The Incredible Distortion of Johnson v. Rogers Memorial Hospital

February 4th, 2011 Comments off

In an unusual and highly controversial lawsuit by Charles and Karen Johnson against the therapists who treated their adult daughter, a jury in Wisconsin recently awarded the parents $1 million. Their daughter Charlotte was not party to the suit, and her lawyer successfully moved to quash a subpoena that would have forced her to testify at trial.[1] Three therapists were named in the suit; the jury found one non-negligent, and they apportioned liability between the other two on a 70-30 percent basis. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation has cast the case as a victory against therapists who, according to Executive Director Pamela Freyd, “use a variety of dubious techniques, including hypnosis, to try to excavate supposedly repressed memories.”

But that is an incredible distortion of the case. The case did not involve hypnosis—even though the parents used the spectre of hypnosis as an argument to obtain access to their daughter’s confidential medical records. Indeed, the case did not involve any of the other “techniques” mentioned by Pamela Freyd. Hollida Wakefield, the primary expert for the Johnsons, admitted that the therapists “didn’t actively try to get her to recover memories,” that they did not use hypnosis, that there was no “digging for memories,” and that there was no evidence that the therapists planted any memories of abuse.[2] In short, there was no evidence that the memories in this case were caused or created by therapyRead more…

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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?

Jury Faults Delaware Parish in Repressed Memory Case

December 2nd, 2010 Comments off

Francis DeLuca admitted that he sexually abused John Vai (and others)

Yesterday, a jury in Dover, Delaware found that St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic parish was grossly negligent in its failure to properly supervise then-priest Francis DeLuca and is responsible for $3 million of $30 million in damages awarded to John M. Vai, who repeatedly was molested as a teenager in the 1960s.

According to the Wilmington News Journal, the jury found that Vai only became aware of the sexual abuse he suffered as a child in 2007 after reading an article about a different priest sex abuse case brought against DeLuca. As an earlier story about Mr. Vai’s testimony explains, “Vai testified that he repressed the memories of abuse until he read about a lawsuit filed by Robert Quill in 2007 charging that DeLuca molested him. Quill was younger than Vai but lived in his neighborhood and walked to school with him. Vai said the story caused him to explode with emotions, the memories came flooding back and he was filled with guilt and shame that he had not spoken up in 1966.”

Since the recovered memory of sexual abuse in this case is corroborated by DeLuca’s confession, there is no question that his memory was true. So, will the False Memory Syndrome Foundation express condemnation of the perpetrator and those who covered up for him? Or will they side with the perpetrator because they are unwilling to recognize even the most corroborated cases of recovered memory? Or will this be another one of the multitude of cases on this site that the FMSF never acknowledges?

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.”

“False Memory” Advocate Loses AG Election in Minnesota

November 3rd, 2010 Comments off

The Republican candidate for Attorney General in Minnesota this year was R. Christopher Barden, a lawyer and psychologist who has played a prominent role in numerous cases challenging the existence of recovered memories of abuse. Barden has argued that recovered-memory testimony should be rejected as unreliable even in cases where there is corroboration. One example of this extreme position was the Quattrochi case in Rhode Island—a case so strong that it is contained in the archive on this web site (Legal Cases, No. 24).

Barden, who lived in Utah for years, moved to Minnesota recently and obtained the Republican nomination for Attorney General as a virtual unknown. He launched a strong attack against incumbent Attorney General Lori Swanson, challenging her ethics and accusing her of corruption. One newspaper described Barden’s charges as “over the top”; another noted that he “offered no significant proof” for his claims. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune concluded that Barden is “clearly an ideologue.”

In a year when incumbents were at a strong disadvantage and Republicans had momentum across the country, Christopher Barden was nevertheless soundly defeated, losing by more than 200,000 votes. Minnesotans apparently have the common sense to identify and reject extremism and over-zealousness.

The Misrepresentation of the Case of Billy Banks

October 31st, 2010 Comments off

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation claims to condemn the sexual abuse of children. In their words, “Child sexual abuse is a reprehensible crime….Every effort should be made to help victims of sexual abuse and to create a social climate in which such mistreatment does not continue to take place.” So why did they sympathize with Billy Banks, a serial child molester?

This is the first in a series of occasional posts that will highlight and document cases in which the FMSF has taken the side of someone charged with child sexual abuse without apparent regard for the evidence of guilt.

The Case against Billy Banks

Billy Banks was convicted in 2005 on 10 counts of sexual battery on a child under 12 years of age. (Three counts were overturned on appeal—two on double jeopardy, and one was outside the statute.) The charges included acts of rape, forced oral sex, and fondling of his daughter and his adoptive niece from 1965 to 1970. Banks was also facing two charges of lewd, lascivious or indecent acts on a child under 16 for sexually abusing his two granddaughters 20 years later, in 1990-1. After being convicted on the first counts, Banks pled no contest to one of these later counts. He was sentenced to life on the sexual battery charges and three and a half years for the charge to which he pled no contest.

Read more…

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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).

Another Criminal Conviction from a Recovered Memory

September 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Calvin Huss, of Port Deposit, Delaware, pleaded guilty yesterday to sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl during a seven-month period in 1993. His confession, according to a news report, “came a month after the victim, now in her early 30s, contacted state police following a repressed memory breakthrough during psychological therapy.”

Huss also confessed to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl between 2008 and 2010. His guilty plea was part of a plea deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop related charges.

This case is important not only for adding to the number of corroborated cases of recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse, it is also important because the memory arose in therapy. Recent research, ignored by FMSF partisans, has concluded that memories recovered outside of therapy have a corroboration rate equal to continuous memories of abuse. But Geraerts et. al. (2007) reported that none of their subjects who reported recovering memories of abuse during therapy were able to obtain corroboration. This case challenges the generalizability of that conclusion.

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?

Critiquing “Capturing the Friedmans”

September 7th, 2010 Comments off

A federal appellate court recently upheld Jesse Friedman’s conviction in connection with a sexual-abuse case that was popularized in the 2003 movie Capturing the Friedmans. The court concluded that it was bound by law to uphold Friedman’s conviction—which was based on his guilty plea—but two of the three judges nevertheless urged the district attorney to review the case based entirely on claims made in the movie.

This may be the first time that a federal court paid more attention to the movie version of a case than it did to the case itself. But a careful examination of court records reveals that Capturing the Friedmans leaves out important evidence of guilt and distorts many facts in the case.

Most pertinent to this blog is the assertion that the case may have been built on hypnosis. There is no credible evidence for this claim. Indeed, in an October 2007 hearing, Friedman’s own lawyer described the single excerpt in the movie about hypnosis as “reliable evidence of nothing” (p. 12). It is fair to characterize the movie, he went on, as “containing interviews, cut and spliced, and taken out of context.” Those problems and other inaccuracies are addressed in the video critique below.

One might wonder why someone who failed two lie detector tests, pleaded guilty, told the judge he was “sorry for [his] actions,” asked for “assistance with [his] problem,” and then reaffirmed his guilty plea from prison would ever be embraced as innocent. The reasons apparently have nothing to do with the facts of the case.

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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