The campus sexual assault panic — one of many runaway social epidemics in our nation’s history that have ruined innocent lives and corrupted justice — has now reached its peak. A return to sanity is called for before more wreckage occurs.
My own first memory of a similar panic is the hunt for Communists in America in the period following World War II. There was the infamous “Red Channels,” an anti-communist pamphlet financed primarily by Alfred Kohlberg, a textile magnate with business interests in China and an ally of Chiang Kai-shek. The publication served as a blacklist for the entertainment industry, ending the careers of anyone reportedly linked to organizations remotely identifiable as “progressive.” There was also the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the never-to-be-forgotten Senator Joseph McCarthy. Together, these men helped create a national climate of suspicion that ferreted out very few actual security threats, but ended up punishing many innocents. Remnants of the hunt persisted, but the “scare” essentially died with the senator himself in 1957.
A more bizarre panic emerged decades later in an unlikely place — child daycare centers. In the early 1980s, reports of sexual abuse by child care workers were picked up by national news outlets and struck fear into parents around the country. Allegations of sexual molestation, including rape, allegedly committed on young children by teachers and school employees, flooded police stations. These accusations often crossed over from the improbable to the utterly fantastic (sometimes with a Satanic bent). But a panoply of unscientific physical and psychological tests, bolstered by highly suggestive child interview methods, proved sufficient to land a still-uncounted number of innocent men and women in prison…
h/t Steven Pinker