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Repressed memory is almost unknown in my country, Ireland. There has been one conviction in the history of the state based partly on RM. It was--naturally--that of a former nun, Nora Wall (Sister Dominic of the Sisters of Mercy). In July 1999 she also became the first person in our history to get a life sentence for rape. A few days later the case collapsed when the "victim" and her "witness" gave a paid newspaper interview in which their names were published for the first time. Both had a history of false allegations that had been concealed from the defense, but one of the "witness's" previous victims recognised her name and the prosecution case then fell apart.

There was a third unique feature about the Nora Wall case. She and her co-defendant Paul McCabe were originally accused of two rapes--one of which was alleged to have occurred on the victim's twelfth birthday. McCabe was a homeless schizophrenic and the accuser no doubt assumed that he could not produce an alibi. By an extraordinary chance there was an official record of where he was on the day--and it was nowhere near the residential institution where the rape was supposed to have happened. The jury duly found the two accused innocent on that charge, but convicted them on the other rape count--which did not specify an exact date.

If an alleged rape victim is exposed as a liar on one important issue, there is normally no way in which a jury will convict the accused. I am sure this is as true of an American jury as of an Irish one. Nora Wall was convicted because she had been a nun, i.e., because of anti-clerical hatred that is no different from the anti-Semitic variety. Paul Shanley is a very different character, but the reason for his conviction is the same.

The best account of Nora Wall's trial is an article in Studies magazine by Breda O'Brien (Winter 2006); "Miscarriage of Justice: Paul McCabe and Nora Wall.

The following is an extract from the Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal on D.P.P. v Nora Wall on December 16, 2005.:"It is now also accepted by the respondent that there had been significant non-disclosure in this case, including (a) the information that Regina Walsh had made, but not pursued, an allegation of being raped in England and (b) the non-disclosure of Regina Walsh’s very proximate and material psychiatric history. It seems to this court that the applicant was further prejudiced during the course of her trial by evidence of which the defence had no prior notification, namely, that Regina Walsh recalled the alleged episodes of rape by reference to ‘flashbacks and/or retrieved memory’. There was no scientific evidence of any sort adduced to explain the phenomenon of ‘flashbacks’ and/or ‘retrieved memory’, nor was the applicant in any position to meet such a case in the absence of prior notification thereof."

Not only has Ireland little experience of repressed memory, we have none of Satanic ritual abuse. Both are developments (or distortions?) of Freudian concepts. The Catholic Church denounced Freud because his ideas went against Catholic dogmas on sin, free will and personal responsibility. By the time the Church lost its influence in Ireland, Satanic abuse was dead and repressed memory was under strong attack--as JoAnn Wypijewski demonstrates. This does not mean that false allegations of child abuse are not a problem in Ireland. It does mean that Irish false accusers are straightforward liars and anti-clerics. They are not semi-deluded idiots and fanatics!

Rory Connor

Dublin, Ireland

Apr 7 2009 - 8:11pm

Web Letter

JoAnn Wypijewski's article about the upcoming appeal in the Massachusetts Supreme Court of Paul Shanley's sex abuse conviction is replete with logical fallacies, glaring omissions and gross inaccuracies. One can truly say her piece is "tricked out in the language of 'journalism' to distract from the mumbo jumbo at its core." The studies on memory and trauma that "lack scientific validity" are the junk science purporting to disprove dissociative amnesia, not the other way around. The term "repressed memory" is, itself, a clinically vague label that serious clinicians and trauma researchers do not use, and Ms. Wypijewski's insistence on continuing to use it, along with her False Memory lobby colleagues, is further evidence of her, and their, irrelevance to the professional mainstream.

Wypijewski makes the observation that "pre-eminent social-science researchers" have stated that "decades of research and scientific debate have clarified over and over again that the notion of traumatic events being somehow 'repressed' and later accurately recovered is one of the most pernicious bits of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry." Aside from the obvious problem of "social science researchers," who are not clinicians and have never practiced nor been trained in the professions of psychiatry or clinical psychology, presuming to dismiss out of hand an entire diagnostic category of the American Psychiatric Association's official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (on Ivory Tower evidence devoid of any real-world experience of the treatment of trauma patients), an even bigger problem is that no less an authority than world-renowned memory researcher and highly paid court expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, the High Priestess of the False Memory Movement, has herself published research documenting recovered memory. In a 1994 experiment about women's recollection of childhood sexual abuse, Loftus and her colleagues found that, "19% reported they forgot the abuse for a period of time, and later the memory returned." (Loftus, E.F., Polonsky, S., & Fullilove, M.T. 1994. Memories of childhood sexual abuse: remembering and repressing. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 67-845.)

When Ms. Wypijewski asserts that the case against Paul Shanley was always "a case about due process and equal treatment under the law," she is right, but not for the reasons she thinks. Although she vilifies a hefty swath of "liberals and do-gooders, feminists and therapists in Massachusetts," it has been the therapists in states all over the country who have really taken the hit from her brand of hatemongering. A favorite tactic of her ilk is the tired referencing of the "successful malpractice suits" in which several therapists were supposedly "disgraced, stripped of their licenses and revealed as dangerous frauds." But in malpractice cases, clinicians are at the mercy of the insurance companies who are representing them, and the company lawyers, almost without exception, prefer to resolve cases through settlement. They don't have to live with the insinuations and character assassination that will dog the clinicians for the rest of their lives; their only concern is to come to a final resolution of the dispute that will not be appealed. Unless the clinician has the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to pursue their defense on their own, they are forced to agree to the settlement, regardless of their certainty of their own innocence. (And the court cannot strip them of their license; only a state licensing board can do that in an entirely independent process.)

Why is there never any sympathy for the embattled therapists in these scenarios? The allegedly falsely-accused perpetrators get a virtual flood of sympathetic articles written on their behalf in major national periodicals every year or so, seemingly year after year after year, claiming that they are being robbed of their civil rights. The therapists, on the other hand, who are going to work every day trying only to alleviate as much of the trauma survivors' suffering as possible, end up having to spend a great deal of time and money persuading the public that they're not evil for wanting to help abused children.

The public is influenced by persuasive articles in the popular press, biased and distorted in their facts but so confident in their righteousness that they succeed in creating trmendous sympathy for the Paul Shanley's of the world, the falsely-accused Everyman, beset by bizarre claims of grotesque crimes put forth by young children or adults who spontaneously remembered something horrific that happened many years before. There never seems to be any physical evidence or other corroboration of any kind and there is always a cabal of rabid prosecutors, investigators, social workers, therapists, parents, witnesses and experts for the prosecution that all have some ax to grind or mental disorder of their own. The case is built systematically and relentlessly until the reader is outraged that such travesties of justice are prepetrated in America. Curiously, no sympathy is every expressed for the children who may have been brutally violated; trusting innocents betrayed by a priest, parent, teacher or other supposedly safe caretaker; traumatized and broken, perhaps for life. No consideration is ever given to the possibility that the author might not be telling the whole story.

The people writing these articles are, like Ms. Wypijewski, almost always trying to influence public opinion in their favor or to escape scrutiny. After all, if their motives were truly as morally righteous as they claim, they would mention the much larger body of data solidly demonstrating that recovered memory is a very real phenomenon. For example, Brown University Professor Ross Cheit is compiling an archive of recovered memory cases that have been corroborated by confessions or physical evidence (see www.RecoveredMemory.org). The False Memory apologists have attempted to discredit his work, but, like Ms. Wypijewski, have had to resort to false statements and misrepresentations to try to present their arguments.

I understand that The Nation does not censor the ideas of the articles it publishes, but as a reader, I expect the articles to be reviewed for journalistic integrity, at least minimal accuracy, political agenda and blatant bias. Otherwise, The Nation is simply being used as a mouthpiece for a disreputable organization that promotes questionable ends, at best, while it subjects its readers to the real possibility that we will waste our time reading some worse than uselss "mumbo-jumbo" when we could be doing something really useful, like worrying about the global eco-financial meltdown, or something...

Sally McCollum

Ketchum, ID

Mar 24 2009 - 6:29am

Web Letter

I think that previous letters have covered the objections to this article well. Today I came across another article, and I quote some relevant points from it:

"Some of the most important corroborating evidence, though, comes from the fact that most abusers have multiple--and even, in some cases, hundreds--of victims. When one brave survivor can find it within himself or herself to go to court, more victims stand up publicly. That has happened over and over, regardless of the circumstances of the abuse. When it happened in the home, sisters or brothers or cousins or grandchildren have raised their hands once the first went public. When it happened within an institution, the other victims (who are sometimes siblings and other family members of the first) also have stood up. "

More importantly, there is significant research showing that people do not always recall childhood sexual abuse. Dr. Linda Williams found that for the documented incidents of sexual abuse that had occurred seventeen years earlier (documented in medical records), one in three women did not report those abuse experiences. (Williams, L. M. (1994). Recall of childhood trauma: A prospective study of women's memories of child sexual abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 1167-1176.)

It's obvious that the author of the Nation article had her own point to prove, evidence to the contrary.

Joan Berman

Albuquerque, NM

Mar 20 2009 - 11:59pm

Web Letter

Ms. Wypijewski may believe that "sex panics make for bad law"; I believe abuse denials make for bad justice. The Nation has turned back the clock twenty years in its sneering account of "repressed" memory in the Paul Shanley case. How many cases of recovered memory does it take for deniers to finally acknowledge that, yes, it is possible for someone to suffer trauma in childhood and not have access to the memory until it emerges later in life? Just because the author and many others do not understand the phenomenon of dissociation does not mean it doesn't exist. It's been documented. Take a look at the Recovered Memory Archive. The derisive posture in this article demeans men and women who, in fact, have memories of abuse that they did not recall until their 30s or later, some of which have been corroborated. I'm not positing that every case of so-called "repressed" memory is true. But why is it deemed "scientific" to proclaim a phenomenon is impossible when there is evidence? That's not the kind of science I learned about in grad school.

Yes, it can be very hard to prove sexual abuse has occurred. But isn't our the court system designed to to ferret out the truth? If only there were always physical signs, it would be so easy. But not every child who is abused has tears or scarring. In fact, most don't. Unfortunately, there are many ways to rape a child that don't involve the genitals of an adult male. And there are many ways to sexually abuse a child with no penetration at all.

Let's put out all the evidence and leave it to the courts to decide.

Emily Samuelson

Baltimore, MD

Mar 12 2009 - 9:15am

Web Letter

True investigative reporting requires that the subject be explored from all sides. Instead, Ms. Wypijewski is perpetuating a myth that was created in defense of predators who prey on the vulnerable and defenseless.

In the first place, Ms. Wypijewski fails to acknowledge Dr. Dan Brown's expertise in the area of Memory, Trauma Treatment and the Law--the title of the seminal text he co-authored with law professor Alan Scheflin and psychiatrist Cory Hammond. Dr. Brown is no fly-by-night. He is a scholar with a body of meaningful research in support of his testimony.

Secondly, Ms. Wypijewski conveniently ignores the evidence in support of Paul Shanley's conviction that is not based on "repressed" memories alone. The cases against Shanley were well crafted and founded on the rules of evidence.

Finally, the scientific literature reveals that memories can be deeply embedded in the mind and body and can emerge secondary to any number of stimuli. The age of a memory or the catalyst for its emergence does not alter or lessen its legitimacy. The term "repressed memory" is used as a perjorative, when in reality it is merely a means of identifying the memory in time and space, which has no impact on its veracity or truth.

While the details and chronology of long-repressed memories may not be a perfect reflection of past events, there is no evidence to suggest that they are not as accurate or legitimate as memories retrieved the day after an event.

The central question for Ms. Wypijewski should not be about repressed memories but rather about a just resolution for the shattered lives of victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Pamela Perskin Noblitt

Marina del Rey, CA

Mar 9 2009 - 3:04am

Web Letter

How can the Nation run so badly researched an article? What happened to this magazine? The writer says she referenced fifty years of research on recovered memory. It's more like she was writing based on research from fifty years ago.

Wypijewski is so wrong throughout the piece, she may have read one study then written this article. Did she interview any of the thousands of people who have recovered memories, as adults, after being raped by Catholic priests as children? Did she do enough research to find out Catholic priests and bishops often frightened and intimidated us into burying the memories? She mentions that pedophile priest victims often had drug or alcohol problems, as if that negates their stories. A lot of survivors of this crime beat down memories with alcohol and drugs.

How can The Nation, with its grand reputation, stoop this low? Do you actually pay reporters to spend an hour or two on research to do their stories? I'm so disappointed in this magazine after reading this, and have lost so much respect for The Nation as a result of this ill-conceived, nasty article by a woman who obviously has some other agenda besides printing the truth.

Shame on you, The Nation, for falling for this propaganda with a very questionable motive.

Ms. Wypijewski could have read numerous stories, including my own at City of Angels Network. My story involves recovered memory. I had a child at age 40. When she turned the same age I was when I was raped, I remembered what I had stuffed down for forty years. I'd love to debate Ms. Wypijewski and have her try to prove my story is not true.

Wypijewski wrote that story with an agenda, and The Nation should be ashamed for falling for this reporter's slanted and shallow work.

Kay Ebeling

Hollywood, CA

Mar 8 2009 - 11:18pm

Web Letter

The case that's often mentioned in these discussions is Patricia Burgus and her family's false memory malpractice lawsuit against Bennett Braun and others. So let's get this one out of the way.

I reported on some of these high profile false memory cases at a conference in 2002. The Burgus case settled for $10.6 million in October 1997. Burgus's testimony is contrary to what she told reporters. Before her hospitalization at Rush, she displayed symptoms of multiple personality disorder. She testified that she spent most of her time in bed, unable to care for herself.

She testified in her deposition on January 17, 1997, that Dr. Braun did not implant any false memories. She said that she had originated the memories herself and that Braun had simply told her what the other patients had reported about her (pp. 912-914).

* * *

JoAnn Wypijewski asks us to "imagine yourself or one you love as the defendant at the bar."

Instead, let's imagine Paul Shanley at the bar, an ex-priest that fifteen children had accused of anal, vaginal and oral rape over the years. An ex-priest who was found guilty of child molestation based upon recalled memories.

Wypijewski seems to be retrying the case for Nation readers. Why not leave Shanley's appeal up to the State Supreme Court? Surely they are more qualified than this reporter.

Lynn Crook

Richland, WA

Mar 6 2009 - 11:00pm

Web Letter

JoAnn Wypijewski simplifies a very complex topic. While she decries "panics" in her opening sentence, the rest of her article is written in a feverishly biased tone that suggests that the author is caught up in a "panic" all of her own.

"Repressed memory" is a term used, primarily, by people skeptical of testimony of sexual abuse that occurred years or decades ago, and Wypijewski is certainly one such sceptic. Her claim that fifty years of research has provided no evidence of "repressed memory" is something of a straw man, since most research into memory loss following abuse, violence and trauma does not use the term.

Clinical research with children and adults with documented histories of sexual abuse has consistently found that a significant minority of victims suffer from memory discontinuities, including amnesia. These findings find further support in recent neurobiological studies, which have uncovered the physiology of traumatic amnesia in child abuse victims.

While Wypijewski makes repeated appeals to science and common sense, her argument is little more then a vituperative attack on therapists, and other workers, who support adult survivors of child abuse. If readers are looking for an evidence-based summary of the Paul Shanley case, they should go elsewhere.

Michael Salter

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Mar 4 2009 - 11:18pm

Web Letter

This is an incredibly biased article about the field of repressed memory. It misrepresents most of the data on this topic. Numerous studies have not only conclusively backed the existence or recovered memory but also backed its veracity. See:

The S.M.A.R.T. (Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today) Ritual Abuse Pages;
a bibliography on the website of Jennifer Freyd, editor of the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation;
the Recovered Memory Project;
the site of Jim Hopper, Ph.D.;
The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence;
an About.com page on "Corroboration of Child Abuse Memories";
and, from SAGE Journals Online, "Videotaped Discovery of a Reportedly Unrecallable Memory of Child Sexual Abuse: Comparison with a Childhood Interview Videotaped 11 Years Before," originally from Child Maltreatment, Vol. 2, No. 2, 91-112 (1997).

Another important fact that Wypijewski forgets to mention is Shanley's connection to the precursor of NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association) and that he confessed to raping minors when he was confronted by church investigators. "The documents also show that Shanley spoke in favor of sex between men and boys at a formative 1978 meeting in Boston of the "Man Boy Lovers of North America," a precursor of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA." "Shanley admitted openly to raping and sodomizing minors when confronted by church investigators under Boston's two past archbishops, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros and Law" from "Archdiocese knew priest was a rapist," by Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington, in the April 9, 2002, Boston Herald.

In the future, I hope The Nation will publish more balanced articles on the topics of Paul Shaney and repressed memory.

Neil Brick

Easthampton, MA

Mar 4 2009 - 9:44pm