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Recalling the facts about traumatic amnesia
Suzanne Fields’ column is replete with misinformation apparently culled out of a False Memory Syndrome foundation press kit (“The inexact science of the human mind,” Op-Ed, Jan. 19).
Why has she avoided reporting on the scientific research on traumatic amnesia for childhood sexual abuse? At least, she could have noted the widespread disagreement of mainstream practitioners with the royal College of Psychiatrists’ report. But, the real question is: Can support groups for parents accused of sexual abuse (and in some cases convicted or held liable) ignore or suppress what the scientific research actually says, substituting instead their own denial as science? apparently they can, and have even persuaded the media to help them.
There is a hundred years of research on memory loss or amnesia associated with traumatic events such as combat, torture, natural catastrophes, accidents, abuse and crimes. World War II produced some solid documentation of dissociation and memory lass associated with the trauma of war. At least 36 recent studies demonstrate the phenomenon of traumatic amnesia, and show that it is possible to accurately recall suppressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.
Nevertheless, historical revisionism is alive and well, led by parents who want to reframe their son’s and daughter’s memories in an effort to blot out what actually happened. Some families have reconciled by pretending nothing happened or by blaming a therapist. The most courageous have faced the past and themselves, forging new bonds based on empathy and responsibility — the true qualities of caring parents.
In the future, I hope Miss Fields is prepared to explore the wealth of scientific research supporting traumatic amnesia, and address the public health epidemic of child sexual abuse our country is facing.
SHERRY A. QUIRK
President and Counsel
One Voice: The National Alliance for Abuse Awareness
Suzanne fields’ column “the inexact science of the human mind” was a very irresponsible piece of journalism. Ignoring the facts about recovered memory, she presented an inaccurate and biased view about a psychological phenomenon that has a long, documented history.
None of us wants to believe that adults use children for sexual gratification. but they do. Children who grow up being violated by adults close to them cannot bear to feel the pain of such betrayal. Some children develop dissociative defenses to protect themselves from the pain and to allow themselves to continue surviving in an abusive environment. Although some children cannot block out memories of abuse, it is common for those who are repeatedly abused to forget the experiences until later in life. Just ask the victims of former priest james Porter. Or Ross Cheit, the Brown University professor whose delayed recall of sexual abuse resulted in a successful lawsuit against his abuser. Or Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, a former Miss America whose father sexually abused her throughout her childhood.
Miss Fields should get information from clinical sources rather than the self-serving rhetoric of advocacy groups made up of parents who have been accused of abusing their children. her inaccurate and inflammatory piece has done a disservice to the many victims of abuse who were silenced in childhood.
My dad abused all seven of his children. I didn’t remember some of it until my 40s. My sister and I sued him for childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse in 1990 and won a $2.3 million judgment.
It took a lawsuit; a $2.3 million jury award; a 20/20 ABC news segment, “Incest: A Crime never forgotten”’ a CBS television film, “Ultimate Betrayal”; my getting federal legislation passed (Child Abuse Accountability Act); and his nearly dying two years ago for him to stop his denial. I stopped my denial, too. Dad had abused me and my siblings and I told him so. It took guts to let go of the protection that denial had offered me for years.
Two years ago, my father was dying and I visited him for the first time in 16 years. He owned up and said he was not proud of what he had done. Shame is a powerful inhibitor of truth.
I am proud of him. He stopped drinking the day he was served the lawsuit papers and has stayed sober since 1989. From his hospital bed, he told me the truth –that he had been in denial. We cried together and held each other — father and daughter.
Recently, we were talking about a lawsuit I have against a powerful insurance company for its abusive insurance practices and I said, “Dad, what kind of a daughter did you raise, anyway?” he answered, “I raised a daughter who is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in and I’m proud of you.” If we each had not broken throughout denial, we would not have a relationship today.
SHARON RODGERS SIMONE