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Ofra Bikel

Documentary Filmmaker
Produced a well-publicized documentary critical of recovered memories in 1995.

Ofra Bikel is a documentary filmmaker and creator of “Divided Memories,” 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, 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." [1] In the documentary, Bikel mentions that it was “impossible” to find any corroborated cases of recovered memory, as none existed. [2] The implication that no corroborated cases exist is clearly false, and was the inspiration for the corroborated cases archive which led to this website.

Bikel went on to produce “The Search For Satan,” a PBS frontline documentary investigating claims of widespread satanic ritual abuse propagated by therapists in the US. The show followed two women in highly publicized malpractice cases. Mary S and Patty B, the women involved, claim that their therapists falsely implanted memories of satanic ritual abuse and misdiagnosed them with MPD. [3] Cases like those covered in the documentary were commonly used by FMS advocates as “evidence” that recovered memories of familial abuse were fueled by widespread hysteria.

Criticisms of “Divided Memories”:

In a letter to PBS criticizing “Divided Memories,” Ross Cheit stated that “the program made no serious effort to address the most obvious public policy question about [bad] therapy: how widespread are these practices?... the only number used with any precision was, as it turns out, exaggerated by a factor of six.” Cheit criticized Bikel’s inability to find and discuss corroborated cases of recovered memory; one of his undergraduate research assistants found six cases in only a few hours. Cheit summarized all six cases before concluding “It is difficult
enough to believe that in thirteen months of research Ms. Bickel did not "find" any of the cases that my Research Assistant located in a few hours. But even if her research was that bad, the producers of this show knew about my case and did not even bother to conduct a telephone interview. It appears to me that this is journalism at its worst: ignoring contrary evidence, jumping to conclusions, and then lying about the breadth and depth of the investigation. It was not “impossible” for Ms. Bickel to find corroborated cases – she was so uninterested in finding them that she didn't even follow-up on a most promising lead.” [2]

Contrary to Bikel’s claims that the documentary was unbiased, an index of “Divided Memories” shows that False Memory advocates were given significantly more airtime than recovered memory advocates.

Katy Butler’s article “Around the Network” criticizes “Divided Memories.” Christine Courtois describes the show as using “bizarre practices to discredit work done in the clinical mainstream.” Bikel omitted corroborating evidence related to cases of recovered memories. One example is of Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur - while her well-known status as a survivor with recovered memories is mentioned, Bikel failed to mention that Van Derbur’s account is corroborated by her sister’s continuous memories and her mother’s public acknowledgment of incest in the family. [4]

Interview with David Calof:
Ofra Bikel was interviewed by David Calof about her show, “Divided Memories.” In this interview, Calof points out critical errors, distortions, and mis-representations in Bikel’s work. These include a lack of empirical statistics on false memories and treatment centers causing false memories, dismissing key concepts in scientific research (dissociation), and mischaracterizing people who brought accusations of abuse as having false memories. [5]

The following quotes are sourced from that interview.

Critical Quotes from the interview concerning :

Calof: “But in [Divided Memories] you said ‘Across the country there are counseling centers not unlike this one’ and all I'm saying is let’s keep it empirical… I have no sense still of what your impression is of the proportion of therapy that's bad or the proportion of therapy that induces false memories or how many false memories we're dealing with compared to the number of actual memory. I have no sense of that from the piece” (Page 28).

Calof: “What about abused children where there's no question that the abuse took place, did you ever work with any of them or”
Ofra: “No. I was not interested [in] incest at all” (Page 20).

Calof: “One of the concerns there was that there was no real attempt to distinguish between dissociation and repression.”
Bikel: “But this also is in the debate. People don’t know anything about dissociation… God knows I'm not sure about dissociation. I’m not sure what I think about dissociation… So I wasn't going to deal with something that I find that I have so many questions about.”
Calof: “… You showed a sequence… she asked Terr to, explain how memories can
be repressed, is exactly what she says and Terr response "In psychiatry we call these things dissociation," trails off, and the narrator says that Terr has just advanced a theory of repressed
memory. That's not right.”
Bikel: “Maybe it’s a mistake” (Page 40-41).

Calof: You spent ten minutes with Stacey Good. Okay. Stacey Good isn't even a recovered
memory person.

Bikel: “She said I was a drug addict but she did have false memories of her mother abusing her. She said that.”
Calof: “No, she didn’t.”
Bikel: “Yes she did.”
Calof: “She said she had false memories of her mother abusing her?”
Bikel: “Didn't she?”
Calof: “No. And as a matter of fact in her deposition against Genesis there is no claim of the induction of false memory.”
Bikel: “but, but, but…”
Calof: “Shouldn’t the viewer have known that?”
(Page 32)

Calof: “You give the impression that you do scholarly research for 13 months. A letter comes out from the series editor and it's reasonable for someone who sees this quotation that I just gave you to believe that this is something other than hunch, that there is some empirical data to back this up. You're telling me it's not, there isn't.” (Page 35).

Bikel’s views on the FMSF, victims of abuse, and recovered memories

Bikel: “The demonization of the FMS. I have never, never I don't think since Hitler have I heard anybody talked about in such vitriol, such anger, such rage….There cannot be just cause for this kind of rage that I’m seeing in the letters. There can not be. I don’t care. It’s like hitler” (Page 9-10).

Bikel: “Why did these women who were perfectly lovely women, why did [they], in a way, want to be sexually abused? What was it.”
Calof: “How did you know that was true? How did you know they wanted to be?”
Bikel: “Well because she said that she had cancer, she went to therapy to find out what emotional causes, then she read a book about 10 visionary women… wonderful, role model and then most of them sexually abused, she asked her doctor is it possible I was sexually abused and he said yes, well there's only one way to find out and boom she found out that she was sexually abused. That means to me that she wanted to be… I was trying to show that there's also a will…. When I looked at these women I was a little surprised because I said in a way they were looking for it” (Page 21-22).


[1] Mark Sauer. (1995, April 11). Repressed Memory Case a War Zone. San Diego Union-Tribune. Pg. E-10

[2] Cheit, Ross. (1995). "Divided Memories": Letters to PBS and Frontline. Moving Forward. 3(3), 8-10.
[3] Bikel, Ofra & Marshall, Robert. (1995). The Search For Satan. [Television Film] Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service.
[4] Butler, Katy (1995, July/August). Around the Network. Psychotherapy Networker.
[5] Calof, David and Bikel, Ofra. (June 5, 1995). Personal interview.

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