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Betrayal Trauma Theory and the Daubert Test

January 28th, 2011

Dr. Jennifer Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, has written extensively about Betrayal Trauma. Her 1996 Harvard Press book by the same name is subtitled The Logic of Forgetting Childhood  Abuse. Betrayal Trauma Theory has been the subject of many studies since then. It has been widely cited and was featured in the prestigious 2010 Nebraska Symposium on Memory and Motivation. Yet, an item in the Fall 2010 newsletter of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation suggests that Betrayal Trauma is not accepted in the scientific community because a state judge in Clark County, Washington, after conducting a Kelly-Frye hearing, disallowed it for a particular application not involving memory. What the FMSF omitted in its newsletter is that Dr. Freyd’s Betrayal Trauma Theory has been accepted in federal court under the Daubert standard.

In U.S. v. Chatman (CR 07-178-RE), the state moved to allow Dr. Freyd’s testimony. Here is the government’s memorandum in support of admission. According to the Minutes of the Proceedings on May 15, 2008: “The court finds that Dr. Freyd’s reasoning and the methodology underlying her testimony is scientifically valid, that the proposed testimony is relevant, and that the testimony will assist the jury by providing information beyond common knowledge.” This testimony helped convict a 32-year-old cheer-leading coach of two counts of abusive sexual contact on a 16-year-old girl. Betrayal Trauma Theory was also admitted in a state administrative proceeding in Oregon that was upheld on appeal. See, Waisanen v. Clatskanie School District, 215 P.2d 882 (2009).

The FMSF newsletter has reported with approval on several Daubert rulings that have supported positions adopted by the foundation. FMSF Advisory Board member August Piper has called the Daubert approach “a good road map” for deciding what constitutes scientifically valid evidence. We are waiting to see whether an organization that claims to have an educational purpose will inform its readers that Betrayal Trauma Theory has passed that test. Or will they leave the false impression from their Fall 2010 newsletter uncorrected?

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