The False Memory Syndrome Farce


Concepts and excerpts derived from
"Memory and Abuse" by Dr. Charles Whitfield

1. The Backlash

Dr. Whitfield lists the forming of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation as one of the backlashes against Child abuse awareness and recovery, along with VOCAL (Victims of Child Abuse Laws.) He  considers the FMSF to be part of "Offender System Supports"  

".....two of the FMSF advisory board members published an interview advocating pedophilia as a potentially healthy lifestyle, although they had denied saying this in other interviews and a prior publication. Board member Ralph Underwager, Ph.D. who appears to have coined the term 'false memory syndrome,' was interviewed about pedophiles by the Netherlands publication Paidika:The Journal of Paedophilia, with his wife, Hollida Wakefield. When asked 'Is chossing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individual?' Underwager replied, 'Certainly it is responsible....Paedophiles can boldly and courageoulsy affirm what they choose. They can say the 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 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.'  When this article was made more widely available to people in the US Underwager regisned from the FMSF professional advisory board, although exact reasons were not disclosed in the newsletter."  

2. Origins  

The FMSF was founded by Peter and Pamala Freyd after their adult daughter , Jennifer, regained memories of having been sexually abused by her father. Jennifer was a professor of Pyschology at the time her memories began surfacing, and her husband confronted her parents privately about what Jennifer was remembering. Her parents denied that the abuse had happened, but began to "lash out at her with a series of personal attacks and personal boundary violations that have continued until the present. "  

"1)About six months after Jennifer began facing her painful childhood memories through psychotherapy, her mother began mailing a partially fictional and supposedly anonymous story of their denial that she had written under the name of "Jane Doe" to many of Jennifer's collegues at the University of Oregon, notably to full professors in her department. According to Jennifer, this was done 'during the very year in which my promotion to full professorship was being considered' " The article that her mother was sending around untruthfully said that Jennifer was denied tunure at a previous university and also included extensive discussion of her supposed sex life which was largely inaccurate. "Her mother phoned several of these colleages, trying to tell them some of this story directly, and also contacted Jennifer's therapist and in-laws."

2)"Pamela and Peter brough together a small group of academics who supported their claim that memories of abuse were often false and implanted by psychotherapists. The Freyds incorporated the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in March of 1992. This group began contacting the media and Pamla traveled the country with her story, and to this date the FMSF functions mostly like a public relations firm.   Few reporters bothered to find out that no such 'syndrome' (as the False Memory Syndrome) has been shown to exist. The foundation further enhanced it's image by recruiting a number of prominent psychiatrists and psychologists to serve on its advisory board.   Up to this point there was no concept of 'false memory syndrome' among mental health professionals, nor did it appear in their scientific literature. It is an FMSF term sometimes credited to Ralph Underwager, Ph.E, who was later pressured to resign from the FMSF Board " after he said in an interview that having sex with a child was a possible healthy lifestyle choice.

 3) A Letter From A relative  Dr. Whitfield also notes that the Freyd's dysfunction includes old and new "boundary distortions, such as the fact that Peter and Pamala are stepsiblings who grew up, for a short time, in the same family." In other words Peter's biological mother is Pamala's stepmother.   "the Freyd's two daughters are not the only family members to be alienated from them. Their mother and Peter's brother William have also chosen not to associate with Peter and Pamela for the past 20 years. After viewing a PBS Frontline documentary in April 1995, that was biased in favor of 'FMS' claims, William Freyd wrote the following letter to frontline:  

    ' Peter Freyd is my brother, Pamela Freyd is both my stepsister and sister-in-law. Jennifer and Gwendolyn are my nieces. There is no doubt in my mind that there was severe abuse in the home of Peter and Pam, while they were raising their daughters. Peter said (on your show, "Divided Memories") that his humor was ribald. Those of us who had to endure it, remember it as abusive at best and viciously sadistic at worst.     The False memory Syndrome Foundation is a fraud designed to deny a reality that Peter and Pam have spent most of their lives trying to escape. There is no such thing as a False Memory Syndrome. It is not, by any normal standard, a Foundation. Neither Pam nor Peter have any significant mental health expertise.    That the False Memory Snydrome Foundation has been able to excite so much media attmetion has been a great surprise to those of us who would like to admire and respect the objectivity and motives of people in the media. Neither Peter's mother nor his daughters, nor I have wanted anything to do with Peter and Pam for periods of time ranging up to more than two decades. We do not understand why you would "Buy" into such an obviously flawed story. But buy it you did, based on the severely biased presentation you made of the memory issue that Peter and Pam created to deny their own difficult reality.   I would adviance the idea that 'Divided Memories' hurt victims, helpled abusers and confused the public. I wonder why you thought these results would be in the public interest that Pulblic Broadcasting is supposed to support.'  

4)The 'Looking Good' Claim  While this claim may be used by any abuser and co-abuser, it is often touted by the FMSF and those with similar views. Pamela Freyd addressed the question, 'How do you know you are not representing pedophiles?' Her answer:'We are a good-looking bunch of people:graying hair, well-dressed, healthy, smiling...Just about every person who has attended (our meetings) is someone you would want to count as a friend'.   How does this kind of reasoning show that they could not have abused anyone?    ......Child abuse cuts across and affects all ages and all social , educational and economic levels."   This is a very important issue both for survivors of abuse and therapists who work to help us heal.

5) Denial in Disguise Dr. Whitfield also writes that ".......the FMS defense may be the most sophisticated guise of denial of abuse-denial to a level finely honed-that we have yet seen, and it is possible that it will be exposed for what some believe it to be-a front for abusers and co-abusers who are unable to take responsibility for having mistreated their children. But groups like VOCAL and the FMSF may nonetheless last for a long time. "  

  ".......If most accused child sexual absers and many co-abusers deny having mistreated their alleged victims, then a quick way to appear right and to take the heat off of themselves is to deny the abuse and attack the victim with a term like 'FMS'"  

   "In my best clinical opinion and that of sexeral experts in the field of reovery from child sexual abuse, it is likely that 92 to 99 percent of survivors are telling the truth  and thus have real memories of having been abused."

The FMS is really about abusers denying what they did, and it is a group that does it's best to impede not only the survivor's recovery, but offender's recovery as well. There are offender recovery programs where people had begun to make progress in their healing, but then revert to denial, carrying a copy of FMS literature under their arms as they did so. It not only hurts victims, but it keeps abusers from finding recovery too. Because, remember, most offenders are in denial that they have abused anyone, and don't recall having been abused themselves, even though the vast majority of them were in fact victims themselves.