Clinical Cases (25)

March 13th, 2015

1. The case of “Claudia.” Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse by her older brother, corroborated by documentary evidence. Her case is notable for three reasons: first, it was written up in Science News; second, the memories came back in the course of group therapy; and third, they were corroborated through powerful documentary physical evidence. As detailed by Bruce Bower,

After losing more than 100 pounds in a hospital weight-reduction program she had entered to battle severe obesity, Claudia experienced flashbacks of sexual abuse committed by her older brother. She joined a therapy group for incest survivors, and memories of abuse flooded back. Claudia told group members that from the time she was 4 years old to her brother’s enlistment in the Army three years later, he had regularly handcuffed her, burned her with cigarettes, and forced her to submit to a variety of sexual acts.

Claudia’s brother had died in combat in Vietnam more than 15 years before her horrifying memories surfaced. Yet Claudia’s parents had left his room and his belongings untouched since then. Returning home from the hospital, Claudia searched the room. Inside a closet she found a large pornography collection, handcuffs, and a diary in which her brother had extensively planned and recorded what he called sexual ‘experiments’ with his sister. (Bruce Bower, “Sudden recall: adult memories of child abuse spark a heated debate.” Science News (September 18, 1993), Vol. 144 , No. 12: pp. 184-86.)

2-7. Six men who grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts (in addition to Frank Fitzpatrick and John Robitaille, whose cases are included in the legal section of this archive) were sexually assaulted by Father Porter as children and “reported no thoughts or memories of childhood abuse until the case broke.” These findings were reported by Harvard psychiatrist Stuart Grassian, who surveyed 43 of the victims in 1993. (Katy Butler, “The Latest on Recovered Memory,” Family Therapy Networker, Nov/Dec 1996: 36.)

8. The case of “D.” Boy in treatment for obsessive-compulsive symptoms, who eventually recovered memories of an attempted strangling by his mother years earlier. The events were subsequently confirmed by the mother. (Nathan M. Szajnberg, “Recovering a repressed memory, and representational shift in an adolescent,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (1994), vol. 41 (3): 711-727.)

9-12. Four adult women, reported by Linda M. Williams. See case studies in “Recovered Memories of Abuse in Women with Documented Histories of Child Sexual Victimization,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol. 8, No. 4 (1995): 649-73.

13-14. Two cases from Puerto Rico. See, Taboas A. Martinez, “Repressed Memories: Some Clinical Data Contributing Toward its Elucidation,” American Journal Psychotherapy (Spring 1996), 50(2): 217-30.

15. The case of “Laura.” Using both prospective and retrospective data, this case “circumvents many limitations of previous studies by including multiple corroborative sources of evidence of sexual trauma in early childhood, prospective evidence of memory loss in oral and written measures in consecutive assessments, and evidence of spontaneous recovery of memory outside of therapy in the context of late adolescence.” (Sunita Duggal & L. Alan Sroufe, “Recovered Memory of Childhood Sexual Trauma: A Documented Case from a Longitudinal Study,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol. 11, No. 2, (1998): 301-21.)

16. The case of “Rachel.” A 40-year-old woman with no history of mental illness and ten years of exemplary professional work recovers memories of childhood sexual abuse by her father through a call from her youth pastor in whom she had confided as an adolescent. This reminder triggered severe depression, suicidal action, and the need for hospitalization. Rachel’s older sister, herself an abuse survivor, had witnessed the abuse, yet Rachel had no memory of the events. (Dennis S. Bull, “A Verified Case of Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse,” American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring 1999, pp. 221-224.)

17. “Videotaped Discovery of a Reportedly Unrecallable Memory of Child Sexual Abuse: Comparison with a Childhood Interview Videotaped 11 Years Before.” This case appears in Child Maltreatment, Vol. 2, No. 2, May 1997 (91-112). The commentaries that follow this case demonstrate its general acceptance in the scientific community.

Note: the underlying facts have since been challenged by Professor Elizabeth Loftus in the Skeptical Inquirer. Loftus apparently hired two private investigators to help her conduct her research, all without approval of the Human Subjects Committee at the University of Washington. The woman at the heart of the case has since sued Professor Loftus for invasion of privacy. The California Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case, after two lower courts ruled that there was sufficient basis for the lawsuit against Professor Loftus to proceed.

The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence has collected a variety of materials related to the invasion of privacy lawsuit, Taus v. Loftus.

18-20. Three unrelated respondents in Karen Stoler’s dissertation, “Recovered and Continuous Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis” (unpublished dissertation, University of Rhode Island 2000). The dissertation includes more documented cases of recovered memory. Three of the delayed recall cases jump out of the detailed narratives as clearly corroborated: subjects #17D (corroborated by sibling), 22D (corroborated by older sister who had run away from similar abuse), and 23D (one sister clearly corroborated, the other sister corroborated and later said that it “might be dreams”).

21-23. Three separate cases reported in the poster session at the proceedings of the NATO Advanced Study Institute on Recollections of Trauma (June 1996; Port de Bourgenay, France).
• Miriam Bendiksen, “Circumstances and the Phenomenology of a Recovered Memory: A Corroborated Case Study,” in Lindsay & Read, ed. Recollections of Trauma: Scientific Evidence and Clinical Practice (NATO ASI Series, 997), p. 566.
• Graham Davies and Noelle Robertson, “A Recovered Memory of a Traumatic Event—A Single Case Study,” in Lindsay & Read, ed. Recollections of Trauma: Scientific Evidence and Clinical Practice (NATO ASI Series, 997), p. 570 [corroboration of traumatic armed robbery in the form of contemporaneous note and damaged clothing consistent with being hit with an air rifle pellet].
• Daphne Hewson, “The Process of Recovering Memories of Abuse,” in Lindsay & Read, ed. Recollections of Trauma: Scientific Evidence and Clinical Practice (NATO ASI Series, 997), p. 575 [one case corroborated by perpetrator confession].

24-25. Two participants, not further identified, in Goodman et al.’s prospective study who “indicated that their parents told them they were victims of CSA, but they had no memory of the abuse.” (Goodman et. al 2003.) This prospective study, based on a prosecution sample, is designed to include only cases of verified abuse. Two-thirds of the cases reportedly had corroborative evidence in the form of a confession, eyewitness, or physical evidence (Goodman et. al. 2003, fn. 2). Further information is necessary to ascertain the precise outcome of the case/s that these two individuals do not remember. (Psychological Science, vol. 14, No. 2 (March 2003).)

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