The Battle and the Backlash

Child sexual abuse: epidemic or witch hunt? The Battle and the Backlash: The Child Sexual Abuse War  was the first book by an investigative reporter that attempted to answer this question. It explained the unique challenges these cases present to the legal system, and then told the stories of actual cases that were decided in criminal, civil, and family courts.

Three chapters are available in their entirety below. The first two are about civil lawsuits. One involved an eminent New York City charity, the other was a suit brought by a daughter against her father. The third chapter is the book’s appendix, which features interviews with five people who have very different perspectives from one another.

The Battle And The Backlash Samples

Chapter 3: Case Study: The Fresh Air Fund

The Fresh Air Fund is a venerable charity that sends poor New York City kids to the country for free vacations. It’s a New York institution. Suing the Fresh Air Fund is like suing Mother Theresa. This is the story of how it happened, and the surprising way it ended.

Chapter 11: Case Study: Angela “Doe”

Near the end of the book, I wrote about civil lawsuits (such as the one brought against The Fresh Air Fund) as the wave of the future. This chapter is about a lawsuit brought by a woman against her father. In 1986, there hadn’t been very many like it. The statute of limitations was one daunting obstacle. But, as this chapter demonstrates, there were many. This is a case study of the successes and failures, of the emotional roller coaster that those who have worked with incest survivors know too well.


I added an appendix to The Battle and the Backlash because I wanted to give my readers a chance to listen in on extended conversations with five of the people I met who were articulate and passionate about this subject. I chose these five because together they covered the essential voices you need to hear if you’re going to understand what all the shouting is about.


When it was published in 1988, the book was widely praised. Here is a sampling of reviews:

“Marshaling original interviews, case studies and impressive background detail, Mr. Hechler scrupulously depicts the arguments that currently rage over nearly every aspect of the child sexual abuse problem.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Hechler combines investigative reporting techniques and style with a scholarly in-depth analysis. The result is a critical and objective work, valuable for general readers as well as those involved in such cases…. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal

More Reviews

“This is an important book. David Hechler has focused a powerful spotlight on a subject we have tried desperately to ignore. It will be difficult for anyone to read The Battle and the Backlash and remain unmoved.”
–Bob Herbert, Columnist, New York Daily News

“The case studies are gripping…. Hechler pinpoints the conflict between society’s concern for the child and the presumption that defendants are innocent until proven guilty…[His] profile of Angela ‘Doe’ (who successfully sued her incestuous father for $350,000)…will move even the most skeptical reader.”
St. Petersburg Times

“…a must read for anyone concerned with the problem of child sexual abuse.”
Newport News Daily Press

“…may startle and even anger some people, but it’s hard to argue with his recommendations….This book is a must for anyone connected with or interested in the field of childhood sexual abuse.”
The Oregonian

“[H]olds a clear mirror up to this conflict-filled issue and …challenges us to ignore the reflection at our own risk…[Y]ou cannot read it and remain unaffected. The truths it reveals are indeed hurtful, yet they are truths all of us must soon learn.”
Greenwich Time

Comments from Professionals in Child Protection

In addition to the reviews of my book in the press, it also received an interesting reception among the professionals who worked in child protection. I was later invited to speak at a host of their conferences. Here are some of the comments my publisher stuck on the back of the hardcover edition:

“Among the book’s virtues are a fast-paced style (the book reads like a good novel), and a very astute assessment of where we are at on the child sexual abuse frontlines. For most of us who are not exactly sure where we are at, this is the book to read. I know of no other like it.”
— David N. Sandberg, Director, Program of Law and Child Maltreatment, Boston University

“Given the complexity of reporting fairly, accurately, and responsibly on child abuse and neglect, no editor or media executive should assign or accept work from a reporter who has not read this McGuffy’s Reader of child abuse in the United States in 1987.”
— Donald Bross, Associate Professor in Pediatrics (Family Law), University of Colorado School of Medicine

More Comments

“This is a biography of a field in turmoil. As a self-appointed surveyor of this turbulent landscape, Hechler has given us a chronicle of the problems, the practices, and some of the people that give shape to the continually evolving field of child sexual abuse. In his role as “war correspondent,” he conducted numerous interviews with those who fight in the professional trenches, those who shoot from the trees, and those who define themselves as casualties. The result is a gutsy effort to document the issues from a more global view than we are usually able to glean from those embroiled in the battles. Few will agree with all of it—I didn’t—but therein may be its greatest contribution. It holds a mirror up to this field and, whether or not we like or agree with what we see, we dare not ignore the reflection.”
— Kee MacFarlane, M.S.W., Director, Child Sexual Abuse Center, Children’s Institute International

“The Battle and the Backlash…provides an informative account of the policies, people, and events currently in the news and behind the scenes. Backed up by careful groundwork, the approach is balanced, the narrative readable, and the discussion extremely useful for those concerned about the treatment of child sexual abuse victims by the Social Services and judicial systems.”
— James Shine, Director, National Center for Prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse