Recovered memory lawsuits have swung both
directions since the 1980's. Many adult's who had undergone Recovered
Memory Therapy (RMT) and had recollections of previously repressed
memories of child sexual abuse or ritual abuse were bringing lawsuits
against their abusers.
When the pendulum within the psychological
and legal communities swung the other direction in the late 1990's
and RMT became discredited and seen as a method to implant false
memories, then people started suing their psychologists and psychiatrists
for implanting those memories, and breaking up their families.
Currently, the theory of repressed memories is out of favor in
both the psychological and legal communities, though there is
much evidence supporting the existence of repressed memories.
One of the problems of bringing a recovered memory lawsuit against
an alleged abuser today involves three aspects. First, the field
of Recovered Memory Therapy has been so discredited within the
psychological community that many more expert witnesses for the
opposition can be rallied than for the plaintiff.
Second, there have been many large judgments and settlements
played out in the media against those who practice RMT, that finding
an untainted jury pool would be almost impossible. Third, psychological
research has yet to devise a way to discern between authentic
recovered repressed memories and other memories, which may not
Recovered memory lawsuits have become a "memory war"
between plaintiff and defendant. Jurors will have to decide whose
memory is correct, if there is little corroborating evidence to
support the claims. In today's world, for recovered memory lawsuits
to prevail, they need to have corroborating evidence preferably
from other witnesses who have not repressed the abuse. The problem
inherent with most child sexual abuse cases, years after the fact,
is that witnesses are few and far between. Also, in order to prove
a recovered memory case, some therapist-client confidentiality
may need to be breached, with the permission of the client, in
order to prove memories were not suggested by the therapist.
Proponents for Existence of Recovered Memories
The Recovered Memory Project at Brown University cites 101 documented
cases of recovered memory involving sexual abuse. These findings
have, for the most part, been left standing without argument by
the critics of the existence of repressed and recovered memories.
In July 1976, the Chowchilla, California bus kidnappings made
headline news. Much has been documented to date about the role
of amnesia and PTSD in children in regards to traumatic events.
Other memory experts such as Elizabeth Loftus acknowledge the
existence of amnesia and recall following traumatic events. The
DSM-IV (diagnostic manual) by the American Psychiatric Association
recognizes dissociative amnesia, posttraumatic stress disorder
and dissociative identity disorder, which all mention repressed
Critics Against the Existence of Recovered Memories
Some critics cite the Lost in the Shopping Mall study (also created
by Elizabeth Loftus) to indicate how therapists can implant patients
with false memories. The name False Memory Syndrome (not recognized
by the DSM-IV) has been bandied about the media to denote the
existence in some people of highly vivid but false memories. But,
the most damaging evidence on the side of the critics is in some
of the high-profile cases where large awards were granted in recovered
memory lawsuits when the repressed memories were proven to be
false and accusers later recanted the abuse. One of the largest
settlements was in October 1997, when Patty Burgus sued Bennett
G. Braun, M.D., and received $10.75 million. In August 1995, Vynnette
Hamanne sued her therapist and was awarded $2.67 million in damages.
In August 1997, Lynn Carl sued her therapist, Dr. Gloria Keraga
and was awarded $5.8 million for charges of implanting false memories
concerning murder, cannibalism and incest.
So, which is correct - do repressed and recovered memories exist
or don't they? Overwhelming evidence points to the fact that recovered
memories do in fact exist. But, there is also some evidence to
support the argument for false memories. Vulnerable people, it
can be argued, may be subject to either one or both. The reality
is, recovered memory lawsuits of today will be a very hard sell
to a jury without some corroborating evidence. Also, one needs
to be aware of the statute of limitations involving recovered
memory lawsuits as they can vary from each state.