Sexual Abuse: Trusting Memories

Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) may be as trustworthy as memories that persist from the time of abuse, reports the journal Psychological Science. In a first-of-its-kind study, investigators checked out CSA memories of 128 individuals by interviewing others abused by the same perpetrator, or people who learned about the victim's abuse shortly after it occurred or when the abuser confessed. Over a six-month period, they found corroborating evidence for 37 percent of memories that had been recovered outside of therapy, nearly matching the 45 percent corroboration rate for continuous memories. Memories recovered in therapy, however, could not be corroborated. While not proving such memories are false, the finding suggests they should be treated cautiously. Elke Geraerts, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University and the study's author, believes suggestive therapy can create an expectation that traumatic memories will be unearthed. "Too many therapists believe that all problems result from childhood trauma," she says.