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A Review and Correction of the Errors in Loftus and Guyer on Jane Doe

  • Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center & University of Cincinnati


There are so many errors among those facts that can be checked in the Loftus and Guyer articles under review that they cast doubt on the accuracy of the alleged facts in these articles that cannot be easily checked. Loftus's and Guyer's two articles, published in a newsstand magazine instead of a peer-reviewed journal, show a pattern of inaccuracy that casts doubt on their claims to have conducted a skeptical, objective inquiry. Some, but not all of these errors, were corrected in a 2009 article Geis and Loftus published in a peer-reviewed journal, although Loftus does not acknowledge in that article her earlier inaccuracies. This article corrects the record about the conclusions drawn in the Corwin and Olafson article published in 1997 and clarifies the history about Corwin's involvement in the Taus case.
Journal of Interpersonal
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0886260514534988
published online 9 June 2014J Interpers Violence
Erna Olafson
A Review and Correction of the Errors in Loftus and Guyer on Jane
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American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
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Journal of Interpersonal Violence
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DOI: 10.1177/0886260514534988
A Review and Correction
of the Errors in Loftus
and Guyer on Jane Doe
Erna Olafson, PhD, PsyD1
There are so many errors among those facts that can be checked in the
Loftus and Guyer articles under review that they cast doubt on the accuracy
of the alleged facts in these articles that cannot be easily checked. Loftus’s
and Guyer’s two articles, published in a newsstand magazine instead of a
peer-reviewed journal, show a pattern of inaccuracy that casts doubt on
their claims to have conducted a skeptical, objective inquiry. Some, but
not all of these errors, were corrected in a 2009 article Geis and Loftus
published in a peer-reviewed journal, although Loftus does not acknowledge
in that article her earlier inaccuracies. This article corrects the record about
the conclusions drawn in the Corwin and Olafson article published in 1997
and clarifies the history about Corwin’s involvement in the Taus case.
mental health and violence, memory and trauma, violence exposure
My minor role in the Jane Doe story was as follows. I began working with
and for David Corwin in 1989 on forensic cases, trainings, and publications,
and our collaboration lasted for more than a decade thereafter. Our forensic
team worked on complex cases of alleged childhood trauma and maltreat-
ment in a number of states and provinces throughout the United States and
1University of Cincinnati & Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Erna Olafson, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cincinnati College
of Medicine, ML 0539, Cincinnati, OH 45267, USA.
534988JIVXXX10.1177/0886260514534988Journal of Interpersonal ViolenceOlafson
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2 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Canada. We were engaged by the courts, prosecution, plaintiffs, defense, and
licensing boards. We (or our hospital and university employers) were recom-
pensed for our time, not for our opinions. We sought to be identified neither
as a primarily defense nor a prosecution forensic team, but rather as an inde-
pendent, balanced and neutral one. Although our team appeared for plaintiffs
on cases where well-known defense experts had been called by the defense,
we appeared on other cases in the same years for the defense and preferably
worked as a court-appointed team.
This goal of balance characterized our trainings and presentations as well.
Drawing from cases both he and I had seen, we first presented about false
allegations of child sexual abuse at the January San Diego Children’s Hospital
Child Maltreatment Conference in 1992. We expected a few dozen people at
this first workshop and found ourselves showing our slides and interview
videotapes to an overflowing room of more than 200 participants. Because of
the evidently intense interest in this still new and developing area, the San
Diego Conference organizers invited us to return the following year to pres-
ent on false sexual abuse allegations at a plenary session to an even larger
audience, not all of whom welcomed the news that one cannot always
“believe the children.”
In 1996, we presented at a workshop at a major child abuse conference
regarding our experience with a litigated case involving a school-aged girl
who described having experienced ritual abuse at the hands of prior foster
parents. Our extensive work on this complex case had turned up evidence of
a very high probability false allegation caused by an apparent case of unin-
tentional indoctrination by adoptive parents that appeared to have distorted
the girl’s memory of past events, or at the very least, her reporting of past
events. Using only the public court records, we presented this probable false
allegation case at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
Colloquium in 1996, the year before the Jane Doe article appeared (Corwin
& Olafson, 1996).
In most complex alleged child sexual abuse cases, responsible experts
draw conclusions using language about high or low probability, because
definitive, confirmatory evidence of the presence of child sexual abuse is
relatively rare, and conclusive disconfirmatory evidence in a given case (that
there was no child sexual abuse) is also very rare. Because of these limita-
tions, we can seldom be completely certain when we offer expert opinions.
Corwin, Berliner, Goodman, Goodwin, and White (1987) had already dis-
cussed these challenges well in an article entitled No Easy Answers.
Throughout our work together, we strove to do our own work and to train
others to investigate each case with an open mind, to develop teams where
vigorous discussion of (and even disagreement about) multiple hypotheses
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Olafson 3
was normative, and to avoid any rush to judgment. We used that same model
in presenting cases at conferences and in writing up the Jane Doe case, not
only exploring multiple interpretations about key aspects of this case but also
inviting experts from a variety of perspectives to explore the ramifications of
this case from diverse perspectives.
David Corwin was a mentor and collaborator for many years, and we
occasionally continued to collaborate on forensic cases until 2012. I feel that
I am uniquely qualified to describe his approach and his professional work.
Although Corwin has published articles about the impact of child sexual
abuse on child development and about the complexities of child abuse allega-
tions in the context of custody disputes, he is not primarily a researcher, and
he does no research about memory. His interests range across the topics rel-
evant to teaching and implementing best forensic interview practices. Of
course, during our collaboration we both made efforts to remain current with
research developments that would affect our forensic and training activities.
As we planned the establishment of our child forensic interviewing program
in the mid 1990s at the Childhood Trust, a joint effort of the University of
Cincinnati’s Department of Psychiatry and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital,
we included lectures about memory and suggestibility in the curriculum
within a framework of other necessary components for good interviewing,
such as children’s linguistic development, guidelines for neutral questioning
of children and adults, and overviews of the various protocols being devel-
oped in those years.
When we presented talks and trainings about how to interview children
during the 1990s, Corwin often showed videotapes of his past interviews
with children. One he often used included parts of interviews he had con-
ducted as a court-appointed expert with the child Jane Doe (Nicole Taus), on
whose case he had worked years before I met him. To keep showing this
videotape, Corwin contacted Jane’s father and Jane periodically to reaffirm
the father’s parental consent and Jane’s assent. The events clearly described
in our 1997 article took place because Corwin recontacted Jane’s father again
in 1994 to reconfirm his permission to show Jane Doe’s childhood interview
with Corwin (Corwin & Olafson, 1997).
I was not present for any of the Jane Doe interviews. My name is on the
article as second author because I assisted Dr. Corwin in writing it. I have
delayed writing this article about Dr. Loftus’s and Dr. Guyer’s articles about
Dr. Corwin and the Jane Doe case until the California litigation about this
case had concluded, but it is now time to correct the inaccuracies and misrep-
resentations made by Loftus and Guyer in their 2002 articles (Loftus &
Guyer, 2002a; Loftus & Guyer, 2002b), and a few inaccuracies in one subse-
quent article (Geis and Loftus, 2009).
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4 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Loftus and Guyer Errors #1 and #2: Dr. Corwin instigated the 1995 contact
with Jane Doe as part of a research project about repressed memories,
having shown her tapes at conferences on memory and child abuse.
In the first of their 2002 Skeptical Enquirer articles, Loftus and Guyer wrote,
Eleven years went by, during which Corwin continued to discuss Jane’s case at
conferences on memory and child abuse. In 1995, wondering what, if anything,
Jane herself remembered about her experiences, he contacted Jane, now age
seventeen, and she agreed to be reinterviewed on videotape. Would she have
repressed memories of her mother’s abuse? (Loftus & Guyer, 2002a, p. 27)
Without acknowledging this error, Loftus is more accurate in 2009, writ-
ing, “Eleven years later, Corwin contacted Taus to obtain her continuing con-
sent to his use for training purposes of the videotape of the earlier session”
(Geis & Loftus, 2009, p. 149).
What Actually Happened
Here again is a detailed account of what happened. Our 1997 article stated
explicitly that when Jane was 16 years old, in 1994, as part of his routine
practice, Corwin recontacted her for assent to continue showing the tapes
after her father (who was now living in a convalescent hospital) gave Corwin
permission to contact his daughter. We wrote in the article that Jane Doe said
the following to Corwin during this assent phone call, “She then stated that
she would like to see the videotapes herself because she had been unable for
some time to recall the actual events that occurred to her during her early
childhood” (Corwin & Olafson, 1997, p. 98). We also wrote that Corwin told
Jane this had never been done, and he did not want to simply send her the
tapes but rather to review them with her because it could be potentially stress-
ful for her to see them. About a year later, he was able to review the tapes with
Jane Doe, who was then 17. Corwin made sure that a trusted local therapist
whom he knew was present to provide therapeutic follow up if needed. Jane
chose to have her foster mother present as well.
In my dozens of interviews conducted with him, Corwin always video-
taped consent/assent with children and families. Jane Doe’s sudden recall of
past events happened accidentally, as part of Corwin’s ethical commitment to
obtain current consents and assents to continue using videotaped interviews
during his trainings and talks. This did not happen because of an intrusive
repressed memory research investigation by Dr. Corwin into the adolescent
Jane Doe’s life. He did not reenter Jane’s life to conduct research about her
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Olafson 5
past memories, and had he done so, he would of course have needed
Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Instead, her videotaped interview
was part of his documentation of the informed consent prior to Jane’s
requested viewing of the videos from Corwin’s court-ordered evaluation of
her and her parents when she was 5 years old.
It was during the routine videotaped informed consent prior to viewing her
childhood interview tapes that Corwin asked Jane Doe, “Do you remember
anything about the concerns about possible sexual abuse?” (Corwin &
Olafson, 1997, p. 105). Both parents had been accused of child sexual abuse
during the earlier litigation, so although this was a yes–no question, Corwin
did not name one parent or the other as the possible offender. Jane Doe said,
“No,” and then as her affect changed and she inhaled audibly, she stated,
“Wait a minute, I do,” and Corwin asked, “What do you remember?” Jane
Doe responded “Oh my gosh, that’s really . . . really weird” (p. 105). Corwin
here was following the standard interview practice of “Pairing,” during which
a yes–no question is followed by an open question. Jane Doe stated a bit later
in this exchange, “I recall saying it, and I recall it happening” (p. 106). She
stated that she did not know whether or not it was an intentional hurt. Jane
Doe described what she recalled before Corwin showed her any of the child-
hood tapes that she had asked to see.
Loftus and Guyer (2002b), however, implied that Corwin intruded into
Jane’s life during her adolescence, not as part of his ethical commitment to
ensure continued consent/assent to continue showing her childhood tapes
during trainings and talks, but for his own research about repressed memo-
ries. This sets Loftus up to reach the tragic conclusion that
Jane terminated her newly emerging relationship with her mother after Corwin
came back into her life and replayed her childhood tape. Her mother lost her
once, long ago in 1984, and lost her again in 1995. At this writing they are not
in contact with one another (p. 40).
Where did Loftus get this misinformation? Not from our 1997 article,
but allegedly from what Jane’s foster mother had told her. According to
the Loftus and Guyer (2002a) articles, as Jane was rebuilding contact with
her mother and beginning to question whether the abuse had even hap-
pened, “Corwin entered the picture. He called Foster Mom, saying he was
doing research and wanted to interview Jane again” (p. 31). Whether or
not this is what Jane’s foster mother actually said to Loftus, it is not
Loftus and Guyer (2002a) are also in error about Corwin’s use of the Jane
Doe case history, stating that he had discussed Jane’s case at “conferences on
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memory and child abuse” (p. 27). This gives the impression that Corwin had
shown the Jane Doe tapes because of his alleged focus on memory and abuse
rather than for general educational purposes about child sexual abuse. In the
years before 1995, Corwin showed the Jane Doe childhood tape not primarily
in the context of memory and abuse conferences, but during “professional
trainings” (Corwin & Olafson, 1997, p. 98). He was not focused on memory
issues during these years (nor is he to this day). Instead, he was in the process
of founding one of the early child forensic interviewing programs to insure
competent practice by social workers and police officers and in working with
others to plan for and establish a major child advocacy center, The Mayerson
Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
Medical Center. In the 2009 article, Geis and Loftus seem to be identifying
Corwin more accurately as “a specialist in forensic psychiatry and child
abuse” (Geis & Loftus, 2009, p. 148).
Loftus and Guyer Error # 3: Corwin claims that the Jane Doe case proves
the reality of repressed memories.
In 1993, Elizabeth Loftus had published a major article about repressed
memories in American Psychologist. She published her popular book The
Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memory and Allegations of Sexual
Abuse a year later (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994). She was a board member of
the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) and a well-known
defense expert who often testified about memory. She and Guyer framed
their account of our 1997 article in the context of the “Memory Wars” in
which they aligned Corwin and Olafson with those who had argued that
traumatic experiences are so upsetting that they are likely to be “repressed”
and can be recovered accurately years later through therapy. They quoted
several clinicians who describe “massive repression,” “fiercely repressed,”
and “total repression,” and placed us firmly (and erroneously) in their camp
(2002a, p. 26).
Loftus and Guyer thus argued inaccurately that Corwin used the two tapes
of 1984 and 1995 to make claims about repressed and recovered memories.
They wrote,
Therefore the burden of proof has been on therapists to demonstrate the
existence of this kind of repression/dissociation and confirm their belief that
such traumatic memories can eventually be reliably recovered.
In 1997, psychiatrist David Corwin and his collaborator Erna Olafson published
a case study that they believed provided such proof (2002a, p. 26).
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Olafson 7
“For Corwin,” they stated, “this case supports the clinical assumption that
traumatic memories and ordinary memories are encoded differently” (2002a,
p. 27). They further stated that “Corwin would claim that Jane had ‘repressed’
the memory” (2002a, p. 32) and that Jane had “memories, according to
Corwin, that she had repressed for eleven years, a clear example of ‘trau-
matic’ amnesia” (2002a, p. 27). Some of these false claims are repeated in the
2009 article. In the abstract, Geis and Loftus write about the “claim of a psy-
chiatrist that ‘Jane Doe’ . . . had recovered a repressed memory of sexual
abuse by her mother” (2009, p. 147), and later in the article, “Corwin and
Olafson maintain that the interviews demonstrated that Taus had experienced
‘traumatic amnesia’” (p. 149). These alleged facts seem to be invented out of
whole cloth. The Corwin and Olafson (1997) article made no such claims.
What We Actually Wrote About Memory
We were never in the repressed/recovered memory camp (if there was one),
and as described above, we had even disgruntled some therapists by our
conference case presentations about false allegations of child sexual abuse
and intentional or unintentional indoctrination of children. Instead of mak-
ing the claims that Loftus and Guyer alleged we made about repressed
memories, traumatic amnesia, or differences in encoding, in this article we
instead reported quite concretely what Corwin had observed about Jane
Doe and then discussed several hypotheses about how these observations
might be interpreted. We were mindful and deliberate in the language we
used to frame the article, and one of our academic commentators (a noted
false memory theorist), praised our approach as balanced and constructive
(Lindsay, 1997). We never stated in the article that this case constituted
evidence of massive repression or dissociation and took no position about
whether Jane’s reported forgetting and remembering constituted proof that
traumatic memories and ordinary memories are encoded differently or
whether this was an example of traumatic amnesia. Instead, we reviewed
the evidence for many interpretations of this event, including the fact that
“The tears and evident strong feeling this memory discovery caused Jane
were not similar, say, to suddenly remembering where one has put the car
keys” (Corwin & Olafson, 1997, p. 111), and contrarily, “Was Jane’s mem-
ory truly unavailable, or was it just that she had never specifically tried to
recall sexual abuse?” (pp. 110-111).
It is not a minor point that we never argued that the Jane Doe videotapes
constituted proof of traumatic amnesia, repressed memory, or dissociation.
We used words such as “forgotten and then recovered,” and we were explicit
that we were taking no position, because we really did not know. We wrote,
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The fact that it may have been Corwin’s voice, demeanor, and presence that
helped trigger her recall does not answer the question of whether we need to
invoke a special mechanism to explain forgetting and recall of traumatic
events. Trauma theorists could hypothesize that Corwin’s presence acted as a
“trauma-specific trigger,” without which Jane might not have recalled the
vaginal penetration. However, in standard cognitive theory, encoding
specificity could also explain her recall, without the need to invoke a special
mechanism. (p. 111)
To put it bluntly, we were saying that Jane had reportedly been unable to
recall this memory for some period of time and then recollected it while
Corwin was interviewing her as part of the consent process. People forget and
they remember. There are, as we stated, “periods of non-recall” that are quite
common (p. 110). Loftus herself has written something similar (Loftus &
Ketcham, 1994).
The title of our article and our Jane Doe presentations at conferences ref-
erenced “reportedly unrecallable memory of child sexual abuse.” Our intro-
ductory paragraphs framed the discussion in terms of the memory debates of
the time, noting that “much remains to be learned about human memory” and
the mechanisms through which both traumatic and non-traumatic memories
are preserved, as well as “how they can become unavailable to the person
who experienced them, how they are sometimes discovered, and how they
can become contaminated mixtures of both accurate and inaccurate informa-
tion” (Corwin & Olafson, 1997, p. 91). Corwin also included a number of
psychiatrists and psychologists from different perspectives to comment on
the Jane Doe case, including emotion expert Paul Ekman and, as Loftus and
Guyer do acknowledge, experimental and cognitive psychologists such as
Jonathan Schooler (a former student of Loftus), Stephen Lindsay, and Ulric
Error # 4: Tavris implied that Corwin would not have cooperated with
Loftus and Guyer, so they had to use other means to get this information.
In her commentary that accompanied publication of the Loftus and Guyer
articles, Carol Tavris (2002) praises “heroes” such as Loftus and Guyer who
seek the truth and justice against obstacles posed by IRBs. She dismisses
criticism of the Loftus/Guyer methods in a University of Michigan IRB
memo for “failing to enlist the ‘ongoing cooperation’ of Corwin (!), as if
Corwin would have granted it!” (p. 44). As Corwin had invited commen-
taries for the 1997 special issue from a wide range of experts in the mem-
ory debates, from clinical psychiatrists to experimental and cognitive
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Olafson 9
psychologists known to be skeptical about claims of forgotten and recovered
memory, there is no basis for an imputation of rigidity or bias against Dr.
Corwin. Loftus and Guyer never asked Corwin for his assistance in their
review of this case, although the range of commentators that Corwin invited
to participate in the 1997 special issue are evidence that he might well have
considered and sought to cooperate with such a request provided that it did
not compromise Jane Doe’s privacy. Regarding privacy, Geis and Loftus
(2009) cite an appellate opinion that included a determination by a judge
“that a case might be made that Loftus had improperly secured juvenile
court records that were supposed to be sealed” (pp. 153-4). Of course, for
ethical reasons, Corwin would not have sanctioned or helped with any such
violation of privacy.
Our collaborators on the special issue welcomed this open attitude. In his
invited commentary, Loftus’s former student, Jonathan W. Schooler (1997)
I am very grateful to Dr. Corwin for giving me the opportunity to comment on
this remarkable case. It is a testament to the progress that we have been making
in the field that it is now possible for cognitive and clinical psychologists to
discuss the various aspects of a discovered memory case in a civil and
noncombative manner. It is my hope that this case may help to further deflate
the tensions that have surrounded this controversial issue. Perhaps its
compelling aspects will help to persuade some skeptics that individuals really
can have discovered memories corresponding to authentic incidents of abuse . . .
I hope that Corwin and Olafson’s general approach to this case, with its ethical
sensitivity, its use of longitudinal evidence, and its willingness to invite
alternative perspectives, can serve as a model for the future (p. 132).
Other Problems
In this issue, Taus writes that she is outraged that her half-brother’s account
of the situation was published by Loftus in 2002 and 2009 without any men-
tion of the severe adolescent accident that had left him with significant brain
damage and memory loss that she states would be evident to anyone who had
any kind of contact with him. Geis and Loftus continue to quote him in their
2009 article, although they identify him as a stepbrother. And although Loftus
and Guyer stated that Corwin accepted the stepmother’s version of events
“relatively uncritically” (2002a, p. 32), while presenting themselves as neu-
tral subsequent investigators working to set the record straight, they appear to
have been uncritical in their acceptance of Taus’s biological mother’s state-
ments about her marriage and divorce. Nicole Taus (IN PRESS) describes
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10 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
the distress she experienced because Loftus published the “one-sided” com-
ments that her mother offered about her deceased father, to whom her mother
had lost a bitter custody battle some years before.
Indeed, the pervasive inaccuracies that can be checked in Loftus’s and
Guyer’s pieces in this newsstand journal call into question the neutrality and
accuracy of all they report, including their written accounts of their review of
the juvenile court records, a review that allegedly included records that had
been sealed to protect Nicole Taus’s privacy (Taus, IN PRESS). Can we trust
the accuracy of their accounts about what others allegedly said to them dur-
ing their 1997 contacts, including contacts with Nicole’s foster mother, her
step mother, and her biological mother? We need not allege deliberate dis-
honesty to arrive at a negative answer here. The very biases in memory that
Loftus studies may have led her to misremember the interviews or distort
details in favor of her own theories.
What Purpose Did the Loftus and Guyer Reanalysis
Serve, and What Did They Achieve?
What motivated Loftus to depart from standard academic practice, fail to
approach Corwin (as other academic psychologists, such as Neisser and
Lindsay did do?) to debate the issues, and instead go underground with a
private detective to intrude into Nicole Taus’s life, with devastating personal
consequences that are vividly described in Taus’s article in this issue? Were
colleagues perhaps using the Jane Doe case to taunt Dr. Loftus? I ask because
when Corwin and I presented the Jane Doe videotapes in 1996 and 1997 at
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) conferences and
elsewhere, one or two people would come up to us after each presentation to
inquire with a smirk, “Has Liz seen these?” As Putnam (IN PRESS) suggests
in the current issue, Nicole Taus’s experience of sudden recall of an event she
had forgotten, inadvertently caught on videotape during Corwin’s consent
process, could be described as a “black swan” for the existence of delayed
recall of traumatic memories of child abuse. Loftus was well known in the
academic world and in the courts for her work about the “myth” of repressed
memory. The powerful videotapes apparently were being used by some to
challenge much that Loftus had sought to prove in a long and distinguished
academic career. Indeed, Loftus and Guyer (2002a, 2002b) wrote that the
Jane Doe case was being used in conferences and in court cases against
potentially innocent accused individuals.
Loftus has written several times that “childhood sexual abuse is tragically
common” (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994, p. 524), but she has also written,
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Olafson 11
Something has gone wrong with therapy and . . .that something has to do with
memory . . . On one side are the “True Believers,” who insist that the mind is
capable of repressing memories and who accept without reservation or question
the authenticity of recovered memories. On the other side are the “Skeptics,”
who argue that the notion of repression is purely hypothetical and essentially
untestable . . . My research into the malleability of memory aligns me with the
Skeptics, but I am also sympathetic to the True Believer’s concerns (Loftus &
Ketcham, 1994, pp. 31-32).
To discredit the Jane Doe article, did Loftus and Guyer have to create a
Corwin who was a True Believer about repressed and recovered memory?
Loftus is certainly accurate to note that we have learned a great deal about
questioning to minimize children’s suggestibility since the early 1980s.
Corwin and I have also evaluated some high probability false allegations that
appear to have had their sources at least partially in the kind of incompetent,
“True Believer” therapy or interviewing Loftus describes. To repeat briefly,
Corwin, who was no True Believer, was not a memory researcher, made no
claims about repressed memory in the article, and reviewed and invited a
number of perspectives to explain what was seen in the videotapes. Readers
are advised to read the May 1997 Child Maltreatment issue and the Lindsay
commentary that appeared in the subsequent issue, available at no cost at
In their first article, Loftus and Guyer (2002a) stated,
Case studies, by definition, are bounded by the perceptions and interpretations
of the storyteller . . . In many cases, they are inherently limited by what the
reporter sees, and what their reporter leaves out. This is especially true if the
writer is untrained in the scientific method, and thus unaware of the confirmation
bias, the importance of considering competing explanations before making a
diagnosis, and so forth (p. 25-26).
They wrote that Corwin in 1997 had a vested interest in persuading others
that his initial judgment about Jane was correct, and they presented them-
selves as without a vested interest for any particular outcome except to learn
whether Corwin had provided the whole truth and nothing but the truth about
the original case. As Loftus and Guyer became the “storytellers” to recast
their version of this case study, were they not, like all of us, also bound by
personal perceptions and interpretations? Did they enter the case with a dis-
confirmation bias? If they could show that Jane’s reports in 1984 and 1995
were the contaminated product of one of those interviewers “who are on a
mission to find evidence of sexual abuse” (2002a, p. 28) and that there had
been no sex abuse at all, then, as Putnam states, all their swans are white
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12 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
again and their worldviews are intact (Putnam, IN PRESS). One might well
ask who is more likely to be unbiased and accurate about the facts of a case,
a neutral, court-appointed expert investigating a case at the time, or academ-
ics more than a decade later with a possible disconfirmation bias? The answer
depends at least in part on whether Corwin is the intrusive True Believer of
Loftus’s and Guyer’s imagining, and whether Loftus and Guyer are
What did Loftus and Guyer actually achieve? Certainly, they caused dis-
tress to Nicole Taus by first intruding into her life with private detectives
when she was a 19-year-old college student, violating her privacy by inter-
viewing all the mother figures in her life, and publishing information about
her father that Nicole believes to be painfully wrong. I recall my shock that
Monday morning in the late 1990s when I came to work to hear from our
distraught assistant who had just listened to our phone messages, “They’ve
found Jane Doe; a private detective came to the foster mother’s house.” I was
even more shocked when, later that week, I learned that “they” was the
esteemed Elizabeth Loftus. Multiply that shock and sense of outrage, and one
can get some sense of what Nicole Taus has endured in this past decade.
Tavris presents Loftus and Guyer as first amendment heroes up against a
repressive establishment, and Geis and Loftus seem to be continuing this line
of argument in their 2009 article. Do they acknowledge even to themselves
the power differential here—that it was one young woman who was striving
to preserve her privacy and dignity whom they were fighting?
One perhaps unintended outcome of Loftus’s and Guyer’s behavior on this
case has been a chill on case report publications of unknown proportions. For
example, Corwin and I have extensive case records locked away of at least
one high probability false sexual abuse allegation with unintentional indoctri-
nation of a child that could be very useful in revealing how this implantation
process between parents and a dependent child unfold. It sits unpublished,
and the records will likely be shredded soon. Are there other examples of
academic self-censorship languishing in other clinical files throughout the
country? Indeed, Geis and Loftus argue that the “detective work that Loftus
and Guyer carried out on the Corwin and Olafson report could well have been
done by a Washington Post reporter or a 60 Minutes television investigator” (p.
160). They then quote law professor Philip Hamburger, who argues that IRBs
violate the First Amendment guarantees of free speech, even though journalists
can engage in “deceit, trespass and receipt of unlawfully obtained property”
and “investigate at the risk of causing harm, including personal and financial
ruin, suicide, divorce, imprisonment and even political violence” (p. 160). Are
Geis and Loftus implying that academic inquiry should risk hurting others in
the same fashion without limitation or oversight? Although there are
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Olafson 13
controversies about the roles and functioning of IRBs in research institutions
(Cheit, IN PRESS; Dalenberg, IN PRESS), IRBs exist for very good rea-
sons, to prevent such damaging outcomes. In response to the Geis/Loftus
view, one can well argue that exercising one’s constitutional right to free
speech does not give one license to violate the ethical standards of the medi-
cal and mental health professions. Those ethical standards include the injunc-
tion to “do no harm.” Legal and ethical standards of behavior are distinct.
Several aspects of this case still surprise. It is perhaps predictable that
Loftus would not shift her core beliefs about memory because of this one case
and would work hard to challenge the conclusions some experts were draw-
ing from the videotapes, but for many observers, it was surprising to see the
unusual (and to many of us, ethically questionable) ways she chose to go
about this challenge. It was surprising that the Skeptical Inquirer pieces were
treated in the literature as journal articles, although the magazine is not a
peer-reviewed, scientific journal. Even a casual reading of the Skeptical
Inquirer pieces and the Child Maltreatment articles reveals the Loftus/Guyer
articles to be replete with inaccuracies and errors. Some, but not all of these,
errors have been corrected in Loftus’s subsequent article with Geis.
Finally, there is one sad addendum. The videotapes, powerful as they are,
do not actually constitute proof about traumatic memories being repressed
through unique encoding, and later recovered, nor on the other hand do they
constitute proof that there are no such unique memory processes. We wrote in
the introductory part of the 1997 article that “much remains to be learned
about human memory” and that many questions remain unanswered (p. 91).
We stated that Jane Doe’s forgetting and memory rediscovery could be
explained in a number of ways, including some that Loftus herself has
endorsed, as in this passage from her 1994 book:
Researchers can demonstrate in the laboratory that forgetting, loosely defined
as the failure to remember an event or the inability to recall all the details of a
past experience, does in fact occur. Experimenters can demonstrate and offer
verifiable evidence as proof that memories lose shape and substance as time
goes by.
More difficult to prove in the laboratory, but certainly part of every human
being’s experience, is the phenomenon known as motivated forgetting, in
which we push unacceptable or anxiety-provoking thoughts and impulses out
of our conscious minds in order to avoid thinking about them (p. 214).
Is the Nicole Taus case then perhaps not a threat to all Loftus believes? And
if so, did she go to all this trouble and cause so much distress to Nicole Taus,
who was 19 when Elizabeth Loftus came into her life, for no good reason?
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14 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Nicole Taus (IN PRESS) describes what Loftus did to her as a personal
violation. Near the end of our article, we wrote, “Jane’s eventual view and
feelings about this experience and its effects on her life and experiences are
important concerns that may be addressed by future inquiry” (Corwin &
Olafson, 1997, p. 112). When we wrote those words, we did not imagine that
anyone, much less an academic of Loftus’s position and influence, would act
in the way that she did, with harmful consequences for this strong young
woman that still affect her life.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
Cheit, R. E. (IN PRESS). Research ethics and case studies in psychology: A com-
mentary on Taus v. Loftus.
Corwin, D. L., Berliner, L., Goodman, G., Goodwin, J., & White, S. (1987). Child
sexual abuse and custody disputes: No easy answers. Journal of Interpersonal
Violence, 2, 91-105. doi:10.1177/088626087002001006
Corwin, D. L., & Olafson, E. (1996, June). A ritual sexual abuse allegation with evi-
dence of unintentional indoctrination: Clinical, legal, and scientific perspectives.
Fourth National Colloquium, APSAC, Chicago, IL.
Corwin, D. L., & Olafson, E. (1997). Videotaped discovery of a reportedly
unrecallable memory of child sexual abuse: Comparison with a child-
hood interview videotaped 11 years before. Child Maltreatment, 2, 91-116.
Dalenberg, C. J. (IN PRESS). Protecting scientists, science, and case protagonists: A
discussion of the Taus v. Loftus commentaries.
Geis, G., & Loftus, E. F. (2009). Taus v. Loftus: Determining the legal ground rules
for scholarly inquiry. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 9, 147-162.
Lindsay, D. S. (1997). Jane Doe in context: Sex abuse, lives, and videotape. Child
Maltreatment, 2, 187-192. doi:10.1177/1077559597002003001
Loftus, E. F. (1993). The reality of repressed memories. American Psychologist, 48,
Loftus, E. F., & Guyer, M. J. (2002a, May/June). Who abused Jane Doe? The hazards
of the single case history: Part one. Skeptical Inquirer, 26(3), 24-32.
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Olafson 15
Loftus, E. F., & Guyer, M. J. (2002b, July/August). Who abused Jane Doe? The haz-
ards of the single case history: Part two. Skeptical Inquirer, 26(4), 37-40.
Loftus, E. F., & Ketcham, K. (1994). The myth of repressed memory: False memories
and allegations of sexual abuse. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Putnam, F. W. (IN PRESS). Jane Doe: A cautionary tale for case reports.
Schooler, J. W. (1997). Reflections on a memory discovery. Child Maltreatment, 2,
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Taus, N. (IN PRESS). Published case reports: One woman’s account of having her
confidentiality violated. Violence, Trauma and Abuse.
Tavris, C. (2002, July/August). The high cost of skepticism. Skeptical Inquirer, 26(4),
Author Biography
Erna Olafson, PhD, PsyD, is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and pediat-
rics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and the University
of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She is the co-director of the Center for Trauma
Recovery and Juvenile Justice in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and
chairs the Network’s Justice Consortium. She received the Outstanding Professional
Award from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children in 2013.
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Supplementary resource (1)

Full-text available
This article is a discussion of the articles by Nicole Taus Kluemper, Erna Olafson, Frank Putnam, Laura Brown, Ross Cheit, and Gerald Koocher. The papers center on the issues raised by a decision by two psychologists to break the confidentiality of a case study published by David Corwin and Erna Olafson to gather information to support an alternative theoretical view of the case. The article reviews best understandings of the justifications proposed by the psychologists, who saw themselves as investigative reporters, discusses the papers that have been submitted, and proposes enhanced ethical guidelines and increased professional discussion of these issues.
Full-text available
This is a personal story regarding one woman's experience of serving as a case study protagonist and later having a psychologist uncover her identity and retell her life story in the name of scientific investigative journalism. As a participant in a psychological case report, I believed that my confidentiality would be protected. Unfortunately, this case study participant found herself in the middle of the Memory Wars, and that turned out to be the catalyst for an unwanted inquiry into my life. A well-known memory researcher hired a private investigator to find me, gained access to a great deal of private information about me, and published this in detail without my permission. I discuss in this article how these actions affected my life in some very serious ways. I raise several issues about the meaning of my experience for further case study authors and the clients whose lives they present, as well as questions about the duties of psychologists to the subjects of their research and inquiry.
Full-text available
Loftus and Guyer have been criticized for the methods they employed in investigating an anonymous case study published by Corwin and Olafson. This article examines the ethical dimensions of their investigation. Loftus and Guyer have offered three defenses for their actions. All three of those defenses lack merit. Their investigation did not constitute oral history because it failed to comport with the basic requirements of that practice. Their investigation did not constitute ethical journalism because of the unjustified use of anonymous sources and the clear violation of basic fairness. Their investigation did not constitute justified medical research because of a failure to analyze or weigh the harms against the benefits. Their methods also violated ethical principles for psychologists, including the rule against activities that could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist's objectivity. This case demonstrates that there is no ethical way to investigate a clinical case, without the patient's approval, that is both comprehensive enough to provide strong scholarship and yet respectful enough of privacy and medical confidentiality to honor important professional norms.
Full-text available
This article presents the history, verbatim transcripts, and behavioral observations of a child's disclosure of sexual abuse to Dr. David Corwin in 1984 and the spontaneous return of that reportedly unrecallable memory during an interview between the same individual, now a young adult, and Dr. Corwin 11 years later. Both interviews were videotape recorded. The significance, limitations, and clinical implications of this unique case study are discussed. Five commentaries by researchers from differing empirical perspectives who have reviewed these videotape-recorded interviews follow this article.
Full-text available
A published article by Elizabeth Loftus and Melvin Guyer (2002) examined the claim of a psychiatrist that “Jane Doe,” interviewed at age 5 and then 11 years later, had recovered a repressed memory of sexual abuse by her mother. The Loftus-Guyer article resulted in a lawsuit by the young woman who claimed invasions of privacy, defamation, and other injuries. This article details the history of the lawsuit and attends in particular to the tension between free speech as a scholarly right and the role of the courts and of Institutional Review Boards, both of which played a prominent role in regard to the research enterprise.
Full-text available
Repression is one of the most haunting concepts in psychology. Something shocking happens, and the mind pushes it into some inaccessible corner of the unconscious. Later, the memory may emerge into consciousness. Repression is one of the foundation stones on which the structure of psychoanalysis rests. Recently there has been a rise in reported memories of childhood sexual abuse that were allegedly repressed for many years. With recent changes in legislation, people with recently unearthed memories are suing alleged perpetrators for events that happened 20, 30, even 40 or more years earlier. These new developments give rise to a number of questions: (a) How common is it for memories of child abuse to be repressed? (b) How are jurors and judges likely to react to these repressed memory claims? (c) When the memories surface, what are they like? and (d) How authentic are the memories?
Historically, clinical case reports have played an essential role in the professional communication of medical and psychiatric knowledge. Case reports continue to play important roles in the initial identification of new syndromes or unusual variants of established conditions. Case reports and case series also serve to alert clinicians to preliminary evidence of the efficacy of novel treatments or adaptations to new populations. The Jane Doe Case provides a seminal example of the ethical/medico-legal dilemma arising from a patient's right to confidentiality versus the principle of independent review/replication as a necessary requirement for scientific credibility. As a result of being the subject of dueling case reports concerning the validity of her delayed recall of childhood sexual abuse, Jane Doe's identity was revealed. Consequently, she suffered significant emotional distress, bankruptcy, and the end of her career as a naval officer and aviator. Current medical journal guidelines call for protection of confidentiality of the patient's identity; yet, scientific credibility requires the possibility of an independent outside review if there are legitimate reasons to question facts or claims advanced in a case report. A potential solution is proposed as a starting point for resolving the dilemma posed for case study subjects and authors by the conflicting requirements of patient confidentiality and, if warranted, the possibility of an independent scientific review.
This article alerts professionals to the emergence of oversimplified approaches to the complex problem of alleged child sexual abuse in the context of custody disputes. We argue that reliance on such methods is likely to result in misdiagnosis and failure to protect children who are both sexually abused and caught in custody battles. We specifically take issue with Green's (1986) recent formulation for distinguishing between true and false accusations of incest in child custody disputes because that formulation is based on an inadequate data base, biased sample, and unsupported conclusions. In addition, we discuss the limits of clinical impression, the difference between unfounded or unsubstantiated and false accusations of abuse, and the high prevalence of actual child sexual abuse in the setting of marital dissolution.