Journal of Trauma & Dissociation – The science and politics of false memories

March 31, 2022 Comments Off on Journal of Trauma & Dissociation – The science and politics of false memories

Journal of Trauma & Dissociation – The science and politics of false memories

Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, Volume 23, Issue 2 (2022)
The science and politics of false memories

False Memories And The Science Of Credibility: Who Gets To Be Heard?: Journal of Trauma & Dissociation

The guest editors are Michael Salter and Ruth Blizard.

False memories and the science of credibility: Who gets to be heard?
Michael Salter and Ruth Blizard

“Consistently, and persistently, theories of false memories have been aptly available for the exculpation of the wealthy and the powerful. This point is illustrated by a brief overview of some of the cases where prominent false memory researcher Professor Elizabeth Loftus has appeared: in the defense of a Bosnian-Croatian soldier for aiding and abetting the rape of a Muslim woman, to exculpate a senior aide to then-Vice President Dick Cheney for misleading investigators regarding the leak of the name of a CIA operative, to question the credibility of Professor Christine Blasey-Ford when she complained about an alleged sexual assault as a teenager by current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for the defense team of the convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein and for accused child trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell.

Most recently, in Australia, allegations of false memories were revived when it emerged that a woman known only as “Kate” (who, sadly, died by suicide in 2019) claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the Australian politician Christian Porter (and, at the time of the allegation, Attorney General) when they were both teenagers (MItchell et al., 2021). Porter, like Kavanaugh, vigorously denied the allegation. There was no court case but instead a journalist speculated that Kate suffered from “recovered memories,” on the basis that she had apparently read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score prior to her allegations becoming public knowledge (Hardaker, 2021). By this logic, merely reading a book that mentions child sexual abuse could be the trigger for a false allegation; never mind that Kate diarized the alleged assault while still a teenager, or that she had described the incident to friends decades prior to reading van der Kolk.

In a sign of how much has changed since the 1990s, the response to this argument was not agreement but outrage. This outrage was evident across social media but also from within journalism itself. The media outlet who ran the original piece quickly assigned another journalist to cover the story from a more sympathetic angle, while Australian media outlets ran multiple pieces rebutting the false memory proposition. One journalist wrote about his own diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and its impact on his capacity to recall traumatic events and correctly label them as harmful (Morton, 2021).

Undoubtedly, the emergence of the false memory movement three decades ago had a negative effect on professional and social understandings of trauma and dissociation. However, it also provoked researchers, practitioners, survivors, and advocates to redouble their efforts to develop the evidence base for trauma therapy. Reinders and Veltman’s recent editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry laid out the cumulative neurobiological evidence for the trauma model of DID. The diagnosis that the FMSF insisted, a quarter century ago, was a passing fad with no scientific foundation is now out of the shadows (Reinders & Veltman, 2021). Meanwhile, the forms of betrayal, abuse, and violation that false memory syndrome sought to explain away as mere confabulations are now recurrent features of media and policy commentary. Multiple criminal cases and public inquiries have substantiated the seriousness of child sexual abuse and exploitation, institutional tendencies toward denial and cover-up, and the inadequacies of the current policy response.”

The Power of False Memory Rhetoric
Lynn Crook

Hyping Hypnosis: The Myth that Made Capturing the Friedmans Persuasive
Ross Cheit

The Policy Alignment of the British False Memory Society and the British Psychological Society
Ashley Conway and David Pilgrim

The history and politics of ‘false memories’: The Australian Experience
Kate McMaugh and Warwick Middleton

Attachment and Memory Stability
Paula Thomson and S. Victoria Jacque

“The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried.”
—Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

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