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Events Timeline

APA Working Group on Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse


In February 1993 the APA Council of Representatives voted to “establish a working group to review current scientific literature and identify future research and training needs regarding the evaluation of memories of childhood abuse.” This working group included six members, Judith Alpert, Laura Brown, Stephen Ceci, Christine Courtois, Elizabeth Loftus, and Peter Ornstein. The working group’s final report acknowledged a number of points of agreement: “(1) Controversies regarding adult recollections should not be allowed to obscure the fact that child sexual abuse is a complex and pervasive problem in America that has historically gone unacknowledged; (2) Most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them; (3) It is possible for memories of abuse that have been forgotten for a long time to be remembered; (4) It is also possible to construct convincing pseudomemories for events that never occurred; (5) There are gaps in our knowledge about the processes that lead to accurate and inaccurate recollections of childhood abuse.” However, the two factions that arose from the clinical (Alpert, Brown, and Courtois) and research (Ceci, Loftus, and Ornstein) subgroups had strongly differing conceptions of memory leading to disagreement on the nature and mechanisms of “delayed remembering”, the nature of traumatic memory and if it differed from memories of nontraumatic events, and the nature, frequency, and distinctions of “pseudomemories”. The report, structured as a dialogue between these two dissenting groups, included landmark commentary on the clinical and scientific research on traumatic memories, and on the social, legal, and political ramifications of their findings.

Cautionary Jury Instruction Regarding Sexual Abuse Abolished

1971 - 1990

Cautionary instructions about the testimony of sexual abuse and rape victims arose from the statements of Matthew Hale in the 17th century, warning the jury to view the testimony of of sexual assault victims with exceptional suspicion. Such instructions often stated that accusations of sexual assault are “easily made, and, once made, difficult to defend against.” They served serve to silence the voices of women and sexual abuse victims in the court of law; according to Michelle Anderson (2004), “The cautionary instructions both derive from and exacerbate this expansive societal prejudice against rape victims.” This instruction was slowly abolished across United States; by 1980, 13 states had prohibited cautionary jury instructions on sexual assault. By 1990, 7 more states had joined them. At the present day, only 8 states issue cautionary jury instructions in cases of sexual assault.

Corroboration Requirement for Child Sexual Abuse Abolished

1974 - 2000

Previously, courts required cases of childhood sexual abuse to produced corroborative evidence to be successfully prosecuted; such as medical records, eyewitness testimony, or other physical evidence that supported the child’s testimony. This requirement was slowly abolished across the United States in the name of respecting the integrity of a single victim's account. According to Tyler Buller (2017), 35 states had eliminated the corroboration requirement by 1974, with seven more states joining them by 1986. Nearly all states had abolished the corroboration requirement by the year 2000. In the present day, only 3 states maintain a limited corroboration requirement in certain circumstances.

FMSF co-sponsored ‘A Day of Contrition’ Conference at Salem, MA.

January 1997

Though the ‘Day of Contrition’ conference was formally organized by the Justice Committee, the FMSF was responsible for helping it take place & advertised the event to their members. Many key members of the FMSF spoke at the conference, were listed as primary contacts for the conference, and acknowledged in the program as major contributors. ‘A Day of Contrition’ was a “protest” against “modern witch hunts” which consisted of false accusations and “imagined crimes.” The conference called for society to release and make reparations to those who were falsely convicted. Multiple convicted perpetrators of child sexual abuse, described as “Individuals recently freed from wrongful imprisonment,” were invited to speak at the conference. While introducing these former prisoners to the audience, Carol Hopkins stated that “there was no evidence in any of these cases” and told those invited, “essentially you have been prisoners of war.” This conference marks a significant overstep in the FMSF’s alleged focus on recovered memories: the conference was largely irrelevant to recovered memories in adults, instead generally attempting to exonerate people convicted of sexual abuse on children’s testimony.

False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) Founded

Spring 1992

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) was established by Pamela Freyd, after her husband Peter Freyd, was accused of sexual abuse by their oldest daughter. Ralph Underwager, his wife Hollida Wakefield, Dr. Harold Lief (Pamela Freyd’s therapist), and “a group of about ten families” disputing similar accusations from their children joined the Freyds in establishing the FMSF. In February 1992, Pamela Freyd published the FMSF’s first newsletter. A 1-800 number was established for the foundation in March 1992. A few months later, in May 1992, the FMSF opened an office in Philadelphia. Read more on the page What was the FMSF?

False Memory Syndrome Foundation Dissolved

December 31, 2019

Nearly a decade after their final newsletter was published, the FMSF dissolved. Its dissolution was announced quietly, through a paragraph in small text on the bottom of the FMSF’s website’s homepage. The paragraph claimed that “During the past quarter century, a large body of scientific research and legal opinions on the topics of the accuracy and reliability of memory and recovered memories has been created. People with concerns about false memories can communicate with others electronically. The need for the FMS Foundation diminished dramatically over the years. The FMSF website and Archives will continue to be available.” The FMSF’s dissolution was covered by the ISSTD and celebrated by survivors of childhood sexual abuse on twitter.

First FMSF Sponsored Conference Held: ‘Memory and Reality: Emerging Crisis’

April 16-18, 1993

‘Memory and Reality: Emerging Crisis’ held in Valley Forge Pennsylvania was the FMSF’s first official conference. Over 600 people attended the conference, which included 28 speakers and a panel discussion. Of the 28 speakers, only one speaker supported the phenomenon of recovered memories, while all others supported the FMS position. Pamela Freyd wrote in the May 3rd edition of the FMSF newsletter that “this conference dispelled the pseudoscientific notions that have fueled the [FMS] phenomenon,” placing “repressed memories” in scare quotes.

Laws Passed Raising Statute of Limitations for Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse


Before 1989, victims of childhood sexual abuse who realized as adults that they were abused as a child were held to the same statue of limitations as all sexual abuse victims – a period of time in which one could bring charges for a crime, usually around 3-10 years for sexual abuse. Due to these restrictions, many victims could not sue their perpetrators. In 1989, Washington State passed the first law that allowed people to sue based on childhood sexual abuse within three years of remembering forgotten abuse, or realizing as an adult that always-remembered childhood incidents constituted abuse. 18 other states passed similar laws by 1992. States continued to raise the statute of limitations as the years passed. During the 1994 Senate Judiciary Committee on raising the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, Pamela Freyd, the founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, was the only person who testified in opposition, concerned about “tarnished reputations.”

Lawsuits against Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, Authors of The Courage to Heal


Ellen Bass and Laura Davis were subject to multiple civil suits alleging that their book The Courage to Heal induced false memories of childhood sexual abuse in the plaintiffs. These suits, seemingly inspired by similar suits directed towards therapists for breaching their duty of care by practicing “recovered-memory therapy”, sought to hold Bass and Davis accountable for negligent misrepresentation for the content in The Courage to Heal. These suits claimed that Bass and Davis breached a duty of care towards their readers by encouraging readers to engage in “recovered-memory therapy” like practices, and therefore were responsible for inducing false memories of abuse in their readers. These suits were eventually dismissed, in part because applicable case law found that authors, like Bass and Davis, had no “duty of care” to the world of large.

Loftus Resigns from the APA

January 1996

Loftus claims that she resigned because the APA “moved away from scientific and scholarly thinking.” However, the Hoffman report revealed that APA’s CEO Raymond Fowler notified Loftus of ethics complaints submitted against her, allowing her to resign from the APA less than a month later in January. Her swift resignation before the ethics complaints could be processed meant that the complaints could not be investigated. The Hoffman report goes against Loftus’ sworn testimony in court that she was not notified of the situation prior to resigning.

Multiple ethics complaints filed against Elizabeth Loftus

December 1995

Two APA ethics complaints were filed against Loftus in December of 1995, citing her misrepresentation of facts in two cases regarding recovered memories. The complaints could not go forward and an investigation could not be conducted, as Loftus suddenly resigned from the APA less than a month later in January 1995. The first ethics complaint concerns Loftus’ misrepresentation of a child abuse case she was uninvolved in; Loftus altered and omitted facts to falsely characterize the recovered memories involved as unreliable, implausible, and implanted by therapy. The second ethics complaint, centered around a separate child abuse case, involved Loftus altering and omitting facts about therapy, corroborating accounts, and the accused’s testimony in order to falsely characterize the case as an example of implausible memories that ruin lives. Read more on Loftus’ page.

Nebraska Symposium on Memory: A Reappraisal of the Recovered/False Memory Debate

April 2010

The Nebraska symposium on memory aimed to bring together leading researchers in the field of memory to explore a balanced, comprehensive, and updated set of perspectives on the so-called memory wars. The symposium provided a venue that supported the exchange of ideas, and served to highlight that the debate about recovered memories had moved towards reconciliation since the 1990’s. The organizer of the symposium, Robert Belli, compiled the publications presented at the conference into a book titled True and False Recovered Memories: Toward a Reconciliation of the Debate. In the abstract, he notes that “all of the contributors to this volume acknowledge that true recoveries characterize a substantive portion of recovery experiences.”

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