The Social and Legal Construction of Repressed Memory

41 Pages Posted: 14 May 2008

See all articles by Richard A. Leo

Richard A. Leo

University of San Francisco - School of Law


This article reviews four books that question the premises, logic, techniques, evidentiary grounding, and effects of recovered memory therapy:

1) Lawrence Wright, Remembering Satan: A Case of Recovered Memory and the Shattering of an American Family (1994).

2) Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters, Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria (1994).

3) Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (1994).

4) Mark Pendergrast, Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives (1995).

The article concludes that no scientific evidence supports the theory that the mind is capable of repressing such traumatic events. The article also analyzes the ways in which the recovered memory controversy has been socially and legally constructed and suggests how sociolegal scholars might further understanding of this phenomenon more generally. Finally, the article asserts that recovered memory therapy leads to prosecutions of innocent individuals and diverts scarce resources away from real social and political problems.

Keywords: Scientific evidence, repressed memory, recovered memory, false memory, child abuse, Lawrence Wright, Richard Ofshe, Ethan Watters, Elizabeth Loftus, Katherine Ketcham, Mark Pendergrast

Suggested Citation

Leo, Richard A., The Social and Legal Construction of Repressed Memory. Law of Social Inquiry, Vol. 22, 1997, Available at SSRN:

Richard A. Leo (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

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