I recently read Marilyn Van Derbur's memoir, Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love. In it, Marilyn chronicles her life as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the repercussions of incest.
In the book, Marilyn mentions an organization called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. I had never heard of such a thing, so I did a little research. Peter and Pamela Freyd, who were accused of the sexual abuse of their daughter, founded the organization. Their goals, according to their website, are to seek the reasons for false memory syndrome, work for ways to prevent it, and aid those who were affected by it and bring their families to reconciliation (www.fmsfonline.org).
False memory syndrome is described as:
"[A] condition in which a person's identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behavior...False Memory Syndrome is especially destructive because the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated and resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on memory that he or she may be effectively distractedfrom coping with the real problems in his or her life. (McHugh, PR (2008). Try to remember: Psychiatry's clash over meaning, memory and mind. Dana Press. ISBN 1-932594-39-6.)
Of the plethora of problems I have with the presentation of this "syndrome" as scientific fact, the greatest are the blatant attempts the Freyds have made to control any discussion of its validity. For example, the Wikipedia page dedicated to the FMSF is flagged to be examined for neutrality. A brief examination of the discussion that resulted from the flag reveals that Pam Freyd attempted to alter the contents of the entry in blatant violation of Wikipedia policies. Wikipedia warned Mrs. Freyd of the conflict of interests policies that prohibit a user from editing or writing articles about subjects in which they are personally involved. They further warn Mrs. Freyd that her "changes violat[ed] the Wikipedia policy which requires a neutral point of view. Wikipedia informed her that "[one] cannot simply delete sections that deal with a real controversy, as if to pretend that the controversy does not exist."
I found it interesting that the FMSF's website contains a copy of the Wikipedia entry (as edited by Mrs.Freyd), with a disclaimer that states, "the content of the current Wikipedia page is beyond the control of the FMSF and may at times include hostile and false information." That's ironic, given the organization's attempt to delete or edit information that might allow a reader to understand the scope of the organization from an unbiased point of view.
In Miss America by Day, Marilyn writes of Roy Mattson, whose five daughters accused him of incest. Unsurprisingly, Mattson was the head of the Colorado False Memory Syndrome Foundation. The foundation's ramblings in the press started a rash of lawsuits, wherein the accused perpetrators of incest would sue the victims' therapists.
I have heard women, adult women, cry as they talk about how their mother didn't believe that the father/stepfather/uncle was perpetrating sexual abuse. I have seen case study after case study where one parent denies or ignores abuse, calls their child a liar and goes on as if nothing has happened. Perhaps these are the true sufferers of "False Memory Syndrome" ... those who can block out what is happening to their children and replace the horror with memories of normalcy.
If perpetrators and their enablers are going to go so far as to invent scientific conditions to discredit their accusers, most of whom are adults by the time they have recovered sufficiently to cope with their past, what chance does a child have? Who will hear such a small, uncertain voice?
I forgot to include the link to the organization that first introduced me to Marilyn, Darkness to Light. They are dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse.