How Often do False Allegations of Child Abuse Arise From Recovered Memories?

Here’s the working psychological definition of the false memory phenomenon:

It’s when someone recalls something that either didn’t happen or recalls it differently from how it truly happened.

False memories can happen when memory recall techniques are used by mental health professionals on clients or patients.

Memory recall can be used to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, etc.

But, most concerningly, it’s also being used in the legal setting. Unfortunately, as studies show, recovered memories aren’t necessarily accurate and have led to wrongful convictions.

What can Lead to False Memory Recall?

Given the many factors that can cause false memory recall, it shouldn’t always be enough evidence for a finding of abuse.

For instance, hypnosis is one technique that’s used to rouse memories from patients or clients who might have been traumatized. In recent times, several abuse cases haven’t held up in court due to hypnosis being used in this regard, namely because subjects to these treatments tend to be highly suggestible to false memories.

Furthermore, psychological therapists often struggle with being unbiased. They have a rapport with their clients and are naturally more concerned with patient well-being than the objective facts.

To these points, the results of a recent survey entitled, “Recovered Memories of Abuse Among Therapy Patients: A National Survey,” show that recalled memories can’t always be trusted. (See Kenneth S. Pope & Barbara G. Tabachnick (1995) Recovered Memories of Abuse Among Therapy Patients: A National Survey, Ethics & Behavior, 5:3, 237-248.)

A Summary of Survey Results:

900 licensed psychologists (450 female and 450 male) received a national survey, of which 42% responded with results.

Here’s what the results of the survey show:

73% of the surveyed individuals disclosed at least one patient experiencing the recalling of a suppressed memory of childhood sexual abuse. From that number, 21% of the surveys showed that a minimum of one patient experienced a false memory.

In 12% of these surveys, at least one client later decided that their memory was false. While 15% of respondents claimed that at least one patient filing a civil or criminal complaint.

Furthermore, female patients were 5x likelier to claim recovered memories deemed false by therapists than male patients. Also, there was a 5x higher chance that female patients would find their own recalled memories as incorrect compared to males.

What do These Results Mean?

As per contextual research that went into the survey results, those accused of abuse based on recovered memories are increasingly at risk of civil or criminal actions.

For instance, the statute of limitations for civil actions based on sex abuse was extended in the State of Washington. It was asserted that childhood sexual abuse victims could repress the memory until the statute of limitations ran its course.

A significant enough number of therapists report that recipients of memory recall therapy go to court to make for a problem in our legal settings, including Child Abuse Central Index grievance proceedings. This fact is especially poignant, considering the clear evidence that memory recall isn’t necessarily accurate.

What did the Survey Conclude?

In the survey’s conclusion, it makes two crucial points:

  • Practitioners of memory recovery techniques must display considerable caution in their approach, so as to avoid generalization and interpretation.
  • To avoid overgeneralization and interpretation, when seeking validity for recalled memories, there must be independent replications.

If there’s one thing that can be ascertained from these results, it’s that the waters are incredibly murky regarding the accuracy of recalled memories.

Provided you’re being accused of abuse based on recalled memories, you must ascertain the nature of the techniques being used. When an accuser is stepping forward based on the guidance of one mental health professional, in the absence of a follow-up, due diligence must be completed by an independent party.

A viable independent party who can assess the situation objectively is a forensic psychologist. During our cases, we suggest our clients to hire these experts to help with their defense.

Are You a Victim of False Allegations Stemming From Inaccurate Recovered Memories of Child Abuse?

When it comes to issues such as repressed memories of child abuse, emotions can play a significant role in how things play out.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, it’s understandable for judgment to get clouded. But the law is based on facts and scientific evidence. You don’t deserve to have your family torn apart based on allegations stemming from a psychotherapy technique that’s prone to conjuring false memories.

At Lounsbery Law Office, our defense strategy is based solely on facts, not emotions. We’ll represent you with empathy, compassion, and above all with dedication to the truth.