilty on 16 counts of sexual abuse against children in 1992 and served seven years in jail. Parents of the alleged abuse victims were entitled to claim NZ$10,000 in compensation for each allegation from the Accident Compensation Corporation, regardless of whether the allegations were proved or not. Many victims' families made multiple allegations. Peter Ellis has consistently denied any abuse, and the case is still considered controversial by many New Zealanders.

Martensville Satanic Sex Scandal

In 1992, a mother in Martensville, Saskatchewan, Canada alleged that a local woman who ran a babysitting service and day care center in her home had sexually abused her child. Police began an investigation and allegations began to snowball. More than a dozen persons, including 5 police officers, ultimately faced over 100 charges connected with running a Satanic cult called 'The Brotherhood of The Ram' which allegedly practised lurid ritualized sexual abuse of numerous children at a 'Devil Church'. The first person tried was found guilty, but after that the cases began to unravel. The Department of Justice decided not to prosecute any more cases about mid way through. In the end only the conviction of the babysitter's son for fondling and touching two of the children was upheld on appeal.[1]

Wenatchee Sex Ring

The Wenatchee sex ring in Wenatchee, Washington in 1994 and 1995 where police and state social workers undertook what was then called the nation's most extensive child sex-abuse investigation. Forty-three adults were arrested on 29,726 charges of child sex abuse involving 60 children. Parents, Sunday school teachers and a pastor were charged and many were convicted of abusing their own children or the children of others in the community. Courts ultimately determined the charges were entirely untrue. Police coerced children into giving false statements, and false testimony in court. Dr. Phillip Esplin, a forensic psychologist for the National Institutes of Health's Child Witness Project commented that "Wenatchee may be the worst example ever of mental health services being abused by a state ... to control and manage children who have been frightened and coerced into falsely accusing their parents and neighbors of the most heinous of crimes." [7]


Some experts note that the anxiety over leaving young children with strangers, paired with the creation of large numbers of day care centers and more mothers taking jobs created a climate of guilt. They also note that children do not necessarily make good witnesses, they are open to suggestibility, and false memories can be implanted by repeating information in a forceful manner.


  • 1982 Kern county child abuse case
  • 1983 McMartin preschool trial in California
  • 1984 Fells Acres Day Care Center
  • 1985 Wee Care Nursery School in New Jersey in April
  • 1987 Cleveland child abuse scandal in England
  • 1989 Little Rascals Day Care Center scandal in Edenton, North Carolina
  • 1990 All charges dropped in McMartin preschool trial
  • 1991 Christchurch Civic Creche
  • 1992 Martensville Scandal, Martensville, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • 1994 start of Wenatchee Sex Rings case
  • 1996 Convictions in the Kern county child abuse case overturned

See also


  1. ^ New York Times; September 19, 2004; Who Was Abused?
  2. ^ Bakersfield / Kern county, CA ritual abuse cases
  3. ^ New York Times; April 1, 1984; Los Angeles Pressing Inquiry Into Sexual Abuse Of Children
  4. ^ New York Times; August 30, 1995; Day Care Workers Get Retrial, As Accusers Did Not Face Them.
  5. ^ New York Times; April 6, 2003; Recovered Reputations. In 1985, Kelly Michaels, a former teacher at the Wee Care Day Nursery in Maplewood, N.J., was accused of a staggering array of abuses: assaulting children in a tractor; spreading peanut butter on their genitals and licking it off; raping them with knives, forks and Lego blocks. As Rabinowitz recounts, one child testified that Michaels had turned him into a mouse while he was in an airplane on the way to visit his grandmother. In closing arguments, prosecutors compared Michaels to Hitler; she was sentenced to 47 years in prison.
  6. ^ New York Times; April 23, 1992; Day-Care Owner Is Convicted of Child Molesting. The longest and costliest criminal trial ever held in North Carolina ended today when the owner of a day-care center was convicted on 99 of 100 charges of sexually abusing 12 children there. After 14 days of deliberating, a Pitt County Superior Court jury found the 44-year-old defendant, Robert F. Kelly Jr., guilty of 4 counts of rape, 46 of taking indecent liberties, 36 of first-degree sexual offense and 13 crimes against nature. He was acquitted only of a single charge of taking indecent liberties with one of the 12 children.
  7. ^ New York Times; December 12, 1995; Pastor and Wife Are Acquitted on All Charges in Sex-Abuse Case. After less than a day of deliberation, a jury today acquitted a lay pastor and his wife of all charges of sexual abuse of children in a trial that critics say demonstrated the worst aspects of police misconduct in such cases. The defendants, Robert and Connie Roberson, were accused of being at the center of a sex ring in which children were ritualistically raped and abused. The Robersons ran a food bank and led a Pentecostal church in the central Washington city of Wenatchee. Prosecutors offered no physical evidence to support the charges. Instead, the main witness was the 13-year-old foster daughter of a police officer, Robert Perez, who investigated the Robersons.
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