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“Child abuse is not necessarily traumatic or significant. Thus, recovered memories of such events can be explained by regular forgetting.”

“Repression is actually simple forgetting. Most children who get abused don't understand it at the time. Thus, it is not a significant experience… so they forget it, like we forget so many aspects of childhood.”
“The notion that sexual abuse is and should be a traumatic experience when it happens -- something done against the will of the victims… for most victims this is not the case.”
“The trauma model of sexual abuse not only does not help these people, it makes matters worse for them.” - Susan Clancy, in the FMSF Newsletter. [1]

“One must allow for ordinary forgetfulness for events not perceived as strikingly memorable, especially among the one-third of subjects who experienced only touching and fondling.” - Harrison Pope. [2]

“The person fails to think about the abuse for many years, NOT because it was so traumatic it was sealed off behind a "dissociative wall," but because it was nontraumatic at the time.” - Richard Mcnally, in the FMSF Newsletter. [3]


This is a very particular argument proposed by people who argue that the childhood sexual abuse is not upsetting to the child, non-significant, and non-traumatic in nature. Following this argument, the mechanism involved in memories of abuse previously unavailable to consciousness being recovered is not a traumatic mechanism, but instead is the same ordinary mechanism as regular forgetfulness. Thus, proponents argue that the classification of “recovered memories” should not be distinct from normal “temporarily forgotten” memories.

One example of this is Rind et. al’s study “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples.” It claimed that childhood sexual abuse is “only slightly associated with psychological harm,” and that any harm caused is not due to the sexual experience, but instead from family dysfunction. Furthermore, they claimed that “consenting” boys aren’t harmed by childhood sexual abuse, and that a “willing encounter with positive reactions" between children and adults should be termed “adult-child sex” – a morally neutral term – instead of being considered childhood sexual abuse. [4]
This study has been thoroughly debunked. In collaboration with Stanford University and Texas A&M University, the Leadership Council found that “the study by Rind et al. was seriously flawed. In fact, we found the paper was a stacked deck of poor population and study selection, misreported data and misrepresented findings that led to faulty conclusions.” Furthermore, “One of the paper's main findings had no supporting data” and “almost every [analytical and reporting] error served to minimize the harmful effects of sexual abuse.” The study “ran contrary to 20 years of research showing a robust relationship between child sexual abuse.” [5] The Leadership Council’s full analysis can be read here:

It is commonly understood that childhood sexual abuse is a traumatic experience. In a literature review, Rowan and Foy (1993) found that “the majority of current studies examining PTSD among children who were sexually abused lends support to the hypothesis that there is a high prevalence of PTSD among CSA surviving children.” [6] The handbook of child sexual abuse states that “CSA is a significant risk factor for all 10 of the categories listed on the Trauma Symptom Inventory” and that “men or women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse often have poorer health than their nonabused counterparts, and these effects last long after the abuse has ended.” [7]

Betrayal Trauma Theory outlines a traumatic mechanism underlying repressed memories of abuse. It argues that in some cases, it is adaptive for children to block out memories of abuse. Dr. Jennifer Freyd’s website states:
“Betrayal trauma theory posits that there is a social utility in remaining unaware of abuse when the perpetrator is a caregiver (Freyd, 1994, 1996).... however, Freyd argues that under some circumstances detecting betrayals may be counter-productive to survival. Specifically, in cases where a victim is dependent on a caregiver, survival may require that she/he remain unaware of the betrayal. In the case of childhood sexual abuse, a child who is aware that her/his parent is being abusive may withdraw from the relationship (e.g., emotionally or in terms of proximity). For a child who depends on a caregiver for basic survival, withdrawing may actually be at odds with ultimate survival goals, particularly when the caregiver responds to withdrawal by further reducing caregiving or increasing violence. In such cases, the child's survival would be better ensured by being blind to the betrayal and isolating the knowledge of the event, thus remaining engaged with the caregiver.” [8]

You can find more information and supportive research studies about Betrayal Trauma Theory on Dr Jennifer Freyd’s Website.


[1] Rogers, Thomas. (2010, January 19) “The Trauma Myth”: The child betrayed. Salon.
Cited in New Books: The Good and . . . (2010, Spring). FMS Foundation Newsletter. 19(2), 8.

[2] Pope, H. G., & Hudson, J. I. (1995). Can memories of childhood sexual abuse be repressed? Psychological Medicine, 25(01), 121. doi:10.1017/s0033291700028142

[3] McNally, Richard. (2005, March/April). Sidebar. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 14(2), 2.

[4] Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

[5] The Leadership Council. (2005). The Leadership Council's Examination of the Rind Meta-analysis. The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence.

[6] Rowan, A. B., & Foy, D. W. (1993). Post-traumatic stress disorder in child sexual abuse survivors: A literature review. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6(1), 3–20. doi:10.1007/bf02093359

[7] Goodyear-Brown, P. (2011). Handbook of Child Sexual Abuse: Identification, Assessment, and Treatment. John Wiley & Sons.

[8] Freyd, J.J. (2021). What is a Betrayal Trauma? What is Betrayal Trauma Theory? Retrieved July 22, 2022 from

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