Repressed Memory Syndrome
By Scott Barak Abraham
Are we knee-jerking on this issue because an unscrupulous few are using it to advance their careers, or to attack men?
1995 Seattle, WA - Twenty-eight years after I was raped, I returned to point the finger of blame at the rapist who had horribly violated me.
Though I retained memories of some of the less damning incidents, I repressed most of the horror: the scenes, feelings, and actions were far too agonizing for a little child to bear.
I had no witnesses to corroborate my story, no pictures, no medical records. My parent had terrified me with literal torture in the privacy of my family home, and the violence combined with the isolation conditioned a decades-long silence. In a brilliant adaptation to unbearable pain, I disassociated myself from the memory, and for all that time, I could not consciously hold the whole of the reality in my mind, though at times glimpses leaked through, to be immediately suppressed again: the implications were far too much to comprehend, much less to accept. How was a little child to fight a grown adult? Where was a child to turn, when the whole family molested their young, and society itself denied the possibility of such abuse?
For years, I was a drug addict and alcoholic, a sexually-compulsive womanizer, and a violent misanthrope. Like hundreds of thousands of others, it was not until I found sobriety that the barriers to memory began to crumble. I read the bible of the sexual abuse recovery movement, The Courage to Heal, joined abuse recovery groups, and found a community of peers who supported my healing and believed my memories.
I raged because the legal system provided no recourse. A violent pattern of systematic rape would go unpunished. The rapist would never serve a day in prison, never pay a dime in reparation for the horrible damage done to me, never apologize for horrendous crimes against me and my sibling.
Nor could I extract my own revenge, for I would be treated as the criminal, not my molester: the system that failed in its duty to protect an innocent child now protected a vile rapist. The monster committed a perfect crime. Time erased the hard forensic evidence, and terror buried the memories.
All I could do was refuse to live a lie. I could name the crime, and name the criminal, and I've done so.
I stood in my adult majesty, all 6'5" and 250 pounds of me, and told that bitch mother of mine to burn in hell.
And I am not alone.
Literally millions of men were sexually abused by women, and millions of boys are being abused today. Yet they have been abandoned by a feminist movement that cannot reconcile women who rape -- and men as victims -- with an orthodox dogma that demonizes all men, and shamed by a men's rights movement that, terrified of false allegations of abuse, sees feminist conspiracy behind every movement toward child protection, and reflexively attacks advances in law and psychology that aid survivors.
The male survivor today is whipsawed between two competing theories, of which both ostensibly should be friendly to his cause, yet are hostile because his reality and existence are quite inconvenient. For the feminists, the increasingly high incidence of male victims, especially of female perpetrators, belies the bedrock "truth" of feminist theory: the assumption that only women are victims, and only men abuse.
Recent research suggests child molestation is an equal opportunity occupation -- at least when it comes to molesting boys. The data shows that women physically and sexually abuse boys at about the same rate men do. Women also commit far more sexual abuse of girls than previously suspected: newer studies are suggesting that at least ten percent, and perhaps double that number, of female survivors were abused by women.
Yet when a male survivor turns to a movement he might reasonably suspect would be concerned with his "men's rights" to support his thirst for justice, he finds, instead, a movement that denies his reality as fervently as do some feminists.
Men's rights activists who whine about man-hating, radical feminists to discount the many long buried truths feminism has exposed (such as male-on-female rape, sexual abuse, and misuse of sexual power) can't use that tactic to summarily dismiss the testimony of male survivors who endured abuse and repressed memories, especially when those survivors have long and honorable histories of male positive activism -- like yours truly.
Sexual politics creates very strange bedfellows. While the sexual abuse recovery establishment, such as it is, remains diametrically opposed to the recent emergence of the so-called "False Memory" movement, in the name of combating false allegations men's rights organizations have snuggled up to a pedophile support organization.
I've watched the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) with amazement. While I'm not surprised that an organization that defends adults who raped kids exists, I am shocked at the alacrity with which some of the mainstream media and the men's rights movement have embraced the concept, and swallowed the spurious claims whole without exercising the most elementary journalistic precautions. Positive stories in the local media, and in the pages of The Backlash, have lacked even the most cursory examination of the claims of the FMSF and the credibility of its leading proponents.
Any fair investigation of the FMSF reveals an organization that has no scientific or psychological credibility whatsoever. Its claims are deliberate lies and fabrications. Its statistics are completely unreliable. For example, FMSF makes no effort to verify any claim of false accusation, yet blithely quotes its membership totals as if each case were legitimate.
FMSF claims scientific basis for the theory of induced memory, and flatly denies the possibility that memories of sexual abuse survivors can be repressed, yet fails to offer any scientific backing and ignores a huge body of legitimate, peer-
reviewed study and literature that supports the reality of disassociated memory. They refute tens of thousands of documented cases of recovered memory that have later been corroborated by witnesses and hard legal evidence, and misrepresent what little research they have to bolster their bogus theory.
Its proponents have little or no credibility in the scientific, academic, psychological, or legal communities, and most of those that have legitimate academic credentials charge absurd amounts of money (up to $3500 per hour) as professional witnesses, to defend baby rapers.
There are virtually no clinicians (those who treat sexual abuse survivors) among the advisory board. One charter board member openly endorsed pedophilia in a public interview. They trot out a small cadre of "recanters" (less than one hundred cases) and imply that millions of real cases of abuse are similarly tainted.
Yet ostensibly reasonable, rational journalists swallow this bullshit as if it were chocolate, and regurgitate FMSF propaganda as if there was more than a single grain of truth to the whole fabrication, when there is little evidence to support their claims. I'd be the last to deny that there are occasional false accusations of abuse, especially in contested divorce cases. While there is little evidence to suggest any more than a minuscule number (under one percent) of false accusation in cases of disassociated memory, when custody and divorce are involved, the record is not as honorable.
Numbers are inherently variable in this field, and statistics are guesses, at best. Even the lowest estimates of false accusation in child custody battles are a horrendous example of a system gone awry, and the highest suggest that up to a quarter of child abuse allegations are falsely made. Far too many men have lost their homes, their fortunes, and their right to see their children to vicious, vindictive women.
Corrective legislation that punishes deliberate lying about child abuse and provides protection for falsely accused men is certainly needed, yet balance must be maintained and children must be protected. The custody situation is an anomaly, and cannot be fairly compared to allegations raised by adult survivors. Nor should those false allegations diminish the laudable efforts being made to protect children who truly have been abused.
As sympathetic as I am to those who have been harmed by a system that is inherently incapable of quick, precise determinations of real abuse, the reality remains that millions of children are being sexually abused in America, and when the protection of children conflicts with the presumption of innocence, I lean toward prevention.
The FMSF maintains that there is a conspiracy of therapists and feminists, an underground movement of crazy zealots who conspire to falsely accuse innocent parents and brainwash malleable patients into thinking they were abused.
More bullshit. Take my word for it, guys, because I'd be the first to tell you. I've attended conferences on sexual abuse across the country, testified before legislatures, worked with political activists and written for several of the major survivor journals, I've done literally hundreds of interviews for print and electronic media. I've met thousands of therapists and survivors. I'm studying to be a therapist myself, and as I've shown, I have no reason to love the extreme feminist wing of the sexual abuse recovery movement.
The conspiracy doesn't exist. Trust me. I've never heard a hint that a cabal of deranged feminists were deliberately implanting false memories -- which begs the question of whether anyone can implant memories at any time, much less with ease during 50-minute hours. I'm certain that no one implanted mine -- but then again, I recovered most of my memories without any professional help at all. No manipulative psychologists, no conditioning, no suggestion, no drugs -- indeed, it was the absence of mind-altering substances that triggered the avalanche.
It is flatly impossible to manufacture severely traumatic memories as easily as the FMSF charges. Most survivors recover their memories through laborious, hard work that is excruciatingly painful. No one I've ever known wanted the agony of realization, the palpable physical sensations, the nightmare of emotions that is an inescapable part of the process. No one wanted to lose their family, their inheritances, and some of their friends. No one wanted to voluntarily inflict the stigma of being a rape victim on their reputations and public images.
I certainly didn't -- but that is what has happened. Because I was raped. That simple.
Some even go so far as to assert that I claim the status of victimization as a means of excusing my own insanity: the abuse excuse absolving me of responsibility for my own actions. Critics charge that what I claim is merely a way to blame my own dysfunctions on someone else, rather than moral and ethical failings in my character.
I sure used to be one crazy dude -- but I'm not any more. My sanity was earned because, not in spite of, my efforts to cope with the damage done to me as a child. While I have used my history to give perspective and understanding to those I harmed, I have never, ever, and never will, use the reality of my own wounding as an excuse for what I've done to others.
I never wanted to be a survivor. I never wanted to be writing this article. I don't ask for sympathy, and I get no jollies from telling you that my mother molested me.
And I'll match my character and behavior, today, against any of the societally accepted moral standards with confidence. I'm a hell of a good guy, and I became that way because the trauma I endured as a child has been treated -- not because I got to blame my problems on my mother.
Like virtually all survivors, once the problem was identified and treated, I started getting healthier. For most of us, the process included a period of extreme emotional turmoil that, while quite natural, eventually passes as the survivor works through the implications of the recovered memories and creates a new life. But the detractors of the recovery movement conveniently forget to mention that the overwhelming majority of victims do get better and go on to more peaceful, productive lives.
Yet the ludicrous charges and laughable theories of the FMSF have been getting a sympathetic hearing in the arena of public debate and by certain sources in the mainstream media. Such egregious incredulity and abdication of journalistic integrity has to spring from a source far deeper than mere laziness or cupidity.
A more paranoid person than myself would attribute the backlash to an organized effort by pedophiles to attempt to pull the veil back down over their activities. Though I have no doubt that some of the impetus that began this true backlash came from unrepentant child molesters eager to beat the rap, I'd like to think that much of the receptivity is more easily explained for two very understandable reasons: we fear false accusations, and we want to believe we can protect our children.
Like any other decent person, I don't want to believe my neighbors, co-workers, or friends may screw kids. I worked with a man for ten years who is now serving time for raping his son. I trusted and liked him. Even with all I know, I did not spot his depravity, and if I couldn't sense the evil behind the mask, how could the average person?
It is far more comfortable to assume that there are few child molesters, and that they can be easily spotted: if all molesters were like Wesley Allen Dodd (the notorious pedophile who was executed in Washington State), hanging out at playgrounds and snatching kids out of movie theaters, defenses could be erected, and safety assured. But when molesters are teachers, coaches, librarians, nurses, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, family and -- most threatening of all -- women, no one can be trusted.
People want to believe that they can perceive impending danger and protect their children. Unable to cope with the reality that most child molesters fit readily into society and bear no common distinguishing characteristics discernible by laymen, I think most folks find it easier to deny the danger. Any theory that discounts and minimizes the incidence of child abuse and allays those fears will find willing ears.
I have an easy time sympathizing with the second reason for societal denial because I am a man. As a man, I have a deep, primal fear of being falsely accused of rape and child molesting. I cannot defend myself against the charge, nor can I prove it did not occur.
I know. I've been falsely accused. Fourteen months after I confronted my mother and disowned my family, my one-year-younger brother (who still lives with her) sprang to her defense, hysterically alleging that three different women had told him I raped them. He also charged that I also sexually abused him.
I talked to the women, who laughed incredulously. None had any particular reason to be fond of me, as they had been involved with me during my drinking years. But neither had I raped them -- or even come close. After my brother's lies, I underwent the only formal, deliberate attempt to retrieve memories I've ever undertaken, and while there was plenty of abuse happening in our family, none of what happened between him and I could be construed, in any way, as sexual abuse.
I am left with no defense other than my word and my character. I happen to be innocent. If I were guilty, that is still the only defense I would have (other than the obvious tactic of character assassination my brother indulged himself in at my mother's bidding).
I am torn between two equally compelling realities, trapped in a paradox: the legal system that protects my mother and refuses me righteous justice also protects me from false allegations of abuse. My brother can slander me, yet he cannot otherwise harm me. My mother walks away having committed the perfect crime, for I cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she repeatedly tortured and raped me.
On one hand, I am attracted to feminism's desire to have the victim's word be sufficient evidence, for I would have revenge. On the other hand, I am grateful that this is a society of law, and that I am presumed innocent.
I have no solution to the current dilemma. I know beyond any doubt that my memories are true, and I support efforts to construct laws that allow victims to seek recompense. In good conscience, I also must support a system of law that demands a high standard of proof, even though I know that the vast majority of men and women accused of sexually abusing children on the basis of recovered memory will take advantage of the system and never face punishment for their crimes.
I understand male paranoia about false accusations. I understand the victim's viewpoint far too well.
I don't have a solution, and I distrust anyone who claims certainty -- whether that group is extreme feminists who deny any possibility of false allegations, or child molester defense organizations like the FMSF that deny even the possibility that memories are repressed. The issue is far too complex for any simple, broad solution.
All I ask of men of good will is that they consider the nuances of this incredibly complicated issue -- and remember that men who have been sexually abused also have rights. It is not just women and children who scream in the night, lost in the pain of memories returning.
It is your brothers. It is regular guys, men you work with, your friends and neighbors -- men like me.