Monday, March 11, 2013

Child Abuse and False Memories

In 1987, in the county of Cleveland, England,121 cases of suspected child sexual abuse were diagnosed by paediatricians Marietta Higgs and Geoffrey Wyatt. All of the children were subsequently removed from their families (57 families in all).

After a number of trials, the cases involving 96 of the 121 children were dismissed by the courts, and they were returned to their parents. In a number of cases, it was adjudged that the doctors had misinterpreted some physical evidence, while the memories of abuse cited by some of the children were queried. It appeared that some of the children may have experienced ‘false memories’ (as in a number of similar cases) which developed during therapy.

Dr. Higgs still vehemently defends her actions, and she believes she acted correctly. Meanwhile, over the intervening years a debate has developed between those who believe that false memories such as these can be created easily and those who argue that doubting the memories of possible victims may allow abusers to escape prosecution. The article from the British newspaper, The Independent, below, sets out these arguments (although it is rather old now):

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