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Home arrow False and "Recovered" Memories arrow Satanic Ritual Abuse arrow Debunking the Myths of Recovered Memory

Debunking the Myths of Recovered Memory

New Zealand Doctor In Brief

Debunking myths of recovered memory

by Sanya Baker

The NZMA policy council has invited Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC) to prepare a paper on recovered memories of childhood abuse.

NZMA chief executive Peter Faulkner said the aim is to present the evidence on recovered memory to the profession "as a way of trying to resolve the disharmony" over the issue.

He said DSAC's research paper will be presented to a future policy council meeting for debate and, hopefully, consensus.

Claims about the unreliability of recovered memories of childhood abuse have been prominent in the lay media. DSAC president Juliet Broadmore said the claim that many sexual abuse memories are false is based on three controversial propositions.

"First, that false claims of sexual abuse are common and increasing. Second, that claims based on delayed recall are particularly likely to be untrue. Third, that fictitious memories of abuse are being inculcated wholesale to a gullible populace by quack psychotherapists and counsellors working in this area."

Dr Broadmore said these remain subjects of research and debate.

Evidence from the US suggests court cases over child sexual abuse, based solely on recovered memories, are rare.

A study by Pope and Tabachnick published recently in Ethics and Behaviour asked 900 psychologists about their experience of clients claiming recovery of sexual abuse memories.

Of the 405 therapists who responded, 73 per cent reported having assessed or treated at least one such client, and they estimated that only one in every thousand male clients they had seen and one in 100 of their female clients had claimed to have recovered memories of abuse.

Of these, only 8.9 per cent of male clients and 8.5 per cent of female clients filed civil or criminal complaints.

Pope and Tabachnick's study asked therapists in how many of these cases they had come to believe the abuse had not occurred. The response was: one quarter of cases involving male clients and less than one in ten cases involving females. Two thirds of male clients' claims had external, corroborating evidence as did more than half of the cases involving female clients.

Dr Broadmore said similar research may be conducted in New Zealand.

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