Sexual Abuse and Repressed Memories
Sexual abuse has been particularly common in the American society for many years. Thousands of victims are subject to sexual abuse every day. In majority of the instances, the abuse occurs before the victim reaches the age of 18. The abuse normally causes the victim to have psychological problems as they grow older such as repression. Repression is used to describe the way emotionally painful events could be blocked out of conscious awareness so that their painful effects would not have to be experienced (Terr 16). This theory of repression has been the center of debate for many psychologists. Recently, court cases have been settled by using the theory of repressed memories. As a result, many people have been convicted of crimes that happened many years before. The real question is which of these repressed memories actually existed and which are just false memories? This has caused many controversies in the field of psychology.
Many people believe in the theory of repressed memories. Psychologists argue that people store different experiences in the right and left halves of their brain. The left stores sequential, logical, language-oriented experience; the right stores perceptual, spatial experiences. When people try to retrieve right-brain information through left-brain techniques, they sometimes hit a blank (Bass 71). Psychologists also state that forgetting is one of the most common and effective ways children deal with sexual abuse. Many children are able to forget about the abuse, even as it is happening (Bass 42). There is credible data on the reconstructive nature of memory, social influence, and the power of therapy to produce conformity in the patient. The techniques that are used in uncovering sexual abuse memories include direct questioning, hypnosis, age regression, massage therapy, dream interpretation, and attending survivorsí groups (Yapko 56). Psychologists believe that reliving abuse in detail is a required step on the path to healing. Over the last couple of years, repressed memories have been used as sufficient evidence in court cases and have led to the conviction of many abusers.
At the same time, many people disagree with the theory of repressed memories. Psychologists testify that none of the hundreds of studies testing repressed memories have found convincing support for the concept of repression. They acknowledge that repressed memories completely ignores the basic issues of personal bias, therapist bias, power of suggestion, vulnerability of human memory to ordinary forgetting, and interference by information learned later (Lofus 34). Accepting the claims about repressed memories of abuse means accepting a complex chain of assumptions, speculations, and inferred mental processes with limited scientific support and little if any corroborating data. Psychologists stress that memory is reconstruction rather than recall in the scientific community. This process of memory reconstruction is so powerful that people can come to believe firmly in entire events that have never happened (Lofus 68). Recently, courts have awarded monetary damages to the supposed victims for crimes that may have never happened. As a result, repressed memories have tragically separated many loving families and permanently altered victimsí lives.
In my opinion, I disagree with the belief of repressed memories. First of all, despite widespread clinical support and popular belief that memories can be blocked out by the mind, no empirical evidence exists to support repression. In actuality, the problem following most forms of sexual abuse is the inability to forget the incident. Another reason is that no evidence shows that the use of consciousness-altering techniques can accurately elaborate factual information about any past experiences (Yapko 164). Lastly, in watching Divided Memories, it seemed that in many of the cases, the therapists were creating false memories for the patients. Therapist bias has influenced many patients to act against their families for accusations that never existed.
Bass, E. & Davis, E. The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.
Lofus, E. & Ketcham, K. The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse. New York: St. Martinís Press, 1994.
Terr, L. Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories, Lost and Found. New York: Basic, 1994.
Yapko, M.D. Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.