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“Trauma is memorable. You wouldn’t forget incredibly traumatic events.”

“People who undergo severe trauma remember it.” - Hollida Wakefield, Harry MacLean and Ralph Underwager, in the FMSF Newsletter. [1]

“Memories of trauma are seldom, if ever, truly forgotten.” - Richard McNally. [2]

“The nature of severe trauma is that you can't forget things… the idea of someone who's 18 years old who had [a traumatic sexual] experience over four days and doesn't remember that it happened is essentially ludicrous.” - Joseph Deltito, in the FMSF Newsletter. [3]


Elizabeth Loftus – a researcher on the False Memory Syndrome Foundation’s scientific advisory board, who notably critiques the accuracy of recovered memories and argues for the existence of falsely implanted memories – has disagreed with this claim.

Based on the Linda Meyer Williams study mentioned in the previous claim [link] and refutation, Loftus concedes that “Extreme claims such as "if you were raped, you'd remember" are disproven by these findings.” [4]

In a population of women with documented records of confirmed sexual abuse, Williams found that “38% of women were unable to remember the abuse 17 years later” [5] and that “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.” [6]

Linda Meyer Williams’ response to Loftus’ paper. [7]

The evidence indicates that trauma is memorable for many people, while a small group experiences dissociative amnesia and recovered memories concerning traumatic events. Scientific evidence shows that people react differently to trauma, some of whom find trauma difficult to remember.


[1] Wakefield, H., MacLean, H., & Underwager, R. (1994, September). A Review. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 3(8), 11.

[2] McNally, R. J. (2005). Debunking Myths about Trauma and Memory. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 50(13), 817–822.

[3] Mikkilineni, Rupa (Producer). (2005, August 17). Nancy Grace [Television broadcast]. CNN.
Cited in Sidebar (2005, September/October) FMS Foundation Newsletter. 15(5), 2.

[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(6), 1177–1181.

[5] 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.

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

[7] Williams, L. M. (1994). What does it mean to forget child sexual abuse: A Reply to Loftus, Garry, and Feldman. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 1182-1186.

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