A pull-no-punches exposÇ of the forces behind a nationwide wave of false charges of ritual child abuse. In the 1970s and 1980s popular culture was rife with rumors that America's children were threatened by occultists, pornographers, child molesters, and kidnappers--stories that, according to Nathan and Snedeker, were promoted and spread by the media, politicians, feminists, psychotherapists, and child- protection professionals. At the same time, right-wing Christian fundamentalists were raising fears about bizarre satanic cults. Journalist Nathan, whose articles on ritual abuse in the Village Voice won her the Free Press Association's H.L. Mencken Award, and criminal defense lawyer Snedeker examine in detail three California cases of alleged child abuse: two in Kern County and the famous McMartin Preschool case in Los Angeles County, showing how the psychotic delusions of a few people fed existing social fears. They carefully document what happened when mental-health workers, untrained in forensics and committed to the belief that children never lie about sexual abuse, took over the investigation of child-abuse allegations, and they liken the surge of ritual abuse cases that followed those in California to the Salem witch trials. Nathan and Snedeker give a compelling and disturbing picture of an America in which seemingly responsible and respectable individuals, organizations, and institutions were caught up in an appalling hysteria that sent many innocent people to prison while civil libertarians and political progressives were shamefully silent. The authors call for reforms in the judicial system and the child-protection system, but see larger economic and social changes as essential to preventing sexual abuse of children. Satanic rituals make striking headlines, but incest, they point out, is the real problem. A powerful document that names names, ranges wide, and probes deep.