To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Wed, 14 Dec 1994 05:28:16 -0500 'Recovered' memories challenge
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!saul.cis.upenn.edu!pjf (Peter Freyd)
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 1994 05:28:16 -0500
'Recovered' memories challenged
Atlanta Constitution (AC) - Friday December 9, 1994
By: Anne Rochell STAFF WRITER
Section: NATIONAL NEWS Page: C/1
Word Count: 717
How we remember traumatic events, particularly abuse, has become a topic of
discussion for everyone from Geraldo Rivera to the Harvard Medical School,
because the debate centers on an unspeakable crime: Incest.
A subject once so taboo it was never discussed, incest now has everyone
On one side are those who believe in recovered memories. They say
childhood sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse and even alien abduction,
dating back to infancy and usually lasting years, can be completely
forgotten, only to resurface years, even decades later.
On the other side are those who say these memories are confabulations,
encouraged by a therapist and eventually adopted by the patient as a
convenient explanation for a symptom, such as overeating or poor sex drive.
Advocates of this point of view have dubbed the condition "false memory
"This is like the Hula Hoop craze," said Dr. Paul McHugh, director of
the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University. "There is no more
evidence for satanic ritual abuse than there was for witches in the 17th
Beginning today in Baltimore, McHugh is presiding over a three-day
meeting that has a decided slant on the subject, evident in the subtitle of
the conference: "Scientific, clinical and legal issues of false memory
syndrome." More than 600 clinicians - and parents alienated from their
children by accusations of incest - are expected to attend the conference.
The conference is hosted by the False Memory Syndrome (FMS) Foundation -
which has more than 4,000 members, all of whom say they were falsely
accused of abuse. It is the first such meeting to be co-sponsored by a
prestigious research institute, and that has made the recovered memory camp
"This is a nonexistent syndrome," said Laura Brown, a clinical
psychologist in Seattle, who believes memories can be repressed and
"I was appalled when I saw that this conference was going on," she
added. "There is a large body of empirical research demonstrating that
people can lose and regain access to memories of trauma. It's just that the
mechanism is not known."
McHugh said there is just as much evidence that memory can be distorted
"If false memories can exist in alien abductions - and few people
believe those memories are true - then it's quite clear they can occur in
these other things," McHugh said.
Both sides agree, however, that there is no tangible evidence in these
However, the belief that memories can be lost and retrieved has gained
considerable acceptance. Half the states in the nation have changed their
laws to allow people to sue or press criminal charges against people
accused of abuse years after the statute of limitations on the alleged act
has expired. Such a bill was proposed in Georgia but did not pass.
Several Georgia court cases have been based on recovered memories.
DeKalb County businessman Al Wilson was accused by two daughters and a
granddaughter of sexual abuse, and they sued him on the basis of recovered
memories. The women dropped the case this fall.
The Burches of Fayette County, elderly grandparents, were indicted on 19
counts of child molestation and cruelty to children in connection with
their care of three granddaughters. The charges stemmed from the recovered
memories of an adult granddaughter. The 1992 trial ended in a hung jury,
and the Fayette district attorney's office has decided not to retry.
The FMS Foundation is tracking some 800 criminal and civil cases
nationwide of adult children accusing their parents of abuse, said the
foundation's executive director, Pamela Freyd. She believes there are
But there is something else happening in the courts, she said. Patients
are deciding these horrible things did not happen after all, and are suing
the therapists who they say encouraged them to "uncover" these memories.
There are now hundreds of these so-called "retractors," Freyd said, and
they have even started a newsletter. Several plan to speak at the
conference this weekend - an event that is certain to fuel both sides of
the memory debate.
"The question is how often the abuse happens and to whom it happens,"
said Kathy Steele, an Atlanta therapist. "The FMS people are saying it
didn't happen just because they go to church and they look nice and they
make a lot of money."
Copyright 1994 Atlanta Newspapers Inc.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank