the child terror
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see below for textDade County Courthouse

What did you  think of this FRONTLINE report on some of the famous child sexual abuse trials during the 1980s?  What meaning do you draw from these cases?


My son sits in prison to this day as a result of overzealous police interviewrers and social workers. Whenever the child recanted and stated that the offense never happened, she was told "that makes you a liar and you don't want to be a liar do you". There was also medical evidence concurring that she had not been violated. Neither of the items above were ever introduced by the public defender as evidence on my son's behalf.

Jerry Brock
denver, co


I have an uncle who is serving time as you read these comments for a similiar crime.

The same technique used in Miami to put innocent citizens in jail was used in his case in Peoria Illnois. He was asked to plea bargain as Bobby Fijnje, but he refused to because he had not commited this crime. Because of his reluctance to plea bargain, he received the maximum.

His biggest mistake is that he wasn't smart enough to select a jury of his peers. Instead, he selected a judge. What a price to pay. When I read his case, I couldn't beleive how many discrepancies were in the case. It was not an airtight case to convict an innocent man to so many years in isolation from his family and society.

Perry Rounds
hayward, ca


It just made my heart sink to think of my grandfather watching [your[ show because, you see, he is a textbook study of an incest perpetrator who never has and probably never will admit to his crime or have to pay any price.

It was the most difficult thing I ever did when I came forward to my family. Thank God they believed me and I got therapy.

It is a hard thing to watch a show so one-sided and as irresponsible as this. I of course agree wholeheartedly that these men were clearly innocent and it was wrong to falsely accuse them.

But you have got to show the other side---there are so many more who go unproscecuted and walk among us. There is so much denial even within families of the victims. Not showing the other side helps to discredit the victims.

I do not get the security and peace of mind of having my grandfather registered as a sex offender in his town. My grandfather actually stated to my mother a year ago that he felt like a victim of "repressed memory syndrome", no doubt a topic Frontline or a similar show has featured. I did not have the luxury of having any repressed memory, unfortunately.

This is just my story. We need to be willing to really look at a show like this which stands to weaken the credibility of victims of child abuse, the very nature of which is tainted with secrecy and shame. Yes, this documentary is newsworthy and a hot topic but the longterm effects on the view of society needs to be taken into account. Final note: Dr. Robert Hatfield's earlier letter said all this a lot more succinctly.

J. Payer
san francisco, ca


First, I would like to commend Frontline for once again being willing to look rationally at an issue about which there is mass hysteria. What is truly scary is that as a result of the hysteria of the 80's and 90's, there is now in place a large and very well-funded set of structures whose sole purpose is to "validate" accusations of child sexual abuse and "treat" the "victims". The assumption is that every allegation of abuse is true, that in fact there are many, many incidents that go unreported, that children never lie when they report that abuse took place, but always lie (or are mistaken) when they say it didn't. These assumptions are all challenged by the facts: The majority of reports are ruled unfounded (even in this climate, which sees abusers lurking behind every bush). And whether or not children lie (as a parent, I can't conceive of a child--or adult-- who is always truthful), they can certainly be led and influenced. And there is a huge body of data supporting the idea that memories can be created from whole cloth. Nor do I think we can afford to be complacent and assume that the bad days are past now that some of the convictions are unraveling. Where I live, a brand new multimillion dollar center is being built which is directly modeled on the Miami center, and whose purpose is not to find the truth, but to "prosecute" all allegations of abuse. "Child Saving" has become a large, lucrative business, and the people who are most hurt by it are the children

Susan Weiss
oak park, illinois


By airing such a biased view of the process which abused children must undergo, you give the viewer the impression that the majority of children lie about sexual abuse, and in doing this, you destroy the credibility of the vast majority of children who are sexually abused. In essence, your show simply empowers the abusers.

ottawa, ontario


I thought the reporting was good, as usual for Frontline, but I thought the show was rather one-sided. Now, I'm a 19 year old college student, not a political expert or anything, and of course I understand that it is a horrible thing wihen someone is falsely accused of abusing children. But I also know what a horrible thing it is when children are abused. Many people I know were abused as children during the 1980s, and quite a few of them sexually. Several were abused at a babysitter or daycare type situation. Most of these were never questioned by anyone as children, and did not tell anyone about it until their late teens. Largely because of the "backlash" from the cases on the show, they were afraid to prosecute the abusers, and most never did. Those who did had a very hard time in court, because of these cases. I do think that it is important to be careful in questioning children, and not to be overzealous. But I also think, and I wish your show had considered more, that besides the children who are subjected to these "interviews", and those who are accused, those children who actually are abused suffer too.

long beach, ca


Let me see if I have this right ... an adult who is mugged or assulted (sexually or otherwise) after the traumas is over shows dramatic effects. We've all either had first hand experience with people we know or have seen people interviewed about the severe symtoms they have suffered once the danger has passed and they are safe again. But we are to believe that two, three, four year olds are assulted and terrorized and they go to the warm safety of their parent's embrace and don't tell and don't fall apart. I have just one question ... have Ms. Reno and her gang ever been around a real child? And I have a question for your producers ... where is the evidence that Ms. Reno has good intentions?

redondo beach, ca


When did PBS become a political media outlet for ACLU? This program is such a travesty! Presenting these cases in such a biased format has done a great injustice to the children and parents involved. As a single father I know how dificult it can be in our judicial system for common sense and the right thing to prevail. When it was proven that my son was abused by his mother at less than two years old I had to go to court to keep her from being awarded custody in the divorce. I was considered for custody only after her, her parents, and foster care.It is a great trajedy in our country today when persons who are proven guilty are afforded a due process in the name of their rights. Abuse hurts. Abuse scars for life. Abuse KILLS. PBS has presented a sympathetic view of the offenders. PBS can burn in hell!!

shannon austin
clearwater, fl


I have always supported Janet Reno, and have felt she has been a good attorney general. Much of my feeling is based on her refusal to bow to pressure from the media and political sources. Now my confidence in her, and especially in her accusations of child molestations allegedly taking place amongst the Branch Davidians prior to the Waco fire, has been shaken to the core.

The real travesty of the cases reaches far beyond the court rooms of America. As a person who has worked with children for over twenty years, I look back on this hysterical era as the time when all who worked with children began to withdraw any gestures of physical affection towards the children with whom one worked. This was a natural reaction to the fear that was felt by those who worked with children regarding being falsely accused of improper touching of a child.

As a male, it was especially difficult. Only in recent years have I begun again to give spontaneous hugs or to provide a reassuring arm around the shoulder of children entrusted to me. We wonder why there has been such an upswing in seemingly senseless youth violence... I firmly believe that we subjected at least half of a generation of kids to an upbringing severely lacking appropriate physical affection from significant adults.

cotati, ca


Although I do believe that many have been unfairly prosecuted using the tainted testimony of these young children, I felt that this program was only a means to express the political opinion of those behind this documentary. It was obvious to me that this was not a program whose purpose was to unmask the horror of those who were unfairly accused. This was clearly about someone's outrage over Janet Reno's actions at Waco. I have no real opinion on Janet Reno but I do feel that it is wrong to manipulate your audience by using this inflammatory subject of ritual child abuse to promote your political beliefs. I am horrified by cases across the country of those who are wrongly accused of these gruesome and bizarre acts. However, I am even more horrified by someone who uses the destroyed lives of these victims to express their political opinions.

minden, la


As a prosecutor in Florida (not in Dade County) I can tell you that much of the responsibility for the occasional "overzealous" prosecution rests squarely on the shoulders of the media. The inertia created by intense media coverage of a crime can make it very difficult for prosecutors to objectively evaluate the strength of the evidence of guilt.

The media RARELY report the facts of a crime accurately, yet constantly push for prosecution. It has a vested interest in reporting sensational trials, regardless of the outcome, whereas if the prosecutors decline to charge, the media have no trial to cover. The sad truth is the media could care less about justice; they only want a story, and the longer they can milk the story, the better. Trials, especially long ones, fit the bill. Unfortunaely some prosecutors can't stand up to the media, and file charges in questionable cases.

Public hysteria can only exist today if the media is complicit in its perpetuation. Irresponsible journalism fosters irresponsible prosecution.

sharpes, florida


Dear Frontline,

Thank you for tonight's provocative program. To dismiss as "hysteria" the prosecutorial zeal exhibited in Janet Reno's Miami tenure is to miss the point. The ritual child abuse frenzy, which we are now beginning to see as an historically isolated phenomenon, had its roots not only in media sensationalism and misplaced political ambition, but also, more importantly, in the power of myth. That children were being systematically harmed was a story we agreed upon, a collectively held image of our collective anxiety concerning modern childrearing. This larger anxiety asserts itself behind many masks--the increasing militance of the abortion debate, for example--and until we find ways to alleviate it, that is, to be better guardians of our future as a species, we can expect further societal perversions and injustices.

Karl Richter
plano, texas


While yours was another excellent program depicting the likely devastating damage of unscientific interviewing methods, political posturing, media ingnorance, and a religious focus on sexuality that recalls images of Salem, I am once again left with the same hollow feeling experienced by viewing most current television programs. Like the Salem witch-hunters, the media, for purposes no loftier than money, ratings, and a quick road to career enhancement, continue to lock on to low incidence examples of justice gone awry, while almost completely ignoring the tragic thousands of true victims of abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect... mostly children. The media focus on these relatively rare cases in the absence of many more equally powerful potential productions which might shed light on victims, serves to paint a skewed view of our social reality while making prosecution of perpetrators more difficult. As an expert in this area, I stopped granting press interviews years ago as it became obvious that the media has little real knowledge or interest in the field of sexuality. The media does know quite well however that sex sells. I feel extreme sorrow for all who are falsely accused. And I feel the same sorrow for the many, many more who will not be protected from, or receive justice for the abuse, molestation, or severe neglect they are suffering tonight. Somehow your program failed to mention them.

Dr. Robert W Hatfield
cincinnati, oh


Dear Frontline:

I just finished watching your excellent documentary on the hysterical fear of child molestation that has visited us in the past few years. Child abuse is a terrible crime, and also a high profile crime. Its unconscionable that unscrupulous prosecutors take advantage of the weaker side of our natures by planting dark, sinister images in the minds of children to further their own careers and make a name for themselves. Personally Ive always questioned Janet Renos abilities since the Waco mess, shes proven time and time again during her tenure as Attorney General that shes ill prepared to objectively deal with complex situations. Shes especially shown that shes completely willing to ignore the Constitution when it suits her immediate needs. It would appear that some amoral FBI operative took advantage of her history as an overzealous defender of the rights of children to twist her arm into turning The Branch Davidian compound into a battlezone. Someone else on this list whined that Frontline is taking a pot shot at Ms. Reno during an election year, but I say its about time someone began to publicly examine this Attorney Generals behavior and history.

Joe Rounceville
ankeny, ia


Your presentation of the evidence in each of the two cases was fair enough, but I thought you were uncharacteristically one-sided in your portrayal of the prosecuters, particulary Ms. Reno, as zealots just after big convictions. You should have presented some more facts about child sexual abuse, such as the number of children who truly are terribly harmed by sex offenders, by which I mean cases in which there is compelling forensic evidence, and the methods by which confessed sex offenders groom victims and progress toward more and more heinous acts. Some of the prosecuters you highlighted may have experience with such cases; they know the horror in store for other children if the guilty go free. Juxtaposing the poor boy nervously waiting two hours with the smiling Janet Reno to sway the viewer's sentiment against her was a tactic of the tabloid news shows, and I thought beneath Frontline. I remain convinced the prosecution was wrong in the cases you showed, but you really went too far in condemning their whole approach.

John Scott
pittsburgh, pa


Thank you Frontline! As an educator and a school principal in the late 80s and 90s I was very concerned over the amount of reported child sex abuse cases and the accusations. Yes, I am aware that for many children this is a very real and unfortunate event in their lives. However, I consider the late 80s and 90s to have been a very regretable time in America's history regarding justice and sexual abuse cases. Many inocent individuals had their lives destroyed by a system I had had faith in. Thank you for your report. I think that you have shown that sometimes we can get locked into a paradigm of thinking and not realize that there is a completely diferent way of viewing a situation. Please keep up the good work.

tulsa, ok

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