To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sat, 12 Nov 94 14:48 EST Cc: cantva.canterbury.ac.nz!fina012 (
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!m-net.arbornet.org!aaron (Aaron Larson)
Date: Sat, 12 Nov 94 14:48 EST
(c) The Buffalo News, 11/7/94, pg. 7.
Guidelines May Restrict Repressed Memories For Sexual Abuse
Convictions; Use Would Eliminate 'inappropriate Testimony'
By Barry Brown
Tight, psychological guidelines on so-called repressed memories in
sexual abuse cases soon could restrict the number of "false memory
syndrome" cases in Canadian courts, experts say.
Canadian courts soon will use guidelines, produced by the Australian
Psychological Society, that will make convictions on the basis of
retrieved memories much more difficult, if not impossible, according
to the president of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers Association.
"In the past, courts accepted a lot of inappropriate testimony
without a lot of critical analysis," said Bruce Durno of the lawyers'
association. "When we started gaining access to therapist's notes,
we found some who were looking to sexual abuse as the answer for
all problems a child or an adult was having. One therapist's
guidelines actually said, 'If you aren't sure if you were sexually
assaulted, you probably were.' "
The Australian guidelines, which still have no counterpart in
Canada, stress that no empirical evidence supports the idea of
repressed memory and no scientific evidence supports any general
relationship between memory and psychological trauma.
They also point out memories can be altered, deleted and created
by other events and by the very effort of retrieval. Psychologists
never should assume reports of no abuse indicates a repressed
memory, or that a retrieved memory is accurate, or that the
therapist's own expectations and questions haven't affected the
Alan Gold, a Toronto defense counsel, said the United States has
some guidelines on "false memory syndrome," but the Australian
guidelines are the most definitive he has seen.
An increasing number of adults are charging they were abused as
children and then taking their alleged, ancient abuser to court.
In some cases, conflicting testimony about the alleged abuse for
which there may be no physical or collaborating evidence, has led
to the conviction of innocent people who fell victim to "invented
memories," Durno said.
"Absolutely, there are people in jail because of false memory
syndrome, because then there was no critical look at this form of
therapy, and so no way to challenge it," Durno said.
Those who criticize retrieved memories have come under attack, he
added, noting that Ontario Attorney General Marion Boyd recently
told a meeting of judges not to believe such critics.
The new guidelines will apply only to cases where the alleged sexual
assault took place years before and the alleged victim denied any
such assault occurred until years later when a so-called repressed
memory suddenly is "retrieved."
The "mind is very pliant in both adults and children when it comes
to memories," Durno explained, adding there are "maybe 100" people
in jail, convicted on evidence that might now been thrown out of
"An American study estimated that 30 percent of sexual assault
allegations that occur in a family undergoing divorce or separation
prove to be false," he said.
The new guidelines, he added, would come into play when experts
are called to testify about a case of alleged abuse and the defense
questions the prosecution witnesses about the reliability of
allegations based on repressed memory.
Not long ago, a number of adults were charged in Martensville,
Saskatchewan, with abusing children. But after a long investigation
and several trials, only one person was found guilty, and the rest
were acquitted on the grounds the police got the children to describe
their "abuse" only after intense prodding and leading them to give
the "right" answers, Durno said.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank