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Pastoral Sciences , 18 (1999), pp.127-150

'False Memory/Recovered Memory' Debate by Lorraine Jaksic

Recovered Memory Versus 'False Memory Syndrome'

In February 1992, the FMS Foundation was officially formed as a non-profit organization to address "accusations of childhood sexual abuse by adult survivors based upon decade-delayed memories that are created by misguided or unconscionable therapy" (Vella, 1992). The term "False Memory Syn-drome" (FMS) has been coined by the Foundation and is a non-clinical phrase not recognized by any formal medical association (Kristiansen, 1994; Quinlin & Hurman, 1994; Quirk & DePrince, 1995). FMS refers to a hypothesized process whereby people enter therapy because of some psychophysical or psychosocial problem, and because of their therapist's suggestions, continue in therapy believing they were sexually abused as children, when in fact this was not the case. Furthermore, the FMS Foundation argues that the phenomenon of flashbacks, a common form of memory recovery by adult survivors, is virtually impossible (False Memory Syndrome Foundation, 1993, n.d.).

Since most child victims of chronic sexual and/or physical abuse are silenced, most disclosures of the abuse do not surface until they are adults. When individuals report what they remember having undergone earlier in life, their stories usually resemble those of child victims, sometimes even accompanied by child-like voices and body stances (Briere, 1996; Herman, 1981, 1992; Herman & Schatzow, 1987). Presently, the causes of delayed recall are little understood. Often recall occurs when the survivors are in their twenties or thirties but, it can occur later in life as well (Bass & Davis, 1994; Herman, 1992; Lawrence, l993). Apparently, recovered memories can be triggered by a variety of happenings. Most often it is a change in an intimate relationship, such as the onset of an adult sexual relationship, having a child or when the child first reaches the age of the survivor's own abuse. Recovered memories have been known to surface when another victim of the same perpetrator discloses abuse. Sometimes the trauma is recalled only when the perpetrator is ill and expects the victim to care for them. Many experience delayed recall when the perpetrator dies and it is perceived to be safe for disclosure (Herman, 1992). However, many familial members want to keep victims silenced in order to preserve the family's or the [deadi perpetrator's reputation. Some turn to the FMSF in an effort to defocus attention on their actions, and place attention on the victims and those who offer them help. The motives of those who claim to be unjustly accused of childhood sexual abuse are camouflaged by cultural myths and stereotypes surrounding victimized people, and women in particular (Faludi, 1991).

 

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