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  • This film chronicles the events which transpired in Kern County (Bakersfield) California, and the dozens of people who were falsely charged with child sexual abuse as part of massive "sex rings". Specifically, the film tells the story of John Stoll, Scott and Brenda Kniffen, Alvin and Debbie McCuan, Jeff Modahl, Jack and Jackie Cummings, Rick and Marcella Pitts.

    This film is filled with heroes.

    The film makers themselves: for tackling such a difficult, and generally unpopular subject matter, and for their fortitude to stick with the project over more than four years determined to see these stories of injustice told.

    Those who were falsely imprisoned, bared down, stood strong, and fought the good fight, no matter how long it took, to see the truth about their innocence told.

    Those who were involved as with the police, social services, and the District Attorney's office as children, who now as young adults have been brave enough to come forward with the truth about how those in authority were acting in true "criminal" behavior, and not those accused of sexual abuse.

    However, hearing these particular young adults speak of their pain, guilt, trauma, confusion, and remorse over allowing social service workers to convince them to lie when they were children was the most powerful aspect of this film for me.

    I have heard many, many stories of false arrest. There is no doubt that the stories of struggle and survival from those falsely accused are moving beyond words. However, hearing the pain and perspective from the different side of those wronged by the justice system; hearing how much these false arrests harmed the children involved, is the most powerful aspect of this new film.

    A must see!
  • valis194911 June 2009
    America can only remain a free nation if the judicial process is fair, untainted, and subject to review. During the early 1980's, it seems that the residents of Bakersfield, CA sacrificed their judicial rights for the illusion of Law And Order. WITCH HUNT is a riveting documentary about a group of citizens who became the target of a joint task force of Law Enforcement and Social Services that illegally and immorally usurped their power. The State's position was that this police and social service unit provided an opportunity for sexually abused children to be heard, and allow the law to apprehend and punish their abusers. However, as the the film clearly demonstrates, Child And Family Services, with the aid of an overzealous police force, were able to orchestrate children's testimony, and allowed the local government to create a non-existing threat to the community. Bakersfield became a city under siege by pedophiles-perverted by "Sexual Weapons Of Mass Destruction". WITCH HUNT shows that these 'dedicated and thoughtful public servants' invented a phony threat to the community, and then rode it for all it was worth. This 'Response To Evil' allowed them to parade before the media and appear to be 'Tough On Crime', when really they did nothing but railroad innocent citizens by using Child And Family Services to badger and bully innocent children until they gave them the 'sexual horror' that they craved. In no way should this film be viewed as a fair and balanced treatment of child molesters, but what this documentary shows us is that Law Enforcement and Social Service Agencies are able to foster a climate of hysteria which might allow citizens to give up an unbiased legal system for the illusion of Safety. In the commentary to the film, we find that when Child and Family Service personnel were told by the children that 'nothing happened', the impressionable children were badgered and bullied and told that they were 'in denial'. What is truly alarming is that, given these conditions, this gross travesty of justice could happen to any of us.
  • There isn't enough money in the world to pay back the men and women who were (and were not) featured in this film as the victims of false accusations and imprisonment.

    That being said, I do wish the documentary had at least asked some obvious questions. The DA's motive for arrests and convictions was clearly enough stated; get convictions seeming to clear the county of "bad guys" thereby furthering political careers.

    But who was doing the arresting? Who was handing down orders to do so? Who decided which people would get arrested and charged? Who was coming up with the elaborate details of these false charges? These questions leave a lot to wonder about. And in a film where you (or at least I) believe what is being put forth, which is the truth of the accused, you want there to be no stone unturned. You don't want there to be any question for the doubter that if the "right" people had been asked the "right" questions, we might have a different result.

    Ask the damn questions. Get answers from the people who still may even profit from the long ago verdicts. And if you can't, say so. At least say something about having tried.

    Make no mistake - I think this movie does a fantastic job on shedding light on a very dark side of humanity. And It left me wanting to give the most heartfelt hug to ALL the victims (both the charged and the then-children).

    Still, other questions include; What of the neighbors and surrounding community? What about family? What about friends or former friends? Why weren't any of them interviewed? What did they think originally? What do they think now in lieu of the reversals of convictions? The first person approach is powerful and poignant. But those prone to the sort of hysteria which prompted this sort of thing to gain ground in the first place will ask, with sword in hand, "why?"
  • You will have read other comments, obviously this was a travesty on every front for each family and everyone affected.

    I was disappointed that it did not go in to any detail as to WHY the police just knocked on their doors with warrants and took their children away.

    Who made the decision to just arrest these people and on what grounds - I think that's a question anyone would ask after watching it. People somewhere should have been bought to justice, surely!? You would certainly hope so.

    Regardless this takes nothing away from a very interesting and shocking insight in to so called justice - replicated all around the world of course.

    I would highly recommend watching Witch Hunt. I can only hope these poor people were given millions in compensation and can find some forgiveness.

    Bless your souls!
  • lazur-29 March 2011
    Warning: Spoilers
    Who originally accused the parents? We have the right to face our accusers. Surely we aren't considering the children to be the accusers; they weren't brought in for questioning out of nowhere. Even if the accusers were (wrongly) granted anonymity, all bets should be off after their accusations have been proved maliciously false. Send -those- people to prison for 300 years. ( My God, don't tell me these charges were brought on the basis of anonymous phone calls!)/// OK, the existence of the children's medical records was denied, but why didn't the - defense- DEMAND medical examinations?/// How much ignorance, incompetence, collusion, deception, careerism, and presumption of guilt can we tolerate while these political hacks continue to claim that there was no evil intent. How evil does evil have to be before we call it by its name?
  • Although this film is a powerful indictment of legal injustice, and the criminal destruction of families and lives, much of the ground it covers already was examined by a "Dateline" episode in 2004, where the horrendous persecution of John Stoll and the other Bakersfield unfortunates finally was exposed.

    It would be better to look back at the genesis of this vast "moral panic" that so gripped us from the 1980s to early '90s - since the Bakersfield case was but one of many. The most famous, at the time, was the McMartin Day School case in Southern California, in which toddler caregivers were accused of satanism and child sexual abuse on "evidence" that was nothing more than fairy tales spun from thin air. In all, other cases wrecked dozens if not hundreds of persons, mostly one or two people at a time, far from media attention, hauled up on the most outrageous of allegations. As noted in the movie, scars and devastation this nonsense left behind is unhealed today.

    There is a reason, I think, why the background of this hysteria is so deliberately obscured: The idea of widespread child abuse, which mutated into fantastic, lurid accusations of "satanism" and ritual murder, was fabricated and popularized by radical feminists in the 1970s as a means of attacking "the patriarchy" that dominated Western society from "our house" to Bauhaus to the White House. Broadcast via indulgent, even solicitous media and academia, most of the country and the world believed adult males committed child sexual abuse as commonly as they wore shoes. In a reversal of how this trendy bit of ugly slander gained traction through incessant publicity and repetition, its progenitors are protected today. The subject merely has been dropped into the memory hole; as relentlessly presented the crazy charge was then, so energetically ignored the entire episode is today. Gloria Steinem and Ms. magazine? Not a subject for discussion. Robin Morgan? Mustn't be interviewed. You want to hold responsible the counterintuitive authors of this toxic blueprint? What are you - reactionary?

    For the victims of this genuine witch hunt in Bakersfield, there is another reason this tragic subject isn't the subject of documentaries, films and television miniseries - and rarely mentioned at all except in courageous films like this one, and that's because the working-class people who spoke in drawls and drove pickup trucks were the victims, not the villains.
  • rmax30482313 April 2009
    Warning: Spoilers
    If I were judging this as a public service message, I'd give it a higher grade. As a documentary film, it spends all but the last fifteen minutes of its time on case studies of four or five families convicted of child molestation in Bakersfield, California. There were several dozen convictions, some 35 of which were reversed years later -- and I mean years. One innocent man and wife were excoriated by the judge and received cumulative sentences of more than 500 years. Before finding an organization willing to look closely into their cases, four of the cases we follow served ten or twenty years. (What do you do when you've spent 20 years in jail and are released on your 60th birthday, as one victim was?) And it was hard time, too -- San Quentin, where child molesters must claim they were convicted of owning automatic weapons and possession of marijuana if they want to live.

    It's interesting to see the development of the cases, the means by which convictions were brought, and the experiences of the victims, their children, their families and friends.

    One weakness -- aside from the unnecessarily lugubrious score -- is that there is really no attempt at an explanation, no attempt that involves any sophistication anyway. One or another of the talking heads attributes the wave of mass hysteria to "political ambition," "zealotry," and what we would call "command pressure." But those explanations don't tell us much. Let me put it this way. Why -- out of all the avenues of advancement -- did the politically ambitious District Attorney (who has been reelected seven times) happen to choose child molestation as his conduit to power? "Zealotry" is a personality trait that explains nothing. It's like saying "greed causes robbery." And "command pressure" -- the sense that those above you must be given the performance that they want from you -- is omnipresent, and constants can't explain variations.

    I'd love to have seen the case studies squeezed into one hour and the rest of the time given over to an examination of the causes of this craze at the time it happened in Bakersfield -- or rather the causes of these kinds of crazes as they happen again and again, over generations, over centuries. Because, when you get right down to it, collectively and historically, we've seen all this before in one form or another. Witchcraft, Freemasons, hidden Communists, pre-school porno rings, and Satanism. For the past few years we've been working on "internet predators" that do not exist to any measurable extent, according to the only scientifically respectable study that I'm aware of. (I taught sociology, including classes on social problems that used to be called "mass hysteria.") What started this particular craze in this particular place? And, equally important, what stopped it when it was finally ended? The explanation must lie in the system itself, the entire social system, of which the legal system is only an instrument. You can't really blame it on an ambitious DA.

    Is there some reason society NEEDS an internal enemy to hate? Anyway, that's a lot of criticism of a film that desperately needed making and would have been far more useful if it had been made twenty or twenty-five years ago. God, how many lives have been ruined by our righteous wrath?
  • To give everyone a little background of what was happening before Jagels was elected, there were many named city and government officials, as well as business owners and campaign managers, who were involved in a loosely knit society of abusing 10-14 year old boys. These children were being used as sex slaves, and many other completely horrendous acts that these men forced upon these kids. The most famous (or infamous) of these children was Robert Mistriel, who was accused of killing a high official, Edwin Buck. Apparently Mistriel was a hustler (male prostitute) when he was referred to Buck from another molester, who at the time was a co-owner of the newspaper. Mistriel was needless to say treated as a sex slave, among other things, and eventually could not take the abuse any longer and apparently conspired to kill Buck with an acquaintance. Mistriel was put on trial in 1983 and was sentenced to 31 years to life in prison, and has adamantly stated he was not the one who killed buck. Here's the kicker... all those officials who molested these children were well- known by law enforcement for doing these acts; they were never reprimanded for their actions, and never denied they had taken part in these actions.

    Here's my take on WHY they concocted the entire child molestation ring; to deflect the fact that Bakersfield had molesters in the highest positions of city government.
  • a_baron30 March 2015
    Sean Penn is an accomplished actor, but this documentary in which he is not seen, is unquestionably the most important film of his distinguished career. In the 1980s, a Satanic abuse panic spread throughout the United States, the most notable examples of which were McMartin and Bakersfield. The latter started as allegations of regular child sexual abuse, but grew into lurid tales of Satanism. One man was accused of murdering his son; the fact that the boy was very much alive did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the witchfinders.

    Any claim of sexual abuse that includes women should automatically be suspect; one woman is passable, but a group of them? They just don't do that sort of thing, yet the fantasies persist to this day. These poor people were sentenced to dozens and in some cases hundreds of years in prison after being convicted on hundreds of charges on no evidence worthy of the name.

    Jeff Modahl spent 15 years behind bars; he was freed only after a tape came to light of a therapist, (so-called) and law enforcement coaching one of the young non-victims. John Stoll served 20 years, being freed on his 61st birthday. Even more sadly, two of those accused died in prison without clearing their names.

    "Witch Hunt" includes much archive footage, interviews with parents, children (some now with children of their own), and some comments from the unrepetent persecutors who claim there was no actual witch hunt.

    This documentary is more relevant than ever at the time of review in light of the ongoing persecution and wilful miscarriages of justice being enacted here in the UK.