Witch hunts

posted in: Newsworthy | 7

On Halloween night, naturally, we were watching a documentary about the Salem witch trials. It was very interesting, and as part of the show, they did interviews with some historians and had them discuss some of the background around why there was so much anger towards certain people and what role that played in them being accused of witchcraft, etc. One of them mentioned that we probably all hear about that and think that certainly we’d never do anything like that today. Surely we would see through it and never have it come to this.

I disagree.


I think today we do have our own witch hunts. We just don’t hang people for them anymore. Certainly a charge of child abuse is on equal footing to being accused of witchcraft in 1692 Salem. I’ve seen plenty of cases of false child abuse claims being made as part of custody battles, or just vengeful relatives and neighbors. Trying to clear your name once you’ve been accused of child abuse, or rape, falsely is an incredibly difficult thing to do, and even if you clear it legally, the suspicion never goes away.

The sad thing is, this hurts real victims. Real child abusers should be punished, and should have their lives ruined, because they have certainly damaged the lives of children. But the more often false charges are levied, the less likely real victims are to be taken seriously, and the less likely they are to come forward in the first place.

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The other thing that reminds me of a witch hunt is current day politics. It’s not enough anymore to simply have different ideas, or disagree about policy. Now, if you believe differently than I do, you’re evil, stupid, or both. If you even think about voting Republican, you’re in league with Hitler, and if you even think about voting Democrat, well you’re un-American, a communist, etc. People aren’t hung for their political leanings, but they sure are shunned by people on the opposite side of the fence as if they were witches. They are hated with as much venom as the so-called witches of Salem.

Seems to me that we haven’t grown at all. The only real difference between 21st century America as a whole and 17th century Salem is that we dislike the mess that comes with hangings, so we try our witches in the court of public opinion, and hang them in name only, for now.

7 Responses

  1. Mike

    You’re right. I was thinking more in terms of false accusations but you’re right, rape and abuse cases are witch hunts on all sides. (much like our current political climate is a witch hunt on all sides..)

    Thanks for correcting my mistake. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Mike

    First off, you can take over the comments, they are here for people who come to the site, and they are especially here for you to correct me if I’ve screwed something up! ๐Ÿ™‚

    That being said, I was not aware of the statistics you’ve quoted, so thank you for pointing them out. When I first wrote the post, I really was thinking more in terms of child abuse/child rape cases, where another adult is the one manipulating the situation in order for the charges to be made. (Custody cases being an obvious example where this sort of thing does happen, though I don’t have any hard numbers, just anecdotal evidence.)

    I extrapolated the basic idea of a false accusation being made to damage someone to all rape cases instead of limiting it to child custody cases and obviously, that was a mistake on my part.

    However, I think we can agree on this. Witch hunts do go on, even in 2004, I see them in politics and child custody cases, but obviously I haven’t been paying enough attention to the witch hunts that rape victims are subject to. I’ll try and do better in the future.

  3. house9

    I agree with your overall point, but I’d argue that the “hunted witch” status is more often assigned to the *prosecutors* in rape trials than the defendants. It’s a lot harder to “clear your name” as someone who has pressed charges for rape than someone who has been accused. And perilously few rape survivors ever prosecute. This is because those who do typically lose their entire social support network (all or nearly all family and friends) and have every aspect of their lives and loves scrutinized in brutally invasive detail, and convictions are extremely rare.

  4. house9

    Except that reported rapes are almost never false accusations. This may be different from child abuse cases, where battling parents may accuse one another in hopes of gaining custody. Rape, on the other hand, has a false report rate of under 2%, comparable to other felonies, like murder.

    I’m sorry for taking over your comment box, but this is an issue about which I feel very strongly. Rape trials are very strongly biased in favor of rapists. I feel upset hearing them called “witch hunts” in this context – it appears to reinforce ideas about how prosecution actually proceeds in rape trials that are not at all accurate. It’s not even that the witch-huntery is equally distributed towards both rape survivors and those accused of rape. Rape survivors are hunted MUCH more viciously than people accused of rape. And, as I said, consequently they almost never prosecute – only something like 15% of reported rapes are ever prosecuted, and something like 90% of rapes are never even reported. Yet 98% of reports are valid. I can cite sources if you need sources cited – I think it’s the Department of Justice for all of these. Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that false reports are NOT a comparatively huge issue for this crime, and the perception that false reports are common both aggravates the outrageously low conviction rate for rape and survivors’ reluctance to prosecute. Which I don’t think you intended to do.

  5. Dan Dare

    “The sad thing is, this hurts real victims” – Could not agree more – Dan

  6. Carrie

    I agree with you and with the ongoing comments here. Witchhunts seem to be the prevailing method of communicating in the world today.

    For as much new technology as the world develops everyday, humanity loses the same or more in the non-tangible things we used to know.

  7. Abused

    well if you look at what some concider rape as to what rape actualy is there are alot of false accuzations as considered by an officer of the law if the man has an orgasm it is rape at least to police but this is not actualy so i’ve seen females claim rape when they saduced a male to have sex with them after knowing them acting kind caring considerate & then go to the police & lie & say i was raped because this is what the police can concider rape but the judge will laugh & throw out rape but try to get them to bow on somethinf less of a crime so they all look good & ruin the mans life to play their little games to me if a man is saduced it can never be rape alot claim today said such raped person must say no & phsicaly resist but this is a touchy subject with me as a rape survivor it either was or wasnt rape & i wish people would stop lying & bending the truth & society needs restructuring badly

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