Debbie Nathan (born 1950) is an American feminist journalist and writer, with a focus on cultural and criminal justice issues concerning abuse of children, particularly accusations of satanic ritual abuse in schools and child care institutions. She also writes about immigration, focusing on women and on dynamics between immigration and sexuality. Nathan's writing has won a number of awards. She appears in the 2003 Oscar-nominated film Capturing the Friedmans. She has been affiliated with the National Center for Reason and Justice, which, among other things, provides support to persons who may have been wrongly accused of sexual abuse.
Nathan was born in 1950 into a Jewish family in Houston, Texas. She received her B.A. from Temple University in 1972, after first attending Shimer College, a very small Great Books college in Illinois. She went on to receive a master's degree in linguistics from the University of Texas El Paso.
Nathan taught English as a second language at Brooklyn College, then moved to Chicago in 1980, where she began her journalism career at the Chicago Reader. She returned to El Paso in 1984 to work for the El Paso Times, then became a freelance journalist. In 1998, she took a job writing for the San Antonio Current, then moved to New York City in 2000.
Satan's Silence, a 1995 work which Nathan co-authored with Michael Snedeker, examined and aimed to debunk the wave of satanic ritual abuse allegations that took place beginning in the 1980s. Victor Navasky described the book as the "definitive study" of the subject, and a CounterPunch columnist credited the book as having "exposed and virtually stopped the so-called satanic cult child sex panic". Paul Okami's review of the book in The Journal of Sex Research noted that the book "is not . . . a scientific work", and he had some criticisms of its organization and what Okami saw as misapplication of certain social-science concepts and an overreliance in some parts of the book on feminist and leftist economic theory; nevertheless, Okami judged the book to be "essential reading . . . for its devastating journalistic portrait" and "for its more general analysis of proximate mechanisms by which our society can become vulnerable to patent collective madness." Ross Cheit, political science professor at Brown University, has criticized Nathan's research and conclusions. He contends Nathan has vastly overstated the prevalence of false abuse allegations by focusing on a handful of high-profile examples, and notes that Nathan has admitted to drawing conclusions about the guilt or innocence of alleged child abusers before examining the facts in specific cases.
Pornography, published in 2007, is written as a concise "guidebook" on the subject of pornography. A Canadian reviewer described the writing as "frank and cool", and made note of Nathan's assertion that no connection has been established between the use of pornography and criminal behavior, as well as her focus on the "connection between porn and shame" to define pornography.
Nathan's 2011 book, Sybil Exposed, takes on the case of the famous psychiatric patient known as "Sybil", whose supposed multiple personality disorder was the subject of a 1973 best-selling book and two motion pictures. Among other things, Nathan discovered that Sybil's psychiatrist was aware of (but apparently ignored) the fact that she suffered from pernicious anemia, the symptoms of which would include most of the patient's complaints. Nathan's book received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which called it a "startling exposé". Carol Tavris, reviewing the book for The Wall Street Journal, commented that "Nathan's indefatigable detective work in Sybil Exposed has produced a major contribution to the history of psychiatric fads and the social manufacture of mental disorders. This is the book that should be a made-for-TV movie."
- Nathan, Debbie (1991). Women and other aliens: essays from the U. S.-Mexico border. El Paso, Tex: Cinco Puntos Press. ISBN 0-938317-08-3.
- Snedeker, Michael R.; Nathan, Debbie (1995). Satan's silence: ritual abuse and the making of a modern American witch hunt. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-07181-3.
- Nathan, Debbie (2007). Pornography (Groundwork Guides). Toronto: Groundwood Books. ISBN 0-88899-766-3.
- Nathan, Debbie (2011). Sybil Exposed. New York: Free Press. p. 288. ISBN 143916827X.
- John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine., Medill School of Journalism (accessed 2012-02-12). (Nathan won 1st prize in 1991 for work for The Village Voice.)
- 2000 AltWeekly Awards, Association of Alternative Newsmedia (accessed 2012-02-12). (Nathan won 1st place Arts Feature award for an article for the San Antonio Current.)
- 1998 AltWeekly Awards, Social Reporting, Association of Alternative Newsmedia (accessed 2012-02-12). (Nathan won 1st place Social Reporting award for an article for The Texas Observer.)
- "Winners and Judges of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards" (accessed 2012-02-12). (Nathan won a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in 1991.)
- David Edelstein, "His Father's Son: The haunted men of Capturing the Friedmans." Slate, June 5, 2003.
- David Folkenflik, "Seizures Hurt Memory, Ex-'Times' Reporter Says", All Things Considered (National Public Radio), October 19, 2007.
- Shimer College (2000). Shimer College Faculty & Alum Directory 2000.
- Richard Baron, "Profile: Debbie Nathan", Newspaper Tree (El Paso), February 22, 2004.
- Carol Tavris, "Multiple Personality Deception: The famous patient who inspired the panic was more the victim of her psychiatrist than of mental illness", The Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2011.
- Edward Wasserman, "Media should exercise caution covering sexual abuse scandals, Sacramento Bee, December 26, 2011.
- Victor Navasky, "The Demons of Salem, With Us Still", The New York Times, September 8, 1996.
- "Sexual Fascism in Progressive America: Scapegoats and Shunning", CounterPunch, March 4, 2006.
- Paul Okami, "A Triumph of Skepticism: Nailing down the Coffin of 'Ritual Abuse'", The Journal of Sex Research vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 164-65 (pay site), also available here.
- Cheit, Ross E. (2014) The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199931224, p. 198
- Terry Ornelas, "Readings", The Austin Chronicle, December 7, 2007.
- Greg Bak, Review of Pornography. (A Groundwork Guide). CM: Canadian Review of Materials (Manitoba Library Association), October 2, 2009.
- Maia Szalavitz, "The Truth About ‘Sybil’: Q&A with Author Debbie Nathan", TIME, December 28, 2011.
- Molly Driscoll, ""Sybil" authenticity questioned in new book", The Christian Science Monitor, October 21, 2011.
- "Exploring Multiple Personalities In 'Sybil Exposed'", Science Friday (National Public Radio), October 21, 2011.
- Review of Sybil Exposed, Publishers Weekly, September 19, 2011.