Saturday, October 22, 2011
Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: A Folktale Revisited
A few posts back
, I asked readers to read a story twice and then recite it back without referring to it again. This exercise was a partial recreation of a study done by Sir Frederic Bartlett, a psychology professor teaching at the University of Cambridge
. In a 1920 paper titled “Some Experiments on the Reproduction of Folk Stories,” (Folk-Lore
, v.31), he described an experiment in which he composed a written version of an oral tale told by indigenous Americans (i.e., the “War of the Ghosts,” which I cited verbatim), told twenty subjects to read the story twice, and then write it out.
Thus, in our exercise, we used the same text and procedures as Professor Bartlett did in the first stage of his experiment. The primary difference between our exercise and his experiment is that I asked the reader to recall the story immediately, and then only once. Bartlett, on the other hand, asked students to repeat the story at various time intervals--from weeks to months. During that time, the story began to change, very similarly to the party game of Telephone
, where the message that you start out with is almost never the one you end up with.
To Professor Bartlett, the “War of the Ghosts” experiment demonstrated the tendency of human memory to shape narratives within the context of cultural perception. Some of this shaping is obvious. In some cases, we might tend to ascribe motives for the characters that they don’t have, or that the original story doesn’t intend to convey. For example, in our exercise, one respondent wrote:
The first young man said no, he was afraid he'd be killed and his relatives wouldn't know what had happened to him, but he told his friend to go (which makes me question what kind of a friend he actually was, considering his own reasons for staying behind).
Spoken from the perspective of Western culture, the above statement not only makes perfect sense, but is quite insightful. But we’re talking about a story from a non-Western culture. We therefore do not know, for example, if the culture that originally produced this story saw death as a transient experience--a loss, no doubt, but not a humongous deal. Moreover, war, or battle, might have represented an opportunity for status, glory, personal legitimacy, and so on. So we cannot assume that the man who chose to go home instead of to war did so despite his actual desire for combat. Moreover, the story doesn’t say that the one man told the other to go, but rather that he “may go.” This could have been more analogous to the Western question, “Wanna get wasted at Rick’s, tonight?” with the response, “No, I gotta cut down. You can go, though, if you want.”
Professor Bartlett’s primary concern was the shaping of the story through the omission of details that the Western reader would see as either irrelevant, unfamiliar, or “unpleasant,” but that the reader versed in the original culture would not. The above example he might see as an omission of the unfamiliar, since we’re not sure exactly what the original culture might have seen as important. Likewise, no one in our exercise mentioned Egulac, the hometown of our protagonist and his friend. These are just a couple of guys from somewhere, to us. Yet in the original context, the city (or town, or village) of Egulac could have had a specific meaning to the story. Although we don’t admit to holding stereotypical notions about other people based on geography, we do. So such terms as ‘New Yorker,’ ‘Brit,’ or ‘African’ evoke a certain set of expectation as to the nature of a person’s experiences, aspirations, attitudes, and so on. In short, someone hearing this story in the context of its original culture might say something like, “Ach! Typical Egulacans!”
Other than Seamus the Barbarian, who simply copied-and-pasted the story into the comments section (giving me a decent chuckle in the process), no one in our exercise mentioned that as the pair hid behind the log, they could hear the sounds of paddles in the water. Bartlett would say this is an omission of irrelevance, since you’re probably saying right now, “What the #$@! ‘s the difference? They came down the river in canoes. Yeah, yeah, the paddles made a noise. But is that critical to the story?”
I dunno. Is the two-note (minor second) motif in Jaws
critical to its story?
The third type of omission discussed by Professor Bartlett, that of the “unpleasant,” is rather difficult to see in our exercise, for we did not repeat it as he did. Every response in our exercise mentioned the ghosts, and that “something black” came out of the protagonist’s mouth shortly before he died. Yet even in our immediate re-tellings, we see the seeds of a changing narrative. For example, one respondent did not mention that the protagonist wondered about whether or not ghostly deployment had been used during battle. “Something black” likewise was related as “black stuff” in one instance, and a “black shape” in another. Bartlett’s respondents showed a persistent tendency to change those two aspects of the story after time had lapsed, and after repeated tellings. Many of the original respondents eventually omitted the ghostly angle altogether, despite the fact that the title of the story is “The War of the Ghosts.” Likewise, many of the respondents eventually reinterpreted the “black stuff” coming out of the protagonist’s mouth as “his soul.”
Bartlett further found that salient features were over-emphasized, allowing for the introduction of items into the story that were not there originally. But, I did not intend to use Professor Bartlett’s experiment as he did, specifically to demonstrate how sociological factors impact upon what we remember, and what we forget. I used Professor Bartlett’s experiment to illustrate something else: specifically, a point made by two proponents of false memory syndrome. They cite Bartlett’s “War of the Ghosts” research, and accurately describe its intentions. Yet they used the study to prove something very different.
Labels: FMSF, FMSF3, innocence, psychology
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: What Are You Talking About?
In the US, when professionals need a frame of reference for a particular diagnosis, they might very well consult the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition
). The American Psychological Association stresses that using this manual to diagnose someone isn’t something a layperson should do, and for good reason: diagnostic paradigms are a very crude framework, something to take into account along with other data, observational cues, training in how various parts of human thought, consciousness and physiology interconnect, and so on. Still, it’s a reference that can at least tell the layperson what the general criteria of a diagnosis are, so long as they don’t actually try to diagnose anybody.
If you consult DSM-IV
to find a definition of false memory syndrome (FMS), then I hope you have either a lot of patience, or none at all. You won’t find it. But you can find a working definition of it, one endorsed by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF). Dr. John Kihlstrom (University of California, Berkeley) described FMS 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. The analogy to personality disorder is intentional. 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 distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life.
This definition presupposes several things. The first is that false memory is common.** The second is that those suffering from FMS have memories that are “objectively false.” Third, the false memory becomes the focal point of the sufferer’s life, to the point where they cannot cope with real life.
Over the next few posts, I will examine the first two presuppositions, and leave the third for a later time. For now, it’s important to realize that there is hardly academic or scientific agreement about what constitutes a false memory. Moreover, proving a memory is objectively false is a lot harder to do than it sounds.
*Dr. Kihlstrom obtained his PhD in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where he assisted Dr. Martin Orne’s research in hypnosis. He got his BS in psychology from Colgate University in 1970. Dr. George Estabrooks still taught there at that time.
**In a later post, I will talk about talk about legitimate empirical studies that establish memory distortion and plain simple forgetfulness as an everyday occurrence--a rather commonsense observation. How inaccuracy in memory relates to FMS is a topic of debate for those supporting the FMS diagnosis.
To read earlier posts in this series, click here.
Labels: FMSF, FMSF3, innocence, psychology
Friday, October 14, 2011
Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Time to Call In the Big Guns
Despite the Underwager flap, the FMSF continued to gain momentum and prestige, mostly through its academic and professional connections. Peter and Pamela Freyd enlisted the support of their psychiatrist, University of Pennsylvania Medical School professor Dr. Harold Leif who joined their Scientific and Advisory Board. The network of illustrious researchers who came to the Foundation’s aid hailed from around the US and elsewhere, among them: Drs. Jean and Loren Chapman (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Drs. Harrison Pope and Fred Frankel (Harvard University), Dr. Richard Green (Charing Cross Hospital; London, UK); Dr. Ernest Hilgard (Stanford University), Dr. Robert Karlin (Rutgers University), Drs. Jolyon West and John Hochman (University of California, Los Angeles), Dr. Susan McElroy (University of Cincinnati), Dr. Harold Merskey (University of Western Ontario), Dr. Ulric Neisser (Cornell University), Dr. Michael Simpson (Centre for Psychological & Traumatic Stress; Pretoria, South Africa), Dr. Elizabeth Loftus (University of Washington) and Drs. Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe (University of California, Berkeley). In addition, the board included such non-academics as writer Martin Gardner, and famed stage magician James Randi (“The Amazing Randi”).
Dr. Leif also managed to bring in other supporting academics from the University of Pennsylvania, including Dr. Lila Gleitman, Dr. Henry Gleitman, Dr. David Dinges, and Dr. Aaron Beck. In addition, two more UPenn faculty members joined the board: Emily Carota Orne, and her husband, Dr. Martin Orne.
The heavyweight academic support for the concept of false memory syndrome gave it growing credibility to the public. In a 1996 book published by the American Psychological Association (APA) titled Recovered Memories of Abuse
, authors Dr. Kenneth Pope and Laura Brown emphasized the critical importance the Scientific and Advisory Board had in popularizing the concept of false memory, and the implications of its opinions:*
[These experts‘] contribution of time, money, reputations, and credibility to the goals and work of FMSF may represent a significant, if not crucial factor in the Foundation’s success. The Scientific and Professional Advisory Board’s implicit endorsement of the FMS diagnosis may help explain why such FMSF claims are so vividly reflected in the professional literature, expert testimony, and the popular media. If widely accepted, claims about an FMS epidemic traced to therapeutic malpractice may influence diagnosis and treatment for many people, the access or lack of access that intervals have to various services, and the clinical, forensic, and public response to those who report memories of childhood abuse.
The Freyds initially found success in publicizing their plight in their local newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer
. Due to the public relations efforts of their newly founded organization, the FMSF, over 300 articles on false memory would reach the mainstream from 1992-1994. In 1995 the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) aired a two-part Frontline
documentary titled "Divided Memories
," which cast huge doubt on the validity of recovered memories by conflating them with such issues as past-life regression, and by looking at some of the means by which they surface. Journalist Mike Stanton, in a 1997 Columbia Journalism Review
paper characterized the television special as “...a four-hour polemic, including an interview with the Freyds, that gave short shrift to confirmed cases of recovered memories.” Stanton went on to give further speculation as to why the FMSF PR machine proved so successful, especially during this early stage:
A reporter making an honest effort to tell both sides finds it difficult to penetrate a world where many victims are reluctant to surrender their privacy. Instead of digging out the story for themselves, reporters take a soft-news approach--just as many did earlier with implausible stories of victimization--and allow themselves to be swayed by tearful parents, leaving the FMSF to package the hard news in a slick press kit.
The overwhelmingly positive press coverage, and the prestige lent by such academic stars as Dr. Orne, helped the FMSF amass funds. While some of the Foundation’s income came from membership dues, it received tremendous outside support, in substantial part from wealthy patrons. While at their height boasting a figure of between 13,000-21,000 members in 1994, Stephanie Dallam and other researchers reviewing their tax records over this time, proved these numbers were inflated. Because it is an officially recognized as a 501 (c) (3) charity, whose benefactors are allowed to declare their contributions as tax deductions, the FMSF was required to make its tax records public. Although not required to do so, the Foundation listed its membership at this time at 2,385 members.
Currently, FMSF membership dues are $100 per family, per year. Assuming that membership dues were approximately the same as they are now, then their annual income would be about $238,500. During this time (the early to mid-90s), however, their annual operating budget was $700,000-$750,000 per year. So approximately two-thirds of their budget came from private sources.
Summarizing this post and the one before it, Pamela and Peter Freyd relied upon the authority of Ralph Underwager, both as a psychologist/expert witness and as Lutheran minister, to legitimize their claim that recovered memories of abuse are usually false. When an interview with Underwager and his wife cast doubt on the Underwagers’ true attitudes about pedophilia, the Freyds turned to other experts who were closer to home. These experts networked with other like-minded academics who gave the fledgling FMSF even more prestige than it had before. This prestige helped them wage a public relations campaign to put false memory syndrome in the public eye as scientific fact. The publicity garnered additional funding allowing the Foundation to engage in even more PR.
Yet despite the accolades and achievements of the FMSF’s advisory board members, many academics have viewed the organization and its claims with a high degree of skepticism. At the center of their concerns are a number of tough questions. What is false memory? What is false memory syndrome? Are memories easily “implanted” by naive, incompetent or unscrupulous shrinks? Are traumatic memories the same as normal memory? Can people actually recover memories after suppressing them, and if so could those memories be accurate?
*Dr. Pope was formerly the Chair of the APA’s Ethics Committee.
To read later posts in this series, click here.
Labels: FMSF, FMSF4, innocence, psychology
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Wrong Foot Forward
Sources not cited here can be found in this post.
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) experienced its share of setbacks, early on. The major one centered on its co-founder, Rev. Dr. Ralph Underwager. In June 1991, he and his wife, Hollida Wakefield, granted an interview
to Joseph Geraci, editor-in-chief of Paidika, The Journal of Paedophilia
, a scholarly journal published in Amsterdam.* The interview caused quite a stir because of several lengthy quotes that suggested Underwager and Wakefield’s support for both pedophiles and pedophilia. Paidika
published the article in 1993, in the midst of the FMSF’s attempts to establish legitimacy.
In context, Rev. Underwager and Wakefield tried to establish several points: (a) pedophilia, like homosexuality, is a learned behavior and a deliberate choice; (b) pedophiles should be responsible and pay the consequences for their actions, whether that restitution comes in the form of a jail sentence or a long-term commitment with the youth in question. The third point, which Underwager discussed for some length, was that pedophilia was a responsible choice, and that pedophiles were within their right to, like gays, come out of the closet and assert the positive aspects of their sexual practices:
[Geraci] Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individuals?
[Underwager] Certainly it is responsible. What I have been struck by as I have come to know more about and understand people who choose paedophilia is that they let themselves be too much defined by other people. That is usually an essentially negative definition. Paedophiles spend a lot of time and energy defending their choice. I don't think that a paedophile needs to do that. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. I am also a theologian and as a theologian, I believe it is God's will that there be closeness and intimacy, unity of the flesh, between people. A paedophile can say: ‘This closeness is possible for me within the choices that I've made.'
Paedophiles are too defensive. They go around saying, ‘You people out there are saying that what I choose is bad, that it's no good. You're putting me in prison, you're doing all these terrible
things to me. I have to define my love as being in some way or other illicit.’ What I think is that paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness, they can say, ‘I believe this is in fact part of God's will.’ They have the right to make these statements for themselves as personal choices. Now whether or not they can persuade other people they are right is another matter (laughs).
Wakefield further alleged that research into the positive aspects of pedophilia were suppressed by academic orthodoxy:
[Geraci] There is research and some scientific opinion that demonstrates that more positive examples and personal experiences exist. Theo Sandfort's research, cross-cultural models, the writings of the German sexologist Bomemann. Shouldn't we be putting positive views into the picture in order to come to an understanding?
[Wakefield] We don't know about The Netherlands. Our impression is that it's somewhat easier here than at home.
But your point is that potentially there can be good, healthy, positive relationships between men and boys. It would be difficult to come up with sexual research for that in the United States because it would frankly be suppressed. When I did a review of the literature on boy victims of child sexual abuse, some of the studies show not just negative effects in some of the boys. The authors try to explain this away. Their rationale is that because they didn't find negative things in their study, does not mean there are none. They just haven't shown up yet! If anyone in the United States were to do a study that showed positive outcomes and then wrote it up as a scientific paper, they probably would not succeed in getting it published. It could only be published if they found a way to explain away any positive findings. They would have to make it look like they found something other than what they found. They would be entirely vilified.
In summary, Geraci asked Rev. Underwager and Wakefield if they had any advice for pedophiles. Their response:
[Underwager] Take the risk, the consequences of the risk, and make the claim: this is something good. Paedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that paedophilia is an acceptable expression of God's will for love and unity among human beings. This is the only way the question is going to be answered, of whether or not it is possible. Does it happen? Can it be good? That's what we don't know yet, the ways in which paedophiles can conduct themselves in loving ways. That's what you need to talk about. You need to get involved in discourse, and to do so while acting. Matthew 11 talks about the wisdom of God, and the way in which God's wisdom, like ours, can only follow after.
Paedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that paedophiles is an acceptable expression of God's will for love and unity among human beings.
I think the paedophile movement makes a mistake when it seeks to label the church as the instrument of repression, and in a sense, the enemy. I'm certainly aware of the accusation that it's the church that represses sexuality. I don't believe that's the case at all. I believe that the repression of sexuality begins with Greek thought. People who want to deal positively with human sexuality will do best to see the church as an ally, and to elicit from the church the positive responses about sexuality that are there.
[Geraci] You spoke about the need for paedophiles to engage in a discourse. What should that be?
[Wakefeld] We can't presume to tell them specific behaviors, but in terms of goals, certainly the goal is that the experience be positive, at the very least not negative, for their partner and partner's family. And nurturing. Even if it were a good relationship with the boy, if the boy was not harmed and perhaps even benefited, it tore the family of the boy apart, that would be negative.
It would be nice if someone could get some kind of big research grant to do a longitudinal study of, let's say, a hundred twelve year old boys in relationships with loving paedophiles. Whoever was doing the study would have to follow that at five year intervals for twenty years. This is impossible in the U. S. right now. We're talking a long time in the future.
The fallout from this interview was immediate. Incest-survivor organizations circulated or cited the interview as widely as possible. The FMSF consequently asked Dr. Underwager and Wakefield to resign from their Advisory Board, but then withdrew the request.
*In a rebuttal to the interview
, Dr. Underwager gave the date as October 1990.
Most of the rebuttal does not actually address the interview or its context. It instead lashes out at various groups (most notably “radical feminists”) for what Underwager perceived as witch hunt hysteria. In the passages that directly addressed the Paidika interview, he stressed that he too was anti-pedophilia, and one need only to look at his prior publications to confirm this. He also stated that in the interview he acknowledged the harm pedophilia causes children. But upon reading the actual interview, the major harm Underwager expressed was caused by the jilting of such children when they grew too old to remain objects of sexual desire. Moreover, at no time in this interview did Underwager, or Wakefield, expressly say that they were anti-pedophilia.
Labels: FMSF, FMSF4, innocence, psychology
Friday, October 07, 2011
Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Putting Their Business in the Street
Sources not cited here can be found in this post.
Drs. Jennifer and Pamela Freyd both told their shrinks, close family and friends about the former’s recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse, albeit from their own perspective. Naturally, Jennifer’s friends took her side, Pamela’s friends hers. And during the time of the Freyds’ e-mail correspondence, those were the only people who knew this story. Jennifer made no effort to contact police, an attorney, or media.
After Jennifer discontinued e-mail contact, Pamela, against the advice of her psychiatrist, Dr. Harold Leif, wrote a tell-all paper, the aforementioned “How Could This Happen? Coping with a False Accusation of Incest and Rape.” The paper itself wasn’t very scholarly, as it did not include much in terms of either critical analysis of memory literature or original research. Rather, it consisted of her and husband Dr. Peter Freyd’s version of Jennifer’s private accusation, with citations to resources that supported their side–or as Pamela stated it, “...literature I could respect.”
“How Could This Happen?” cast numerous aspersions on Jennifer and her shrink, some of which were provably false. Pamela stated, for example, that Jennifer sought employment at the University of Oregon because Cornell, where she first taught, denied her tenure for not publishing enough. Actually, Jennifer left Cornell for Oregon because the former would not make a decision on early tenure, and the latter would. Additionally, Pamela accused Jennifer’s therapist of implanting a memory in her and guiding her towards a false memory through hypnosis, when the actual turn of events was quite different (see first post in this series). Pamela also divulged intimate details that Jennifer had told her in confidence while growing up, among them a brief flirtation with illicit drugs in high school, a struggle against anorexia in college, and marital problems. There were also veiled accusations that Jennifer had fallen victim to schizophrenia, characterizing her memories as no more than mere delusions. She also speculated that Jennifer could have been under great guilt because her relocation to Oregon required her husband to leave a job he liked, and felt great stress because of feelings that she was an inadequate mother because of the pressures of academia.
She published the paper in a non-peer-reviewed journal titled Issues in Child Abuse Accusations
, published by a Minnesota couple, Rev. Dr. Ralph Underwager, and his wife Hollida Wakefield.* In 1974, Underwager founded the Institute for Psychological Therapies (IPT). According to a statement on its website
...is a private practice of clinical psychology. IPT's primary work is related to allegations of child sexual abuse, but also deals with cases of sexual harassment, claims of recovered memories of childhood abuse, accusations of rape, allegations of improper sexual contact by professionals, forced and coerced confessions, false confessions, personal injury claims, mitigating factors in sentencing, custody, and medical and psychological malpractice.
After testifying for the defense as an expert witness in a 1984 child abuse trial, Dr. Underwager formed Victims Of Child Abuse Laws (VOCAL), a lobbyist organization dedicated to changing laws pertaining to mandatory reporting of child abuse by doctors, teachers and social workers. VOCAL also picketed social service agencies, hospitals and courts for their alleged “Gestopo-like” tactics, and against professionals they described as fanatics and lunatics.
Dr. Underwager and Wakefield were willing to do considerably more for Pamela Freyd than publish her paper. With their help, along with that of Dr. Lief and others, Pamela founded the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF). To find members, the Freyds took out classified ads in papers across the country, asking for parents who were falsely accused of raping children. The ads included a 1-800 number answered by either Underwager, Hollida, or staff at IPT in Minnesota. By then, Underwager had testified as an expert in over 200 child abuse trials, always for the defense. So, he lent his prestige to the fledgling organization by publicly speaking on its behalf.
Meanwhile, senior faculty at the University of Oregon’s Psychology Department were considering Dr. Jennifer Freyd for a promotion. They received no less than four copies of the Issues in Child Abuse Accusations
edition that featured “How Could This Happen?” One of the copies was sent by a member of FMSF’s ever growing board of experts. Pamela herself sent three copies, one of them anonymously. Although she had written the piece as Jane Doe, and despite the fact that she referred to her daughter and everyone involved by pseudonyms, Pamela included enough personal detail that anyone who knew Jennifer would immediately recognize her as “Susan” from “AnyCity.”
From 1992-1993, the FMSF’s publicity efforts began to take root. The Philadelphia Inquirer
carried two stories, both of which were sympathetic to Peter and Pamela. The New York Times
published another piece titled “Childhood Trauma: Memory or Invention?” A Time
magazine article titled “Lies of the Mind” and a six-part expose in the San Francisco Examiner
titled “Buried Memories, Broken Families” were also published in 1993. Like the Inquirer
story, these too depicted Peter and Pamela in a kind light.
Jennifer, who had no idea that her mother had written “How Could This Happen?” until her colleagues showed it to her, said nothing on this very private matter until she spoke at a 1993 mental health conference in Ann Arbor, MI. In a presentation titled “Theoretical and Personal Perspectives on the Debate,” Dr. Freyd made her first public statements about her mother’s counter-accusations. Responding to the national press that had suddenly thrust her into the limelight, she said, “I am being punished, at a national and professional level... for my private and personal memories.” She stressed that she saw this debate as only partially about recovered memories. For her, it was about families “in pain.” Going on she wished. “For my parents' sake I hope they can find a way to look inward, to do their own healing, instead of waging a kind of war at the national level.”
When asked, Jennifer Freyd granted media interviews until 1994. She has since said little on the subject.
Pamela Freyd, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to keep quiet. She and the FMSF were just getting warmed up. And they would soon demonstrate that they had a stomach for waging war on a national level.
*Rev. Underwager received his MDiv at Concordia Seminary
in St. Louis, MO. He received his PhD in Psychology from the University of Minnesota
Labels: FMSF, FMSF4, innocence, psychology
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Estrangement
Sources not cited here can be found in the previous post.
The terror consuming Dr. Jennifer Freyd on the night of 21 December 1990 into the wee hours of the following morning wasn’t for her, but for her children. As her visiting jet-lagged parents slept, she felt more and more fearful for the kids’ safety. So her husband volunteered to sleep outside of their locked bedroom door. But this didn’t allay her fear.
Jennifer’s mother, Dr. Pamela Freyd, awoke to some noise outside the bedroom. When she went to check it out, she saw Jennifer carrying away her son,. “He was sick in the night,” explained the daughter. “I’m taking him to see the doctor.”
Several hours later, Pamela received a call from her son-in-law. “We lied,” he said. “We're not at the doctor's office. We're at friends. We want you to leave the house and fly home. We've made reservations on the 3:30 airplane. The taxi will arrive in an hour and a half. Susan now remembers that she was seriously abused as a child by Alex.”*
Pamela and Peter complied with their daughter’s request, and flew back to their home in Philadelphia on 22 December 1990. As soon as they arrived, Pamela initiated a volley of e-mails. Over the objections of her shrink, Jennifer responded to them for the next seven months. The first simply read, “I love you. I hope we can keep some communication going.” Over the subsequent days, the missives grew more intense, not to mention probing. The next day, Pamela wrote:
I cannot deal with your memories — because I don't know what they are. We have been accused of something, but I could hardly go to a therapist, as you ask, without knowing what the details are. What is supposed to have happened?
On Christmas eve:
Susan, you have made serious charges against us. I don't have the slightest idea of what you are upset enough about to have initiated this crisis. I don't know where to begin to do what you ask and see a therapist like yours who is a young clinical psychologist, a female and a specialist in sex abuse.
In an e-mail sent 28 December 1990, Pamela hinted at feelings of betrayal:
I thought that you should know that we finally have heard some specifics of the charges. Your grandmother told me. You think you were sexually abused by Alex. Why could you tell her and not us?
After agreeing to see a therapist, and read the book The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
by Ellen Bass and Lauren Davis, Pamela asked Jennifer to open lines of communication with her father (which she did), and pressed her for more information about her therapist. It becomes quite obvious that Pamela really wanted to know the identity of this person in subsequent e-mails. Jennifer refused to divulge this information. Still, Pamela continued to press for who-what-when details in an effort to pin down a precise story.
A couple of weeks later, Pamela’s e-mails demonstrated early attempts to silence Jennifer by discrediting her account of events:
My concern was first raised by being informed that (a) the therapist had raised the subject of incest rather than taking it from you and (b) that you have been using hypnosis. There is much debate about the reliability of memories recalled under those circumstances. Also, I am aware that there is a Clinical Incest Group in Anycity [Eugene, OR] whose members enter the therapeutic situation with the bias that 50% of their patients will not remember sexual abuse and incest and so the therapist has to draw it out. This is outlined in a book by Maltz and Holman who have many followers in Anycity. Don't you think that there might be some dangers in such preconceived assumptions?
Pamela and Peter consulted with Dr. Harold Lief, a psychiatry professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Lief had previously helped Pamela work out some unspecified problems. He also helped Peter overcome severe his alcoholism. Lief suggested that Peter submit to a polygraph, which he subsequently passed.
Still, Jennifer’s feelings didn’t change. In fact, she was now recalling far more than disembodied flashes of male genitalia--from bathtub groping at the age of three, to penetration during adolescence. She then sought counsel from her husband and then friends. She also sought the advice of other family, including her uncle, her grandmother and her sister, all of whom had been estranged from Peter and Pamela for years by then. Those closest to her, both supported her and believed her memories to be accurate.
Pamela Freyd could not believe that her husband would ever do such a thing. She therefore blamed feminism, the “contemporary cultural and social” climate and this unknown shrink for Jennifer’s “personality change.”** She had plenty of blame for other parties as well.
Zealots who lead crusades based on their belief of their own moral virtue and superiority have a history of bringing much repression to the world. I found an overabundance of "slop," articles and books in which the authors lack respect for the bounds between therapy and politics and in which they pander to emotions.
Pamela offered to fly Jennifer’s therapist to Philadelphia so that they could show him or her the polygraph. One might guess that mama and papa Freyd had something a bit more confrontational in mind, however. Pamela had busied herself since Christmas studying suggestibility in children. She had come across a number of articles, many of which were undoubtedly inspired by McMartin and other witch hunt cases of the 1980s. Perhaps she suspected that alone, with Dr. Lief and her parents, her therapist would have been walking into an ambush.
Pamela and Jennifer spent the spring and early summer of 1991 trying to arrange a family counseling session. But they couldn’t reach an agreement on the terms of that discussion (where it was, who would be subject to what conditions, where the visiting party would stay, etc.).
In July 1991, Jennifer had had enough, and in an e-mail alerted Pamela that she would finally heed her doctor’s and cut off e-mail communication for an indefinite period.
It would seem that Dr. Pamela Freyd would not take silence for an answer.
*Pamela Freyd wrote this account in her paper “How Could This Happen?” Because she wrote it as a Jane Doe, everyone in the story has a pseudonym. She used the names Susan, Steve and Alex to refer to Jennifer, her-son-in-law, and Peter respectively.
**In the essay, Pamela characterizes herself as “conservative.” One could guess that she might have meant here more liberal attitudes, here, but she didn’t specify. She did write, however, “To be against childhood sexual abuse is a ‘politically correct’ position, especially for activist women." So this could be a gripe against feminism in general.
Labels: FMSF, FMSF4, innocence, psychology
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