Home | | Contacts | | Membership | | Resources | | FAQ |


 The Newsletter of the Australian False Memory Association

 Part 1

 Concerning Recovered Memories

  Volume 7 No. 1 April, 2000


 | Part2 | Part3 |


Inside This Issue

  • Brian Tennant Submission
  • Standards for Therapists
  • Millikan & Thompson in Canberra
  • A Thankful Dad Writes �
  • Review :
    'Memory Trauma Treatment and the Law'





Elizabeth Loftus, well-known psychologist at the University of Washington, and a pioneer in research on false memory, has over 200 memory experiments to her credit, all of which demonstrate that memory is fragile and unreliable. She has discovered that "� it's remarkably easy to alter one's recollection without realising it. Human beings are highly susceptible to incorporating 'post-event information', - newspaper articles, comments by police, conversations with other witnesses - into their recollections."

From the Editor

So many innocent people continue to suffer from false accusations. Indicators show the disturbing trend away from being innocent until proved guilty. Our AFMA Bulletin also pinpoints this slide from justice.

Can a father no longer hold a daughter's hand for fear of a skewed recollection forty years on?

It is good to know that an Anglican Church Synod Standing Committee has upheld a decision that Recovered Memory therapy should not be used in the Anglican Church.

See "Loss of Affection Through Fear" - Ruth Ostrow "The Weekend Australian" Feb. 26-27, 2000.


We now look back at the Canberra Workshop and what a great success it was. It was enormously hard work and emotionally stressful. We asked a lot of the delegates and everyone responded magnificently. We achieved all we set out to achieve and more. There is no doubt we have lifted the AFMA to a higher level of operation, with a clear agenda and with many people accepting their parts in meeting that agenda. There was very strong feeling generated that the AFMA must go on the attack and become more proactive.


There is no doubt in my mind we are well-positioned now to do just that. I have a very strong 'gut-feeling' this will be a watershed year for us, which will see some major advances made. Having said that, it is tempered by the belief expressed at the Workshop that the monster, supported and inflamed by public moral panic, is in fact creating more havoc now than ever before. As well, proponents of repression are changing the language, as that notion has been so discredited. We now hear the words dissociation and delayed memories being used and so-called expert witnesses claiming the memories have always been there, even in the absence of effective external corroboration. People are still being jailed without that corroboration.

The professionals will agree there is a clear difference between opinion and belief on the one hand and science on the other. It seems however, the true believers are prepared to continually put forward dubious research evidence to prop up their arguments. I wonder how long this defence can be maintained?


Devastated families are still contacting me, some in response to the website, some having seen newspaper ads, others seeing us in the White Pages and on the 'Seven Thirty Report'. I have had another possible six wrongful convictions reported to me this year so far. One of those has definitely been confirmed, with the person receiving a four and a half year sentence. He has served almost two years. Another, who was sentenced to seven and a half years, has just lost his appeal in Victoria on a split decision (i.e. two judges upholding the conviction and one dissenting). It is my understanding our expert witness report was not used in this case and we have grave concerns about the safety of the verdict. Another case, in which we will be involved, begins in Sydney next Monday. Another case is scheduled for April in Sydney and we are hopeful our involvement will be sought. In my view that involvement is essential if a fair trial is to occur. The Kenward trial, number five is set down for April 3rd in Brisbane to be followed by the Noble trial. I have to say I am amazed at the determination of the various DPP to pursue these cases. We are ensuring the Lucire paper reaches their desks as soon as possible and I am pushing ahead with my submission to the International Commission of Jurists. I must also express here my grave concern at the paucity of Legal Aid funding which is seriously jeopardising the chances of those less well off financially in our community. I am sure we'll be hearing much more on that issue in the future.


We are well aware of the lack of knowledge and understanding by the legal system generally on the 'false memory' issue and the Workshop addressed that problem. However, there also appears to be a serious lack of feedback to clients by lawyers generally. I have witnessed this many times, causing unnecessary stress by no doubt busy lawyers failing to inform the client what is happening, or if they do, often in a language the client does not really understand. People caught up in this madness are already under extreme pressure, even when charges are not laid. When they are, obviously the stress and anxiety levels reach extraordinary heights, with people being forced to sell their houses to fund a reasonable defence. By far the majority of these cases should never have gone to court at all, if proper police investigations were carried out in the first place. The waste of resources must be astronomical, let alone the unnecessary stress placed on people's lives.

It is being reported to me that families are still finding it difficult to find us. Many were unaware of our existence. This clearly supports the urgent need to get the word out in every way possible. Certainly this will flow on from the Workshop. However, the TV advertisement must be a priority for us in that regard and I know that organizers of the advertisement are pressing on with that. We expect to see the fruits of their labours soon.


The Committee is currently examining a couple of new initiatives on which we would welcome comments. One is the establishment of a Grievance Committee. The main object of this group could be to hear complaints from a member or members who have exhausted the avenues available to them through the Committee and are still unsatisfied. Conversely, the Committee may feel a member or members are unduly wasting their time and could ask the Grievance Committee to intervene. There have been a number of cases over the past six years where such a mechanism could have been extremely useful. If very carefully set up, it could afford protection to both members and Committee and save valuable time and energy all round, especially in our situation when emotions are often operating at such high levels. Also in line with our new policy direction, we are examining the feasibility of employing a Public Relations Officer. We view this as a priority in light of the big picture as we now understand it. We live in the age of pragmatic politics, where public opinion drives Government decisions. We have to win the hearts and minds of the people. This is not an easy task, given the current state of public hysteria around the issue of paedophilia and child abuse. As we have stated many times, this is detrimental to the genuine cases as well as to the huge number of families caught up in false accusations. Of course we can and will continue to highlight the issues at every opportunity. The stirling effort by Cheryl with the Canberra ABC radio program is a very good example, plus the Lucire paper currently being circulated far and wide.

We have written to :

� The Honourable Darryl Williams, Australian Attorney General regarding the $500,000 Annual Commonwealth funding of Anglican Counselling Service, Sydney;

� The Honourable John Day, W.A. Minister for Health regarding the appointment of a psychologist associated with a recovered memory criminal trial to the Psychologists Board of W.A.;

� Mr Chris Sidoti, Australian Human Rights Commissioner regarding his opening address to the ISTSS Conference on March 16th 2000; and

� The Governor General, Sir William Dean, concerning his patronage of ASCA.

I am afraid I have to remind you, we are in desperate need of financial help. While we are treating the submissions for funding as top priority, it may well take months before this bears fruit. Please consider what you can do to help and remember we are confident of tax deductibility status in the very near future. A special thanks to Doug, who tried so valiantly to reach the Workshop. I understand he drove 400km but had to turn back because of ill health. If I have failed to follow-up on items of importance, please let me know, as I have mislaid my notes.



Radio Interviews

John reports on a 666 ABC radio interview heard on February 28th 2000.

Chris Uhlmann interviewed Ruth Christie, who is associated with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre. She is a self-appointed expert on Ritual Abuse and Multiple Personality Disorder / Disassociative Identity Disorder (MPD/DID). She is paid by the NSW Department of Community Workshops on RA and MPD, teaching their 'counsellors' about it. These Workshops are run by the NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS).

As a proponent of Recovered Memory Therapy, she says she now refers to it as 'delayed memory'. "There are certain things" Ruth states, "that a client will know definitely this happened, and they sometimes, trying to make sense of it, will build bridges to other things in their lives."

Chris later moved on to interview Dr Andrew Gibbs, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist with the Department of Neuropsychology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. When asked if 'delayed' or 'recovered' memory therapy was a legitimate therapy, he replied that increasingly in the United States, it is being seen as just outright malpractice. "It's not accepted as scientifically valid, and there are genuine concerns about whether it actually makes people better � Some studies show that suicide rates, or attempted suicides increase from 10% to 66% after a person has 'recovered' memory, unemployment goes up to 100%, and 100% are estranged from their parents and loved ones with whom they had previously related."

After further criticism of this therapy, Dr Gibbs expressed his deep concern that hundreds of Australian professionals have been trained to use it.

Finally, Cheryl, a retractor, was interviewed. Full transcripts of this program are available from :



Law Reform Submission

Brian Tennant, JP submits the case for non-validity of long-term childhood memory as the basis of criminal charges of sexual abuse.

Law of Evidence and Onus of Proof
Frequently, allegations are based on memories 'recovered' by emotionally disturbed clients during therapy for problems in coping with day-to-day pressures in their lives. There are also cases where people claim to have always 'remembered' episodes of sexual abuse ever since they occurred, but have never previously mentioned them to others. Typically, such 'memories' can extend over an interval of twenty, thirty, forty or even more years, before complaints are brought to judicial attention.

In either situation, complaints based upon long-term 'memories', whether recently recovered or always remembered but unreported, can lead to criminal charges being brought before the courts without any need for corroborative or other supporting evidence. The legal and justice issue that concerns us here is whether evidence of long-term memory without further corrobora-tion is sufficient on its own to convict a defendant who may well be innocent.

A popular perception of the law is that an accused person must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the onus of proof is on the prosecution. In the situation presented here, it seems that the onus of proof is reversed and it is the defendant who must prove innocence. The defendant suffers further disadvantage if the judge fails to caution the jury about the risk of relying upon uncorroborated evidence, as is often the case. Outcomes in many such cases 'boil down to' acceptance by the judge or jury of one person's word against another (i.e. defendant against complainant). The possibility of miscarriage of justice thereby becomes quite serious.

Any process of law reform must also take account of the time that elapses between the alleged commission of an offence and the reporting of it to police or other authorities. Where memory is concerned, its reliability decreases over time and the need for corroboration becomes more important as the delay progresses. One must question the credibility of persons who report abuses many years after they were alleged to have occurred. No doubt many such complaints may be genuine, but in the interests of fairness and justice to innocent parties, some limitation should be placed on the time taken to report them. (This and other issues relevant to law reform in the area of sexual abuse were addressed by West Australian barrister Andrew Hodge in a paper presented to the Criminal Law Congress in Melbourne, October 1996.)

Police Investigative Procedures
The role of police in initiating charges based on long-term memory needs careful appraisal. It appears to be deeply ingrained in 'police culture', especially within child abuse units throughout Australia (including WA) to assume that any person laying a sexual complaint must be taken seriously, no matter how bizarre the accusations. Some accusations are so bizarre that one wonders how they could ever be taken seriously without some attempt by police to seek corroboration in the first place. These quite bizarre accusations even find their way into the criminal court procedures without any serious attempt being made by police, or judges, to question their authenticity.

Police seem to assume that accusations would not be made unless there was some element of truth in them. It is quite common for police interviews to end with the question "Why do you think that he/she would have made these accusations if they were not true?" Juries (and in some cases, judges) adopt the same mentality, and assume that police would not have brought charges unless they believed that there was sufficient substance to them. The proverb "where there's smoke there must be fire" seems to be the guiding dictum in these circumstances.

At the very least, police should be required to make discreet enquiries among family and friends of the complainant before laying charges. Quite often details of the complainant's current state of health, behaviour and mental state might then emerge, to cast doubt upon the accusations. Statements taken by police from other parties should include details in support of the accused person as well as those that support only the complainant. Too often statements taken by police are narrowly selective, and information favourable to the accused person is disregarded.

Two recent West Australian cases illustrate the need for more careful investigation. In the first case, police investigating a complaint by a 30-year old woman of quite bizarre sexual abuse by her father at the age of two years old, completely ignored information that the woman was undergoing psychiatric treatment, and had been in a mental hospital at the time of first making the accusations. They were well aware that the complainant's husband and other family members could have provided descriptions of strange behaviour and irrational thinking, supported by psychiatric reports, but chose to ignore them. Had these been taken into account by police before laying charges, it should have been apparent that the woman's accusations could well have resulted from adverse drug reactions in her medical treatment.

In the other case, an intellectually handicapped woman, also 30 years old, admitted in court that her dreams sometimes seemed to be real, and that she was only dreaming about being sexually assaulted by her foster father some years previously. The fact that this woman was intellectually handicapped would have been apparent to police and should have alerted them to the need for caution in investigating her complaint.

It is widely reported in the medical and pharmaceutical literature that the side effects of many prescription drugs can include distorted perceptions of reality, vivid and bizarre dreams and disorders of rational thought processes. These can lead to confusion between imagination and reality in the memories of patients undergoing medical and psychiatric treatment. The manufacturer of Prozac (Eli Lilly Australia Pty Ltd) for example, a drug frequently used in the treatment of clinical depression, specifically lists 'abnormal dreams' and 'abnormal thinking' among common adverse reactions to this drug. Atenolol, a drug used for treating blood pressure, is known to cause vivid and bizarre dreams in many patients. Many more examples of drug reactions could be given, but these two should suffice to illustrate the point.

Obviously, there is a clear need for much better education of police, including specialised legal, medical and psychological training, in their investigative procedures. Police should also be required, as a matter of routine, to submit all available evidence (both favourable and unfavourable to their case) in situations of sexual abuse 'memories' to a medico-legal panel for expert advice before laying charges and proceeding down the path of prosecution. Failure to do so can result in severe distress, financial hardship and deteriorating health, not to mention miscarriage of justice, to innocent accused persons and their families.

One might even question whether police are the most suitable persons to investigate such complaints and prepare briefs for prosecution in the first place, given their limited training and ability in the specific matters raised in this submission. Would it not be more appropriate for them, after taking the initial complaint, to refer their report to a more competent expert panel for further determination?


Standards For Therapists

by Ted Wendling

"Mental health professions often unwilling to enforce standards of practice."

When Deborah A Lott began doing research for her recently published book, In Session : The Bond Between Women and their Therapists", she realised she shared a common belief with the women she was interviewing.

"�t was easy to believe that if we could not get it right in the therapy relationship, we might never get it right anywhere," she writes. "Conversely, getting it right in therapy seemed to promise that all the relationships that followed would be better."

Given, Lott says, that such a relationship would require a huge investment of trust, it also carried a comparable risk : "If our therapists failed us or betrayed our trust � who would we ever be able to trust again?"

Lott, who has written for Psychology Today, Psychiatric Times and other professional and consumer health publications, contends that the issue of trust, and other dilemmas patients encounter in therapy, revolve around issues of power and the mystification of therapists.

Why, for instance, don't the ethical principles of informed consent, which require physicians to tell patients about risks and propose alternative treatments, apply to therapists, she and other writers ask. Is therapy, they ask, art or science? And if it is science, as many therapists contend, why is it so hard to quantify and measure its successes and failures?

"Therapy is nebulous," Lott said in an interview. "You just go in and the therapist starts doing therapy with you. It's hard to say what the standard of practice is."

"Unfortunately," said R Chris Barden, a lawyer and psychologist in Utah, who served a four-year term on the Minnesota Board of Psychology," the mental health professions have been unwilling, in most cases, to enforce standards of practice.

"The level of regulation in the mental health field is weaker and more limited than almost any area of the health care system," Barden said. "It's typical for these boards to fail to regulate, no matter how bizarre the practices are.

"Measuring chakra life-energy forces, using African tribal-medicine wheels in therapy, weird massage therapies, past-life work - I mean bizarre stuff � There are hundreds of so-called therapies out there and there are only a handful of them that have any credible scientific support."

Considering that psychotherapy for some patients can be a strange, confused and frightening process, Lott offers the following suggestions for people who are considering going into therapy :

� Therapy should take place in the office, not exotic locales.

� Therapists should be on time for sessions and generally should not extend sessions beyond their usual time limits.

� Fee arrangements should be set up in advance and patients should pay on a regular basis. Bartering arrangements are unethical.

� Therapists should not take telephone calls or allow interruptions during sessions.

� Therapists should not self-disclose intimate details of their own lives.

� Given the complexity of patients', and sometimes therapists', feelings, touching, hugging or other physical contact in therapy can be either benign or fraught with meaning. Patients and therapists should be careful about establishing those boundaries.

� Any sexual involvement or ongoing dual relationship in which patients play another role in their therapists' lives is unethical.





 | Part2 | Part3 |

Australian False Memory
    Association (Incorporated)

Australian False Memory Association
Caring for Families and Individuals

Email the AFMA at false.memory@bigpond.com

PO Box 74
Campbelltown SA 5074

Ph: 1300 88 88 77

Home | | Contacts | | Membership | | Resources | | FAQ |