Repressed memories of childhood trauma: could some of them be suggested?

Author:Garry, Maryanne

GLORIA GRADY is the child of devil-worshippers. Around an altar in their home, her family would don black robes and perform Satanic rituals led by her father, a Baptist minister. Grady's father raped her repeatedly from the time she was 10 until she was in college, and her mother, brother, and grandfather sexually abused her. She was a "breeder" for the cult, providing them with aborted fetuses, and even an incestuous child when she was 14. The child was tossed into a fire as a sacrificial devil-offering. Now in her 30s, Grady has vivid memories of these childhood event, but, as reported in D Magazine (October, 1991), there is no evidence that any of these memories are true.

Grady didn't have these memories until she was about 27, shortly after she began "Christian counseling" at a Dallas-area clinic to grapple with what had been a lifelong weight problem. After an intensive hospitalization, she continued with weekly individual and group counseling. At first, her therapist suggested that she write down all the bad things that had happened in her life. A friend says Grady's list originally had rather benign entries, like the time her parents refused to let her square dance as a first-grader. Eventually, however, Grady came to remember incidents that were far worse. She began to have horrifying flashbacks, claiming that her father sexually abused her. With ensuing therapy sessions, she remembered more of these previously "repressed" memories, transforming her model Baptist family into a cult of child-eating Satanic ritualistic monsters. Her accusations left virtually no one in her family unaccused except a favorite aunt.

Grady's parents denied all the allegations. Their attempts to intervene directly were unsuccessful, so they enlisted the aunt's help. When the group attempted to visit Grady at a halfway house, an altercation ensued and the police eventually ordered the relatives to leave. Shortly afterwards, the District Attorney's office served the family with papers requesting a protective order to prohibit any contact with Grady.

At the hearing, Grady's charges were refuted by other evidence. Her gynecological records revealed no indication of any sexual activity, let alone abortion or childbirth, during the period of alleged systematic rape. Grady remembered her mother hitting her so hard that she broke her collarbone; her orthopedic records showed the break to be the result of a spill in her walker as a nine-month-old child. Finally, photographs of Grady taken a few days before she supposedly gave birth showed that, although overweight, she most certainly was not pregnant.

Her therapist never testified, because of what Grady said was a joint agreement to end the relationship just prior to trial. Ultimately, the protective order request was turned down for lack of evidence, but Grady and her parents have not seen each other since. Most important, there still is no evidence that her memories are real.

Gloria Grady's is only one instance of litigation involving repressed memories for childhood abuse. At age 28, Eileen Franklin accused her father of murdering her best friend 20 years earlier. She claimed to have flashbacks of the murder when looking at her own five-year-old daughter. Franklin's recollection changed over time to maintain consistency with what was known to be true and offered nothing in the way of new proof. Her father was tried and convicted of the murder. The verdict was based solely on Eileen Franklin's memory.

Repressed memories are not just an experience of ordinary people; many famous individuals are going public with their own stories. Actress Roseanne Arnold made the cover of People magazine with her recollections of sexual abuse. Arnold said that, while in therapy, she began to recover memories of her mother abusing her from infancy to the time she was about six or seven years old. Three months earlier, former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur appeared in the same magazine, claiming to have repressed memories of sexual abuse by her father until she was 24 and he had died. Indeed, the phenomenon seems so widespread among the rich and famous that a few sessions with a therapist to recover lost childhood memories may become the 1990s version of checking into the Betty Ford Clinic.

Childhood sexual abuse is a genuine, horrendous problem by even the most conservative estimates. For a long time in our society, the general abuse and neglect of children virtually was ignored...

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