COSA Casualties of Sexual Allegations Newsletter June 1996 Volume 3 No 5
Contents of this page:
Editorial: Mental Health Training Service Certificate in Sexual Abuse Counselling I was recently handed a set of course notes, reading lists and a student’s manuscript notes from a course entitled "Certificate in Sexual Abuse Counselling". This course is run by the Mental Health Training Service at Greenlane Hospital, Auckland. An examination of the course material reveals an alarming lack of knowledge, and an incredible degree of misinformation, on the part of those who manage and lecture the course.
Courts: Sex charges date back 37 years
Features: Washington State Crime Victims Compensation Program What this study makes overwhelmingly clear, is that recovered memory therapy can make people worse, not better.
Position Statement On Adult Recovered Memories Of Childhood Sexual Abuse Canadian Psychiatric Association
Penny – Case history
Literature: Feminism & sexual abuse: troubled thoughts on some New Zealand issues by Camille Guy, Feminist Review This is the only NZ article in a special Antipodean issue of this feminist journal. When it was launched in Adelaide this month, a group of NZ Women Studies lecturers gate-crashed the event and abused the editor for publishing Guy’s article. They berated her for failing to consult with the NZ Women’s Studies Association on whom she should and should not have published from NZ.
Recovered memories: true and false A special issue of Psychiatric Annals.
Confessions of an ex-multiple Broadsheet
Media: Paedophile Sex Offenders Index Deborah Coddington’s soon to be published book, giving names and details of NZ convicted sex offenders, has received considerable media attention this month. Whilst COSA appreciates its aim, we believe that it is unlikely to achieve this. Although its publication is entirely legal, we feel that it is misguided and potentially harmful.
Mental Health Training Service Certificate in Sexual Abuse Counselling
I was recently handed a set of course notes, reading lists and a student’s manuscript notes from a course entitled "Certificate in Sexual Abuse Counselling". This course is run by the Mental Health Training Service at Greenlane Hospital, Auckland, presumably funded from public money, and certainly run in a public facility. The course is of 12 days duration at the rate of one day per week, and for successful students, earns a "Certificate in Sexual Abuse Counselling", which, I understand, is a qualification used by counsellors to gain ACC registration.
An examination of the course material reveals an alarming lack of knowledge, and an incredible degree of misinformation, on the part of those who manage and lecture the course.
In particular, the course included a section on satanic ritual abuse (SRA). Course participants were taught how to identify clients who might have suffered SRA, the perpetrators of which are said to be "invariably very respected members of the community, usually part of institutions such as businesses, churches and clubs, and mostly members of the victims own families". They were told that 13% of all American sexual abuse victims have suffered ritual abuse by satanic cults.
The students were not taught that recently a study was conducted by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (USA) of over 12,000 accusations of organised satanic cult abuse reported by psychologists and psychotherapists. They concluded that in not one case was there ever found any substantiation to the allegations In the UK an extensive investigation came to the same conclusion. The probability is very high that children and adults who report being unwilling participants in past satanic rituals involving bizarre and depraved acts including sexual perversions, murder and cannibalism, are experiencing false memories, most often created by suggestive interviewing or therapy practices.
There is currently fierce debate in the academic world on the phenomenon known as recovered memories. It is widely acknowledged that therapeutic techniques such as hypnosis and age regression can result in the creation of false memories – that clients can inadvertently come to believe in things that never happened, with devastating consequences to themselves and to the families they believe have abused them. One of the main contributors to this problem which has been identified in academic circles is the lay book "Courage to Heal" (Bass and Davis, 1988) which puts forward the belief that it is not unusual to repress memories of childhood sexual abuse and that many women will not remember their abuse until they are treated psychologically. Counsellors are advised to commit themselves to their clients’ stories about sexual abuse, suspending any disbelief even if they found some parts doubtful themselves. The book instructs that if a client is uncertain that she was abused but thinks she might have been, the counsellor should accept that she most probably was. If she denies it, the topic should be revisited later. It also emphasises that healing comes from reliving the trauma memory. A sample of the text states:
Many women don’t have memories…- this doesn’t mean they weren’t abused… If you are unable to remember any specific instances … but still have a feeling something abusive happened to you, it probably did… Be willing to believe the unbelievable – You must believe your client was sexually abused, even if she doubts it herself. If a client is unsure that she was abused but thinks she might have been, work as though she was… So far, amongst the hundreds of women we’ve talked to… and heard about, not one has suspected she might have been sexually abused, explored it, and determined that she wasn’t.
The course in question refers extensively to "Courage to Heal" without mention of the potential dangers of the ideas it promotes, and indeed reinforces the book’s message of how important it is for the counsellor to believe that abuse memories are real. In the past few years there has been a vast body of research and clinical literature published on the topic of recovered memories, yet the supplied readings and the books recommended in this course do not provide reference to even one of the many eminent academics who are challenging the validity of this theory. A number of professional bodies (for example, the Australian Psychological Society, the American Medical Association) have recently issued guidelines warning about the dangers of recovered memory therapy, yet there was no discussion with the students of this course about such guidelines.
The course also included a section on multiple personality disorder (MPD) [or as it is now known, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)], which is supposedly caused by terrible ongoing childhood sexual abuse from which the child is said to "split off" and lose all memory of by developing "alter" personalities. There are now a number of clinicians and academics who believe that the sudden dramatic rise in number of cases of MPD is a result of "recovered memory therapy" – in other words, that this condition is a therapeutic artefact. There is also considerable evidence that people who are diagnosed as MPD frequently get worse rather than better, and often become suicidal and self-mutilating. The students of this course were not informed that MPD is a very contentious diagnosis, and were not supplied with information to allow them to learn that there is more than one perspective as to the etiology of this phenomenon.
Other areas of the course material with which I had concerns included the following:
- An overly broad definition of incest incorporating "non-body contact" forms of incest such as parents looking at a naked child, talking "sexually" to a child or engaging in "emotional incest";
- An exaggeration of the prevalence of child sexual abuse, the consequence of which is that therapists expect to find sexual abuse in a large percentage of their clients;
- An emphasis on believing the child or adult’s allegations of sexual abuse without challenge;
- Promotion of a list of indicators of sexual abuse with the assumption that sexual abuse can be diagnosed by therapists from a list of "symptoms".
What was particularly alarming in this course was that there was no serious discussion regarding the possibilities of false memories, and the dangers of acting on these as if they were real. No opportunity was given to raise these issues, and in fact the student to whom I spoke after the course said that any attempt to challenge the presented material met with strong disapproval. The suggestion that some sexual allegations might be false was said to be supporting the "backlash", and a student who made such a suggestion may well not be a suitable person to be a sexual abuse counsellor (because it was very important to the well-being of a client that her counsellor believed her without question).
I believe this is a very dangerous course to be used to train sexual abuse counsellors. Health professionals trained in this way are very likely to inflict serious iatrogenic damage on their clients. False allegations of sexual abuse being made following counselling can result in entire families being completely and unnecessarily devastated and shattered. Families may be torn apart, some irrevocably. Falsely accused people often develop stress-related health problems, imposing yet another unwelcome burden on the public health system.
I have just written to the Hon Jenny Shipley, Minister of Health, with these concerns, asking that she order that this course be suspended, and its immediate investigation and assessment be undertaken. No further health professionals should undergo this training until it has been fully evaluated. Any other courses training sexual abuse counsellors in New Zealand should be identified and similarly assessed. A copy of this letter was also sent to the Leaders of the other major political parties.
An ongoing strike by court officials means that very few cases have come to trial in the past month.
Sex charges date back 37 years
A 55 year old Hamilton man has been charged with sexual offences which pre-date the present Crimes Act and allegedly were committed in 1959 and 1960 when he was a teenager and apparently offended against a younger boy.
US Court decision on repressed memories
US District Court, Massachusetts, Shahzade v Gregory, Civil Action No 92-12139-EFH
In a pre-trail hearing in May this year, judge Harrington ruled that testimony based on recovered memories would be admitted under the Daubert test. This meant that he was ruling that the theory of repression is valid, but not necessarily that the individual plaintiff’s memories are credible (this will be determined in the trial to come).
Judge Harrington based his ruling on the testimony given by Dr Bessel van der Kolk who convinced the judge that there is consensus amongst clinical psychologists that memory repression theory has been shown to be valid.
The evidence of Dr Bodkin and Dr Ofshe who testified for the defense (that the theory has no scientific validity) was discounted by the judge because Bodkin is not a specialist in memory and Ofshe is not a clinical psychiatrist (van der Kolk is).
Van der Kolk is due to teach here in NZ in September, yet another DSAC-sponsored supporter of the recovered memory movement.
Washington State Crime Victims Compensation Program
The following outcome data was presented to the South-western Psychological Association on 5 April 1996 by Professor Elizabeth Loftus. The data relates to claims made to the Washington State Crime Victims Compensation Program – it comes from a United States government source. In the period 1991 to June 1995, 670 claims were made to this program for compensation on the basis of repressed memory. Of these, 325 (49%) were allowed.
183 of these claims were reviewed and of these, 30 randomly sampled for more detailed examination.
Of these complainants, 29/30 were female, and 29/30 Caucasian (one Asian). Their mean age was 43 years with a median of 39 and a range of 15 to 67 years.
For 26/30, the first memory of sexual abuse surfaced during psychotherapy. All the complainants were still receiving psychotherapy 3 years after the 1st memory, and 18 were still in therapy 5 years after the 1st memory surfaced.
Before the memories surfaced, only 3 had had suicidal ideation or attempts, but after "recovering" the memory, 20 had thought about or attempted suicide. Likewise, only 2 had been hospitalised prior to 1st memory, but 11 had been hospitalised after the memories began. One had a history of self-mutilation before memories surfaced, but 8 had become self-mutilating after memories surfaced. 20 of the 30 had a history of problems with drugs and alcohol.
What was even more startling was that 29/30 claimed a history of satanic ritual abuse (SRA). All 29 claimed that their parents & family were involved in SRA, and the average age of claim when SRA memories begin was 7 months! 22/29 remembered birth & infant cannibalism; 20/29 claimed they had been tortured with spiders, and all 29 remembered physical torture and mutilation. Medical examination did not corroborate even one of the claims of torture/mutilation. Collectively, the complainants claimed to have witnessed over 150 murders. Not one of these allegations resulted in a police investigation.
21/30 had graduated from high school, and 7 had post high school education. One half (15) had been employed in the health care industry and 17 in fields involving art or writing. Before attending psychotherapy, 25 of the 30 were employed, but only 3 were still employed 3 years into treatment.
Before recovering their memories, 23 were married, but 3 years after their memories surfaced, 11 of these were divorced, and 7 had lost custody of their children. All 30 were estranged from their extended family.
What this study makes overwhelmingly clear, is that recovered memory therapy can make people worse, not better.
There is evidence that 100s and probably 1000s of New Zealanders have received ACC-funded therapy and lump-sum compensation on the basis of recovered memories. A number of these also involve SRA allegations. I wonder if a review of ACC cases would reveal the same pattern? Certainly there is considerable anecdotal evidence to suggest this.
Position Statement On Adult Recovered Memories Of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Canadian Psychiatric Association March 25, 1996
This statement comprises a description of the background to the topic and concludes with the following recommendations:
- Sexual abuse at any age is deplorable and unacceptable and should always be given serious attention. All spontaneous reports should be treated with respect and concern and be carefully explored. Psychiatrists must continue to treat patients who report the recollection of childhood sexual abuse, accepting the current limitations of knowledge concerning memory, and maintain an empathic, non-judgemental, neutral stance.
- Lasting serious effects of trauma at an early age very probably occur, but children who have been sexually abused in early childhood may be too young to accurately identify the event as abusive and to form a permanent explicit memory. Thus, without intervening cognitive rehearsal of memory, such experiences may not be reliably recalled in adult life.
- Reports of recovered memories of sexual abuse may be true, but great caution should be exercised before acceptance in the absence of solid corroboration. Psychiatrists should be aware that excessive emphasis on recovering memories may lead to misdirection of the treatment process and unduly delay appropriate therapeutic measures.
- Routine enquiry into past and present experience of all types of abuse should remain a regular part of psychiatric assessment. However, psychiatrists should take particular care to avoid inappropriate use of leading questions, hypnosis, narco-analysis, or other memory enhancement techniques directed at the production of hypothesized hidden or lost material. This does not preclude traditional supportive psychotherapeutic techniques, based on strengthening coping mechanisms, cognitive psychotherapy, behaviour therapy or neutrally managed exploratory psychodynamic or psychoanalytic treatment.
- Since there are no well-defined symptoms or groups of symptoms that are specific to any type of abuse, symptoms that are said to be typical should not be used as evidence thereof.
- Reports of recovered memories which incriminate others should be handled with particular care. In clinical practice, an ethical psychiatrist should refrain from taking any side with respect to their use in accusations directed against the family or friends of the patient or against any third parties. Confrontation with alleged perpetrators solely for the supposed curative effect of expressing anger should not be encouraged. There is no reliable evidence that such actions are therapeutic. On the contrary, this type of approach may alienate relatives and cause a breakdown of family support. Psychiatrists should continue to protect the best interests of their patients and of their supportive relationships.
- Education and research in the specific areas of childhood sexual abuse and memory are strongly recommended.
Penny – Case history
Names and details of case histories are changed to avoid identification of those involved. Please contact the Editor if you would like to have your case presented.
In 1986 a 17 year old girl named Penny began dieting and lost a lot of weight, partly in response to a boyfriend who had called her fat. She was referred to the psychiatric unit of the local hospital by her GP and a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa was made. Treatment included assistance from a dietician and family meetings involving her concerned parents and younger brother Quentin.
Penny made some improvement, but at the end of the following year she went back to the unit. She was feeling a little depressed and still had a somewhat bizarre eating pattern. She was given further assistance.
Over the next year Penny became increasingly unwell, and at the beginning of 1988 she was admitted as a hospital in-patient with symptoms of (schizophrenia-like) psychotic illness. She was treated with drugs for this disorder and given psychotherapy. This therapy included group hypnosis, dream therapy, guided imagery and suggestions from mental health workers that her illness might be caused by childhood sexual abuse.
At some time during this therapy Penny began to report having been inappropriately touched by her father Rick, when she was a child. Penny’s sexuality was also explored at this time and she identified clearly as heterosexual.
In 1989 Penny was referred to an ACC-funded psychologist for regular therapy. Her allegations against her father included oral sex and touching of her breasts from the age of 10. She also began to have some concerns that she might be lesbian.
She remained clearly unwell and required re-hospitalisation in mid 1990 because she was deluded and "hearing voices". She continued seeing the psychologist until 1991, when she was transferred to another therapist. An application was made for her to receive ACC lumpsum compensation, and in 1991 she was paid $10,000 for "pain and mental suffering" and "loss of capacity for enjoying life" because of the alleged abuse by her father.
A lesbian relationship developed between Penny and Sarah, who was one of the nurses caring for her during an in-hospital stay. After she was discharged from hospital, Penny and Sarah began living together as a couple.
In 1993 Penny began to see a new ACC counsellor, Ursula. Ursula’s therapeutic techniques included hypnosis. With the support of Sarah, Ursula and other mental health professionals caring for her, Penny went to the police and laid charges against her father Rick. He was arrested in November 1993 and the case came to trial in December 1994. Rick faced 27 charges of indecent assault and inducing his daughter to do an indecent act when she was aged 6 to 12 years, and one which was supposed to have occurred in 1989 when she was 21. On completion of the Crown’s case the judge discharged Rick on two of he counts, and at the end of the trial a jury acquitted him on all remaining counts. At that time Rick wrote "we have won the trial and lost a daughter". Penny’s mother Trish and brother Quentin have always stood by Rick.
Despite the finding of the court, Penny continued to have ACC-funded counselling for sexual abuse provided by Ursula. However about May 1995 Rick and Trish were surprised and delighted to go to their door and find Penny there, wishing to come back home. According to Penny, much of Penny’s support from her mental health professional friends, including her lover Sarah, evaporated after she "lost" the court case. When she separated from Penny in 1995, Sarah wrote her the following letter:
I never wanted you to go from my life. I only wanted you to hear me, understand me and be there for me. I have always loved you. It is when I am stressed beyond my ability to cope that I cannot communicate my needs. The anger you hear is the frustrations of not being able to live the life we always wanted, because of the lack of privacy, time and energy.
I know I have taken on the burden of others and increased the strain until I have cracked under the pressure. I was hoping we could get through this together, that you could find the strength to support me. I am sorry that I expected too much of you as I expected too much of myself.
Right now I cannot cope with seeing you. I loved you far more than you ever know. Please be patient! I hope in time the bond we shared as lovers will cement our friendship forever.
Lovingly yours always.
This letter was from a nurse at a public hospital mental health unit to a mentally ill patient she was employed to care for, a job which included the dispensing of psychiatric medications to her patient.
Penny told her parents that she knew that the abuse had not occurred; that for many years she had felt under extreme pressure to come up with a history of incest; and that she had tried to retract the allegations before the trial while she was in the mental hospital, but had not felt able to do so. She was still very unwell, suffering from schizophrenia-type symptoms and very fragile and distressed.
Penny came home to live and gave her permission for her parents to be involved in her counselling and mental health care to help her become well and take control of her life. A first step was to terminate care from Ursula, who responded by suggesting that Penny stopping counselling with her might be "an example of … sabotaging yourself when you are progressing" and suggesting that "perhaps you may be open to reconsidering your decision to stop seeing me".
Today Penny is progressing slowly. She no longer believes herself gay and is tentatively re-exploring her heterosexuality. She and her parents are working towards some redress and accountability from the professionals whom they know have been responsible for the trauma this family have suffered.
Feminism & sexual abuse: troubled thoughts on some New Zealand issues
Guy, Camille (Spring 1996), Feminist Review, 52: 155-68.
This is the only NZ article in a special Antipodean issue of this feminist journal. When it was launched in Adelaide this month, a group of NZ Women Studies lecturers gate-crashed the event and abused the editor for publishing Guy’s article. They berated her for failing to consult with the NZ Women’s Studies Association on whom she should and should not have published from NZ.
Their actions in fact epitomised one of the issues Guy was addressing – that the feminist response to challenge is to try to suppress debate and censor publication counter to their viewpoint (Guy’s example being the NZ women’s book-shop deploring "First Do No Harm", unread, and refusing to stock it).
The article explains how "feminist reframing of sexual abuse has served to bring the abuse problem into the open. But it has also contributed to false allegations and over-zealous interventions which have destroyed lives just as cruelly as has abuse". Its liberal references to Felicity Goodyear-Smith and American iconoclast Camille Paglia would clearly "get up the noses" of the politically correct Women’s Study feminists!
Recovered memories: true and false
A special issue of Psychiatric Annals 25 (12) Dec 1995
Pope, Harrison; Hudson, James. ‘Can individuals "repress" memories of childhood sexual abuse? An examination of the evidence’: 715-9.
An excellent review of the current state of knowledge. Concludes that from the standpoint of the null hypothesis, that repression does not occur.
Loftus Elizabeth; Pickerell Jacqueline. ‘The formation of false memories’, 720-5.
Reports a series of studies which lead to the conclusion that "people will create false recalls of childhood experiences in response to misleading information and the social demands inherent in repeated interviews".
Schacter Daniel; Curran Tim. ‘The cognitive neuroscience of false memories’, 726-30.
By looking at memory problems in brain-damaged people, the authors provide insight into the way frontal areas of the brain may help link general event knowledge and specific event knowledge. This can help in our understanding of the nature of false memories in non-brain-damaged people.
McElroy Susan; Keck Paul. ‘Recovered memory therapy: False Memory Syndrome and other complications’, 731-4.
Concludes that recovered memory therapy "may not only be scientifically invalid and ineffective, but also deleterious to the patient, to his or her family, and to the clinician".
Eve was Framed: Women and British Justice
by Helena Kennedy(1992), Chatto & Windus, London.
Written by British QC Helena Kennedy (recent guest speaker at the NZ Law Society conference and interviewed on the Fraser debate on rape, TV1 last month), this book is full of anecdotal stories which make very interesting reading. Her primary premise is that women are disadvantaged by the justice system. However Kennedy makes many sweeping claims, with no or highly inadequate references (for example, that it is very rare for a man to be a victim of domestic violence, or for a woman to make a false allegation of rape). This is a book based on passionate personal opinion rather than scholarship
Issues in Child Abuse Accusations Winter 1996 Vol 8 No 1
This issue includes several articles from Scandinavia including a case study where a child falsely accuses his parents of sexual abuse through the influence of suggestive interviewing, and a discussion of "textual analysis", an approach for assessing the truth value of sexual allegations.
Psychotherapy and Memories of childhood sexual abuse: a cognitive perspective
Stephen Lindsay; Don Read (1994), Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8: 281-338.
Comprehensive paper which applies research findings on the fallibility and suggestibility of memory to an analysis of "memory recovery"; examines the difficulty of determining whether clients with "amnesia" have been abused or not; presents reasons why therapists should be sceptical and evidence indicating that large numbers of Americans have been led to create false abuse memories; and finally offers suggestions of ways to reduce this problem from occurring.
"Memory work" and recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: scientific evidence and public, professional and personal issues
Stephen Lindsay; Don Read (1995), Psychology, Public Policy and the Law, 1 (4): 846-908.
Authors argue that "memory work" can result in both true and false memories and offers recommendations regarding public education, the training of psychotherapists, guidelines for their practice, research initiatives and legislative actions.
A dangerous direction: legal intervention in sexual abuse survivor therapy
Cynthia Bowman; Elizabeth Mertz (Jan 1996), Harvard Law Review, 109 (3): 549-639.
A feminist perspective, this paper argues in favour of recovered memories of abuse being valid, and claims that the scientific evidence indicates that "delayed-recall memory can accurately reflect that past abuse occurred". The authors disagree with 3rd party suing such as in the Ramona case, where a father successfully sued his daughter’s therapists for implanting false incest memories. They claim that "the appropriate individual to sue is the child herself, rather than the therapist". They also emphasis that denial is the predictable response of incestuous fathers.
An analysis of ritualistic and religion-related child abuse allegations
Bette Bottoms; Phillip Shaver; Gail Goodman (1996), Law and Human Behavior, 20 (1): 1-34.
29% (802) American clinical psychologists out of 2,722 who responded to a survey, said they had had one or more patients with ritual abuse histories. The vast majority of these had not seen either a child or an adult ritual abuse case until the 1990s. A few therapists claimed to have had more than 100 cases.
Overwhelmingly, the psychologists believed their clients’ claims, even in the absence of corroborative evidence.
The authors conclude that although psychologists say "we are not detectives" and that "it does not matter" whether the allegations are true or not for therapy to be effective, when 100s of ritual abuse reports leads to an "international fear of satanic cult conspiracy, resulting in specific accusations of sexual abuse against pre-school operators, teachers, parents, and other family members, as well as changes in state laws, it definitely does matter whether the cults actually exist".
A meta/multi-discursive reading of False Memory Syndrome
Joan Schuman; Mara Galvez (1996). Feminism & Psychology, 6 (1): 7-29.
A very scathing article vilifying the FMSF as an anti-feminist pro-perpetrator organisation and a "leading force in the heteropatriarchal backlash against women".
The believability of repressed memories
Golding J; Sego S; Sanchez R; Hasemann D (1995), Law and Human Behavior, 19 (6): 569-92
This paper describes 2 studies using mock jurors to investigate their reaction to a case involving a repressed memory of child sexual assault. Jurors were presented with one of 3 possible scenarios: a child reporting an alleged assault in the same year it occurred; an adult reporting an alleged assault 20 years before having just recovered the memory; or an adult reporting an alleged assault 20 years before which she had always remembered.
It was found that the jurors were just as willing to believe the repressed memory as the continuous one, and found that they were most likely to believe the child.
The authors comment that their findings do not support the belief (which is often claimed in sexual abuse literature) that adults never believe a child in the courtroom when she alleges sexual abuse.
Recovered memories of abuse among therapy patients: a national survey
Pope, Ken; Tabachnick, Barbara (1995), Ethics and Behavior, 5 (3), 237-48.
This paper describes a US national survey of 450 male and 450 female licensed psychologists. Only 42% (378) responded, but of these, 73% had had at least one patient who had recovered a childhood sexual abuse memory. The authors introduce their study by referring to First Do No harm and other literature which claim cases of recovered memories have reached epidemic proportions in the past few years. They that conclude that their findings suggest that "those who have described recovered memories as an epidemic may not have exaggerated the persuasiveness of a phenomenon that has only become known in the last decade".
Cultural and economic barriers to protecting children from ritual abuse and mind control
Gould Catherine (Dec 1995), MindNet Journal, 1 (48)
Claims that there must be at least 10s of 1000s of satanic ritual abuse survivors in the USA, based on the numbers of women and children having their "amnesia" removed in therapy and remembering that they have been horribly abused since childhood and that they have served as prostitutes for the cult. Gould does not appear to accept that the lack of corroborative evidence and the bizarre nature of these allegations makes them likely to be false memories; rather she accuses the media and professionals of being part of SRA cults involved in a public denial and a cover-up of cult activities.
Broadsheet Autumn Hgahuru 1996
Broadsheet is a NZ feminist journal usually of a very politically correct persuasion. This issue contains 2 articles on multiple personality disorder (MPD), one of which is very surprising for this publication.
Through a prism darkly: multiple personality disorder
by Lily, p13-15
The personal testimony of a "multiple" who has had the "voices in her head" and depression diagnosed by a counsellor as MPD, has now recovered memories of sexual abuse and developed over 100 "personalities" who clamour to be heard and make even the simplest tasks, such as shopping, fraught with huge difficulties (for example, a child "alter" might misbehave or suck its thumb in the shop, or a self-destructive alter try to commit suicide in front of a car).
Confessions of an ex-multiple
by Allison, 16-18
This fascinating story is by a woman who spent 5 years of her life as a practising multiple personality, but has now come to believe that naming herself multiple was "one of the least useful things" she has ever done. Two years ago she woke up one morning and "resigned" from being multiple, and soon after, from therapy.
She now views MPD as a belief system which gave her "an endless ‘out’ in the responsibility department". These days, she cannot blame an alter, so she has to take responsibility for her own actions.
She describes how she became suicidal and self-mutilating once she became a multiple; how she would behave like an adult and mother much of the time but "disintegrate" when therapy time came around. These days she has discovered that gardening is much more therapeutic, and vastly cheaper, than psychotherapy.
Fuzzy trace theory
This theory predicts that when children have false-memory responses these are well preserved over time and are less likely to be forgotten than true-memory responses. False memory refers to circumstances in which people report having experienced things that they have not experienced. The reason that the false memories are well preserved is hypothesised to be because they are supported by stable gist (stored patterns and meanings of behaviour in the brain), whereas true-memory responses are supported by unstable verbatim traces (disconnected memories of aspects of the event being recalled).
Recent research appears to support that false memories may be more persistent than true ones, and several papers have been published on the topic of fuzzy trace theory. This finding clearly has very significant implications with regard to children’s testimony in the courtroom.
Brainerd C; Reyna V; Brandse E (Nov 1995). ‘Are children’s false memories more persistent that their true memories?’, Psychological Science, 6 (6): 359-64
Three experiments with 5 and 8 year olds which support fuzzy trace theory.
Loftus E (1995). ‘Memory malleability: constructivist and fuzzy-trace explanations’, Learning and Individual Differences, 7 (2): 133-7
Loftus argues that there are 2 possible theories why false memory might be more persistent than true. One is the fuzzy-trace theory, but the other is the explanation of how memories are constructed over time. Loftus suggests that both explanations might be right some of the time.
Davies G (1995). ‘Fuzzy trace theory and eyewitness memory’, Learning and Individual Differences, 7 (2): 133-7
A discussion of how fuzzy-trace theory fits in with existing memory theories.
Paedophile Sex Offenders Index
Deborah Coddington’s soon to be published book, giving names and details of NZ convicted sex offenders, has received considerable media attention this month (and hence a large amount of free publicity!). Civil liberties and as number of other groups have spoken out against its publication.
The directory identifies more than 550 convicted offenders with details including names, towns, ages, and information on the nature of their crimes, sentences and where possible, previously published photographs.
Coddington says the book is aimed at keeping children safe from these men re-offending.
Whilst COSA appreciates its aim, we believe that it is unlikely to achieve this. Although its publication is entirely legal, we feel that it is misguided and potentially harmful.
With respect to "parents, teachers and police" for whom the book is said to be aimed, teachers and other employers can already check if their employees or prospective employees have convictions, the police already have access to this information on computer and realistically of what real value is such a list for individual parents?
It is very likely that some of those named in this directory will have been falsely convicted, although we understand the author has made efforts to identify likely false or highly contentious cases.
Where those convicted genuinely did offend, COSA feels that those who have served their time will be punished again. Sex offender programmes in our prisons are claiming about a 3% recidivism rate – in other words, most of those completing these programmes do not re-offend. Publishing their names in this Index could therefore only make it more likely that they would re-offend.
Innocent parties such as family members who share names and addresses with offenders listed will suffer from the publishing of this information.
The last taboo: sexual abuse of children by women soars
NZ Listener, 1-7 June 1996, 18-23
This is the cover story, complete with dramatic photograph. The bulk of the story is about Virginia Herbert, a Maori teacher recently discovered with a 10 year old boy for a lover. This is clearly not acceptable behaviour, and evidence that women as well as men may engage children in sexual activities.
What is most concerning about this article, however, is the sensationalism implying that there is a huge rise in women sexually abusing children. In the 8 years between 1985 to 1994, 21 women were convicted of child sex offences (an average of 2 to 3 per year). This year (1996) has seen 5 women jailed on such charges. Researchers from the Department of Corrections psychological service report this as a 767% increase in the conviction rate.
This is a typical example of the misuse of statistics for the purpose of sensationalism. Anyone with any research training knows that when you are dealing with figures so small that they average 2 to 3 per year, such variation is not statistically significant, and to claim a 767% increase on this basis is highly misleading!
Whilst the problem of sexual abuse by women should not be ignored, it should be noted that there were 866 convictions for sexual offences in 1995, and all but 2 or 3 of these would have been men. It makes for good dramatic copy for the media, but the problem of women offenders should be kept in perspective!
Newsletters received by COSA
FMS Foundation Newsletter 1 May 1996 5 (5)
This issue includes a number of legal decisions from the United States and a discussion on the Washington Victim Compensation study referred to earlier in this COSA newsletter.
COSA offers a service of sending copies of FMSF newsletter to members at a cost of $30 per year (including postage).
Canadian FMS Newsletter April 1996
Includes an excellent article by Paula Tyeroler entitled ‘The fallacy of middle ground and the need for common ground in the repressed-and-recovered-memory debate’, which argues that a middle ground cannot be reached in this debate (ie either repression occurs or does not) but a common ground may be found in all sides agreeing that both genuine and false memories occur, and that there is no way to distinguish between these in the absence of external corroboration.
Please notify COSA if you know of any recent or coming workshops, seminars and other relevant events.
NATO International Scientific Meeting Recollections of trauma: Scientific research and clinical practice
June 16-26, 1996 Port de Bourgenay, France
I will be attending this conference
International conference "Narrative and Metaphor across the Disciplines
Auckland University, 8-10 July 1996
I will be presenting a paper at this conference entitled "Clinical use of narrative to harm or heal".
Bessell van der Kolk
Seminar on trauma memory sponsored by DSAC
12 Sep 1996 Auckland Medical School
13 Sep 1996 Wellington Medial School
Professor van der Kolk recently persuaded a US judge (see Court column) that memory repression and recovery is accepted as a valid theory by American professionals.