Psychological Science, Victim Advocates, and the Problem of Recovered Memories
International Review of Victimology, Vol. 15, pp. 147–163, 2008
18 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2009 Last revised: 7 Aug 2010
Defined in hazy terms by Freud and bereft of attention for a century afterwards, the concept of repression suddenly gained public prominence in the 1980s, at the same time that child sexual abuse (CSA) was finally achieving widespread recognition as an important societal problem. However, despite its public and therapeutic popularity, a convincing scientific case still has not been made for the existence of repression. Recent research establishes that some of the techniques used by therapists to aid in recovering sexual abuse memories can cause a third of people to 'remember' events that never happened to them. Lastly, we have known since the 1880s that human memory is capable of substantial and rapid forgetting: no special mechanism is necessary to explain cases in which people forget trauma, and also sometimes forget that they have previously told others about it. We conclude by noting how research that disputes the existence of a special mechanism - repression - and cautions against using techniques that may lead people to confuse imagination with reality have been misinterpreted as suggesting that sexual abuse should not be taken seriously.
Keywords: repression, recovered memory, false memory, victims, science
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