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Books -- Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives by Mark Pendergrast

Article excerpt

Mark Pendergrast. Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives. Hinesburg VT: Upper Access, 1995.

What has been termed "false memory syndrome" (and which might more accurately be called something like "possibly improperly enhanced memory syndrome") appears to be a major semantic distortion in America today. This arises when individuals, usually women, "remember" extensive sexual abuse that occurred when they were young. The accusations often tear families apart, and in some cases result in criminal charges.

Pendergrast's book is a thoroughly-researched 600-page summation of "all" aspects of the problem. There's almost no way of "proving" that abuse newer happened, but the book presents a convincing and frightening case supporting the claim that these "memories" are very likely not true. Note well: these "memories" should not be confused with those arising from genuine cases of incest, although of course there sometimes may be problems in distinguishing between them.

First, one caution. The author's two daughters have accused him of largely unspecified sexual assaults on them and have broken off all contact with him. Since he states up front that this is the reason he spent two years researching and writing this book, the reader is alert for any self-serving whining or prejudice. But because he seems to have taken an objective, neutral stance in interviewing many people on all sides of this controversy, his reporting comes across as accurate and fair.

How does a "false memory" arise? The author describes two main sources: one has read one of the strongly-written books which insist that you too probably suffered sexual abuse (which may be only verbal), even if you do not remember it. Or such "memories" may result from "confabulation" by a therapist who uses hypnosis, dream analysis, guided imagery, or constant badgering to convince the patient that abuse happened. (One patient protested, "But I feel I'm just making this up!", and the therapist ignored her concern. …