Top critical review
Take two grains of salt and call me in the morning
on August 11, 2003
"No Crueler Tyrannies" retells the frightening prosecutions of supposed child sexual predators in the 1990s, focusing on the Fells Acre Day School case in Malden, Massachusetts. The book also skims over several other less notorious cases of horrifying child abuse. All of these cases show the alarming propensity among some prosecutors in the 1980s and 1990s to throw otherwise law-abiding citizens into prison, using the coached testimony of young children. Not to mention the Catch-22 judgements of so-called child experts who convinced juries that a child's denial of abuse was proof that it had taken place.
The 1980s-an era when it was more and more common for working parents to entrust their children to day care centers-were ripe for bizarre child molestation cases. The guilt and anxiety parents felt over leaving their children with "strangers" made it easy for parents to believe that their worst nightmares were coming true. When outlandish charges arose, the path of least psychic resistance for parents was to swallow them whole them than with a grain of salt.
The book is a quick read, and sketchy on details. Rabinowitz states her conclusions about testimony rather than laying it out for us to judge on our own. The accused are all ordinary, noble souls with all the cards stacked against them; the prosecutors all blinded by ambition or stupidity, desperate to placate a howling mob looking for convictions. This left me with a certain discomfort: a classic tactic for ideologues is to paint reality in black and white, shouting their conclusions without disclosing their premises or evidence. There is some of this flair to this book. I'd love to see the Amiraults do something boneheaded that feeds into the mob's preconceptions, just to show they are capable of making mistakes. This weakness aside, it's hard not to be angry and frightened that prosecutors can so skew facts (in one case, holding back audio tape of an alleged perpetrator's anxious denial of the charges) and that the rest of us can so blithely go along with them. It's one thing to see this on "The Practice," and quite another to see it in real life.
The post-9/11 environment is ripe for similar cases - this time targeting those who are perceived to be soft on homeland security. Books like Rabinowitz's, however imperfect, serve as cautionary tales of our paranoid propensity to believe the worst about each other.