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Betrayal Trauma Theory and the Daubert Test

January 28th, 2011 Comments off

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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Remembering the Case of Wayne B. Sargent, Jr.

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

Pamela Freyd, FMSF Executive Director

One purpose of the new blog format of this site, launched four months ago, is to make sure that important people and events in the “memory wars” are not forgotten. The detailed post about Billy Banks, a serial child molester embraced by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, is one example of a significant story that has largely been overlooked.

Wayne Sargent is another. Sargent earned an uncritical mention in the “Legal Corner” section of this FMSF newsletter, edited by Pamela Freyd, after he successfully appealed his criminal conviction for sexually assaulting his two minor step-children and one of their friends. See, State v. Sargent (1999). The court ruled that Sargent should have been allowed to present a “false memory” expert to the jury. But the FMSF never reported the rest of the story.

Sargent was convicted by a jury after a second trial that included a “false memory” expert for the defense. That conviction was upheld by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, a court that is often touted by the FMSF for the 1997 Hungerford decision. But the second appellate decision, State v. Sargent (2002), was never mentioned in the FMSF newsletter. Neither were the remarkable events that unfolded after his second trial. Before being sentenced, Sargent admitted that his “false memory” defense was a ruse. He confessed his guilt, apologized to the children, and, as reported by the Associated Press, told the judge: “I wasn’t in denial for what I had done, but I just didn’t want to pay the consequences.” Judge Smukler, mindful of the fact that Sargent put three children through two separate trials before admitting the truth, sentenced him to 21 to 54 years in prison.

As the calendar turns to 2011, we would all do well to remember Wayne Sargent, who hid behind the “false memory” defense for years. We should also remember that the FMSF, which claims to abhor child sexual abuse, never condemned Mr. Sargent and never informed its readers that the case once heralded in their newsletter as a victory was actually nothing more than a baseless defense offered by a craven child molester.

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Curiouser and Curiouser

December 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Meredith Maran

Meredith Maran, author of a new book called My Lie: A True Story of False Memory, was quoted in an interview last month saying:

In the writing of the book, for example, I was going back-and-forth between the warring sides. I spoke at length with both Pam and Peter Freyd, who are the founders of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and I also spoke at length with their daughter with whom they are estranged [**]. So I would listen to Jennifer Freyd tell me her version of what had happened in her family, and I would listen to Pam and Peter — Pam, in most cases — tell me what she believed. And they were opposite. It was challenging, but it was the point of the book to sit with the reality that each presented to me, and make peace with that myself. Read more…

Is Meredith Maran a Reliable Narrator?

December 5th, 2010 Comments off

Meredith Maran has a new book called My Lie: A True Story of False Memory. The book tells the story of how Maran accused her father of sexual abuse and much later decided that her accusations were false. This story turns entirely on the author’s veracity.

So, is Meredith Maran a reliable narrator? Her recent interview with Douglas Mesner indicates that she is not. In that interview, which has since been promoted by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Maran is quoted as saying: “I spoke at length with both Pam and Peter Freyd, who are the founders of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and I also spoke at length with their daughter with whom they are estranged. So I would listen to Jennifer Freyd tell me her version of what had happened in her family, and I would listen to Pam and Peter — Pam, in most cases — tell me what she believed. And they were opposite.” (Here is a screenshot of that portion of the interview, posted on November 29.)

But Jennifer Freyd has not given an interview about these matters since the early 1990s. Indeed, Maran makes it clear in her book that Professor Freyd “told me that she no longer discusses her family of origin in public” (p. 205). Later, she reiterates that Professor Freyd “wouldn’t talk about her family, and I begged” (p. 231). Begged.

So why did Maran recently claim that she had “listen[ed] to Jennifer Freyd tell me her version of what had happened in her family”? More importantly, how can we trust anything in this “true story” given that the author cannot even tell a straight story about her own recent research for the book?

What the New York Times Missed

November 7th, 2010 Comments off

John Anderson’s story in today’s New York Times explores the ethical issues involved in the relationship between documentary filmmakers and their subjects. Great topic. Too bad that Mr. Anderson, who wrote at length about Capturing the Friedmans, did not actually research the court file in the case. He would have found this remarkable letter from Sam Israel,  Jesse Friedman’s personal lawyer at the time, accusing Andrew Jarecki of the same kind of coercion and manipulation that Jarecki attributes to law enforcement in the underlying case.  Mr. Anderson might also have found this description of an e-mail from Andrew Jarecki, telling Jesse Friedman’s lawyer at the time: “I’m not going to give you access to materials now. Wait. Wait for the press to build up a little more.” (Hearing, October 3, 2007, p.10)

Jesse Friedman’s recent loss in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was based on the statute of limitations. Accordingly, there is a good argument that his appeal was doomed by how Andrew Jarecki exploited the matter. Not that Friedman would ever have won on the merits anyway. See, Critiquing “Capturing the Friedmans.”

Harrison Pope’s Phony Repression Challenge

September 27th, 2010 Comments off

Dr. Harrison Pope got a lot of publicity in 2007 for his “repression challenge,” which offered $1,000 to anyone who could find an example of repressed memory before 1800. Pope et al. later published a paper that argued that the failure of anyone to find an example proved that repressed memory was a social construction.

There is one major problem: someone did win! The winning submission was entered after Dr. Pope and his co-authors published the article that is still highlighted on his home page. The article says that the lack of any examples before 1800 proves their argument; but the article also allowed that an example that fit their narrow criteria would disprove their claim. Applying a version of logic that rivals “heads I win, tails you lose,” Dr. Pope has since claimed that he is still right, even though he lost.

He has also gone to notable lengths to conceal the winner, who was acknowledged only briefly on his home page. But that heading (pictured below) was quickly removed, and for the last two-plus years the site has highlighted only the outdated article. Remarkably, Dr. Pope did not withdraw the article even though its conclusions were disproved after publication.

Click here to see the site as of 9/27/10, with announcement of winner removed. [Summer 2013 note: the site has apparently been removed entirely.]

That isn’t the only problem with the “challenge.” The definitions created by Dr. Pope were so narrow that they rejected a host of examples from hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. For example, Pliny the Elder said in the year 77AD that memory is “affected by disease, by injuries, and even by fright; being sometimes partially lost, and at other times entirely so” (Pliny the Elder, The natural history of Pliny (J. Bostock & H. T. Riley, Trans.), London: George Bell & Sons, p. 165 (1893)). Dr. Pope rejected this evidence because, in his words, it did not specify that fear, per se, could cause memory to be entirely lost. See also Ben-Ezra, “Dissociative symptoms after plague in the 15th century,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 86:543 (2005). For a detailed critique of the contest see Goldsmith, Cheit and Wood, “Evidence of Dissociative Amnesia in Science and Literature: Culture-Bound Approaches to Trauma in Pope et al. (2007),” Trauma and Dissociation, 10:237-253 (2009).

Cold Cases Solved by Recovered Memory

September 16th, 2010 Comments off

A recovered memory by a woman in Nevada just led to the arrest of Fermin Ivan Perez (pictured at left) for kidnapping and sexual assault in 1998. According to one news report, the woman’s “recollection 12 years later was so vivid it led police to both a location and a suspect.” The suspect was subsequently linked by DNA evidence to the crime, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. What will those who deny the existence of recovered memory possibly argue—that she remembered all along but wanted, for some reason that would not benefit her, to have the case remain unsolved for years?

This is not the first cold case to be solved by recovered memory. Travis Vining’s recovered memory solved two murder cases from 1987. Here is the beginning of a three-part article from the Orlando Sentinel about Vining’s recollection and the tape-recorded confession and subsequent guilty plea that it produced in 2007. What will those who deny the existence of recovered memory possibly argue—that he also remembered all along but also wanted, for some reason that would not benefit him, to have these cases remain unsolved for years?

Welcome to the new format

September 7th, 2010 Comments off

Welcome to the new format of the Recovered Memory Project. This project began as an archive of corroborated cases of recovered memories of traumatic events. It grew from two dozen cases to over 100, and 5 new cases have just been added, for a total of 106 cases. The archive of corroborated cases of recovered memories is now located at the tab labeled “Case Archive.”

The project has expanded over time to include scholarly resources—abstracts and citations of scientific articles in support of the phenomenon of recovered memory (see the tab labeled “Scholarly Resources”). Thirty-one new resources have been added, including articles from the past three years. The section has been reorganized by topic and now includes sections on memory disturbances in survivors of childhood abuse, survivors of the Holocaust, and war veterans; the neurobiology of memory disturbances; and the recovered memory debate and “false memory” theory. An alphabetized bibliography is available for download. Both the archive and the scholarly resources will be updated periodically.

With this new format, the project now has a blog for commentary on current events, legal cases, scientific research, and other developments related to the so-called “memory wars.” The first substantive entry is about the recent appellate decision upholding the conviction of Jesse Friedman. A number of research-based blog entries are in preparation. Coming soon, blog posts on:

• Harrison Pope’s phony “repressed memory challenge”
• The rest of the story about Paul Shanley
• Billy Banks, the child molester who was embraced by the FMSF

This site also includes an RSS feed, so you can be sure you won’t miss any of the coming entries.

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