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Richard Gardner

Child Psychiatrist, Expert Witness
Published influential work critical of accusations child abuse, defended those accused of abuse in court as an expert witness.

“What we have to do is stop denying this reality and stop waving this flag of "believe the children." Children are liars; they are suggestible; they can be wound up.” - Richard Gardner. [1]

Richard Gardner was an expert witness in child custody cases who sits on the FMSF’s advisory board. He gave interviews for, wrote segments in, and is frequently cited by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation’s Newsletter. He coined the terms “Sex Abuse Hysteria” and “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” both of which have been debunked by various scholars. His legal work purports to differentiate between true and false accusations of abuse.

Though Gardner often claimed he was a professor of psychiatry, in truth, he was an unpaid volunteer clinical professor in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry. [2]

Richard Gardner appeared as an expert witness for the defense in the civil portion of the Kelly Michaels case, a day-care abuse case in New Jersey. Gardner once wrote: "After examining the alleged victims, the accusing parents, and Ms. Michaels, I was convinced she did not engage in the variety of abominable acts attributed to her." This was not true. Gardner actually evaluated only two of the twenty children, and none of the parents. [3]

In an article in the academy forum, Gardner stated that “people are jailed on the basis of the babbling of three-year-olds… draconian punishments are common. In the United States, murderers, on average, will receive less jail time than child sex offenders.” He described this as “cruel and unusual punishment.” [4] There was no citation for this alleged fact. In personal correspondence with Ross Cheit, Gardner could not provide a source for these claims, stating regardless that “I do believe, with a high degree of probability, that my statement is true.” [5]

Sex Abuse Hysteria:
Gardner was a staunch advocate for the notion that accusations of childhood sex abuse are fueled by a mass hysteria, rather than true allegations where the perpetrator should be tried for a crime:

“Child abuse allegations are the "third-greatest wave of hysteria" the nation has seen, following the Salem witch trials and the McCarthyite persecution of leftists.” [6]

"We are currently living in dangerous times, similar to Nazi Germany. Sexual abuse hysteria is omnipresent." [7]

However, Gardner admits that “The vast majority ("probably over 95%") of all sex abuse allegations are valid.” [8] In his eyes, hysteria is not about incidences of sexual abuse, it’s about how our society approaches pedophilic acts:
"The Draconian punishments meted out to pedophiles go far beyond what I consider to be the gravity of the crime." [8]
“We have in our society an exaggeratedly punitive and moralistic attitude about adult-child sexual encounters." [7]

It’s clear that Gardner does not view pedophilia as a crime:
“One has to do everything possible to help [the mother of an accusing child] put the "crime" in proper perspective. She has to be helped to appreciate that in most societies in the history of the world, such behavior was ubiquitous [i.e., everywhere], and this is still the case." [7]
"[Pedophilia] is a widespread and accepted practice among literally billions of people." [7]

His solution to “sex abuse hysteria” is:
"One of the steps that society must take to deal with the present hysteria is to 'come off it' and take a more realistic attitude toward pedophilic behavior." [8]

The notion that accusations of childhood abuse caused by a widespread hysteria has influenced the controversy around recovered memory. Gardner has frequently spoken on this topic in the FMSF’s newsletter and at conferences sponsored by the FMSF. This claim is commonly made by supporters of False Memory Syndrome.

Gardner repeatedly advocated for eliminating the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). CAPTA required a system of mandatory reporters of child abuse in states and provided funding for child protective service systems and foster care. In this document, you can find quotes from Gardner’s talk at the “Day of Contrition Revisited” conference on the subject.
“The hysteria that we have now is fueled primarily by funding from the federal government under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. (Applause.)” [1]
Gardner campaigned to eliminate CAPTA with Herman Ohme and Carol Hopkins under the false premise that CAPTA created an incentive to “find” abuse. In fact, CAPTA money was distributed by a formula based entirely on the number of children under 18 residing in the state. [9]

Parental Alienation Syndrome:
Richard Gardner also coined the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” which he describes as the unjust hatred a child holds for one of their parents, often their father, instigated by the other parent. He argues that PAS is a unique form of child abuse arising solely in custody debates. PAS has never been recognized by the APA or any medical institution, and is largely rejected by credible institutions and professionals. PAS has been evaluated to be inadmissible in court under Federal Rules of Evidence. Jennifer Hoult wrote a thorough proof of PAS’s inadmissibility in court and scientific invalidity.
Excerpt: “PAS’s twenty-year run in American courts is an embarrassing chapter in the history of evidentiary law. It reflects the wholesale failure of legal professionals entrusted with evidentiary gate keeping intended to guard legal processes from the taint of pseudo-science. The continued misrepresentation of PAS’s scientific and legal status by its proponents, including proponents’ deliberate circumvention of legal gate-keeping by testifying about PAS under other names, should place legal professionals on alert for continued attempts to bring this unsubstantiated hypothesis into American courts.” [10]

American Bar’s review of PAS: “Parental Alienation Syndrome: 30 Years On And Still Junk Science” states:
“Despite having been introduced 30 years ago, there remains no credible scientific evidence supporting parental alienation syndrome (PAS, also called parental alienation (PA) and parental alienation disorder (PAD)). The concept has not gained general acceptance in the scientific field, and there remains no test, no data, or any experiment to support claims made concerning PAS… Plainly, any mental health diagnosis requiring family court involvement as both a feature of the “illness” and the “cure” is dubious at best… When accusations of PAS arise, other, multiple reasons for a child’s behavior are likely to exist. Ethical practice requires these other possible reasons be considered, not ignored.” [11]

Pedophilic and Misogynistic View on Human Sexuality:
Richard Gardner self published True and False Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse, which includes his view on human sexuality. In her article ‘The Evidentiary Admissibility of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Science, Law, and Policy,’ Jennifer Hoult gives an apt description of Gardner’s pedophilic and misogynistic views:

“In this work, which cites no empirical support, Gardner argued that all human sexual paraphilias (deviant behaviors) are natural adaptive mechanisms that foster human procreation, thereby enhancing the species’ survival. Thus, pedophilia, sadism, rape, necrophilia, zoophilia (sex with animals), coprophilia (sex with feces), and other paraphilias served to enhance the survival of the human species by increasing procreation.” [10]

“He claimed that incest was not harmful in itself, but, citing Shakespeare, claimed only “thinking makes it so.” He claimed that sexual activities between adults and children were “part of the natural repertoire of human sexual activity,” and that adult-child sex was a positive procreative practice because pedophilia sexually “[charges] up” the child, making the child “highly sexualized” and more likely to “crave” sexual experiences that will result in increased procreation. [10]

“Construing men as sperm donors and females as sperm recipients, he claimed these “atypical” sexual behaviors served to “[keep the male’s] juices flowing and increasing, thereby, the likelihood of heterosexual involvement with a person who is more likely to conceive,” and characterized any situation where a female was a sperm recipient as fostering the survival of the species. He asserted that human females are naturally “passive,” and that the role of rape or incest victim was a natural extension of this passivity, stating that “by merely a small extension of permissible attitudes,” women’s sexual passivity leads them to become masochistic rape victims who “gain pleasure from being beaten, bound, and otherwise made to suffer,” as “the price they are willing to pay for gaining the gratification of receiving the sperm.”” [10]

“Since his analysis focused on male paraphiliacs, Gardner thus claimed that homosexual sex increases the species’ reproduction despite the fact that homosexuals generally do not engage in heterosexual (i.e. reproductive) sex.” [10]

“Gardner’s theory, holding male sexual violence to be reproductively beneficial to the species, does not construe sexual violence as abuse.” [10]

The Leadership Council maintains a page documenting similar quotes of Gardner which showcase his favorable views on pedophilia and incest:

Stephanie Dallam wrote an article on Gardner’s concerning views on pedophilia and sexuality, specifically concerning the treatment of children who’ve been abused, their mothers, and the perpetrators of abuse (fathers). In summary, Gardner discourages reporting known child molesters to the police. He recommends that the children and mothers are “encouraged to masturbate” and that the fathers should not receive therapy about their abuse. “The North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) is a political, civil rights and educational organization that advocates sex between adult males and male children… Although literature by NAMBLA is not cited by Gardner, similar strategies are mirrored throughout his writings.” [12]
You can read Dallam’s article on the Leadership Council’s website:


[1] Gardner, Richard. (1997, January 14). The Spin-Off of Day Care Hysteria: Epidemic Accusations of Sexual Abuse in Custody Disputes. [Conference Presentation]. Day of Contrition Revisited, Salem, MA, USA.
[2] Lavietes, Stuart (2003, June 3). Richard Gardner, 72, Dies; Cast Doubt on Abuse Claims. The New York Times.
[3] Cheit, R. E. (2014). The witch-hunt narrative: Politics, psychology, and the sexual abuse of children. Oxford University Press. p. 466, fn. 208.
[4] Gardner, Richard. (1993).Sex-Abuse Hysteria: Diagnosis, Etiology, Pathogenesis, and Treatment. Academy Forum. 37(3):2-5.
[5] Gardner, Richard. (1995, August 21). Personal Correspondence to Ross E. Cheit.
[6] Gardner, Richard. (1993, February 22). Modern witch hunt--child abuse charges. The Wall Street Journal, p. A10.
[7] Gardner, Richard. (1992). True and false accusations of child sex abuse. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.
[8] Gardner, Richard. (1991). Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.
[9] Cheit, R. E. (2014). The witch-hunt narrative: Politics, psychology, and the sexual abuse of children. Oxford University Press. p. 485.
[10] Hoult, Jennifer. (2006). The Evidentiary Admissibility of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Science, Law, and Policy. Children's Legal Rights Journal, 26(1).
[11] Thomas, Rebecca & Richardson, James. (2015, July 1). Parental Alienation Syndrome: 30 Years On and Still Junk Science. American Bar Association.
[12] Dallam, S. J. (1998). Dr. Richard Gardner: A review of his theories and opinions on atypical sexuality, pedophilia, and treatment issues. Treating Abuse Today, 8(1), 15-23.

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