The now-infamous case of the “West Memphis Three”-three young men who faced life imprisonment after allegedly murdering three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993-reveals the potential danger, volatility, and impact of the moral panics of sexuality. Faced with the devastation of finding three boys tied up and drowned in a nearby drainage ditch, the townspeople, police officials, and legal counsel constructed an elaborate story with all the elements of a moral panic: Satanic witchcraft, sexual torture and mutilation, and violent teenage masculinity. In reality, of course, the men faced eighteen years of imprisonment for a crime they did not commit. The so-called Satanic rituals never happened, the “sexual torture” had been committed by a group of turtles living in the ditch, and the supposedly violent men had never even spoken to the boys. The likely perpetrator, a stepfather visible in plain sight the entire time, had gone free, aided by the whirlwind of decades-long sexual panic (West of Memphis 2012). The town had, as Gayle Rubin warned, become “dangerously crazy about sexuality."
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