Clinical characteristics of adults reporting repressed, recovered, or continuous memories of childhood sexual abuse

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Impact Factor: 4.85). 05/2006; 74(2):237-42. DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.74.2.237
Source: PubMed


The authors assessed women and men who either reported continuous memories of their childhood sexual abuse (CSA, n = 92), reported recovering memories of CSA (n = 38), reported believing they harbored repressed memories of CSA (n = 42), or reported never having been sexually abused (n = 36). Men and women were indistinguishable on all clinical and psychometric measures. The 3 groups that reported abuse scored similarly on measures of anxiety, depression, dissociation, and absorption. These groups also scored higher than the control group. Inconsistent with betrayal trauma theory, recovered memory participants were not more likely to report abuse by a parent or stepparent than were continuous memory participants. Rates of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder did not differ between the continuous and recovered memory groups.

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    • "The present findings indicate that an intense, fear-provoking situation produces qualitatively similar deleterious effects on memory in male and female rats. These findings support the notion that memory processing by both sexes is strongly affected in a qualitatively similar manner by traumatic experiences in people (McNally et al. 2006) and rodents (Mazor et al. 2007), and, further, are consistent with indications that PTSD susceptibility in people under extreme trauma conditions is similar in men and women (Kessler 2000; Pole et al. 2001; Galea et al. 2002; Kang et al. 2005; Nemeroff et al. 2006). Therefore, the study of the effects of predator stress on memory may provide insight into sex-independent effects of trauma on human pathological memory processing. "
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    ABSTRACT: From the mid-1980s onwards, US courts have seen a dramatic increase in personal injury and criminal cases alleging harm caused by sexual abuse whose memories were “recovered” after decades of forgetting. These recovered memory claims were countered by the defense that they were false memories. Three types of personal injury cases have been the center of media attention: (1) adult daughters suing their fathers for alleged childhood incest; (2) families and patients suing psychotherapists for allegedly suggesting false incest memories; and (3) adults suing the Catholic Church alleging sexual abuse by priests. Legal outcomes have been inconsistent in part because scientific controversy has called the reliability of recovered memories into question. This article is the first in a three-part series that provides a forensic framework for understanding the current state of the recovered memory/false memory debate. It briefly describes the reasoning behind inconsistent legal decisions, identifying the minimum scientific issues that must achieve consensus to meet the needs of the legal system. It proposes epistemological criteria for determining whether a consensus has been achieved. It then identifies recovered memory issues about which there is now a consensus. The second article identifies recovered memory issues that lack consensus. The third article argues that the scientific controversy reflected confusion about different memory types. It proposes a phenomenological schema to integrate them and reduce legal confusion. It concludes that there is sufficient consensus about some recovered memory issues to meet minimal legal needs, while more research is needed for others.
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