By: Benjamin Leblanc Re: Toronto Star Copyright 1995 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd. The Tor

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By: Benjamin Leblanc Re: Toronto Star Copyright 1995 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd. The Toronto Star April 24, 1995, Monday, FINAL EDITION SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A14 LENGTH: 691 words HEADLINE: Sex abuse report to MPs attacked Background paper on recovered memories blasted as 'nonsense' BYLINE: BY TRACEY TYLER TORONTO STAR BODY: Canada's parliamentary library has quietly been compiling information for MPs on the explosive issue of repressed memories and sexual abuse, The Star has learned. But some of the country's leading medical and legal experts say the material is dangerously biased and are demanding an explanation and its immediate withdrawal. "Someone should investigate how this kind of nonsense was produced," said Toronto lawyer Alan Gold, a recognized authority on the law of sexual assault and how the issue of repressed memory has been dealt with by courts. The material is "dogma posing as independent research," Gold says. Dr. Harold Merskey, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Western Ontario, says he finds the information package frightening because, "MPs have the power to make laws governing the system of justice." "There can be no justice" if policy-makers rely on the information they've been handed, said Merskey, interviewed at a weekend conference in Toronto. At issue is a background paper prepared for parliamentarians by a member of the library's political and social affairs division last November, on the controversial subject of sex abuse accusations that arise from what are said to be recovered memories. Critics say MPs have been given a one-sided account containing factual errors, with the over-all theme that proof exists for abuse memories being repressed, but doesn't exist for the theory they can be implanted - the opposite of what science suggests. In a March 28 letter obtained by The Star, Richard Pare, the chief librarian, defends the paper, calling it a non-partisan look at a difficult subject, in which his researcher tried to examine all sides. The issue is significant, since the repressed memory controversy has affected many families in North America in recent years. Thousands of adults have accused their parents of abusing them as children, saying memories have only recently surfaced. But courts in Canada and the United States are no longer likely to convict on the basis of recovered memory alone. Just this month, a California judge overturned the conviction of George Franklin, who was sent to prison for a 1969 murder on the basis of his daughter's recovery of repressed memories. Memory researchers say there is no scientific evidence for the concept, arguing other forces are at work, such as suggestive questioning by therapists quick to link adult problems with childhood sexual abuse. In the paper prepared for MPs, parliamentary library researcher Patricia Begin states it is "both logical and responsible" for therapists to question clients about "past life experiences including sexual abuse." The repressed memory theory has been criticized chiefly by those charged with sexual assault, Begin writes. Critics say this ignores vocal attacks by researchers and academics. They say the paper suggests those who question the legitimacy of recovered memories are undermining efforts to deal with the problem of sexual abuse. Their concerns also include: *The paper's claim that no research supports the theory abuse memories could be implanted. Memory researchers have conducted experiments in which false memories have been created of being lost and scared in a shopping mall as a child, and of being in accidents. The paper says these don't compare with sex abuse. *The paper's statement that research has documented complete or partial repression of child abuse memories. This hasn't been proven, top psychiatrists and memory experts say. *Claims that no research exists on the prevalence of bad therapists. However, at least three studies have been done. A recent one by a University of British Columbia researcher found 25 per cent of clinical psychologists studied used risky techniques. "It's somewhat frightening to me to think such misinformation is being disseminated and institutionalized," said Pamela Freyd, executive director of the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome Foundation, who was here on the weekend for a meeting of the group's Toronto chapter. "The words I want to use are careless and irresponsible."


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