Meredith Maran’s ‘My Lie’ and the ’80s False Child Sexual Abuse Allegations Craze

It was the worst of times.

During the late 70s and early 80s newspapers and magazines often ran stories about child abuse, sexual and otherwise. If you weren’t around then, it may be hard to imagine, but even stories of satanic rituals in which small children were brutally tortured and murdered in obscure locations were not uncommon.

And I’ll never forget reading an article in The New Yorker that pointed out an interesting, but little noticed fact – there was no evidence of any such thing. After all, if children were suddenly disappearing off the face of the earth, wouldn’t parents bring the fact up to the police? Wouldn’t the police investigate? Where were the bodies? Where were the abusers? Where was the evidence? There was none. What there was – indeed, all there was – were fanciful stories, incredible stories, undocumented, unsourced allegations.

Hand in hand with the nonsense about satanic ritual murder of children, came far more serious allegations of the physical and sexual abuse of children in daycare. Despite the fact that many of those stories were almost as bizarre as those of satanic abuse, real people were charged with real crimes and many went to real prisons because of them.

An entire industry grew up around these allegations of child sexual abuse involving enablers of every stripe. Psychologists and social workers teamed with writers and publishers to promote the notion urged by feminists that fathers sexually abused their daughters on a regular basis. That much was part and parcel of the feminist decree that the family was the seat of female oppression by males. Feminist extremists like Catharine MacKinnon frankly expressed their desire to destroy the family, and the notion that fathers sexually abused their daughters as a matter of course seemed like the right tool for the job.

Then there was the book entitled “The Courage to Heal” which encouraged the hysteria with claims like “if you believe it happened, then it happened.” According to it and to countless therapists who moved to cash in on the deal, the fact that an adult woman had no memory of sexual abuse by her father was a mere trifle; the experience had been so traumatic for her that she had repressed all memory of it. But not to worry, “therapy” was there to help her “recover” her memories of abuse which surely had occurred.

So, public discourse on the matter was a toxic stew of anti-male, anti-father, anti-family agitprop first promoted by gender feminists and later by their willing dupes in the communications media and mental health community. It was a crazy time in which untold damage was done not only to decent, loving fathers and their relationships with their daughters, but to the very fabric of society that consisted in large part, as it always does, of our trust in each other.

Given all that public promotion of the idea of the mass sexual abuse of girls by their fathers, it can be no surprise that an enormous number of false allegations were made. There was simply too much support for claims and claimants for it to have been otherwise.

Here is one example (, 9/20/10). It’s an interview with Meredith Maran, a writer who offers herself as a case history of how, in an individual’s life, truth and falsity can become inverted.

Maran was a feminist and practicing journalist. She developed an interest in the whole sexual abuse scare and steeped herself in all aspects of it. She interviewed victims, their therapists, the police. She attended therapy sessions with women who said they were victims. She read books like “The Courage to Heal” and counted the authors as her friends. She left her husband to partner with a woman who said she had been sexually abused by her father.

And sure enough, she began to wonder about her own early life. After all, according to the movement’s canon, the fact that she had no memory of abuse by her father didn’t mean it hadn’t happened; she had only to recover the memory. Soon she began dreaming about her father’s hands, and well, what could be clearer? What could be more conclusive evidence of abuse than that? Not long afterward, she concluded that she, like so many others, had in fact been abused.

Maran never confronted her father with her claims; neither did she go to the police. She simply withdrew from her dad with whom she’d had continual contact over the years. She doesn’t seem to see it now, but that was another way of avoiding the truth. She wanted to believe in her own abuse and that was easier to accomplish if she didn’t hear her father’s incredulous denials.

To her credit, in the 90s, Maran figured it out. She came to understand that no abuse had occurred and eventually asked for and received forgiveness from her dad who said,

“What I really want to know is how the hell you could have thought that of me.”

The book Maran has written, entitled “My Lie: A True Story of False Memory,” is her explanation. If her interview is any indication, it is a deeply-felt, sincere effort to come to grips with her own gullibility; it is a real effort to understand herself as an apparently fragile ego whipsawed by the insistent messages of the times. It cannot have been an easy book to write; it can’t be easy to say “I lied, and I hurt my father and my family terribly in the process.”

And yet, for all her honest striving for self-understanding and redemption, from Maran’s interview, it’s hard to conclude anything but that she’s failed. Clues pop up throughout it that suggest a woman who, on the most basic of levels, still doesn’t get it.

I’ll write more about that in a later piece.

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