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The "Recovered Memory" Movement

Mark Twain quote

image courtesy Goodreads

A little background

I am a retired registered nurse. When I took my state board exam in 1969, I scored very high on the psych segment. It's a subject I did well in, and that interested me. I chose not work in a psych unit after graduation for various reasons, but I've remained interested all my life. I am well aware that my training was a very long time ago. I do know how to read, though.

Bob Jones III

Several years ago, not long after I entered Facebook Land, a friend who knew I'd attended Bob Jones Academy sent me a link to a group called "BJU Survivors." It was the old original group, I think, and had the old Facebook forum format. I went over there, out of curiosity, and joined. I then posted an account of my experience with the school and Dr. Bob Jones III.

I was unprepared for the reaction.

Atheist FB page

While I knew that some people would believe my story and others not so much, I wasn't prepared for a couple of the people on there going over to my profile and snooping about. One of them asked me if I "liked" atheist pages because I was an atheist, or if it was so I could follow them and comment and perhaps witness to them.

What commenced was a rather lengthy debate on the merits of religion vs. atheism.

As a result, I got a few friend requests, without realizing that I was opening myself up to a "community" and would come to regret doing so. One of those new "friends" was Camille K. Lewis.

One day, Camille posted something on her wall about sexual abuse "survivors," and I commented. I had no idea at the time about so-called "recovered memories" nor did I know much about the current "survivor" fad that has permeated much of the nation. I just made an offhand comment about an incident that had occurred in our family when my father died. A caretaker came forward at the last possible minute and filed a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment.

stethoscope

image courtesy sundeip arora via freeimages.com

The claim was totally ridiculous, and was simply an attempt to get some money from his estate, but we had to deal with it. And we ultimately decided, for a number of reasons, including concern for the health of my uncle, to settle with her. Ultimately, it was a whole lot cheaper than going to court. Even if we'd won, and the court made her pay our costs, she had no money, and we'd never have seen a dime. The settlement was for tiny fraction of the amount she'd demanded, and her lawyers very likely walked away with most of it.

dollars

My point was that the woman was simply lying. We knew she was. She knew she was. All the lawyers on both sides knew she was. My dad couldn't have sexually harassed anyone. The worst he could possibly have done during the time she was there was tell a dirty joke. She remained in his employ as long as she was needed, and she did not initiate her termination. She wasn't fired. She was just no longer needed.

censored

I was unprepared for the vehement reaction that I got to my comment. I was told by both Camille and another person that no one ever lies about sexual abuse and that if this woman said my father harassed her, then he did. No exceptions. No arguing about it. That was it. And I was further told that if I did not agree, I could leave, but that there would be no discussion of the subject on Camille's wall.

That was my introduction to the bizarre world of "survivors of sexual abuse." That day, not knowing what the hell they were talking about, I simply left.

And because I didn't know much about it, I said nothing for a long time, like years. Until now. But I quietly watched and educated myself. I read. Not just web sites, but books. This is what I do when I don't know about something and want to know. I ask questions when I can, but when I can't even ask a question without getting bashed over the head for daring to think something heretical, I just quietly read.

What is a "recovered memory"?

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It's a widely spread idea, although hotly contested in the medical community. Supposedly, when something really horrible happens to a person, she can be so traumatized by it that she cannot bear to remember it, so her mind just buries the memory, often for many years. Only, the mind doesn't do such a hot job at it, because the memory manifests itself in other ways -- she has difficulties small and great. She might have physical problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or obesity. (Yeah, obesity.) She might have various types of relationship problems, or emotional issues like substance abuse or eating disorders or depression.

The list of supposed symptoms of these repressed memories omits almost nothing apart from the common cold. Nearly anyone could find something in the list to point to if she wanted to do so. And a great many women seem to want to do that. Or their therapists want them to.

dead fish

Anyway, the memory is suppressed. And years, decades, later, the woman (and it's almost always a woman) begins to remember stuff. Well, not actually remember, the way you remember what you did on your trip to Europe after high school. No. She has nightmares, or she gets "flashbacks" (episodes where she's just sure she's remembering something), or she undergoes hypnosis and relives the memory, or she does a sort of mindless journaling and the memory pops out, or the therapist puts her through "guided imagery" (therapist asks her to imagine stuff and keeps asking suggestive questions until she "remembers") - and slowly these buried memories rise to the surface like dead fish.

guided imagery definition

Once the client has properly dredged up these memories, she is often urged by her therapist to confront her supposed abuser(s). This is the point when very astonished family members find themselves on the receiving end of a shotgun blast of accusations. The usual story is that Dad did the molesting, Mom gave tacit assent or ignored it, and the siblings were either also molested or knew about it. The fact that absolutely none of these family members remembers a single thing about any of this simply means that they are all "in denial."

nightmare

And at this point, the nightmare can take on epic proportions. In many cases, the woman cuts off all contact with any family members who do not believe her every word. In other cases, supposed victims have tried to sue their parents for living expenses and/or therapy expenses for life, on the grounds that they are "disabled" and it's all the parents' fault. Occasionally, the alleged victim will for some reason lose contact with her therapist and this is sometimes the catalyst for her recanting. Without the constant flow of encouragement from the therapist, some women start to realize they've been programmed and that the so-called abuse didn't happen. In one case, a woman realized she'd had some very false "memories" when, after accusing her father of impregnating her and sacrificing the baby in a satanic ritual, she was shown medical records proving that her father had had a vasectomy when she was very young, and a medical exam by a gynocologist showed that she had never been pregnant.

Therapy can go on for many years and bankrupt everyone involved.

The controversy

The summary above (and it is a very brief summary) is written from a fairly negative perspective. I'm doing that on purpose. I had to look pretty hard to find anything on this subject that wasn't extremely biased in support of "survivors."

I also had trouble finding much in the way of hard evidence in support of this stuff as well, which is why red flags went up all around me. Here are some of the problems:

Linda M Fossen

1. Recovered memories are supposedly almost always accurate. Depending on who you talk to, it's claimed that they are always accurate to nearly always accurate. As Camille and her friend informed me in no uncertain terms, "survivors" are not mistaken about their abuse stories.

This is why Linda Fossen could state, without even being slightly embarrassed by it, that she thought that all accused abusers should be publicly identified and declared "wrong" even without evidence or a conviction or any charges brought. They're all guilty. They have to be. "Victims" are never wrong.

aliens

But folks have recovered "memories" of abuse that occurred in a past life. They have recovered "memories" of having been abducted by aliens. And during the peak of the hysteria surrounding all this, a common accusation involved recovered "memories" of satanic ritual torture and often murder, all completely without any evidence at all.

They can't have it both ways. If these "survivors" are almost never wrong, then the people who recovered memories of a past life, or alien abduction or satanic rituals are almost never wrong, too.

2. It is impossible to tell the difference between a recovered false memory and a recovered true memory. There is no way to determine it. When you cannot falsify something, it cannot be examined scientifically. How would you go about testing such a thing?

This means that if Susie recovers a memory that her father abused her when she was five years old, absent any concrete evidence (and migraine headaches and promiscuity are not evidence) and/or a confession from her father, nobody can ever tell (including Susie) if her memory is true or false. Simply saying "I remember this" isn't enough. Dave and I often tell stories about stuff that happened years ago and discover that we have different memories about what actually happened. The older we get, the more memories we have, and the more muddled they get.

3. Accusing your father of having abused you is one thing. If he admits it, perhaps some sort of reconciliation can occur. Doing so with no evidence of any kind, basing the claim on these dubious memory recovery techniques, and making it public, thus destroying an entire family in the process, is criminal.

And thankfully, the courts seem to agree that it is. In a case about three years ago, parents of an alleged victim sued the therapist and won. This is good news indeed, as it might put a little caution into the hearts of "therapists" regarding the techniques they are using and the recommendations they are making to their clients.

4. In a YouTuble video, Linda made the assertion that one out of three women would be sexually abused before the age of 18 to 20. While I've read some pretty amazing claims about this, that is the most bizarre.

fireworks

In part, it illustrates something that is happening with all this, and that is a redefinition of the word "abuse." It's come to mean almost anything, to the point that the slightly drunk guy nearby who gets a bit carried away with the holiday spirit and plants a big kiss on you at a New Year's Eve party at midnight is guilty of sexual assault.

When it comes to these "recovered memories," though, either we have the biggest epidemic in history of this sort of thing, a national crisis that should have us all hysterical, or there's something wrong here. I see nothing at all that convinces me that a large percentage of men are molesting children.

5. It also hurts the actual victims. It even hurts some of the alleged victims, who might well be right in some of their accusations, but not all. But their stories become so extreme that they are unbelievable, and so they are not believed about anything.

In looking about on a few Facebook pages devoted to "survivors," I noticed that a whole lot of the people posting (mostly women) are so-called "victim's advocates." Many of them offer materials for sale, have web sites, offer "counseling" and all sorts of advice, and have written books. It seems Linda Fossen has a lot of competition. How many of these people are qualified to do what they are doing? How many are charlatans out to make a quick buck? How many are well-meaning, but still out to make a quick buck? How many are taking advantage of wounded people? I have to wonder.

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6. Anyone who doesn't believe a "victim" is considered to be "in denial" or even worse, either a molester or covering up for a molester. There are no other categories. That means that I will inevitably be accused of something like that.

Simple disagreement is not an option, not a possibility. You're either with them or you're with the molesters.

When this kind of position is taken - subscribe to our theories or else we'll try to ruin you - something is very, very wrong. My bullshit meter goes off big time.

The bottom line

So, why is this an issue requiring a whole page here? Why do I care?

McIntire/Jones comment

My entire crime - the reason that I was lumped in as a member of the so-called "evil cabal" or whatever name they're using for it now - is that I dared to make a couple of comments in a private message with Dan Keller. One was that I do not believe some of Cathy's stories. The other comment was about Carl McIntire and Bob Jones Jr.

I dared to not believe that. And I dared to say so in a private message. Dan Keller took the entire thing public within a few hours, and I'm to blame. How dare I not believe a victim?

Keep in mind that I did not post this on my wall (until after Dan went public with it). It was said in private. Yet, supposedly this remark upset Cathy so much that she decided to kill herself (I'll address all that later), and it's my fault. Mine.

Why isn't it Dan's fault? After all, he ran to her with the comment, thereby upsetting her. I didn't.

It's very simple. I have some real doubts about this whole "recovered memory" thing. I have other doubts about the details of certain victims' stories. I can have those doubts. I can even express them.

And Cathy Harris, Camille Lewis, Linda Fossen, Dan Keller, and all the other people who are frothing at the mouth with anger at me about this can just get over it. There would be no web site in existence right now if Dan Keller had kept private messages private.

I simply will not be bullied into silence by these people, no matter how loudly they yell. These people are not "victims" nor are they "survivors." They are accusers.

Some resources

Here are some web sites and articles. There are many more, of course. The few I'm listing here are from the "anti" side of the argument. If you want information from the "pro" side, it's easy to find.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation - The "pros" pitch fits about this group and insist that it's a group of people who are all abusers or those who would support abusers. I don't care who they are. I was looking for information and found some there. It's actually an organization started by horrified parents who'd been accused by their children and had no idea how to handle it.

Reading list - This page is at the site listed above, and is just a short bibliography. I have read several of these books. I also have ordered and will read The Courage to Heal, which is the bible of recovered memory movement. [Update: Have the book and have read it. I will review it. Coming. ]

Religious Tolerance.org - This is a pretty good quick easy summary of the basic situation. There's a pretty decent set of references there as well, some online and some books.

The Reality of Repressed Memories - a lengthy article by Elizabeth Loftus about the nature of memory and how it relates to the whole issue.