Monday, June 28, 2010

Truth or consequences. June 28, 2010.

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

In 1984, the owners and employees of the McMartin Preschool in California were charged with 321 counts of child abuse involving 48 children. During a seven-year trial that cost the county $15 million, there were charges of Satanic ritual abuse. The McMartins were said to have been able to fly like witches, taken the children away in hot-air balloons in the middle of the city with no witnesses, abused them in underground tunnels and flushed the children down toilets through pipes that led to secret rooms where they were molested.

The accused were eventually acquitted and released from jail, but not before untold damage was done. The children believed they had been molested; perhaps they were, but their stories were so fantastic no one could believe them. After decades of action on the part of child abuse experts trying to make people understand that children reporting abuse should be believed, it was back to the drawing board.

In 1987, 15-year-old teenager Tawana Brawley of New York was found in a garbage bag, far from home, covered with feces and racial slurs. She said six white men, including some police officers, had abducted and raped her. Her horrible story gained the shock and empathy of the nation – until forensics tests showed that there had been no sexual contact, the feces was from Tawana’s neighbor’s dog and she had written the slurs herself.

One possible motive: she’d stayed out late and was trying to avoid the wrath of her stepfather, who regularly beat her savagely – even in front of witnesses. Tawana was a victim, just a different kind of victim than she pretended to be.

To be sure, incredibly savage things happen to people. Sometimes those things are unbelievable, even though they are 100% true. But there are some people who can’t pinpoint a reason for their depression or anxiety, or they simply feel lonely and want attention focused on them for a while. They concoct amazing and intense stories to shock and amaze people and to get the attention they are craving.

But these actions have consequences. The person who has cried wolf too many times won’t be believed when the real wolf comes. And the people who are fooled become angry and may develop compassion fatigue. They may not believe the next story they hear. They begin to believe most people exaggerate, at best, or are liars, at worst.

And true victims of rape and abuse have to try all the harder to be believed. Lying is not a victimless crime.

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