The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz, one-woman truth-squad and chief debunker of child-sex-abuse mania, has just offered two more shocking case histories. The two cases are painfully familiar - but nonetheless chilling -tales of innocent citizens accused of (and even convicted of) the most heinous acts by children who were coached and coaxed by ignorant or unscrupulous therapists and law-enforcement officials. And these cases were prosecuted in Dade County, Fla., in the 1980s, when Janet Reno was state attorney there.
It turns out that State Attorney Reno was a passionate devotee of the pernicious fad that created an epidemic of miscarriages of justice, one that is only just dying down (thanks in large part to Miss Rabinowitz' efforts). In one week in spring 1984, for instance, when she was building a sex-abuse case against a Florida day care center and the subject was hot among nervous parents, 11 Dade County schools were shut down because of sex-abuse allegations and 19 came under investigation.
It was at that time that the accusation against police officer Grant Snowden was lodged - by a father Mr. Snowden had confronted after the man dropped his three-year-old son off at Mr. Snowden's wife's baby sitting service with suspicious welts on his face. That case went nowhere: even with vigorous coaching from his father (attested to much later by a psychologist), the child refused to say Mr. Snowden had molested him, and the charge was dropped. Nothing daunted by the collapse of the phony story that had brought him to her attention in the first place, Miss Reno turned to her two tame "experts," one a doctor of education, the other, his wife, a doctor of speech pathology who told her young clients she was "the yucky secrets doctor" and cooed about how proud their parents would be if they told her about "a grownup doing something with their penis."
They managed to come up with an 11-year-old who recalled being abused at the Snowdens' seven years earlier. The trouble was, as Mr. Snowden's lawyers proved during his trial, that the girl hadn't even been in Mrs. Snowden's care at the time she claimed Mr. Snowden abused her, but at a different baby sitter's. Mr. Snowden was, of course, acquitted. But that didn't faze Miss Reno; before long, her experts had succeeded in convincing another child - a 4-year-old girl - to stop asking if she could stay at the Snowdens' forever and admit that she was mistaken when she repeatedly insisted that Mr. Snowden hadn't done anything to her. Miss Reno scored big with Mr. Snowden's second trial - …