Martha Coakley, who is running for U.S. Senate to replace Ted Kennedy as Senator from Massachusetts, partly made her reputation persecuting ritualistic sex abuse in a day care center.

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 18, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Martha Coakley and Modern Witch Hunting - Ritual Child Sexual Abuse

Whenever we think of ourselves as a highly civilized society, keep in mind the Fells Acres Day Care Ritual Sexual Abuse Case. Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Attorney General, is running in the special election to replace Senator Ted Kennedy. Before she became AG, Coakley participated in the Fells Acres case, for which the Middlesex County DA's office convicted three members of the Amirault family - mother, daughter, and son Gerald.

The following quote is from The Week Magazine:

"Coakley did not prosecute the case, which was already under way when she joined the office as an assistant district attorney in 1986. But years later, after the day-care abuse hysteria had subsided and she had won the office's top job, she worked to keep the convicted "ringleader," Gerald Amirault, behind bars despite widespread doubts that a crime had been committed ... the convictions won by the Middlesex DA in the Fells Acres case have not borne up well. By today's standards, the prosecution of the Amirault family, who owned and operated the day-care center in Malden, Mass., looks like a master class in battling witchcraft."

Whether due to misguided fervor or political calculation, Coakley defended and upheld the prosecution of the Amiraults full bore, including concerted behind-the-scenes efforts. Up front, she fought reconsideration of Gerald Amirault's conviction, and even opposed his parole after his sister had been released. (The family received long sentences because they refused pleas.) He too was eventually released - after 18 years in prison! Eighteen years for ritualistic child abuse, which has disappeared from the face of the earth once sensible interrogation techniques for children were put in place. Coakley still defends her position and actions.

Across the country throughout the 1980s-1990s, ritual sexual abuse cases were pursued against day care center personnel. The case concerning the McMartin school, in Manhattan Beach, CA, was the most monumental. This description is from the Religious Tolerance Web site:

"McMartin was one of the first Multi-Victim Multi Offender (MVMO) child abuse cases. It lasted six years -- the longest US criminal trial in history. At a cost to the state of $15 million, it was also the most expensive. No convictions were obtained. The main evidence of abuse was based on what the children testified were memories of repeated, sadistic, ritual molestation. Years later, child psychologists realized that such memories can be easily implanted in children's minds by the interview techniques which were used at the time. Since psychologists and police investigators have changed their methods of interrogating young children, no more MVMO cases have surfaced in the U.S." (emphasis added)

Amazingly, some people still believe the charges. Web sites are dedicated to perpetuating the idea of widespread Ritualistic Child Abuse and maintain that there is a vast conspiracy to cover the phenomenon up. (Keep your eyes peeled for responses to this post from satanic child abuse fans.) Indeed, I worked at a major research center at the time of the McMartin trial. My colleagues - sophisticated social scientists - believed the charges. But the crimes charged - which involved another extended family - never made sense to me. Then again, the disease theory that people are implacably driven to consume alcohol and drugs never made sense to me.

The logic supporting these cases was - "Why would/how could a child make such things up?" Of course, in individual homes and elsewhere, children are reluctant to report ongoing abuse by family members or other powerful adults. These abominations and resulting reticence have been misconstrued to allow the most bizarre stories of ritualistic child abuse to be presented and believed. Keep in mind that the accusers in the Massachusetts Salem witchcraft trials were children - and their stories of witchly infestations quickly spread. Martha Corey (no, not Coakley) - a pillar of the Church - expressed skepticism about the stories and she was charged, along with her husband. That Martha was hanged, while husband Giles was crushed to death under stones in an effort to make him plead.

Childhood merging of fantasy and reality has always taken place. I am an attorney and psychologist in New Jersey, where Kelly Michaels was convicted of ritual sexual abuse. From the National Review (April 26, 1993):

"Kelly Michaels is out of jail, after serving 5 years of a 47-year sentence for supposed acts of child molestation. Her original trial was a transparent travesty, and a retrial would be piling scandal on injustice. Miss Michaels, who worked in a day-care center in a New Jersey church basement in the mid Eighties, was accused by the state of an array of acts which read like warm-ups for Sade: smearing her charges with excrement, and making them eat it; raping them with light bulbs and Lego blocks. (Several children also asserted that she had turned them into mice . . .)."

This last charge - changing children into mice - would seem to be so outlandish that anyone claiming it could not possibly have been taken seriously. But in ritual abuse cases children repeatedly told stories of transubstantiation, human flight, animal sacrifices, ritualistic murders (the McMartin school site was excavated for bodies of children killed during the claimed rituals, even though no children were missing or unaccounted for). Although these reports would seemingly invalidate everything else that was said, in many cases people were imprisoned for years - almost two decades for Gerald Amirault - based on the same children's evidence.

New Jersey - due to the reversal in Michaels - was at the forefront in the incorporation of modern psychological and investigatory techniques for questioning children to prevent building cases around such fantasies. Children are eager to please an interrogator, and try to make sense of what they are asked, sometimes with fabulous tales providing information they imagine the interlocutor is seeking. I may be pollyannaish, but I believe every law enforcement officer, prosecutor, defense attorney, and court in New Jersey is now acutely aware that a child must be questioned cautiously.

There seems to be a "curse" on Coakley and the other former Middlesex County DAs involved with the Amiraults' case. Each successive holder of the office has become Massachusetts Attorney General but has tripped up seeking higher office. The DA who prosecuted the case, Scott Harshbarger, lost the gubernatorial election of 1998. Harshbarger's successor - and Coakley's predecessor - Thomas Reilly, was ordained by the Democratic Party to run for governor. But he came in last in the three-way primary in which Deval Patrick, the current Massachussets governor, was nominated.

Whenever you mock the trials of witches in Salem, consider having an unrepentant witch hunter in the United States Senate. Coakley is heavily backed by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy's widow, and President Obama. So witch hunting can be a path to success. Perhaps these worthies are correct in supporting her - they are, after all, political people. But I couldn't vote for Coakley (although I certainly don't support Coakley's opponent). Even if Coakley survives this election, however, her campaign has marked her as damaged political goods - something her behavior re "ritual child abuse" should have done, but failed to.

P.S.: Coakley was defeated soundly by Scott Brown, putting the first Republican from Massachusetts into the Senate in 35+ years. I apologize to President Obama's health plan and the memory of Ted Kennedy - but some things just can't be.