A TALE FROM A NEW AGE WITCH HUNT
In 1985 I researched and wrote up the story of a Nigerian medical student falsely accused of molesting children at the Oakland, California apartment complex where he lived. It appeared as an East Bay Express cover article, "Tony Onyejekwe's Nightmare." The case opened my eyes to a hysteria epidemic of false accusations of child abuse. In 1993, together with Richard Brzustowicz, Jr., we published "Remembrance of Crimes Past," an article on the child molest epidemic and false accusations based on therapist-assisted recovered memories. It appeared in the monthly Heterodoxy.
As the epidemic of false accusations spread with the industrialization of campaigns against child abuse, we found Rick and Renee Althaus at a conference of accused parents in Philadelphia. They agreed to have their story documented on video, and Hungry for Monsters started filming in 1994.
The film is a no-frills case study with a minimum of intrusive elements. My ground rules were to keep my own voice, or any narrator voice, out of the film, and to limit expert commentary to individuals who had a part to play in the case as it unfolded.
Hungry for Monsters is a testament to a bizarre and confusing period in the annals of American mental health, when zealous efforts to protect children misfired and resulted in a real witch hunt of epic proportions. The film shows how one family suffered through it and survived. It is also a morality tale that describes how public institutions - the police, courts, social workers, and mental health professionals - can become the instruments of cruel injustice exactly when we think we are using them to correct another wrong.
Nicole Althaus, the young woman at the center of the story, remains an enigmatic figure throughout the film. For me, Nicole is an eternal character, an archetypal figure who is a required ingredient for a successful persecution. By embellishing her own fantasies she is able to fuel the fears and fantasies of the authority figures dedicated to helping her. Their faith in the righteousness of their mission depends on her skill at reflecting what they want to find in her. I can easily imagine Nicole playing the same part in any of the great religious persecutions and witch hunts of European history, or in the Salem witch trials of 1691. She is in a sense the perfect victim.
- George Csicsery, 2004