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When Foggy Memories Lead to Sexual Assault Charges

When Foggy Memories Lead to Sexual Assault Charges

Memory recovery therapies used by some psychiatrists and therapists have led patients to make false accusations about sexual assault and innocent people are paying the price.

Have You Been Falsely Accused?

Approximately one million patients have been convinced by therapists that they have recovered repressed memories of past traumatic events. As a result, many of these patients have falsely accused family members, friends, teachers, and strangers of sexual assault and abuse.

Although therapeutic accounts of repressed memories are recorded as far back as Sigmund Freud, the idea gained public attention in the 1950s with movies like Sybil and The Three Faces of Eve that focused on suppressed childhood abuse and traumatic experiences. A book, The Myth of Repressed Memories: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse published in 1994 by a University of Washington psychologist, challenges the validity of memory recovery therapies and false recollections. Clinical research showed that people with repressed trauma do not have the ability to lock away memories for years, then recall them with complete clarity and accuracy. By the late 1990s, many patients of repressed memory therapy doubted the validity of their own recovered memories and personal injury lawsuits were filed against hundred of therapists. Settlements from the lawsuits reached into the millions.

The link between repressed memories and sexual assault has played a significant role in undermining a person’s criminal defense in sexual assault cases. Many lawmakers and criminal defense attorneys question whether the rules that govern sexual-assault adjudication have gone too far. Currently, the federal government requires all colleges and universities to train staff on the effects of neurological changes that can occur in victims of sexual assault, so campus officials can investigate linked trauma. As a result, investigators look closely at changing stories by victims and alleged perpetrators, a victim’s absence of verbal or physical resistance, and a victim’s inability to recall crucial parts of an alleged assault.

A psychology professor at Harvard University, Richard McNally, is one of the country’s leading experts on how trauma affects memory. He claims that research does not support the link between prior repressed memories and current traumatic events. As a result of recovered memory therapies often used on rape victims, many innocent people are falsely accused of sexual assault and abuse and wrongly punished for crimes they did not commit.

 

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