March 13th, 2015

What are the strongest cases in the Archive? This depends on which form of evidence you find most convincing. The cases adjudicated in criminal court were subject to the highest standard of proof, so these might be considered the most convincing cases. Perhaps most convincing are those where the defendant did not contest guilt, since those cases pose no factual question as to whether the abuse occurred. Then again, claims of innocence notwithstanding, there are cases in the archive that involve eyewitnesses, medical evidence, and physical evidence. There is even a case that an adjudicator found to meet Biblical standards of proof: two witnesses. Some people find clinical cases more convincing than court cases, since they do not evolve through the adversary system. Accordingly, the Archive contains a range of cases. Different people will find different kinds of cases to be the most persuasive.

Why do some cases have documentation, while others have minimal information? The Archive was established with the minimum standard that “cases” had to be identified with sufficient specificity that other researchers could find the case as published or have sufficient leads that researching the case would be possible. Some cases in the archive exceed that standard because additional information has been made available, along with consent to use it on the Web. Public information supplements other cases, where possible. It should be noted that this minimum standard has almost never been applied to the countless “cases” reported as false-memory. Many claims about the prevalence of that phenomenon and the merits of various cases remain unscrutinized by scientific processes such as replication and verification. The cases in this Archive are all open to scrutiny. The clinical cases are cited by publication, and all remaining cases are identified with sufficient specificity to conduct additional research.

Have any cases been removed from the Archive? Yes. Three cases have been removed over time. Most recently, a case from the Legal section, Commonwealth v. Slutzker, was removed and placed on hold pending additional legal proceedings.

Two other cases were removed at a previous update, based on information provided by people who looked into those cases further. Both had been misreported in the press. First, the Owen Dulmage case from Canada was removed. While a major press report clearly indicated otherwise, later coverage indicates that the delay in coming forward was psychological, not memory-related. While remembering his abduction all along, Mr. Helferty “said that 38 years later, one of the things that disturbs him most is his inability to remember the details of his final four nights as a hostage.” Roik, “‘Boy snatcher’ still a risk; Crown seeks 4 years for ‘disturbed, dangerous’ Dulmage,” Ottowa Sun (March 3, 1999): p. 7. The second case removed from the Archive is the Shacklett case from Mt. Clemens, Michigan. It was also removed for the same reason as the Dulmage case. As it turns out, most of the coverage of this case misreported the memory issue, deeming it “a repressed memory case.” It now appears that the defense characterized the memory as “repressed,” an increasingly common technique of impugning those with continuous memory by falsely claiming that their memory was recovered. It should be noted that both of these cases are clearly corroborated cases of sexual abuse. But neither involved recovered memory.

Isn’t recovered memory something that faded in the 1990s? No. False-memory partisans were successful in capturing the media in the 1990s and in a limited number of states law changes (by court and legislatures) made it harder for adult victims of child sexual abuse to bring any kind of claim. But the phenomenon, while harder to observe and therefore much less likely to be reported, certainly continues. The first murder conviction in England based on recovered memory testimony occurred in 2002 (based on a woman’s long-buried memories of her mother’s death, recovered “during counseling sessions” in 2000). This case is in the Archive. Others currently pending inclusion include Gregory Ford’s recovered memory (in 2002) of sexual abuse by Father Shanley, then of the Boston Diocese. Similarly, memories recovered in 2002 formed the basis for an ex-resident’s lawsuit against Boys Town filed in February 2003. Similarly, a pending lawsuit against the old, Catholic-based Peter Pan program in Florida is based on a memory recovered in 2001. Future updates will add these cases (and others) to the Archive as events warrant.

What about “false memory syndrome”? There is no such thing as “false memory syndrome.” This “syndrome” has not been recognized in the DSM. Rather, it is “a non-psychological term originated by a private foundation whose stated purpose is to support accused parents.” A group of researchers with “a common concern for the responsibility of psychology as a science” signed a letter to the editor in the APS Observer in 1993 urging, “for the sake of intellectual honesty, let’s leave the term ‘false memory syndrome’ to the popular press.” Read this important, but often overlooked letter (180K PDF).

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