Post-Traumatic Syndromes in Childhood and Adolescence: A Handbook of Research and Practice

By Vittoria Ardino | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
Why and How People Forget. Why and
How People Forget Sexual Abuse. The
Role of Traumatic Memories

Kathryn A. Becker-Blease, Anne P. DePrince,
and Jennifer J. Freyd


Introduction

Cases of child sexual abuse brought to the attention of researchers and clinicians reveal a complicated picture of memory for abuse. The accounts of survivors of Catholic priest abuse, including the widely reported story of Paul Busa, made the complexity of these stories known to the public in a new way (e.g., see Stern, 2002). As reported in the media, in February 2002, military security officer Paul Busa read a newspaper report about allegations of sexual abuse against Paul Shanley, a priest. The account triggered memories of being sexually abused by Shanley in the 1980s. Three years later, Shanley was convicted of raping Busa when he was a six-year-old boy. In addition to the evidence, which was sufficient to convict Shanley of abusing Busa, there was reason to believe that Shanley had abused many children throughout his career. According to newspaper reports, allegations of sexual abuse arose as early as a year after he was ordained as a priest, over 20 years before the incidents for which he was convicted. In 2002, when charges were pending against Shanley, 30 accusers had been identified. Over the years Shanley had made public comments supportive of sexual abuse of minors, and reportedly admitted being “attracted to adolescents” and having sexually abused four boys. Busa gave a similar account of repeated sexual abuse as two other boys who attended the same church, but much attention was paid to the fact that Busa did not have continuous memories of the abuse (Stern, 2002).

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