top of page
Burgus v. Braun, Rush Presbyterian
Patricia Burgus sued her Psychiatrist Bennet Braun for malpractice and was awarded a settlement for $10.6 million dollars, and Braun later lost his license to practice medicine in Illinois. This high profile case dominated the conversation on suggestive therapy for years, and was viewed as a huge win for FMS proponents – who claimed that Braun was instrumental in training thousands of therapists to practice similar suggestive therapy. Though FMS proponents focus on Burgus’ accusations that Braun suggestively used hypnosis and implanted false memories of satanic abuse, Burgus credits her false beliefs primarily to the excessive doses of medication she was prescribed. Secondly, there were many signs of malpractice unrelated to memory; Burgus was kept inpatient for two and a half years, in which she was physically restrained, given potentially lethal doses of medication, lost custody of her children to the hospital, had photos of her naked body shown at a conference without consent, and real guns were given to her children as part of “therapy.” Burgus v. Braun is a case of malpractice that stems from Burgus’ lengthy institutionalization and Braun’s resulting complete control over her life. This dynamic is not present in everyday therapeutic relationships that FMS proponents claim to induce such ‘false memories.’
Herald v. Hood
1992, Appeal 1994
Herald v. Hood was a 1992 civil case in which Julie Herald sued her uncle, Dennis Hood, alleging sexual abuse beginning in 1962 from age 3 through 15. The memory returned while Herald was watching her 4-year-old daughter play with a friend. As a part of the case, Herald presented a taped telephone conversation in which her uncle indicated that she “had been the only one.” Two therapists also testified that at a meeting with Herald in their offices, he admitted sexually abusing her. She was awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages (Fields). The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, finding that it had been “improvidently allowed”. This case is significant for its convincing corroborative evidence, and for its role in informing Ohio’s statute of limitations rules for civil tort cases based upon delayed discovery of childhood abuse.
Maryland v. Huott
Maryland v. Huott was a 2014 criminal case which arose after Danielle Bostick came to remember that she was sexually assaulted by her swimming coach, Christopher Huott, beginning when she was 7-years-old. Bostick writes of hearing about the Rick Curl case in 2013, a case involving a swimming coach from the D.C. area who was charged and later convicted of sexually abusing a girl he had coached in 1986. Hearing news of Curl’s arrest, Bostick says: “I felt unsettled, but wasn’t sure why.” She did not identify herself at the time as a victim of her own coach. Within a year of hearing about the Curl case, Bostick approached the police with what she described as “little more than memory fragments and a gut feeling that I had been abused” by her own swimming coach, Christopher Huott. The police arranged for a monitored telephone call to Houtt. As she described it, “for nearly two hours, [Houtt] confessed to abuse more horrifying than I had imagined or feared" (Bostick). Huott was later charged with abusing Bostick; he eventually pleaded guilty to one felony count of child abuse and was sentenced to 10 years, the maximum penalty allowed at the time that the crime occurred (Lewis). This case is significant as an example where abuse more extensive than the victim had been able to recall was corroborated by the perpetrator’s confession, showing the nature of traumatic memory and recovery at play. It also serves as a reminder that cases involving recovered memory continue to come to light long after controversy over traumatic memory faded from the national focus that it held in the 1990s.
McMartin Preschool Sexual Abuse Case
Often described as the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history, the McMartin case is infamous for its status as a high-profile and extensive criminal abuse investigation and trial which resulted in no convictions. The McMartin case is oft cited as the foremost piece of evidence in the “witch-hunt” narrative of sexual abuse cases in America. However, history makes clear that the McMartin case was a messy and complex case which had both flawed execution by investigatory and legal actors, and reasonable evidence to suspect abuse of a number of the children involved in the initial investigation and ultimate legal proceedings. Unjust for the many defendants who should not have been charged and for the children who were subjected to media scrutiny and a brutal judicial process, the McMartin case is negatively remembered. The complexity of the case today is often overlooked in favor of a broad-brush narrative which paints it as a case of false accusation and social hysteria. However, this disregards compelling facts from the original investigations of the claims, which include credible medical evidence and spontaneous disclosures of concerning statements by multiple children. Also forgotten is the fact that while all of the charges for the other defendants were ultimately dropped or resulted in acquittal, the jury was hung on 12 child molestation charges against Ray Buckey, the source of the original claims of abuse. At a press conference shortly after the verdict was announced, seven jurors made statements which made clear that they thought that children in the McMartin case had been sexually abused; they just were not certain enough about the details to meet the standard of proof for conviction, “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Ultimately, the McMartin Preschool case became much bigger than the original questions about abuse at hand; over time it has become the foundation for a witch-hunt narrative about sexual abuse which expands far beyond McMartin or even cases like it.
Ramona v. Isabella, et al. - third party litigation against therapists
After being confronted by his daughter with accusations of childhood incest, Gary Ramona claimed his daughter’s memories were implanted and sued her therapist for damages. The Ramona lawsuit was the first of its kind, imposing liability to third-parties upon therapists. In an analysis of the Ramona case and California courts’ history expanding third-party tort liability titled “A Dangerous Direction: Legal Intervention in Sexual Abuse Survivor Therapy,” Bowman and Mertz found that the Ramona case was “atypical” and an “aberration even within California law.” The authors concluded that “the legal system should not permit third-party liability against the wishes of the therapist’s client” as Ramona was a “major diversion from the current state of tort law.”
Gary Ramona claimed that the lawsuit proved his innocence on the subject of incest. While the jury concluded that the therapist wrongfully reinforced his daughters memories and was guilty of malpractice, “The jury foreman said that the jurors had decided that Holly Ramona had had her first mental images of abuse in early 1990 without any input from her therapist” and that they “had not broadly considered… whether incest had actually occurred.” In short, the case did not prove Ramona’s innocence, and only considered the therapist’s liability.
Katy Butler’s article “A House Divided,” published in the Los Angeles Times, details the perspectives of Holly Ramona, her therapist, and Gary Ramona’s wife Stephanie. These often-unmentioned accounts counter the “idyllic life [Gary] Ramona had described,” telling a story of domestic violence, a slow recollection of sexual violence occuring before therapeutic intervention, and circumstantial evidence compiled by Stephanie.
VanVeldhuizen v. Netherlands Reformed Church of Rock Valley
VanVeldhuizen v. Netherlands Reformed Church of Rock Valley was a 1997 civil case from Iowa in which Peter VanVeldhuizen sued on account of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated from 1966 to 1968 by Reverend J. Van Zweden of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation Church. VanVeldhuizen repressed the memory and did not recall the abuse until February, 1991, while undergoing psychotherapy. To avoid litigation, Dr. VanVeldhuizen agreed to the request of the Netherlands Reformed Church to submit the claim and all related evidence to the Institute for Christian Conciliation. In a 9-page letter, the Executive Director noted that, “[I]n the twelve years that I have been working in sexual abuse cases, I do not recall meeting a more credible witness.” Dr. VanVeldhuizen introduced a variety of corroborating evidence, including (1) testimony that Rev. Van Zweden sexually abused his grandson and (2) eyewitness testimony to one of the incidents of sexual abuse of Peter VanVeldhuizen by Rev. Van Zweden. The mediator concluded that “Peter has more than met the highest biblical standard of proof, which is actually required only in capital offenses, namely, that the sin be confirmed by the testimony of at least two witnesses.” After insisting on Christian Conciliation, the Church refused to go along with the findings. Dr. VanVeldhuizen sued and proved his case (again) in court. A Sioux County jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages, after VanVeldhuizen proved that Albert Bakker, a church official at the time, witnessed the acts but did nothing to stop them or to report them to the appropriate officials.
“Eileen Franklin” Case (People v. Franklin)
Most recognizable as the “Eileen Franklin Case”, the 1990 murder conviction of George Franklin was significant for its high-media profile and for being where Elizabeth Loftus got her start as an expert witness. After the spontaneous recovery of a memory of her witnessing her father killing her childhood friend 20 years earlier, Eileen Franklin reported her account to the police. Her father, George Franklin was arrested and charged based upon her account, and was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison. At the trial, Elizabeth Loftus testified for the defense about her research concerning the unreliability of recovered memory, the start of a long career as an expert witness for the defense. Loftus also provided commentary on the case in the media, and used it as evidence to impeach the idea of recovered memory as a whole in her 1994 book The Myth of Repressed Memory. Ultimately, the conviction was overturned in 1995 due to errors in the trial’s procedure.
bottom of page