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Media Timeline

Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse written by Jennifer Freyd, published by harvard university press


In short, betrayal trauma theory describes how and why someone may forget and later recall memories of abuse. The theory posits that there is a social utility in remaining unaware of abuse when the perpetrator is a caregiver. The theory draws on studies of social contracts to explain why and how humans are excellent at detecting betrayals; 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. This book uses psychological, neurological and cognitive-science literature with impressive skill to find the distinction between fear and betrayal, illustrating the relationship between betrayal trauma and posttraumatic outcomes.

Divided Memories by Ofra Bikel aired on PBS Frontline

April 4, 1995

‘Divided Memories’ was a four-hour documentary produced by PBS critical of recovered memory. The project was the first of its production value to argue that there was no scientific basis for recovered memory. Despite the show’s focus on the reliability of recovered memories, Ofra Bikel stated in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune that "I don't really care if there is such a thing as repressed memory or not - after a while, I put that argument behind me." Despite claims of a balanced program, ‘False Memory’ advocates were given significantly more airtime than recovered memory advocates. David Calof pointed out many critical errors, distortions, and mis-representations of empirical data on the show. Katy Butler’s article ‘Around the Network’ criticized Bikel for omitting corroborating evidence in cases of recovered memories, and claiming that she was unable to find any corroborated cases of recovered memory. Christine Courtois describes the show as using “bizarre practices to discredit work done in the clinical mainstream.” Bikel’s claim that she could not find any cases of corroborated recovered memories inspired this website. Read more on Ofra Bikel’s page.

Letter to the editor of APS observer: 16 psychologists urge the scientific community to spurn the term “False Memory Syndrome” (“FMS”).

March 1993

The psychological community recognized early on that the phrase “False Memory Syndrome” was unscientific and unhelpful. In a letter to the editor in the APS Observer, 17 prominent psychologists described FMS as “a non-psychological term originated by a private foundation whose stated purpose is to support accused parents,” urging scientists and other scholars to spurn the phrase “false memory syndrome” for “the sake of intellectual honesty.”

Michelle Remembers


Michelle Remembers was a 1980 book co-written by Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his patient (and eventual wife) Michelle Smith. The book presents claims that Smith had been ritually abused as child in the 1950s, with detailed narratives describing physical, emotional, and sexual satanic ritual abuse. In their 1995 book, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker refer to Michelle Remembers to back-up their claims that the emerging national attention towards child sexual abuse was a “witch-hunt” resulting from social hysteria. Nathan and Snedeker write that Michelle Remembers is one of the earliest examples of “False Memory Syndrome”, and claim that the popularity of the book influenced the national culture and the attitudes of prosecutors, therapists, and child protection workers, resulting in the development of a “recovered-memory industry” by the 1990s.

Moving Forward reports on Underwager and Wakefield interview with Paedika

Summer 1993

Moving Forward, a newsjournal by and for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and other caring parties, broke news of an interview done by Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield with the Dutch publication Paidika, The Journal of Paedophilia. An excerpt from this interview was reprinted in Moving Forward alongside an accompanying article describing FMSF reaction to being given notice of the matter. In their interview, Underwager and Wakefield seem to diminish, make excuses for, and even valorize paedophilia.

In response to the question "Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individual?" Underwager responded, “Certainly it is responsible. What I have been struck by as I have come to know more about and understand people who choose paedophilia is that they let themselves be too much defined by other people. That is usually an essentially negative definition. Paedophiles spend a lot of time and energy defending their choice. I don't think that a paedophile needs to do that. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. I am also a theologian and as a theologian, I believe it is God's will that there be closeness and intimacy, unity of the flesh, between people. A paedophile can say: "This closeness is possible for me within the choices that I've made."

Ultimately, due to the backlash in response to their statements in this interview, Underwager had to step down from the FMSF board. This also impacted his career as an expert witness for the defense in abuse cases. Hollida was allowed to remain on the board, and continued her career as an expert witness for decades after.

‘A Dangerous Direction: Legal Intervention in Sexual Abuse Survivor Therapy’ published in the Harvard Law Review by Cynthia Bowman and Elizabeth Mertz

January 1996

After an unprecedented California case where Gary Ramona sued his daughter’s therapist, Bowman and Mertz published an analysis of the case in the Harvard Law Review. They found that in an analysis of California courts’ history expanding third-party tort liability, 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.” Mertz and Bowman assert that an “powerful and adequate” route to address malpractice is through the client themselves suing the therapist. If family members believe that they have been harmed by false allegations of abuse, they should “address their problems directly with the adult women and men involved,” and file a defamation or malicious prosecution suit against their children.

‘Accuracy of Expert Testimony in Child Sexual Abuse Cases: A Case Study of Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield,’ published by Anna Salter.


Anna Salter received a small grant from the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors to study claims that the standard procedures of interviewing children were suggestive and lead to false accusations. Upon receiving this grant, she used Ralph Underwager and his partner Hollida Wakefield as a case study – both were leading ‘experts’ on the subject of child interviews, claiming that standard interviewing was suggestive and that a majority of child accusations of abuse were false. Salter published a detailed review of their research, criticizing the “extraordinary number of distortions and errors” in their work. This was one of the first significant pieces of literature challenging Underwager's work and those who sought to dismiss claims of childhood abuse. Salter received significant harassment from Underwager.

‘Confabulations’ published by Eleanor Goldstein.


Eleanor Goldstein wrote two of the first popular books on ‘False Memory Syndrome,’ including Confabulations: Creating False Memories, Destroying Families, which contained Pamela Freyd’s anonymous narrative of accusations of abuse in her family. Both books were published by Goldstein’s company, SIRS. Goldstein’s books helped to further the ‘False Memory’ narrative, and were often listed in the FMSF newsletter for sale as a reputable source of information on ‘false memories’ (it was a collection of anonymous, unverifiable stories). The FMSF’s newsletter instructed members to “Visit your library or bookstore. If Confabulations is not available, ask to have it purchased.” [7] Read more on ‘The FMSF’s Influence on Public Media’ page.

‘False Memory Label Invented by Lobby Group’ published by Michele Landsberg

November 13, 1993

Michele Landsberg was one of the first journalists to challenge the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, in a time where most media sources favored the ‘False Memory’ narrative. ‘False Memory Label Invented by Lobby Group,’ was one of the first articles that exposed the False Memory Syndrome Foundation as unscientific. It covered the accusations of abuse behind the foundation’s establishment and its unscientific, “simple-minded propaganda.” Landsberg received considerable harassment from the FMSF after publishing this article.

‘How Could This Happen? Coping with A False Accusation of Incest and Rape’ published by Pamela Freyd in Issues in Child Abuse Accusations.


Pamela Freyd wrote and published an anonymous article in Ralph Underwager’s self published journal Issues in Child Abuse Accusations titled “How Could This Happen? Coping with A False Accusation of Incest and Rape” about her daughter, Jennifer Freyd. It included sensitive details about Jennifer Freyd’s accusations of abuse, casting her in a negative light. Pamela Freyd circulated this article to Jennifer Freyd’s colleagues while she was being evaluated for a promotion to full professor, making it clear with a signed letter that she was the author. Later identifying herself publicly as the author, Pamela Freyd founded the FMSF with other parents drawn towards the article and referred to her by Underwager.

‘Personal Perspectives on the Delayed Memory Debate,’ Conference Presentation by Jennifer Freyd.

August 7, 1993

This conference presentation was the first time Jennifer Freyd spoke publicly about her accusations of abuse that spurred her parents to establish the FMSF. While it caused relatively little stir at the time, it was covered by several media publications over the following years.
Stephen Fried’s Coverage: ‘War of Remembrance’
Katy Butler’s coverage: ‘Marshaling the Media’
Michele Landsberg’s coverage: ‘Incest: Stop the nonsense and get to the difficult truth.’

‘Recall of childhood trauma: A prospective study of women’s memories of child sexual abuse’ & ‘Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories’ published by Linda Meyer Williams

1994 & 1995

In two groundbreaking studies, Linda Meyer Williams interviewed 129 women with medically documented histories of sexual abuse. Williams found that 38% of women were unable to remember the abuse 17 years later. Of the 80 women who recalled their abuse, one in 10 (16%) reported periods where they forgot the abuse. “These 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.” In a response to the first article, Elizabeth Loftus conceded that “Extreme claims such as "if you were raped, you'd remember" are disproven by these findings.”

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