AND MORAL PANIC
National and International Perspectives on
Organized Child Sexual Abuse
The study of wrongful conviction has focused on the conviction of individuals in spite of evidence that casts serious doubt on the defendant's guilt. This chapter examines a different type of case, in which several defendants may be convicted but in which doubt exists as to whether any crime was committed at all. The moral panic about organized abuse of children began in North America in the early 1980s, spread to other English-speaking countries, and is currently afflicting Western Europe. In this chapter I argue that the organized child abuse cases shed light on some weaknesses of Western legal systems that render them vulnerable to wrongful conviction. The structure of this chapter is as follows. I first discuss moral panic theory and the moral panic about organized child abuse. Then, using factors found by C. Ronald Huff (Huff, Rattner, and Sagarin, 1996; Huff 2004) to contribute to wrongful conviction, I discuss the role played by four of those factors—overzealousness by police and prosecutors; false and coerced confessions and improper interrogations; forensic errors, incompetence, and fraud; and the adversary system itself—in the organized abuse cases. Additionally, the moral panic concept suggests another source of error, namely, the weakening of traditional legal safeguards due to the perceived urgency of the danger threatening society. In conclusion, I recommend, as does Huff (2004), the establishing of criminal case review commissions, or “innocence commissions.” In my view, the organized abuse cases demonstrate the need for such commissions.
The moral panic about organized child abuse began in the early 1980s in the United States and Canada, spread to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands,