False Memory Syndrome – What The Studies Say

Professor Alan Schefflin, Santa Clara University Law School and Dr. Daniel Brown reviewed 25 recent studies (spring 1996) on Amnesia for childhood sexual abuse. They state:

“No study failed to find it….Amnesia for childhood sexual abuse is a robust finding across studies using very different samples and methods of assessment. Studies addressing the accuracy of recovered memories show that recovered memories are no more or no less accurate than continuous memories for abuse”.

Herman & Schatzow (1987): 53 women – 36% always remembered, 64% some amnesia; 36% mild to moderate amnesia; 28% “severe memory deficits”. 74% found corroboration, with 40% getting confirmation for perpetrators, other family members, physical evidence and 34% from siblings or other victims.

Albach (in press): 97 women with a history of CSA and a matched control of 65 non-abused women. 35% in the sexually abused group reported amnesia at some time, compared to 1% in the control group who reported amnesia for nontraumatic unpleasant childhood experiences. Psychotherapy was not typically reported to be the cause of recovering the abuse memory.

Roe & Schwartz (1996): 52 women, hospitalized for sexual trauma. 88% reported history of csa. 77% not remembered for significant time (3 to 45 years)

Bernet et al (1993): 624 undergraduates reported at least one experience of sexual abuse prior to age 15. 36% reported no memory for a time. Only 30% had been in therapy so “unlikely that they remembered their abuse as a consequence of psychotherapy”

Belicki et al (1994): 55.4% of abused students in study reported disrupted memory. “Subjects reporting no abuse responded significantly differently than the other three groups with respect to definitons of sexual abuse, psychiatric symptoms and sleep and dream behaviour. There were no significant differences in response the the questions between those who reported and those who did not report corroboration of abuse. There were also no significant differences in response to the questions bewteen those who had disrupted memory and those who had continuous memory for childhood sexual abuse. Those who had recovered memories were just as likely as those who had a continuous memory to have corroborative evidence for the abuse.

Van Der Kolk & Fisler (1995): 46 adults in in depth interview. Of the 36 subjects with childhood trauma 42% had suffered significant or total amnesia at some time. Corroborative evidence available for 75%. Williams (1994) : 129 women who had been sexually abused as children. 38 % failed to report or were amnestic for childhood sexual abuse though it was clearly documented in medical records 17 years earlier. 32% said they were never abused. “Amnesia for sexual abuse in a community sample is not an uncommon event. There was a tendency for women with the clearest evidence of abuse to be more amnestic”

Widom & Morris (in press): Court substantiated abuse and child-neglect cases. 39% of the sexually abused failed to report the documented child abuse. “We have also found substantial under-reporting of sexual abuse among known victims of sexual abuse. This is particularly impressive since these are court substantiated cases of childhood sexual abuse”

Spiegel: “Memories in dissociate amnesia are not so much distorted as they are segregated from one another.”

Williams: In general, women with recovered memories had no more inconsistencies in their reports than women who had always remembered….their retrospective reports were remarkably consistent with what had been reported in the 1970’s….the stories were in large part true to the basic elements”.

Dalenberg (1996):Memories of abuse recovered in psychotherapy were no more or no less accurate than memories of abuse that had always beem remembered. The overall accuracy rate of both continued and recovered memories of abuse was quite high (70%) Just over half the patient sample significantly improved their accuracy for their abuse memories in the course of psychotherapy”.

About those who coined False Memory Syndrome

Ralph Underwager, one of the founders of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, is credited with having coined the term. In 1993, he gave an interview with the Dutch paedophile magazine, Paedika, in which he was reported as saying that paedophilia could be a responsible choice and that having sex with children could be seen as ‘part of God’s will’. The other co-founders of the FMSF were Pamela and Peter Freyd, whose adult daughter made accusations of childhood sexual abuse. The American media gave them almost unquestioning support until their daughter, psychology Professor Jennifer Freyd, felt obliged to speak out publicly, to stop the damage that she felt her parents and their organisation were doing to abuse survivors.

Other early promoters of false memory syndrome in the US were Paul and Shirley Erberle. In the 1970s, when child pornography laws were less rigid, they edited a magazine called Finger in which there were explicit illustrations of children involved in sexual acts with adults, with features entitled ‘Sexpot at Five’, ‘My First Rape, She Was Only Thirteen’ and ‘Toilet Training’. Another key figure is Felicity Goodyear-Smith, author of First Do No Harm (1993). Felicity Goodyear-Smith admits to a personal as well as professional involvement in the issue. Her husband and parents-in-law were imprisoned for sexual abuse offences, having been members of the New Zealand community, CentrePoint, that encouraged sexual intimacy amongst its members, including the children. Although the adults involved were prosecuted for these acts, including public sex with children, Goodyear-Smith claims that this was simply ‘childhood sexual experimentation’ and quotes studies that claim to show that adult-child sex can be harmless. The false memory syndrome foundation was formed by Pamela and Peter Freyd, who were theirselves accused of abuse by their daughter (insidently their daughter – Jennifer Freyd – wrote an amzing bok called “Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse“).

Is it just me, or do all of these people appear to have alternative motives?

Repressed memories in none sexual abuse cases

Repressed memory in war vets or holocaust survivors has been a long acknowledged phenomena. It was only when it began to be about sexual abuse that people start yelling about FMS.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as being self-evident” (Arthur Schopenhauer)

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6 Responses to “False Memory Syndrome – What The Studies Say”

  1. Recovered memory website Says:

    This is an excellent article. Thank you.
    See the link above and this one for more information on FMS and recovered memory.
    Many recovered memories have been verified.

    http://childabusewiki.org/index.php?title=False_Memory_Syndrome

  2. castorgirl Says:

    Hi,

    If you are interested in further information on Felicity Goodyear-Smith, you can find a couple of articles written to expose her links with ACC Sensitive Claims unit (NZ’s financial assistance for therapy related to sexual abuse) – ACC advisor silent on links to sex abusers, Conflicting interests? and Sex abuse cuts ‘all about costs’.

    There is also a documentary about Centrepoint – the community where the sexual abuse of the children occurred; but, it is only available to a New Zealand audience. There was also extensive drug production and use within the community, for which there were convictions (detailed in the documentary “Beyond the Darklands: Bert Potter” S3, E5). This is the community which Felicity was meant to be the doctor for – therefore aware and preventing harm done to all of the inhabitants.

    Her husband, John Potter, was convicted of sexual offenses against children – see the newspaper articles cited above for reference to these convictions.

    There have been studies done on the children of Centrepoint, to try to establish the impact of their experiences there – see A different kind of family: Retrospective accounts of growing up at Centrepoint and implications for adulthood. It appears as if some of the children have moved on from their experiences, but some haven’t.

    Felicity continues to be employed at Auckland University and has been asked to be an expert witness for the defense in sexual abuse cases.

    Regards,
    CG

  3. Kathleen Wichterman Says:

    Thank you for all the statistics. It helps my case for memories I uncovered in 2002. I since have written a book called “Darkness and Light – The Little Girl in Pink” (A Journey from Fear to Faith), currently out of print (self-published waiting for more funds) but available through my website. I chose not to mention the word abuse in my book, but use it to share the feelings and emotions that are familiar to abuse victims of any kind. Hopefully I can get it into the hands of therapists in the near future.

  4. Fara Says:

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