No Crueler Tyrannies


From Publishers Weekly:

Wall Street Journal editorialist Rabinowitz has collected her stories on false accusations of sex crimes into one harrowing account of failed justice. Though readers may be familiar with the court cases she details, which took place in the 80s and 90s, coming upon them all together is nonetheless chilling. Rabinowitz devotes the most attention to the Amiraults, a woman and her two grown children who ran a successful preschool in Malden, Mass., and who were all sent to jail on charges of child sex abuse. No scientific or physical evidence linked them to the crimes; rather, the courts relied on the testimony of children who appeared on the stand after lengthy coaching sessions in which counselors had used anatomically correct dolls and leading questions to encourage them to accuse their teachers. At times the author's careful documentation begs for interpretation. Why, for instance, did the public buy the increasingly bizarre accusations of teachers tying naked children to trees in the schoolyard, or of anal penetration with knives that left no physical mark? Rabinowitz leaves such speculation to others. But she presents her cases expertly-so well that her stories helped reverse the convictions of five people, which in turn helped her win the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. She writes clearly and for the most part resists melodrama, letting the facts speak eloquently for themselves.
Excerpts from a review by Greg Goebel ("regular person") at Amazon:

The cases raised against the accused were almost beyond belief, and the fact that juries actually convicted them was even harder to believe.  "Expert witnesses" claimed that if children said "NO" when they were asked if they had been abused, it was a sign they had and that they had to be (sometimes relentlessly) pushed and prodded until they said "YES". Of course, once they had said "YES", then it was obviously the indisputable truth. Of course, child behavior such as bed-wetting, fussiness over certain foods, and sulky periods were obvious signs of abuse.

It comes as a shock, a useful one, to realize that the law is just as subject to the influence of incompetence as any other human activity, and that accusations played up in  the newspapers should be taken with a grain of salt.

This does also lead to the discouraging realization that the notion of "innocent until proven guilty" is not natural to people, and in fact many people don't understand that it is, at least in principle, the law of the land. The silver lining  is that, in spite of the pressures against it, "innocent until proven guilty" was actually established and survived, as a fundamental legal principle. Sense seems to outweigh stupidity over the long run for the simple reason that stupidity doesn't work.

Recommended Reading
Truth in Justice