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Recovered Memories in Abuse Survivors

Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories. (Williams, 1995). Full Text.
Abstract: This study provides evidence that some adults who claim to have recovered memories of sexual abuse recall actual events that occurred in childhood. One hundred twenty-nine women with documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood were interviewed and asked about abuse history. Seventeen years following the initial report of the abuse, 80 of the women recalled the victimization. One in 10 women (16% of those who recalled the abuse) reported that at some time in the past they had forgotten about the abuse. Those with a prior period of forgetting – the women with ‘recovered memories’ – were younger at the time of abuse and were less likely to have received support from their mothers than the women who reported that they had always remembered their victimization. The women who had recovered memories and those who had always remembered had the same number of discrepancies when their accounts of the abuse were compared to the reports from the early 1970’s.
Excerpt: 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.

Recall of childhood trauma: A prospective study of women’s memories of child sexual abuse. (Williams, 1994). Full Text.
Impact: In a study of 129 women with previously documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood, a large proportion of the women (38%) did not recall the abuse that had been reported 17 years earlier. Women who were younger at the time of the abuse and those who were molested by someone they knew were more likely to have no recall of the abuse. Long periods with no memory of abuse should not be regarded as evidence that the abuse did not occur.

Adult memories of childhood trauma: A naturalistic clinical study. (Herman & Harvey 1997). Full Text.
Impact: The clinical evaluations of 77 adult outpatients reporting memories of childhood trauma were reviewed. A majority of patients reported some degree of continuous recall. Roughly half (53%) said they had never forgotten the traumatic events. Two smaller groups described a mixture of continuous and delayed recall (17%) or a period of complete amnesia followed by delayed recall (16%). Patients with and without delayed recall did not differ significantly in the proportions reporting corroboration of their memories from other sources. Idiosyncratic, trauma-specific reminders and recent life crises were most commonly cited as precipitants to delayed recall.

Self-reported amnesia for abuse in adults molested as children. (Briere & Conte, 1993).
Impact: A sample of 450 adult clinical subjects reporting sexual abuse histories were studied regarding their repression of sexual abuse incidents. A total of 267 subjects (59.3%) identified some period in their lives, before age 18, when they had no memory of their abuse. Variables most predictive of abuse-related amnesia were greater current psychological symptoms, molestation at an early age, extended abuse, and variables reflecting especially violent abuse.

Memories of childhood abuse: Dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration. (Chu et al., 1999). Full Text.
Impact: 90 women admitted to a unit specializing in the treatment of trauma-related disorders were evaluated. Participants reporting any type of childhood abuse demonstrated elevated levels of dissociative symptoms, which were correlated with early age at onset of physical and sexual abuse and more frequent sexual abuse. A substantial proportion of participants with all types of abuse reported partial or complete amnesia for abuse memories. For physical and sexual abuse, early age at onset was correlated with greater levels of amnesia. A majority of participants were able to find strong corroboration of their recovered memories. Participants who reported recovering memories of abuse generally recalled these experiences while at home, alone, or with family or friends.

A comparison of normal forgetting, psychopathology, and information-processing models of reported amnesia for recent sexual trauma. (Mechanic, Resick, & Griffin,1 998).
Impact: 92 female rape victims were assessed within 2 weeks of the rape; 62 were also assessed 3 months postassault. Memory deficits for parts of the rape were common 2 weeks postassault (37%) but improved over the 3 month window studied. 16% of the women remained 16% partially amnesic. Hypotheses evaluated competing models of explanation that may account for reported recall deficits. Results are most consistent with information processing models of traumatic memory.

The prevalence of recovered memories in abuse survivors is further assessed by studies in the next section, “Recovered Memories in the General Population.”

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