IPT Book Reviews

Title: Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care  Negative Review Negative Review Negative Review
Authors: David Finkelhor and Linda Meyer Williams with Nanci Burns
Publisher: SAGE Publications 1989

SAGE Publications, Inc.
2111 West Hillcrest Dr.
Newbury Park, CA 91320
$38.00 (c) I $18.95 (p)


This soft-cover book of 272 pages discusses 270 cases of alleged sexual abuse in day care settings.  Following an introductory chapter on how their data were collected, the authors then attempt to construct typologies on both perpetrators and victims.  Succeeding chapters discuss "dynamics of abuse," "disclosure and detection," "victim impact," "program risk factors," "investigation," "licensing," and "community impact."  The authors conclude with recommendations for increased education to teach parents and staff how to recognize warning signs, as well as greater emphasis on a team approach to investigations.  Greater use of mental health services as well as increased public awareness of ritualistic abuse is urged.


This is a truly remarkable book, primarily because of the monumental irresponsibility of the authors, who have taken public monies from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, the National Institute of Mental Health and the state of New Hampshire and used it to compile statistics based on nothing more than opinions of a few beleaguered investigators.  The wasted money will be the least of it, however, for this book promises to do much harm.

First, however, an explanation of the authors' astounding methodology is essential.  They write, "we required the sexual abuse allegation to have been 'substantiated.'  This, however, was a problematic issue."

How do the authors resolve this dilemma?  "Unfortunately, we were not in a position to conduct our own independent inquiry."  Instead, they simply telephoned some of those involved in each case studied, and asked what happened.  But not just anyone involved; they called only those who insisted that abuse had taken place, ignoring those who disagreed.  Let's call Ford, in other words, and find out if the Pinto really was a dangerous car.

Even if the case fell apart, was rejected by the police or prosecutors, or failed to bring a single conviction, the case was nonetheless a "substantiated" case as long as anyone still believed.  "If at least one of the local investigating agencies had decided that abuse had occurred ... then we considered the case substantiated.  "Thus, readers with even a passing acquaintance of the many absurd day care cases of recent years will quickly recognize that this book has nothing to teach about sexual abuse in day care.  The authors, had they decided to pick a sampling of cases and conduct their own independent inquiry of investigation techniques, might have furthered our understanding of how and why such cases have so regularly failed to provide any evidence to support the claims.

Instead, there is little doubt that those refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of false allegations of sexual abuse, and refusing to recognize how this drains away our ability to protect children in a more effective way, will use this book to good advantage.  I have already seen an example.

The Siskiyou County, California Grand Jury recently accused the District Attorney of being derelict in his duty by failing to prosecute enough cases of child sexual abuse.  In support of this accusation, they wrote "Recently, the University of New Hampshire family researchers studied 270 cases of substantiated child abuse ... prosecutors ... are unnecessarily pessimistic. ..."

This will not be the last time that this irresponsible book will be used in this way.  It will become a mainstay in what is clearly unfolding as a long term, desperate effort to deny the reality of our nation's wave of false sexual abuse allegations.

Reviewed by Lee Coleman, M.D., 1889 Yosemite Road, Berkeley, CA 94707.

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