Signs Of A Moral Panic

Signs Of A Moral Panic, by Ashe Schow.

Moral panics, or instances of mass hysteria, have occurred throughout history. Two of the most notorious are the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and ’90s. The panics almost exclusively involve women and children and fears for their safety, especially from sexual abuse.

We are in the midst of another such panic, but despite the similarities to past episodes, we are still unable to recognize it as such. The current panic has been playing out in the military and on college campuses for nearly a decade, but with the advent of the #MeToo movement, the mass hysteria is creeping into our regular legal system as well. The following are five of the biggest signs that we are experiencing another bout of mass hysteria, this time over sexual assault and harassment.

1. Due Process Goes Out The Window

Due process is the cornerstone of our legal system, but in times of mass hysteria, it becomes the enemy. In Salem, those accused of witchcraft were presumed guilty and, in many cases, denied counsel. The only evidence presented against them was an accusation. …

We’re now told, quite firmly, that due process keeps sexual assault victims from coming forward. Having to tell their story multiple times, having to face their accuser, having to provide evidence of their claims, being questioned about inconsistencies or fallacies — all these things are now considered harmful, but only for those making sexual assault accusations. Accusers of other crimes are still seen as capable of surviving the legal system.

2. “Believe The Victim”

This may be the biggest tell of a moral panic. An accusation, we’re told, is sufficient enough. With due process being considered anathema to victims, accusations are all the evidence needed. …

Today, we hear “believe all women” or “believe the victims.” …

What politicians and celebrities who use this phrase are actually saying is to believe every accusation. It is dangerous, and in high-profile case after high-profile case, they have been proven wrong; Duke Lacrosse and the Rolling Stone rape hoax being the most obvious.

3. Misleading And Faulty Statistics

In times of mass hysteria, people try to justify gutting due process by claiming the alleged problem — sexual abuse — is widespread and using statistics to back it up. But these statistics are not evidence and often the result of shoddy research or cherry-picked and misrepresented for effect. …

4. Evidence, Schmevidence

As due process goes out the window, so does the need for evidence. During these times of mass hysteria, things that would otherwise be considered evidence that a crime was not committed or that an accuser is lying in any other situation are dismissed as evidence of the crime itself.

In today’s sexual assault panic, the dismissal of exculpatory evidence runs rampant. On college campuses, accusers who continue to socialize with men they later accuse of sexual assault and who sent flirtacious and friendly text messages are said to be showing signs of trauma….

5. Pseudo-Scientific Theories About Memory Reign Supreme

The science of memories always pops up during moral panics. During the Satanic Panic, child psychologists claimed children who didn’t remember the sexual abuse were repressing those memories. The psychologists simply needed to coax those memories out, but in the process they actually implanted false memories into the children by inadvertently bullying them into making outrageous claims. …

A traumatic experience does not create a factually accurate memory, as many suggest. These memories can be distorted in multiple ways. New details can be introduced through intentional or unintentional remembering and can then be absorbed into the original memory without the person realizing these details never happened. Remembering trauma can also make it more intense than it actually was. …

Many people may not be lying, but simply misremembering something and believing that incorrect memory.