For those who forget the insidious damage of the Wenatchee Sex Ring, the excellent Danish movie “The Hunt” is required viewing.
The film chillingly depicts the crumbling life of a kindergarten teacher, played by Mads Mikkelson (famously the Bond villain in Casino Royale), as a single unsubstantiated accusation of sexual abuse metastasizes into a witch hunt.
The utter conviction that the girl was telling the truth – even after she recanted – recalled for me the inverted meter of justice used during the now-infamous Wenatchee Sex Ring, and one quote in particular, attributed to a Child Protective Services supervisor, during that investigation.
“It’s well known that children are telling the truth when they say they’ve been abused. But [they] are usually lying when they deny it.”
The Wenatchee case – 42 adults arrested on 29,726 charges of sexually abusing 60 children – became a textbook case of what not to do. It led to reforms in interviewing techniques of child victims, more than 20 lawsuits and countless criminal appeals. In all, of the 26 people convicted of felonies, 18 won on appeal or pleaded guilty to far lesser charges while their appeals were pending. The Northwest Justice Project, headquartered at the University of Washington law school, was instrumental in the cases.
Among them was Cherie Town, one of the first arrests of the sex ring, along with her husband. She was convicted of child rape, but as evidence emerged that she’d been coercively questioned into a false confession, Town agreed to an Alford plea to a lesser charge, without admitting guilt.
Like Mikkelson’s character in “The Hunt,” Town is still dogged by the case, years later. Despite no subsequent offenses, she served 20 days in jail because she let the child of a friend sleep overnight, a violation of her probation. Last year, she struggled to have her name struck from the sex offender registry, according to the Wenatchee World.
I don’t want to let loose a spoiler for “The Hunt,” but the tone and atmosphere of a town gripped by fear is eerily similar to Wenatchee in the mid-1990s. Go see it.