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“There’s no scientific evidence supporting recovered memories.”

“There is still no scientific evidence that such a ‘recovered repressed memory’ phenomenon really exists. Speculative theories for a process that has never been shown to exist are science fiction, not established science.” - Pamela Freyd, in the FMSF Newsletter. [1]

“There is absolutely no scientific proof - or even firm anecdotal evidence - for the notion of “massive repression” in which years of traumatic events are completely forgotten, only to be recalled later.” - Mark Pendergrast. [2]


There are many scientific studies and theories that support the existence of recovered memories. While an expansive list of supportive research can be found on our [link] SUPPORTIVE RESEARCH PAGE, these are two notable studies and a theoretical construct worth pointing out.

Recall of childhood trauma: A prospective study of women’s memories of child sexual abuse.
In this study, Linda Meyer Williams found that in previously documented cases of sexual abuse, 38% of women were unable to remember the abuse 17 years later. Furthermore, Williams found that the closer the victim was to the perpetrator, and the younger the victim was at the time of abuse, the greater the likelihood the abuse was unable to be remembered. [3]

In a response to this article, Loftus concedes that “Extreme claims such as "if you were raped, you'd remember" are disproven by these findings.” [4]

Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories.
Abstract: “This study provides evidence that some adults who claim to have recovered memories of sexual abuse recall actual events that occurred in childhood. One hundred twenty-nine women with documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood were interviewed and asked about abuse history. Seventeen years following the initial report of the abuse, 80 of the women recalled the victimization. One in 10 women (16% of those who recalled the abuse) reported that at some time in the past they had forgotten about the abuse. Those with a prior period of forgetting – the women with ‘recovered memories’ – were younger at the time of abuse and were less likely to have received support from their mothers than the women who reported that they had always remembered their victimization. The women who had recovered memories and those who had always remembered had the same number of discrepancies when their accounts of the abuse were compared to the reports from the early 1970’s.” [5]
Excerpt: “[T]hese findings are important because they are based on a prospective study of all reported cases of child sexual abuse in a community sample. Because the abuse was documented in hospital records this is the first study to provide evidence that some adults who claim to have recovered memories of child sexual abuse recall actual events which occurred in childhood. These findings are also not limited to a clinical sample of women in treatment for child sexual abuse. The findings document the occurrence of recovered memories. There is no evidence from this study of child sexual abuse experienced by this community sample of women that recovery of memories was fostered by therapy or therapists. For this sample of women memories resurfaced in conjunction with registering events or reminders and an internal process of rumination and clarification” (pp.669-670). [5]

Betrayal trauma: The Logic Of Forgetting Childhood Abuse
Betrayal Trauma Theory outlines a mechanism and reason behind repressing memories of abuse, arguing 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.” [6]

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


[1] Freyd, Pamela. (1998, January/February). A Reminder. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 7(1), 3.

[2] Pendergrast, Mark. (1997, February 23). ‘Betrayal Trauma’ [Letter to the editor]. New York Times, pg. BR2

[3] 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.

[4] Loftus, E. F., Garry, M., & Feldman, J. (1994). Forgetting sexual trauma: What does it mean when 38% forget? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 1177–1181.

[5] Williams, L. M. (1995). Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8, 649-673.

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

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