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Metafilter doesn't do this well. June 27, 2013 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Much of the discussion about child abuse in this post is bothersome.

There were some thing said in the discussion about Jesse Friedman, the convicted child molester, that I do not think would stand on MetaFilter if a similar thing was said about someone who was guilty of sexually assaulting adults. I do not want to adjudicate that case here, but I do want to talk about the way we talk about childhood sexual abuse on Metafilter.

Background: Friedman plead guilty to sexually abusing over a dozen children, served 13 years in prison, and has since been released. The DA in New York recently reviewed the case, and in their opinion, 'confirmed' his guilt.

Here is some comments from that thread that I think are problematic:

"So, the DA has issued a report saying "We got it right!" and that's case closed? Like hell. The charges were always ridiculous (one molestation, sure. Two, sure. Five, sure. Eighty? With Arnold Friedman allegedly walking through the classroom waving his wang? Bullshit), and the fact that the Nassau DA, a notoriously prosecution-friendly office, has released their own report just makes me more suspicious."

"Wow, really? This apparently comprehensive review could only confirm the testimony of three out of the original thirteen alleged victims?...What's more disturbing is the fact that even one, let alone two, victim/s has recanted. That suggest that police elicited false testimony."

"What I can't quite square is the testimony of children like those you've quoted above who claim broad and extreme sexual acts on groups of children with two things: 1) a lack of any type of photographic evidence (did the Friedmans have a dark room and develop their own photographs?) and 2) the testimony of other children in the same classroom who said that they witnessed no abuse whatsoever. If the claims were less . . . spectacular, I don't think I'd find myself reacting to them with such suspicion."

"That said "80 kids" sounds absurd, but if you're talking about every single kid that he touched inappropriately even once it might not be impossible."

"You do know that you can make yourself believe things that never happened, right? There are studies that had researchers take photos of peoples childhoods, and photoshop some into things that didn't happen (one i remember is a balloon ride with someone famous). All the people in the study then told them stories about when this happened, and they didn't believe it didn't happen. If you do this in your life, for 20 years or more, especially if you have others telling you it's true, then no amount of fact will let you believe it's false. This is why in cases that can ruin lives, there needs to be more than memories to go by, and if 80 victims is true, that should be mind boggling easy to get."

My issue with these is they echo common patterns of speech found adult rape apologia and rape culture, which is shunned on MetaFilter. They don't' speak to the facts or details of the case at hand, but promote generalizations as to how victims of childhood sexual abuse are 'supposed' to act. Victims are often very reluctant to come forward, very reluctant to speak to police, and often withdrawal their testimony or refuse to participate in an investigation because it opens up old wound and causes them to relive the trauma.

My point is that misremembering details and not coming forward is perfectly consistent with how victims behave. I believe that MeFi would not stand for arguments in threads about a confessed and convicted sexual assaulter of adults to claim that 1) the absence of photographic evidence is indicative of the assaulter's innocence 2) that it is absurd to suggest that an assaulter assaulted over 80 victims 3) that recantation by some of the assaulter's victims suggest that the assaulter is innocent of the charges by those that did not recant 4) and that it is within the realm of possibility that the victims are misremembering their abuse because research shows that it is possible for children to misremember trivial events.
posted by MisantropicPainforest to Etiquette/Policy at 12:43 PM (121 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

Trying to have a generalized discussion about a very complicated child abuse case is really not a thing that I would expect MetaFilter to do well. I appreciate people trying to have a conversation about it and I thought it was a really interesting and well-done post. That said, there are clearly people coming at that topic from a number of wildly different backgrounds who are having trouble finding common ground. This case is a widely discussed very public case that was the subject of an award winning film. It has been available for people to learn/read about for over a decade.

The fact that MetaFilter has a tendency to pick apart details of every part of curious/confusing/troublesome topics makes it a not-great place to try to discuss issues where this picking-apart is seen as actively problematic. I don't disagree with your general assertion, but I think there's a gap between "doesn't do this well" and "the way this site operates naturally means that posts about certain topics elicit a number of strong opinions and feelings that can't be resolved."

There are a number of people who have been making similar points to yours in the thread itself.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:50 PM on June 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is why I avoid these discussions.

(And, no, I've no relation to the Friedman family discussed in that thread.)
posted by dfriedman at 12:52 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


More to the point, the entire focus of the Friedman case (and that post) is how much Jesse Friedman is or is not both specifically legally guilty but also sort of morally culpable for what happened. There is no way to talk about that topic without people raising doubts about the case. Again, I totally see what you are saying, I'm not sure there is a way to have public discussions on a general interest website about the guilt or innocence of a pedophile without running into these problems. We specifically didn't pre-emptively delete it, but it's tough trying to determine the right approach to something like this (see also: nearly every rape thread ever)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2013


I thought the report itself was a pretty incredible piece of work and goes a long way towards answering some of the objections raised in the comments. I'd almost say that including it in the OP might have helped, except people don't read the links anyway. I think the issue of victim policing is getting hashed out pretty well in the thread itself. But yeah, I wish people had RTF rather than responding solely to the key findings.
posted by muddgirl at 1:00 PM on June 27, 2013


I guess I should say: I think the conversation was fine; at least, it's gone as well as can be expected. I am not happy about some of the things you've mentioned, MisantropicPainforest, but I think some of this kind of wrangling is necessary. As jessamyn says, this is now a very public case that has been discussed a lot in the media. At this point, I think it's good to talk about these points if only so that we can try to give good arguments against them and maybe move on from there. And I also think there have been a lot of people in the thread standing up and making calm, thoughtful cases for trusting children when they come forward with allegations like this. I like that, and I like that people had that opportunity. So I'll take the conversation as it is, because I think it's as good as a conversation about this stuff can be on the internet.
posted by koeselitz at 1:11 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also –

MisantropicPainforest: “I believe that MeFi would not stand for arguments in threads about a confessed and convicted sexual assaulter of adults to claim that 1) the absence of photographic evidence is indicative of the assaulter's innocence 2) that it is absurd to suggest that an assaulter assaulted over 80 victims 3) that recantation by some of the assaulter's victims suggest that the assaulter is innocent of the charges by those that did not recant 4) and that it is within the realm of possibility that the victims are misremembering their abuse because research shows that it is possible for children to misremember trivial events.”

I think the standard of what Mefi would "stand for" is not so simple or absolute as this. If we were talking about a confessed and convicted assaulter of adults who had a somewhat obfuscatory film made about them, and who had a number of supporters who believed he was innocent, I am willing to bet that people would show up in the thread to voice those points of view. And whatever Metafilter would "stand for" in such a case, I think that, if the claims and criticisms are out there, it's probably more worthwhile for Metafilter to actually confront them and deal with them, rather than delete them.

Again, I know this is sensitive stuff; and I know there are probably cases where we really shouldn't put up with it. If this were a current case, for example, I don't think we should allow ourselves to contribute to victim-blaming or to accusations that the victims misremembered details. But – in this case, these victims have been accused of misremembering details over and over again for a quarter of a century; and it is beyond doubt that the case happened in a time when many children were in fact actually coerced by police and by psychologists who wanted to convince them to remember particular things. I think it's probably worth more to them at this point to have people who are willing to stand up and say, "I still believe they were and are telling the truth." If we cut off that line of argument, then you and I don't get a chance to say that really.
posted by koeselitz at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: "My point is that misremembering details and not coming forward is perfectly consistent with how victims behave."

This is true. And those who are abused as children may also have emotional and psychological barriers they need to overcome to be comfortable enough to speak openly about what has been done to them. This happens to some extent to adult rape victims, but in children the pressures may be deeper, more pronounced and perhaps(?) a little harder to deal with because they may not have the ability to cope that an adult might. That last is pure speculation on my part based on personal experience, not in any way an expert opinion or intended to dismiss the trauma endured by adult rape victims / survivors. Sexual abuse cases involving children usually only involve a single witness -- the child, who may not have the ability to understand or properly verbalize what has been done to them. So it's natural to assume this might make things difficult when they are asked to testify on their own behalf, even if they do so as adults.

It's already a very complex topic, and I think it's made harder by the nature of the case (as mentioned by Jessamyn above). In my experience people who haven't endured child abuse, a particular, specific type of abuse with unique factors, including overwhelming secrecy, power dynamics and emotional pressures, may try to relate it to other types of abuse they may be more familiar with. Which is of course normal. But the differences can make understanding a case difficult unless they're explained.

There is the working theory / analysis tool which has historically been overapplied by prosecutors in child abuse cases, Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS), but that nevertheless can help people understand five of the primary psychological reactions children can exhibit who have been sexually abused: secrecy, helplessness, entrapment and accommodation, delayed and/or unconvincing disclosure and retraction. Empirical analysis of CSAAS has shown that some factors (secrecy, entrapment) are more likely to occur in child sexual abuse cases than others (such as retraction). A discussion of how the theory has been studied and what conclusions have been drawn about it can be found here.
posted by zarq at 1:26 PM on June 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


The article in that last link about CSAAS shows how hard it is (futile, really) to try and fit every child sexual abuse victim into an overarching theory which explains their behavior under all circumstances.
posted by zarq at 1:30 PM on June 27, 2013


Thank you for this post, I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing all the bullshit rape apologia in that thread and just not having the energy.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:53 PM on June 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


I tend to not participate in such discussions. I tend to feel they are typically unproductive. I feel the people involved need to solve it, not a bunch of strangers who can never really know, many of whom will be arguing out of deep personal bias that makes it impossible for them to view such a case objectively. We cannot know who in the discussion may themselves be a child molester or a victim with suppressed memories, or a parent who doesn't want to believe the piano teacher could be doing such a thing to their kid currently, etc. So I feel these discussions have little hope of being rational, objective, etc.

I was sexually abused as a kid. I am very open about that. But I get accused a lot of "victim blaming" and other craziness. And that is in discussions about things like date rape, where you would think it would be okay to say "She is an adult and her choices are part of the equation." But, no, the minute you bring up the word rape, we want to hang someone high and demonize someone. All hope of objective discussion seems to get promptly lost.

But I wanted to make this point: One of the things that makes child sexual abuse so very hard to recover from is the fact that the abuser probably went to great pains to meet the child's needs in some way and be important to the child. They do this for two reasons a) to make the child complicit so they feel guilty and keep the secret not out of fear of the abuser but out of fear of being judged by the rest of the world and b) because a needy child with no place else to go to get their needs met will keep coming back to them even though the child hates the abuser.

So one of the reasons I typically do not participate in such discussions is because child sexual abuse is a community problem and that is not okay to say. It is not okay to say that you can prevent it in part by making sure children are extremely well cared for, no matter who you are. It is not okay to say that because it makes people feel accused of atrocities when they want to feel it is solely the fault of some monster who deserves to go to jail. But the reality is this type of crime does not occur in a vacuum. We have the expression "rape culture" to talk about the systemic problems which lead to women winding up cornered but I have never heard a similar expression to talk about the systemic problems which lead to kids getting cornered.

It is currently not okay to try to sort out how that happens. The survivors have extremely complex emotions because the person who hurt them may have also taken better care of them than others around them and this abusive person may have been adored, at least at one time, before adoration turned to loathing. Admitting that tends to feel like "it is my fault -- I invited the abuse." Survivors have trouble admitting it to themselves, much less other people. We want to believe that something so horrible is a clear cut case of badness. I wish it were so. It would be so much easier if most pedophiles were the heinous, obvious monsters we paint them as. It is monstrous in part because they often are not.

I do not know what happened in this case and I do not plan to find out. But I think part of the reason people find it implausible that 80 kids were harmed and, thus, the accused must have been railroaded, is because it is somewhat implausible that 80 kids would be invested enough to keep the secrets of the abuser(s). It takes time to groom a child into a good little victim and there is only so much time in the day. But I can see it from either side, in part because our cultural norm is highly dismissive of children. We routinely insist that children give hugs and kisses out of politeness, dismissing their discomfort, then wonder why they get molested. So I can imagine either scenario as plausible and I am just glad I was not directly involved in some way and I am not required to decide which version is true.

I perhaps should not post this here. I am not interested in causing trouble. My only intent is to address why these are unlikely to ever be nice, neat easy discussions with clear answers.
posted by Michele in California at 3:23 PM on June 27, 2013 [35 favorites]


But I get accused a lot of "victim blaming" and other craziness.

seemingly, your main point in threads about date rape is that it's frequently just a drunken misunderstanding based upon some research you wrote a paper on years ago - considering that, the reaction to your opinions on the matter have been downright civil.
posted by nadawi at 3:43 PM on June 27, 2013 [31 favorites]


But I get accused a lot of "victim blaming" and other craziness. And that is in discussions about things like date rape, where you would think it would be okay to say "She is an adult and her choices are part of the equation.

I am very sorry for the abuse you suffered and the pain you have endured, but making statements like that is victim blaming, and there's no way around that. We demonize rapists (well, sometimes) because they deserve it; I'm not saying they should carry the mark of Cain forever, but rapists are not good people who just happened to make a minor mistake.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:48 PM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


I disagree that this would not be tolerated in cases involving adult victims. It's hard to compare because there are not very many comparable cases involving adults, but certainly we discuss the evidence or lack thereof in cases involving one or two adult victims. Witness the Duke lacrosse case, the Julian Assange case, the Strauss-Kahn case, and so on. Also look at our reaction to the West Memphis Three.

What it comes down to is that a lot of people want us to be very hard and critical regarding cases in which they believe the defendants are innocent (WM3 etc) but do not want us to be hard on cases in which they believe the defendants are guilty (Zimmerman, Strauss-Kahn etc). Which is not going to happen. We should (and often do) look critically at virtually every case. It's just that only some types of cases get people wanting that to stop.

I can't tell if Jessamyn was saying that Metafilter's generally critical view of most topics is actively problematic or that some people might legitimately see it as actively problematic. I disagree if the former (I think it's one of Metafilter's strengths) but don't disagree if the latter given that it is self-evident that some people don't like it.

In any case, yeah, I think OP is wrong that Metafilter doesn't tend to view many criminal cases with great skepticism whatever the charge is and whether the victim is an adult or a child.
posted by Justinian at 3:54 PM on June 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


I strongly, wholeheartedly agree that a cultural tendency to deny, minimize, and discount the claims of children regarding sexual assault is a very bad thing and is enabling of perpetrators.

I also strongly, wholeheartedly agree that victim blaming and the discounting of the claims of rape victims is a very bad thing, enabling of rapists, and should always and everywhere be opposed.

But I don't think that these two things are equivalent, though they overlap, and I don't think that the first accurately describes anything in that thread or the comments you've quoted.

In that particular discussion, there are key elements of this case that radically distinguish it from a generic "don't believe children when they say they've been sexually abused". I would never, ever argue anything like that. The key elements are the poor interviewing techniques of the children in that time and place, the anxiety and fear within the affected community, and the reliability of a childhood memory decades after a traumatic and often-discussed event.

"Thank you for this post, I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing all the bullshit rape apologia in that thread and just not having the energy."

I'm not really seeing it and as someone who has worked in rape crisis advocacy, worked with rape survivors and with childhood sexual assault survivors, and whose ex-spouse is an incest survivor, I find this allegation to be hurtful. But because of that I understand deeply the sensitivity around these issues — I have fairly extensive personal experience with people discounting rape and child sexual assault allegations.

It's possible that some of those who are skeptical in that thread are coming from a rape apologia position. I'm certainly not. As I wrote above, I am in strong agreement that there exists in our culture a general discounting of allegations by children of sexual assault and that this is a very bad thing and should be opposed. But the circumstances of this case are squarely in that small, exceptional area where such testimony actually is much less reliable. Pointing this out in the context of discussing this particular case is not at all making the general skeptical claim.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:55 PM on June 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Oh, people who can't conceive of skepticism in this case as anything but apologia should really read up on the McMartin preschool case.
posted by Justinian at 3:57 PM on June 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


So one of the reasons I typically do not participate in such discussions is because child sexual abuse is a community problem and that is not okay to say. It is not okay to say that you can prevent it in part by making sure children are extremely well cared for, no matter who you are. It is not okay to say that because it makes people feel accused of atrocities when they want to feel it is solely the fault of some monster who deserves to go to jail. But the reality is this type of crime does not occur in a vacuum. We have the expression "rape culture" to talk about the systemic problems which lead to women winding up cornered but I have never heard a similar expression to talk about the systemic problems which lead to kids getting cornered.

Hopefully that will change a bit in the wake of scandals like the Church is facing and especially Penn State where the entire program was singled out for failures to address the situation rather than simply viewing it as a problem of one monster. I really don't think you should expect to face too much opposition in pointing out the cultural issues that contributed.

What it comes down to is that a lot of people want us to be very hard and critical regarding cases in which they believe the defendants are innocent (WM3 etc) but do not want us to be hard on cases in which they believe the defendants are guilty (Zimmerman, Strauss-Kahn etc).

I think the recent Zimmerman thread is handling this a lot better than usual. Thanks for your posts over there. This is the first celebrity type trial I have ever followed this closely and it's nice to have someone posting who has a better sense/understanding of what is going on.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:03 PM on June 27, 2013


Sadly, I have a better sense of whats going on because I'm stuck sitting in front of my TV all day yesterday and today. A drunk hamster can do that.
posted by Justinian at 4:07 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


For the sake of clarity: I was not specifically thinking of remarks I have made on MetaFilter in part because I participate very little on the Blue. I have gotten stronger reactions elsewhere, and sometimes gotten written apologies afterward once I made my view clearer. I don't plan to argue in this thread about my views on date rape. I think that's a terrible derail. It is unfortunate but not at all surprising that people would pull that one detail out of my remarks and essentially attack me personally while largely ignoring my real point that objective discussion of pedophile cases is nearly impossible.
posted by Michele in California at 4:12 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


But the circumstances of this case are squarely in that small, exceptional area where such testimony actually is much less reliable.

I responded to your comment about the possibility of child witnesses being led, and the study I quoted seemed very much to say that the testimony was reliable.

Although I agree that there are a lot of comments about "ridiculous", "outlandish" allegations that "couldn't be true" that really, really bothered me, I thought the thread itself was going quite well considering how sensitive a subject it is. The only reason I knew about this MeTa is because my last comment was deleted. I agree I'd gone off track and was losing patience, because while I get that there will always be those who protest someone's innocence no matter what the evidence, the reasons seemed not to be focusing on police procedure, for example, rather the believability of the witness statements. I was posting a link to the Jimmy Saville (BBC presenter) case as one of the points raised was "to have abused 80 kids is ridiculous", but Saville is alleged to have abused hundreds.

Basically some people in that thread seem to have the idea that what he was convicted for couldn't possibly have happened, and therefore the testimonies must have been fabricated/misremembered/unreliable etc. I was reacting strongly to this because that is what keeps abusers silent. No one will believe them because they couldn't possibly be telling the truth. After all, that's the Priest/Principal/Coach/Senator!

I agree with the OP that if a thread about rape was taken up a lot by talk of false memory it would not go down well, and nor should it. All that said, though, if I was on other sites I would have expected hideous personal attacks all round by now. So I think we were all doing as well as we possibly could have been.
posted by billiebee at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sadly, I have a better sense of whats going on because I'm stuck sitting in front of my TV all day yesterday and today. A drunk hamster can do that.

Heh, I'm watching it live too, but still a lot of it escapes me.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2013


a good way to avoid arguing your views of date rape is to not bring them up in the first place.
posted by nadawi at 4:30 PM on June 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


a good way to avoid arguing your views of date rape is to not bring them up in the first place.

Whatever your objections to her point of view on that subject, it feels like a derail to focus on them in this thread, which is about a somewhat different and perhaps even more difficult topic.
posted by Diablevert at 4:40 PM on June 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Nothing and no one deals well with rape and abuse because we shouldn't.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:43 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I initially brought up the 81 children number and the "outlandish" ( i.e. leapfrog) accusations when talking about my impression of how the case was presented in the documentary.

I also perhaps naively never believed someone I watched on film and didn't think was off or sketchy could do all that. Jokes on me, how could I possibly know what he was capable of after watching him for such a short time. Especially considering he fooled people who had known him for years.

That is what people don't like to admit. That they were fooled and are not as good a judge of character as they think.

The first link, which called Jesse a level 3 violent sex offender, characterized the initial accusations as "outlandish" As well. Maybe the initial accusations were outlandish compared to what truely terrible things did happen.

I'm not trying to apologize for anyone as I believe the guy is guilty even if it wasn't 81 and the more spectacular accusations didn't happen. I don't think the panel would have signed off in the report unless they were sure and I trust their judgement.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:50 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is an inherent tension between two interests society has. First, society has an interest in supporting and helping crime victims, which includes affirming their right to tell their stories and to not be blamed for being victimized. And second, society has an interest in ensuring the fairness and accuracy of the criminal justice system, which includes protecting the rights of the accused to a full and fair opportunity to call into question the accounts of all witnesses, including victim-witnesses, and to have a citizen-jury that is open to being persuaded that those witnesses should be disbelieved. That means, in short, that we have to believe victims, while simultaneously allowing people to advocate, sometimes successfully, that they be disbelieved.

It's easier to reconcile those two values if you hold that we should do the latter in courts of law, and the former in regular conversations about crime and victims. However, the categories get blurred in conversations like the ones we're having in that thread, which is essentially about whether the criminal justice system got it wrong when it found that the evidence, including the victims' testimony, was credible enough to meet the heavy burden we place on the government when it prosecutes crime.

We're having a conversation that is only sort of about whether the victims are telling the truth or lying; it's more precisely about (or perhaps, should be about) whether we as a society are willing to stake our fundamental liberties on the level of evidence available in this case. When some people are saying no, we should not be willing to convict a person of a serious crime based on these witnesses' testimony, they don't have to say that the victims are lying; they can say that the testimony doesn't meet the burden of proof that we demand in criminal prosecutions.

I can simultaneously believe that the victims are telling the truth and that Jesse Friedman should not have been convicted of a crime. I can also simultaneously believe that the victims are not lying and that the investigation and prosecution of the case was shoddy enough that I can't be sure whether or not their testimony has been coerced, unduly influenced, or tainted. I have to be able to believe both of those things at once. If I couldn't, I wouldn't be able to both be a compassionate person who shows respect for other people and also be an ethical citizen who believes that every person accused of a crime is entitled to a fair trial before we take away his liberty.

But it makes these conversations really, really hard.
posted by decathecting at 4:50 PM on June 27, 2013 [28 favorites]


"Basically some people in that thread seem to have the idea that what he was convicted for couldn't possibly have happened, and therefore the testimonies must have been fabricated/misremembered/unreliable etc. I was reacting strongly to this because that is what keeps [the] abuse silent. No one will believe them because they couldn't possibly be telling the truth. After all, that's the Priest/Principal/Coach/Senator!"

Yeah, that's generally a big problem. But, again, I don't think those examples are comparable to this case.

...which is the core issue in how to interpret the comments expressing extreme skepticism. Do they come from knowledge and experience with this particular subject? Or are they just intuited?

Discussing those differences is what that thread is for, not this one. But this case, as presented by the investigators and the prosecutor's office, doesn't look to me like the vast majority of pedophilic sexual assaults, which includes those committed by family or priests or coaches like your examples. (But a more limited version of the events does fit the pattern!)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:01 PM on June 27, 2013


I also perhaps naively never believed someone I watched on film and didn't think was off or sketchy could do all that.

I think that's a really cool sef-aware thing to say. And for me, though I hear what you're saying decathecting, that is the inherent tension in this particular conversation. It's not whether the testimony meets the burden of proof. Or whether it was coerced, or led etc. it's that the idea of what they were testifying was somehow unbelievable.

To pick out just one example,
Arnold Friedman allegedlyd walking through the classroom waving his wang? Bullshit.
The very idea is bullshit, apparantly, not the testimony. Despite the fact that I, and I'd imagine lots of women (and there may even be a reference in the lavaballing thread) know stories of women who had a man put his penis on her in public in broad daylight. Is it really that unbelievable to walk around a classroom in your own basement full of children you've been grooming/abusing with your cock out?

I think a lot of people just don't want to know what adults are capable of doing to children. It's more comfortable to believe "moral panic". And I can't speak about US conviction rates, but in the UK they're dismally low. So I'm not sure that the idea that the system is somehow predisposed to believe the victim is actually true.
posted by billiebee at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


decathecting's comment was amazing.

I would add that we at MeFi sometimes fall into a rut of setting up false dichotomies and choosing up sides accordingly. See also the Assata Shakur thread.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:30 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I think a lot of people just don't want to know what adults are capable of doing to children. It's more comfortable to believe 'moral panic'. And I can't speak about US conviction rates, but in the UK they're dismally low. So I'm not sure that the idea that the system is somehow predisposed to believe the victim is actually true."

But you keep asserting opposition that don't necessarily exist. I agree that it exists in the context of some people in some arguments.

Speaking for myself, it's hard for me to imagine anyone with stronger affirmative beliefs than I have about the vast extent of sexual assault against children. I speak about this all the time with people I know, I write about it publicly and have done so on many, many occasions here on MeFi. But I also have strong negative beliefs about the daycare and satanic ritual abuse moral panics. The two are not contradictory. I worked in rape crisis at the height of the RSA panic.

And the heart of this is that these are different things. I wrote and erased something where I dealt with this explicitly. As I wrote before, I don't think that this is the place to discuss this. But, no, I don't think that your examples of penis display are comparable.

"So I'm not sure that the idea that the system is somehow predisposed to believe the victim is actually true.

I haven't argued this. And I have a suspicion that there is, in fact, a difference between the US and UK with regard to this. Nevertheless, I think that the biggest generalization about this in the US is that you're right: the system is not predisposed to believe the victim. It is not as hostile as it is to rape victims, but it it is generally pretty skeptical. That's when you lump all cases and all disclosures and all responses together. My ex disclosed to her teacher about her father's incest. Nothing happened. You hear these stories all the time, even though in the US all such adults almost always have a legal requirement to report such disclosures to the police.

But during the day-care moral panic period, especially, for the police and prosecutors involved, the situation was reversed. And that's because the social calculus is reversed. The idea that Uncle Bob is sexually molesting your kids is too horrific to contemplate, and when it's Bob's wife Carol who has suspicions, even more so. But the idea that the guy that teaches your kids computer classes, or runs the day care center is sexually molesting your kids? That's too horrific to ignore. The former affirms something about our society that we don't know how to deal with, let alone acknowledge — that most childhood sexual assault is committed by fathers and uncles and grandfathers. In contrast, the latter affirms something that our society has grave doubts about, anyway — strangers with our children — and, importantly, it's something that we can do something about.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:02 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


ivan, i basically agree with everything you just said - but computer teacher, daycare worker, boy scout leader, clergy, camp counselors, etc are an extended circle of known assailants - following patterns of grooming and such, not strangers. the panic that doesn't have a lot of basis in reality (but still happens) is actual strangers - pulling kids off the street into a white panel van, etc.

this is an issue i mostly try to stay out of because i feel like my mother was actually abused as a child but also convinced that more people molested her than did and i think she was convinced as part of the 80s recovered memories thing. but...during all of that i was actually being abused by my brother. i have a very hard time separating my own life from the conversations in a way to approach it with a level head. sometimes i feel like i have to justify my own history more because of the decade it happened in.

i will say that some of the comments in that thread to me were very much on the side of "nothing this horrific could happen so this must be made up" i think it's unfortunate that people with good critiques get lumped with them, but i also think it's unfortunate that people who bring up being disturbed by that response are basically accused of refusing to hear healthy skepticism.
posted by nadawi at 6:15 PM on June 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


"i will say that some of the comments in that thread to me were very much on the side of 'nothing this horrific could happen so this must be made up' i think it's unfortunate that people with good critiques get lumped with them, but i also think it's unfortunate that people who bring up being disturbed by that response are basically accused of refusing to hear healthy skepticism."

I agree on both counts.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:58 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


As I'm being quoted here, I should probably clarify where I'm coming from:

Obviously, child sexual abuse is real, and awful. Equally obviously, many allegations of child sexual abuse are untrue. America in particular has a long and sordid history of false accusations of child abuse, dating all the way back to poor Tituba. The Friedman case happened in the midst of a wave of absolutely false accusations of child sexual abuse. Poor therapy procedures and police questioning techniques---the very techniques used to solicit the witness testimony in the Friedman case---caused many people to falsely believe that they had been horrifically abused.

Like child abuse, the creation of false memories of child abuse destroyed lives. Not only the lives of those accused, but also the witnesses who had their memories tampered with, their certainties destroyed, and their families ripped apart. Many of them continued to remember appalling torture even after it became clear that it simply wasn't possible, because the memories had been implanted; they were in essence made to suffer the sensations of abuse by the very people who claimed to be saving them from abusers. When this thread came up, I was actually just listening to the This American Life episode about the way the late 80s/early 90s wave of abuse accusations ruined countless lives beyond repair, which certainly influenced how viscerally I took the thread.

The stories of that time are horrible. And the lesson one should take from them is that in many cases---and especially in sex abuse cases from that awful period---testimony is worth little, and physical evidence is worth much. So many of the abuse stories of the 80s involved lurid details that should have tipped off bullshit detectors, but law enforcement and therapists were so convinced that it was a sin to disbelieve a story of abuse that they ignored overwhelming physical evidence that was pointing to the truth: that the abuse hadn't happened.

In the Friedman case, we have physical evidence of child pornography, but physical evidence that should be there isn't. And like so many of those false prosecutions, the tip-off is the implausible details (like the leapfrog story, or the allegation that a classroom full of kids watched a teacher repeatedly walk around with his penis out and said nothing) which fill so many of the false accusations from that time.

Obviously, implausible doesn't mean untrue. But it does mean subject to strict scrutiny. And I find the D.A.'s office concluding that the D.A.'s office did just fine a less than impressive investigation. Meanwhile, to simply say "There are witnesses saying there was abuse, so there must have been abuse" flies in the face of history as surely as if you accepted the LAPD's description of Rodney King's driving.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:24 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, missed the edit window. Top of paragraph 4 should read "In the Friedman case, we have physical evidence of child pornography, but the physical evidence of abuse that should be there isn't."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:46 PM on June 27, 2013


"...but law enforcement and therapists were so convinced that it was a sin to disbelieve a story of abuse that they ignored overwhelming physical evidence that was pointing to the truth: that the abuse hadn't happened."

I disagree with this.

I don't disagree with the claim that LE and therapists were highly motivated to interpret the children's testimony positively, but I disagree with your rationale for why this was the case and even more strongly disagree with what I think is an implicit argument underneath it. Which makes me more sympathetic to the complaints of MisantropicPainforest and others.

In general, and especially then, people in our culture are more inclined to disbelieve than believe such testimony and, then and now, this includes to some degree LE, and they certainly don't think it's a "sin" to disbelieve. The therapists involved, maybe. Law enforcement is generally skeptical. Take a look at any much more mundane case of a familial sexual abuse allegation by a child, for example. LE approach this very cautiously, not gung-ho.

The daycare and RSA panics were different, though. And, as I wrote above, this is because the context was much different.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:56 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


it wasn't just the da saying the da did a great job, it was also people like the president of the aclu and co-founder of the innocence project. do you think they're also in the habit of ignoring overwhelming physical evidence?
posted by nadawi at 10:16 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought the discussion - in the main, not wholly - has been quite good. I think there has been some intemperate language, and hyperbolic responses, on both sides. And a little more good faith when reading others comments wouldn't go astray, but I think the overall discussion has been fairly measured, and interesting on a very difficult topic.
posted by smoke at 10:17 PM on June 27, 2013


My issue with these is they echo common patterns of speech found adult rape apologia

"Apologia"? Really? There are people in that thread "apologizing" for rape? I'm not seeing it.

I'm seeing people expressing varying points of view on whether the allegations in that case were reliable. I'm not seeing anyone saying that if the allegations were true, it wasn't so bad or wasn't really rape.

If anything, that thread is exemplary of what should happen in a thread about a rape case: it treats the case as a serious crime. This is how the United States is supposed to treat a serious crime: scrutinizing it closely, not automatically believing the accusations, and presuming that the defendants are innocent of rape. If that's not what you want, then you don't want rape to be considered a crime in the United States legal system.

I've read the thread and seen the film repeatedly, and no matter what anyone says, this is a complicated case. I know some people want to say it's all really simple. It's still complicated.
posted by John Cohen at 10:26 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a difference between saying, "This could never happen" and "This didn't happen in this particular circumstance." I left that thread early because there were a lot of people saying, "This could never happen," and I agree that such statements are rape/abuse apologies -- because such things happen regularly, however much we like to pretend that they don't. I think it's a good thing to ask commenters to be more careful with their phrasing in these circumstances so that they don't dismiss or erase other people's experiences.

Also, I think it's worth noting that "childhood victims of sexual abuse" and "adult victims of sexual abuse" are not discrete categories.
posted by jaguar at 10:40 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's simple, but at this point I am far more inclined to believe the panel of experts who saw all the evidence available over people who have seen a documentary repeatedly. and if this becomes the standard for conversations of rape I wager those conversations will happen with less and less survivors participating. luckily I think this is an outlier, not the new normal.
posted by nadawi at 10:44 PM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: “So many of the abuse stories of the 80s involved lurid details that should have tipped off bullshit detectors, but law enforcement and therapists were so convinced that it was a sin to disbelieve a story of abuse that they ignored overwhelming physical evidence that was pointing to the truth: that the abuse hadn't happened.”

Ivan already went over this a bit, but I want to underline it: this is, I think it's safe to say, a deep mischaracterization of the various abuse crazes of the 1980s. The underlying problems of these scandals were set right, at least in large part, by psychiatrists who worked to document the problem of False Memory Syndrome. It should be noted that FMS is a very particular thing. In all the false cases that stemmed from it, the idea of the abuse wasn't concocted by the victim at all – it was introduced by an overeager psychotherapist, someone who had already been treating the victim for a long time, and generally one who was interested in the then-in-vogue idea of repressed memories. These adults who then came forward were trusted, particularly because they were adults in positions of authority who spoke the technical lingo correctly.

The point is that in none of these cases that I'm aware of did the children come forward with their allegations on their own; in none of them were they interviewed by police immediately; in none of them were there multiple people who corroborated the basic story of abuse. There is virtually no sense in which these other false-abuse cases have anything whatsoever in common with the Friedman case. The case is complicated by the fact that, several years into the case, this common process started to happen; the police and the therapists involved pushed ever-more-outlandish tales, and more and more ridiculous stories were introduced. But the core truths that had come out in the beginning were sound and solid.

The most important point is – it is very incorrect to say that the false abuse stories of the 80s stemmed from people believing that "it was a sin to disbelieve" children who told a story of abuse. Very much to the contrary: stories of abuse from children were not believed. They were only believed if a therapist who had an air of authority and a number of big words to describe the abuse came forward themselves and made the accusations on behalf of the children.
posted by koeselitz at 11:01 PM on June 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


I also think that if one is going to mount a passionate rebuttal of the linked articles, one needs to read the fucking articles. The number of commenters early in the thread who were making big flamboyant points for Freidman's innocence based on points debunked in the report -- even in the summaries of the report -- was annoying and very much created a climate of rape-apologism. Commenters criticizing the report did not, but since they necessarily commented later than people who didn't RTFA, they ended up reinforcing a climate of victim-blaming.
posted by jaguar at 11:12 PM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I don't think it's simple, but at this point I am far more inclined to believe the panel of experts who saw all the evidence available over people who have seen a documentary repeatedly."

The panel of experts were pretty careful not to weigh in on the question itself, but rather on the question of the quality of the prosecutor's office review. That's not the same thing — though I think it does count for quite a bit when we do try to evaluate the review. But it's not definitive for me in the way that a review of the case by such external experts themselves would be definitive. It's suggestive.

But I retain considerable skepticism about a prosecutor's office reviewing itself on the question of a defendant's guilt and its own conduct in a case. In fact, that anyone thought this was appropriate sort of pisses me off. If this were to be done, then it should have been done by someone else.

I don't really understand why anyone would use the documentary as evidence of anything in this discussion. My concerns with the expert panel's assurances are that they only know as much about the review process as they were able to see and know, they were at the mercy of the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor's office had control of the narrative. But by that logic, so, too does the film control a narrative, and with far less information than was available to the expert panel. If one is skeptical of the prosecutor's office, then one ought to be a thousand times more skeptical of the film. And that pretty much describes me.

"There is virtually no sense in which these other false-abuse cases have anything whatsoever in common with the Friedman case."

Yes and no. You're completely right with regard to ritual satanic abuse in the context of recovered memories. That's very different from the contemporary testimony of children, as in the case with Friedman.

However, the McMartin case and some other daycare cases, a few of which merged into the RSA panic, did involve contemporary testimony of children. RSA is kind of a connecting thread between the child sexual abuse moral panics of the eighties and recovered memories, but when you exclude RSA then the recovered memories weren't precisely a moral panic but something else and they really have little relevance to this discussion except insofar as they demonstrate the suggestible malleability of memory many years after the fact.

The daycare moral panic cases are relevant because even if the allegations in the Friedman case are all true, the case culturally still played the same role that the other daycare moral panic cases did. This is relevant insofar as it places the investigation and the prosecution into a certain context. What we know of that context is that investigators and prosecutors had different incentives and pressures than they did with other kinds of sexual abuse cases. What we also know are the ways in which investigators and prosecutors went wrong in other daycare cases and there's very good reason to believe that they made the same kinds of mistakes in this case.

That said, and what I've written in the thread, is that we really should start from something unambiguous in this case: Arnold Friedman was a pedophile. We know this absolutely, there's no doubt at all. We have hard evidence. He almost certainly abused Jesse. That's a baseline that the other daycare moral panic cases didn't have (to my knowledge).

Given this, the similarities to the other daycare cases are enough to be concerned, to be skeptical precisely insofar, but no further, as the scope and nature of the allegations mirrors those of other daycare moral panic cases. No further, because we do know that the adult with access to these children was, in fact, a pedophile. We've very good reason to believe that some abuse was committed; we have moderately good reasons to believe that Jesse was involved.

If you're sensitive to certain things, and many people are, and rightly so, then it's easy to see and be upset about perceived agendas that people bring to bear in their reactions to this case, from one side of this argument or the other. And a few people do have certain agendas of which we ought to be suspicious and resistant.

Otherwise, though, the thing about this case is that it looks like two different things at once, and each of those things tell a different, contradictory story. It's difficult to thread that needle and not err in the direction of implying rape apologia or not erring in the direction of validating the moral panic cases. I think that can be done, but only with a lot of sensitivity and especially, as jaguar put it, by being "more careful with their phrasing in these circumstances so that they don't dismiss or erase other people's experiences."
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:41 PM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


What it comes down to is that a lot of people want us to be very hard and critical regarding cases in which they believe the defendants are innocent (WM3 etc) but do not want us to be hard on cases in which they believe the defendants are guilty (Zimmerman, Strauss-Kahn etc).

Justinian has it. The prejudice of opinion on many subjects, like this one, is overwhelming.

Don't talk to the police. Ever. Unless you're one of "those" people in which case the police can do no wrong.
posted by three blind mice at 4:19 AM on June 28, 2013


Witness the Duke lacrosse case, the Julian Assange case, the Strauss-Kahn case

All of which were cases where there were, AFAIK, one alleged victim's testimony and accusation. And it would have been vile, to say to the least, to bring up in the, say, Strauss-Kahn case, that the maid may be misremembering things, because people can be tricked into believing that they were in a balloon ride in the past.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:44 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the Friedman case, we have physical evidence of child pornography, but physical evidence that should be there isn't.

Worth noting that very often, cases involving the sexual abuse of children do not include physical evidence that "should be there." Molestation does not always produce physical evidence. A child who has been sexually assaulted may not have the mental wherewithal after experiencing such trauma to gather evidence of what has been done to them, and, like an adult rape victim, may not report what has happened for various reasons. When a child's abuser is (as it so often is) a trusted family member, they may be afraid to speak. As a result, they are unlikely to undergo a subsequent "rape kit" medical exam.

The circumstances between assault of an adult by an adult and between adult and minor differ. So should expectations.
posted by zarq at 5:49 AM on June 28, 2013


The stories of that time are horrible. And the lesson one should take from them is that in many cases---and especially in sex abuse cases from that awful period---testimony is worth little, and physical evidence is worth much. So many of the abuse stories of the 80s involved lurid details that should have tipped off bullshit detectors, but law enforcement and therapists were so convinced that it was a sin to disbelieve a story of abuse that they ignored overwhelming physical evidence that was pointing to the truth: that the abuse hadn't happened.

And you come in here with more apologies. What you are essentially saying is that any witness testimony of childhood sexual abuse that occurred in a specific period of the 1980s should be discounted ("worth little"), because there were more false claims made than there are now. Moreover, you are conflating the worst cases of false accusation and fabricated testimony, with testimony from at least 3 victims who have maintained for over 20 years that the abuse occurred, in addition to a trial, conviction, confession, and review by the DAs office and a panel of experts. You do not cite or discuss analogous cases.

I have no idea what else to call that, other than an apology.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:07 AM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


and especially in sex abuse cases from that awful period---testimony is worth little, and physical evidence is worth much.

this almost had me hitting the red button last night and taking an extended time off from here. some people just don't care that they're sharing a space with victims - some from the 80s and 90s! also ignoring (or not caring about) the fact that for a majority of victims our abusers will never be so much as questioned by the police, much less would we even have the opportunity to be on the stand to give actual testimony. hell, as a former victim i can't even sit on the jury of cases involving abuse.

ugh. to this whole thing. thanks for posting the metatalk thread, MisantropicPainforest - even if some want to rush in to say they "just don't see it," i think it deserved the spotlight.
posted by nadawi at 7:03 AM on June 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Molestation does not always produce physical evidence.

Molestation doesn't. But the testimony in the Friedman case involved the production of tremendous amounts of film and video, and at least some of which should have been found somewhere (especially given that other child pornography was found). It also involved a lot of events that would have taken time, and the timeline doesn't seem to match up to events.

It's not that no teacher has ever abused a student, obviously. In fact, many of the events described in the case did happen elsewhere. For example, the teacher walking around a classroom with his privates exposed does seem to have happened in St. Michael village in Alaska, where a priest was molesting an entire classroom of students. But the fact that it happened somewhere does not mean it happened here.

nadawi, I do not discount your experience, or your suffering. It is real. The suffering of abused children is real, and unspeakably awful. I would like to see your abusers questioned by police; better still, I would like to see them sent to prison.

But that does not mean that every account of molestation is automatically true. The only way to separate true from false accounts---and as Ivan Fyodorovich points out, children have given false accounts in the past---is by examining the evidence. That is how any competent legal system works.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:08 AM on June 28, 2013


The only way to separate true from false accounts---and as Ivan Fyodorovich points out, children have given false accounts in the past---is by examining the evidence.

Can you please clarify this for me?

By saying that we need to examine the evidence, are you talking about examining the testimonies of the victims, or the physical evidence, or both?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:17 AM on June 28, 2013


Equally obviously, many allegations of child sexual abuse are untrue ...Like child abuse, the creation of false memories of child abuse destroyed lives. Not only the lives of those accused, but also the witnesses who had their memories tampered with, their certainties destroyed, and their families ripped apart. Many of them continued to remember appalling torture even after it became clear that it simply wasn't possible, because the memories had been implanted; they were in essence made to suffer the sensations of abuse by the very people who claimed to be saving them from abusers. When this thread came up, I was actually just listening to the This American Life episode about the way the late 80s/early 90s wave of abuse accusations ruined countless lives beyond repair...The stories of that time are horrible. And the lesson one should take from them is that in many cases---and especially in sex abuse cases from that awful period---testimony is worth little, and physical evidence is worth much. So many of the abuse stories of the 80s involved lurid details that should have tipped off bullshit detectors, but law enforcement and therapists were so convinced that it was a sin to disbelieve a story of abuse that they ignored overwhelming physical evidence that was pointing to the truth: that the abuse hadn't happened.

You keep saying "many" and "countless," which is typical of these conversations. But describing the McMartin case as your primary example doesn't necessarily justify the use of quantifiers like that.

Because regardless of the truth or falsity of this particular kind of abuse claim, one result has been that it has amplified a particular facet of American culture in which we categorically and nearly automatically do not believe victims of abuse and assault in most other kinds of cases. We do not believe, particularly, women. We do not believe women to tell their own stories. We do not trust their voices. And as a result, women are taught not to trust their own voices or experiences, even when they can and should. So while I'm sympathetic to the ways in which false memories have caused great suffering, I am not at all prepared to imply that this was epidemic--or, at least, I want to suggest that seeing it as epidemic has been an important factor in allowing this culture of disbelief and suspicion to flourish.
posted by liketitanic at 7:19 AM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


you can take care with how you question those events to make sure you're only questioning those events and not creating such a broad umbrella that you suggest all testimony from two decades about a particular subject are incredibly suspect without physical evidence to back it up.

(as to the physical evidence - it's quite possible that material was traded or destroyed before the child porn investigation)
posted by nadawi at 7:19 AM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, I think listening to TAL and then acting like an expert on that basis is sort of a perfect, ironic example of being a subscriber to Modern Jackass.
posted by liketitanic at 7:28 AM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: " But that does not mean that every account of molestation is automatically true. The only way to separate true from false accounts---and as Ivan Fyodorovich points out, children have given false accounts in the past---is by examining the evidence. That is how any competent legal system works."

The person who assaulted me will never be brought to justice. They are dead. I was a kid. It was a long time ago. There's no remaining physical evidence that the assaults ever happened. Nothing but my own word against a dead pedophile's. I have nothing I can point to but emotional trauma and nightmares that will follow me for the rest of my life. And yet, it happened. Even if they were still alive and I took them to court, if the case were to focus only on physical evidence (which does not exist) and give no consideration to my testimony the legal system would without a doubt dismiss the case. The rapist would still walk away and I, the victim, would see no justice.

The legal system isn't "competent." In cases like that testimony has to be given a certain amount of weight because the victims have nothing else.

I sincerely do not understand your need to bring up a handful of unrelated cases with what are clearly different circumstances and assert that they prove "many" accusations are false. As far as I've seen, no one here has said that every account of molestation is automatically true. You however, seem to be implying that we should all be considered liars unless proven otherwise. That we survivors shouldn't try and fight for justice against those who assaulted us if we lack physical evidence.

Which I gotta say, kinda sucks.
posted by zarq at 7:33 AM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


And in cases without physical evidence--where we wouldn't expect there to be any because too much time has passed or whatever--why is it that instead of believing the memories of victims because they are "faulty" and "unreliable," we fucking clamor to believe the equally faulty memories and testimony of abusers, particularly men, with more power, with more public credibility, and with more reason to lie?
posted by liketitanic at 7:34 AM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


See also the Assata Shakur thread.

There was an Assata Shakur thread? I'm not finding it in search.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:40 AM on June 28, 2013


By saying that we need to examine the evidence, are you talking about examining the testimonies of the victims, or the physical evidence, or both?

Both. The testimony should be checked for plausibility, the physical evidence should be verified. That is how the legal system works.

liketitanic, I provided a link to a whole list of false accusations that came out of the day care hysteria of the period; many people were indeed falsely accused. Neither the McMartin case nor TAL was my only example, and your pretence that they were makes me feel like you are deliberately misrepresenting what I'm writing.

Zarq, I understand that the adversarial legal system can lead to appalling injustices. But it's the best system we've got. Accused people are considered innocent until proven guilty, and yes, that means accusations are considered untrue until proven true. Which does kinda suck, but I know of no better alternative.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2013


Slightly off topic, but one of the things I find fascinating about the 80s/90s wave of false accusations was that day care centers and after school programs were constantly accused of harboring pedophiles when they weren't, while churches which really were harboring serial abusers went ignored. I wonder if there is some connection there.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:55 AM on June 28, 2013


I provided a link to a whole list of false accusations that came out of the day care hysteria of the period

None of which were remotely relevant to the case at hand, because none of the proven false accusations were cases where there were multiple false accusations by children who grew up into adults and that were sustained for over 20 years. That means that the false accusations that you cited were not relevant to the case at hand.

Can you see why that is upsetting?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:55 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dude. You linked 17 cases from a Wikipedia entry, most of which involved children who were coerced by adults into reporting abuse. Talk to me after you've read what Jim Hopper's gathered instead of fucking Wikipedia and then maybe we'll talk. You're deliberately misinterpreting or ignoring other clear counter-evidence in this thread, in addition to the voices of abuse survivors who are trying to tell you that you don't actually understand how these things work out here in the world. Enjoy your subscription to Modern Jackass.
posted by liketitanic at 7:58 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it's the best system we've got. Accused people are considered innocent until proven guilty, and yes, that means accusations are considered untrue until proven true. Which does kinda suck, but I know of no better alternative.

You are actually hurting people with your words, which are morally and ethically reductive at best. You get that, right?
posted by liketitanic at 8:02 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Accused people are considered innocent until proven guilty, and yes, that means accusations are considered untrue until proven true.

Proven true how? He was convicted. The perpetrator confessed to multiple people, including the prosecutor, and now a review board of four nationally renowned legal experts have said he was rightfully convicted.

You can't have it both ways here, calling for a burden of proof that's higher than the court's but claiming that you do believe some abuse can be "proven."

It was proven in this case, according to all legal definitions of proof, and then it was again proven in an above-and-beyond review of the case.
posted by jaguar at 8:03 AM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't think it's simple, but at this point I am far more inclined to believe the panel of experts who saw all the evidence available over people who have seen a documentary repeatedly.

Have you seen the documentary? Do you know it contains the investigators admitting they asked aggressively leading questions of the child victims?

The difference between adult victims and child victims absolutely does matter, especially when we're talking about a case from that period of time.
posted by John Cohen at 8:05 AM on June 28, 2013


Also, how has this thread not been closed yet? It's just a continuation of the discussion from the FPP. This isn't a good use of MetaTalk.
posted by John Cohen at 8:07 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have you seen the documentary

Excuse my language and anger but...

No, and I don't give a fuck what the documentary says.

Do you know it contains the investigators admitting they asked aggressively leading questions of the child victims?

If you think this discounts the trial, confession, testimony from the now adult victims, and the review by the DA and the panel of experts, then I can only surmise that you have some other agenda.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:08 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


i saw half the documentary and then got seriously icked out. have you read the report - or hell even just the key findings section?
The “Meyers Tape” – one of only two pieces of direct evidence of heavy-handed police interviewing techniques cited by Friedman, his advocates and the Court – is, in fact, no tape at all. All that remains of a tape that hasn’t existed for more than two decades are notes taken during its screening by a Jesse Friedman attorney. Those notes, presumably limited to information the attorney found helpful to his client’s case, were then reduced and curated by filmmakers, and read dramatically by Friedman’s attorney in Capturing the Friedmans.
posted by nadawi at 8:09 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously folks, do not turn this into a secondary thread when there is already a main thread. If people want to talk to each other over MeMail they are more than welcome to but please do not create a less-moderated version of the main thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:09 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously folks, do not turn this into a secondary thread when there is already a main thread. If people want to talk to each other over MeMail they are more than welcome to but please do not create a less-moderated version of the main thread.

This whole thread is a shadow version of the main thread. Saying "Metafilter doesn't do this well" was a flimsy pretext for disagreeing with some of the comments in the main thread and acting as if none of the complexities with the evidence in the Friedman case exist. If saying "Metafilter doesn't do this well" is good enough to keep a MetaTalk thread going without being closed, then anyone who disagrees with most of the comments in an FPP can draw attention to their views by posting a MeTa.
posted by John Cohen at 8:19 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


This whole thread is a shadow version of the main thread.

That was the opposite of my intention and unfortunately I let my anger bait me into discussing things on the grey that should have remained on the blue.

And as I said in the main post, the things that were brought up in the discussion about childhood sexual abuse would not stand in things that have been brought up in cases about adult sexual assault.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:23 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


ThatFuzzyBastard: " Zarq, I understand that the adversarial legal system can lead to appalling injustices. But it's the best system we've got. Accused people are considered innocent until proven guilty, and yes, that means accusations are considered untrue until proven true. Which does kinda suck, but I know of no better alternative."

I have zero problem with people being considered innocent until proven guilty. I do have a serious problem with you saying "Equally obviously, many allegations of child sexual abuse are untrue." when you have presented no hard evidence of it. And when the case in question has been analyzed and examined by experts who concluded that Friedman was guilty. And yes, it matters. Because you're dismissing the testimony of victims as unimportant or not worth considering when it may be crucial to their cases. When it may be all they have.

As MisantropicPainforest says, if you tried to say something similar in any thread about rape between adults, you'd be rightfully crucified.
posted by zarq at 8:27 AM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think many Mefites would be well served to read this primer on childhood sexual abuse:

EIGHT COMMON MYTHS ABOUT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

Myth 1: Normal-appearing, well educated, middle-class people don't molest children.

Myth 2: People are too quick to believe an abuser is guilty, even if there is no supporting evidence.

Myth 3: Child molesters molest indiscriminately.

Myth 4: Children who are being abused would immediately tell their parents.

Myth 5: Children who are being abused will show physical evidence of abuse.

Myth 6: Hundreds of innocent men and women have been falsely accused and sent to prison for molesting children.

Myth 7: If asked about abuse, children tend to exaggerate and are prone to making false accusations.

Myth 8: By using repeated interviews, therapists or police can easily implant false memories and cause false accusations among children of any age.


People who are ignorant about these thing should educate themselves so that they don't wind up reinforcing and repeating these myths. That is the goal of my meta, and the goal of much of my private activity.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:30 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


This whole thread is a shadow version of the main thread.

you didn't participate in the main thread, you came in here and brought up topics from the main thread, and then you said we shouldn't talk about it and close up the thread. what are you even wanting from this?
posted by nadawi at 8:36 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do have a serious problem with you saying "Equally obviously, many allegations of child sexual abuse are untrue." when you have presented no hard evidence of it.

According to the Wikipedia link, there were at least 17 cases, each of which featured testimony from multiple children, every one of which was untrue.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:44 AM on June 28, 2013


The average false-reporting rate for most serious crimes is about 2%. Is 17 out of.... however many total child sexual abuse cases went to trial in the US from 1980 to 1993 somewhere around 2%?
posted by jaguar at 8:51 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, that Wikipedia list also includes France, New Zealand, Italy, Brazil, and Canada. So add in those total cases, too.
posted by jaguar at 8:52 AM on June 28, 2013


Saying "Metafilter doesn't do this well" was a flimsy pretext for disagreeing with some of the comments in the main thread

I disagree with that, in that I think misanthropicpainforest was really calling for more sensitivity, thought and a moderate tone around the discussion.

That was the opposite of my intention and unfortunately I let my anger bait me into discussing things on the grey that should have remained on the blue.

I support your broader points, contrary to my original comment, but you are doing it again...

ThatFuzzyBastard, you should know better dude, and you're coming across kinda... not great.
posted by smoke at 8:52 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I understand that the adversarial legal system can lead to appalling injustices. But it's the best system we've got. Accused people are considered innocent until proven guilty, and yes, that means accusations are considered untrue until proven true. Which does kinda suck, but I know of no better alternative.

People frequently seem not to understand the difference between 'found guilty by a court of law' and, well, any other definition of the word 'guilty.'

For example, Adam Lanza will never be tried for shooting all those people in Sandy Hook because he's dead. But can I, a private citizen, say "yeah he for sure shot all those people"? Yes. Duh. Obviously I can because HE CLEARLY DID IT even if there hasn't been a trial to legally confirm that fact.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:52 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Its clear that some people are not going to read the link I posted, so I'll have to post excerpts:

Myth 6: Hundreds of innocent men and women have been falsely accused and sent to prison for molesting children.

Over and over again, the media has raised the question whether America is in the midst of a hysterical overreaction to the perceived threat from pedophiles. Actual research, however, shows that, as a whole, our society continues to under-react and under-estimate the scope of the problem.

Prior to the 1980s, child sexual abuse was largely ignored, both by the law and by society as a whole. In the 1980s, when the scope of the problem began to be acknowledged, the police began to arrest adults accused of child abuse. A backlash quickly formed and police and prosecutors were soon accused of conducting "witchhunts." Although some early cases were handled badly -- mainly because the police had little experience in dealing with very young child witnesses -- there is little evidence to back the assertion that there was widespread targeting of innocent people.

In fact, research has consistently shown that few abusers are ever identified or incarcerated. Estimates suggest that only 3% of all cases of child sexual abuse (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994; Timnick, 1985) and only 12% of rapes involving children are ever reported to police (Hanson et al., 1999).

Further research reveals that of the few cases reported to authorities, relatively few accused offenders are ever investigated or charged. For instance, the first National Incidence Study (Finkelhor, 1983) found that criminal action was taken in only 24% of substantiated cases of child sexual abuse -- a finding replicated by Sauzier (1989). After reviewing numerous studies, Bolen (2001) noted that in the end, offenders may be convicted in only 1-2% of cases of suspected abuse known to professionals. And even then, most convicted child molesters spend less than one year in jail.

Based on the high prevalence of sexual crimes against children on our society, it strains credulity to assume that the small number of cases that are actually prosecuted constitute a "witchhunt", or that somehow mostly innocent people are targeted for prosecution. In fact, statistics suggest quite the opposite: child abusers are rarely identified or prosecuted.

Bolen. R. M. (2001). Child sexual abuse: Its scope and our failure . New York: Kluwer Academic.
Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993). The suggestibility of the child witness: A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403-39.
Finkelhor, D. (1983). Removing the child - prosecuting the offender in cases of child sexual abuse: Evidence from the national reporting system for child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect, 7, 195-205.
Finkelhor, D., & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1994). Children as victims of violence: A national survey. Pediatrics, 94, 413-20.
Hanson, R. F., Resnick H. S., Saunders, B. E., Kilpatrick, D. G., & Best, C. (1999). Factors related to the reporting of childhood rape. Child Abuse & Neglect, 23, 559-69.
Kilpatrick, D. G., Edmunds, C. N., & Seymour, A. (1992). Rape in America: A report to the nation. Arlington VA : National Victim Center.
Sauzier, M. (1989). Disclosure of child sexual abuse: For better or for worse. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 455-69.
Timnick, L. (August 15, 1985). The Times poll: Twenty-two percent in survey were child abuse victims. Los Angeles Times, p. 1.

Again, bringing up false rape claims in the context of adult sexual assault is not tolerated here, why is this?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:53 AM on June 28, 2013


Not the place to hash it out, homie.
posted by smoke at 8:54 AM on June 28, 2013


MisantropicPainforest: " Again, bringing up false rape claims in the context of adult sexual assault is not tolerated here, why is this?"

Seconding this question. Why is it being tolerated?

smoke: "Not the place to hash it out, homie."

Bullshit. This is exactly the appropriate place on the site to "hash it out."
posted by zarq at 8:56 AM on June 28, 2013


smoke, could you please clarify? I have stated things that are true, with facts to back them up. I have taken a moderate tone, accusing no one. I have never said that sexual abuse does not happen, or is not important. Beyond that, how am I coming across?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:57 AM on June 28, 2013


Misanthropic: Are you saying that the accused in these cases were guilty?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:58 AM on June 28, 2013


No, I am not saying that. But I am saying that there is little evidence that false allegations of childhood sexual abuse are made at a higher rate than other crimes, and that bringing up false allegations of childhood sexual abuse should be done carry the same stigma as doing so in the context of adult sexual assault.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:01 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think it's fine if folks want to talk about systemic how-mefi-works stuff in here, but this really is not a good venue for arguing the fine details of a specific difficult topic, from either direction.

What that mostly means at this point is MisanthropicPainforest and ThatFuzzyBastard both need to either have this argument with each other over email at this point or need to stop digging into it.

Seconding this question. Why is it being tolerated?

Tolerated as in not-being-deleted, or tolerated as in not-being-challenged? Because the first is happening here mostly because we delete very little in Metatalk; the second does not seem to be happening so much at all, people are pushing back on it plenty.

But, again, at a certain point it does not really make sense for this to be the venue for either side of it. If this is not a Metafilter issue so much as an a-few-people-on-mefi-strongly-disagree-with-each-other thing, it's not really something that makes sense to continue to play out here at length in a public fashion. That's totally regardless of the relative merits of one vs. another position.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:01 AM on June 28, 2013


In discussions on the blue about adult sexual assault, would a mod delete a comment that brought up selected cases of false-rape accusations?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:03 AM on June 28, 2013


I ask because its quite possible that there is no double standard
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:04 AM on June 28, 2013


That's a hypothetical that would depend hugely on the circumstances.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:05 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


would a mod delete a comment that brought up selected cases of false-rape accusations?

We do not actually answer those types of "What would you do if the situation were different" questions. If we think someone is going MRA axe-grindy in a thread where it's not on topic (which we have seen in the past, by none of the people participating in this thread) we'd absolutely delete it.

However, this is a post on a specific controversial case and the controversiality of the case is precisely the point of the post. Which means it will be a very difficult conversation to have, particularly for people with very strong feelings on the topic. And people will either need to excuse themselves from that conversation or find appropriate ways to discuss the topic with other MeFites.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:09 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


cortex: "Tolerated as in not-being-deleted, or tolerated as in not-being-challenged? Because the first is happening here mostly because we delete very little in Metatalk; the second does not seem to be happening so much at all, people are pushing back on it plenty."

I am not calling for people's comments to be deleted. I'd like to know why Team Mod hasn't said anything to That Fuzzy Bastard about either the comments he's making or about his repeatedly ignoring the content of people's responses to him? He's reading the room poorly. He's reading his audience poorly. He's victim blaming, offensively.

There's ample precedent of y'all speaking up in similar situations.
posted by zarq at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2013


One day I hope that those that reinforce and repeat myths about child abuse will have the same stigma as MRAs.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd like to know why Team Mod hasn't said anything to That Fuzzy Bastard about either the comments he's making or about his repeatedly ignoring the content of people's responses to him?

We've basically told folks to cut it out a couple times already, in this thread, which very much includes ThatFuzzyBastard, and the whole barreling-into-an-argument-and-not-letting-up thing is especially problematic there on his part above and beyond the general issues with this thread, yes. In the mean time, other people have been addressing that problematic aspect of his comments pretty adequately, is my feeling. To the extent that this place has always been driven in part by an ethos of self-policing, users saying things is an important and valid part of how stuff works, and honestly I'm kind of bothered by you button-holing us now for failing to perform the specific act of public chiding you'd have preferred like it's some sort of conspicuous rejection of precedent rather than just not how this one thread has played out for whatever reasons of chance.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:30 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


for the community discussion part of this, what i would like to see is people reading the material of the thread before they belligerently argue points that the post addresses. disagreeing with the material is fine, but it's obvious that quite a few people still only seem to have the slanted info from the documentary. i'm not asking for mod intervention, but for some self policing. i would also like to see people take a little more care in how they defend admitted, convicted child molesters and how they still refer to the testimony of the victims as accusations.
posted by nadawi at 9:35 AM on June 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Just to clarify:

1) The Friedmans were not tried. The were indicted and pled guilty before trial could commence. The children testified in open court before the grand jury. The standard of evidence required for an indictment is much lower than for conviction.

2) the children's testimony was not the only corroborating evidence. There is both physical evidence (to wit: two homemade explocit photos, numerous copies of sexyally explicit computer games obtained from the classroom in the Friedman home and from one of the children, as well as sex toys recovered from the Friedman's basement, and a Polaroid camera) and adult testimony.

3) it is true that many of the children described being photographed. With the exception of the two photos described above, these photos were not recovered.

I would suggest anyone wishing to develop an opinion on the case both watch the documentary and read the report. I do not think either provide clear cut answers, but both offer additional verifiable facts that many people in this thread on both sides appear to have misunderstood or forgotten.
posted by Diablevert at 9:47 AM on June 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


cortex: " We've basically told folks to cut it out a couple times already, in this thread,

Only in the last hour or so. Nothing happened prior to that. Jessamyn made two comments at the start of the thread. No other staff member said a word here until John Cohen raised the idea that the thread should be closed. No one said anything to anyone about keeping things on track until 11am this morning. Way after the conversation became a back and forth between a bunch of us and TFB.

In the mean time, other people have been addressing that problematic aspect of his comments pretty adequately, is my feeling. To the extent that this place has always been driven in part by an ethos of self-policing, users saying things is an important and valid part of how stuff works...

I don't think it was working. The conversation was going in circles. And people (including me) were very clearly upset about it.

...and honestly I'm kind of bothered by you button-holing us now for failing to perform the specific act of public chiding you'd have preferred like it's some sort of conspicuous rejection of precedent rather than just not how this one thread has played out for whatever reasons of chance."

I swear to all that is good and holy (and all that is bad and unholy too) that I mean this in a respectful way, but no, I'm asking you to moderate. Not simply "publicly chide" someone. To help us steer the conversation so that it doesn't go down a 'blame rape victims' rabbit hole. Or one person taking on a bunch of others. Which is what seemed to be happening.

It bugs the goddamn crap out of me that comments of people saying "fuck you" to each other are deleted here, but here victim blaming of child rape victims is being allowed to stand.

Also, this is not a new complaint of mine. I was upset that biru's comment to hasna blaming her for her own rape wasn't deleted, way back when.
posted by zarq at 9:56 AM on June 28, 2013


MisantropicPainforest, I completely share your view that allegations of rape and child abuse are very seldom taken as seriously as they should be, and that's an issue everybody should be concerned about. That said, I do not think you are helping the discussion by being so quick to accuse people of having agendas. In the original thread you effectively accused me of denying victim testimonies over a post in which I specifically stated that I wasn't saying Jesse Friedman was innocent, and you're still accusing people here. Like I said, I agree that rape needs to be taken seriously, but honestly I think you are casting more heat than light right now.


ThatFuzzyBastard, I completely share your view that investigations into all criminal allegations should be conducted responsibly and that the more we understand how people are susceptible to pressure from investigators, the better for everyone. But precisely because it's complicated, I don't think it helps when you make arguments that are basically links with a tone of 'Well, look this up and you'll see I'm right.' It comes across as disrespectful not to put in the time and effort to construct a detailed and specific case.


Less reference to broad general points and more concrete particulars would surely help everyone here.
posted by Kit W at 9:58 AM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I said,: "It bugs the goddamn crap out of me that comments of people saying "fuck you" to each other are deleted here, but here victim blaming of child rape victims is being allowed to stand. "

To clarify... it feels like y'all are saying victim blaming is less of a problem than people cursing at each other. Maybe that's true when we're talking about the flow of the site, but man, I find the former a lot more offensive and problematic than the latter.
posted by zarq at 10:01 AM on June 28, 2013


zarq, i agree with you on the fuck you vs victim blaming and which is worse - but, from a moderation stand point i think it's a far sight easier to delete clear cut fuck yous over victim blaming. i am making myself feel better with the fact that these conversations usually have a lot more victim support and this is probably just a weird case over all. i found some of the comments here absurdly offensive and awful, but some people are good at doing that in a way that isn't against the guidelines. i also think some participants might find that if they repeat these opinions in the future, some of us will have a long memory. that's just part of being in a community.
posted by nadawi at 10:07 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


To clarify... it feels like y'all are saying victim blaming is less of a problem than people cursing at each other.

It is actually you saying that. I understand where you are coming from here and think victim-blaming is shitty as hell, but, yes, you seem to be extrapolating from what bugs you about some specific situations and treating it as a metric by which to accuse of either being negligent or just stone cold not giving a shit because we didn't react to Apple X the same way that we did to Orange Y in a couple of specific isolated contexts.

Maybe that's true when we're talking about the flow of the site

You understand that the flow of the site is much more immediately our purview as mods than is some notional task of coming down like a ton of bricks on unlikeable opinions, right? Because you can say "maybe that's true when..." like that to express your frustration that our priorities as people moderating a website are not always congruent with yours as someone hanging out at that website and hoping for your ideal conversational venue or whatever, and that's fine, but conflating by implication our jobs and needs in herding ten thousand cats with whether or not we think that victim-blaming is bad is just really, completely shitty.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:08 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


To clarify... it feels like y'all are saying victim blaming is less of a problem than people cursing at each other.

It's significantly easier to moderate something that can be parsed by saying "Don't say these two words" than something that is difficult to explain and pinpoint, yes. This has nothing to do with our feeling about the relative offensiveness of those two concepts in the wild.

I understand your frustrations but I need to be clear: you may want different things from these sorts of threads (on MeFi) than you are going to get and you are either going to have to self-moderate, be specific about what you think could be realistically changed when these discussion happen, or send us specific email at the time outlining what you think the problem is so we can have a timely discussion about it.

That thread has literally almost no flags considering that it is a thread about child abuse and pedophiles which is a minor miracle (please do not start flagging things now). I was working all of yesterday until nighttime and after leaving those notes I did not have a problem with how things were going in that thread in a way where I felt that it was my job to step in and guide the conversation.

So, again, I was working until the MeTa opened and for some time after that. Lightly moderated means exactly that. We do not steer conversations for the most part. We try to stop conversations from getting ugly. A few people explaining to a user or two why what they think or are saying is incorrect is not at that point. Extrapolating from that to our opinions and feeling about victim blaming is inappropriate.

We sometimes have to make a judgement call to let controversial posts stay up even though we're fairly certain that they're going to turn into MeTa fights (even before a single person has commented in them) because they're not against the rules and they are about something interesting that will start a good conversation. Part of the downside to not pre-emptively deleting these threads is that there will likely be some ugly or possibly offensive comments in there especially to people with strong feelings on the subject. This is something everyone has to manage, it can't just be mods making categories of things which can't be talked about. MeTa is where we talk about where those lines are and people decide what they want to do about that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


from a moderation stand point i think it's a far sight easier to delete clear cut fuck yous over victim blaming

In defence of mods ... there's a fundamental impracticality to banning something as open to definitional wars as 'victim blaming'. Do that, and sure as sunrise some people are going to start fighting over who's the real victim, and next thing you know MRAs are trying to shut down feminist threads and antisocial people are trying to shut down threads saying 'Sexual harassment is creepy' and difficult people are trying to shut down threads where they get told 'If you say something offensive it's your own fault if people call you a jerk.' And when that happens, everyone's on the mods' case all the time, and the job becomes intolerable.
posted by Kit W at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2013


zarq, with respect you seem to be asking the mods to use their mod powers to support your editorial positions rather than to moderate threads in support of site rules.
posted by Justinian at 10:23 AM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


fwiw, Kit W - what you quoted is part of a defense of the mods. i agree with you.
posted by nadawi at 10:24 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry if I came across as misrepresenting you, nadawi.
posted by Kit W at 10:26 AM on June 28, 2013


nadawi: "zarq, i agree with you on the fuck you vs victim blaming and which is worse - but, from a moderation stand point i think it's a far sight easier to delete clear cut fuck yous over victim blaming.

True.

I should probably also keep in mind that my personal experience with the subject probably makes me more... aware of it (sensitive to it)... than it might be to others.

i am making myself feel better with the fact that these conversations usually have a lot more victim support and this is probably just a weird case over all.

*nod*

cortex: " It is actually you saying that. I understand where you are coming from here and think victim-blaming is shitty as hell, but, yes, you seem to be extrapolating from what bugs you about some specific situations and treating it as a metric by which to accuse of either being negligent or just stone cold not giving a shit because we didn't react to Apple X the same way that we did to Orange Y in a couple of specific isolated contexts. "

Whoa. I have not accused you or anyone else of being negligent or "just stone cold not giving a shit." Not at all. I asked why you didn't step in while things were clearly going South. When I know you have done so more quickly in other situations.

If your answer to me is "it seemed okay and not a big deal" then that's fine. I disagree and said so. But if your answer is, "that's the way we do things here -- we don't step in" then yes, I think it should be okay to question why that is happening in this particular thread because my overall impression is that this is not the case. You do step in to steer meta threads on many topics.

cortex: " You understand that the flow of the site is much more immediately our purview as mods than is some notional task of coming down like a ton of bricks on unlikeable opinions, right?

Yes. Although I've certainly seen y'all do the latter. So even if it's not an immediate mod priority it does happen.

Because you can say "maybe that's true when..." like that to express your frustration that our priorities as people moderating a website are not always congruent with yours as someone hanging out at that website and hoping for your ideal conversational venue or whatever,

I'm not "hanging out here hoping for my ideal conversational venue," cortex. Do you seriously believe I fit that description? I've been a MeFi member for eight years and an active, contributing member since 2009. In that time when I've felt strongly about something to do with the site, I brought it up in MeTa. We've all been told that's what MeTa is for. Which is what I'm doing now.

and that's fine, but conflating by implication our jobs and needs in herding ten thousand cats with whether or not we think that victim-blaming is bad is just really, completely shitty."

That's not what I said. And I took care to clarify my meaning in a followup comment, which you could see on preview before you posted this comment.
posted by zarq at 10:41 AM on June 28, 2013


zarq, I have responded to quite a few people's responses, often with direct quotation.

And I find your assertion that I'm victim blaming both false and incredibly offensive. I have at no point suggested---nor would I---that any children were "asking for it", or that they got what's to be expected by putting themselves in a bad situation. I am suggesting that there is reason to be cautious about the possibility of coerced testimony and coerced confessions, not because "children lie", but because this case was investigated at a time when there was a fair amount of coerced testimony and coerced confessions in similar cases. I would not doubt a rape victim's story, but I don't think To Kill A Mockingbird is rape apologia.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:13 AM on June 28, 2013


jessamyn: "It's significantly easier to moderate something that can be parsed by saying "Don't say these two words" than something that is difficult to explain and pinpoint, yes. This has nothing to do with our feeling about the relative offensiveness of those two concepts in the wild.

I know. I wasn't trying to say you (collective 'you') personally don't find victim blaming offensive. Was saying that when one is addressed and the other isn't, it speaks to what will be tolerated. nadawi and you make a reasonable point: it is easier to stop people from cursing at each other than something like this.

I understand your frustrations but I need to be clear: you may want different things from these sorts of threads (on MeFi) than you are going to get and you are either going to have to self-moderate, be specific about what you think could be realistically changed when these discussion happen, or send us specific email at the time outlining what you think the problem is so we can have a timely discussion about it.

OK. I can do that.

That thread has literally almost no flags considering that it is a thread about child abuse and pedophiles which is a minor miracle (please do not start flagging things now). I was working all of yesterday until nighttime and after leaving those notes I did not have a problem with how things were going in that thread in a way where I felt that it was my job to step in and guide the conversation.

I didn't participate in the original thread on the Blue on purpose. Because by the time I read it there were so many comments (at the beginning) that conveyed a not-so-subtle subtext of "the victims must have been lying, the case was rigged and he must have been innocent or at least not as guilty as they said" that I decided it would be unproductive to try and jump in. It would appear from this meta that other people felt the same way about those comments.

So, again, I was working until the MeTa opened and for some time after that. Lightly moderated means exactly that. We do not steer conversations for the most part. We try to stop conversations from getting ugly. A few people explaining to a user or two why what they think or are saying is incorrect is not at that point.

The conversation here seemed ugly to me.

Extrapolating from that to our opinions and feeling about victim blaming is inappropriate.

I was not making a statement about your (again, collective 'you') personal feelings. I was talking about what is and isn't tolerated on site.

We sometimes have to make a judgement call to let controversial posts stay up even though we're fairly certain that they're going to turn into MeTa fights (even before a single person has commented in them) because they're not against the rules and they are about something interesting that will start a good conversation.

Yes. And I'm glad you give 'em the benefit of the doubt, because among other reasons I post on controversial topics every once in a while.

Part of the downside to not pre-emptively deleting these threads is that there will likely be some ugly or possibly offensive comments in there especially to people with strong feelings on the subject. This is something everyone has to manage, it can't just be mods making categories of things which can't be talked about. MeTa is where we talk about where those lines are and people decide what they want to do about that."

True.
posted by zarq at 11:17 AM on June 28, 2013


Beyond that, how am I coming across?

I'm only speaking for myself here, not for anyone else at all - but, to me, I think you are coming across as being more interested in scoring a points or having an intellectual argument than engaging with the members of this community, as a community.

You are - yes, without profanity, insults etc, I grant it has been done much worse, but you are - being very persistent in having the last word and pushing an honestly fairly weak argument in the context of this specific case with links to wikipedia or whatever, in the face of several mefites who are clearly upset by the continued discussion (indeed, several mefites and others who may well have been victims of child abuse).

If this was a conversation in person, these actions would come across as mean I think. And it comes across if not as if not mean, at least really lacking in empathy to me. Doggedly pursuing a point isn't the best course, sometimes, I think. I feel like this is one of those times where being right really just evaporates compared to sharing some humanity. You can still be right, in your head, but if indeed you are talking with victims of abuse, you probably have a better capacity to deal with this issue, and I think that means absorbing the viewpoints, considering them, and also giving up the option to talk about it in certain ways.

I thought the original thread had some interesting and thoughtful comments, I hadn't really thought about the film in an innocent/guilty kind of way, but the context mefites put out really underscored the difficulty of the case and film in that dimension to me.

I think it's a shame it seems to have become swamped by two voices that can't really help themselves, whatever the merits of their thoughts. And I think, on balance, you could help yourself a bit more.
posted by smoke at 11:46 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


My point, Kit W, is that things like false memories of balloon rides is about as relevant and appropriate in a discussion about child abuse as it is to adult rape, which in my opinion means not at all.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:07 PM on June 28, 2013


ThatFuzzyBastard: "zarq, I have responded to quite a few people's responses, often with direct quotation.

Yeah, but as far as I can see, you've mostly ignored compelling, thorough arguments which disagree with you from Ivan and koeselitz and others while pushing the victim testimony thing. You've disregarded at least two links to statistics and others to information posted in response to your comments from koeselitz, liketitanic and MisantropicPainforest, the latter of which show the cases you mention are basically a tiny drop in a huge bucket and also that their findings and circumstances don't apply to Friedman's case.

Remember that per the statistics above, most accused child sexual abusers are not convicted.

Also, if you're going to say that ' America in particular has a long and sordid history of false accusations of child abuse accusations' out of fairness you should really also be acknowledging that America in particular has a far, far more extensive history of actual child abuse (reported and suspected unreported) than false accusations. In addition, a number of people including myself have spoken about why physical evidence may not be available in child abuse cases, and as a result why victim testimony is given a certain amount of weight.

I have at no point suggested---nor would I---that any children were "asking for it", or that they got what's to be expected by putting themselves in a bad situation.

No, but I've felt your comments up until this point have said we should automatically assume the victims' testimonies were suspect unless proven otherwise. Which does not exactly strike me as charitable.

I do believe quite strongly that we have to keep an open mind when it comes to weighting the importance of victim testimony. Maybe I'm took close to the subject to think rationally about it. I don't know.

I am suggesting that there is reason to be cautious about the possibility of coerced testimony and coerced confessions, not because "children lie", but because this case was investigated at a time when there was a fair amount of coerced testimony and coerced confessions in similar cases. I would not doubt a rape victim's story, but I don't think To Kill A Mockingbird is rape apologia."

They were already cautious about that possibility. It was addressed. A three-year and by all accounts exhaustive investigation headed by a DA with no apparent ulterior agenda and overseen by an independent panel which included the founder of the Innocence Project, produced a 177 page report. Which said that not only was Friedman guilty and victim statements not coerced, but law enforcement also suspected that he had assaulted additional victims. Multiple children came forward in the early stages of the investigation to report what had been done to them.

But you know all of that.
posted by zarq at 12:21 PM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


It would appear from this meta that other people felt the same way about those comments.

Let me be clear: no one flagged them. Of all the problematic comments that I believe people are discussing generally from that thread, there was one comment, maybe two if I'm being generous, that received one flag each and then two other flags that were more random. This is not to say that we let flags or the absence of flags drive our decisions, but it's definitely something that draws our attention to part of the site that users may consider problem areas. And this did not happen. A few people have flagged things in this thread. We mostly don't delete stuff from MeTa and there's nothing I would delete from this thread.

I kept that thread open and read every single one of the 100+ comments just to be sure I wasn't missing something and so I could put out a fire before it turned into a disaster. To my estimation, that did not happen. There were people strongly disagreeing about things in that thread, and that was okay by me.

It's okay, for everyone, to stay out of threads that they think will upset them or that they think, because of how the guidelines work here, won't be moderated enough for their tastes. They can even contact us privately if they don't want to interact in a thread or think there is a person behaving badly. However, that's really part of the social contract here, except in a few cases, we moderate what people tell us to moderate at the time.

I have not accused you or anyone else of being negligent

You said "I mean this in a respectful way, but no, I'm asking you to moderate." which, since it's our job title, read to me and I guess to cortex as if you felt we were not doing our jobs.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:29 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest, I don't think anyone will thank us for rehashing the exact same points here that were gone over there. I'm simply saying that you're being quick to jump from disagreement or objection to personal attack, sometimes to the point of accusing people of things that they didn't say. You may feel justified in doing so because it's a subject you feel strongly about. I don't think it ever helps.
posted by Kit W at 12:33 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know I bitch about their decisions from time to time but the defence of their thinking and action on this particular thread profoundly deepens my respect for our heroic moderators.

It's really heartening to see such wisdom, tolerance and generosity in the face of such a sensitive and difficult subject.

Thanks, guys.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:46 PM on June 28, 2013


jessamyn: "You said "I mean this in a respectful way, but no, I'm asking you to moderate." which, since it's our job title, read to me and I guess to cortex as if you felt we were not doing our jobs."

Well, that explains his "hanging around" response to me.

My comment didn't exist in a vacuum. It was a direct response to something cortex had said.

He basically told me that I was asking for someone to be publicly chided only because I disagreed with them. In response I said that I was hoping someone from the mod team would have steered the conversation as a voice of site authority.

I didn't say you all weren't doing your jobs. My interpretation of the interaction was that he essentially said that I was asking you to do something that was unreasonable, and I said that it wasn't.
posted by zarq at 1:09 PM on June 28, 2013


cortex and jessamyn:

I was not trying to say you or any of the rest of the mods weren't doing your jobs. I was also not trying to say that you personally approved of or were somehow in favor of victim blaming. I don't think either of those things.

Either I worded what I was trying to say ineptly or it just came out wrong, because you both seem very defensive and are interpreting what I said in what I think is the worst possible way. So I'm sorry. What you have obviously taken from my comments was not what I was trying to say and I apologize both for saying what I meant so poorly, and for insulting you.

The topic upsets me. And I also found TFB's comments upsetting. They pissed me off. Perhaps that's a red flag that I should be keeping out of threads on the subject, but I usually believe I have something positive to contribute.
posted by zarq at 1:37 PM on June 28, 2013


The topic upsets me. And I also found TFB's comments upsetting. They pissed me off.

And for what it's worth, I know you are pretty consistently coming from a well-intentioned place and take it as given that you're not generally actively trying to be a jerk. If my read of your comments was ungenerous, that may come down to me finding your presentation off-pissing in its own right and I realize that was not your likely goal. So I get that.

But I think ultimately you have to consider whether saying "I'm not saying x, I'm just lining up y and z and leaving the implicature hanging" is more a product of you just speaking fairly on how this place works vs. what's you'd prefer to have happen in a place that was more driven by your personal wants than a thousands-broad community dynamic. You're a good guy, I'm generally on your side in terms of the things you seem to want to accomplish discursively, but this whole "why didn't you do the thing that I think you should have done" thing comes up now and then and it's frustrating.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:43 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the perspective of social dynamics, the way a particular form of interaction with MetaFilter engages with the systems here is pretty interesting, and it would be a shame if that discussion disintegrated into moderators objecting to feeling that they are being told they are not doing their jobs, and net-positive members apologizing for inspiring those feelings.

The OP was a discussion of particular concern and impact to a group with a relatively small presence on MetaFilter. People were, in that OP, behaving in a way that had an impact on members of that group potentially disproportionate to the perceived impact from the perspective of people outside those groups.

There's a specific interaction that we see repeated here - representing statements without evidence as factual assertions, and then insisting in the face of disagreement that those statements are accurate, while offering no evidence or evidence which fails to support the original claim.

This is going to be more upsetting for people within the affected group - who have to put up with this in real life, and tend to hope for better from their discretionarily chosen social community (in this case, MetaFilter).

This interaction risks making people within those groups feel unsupported by the systems of MetaFilter, because the systemically simplest way to route around it, without ending up in a much wider argument about the extent to which moderators are stifling free speech (man) on MetaFilter, is to ask the relatively small number of people in the group most negatively affected by this approach in this case not to engage.

This pill can be sweetened by agreement that, yes, this is crappy behavior, but nonetheless not moderator-relevant behavior, whereas the ongoing impact on the discussion of people responding to it is. So, the recommended solution for that is to take it to MeMail (that is, a private exchange which does not impinge on the experience of MetaFilter of anyone outside itself) or MetaTalk (a safety valve for bad-tempered exchanges which again takes them out of the primary MetaFilter experience) - both environments, essentially, in which the same behaviors can recur (as we see above) without the core product (the discussion on MetaFilter) being damaged.

A problem with that is that this may look to somebody in the impacted minority group like the mods are rewarding someone for making offensively ill-informed statements by telling others to stop taking issue with them. And, of course, it may also look to somebody intentionally or unintentionally prone to making these ill-informed statements about contentious topics with significant impact on a small number of users of MetaFilter as if they are being rewarded. Which may encourage a similar approach in the future, but that's getting into the realms of psychology, so let's not wander down that path.

With that in mind, I don't think it's necessarily helpful to put the discussion at the two poles of "this is a failure of moderation" on one hand, and "this is a demand that moderation follows your personal desires" on the other. What we're seeing is members of vulnerable groups perceiving, from experience and from subjective impact, a particular form of behavior as shading into territories of personal insult and harassment (which are identified as things that stimulate moderator activity), and moderators perceiving the same form of behavior as, although not nice, also not near those territories. Neither of those perceptions is invalid, neither is dishonestly felt - they just highlight a specific disparity in perception and response.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:42 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Balls. I've mixed up OP and FPP, haven't I?)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:56 AM on June 29, 2013


it may also look to somebody intentionally or unintentionally prone to making these ill-informed statements about contentious topics with significant impact on a small number of users of MetaFilter as if they are being rewarded. Which may encourage a similar approach in the future

The majority of the feedback that I've gotten about these sorts of exchanges, particularly in cases where we've had to step in a lot more visibly is that these people do not, at all, feel that they are being rewarded. I understand the scenario you're outlining and the downsides of it as you portray it, but I disagree with your assessment of how these people interpret these sorts of mod actions. I know it's difficult for people to understand sometimes how people can do That Thing repeatedly when it seems to them so clearly wrong and harmful to community discussion, but I think this is an overly simplistic way of looking at what is a much more complicated set of interactions.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:57 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's fair, Jessamyn, and useful information. That was a hypothesis reconciling the theses that a) people do this and b) the same people do this repeatedly, even though c) it is not explicitly identified as desirable behavior. Hence "may".

It's not a testable hypothesis for me, because I have no special insight into the thought processes of others, and I also don't have access to all the communication that takes place. And, as I said, that's psychology, which isn't my area.

Why this situation might occur or recur isn't really something I'd be confident to speak to, whereas the how I feel more confident about, because based on observation of external phenomena.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:12 AM on June 29, 2013


i meant to reply to this halfway up this thread in response to reading decathecting's post but got distracted before i got to post this recent article:
why cops don't believe rape victims. there is more work to be done in the ways that testimony is even gathered in the first place.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 9:57 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thank you for posting this: I do think that the way we talk about rape and molestation victims does need some examination. However, I don't think that we tolerate it for child abuse victims and don't tolerate victim blaming for others - I am in particular thinking of the Assange case, where people seemed to leap immediately to victim blaming.

I'd love if there was less victimblaming on Metafilter, overall. I'd love it if we overall argued about rape and molestation situations from a place of hearing what the victims had to say first and what the abusers (or alleged abusers if you like) have to say second.

I don't think any benefit will come from discussing this particular situation, though, but I do think these conversations are useful so that other members can know how victimblaming makes real people who are here feel.

Thank you, everyone who has felt brave enough to share their story here. You have (at least my) support and affection, and (at least I) am so sorry.
posted by corb at 10:03 PM on June 29, 2013


cortex: And for what it's worth, I know you are pretty consistently coming from a well-intentioned place and take it as given that you're not generally actively trying to be a jerk. If my read of your comments was ungenerous, that may come down to me finding your presentation off-pissing in its own right and I realize that was not your likely goal. So I get that.

I'm relieved you understand that. Because I do have a great deal of respect for everyone on the mod team and the job y'all do. I'm not trying to be a dick, even if it comes across that way.

I took a day off from MeFi to catch my breath. Re-read the thread and concluded that this is a subject I'm much too close to. I'll either be avoiding it entirely in the future or will keep in mind if I wade into a discussion that I am not really capable of talking about it calmly and objectively in an extended conversation.

But I think ultimately you have to consider whether saying "I'm not saying x, I'm just lining up y and z and leaving the implicature hanging" is more a product of you just speaking fairly on how this place works vs. what's you'd prefer to have happen in a place that was more driven by your personal wants than a thousands-broad community dynamic.

*nod* I have to pay attention to that.

You're a good guy, I'm generally on your side in terms of the things you seem to want to accomplish discursively, but this whole "why didn't you do the thing that I think you should have done" thing comes up now and then and it's frustrating.

Thank you. I promise I'll try very hard to be more circumspect about this stuff in the future.
posted by zarq at 10:16 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


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