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Ralph Underwager

Founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and VOCAL
Resigned from FMSF advisory board after favorable comments about pedophilia.

Ralph Underwager was a PhD psychologist in Minnesota who taught at St. Olaf's College and did not receive tenure. Following his denial, Underwager opened a private practice that included marriage counseling, and later married one of his clients (Hollida Wakefield). Underwager ran a self-published journal titled ‘Issues in Child Abuse Accusations’ and is the founder of Victims Of Child Abuse Laws (VOCAL), an organization founded to protect those accused of childhood abuse. Underwager and his wife went on to play an instrumental role in the founding of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

Throughout his work, Underwager consistently argued against children’s accusations of abuse in defense of accused parents. As he once stated, he believes that “it is more desirable that a thousand children in abuse situations are not discovered than for one innocent person to be convicted wrongly.” [1]

“Distortions and Errors”:
Underwager has been a staunch critic of the accuracy of children's memory of abuse, authoring numerous articles and books on the subject. However, when his writing was critically reviewed by Anna Salter, it was found that there were an “extraordinary number of distortions and errors” in his work. [2] Underwager subsequently waged a harassment campaign against Salter over her critical review, including multiple failed lawsuits. The campaign is detailed on Salter’s page.

In 1983, Underwager started appearing in child sexual abuse cases as a witness for the defense. Underwager was prone to exaggeration and soon proved to be a liability as a witness. He was one of the witnesses for the defense in the Kelly Micahels day-care case. A seven-day cross-examination revealed how little Underwager knew about child development, child abuse, or memory. One of the grounds for appeal after Micahels was convicted was that the prosecution had called Undereager a "witch doctor." The appellate court, which was otherwise hostile to the prosecution, concluded that by Underwager's own definition, the characterization was accurate [3]. After his deposition in the Fuster case, the defense made the decision not to use him at trial.

Founding of the FMSF:
Underwager played a critical role in the creation of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. He was close with Pamela Freyd during the early years of the FMSF, and his work with VOCAL helped lay the foundation for the creation of the FMSF.
In the May 21, 1992 edition of the FMSF newsletter, Pamela Freyd wrote:
“There are not words enough to thank Holly Wakefield and Ralph Underwager at the Institute of Psychological Therapies for the loving professional support that they have given to the FMS Foundation to help us become an independent organization. We would not exist without them. Their courage in speaking out, their willingness to use their resources to help us with the 800 number and with the survey have made it possible for us to do what we have done and what we must continue do to put an end to this phenomenon." [4]

In the early days, Underwager personally answered inquiries sent to the FMSF. He distributed information packets on repressed memories, sent out surveys on alleged abuse, and invited contacts to engage with the organization. He spoke for the FMSF, using the words “we,” “our,” and “us” when referencing the foundation. If Underwager was not available to speak for the FMSF, he directed people to contact his wife, Holida Wakefield. [5]

Favorable Comments about Pedophilia:
Underwager has made statements supporting pedophilia. While being interviewed by a dutch magazine, he responded to the question of "Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individuals?" by stating "Certainly it is responsible... I don't think that a paedophile needs to [defend their choice]. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love... With boldness, they can say, "I believe this is in fact part of God's will." [6]

After the interview was published in 1993, Underwager resigned from the FMSF’s advisory board. The FMSF described the statements as “upsetting to many people” but never condemned them. The FMSF newsletter still cited and publicized Underwager’s work for years to come. Upon his death in 2003, a memorandum was published in the FMSF newsletter, describing his published books and stating “Dr. Ralph Underwager will be greatly missed.” [7]

Suggestive Interviewing Techniques:
Underwager displays the kind of “interviewer bias” he often attributed to others. In the Rouse case, where the limitations on Underwager’s testimony at trial were a major issue on appeal, a three-judge panel ultimately upheld the convictions, rejecting Underwager’s opinion: “It is clear from the record that [Underwager] was intent upon expressing the ultimate opinion that the victims’ accusations of sexual abuse were not credible.” [8] At the trial itself, Underwager tried to introduce videotaped statements of two children he characterized as recanting. Those videotapes are still under seal, but as Judge Peirsol described them, Underwager was a biased interviewer. He literally told the two children that “he was there to help the children get the defendants [their relatives] out of prison.” The convictions were upheld on the basis of strong medical evidence and contemporaneous statements. [9]


[1] Kraft, S. (1985, February 11). Careers, reputations damaged; False molestation charges scar lives of the accused. Los Angeles Times, p. 1.
[2] Salter A. C. & New England Commissioners of Child Welfare Agencies. (1991). Accuracy of expert testimony in child sexual abuse cases: a case study of Ralph Underwager and Holida [i.e. hollida] Wakefield. New England Commissioners of Child Welfare Agencies.
[3] Cheit, R. E. (2014). The witch-hunt narrative: Politics, psychology, and the sexual abuse of children. Oxford University Press. p. 463, fn. 119
[4] Freyd, Pamela. (1992, May 21). Dear Friends. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 1(5), 1.
[5] Underwager Ralph. (1992, April 22). Dear Friend. Personal correspondence.
[6] Joseph Geraci. (1991 June). Paidika interview: Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager Part I. No Status Quo Websites. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
[7] FMSF Staff (2004, January/February). In Memorandum Ralph C. Underwager, Ph.D. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 13(1), 6.
[8] U.S. v. Rouse, 111 F.3d 561, 571
[9] Cheit, R. E. (2014). The witch-hunt narrative: Politics, psychology, and the sexual abuse of children. Oxford University Press. p. 402

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