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Ethics

FALSE MEMORY SYNDROME

ETHICS & BEHAVIOR

Vol. 8, No. 2, 1998

Symposium: Science and Politics of Recovered Memories

Reviewed by Linda Chapman

A special issue of Ethics & Behavior has been published (Vol. 8, No. 2, 1998). The theme is "The Science and Politics of Recovered Memory," and it is based on a program chaired by Gerald Koocher of Harvard Medical School at the APA convention.

This program was also tape recorded and copies of the tape are available from Sidran (ordering details follow). I have heard this tape, and it's a wonderful assemblage of voices.

Reading the printed word in the special edition of Ethics & Behavior, paper after paper, is uplifting and inspiring. The participants in this symposium are people of courage and fortitude, and as they speak eloquently to the issues of the day, it becomes crystal clear that this "memory war," as Anna Salter asserts, "...Is not an academic debate at all; It is a political fight." (p. 121). I'll leave Salter and the other authors to explain what the fight is about, and why: It's a fascinating analysis, and not to be missed by anyone who cares about abused children, the adult survivors they become, and about those mental health professionals who would dare reach out to them in compassion.

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Selected Quotes

 

"...Skilled, thoughtful, well-trained clinicians are too often tarred with the same brush that should be reserved for the quacks of psychotherapy. Not surprisingly, the most vocal attempts to silence competent professionals speaking out on or treating genuine abuse victims have come from organizations populated or led by individuals who have been ruled abusive or otherwise discredited in courts of law."

-- Gerry Koocher, Chair

JENNIFER J. FREYD, PH.D., is a full professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of the acclaimed book, "Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse." She writes:

"Despite this documentation for both traumatic amnesia and essentially accurate delayed recall, memory science is often presented as if it supports the view that traumatic amnesia is very unlikely or perhaps impossible and that a great many, perhaps a majority, maybe even all, recovered memories of abuse are false....Yet no research supports such an implication...and a great deal of research supports the premise that forgetting sexual abuse is fairly common and that recovered memories are sometimes essentially true." Science in the Memory Debate, p. 107

ANNA SALTER, PH.D., is a psychologist in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1988, she began a study of the accuracy of expert testimony in child sexual abuse cases utilizing psychologist Ralph Underwager and his wife and practice partner, Hollida Wakefield, as a case study. (Underwager is a co-founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation who resigned after making statements to a Dutch magazine in which he advocated pedophilia. See this article for background.) Salter writes:

"The people who support and defend those accused of child sexual abuse indiscriminately, those who join organizations dedicated to defending people who are accused of child sexual abuse with no screening whatsoever to keep out those who are guilty as charged, are...not necessarily people engaged in an objective search for the truth. Some of them can and do use deceit, trickery, misstated research, harassment, intimidation, and charges of laundering federal money to silence their opponents." -- Confessions of a Whistle Blower: Lessons Learned, p. 122.

JENNIFER A. HOULT earned degrees in harp, computer science and religion, pursued a career in Artificial Intelligence Software Engineering, and later returned to a career in music. In 1988, she filed a civil suit against her father - a member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation - (J. Hoult v. D.P. Hoult), whom she alleged had sexually abused her throughout her childhood. In 1993, this case was unanimously decided in her favor, and she was awarded monetary damages. However, Hoult has seen the facts of her case twisted and misreported in the media and by FMS proponents. She writes:

"Since 1995, I have become aware of the parallel between the intimidation and silencing in the microcosm of the abusive family and in the macrocosm of a society that is ill at ease in dealing with the abuse of children. During my childhood my father protected himself from being held accountable by threatening me into silence. I believe that published documents demonstrate how some members and supporters of false memory groups publish false statements that defame and intimidate victims of proven violence and their supporters. Such altered accounts are used to discredit others in court and in the press." -- Silencing the Victim: The Politics of Discrediting Child Abuse Survivors, p. 125.

ROSS E. CHEIT is a professor in the Department of Political Science, Brown University. Cheit, who as an adult recovered memories of abuse by a camp counselor, has established an archive of _corroborated cases_ of recovered memories here.

From the Abstract of Cheit's article:

 

"Some self-proclaimed skeptics of recovered memory claim that traumatic childhood events simply cannot be forgotten at the time only to be remembered later in life. This claim has been made repeatedly by the Advisory Board members of a prominent advocacy group for parents accused of sexual abuse, the so-called False Memory Syndrome Foundation. The research project described in this article identifies and documents the growing number of cases that have been ignored or distorted by such skeptics. To date, this project has documented 35 cases in which recovered memories of traumatic childhood events were corroborated by clear and convincing evidence." False Representations About True Cases of Recovered Memory. (p. 141) (Note: The archive now has 45 corroborated cases.)

DAVID L. CALOF is a respected therapist in Seattle, Washington, and founder and editor emeritus of the professional journal Treating Abuse Today. His latest book is "The Couple Who Became Each Other: Stories of Healing and Transformation From a Leading Hypnotherapist." Despite the fact that he has never treated any relative of a member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and for more than 25 years practiced without a single ethics complaint or lawsuit, proponents of false memory syndrome waged an intensive three-year war of harassment against him and his practice. His patients often had to cross a picket line just to get to their therapy appointments; He was forced to move his office several times; His attorney's wife and family were harassed, and he spent many thousands of dollars defending bogus lawsuits. He writes:

"Psychotherapy clients require privacy and confidentiality, not assault by offensive signs, threats by camera, stigma, or breach of privacy. They do not benefit from ad hominem broadsides against the clinical community. If we condone this new self-styled assault on psychotherapy in the name of scientific debate or freedom of speech while we ignore the rights of speech, privacy, and assembly for patients and clinicians, we might eventually lose the clinical container of psychotherapy itself to any aggressive third party who comes along with some ax to grind with the field of mental health." -- Notes from a Practice Under Siege: Harassment, Defamation, and Intimidation in the Name of Science, p. 185.

LAURA S. BROWN, PH.D. was named clinical professor of psychology in 1992 at the University of Washington. Since 1980, she has maintained a full-time independent practice of clinical and forensic psychology in Seattle. She has edited three books, authored a fourth, and co-authored a fifth, and has written 44 journal articles and 35 chapters in professional books, and has been instrumental in the development of theory in feminist psychotherapy. She too, has been picketed by pro-fms individuals in Seattle, Washington.

As symposium discussant, she writes:

"Denial of perpetration is simply not evidence that none has occurred, because even when there is physical evidence of abuse, sexual abusers of children may continue to deny that they did anything....The tactics of the false memory movement have shown remarkable parallels to those of sexual abusers who attempt to silence their victims, and I wonder why this is." -- The Prices of Resisting Silence: Comments on Calof, Cheit, Freyd, Hoult, and Salter, p. 191.

I strongly urge you to locate this issue in your library, or order a copy, and share it with survivors and professionals alike. It's heartening to be reminded that there are people of principle in this world who care about those who have experienced the trauma of child abuse, and who are willing to stand on their convictions and pay a price, if necessary. We can all take a lesson from their courage of conviction. - Linda Chapman

How to Order

Copies of this special issue may be obtained from the publisher for $20.00, plus shipping.

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
10 Industrial Avenue
Mahwah, NJ
Phone: 1-800-9-Books-9
(Single copies: Book Department)
WWW: http://www.erlbaum.com
Fax: 201-236-0072
orders@erlbaum.com

 

To order the audiotape, contact Sidran's phone at 410-825-8888, email them at sidran@access.digex.net, or visit the website: http://www.sidran.org