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Memory is one of the most controversial issues in psychology, raising questions over whether memory should be trusted as evidence in a court of law. In 1980 the DSM-III supported the existence of dissociative amnesia; a recognized inability to remember personal information that is particularly related to a traumatic event. This confirmed that dissociative amnesia is something much more complex than just normal forgetfulness. Trauma affects us all differently, and can result in certain memories being repressed. I personally believe that the studies done have served to confirm that repressed memories are reliable and should have the validity to be used in a court of law.
Memory is one of the most controversial issues in psychology, raising questions over whether memory should be trusted as evidence in a court of law. Using Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score (Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma) and material presented from lecture, I will present my opinion on forgotten memory. Scientific research has confirmed that the memory of trauma can be repressed and resurface later in one’s life. Memory loss can appear in people who have experienced extreme trauma such as: physical or sexual abuse, war trauma, torture, or even from sustaining natural disasters. The most common form of memory loss is present in children who have confronted sexual abuse, according to The Body Keeps the Score, incidences ranging from around nineteen to thirty-eight percent in victims. In 1980 the DSM-III supported the existence of dissociative amnesia; a recognized inability to remember personal information that is particularly related to a traumatic event. Confirming that dissociative amnesia is something much more complex than just normal forgetfulness.
Sexual abuse and emotional traumatization of children by the U.S. government seems to be one of the country’s best kept secrets. Mind control cults that specialize in dissociative conditioning were government funded and directed, while physical and psychological torture was experimented as being a possible source for adapting alter personalities. This specific kind of experimentation was shown in the McMartin Preschool case that was presented to us during lecture. During the 1980’s, the reports of sexual abuse in child daycares became widespread. One of the most famous cases being that of McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California. Three-hundred and fifty children had reported being sexually abused, which later resulted in being shrugged off as an example of mass hysteria by the media. According to the childrens’ testimonies during studies and interrogations made they witnessed underground tunnels, satanic- ritualistic abuse, and animal sacrifices. They determined that eighty percent of the children displayed physical symptoms of abuse that were associated with violent sexual abuse. The FMSF (The False Memory Syndrome Foundation) later provided expert witnesses and testified against many of the children and parents weakening their testimonies, criticizing the manner in which the children had been interrogated or put into suggestible scenarios. It’s important to note that all appointed on the board of the FMSF all share common backgrounds in experimentation involving mind control within the CIA. Their obscure backgrounds and unusual factual evidence reveal the concealed information and intentions put forth by the government. Due to peculiar deaths, and extensive court procedures the trial had concluded with no real justice or convictions. The children, now adults, still testify to the abuse that occurred at McMartin Preschool.
Within the chapter of The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering, van der Kolk describes an interesting study conducted towards repressed memory, lead by Dr. Linda Meyer Williams. A study that began when she was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. She had interviewed two hundred and six women that had been victimized as young girls, when they were between the ages of ten and twelve. They all had been admitted into the emergency room following the sexual abuse. All of the laboratory tests that were conducted had been permanently filed within the hospitals records along with details of their abuse. When she later contacted them to participate in her study she conducted multiple interviews. Her research resulted in more than a third of the women (thirty-eight percent) not being able to recall any of the documented abuse as stated in their personal medical files. Fifteen women in the study (twelve percent) did not recall being abused at all. While more than two thirds of the women (sixty-eight percent) had reported other incidents of child sexual abuse within their lives non-related to the abuse within their files. The results displayed by the study further gave evidence to memory loss being more apparent and likely in victims that were young at the time of the incident, or molested by someone they knew. It also examined the reliability of recovered memories, the women reported to have forgotten the abusive memories at some point in time and recalling them at later events. Doctor Williams had also verified that the memories that were forgotten and later retold by the abused victims were just as accurate as the memories told by abuse victims that had never forgotten their abuse at all. Justifying that memories that have been repressed are still reliable and accurate when remembered at a later time.
According to van der Kolk, he had become part of a study that researched how people recall benign experiences and horrific ones. He had seventy-six participants volunteer for the study. He had asked them to recall their experienced trauma; all of the participants had mentioned not being able to describe what exactly had happened to them following the traumatic event they had experienced. Bessel Van der Kolk then compares the trauma experienced directly after a horrific event; similar to someone in an emergency room following a traumatic event of a loved one, stunned silence. This opens up the possibility of people repressing these thoughts directly after a traumatic event, ultimately being unable to comprehend what has happened to them. The test subjects all had been overwhelmed and plagued by sounds, images, emotions, and sensations caused by their trauma. Gradually they were able to overcome some trauma and piece together their personal stories. The five participants of van der Kolks’ study who had shared their abuse as children had the most fragmented narratives. He described their memories being enveloped by intense emotions, images, and physical sensations. His study found that everyone was able to recall and tell a coherent story involving their abuse. Unfortunately, still being haunted by images and sensations involving their abuser, some permanently blocking out the abuse that occurred at some point in time. Bessel van der Kolk then confirms the main fact of his study, the dual memory system, “ Traumatic memories are fundamentally different from the stories we tell about the past. They are dissociated: The different sensations that entered the brain at the time of the trauma are not properly assembled into a story” (van der Kolk, 196) Confirming that trauma affects us all differently, and can result in certain memories being repressed. I personally believe that the studies done have served to confirm that repressed memories are reliable and should have the validity to be used in court.
The trauma experienced by sexual abuse is tormenting and destructful. Many child victims experienced an entire second wave of trauma for fear of being discovered. Afraid that their parents may not believe them, being threatened that something else will happen to them, or possibly being in trouble for what has happened to them. The private confusing experiences create a blanket of horror and disbelief in regards to their personal realities and self-understanding. Confusion often masks what’s really going on and our minds create stories or reasonings for things we don’t understand. There is no such thing as a normal way to cope from abuse. Reality is warped in some victims, and they live their lives forgetting what has occurred, or they live their lives enwrapped by torment. Our minds handle trauma differently, the FMSF was composed of cons that were after a cause that directly opposed factual clinical diagnosis. Our mind is complex and many people who have undergone horrific experiences can attest to forgetting memories involving that specific incident. Memory can be fallible, but factually it is apparent that recantation and false-allegations involving accused rape and molestation are statistically almost non-apparent (less than five percent). Organizations such as the False Memory Syndrome Foundation that was composed of primarily obscure characters was not a reliable source to testify for the loss of memory, displaying an obvious bias on the subject.
Professional therapy conducted by a knowledgeable therapist is important and helpful for victims of abuse. In cases such as the McMartin case many therapists had displayed an incredibly terrible example of how therapy should be performed and how questions could be leading and sometimes traumatizing for patients if you aren’t careful. The children were asked leading, direct questions which had ultimately left an overall bad light on the interrogations being done. This essentially caused for all testimonies to be viewed critically. There are certain ways in which you ask questions which could be a very important and essential factor in connecting with your patient; ultimately trying to resolve any possible trauma in a professional way and setting. Allowing for your patient to recur any personal occurences on their own, not a falsely implanted memory which you have given them. Memories that have been recalled in a professional setting are reliable and should ultimately be given credit.
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