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Adriaan Mak

Recovered Memories of Child Sexual abuse

A Father's Story

Adriaan Mak

Here is a very brief chronology of my experience with my son's Rowland descent into therapy, his re-emergence into the real world and how I dealt for 10 years with the false accusation of incest.

Let me introduce myself first. I am a retired high-school teacher, an amateur organist, interested in philosophy, scepticism, science, and humanism. Although my wife and I separated well after my son and daughter had left the home, my son tells me that this separation did not cause the problems he encountered later and for which he went into therapy.

My son, Rowland, grew up in a family where he experienced much love and care from both his parents in addition to three square meals a day. He was a very good son, sensitive about fairness and justice, concerned about the suffering of many people in the world, asking me questions about life and death at a very early age. I used to take turns with my wife reading stories and singing to him and his sister at bed time when they were small children. He and his sister were able to read and do some math before they entered grade school.

As a family we did the usual things that middle class parents do to give our children the best of opportunities. I took Rowland and his sister to swimming lessons, soccer practices, piano and flute lessons, and much more. I became active in the governing board and work group organization of the summer camp my children used to attend every year. We had many good discussions. My wife told me that I was a good father and she certainly was a good and devoted mother. Perhaps some might have called us permissive parents, but then my son and daughter gave us little reason to restrictive.

Although Rowland had a few problems in elementary school, because he was then tall for his age and older boys and girls teased him, in high school he blossomed, became a popular athletic student, an excellent camp counsellor, a fine flautist. We made lots of good music together. At times I saw at camp a totally different side of him as he entertained young people being the comedian. He was a good and forceful public speaker. was an all round athlete, swimmer, basketball, soccer and football player. Many people liked him. Girls considered him "a catch" so I was told.

In 1984 he graduated from high school with the highest marks in his graduating class, was elected valedictorian, delivered a very serious - humorous address and received several top awards at his graduation ceremony including offers of scholarships to four Universities. I want to stress that we as parents did not push him. He was entirely self-motivated as was his older sister.

He entered into the mathematics programme at The University of Waterloo, but dropped out in the first year. He needed "to find himself" Of course I was concerned, but reasoned that some time in the real world would teach him self-reliance and show him where to go. I had done the same myself when I was young. I trusted his good sense although I knew that his openness and gullibility could get him in trouble.

It is my view now that perhaps after leaving the shelter of his family, he gradually lost control, but he should be the judge of that himself. He went to Toronto where he found employ in a succession of unskilled labour jobs.

In the summer of 1991, I met him and he told me that he was going into therapy to straighten out his life and deal with personal problems. I hugged him and said that I fully supported that decision. I remember his last words: "I love you, Dad."

In mid December 1991 I received a call that he wanted to drive to London, Ontario, a 3 hour drive west of Toronto, to tell me about something very important. Since he had to rent a car to do so, I offered to visit him in Toronto instead.

After some chit chat over tea, showing me a guitar he had bought, he invited me to go for a walk in a nearby park. During that walk he told me in a monotonous, almost trancelike voice that while in therapy he had recovered lost memories that I had sexually abused between the ages of two and four. These had been anal rapes. I was of course in total shock. I was told to hold my tongue until he was finished.

He did not give me much chance to respond, but when I finally challenged him to give any other evidence, such as reports from his mother or that he had evidence I had inclinations towards homosexual pedophilia, after all he had seen me as programme director in a camp and I would have had the opportunity to be seen to be interested in small boys, he told me that, as he had been led to expect from what his therapist had said about this confrontation, that I would be "in denial" and that my denial confirmed my guilt. With that he left me standing in the street. His world and my world at that moment had totally changed I was to realize later.

We had a few telephone conversations thereafter. In each of these he became more and more insulting and unreasonable. He did tell me that he had become suicidal. I wrote letters which went unanswered, except once when he simply told me to stop writing and that he would only open a blue envelope containing a full confession.

Contact through his mother or sister was also rejected. I phoned his therapist, an unqualified counsellor I discovered later, who also hung up after telling me that I "needed help".

For the next three months I experienced for the first time in my life what depression is. My reaction to overcome this debilitating effect of the false accusation was to become active and do something about the mess my son had become involved in.

I was pianist and choir director in a Unitarian Church at the time. During the service there is always time given for people to bring personal concerns to the attention of the congregation. In the last December 1991 service I announced that I had been falsely accused of incest by my adult son and would welcome information and help as to how such a false belief could have taken over my son's life. Although there were therapists in the congregation they did not speak to me.

I also searched the University of Western Ontario library for information and found, after reading much information about incest that was always remembered, a recent (1988) book: The Courage to Heal. The authors of that self-help book, neither of them trained psychotherapists, made the astonishing claim that many incest victims have no conscious memory of the repeated acts of sexual abuse, but may recover these lost memories, some of them involving years of abuse, later in life. The associate minister of my church told me however that this was an excellent book.

I also remembered an article in the Skeptical Inquirer of 1987 about false memories of alien abductions and satanic ritual abuse. This put me into contact with its author, Robert Baker, emeritus professor of psychology in Kentucky, who told me that he was just putting the finishing touches to a book he was to call: Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within. He was one of the first I contacted, an expert on hypnosis and memory, who had spotted the links between the growing fad in psychotherapy, repressed memory therapy and the satanic abuse / alien abduction nonsense that had been doing the rounds.

After reading the first article of a series, the first such in Canada, on false accusations of incest caused by suggestive therapies, written by Bill Taylor in the Toronto Star (May 1992) I called the number of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation mentioned in the article and joined that organization of falsely accused parents and concerned mental health scientists.

My call was answered by Pamela Freyd and since that time I have been active in that organization ever since as guest on T.V. shows, the first was together with Pamela. I participated as guest on Radio shows, became an organizer, newsletter editor, and recently try to inform people concerned about quack therapies, by sending out information such as newspaper and research articles and book reviews on the topic, maintaining daily contact via e-mail with people locally, nationally and internationally.

There are now branches in the U.K., other European countries, Australia and New Zealand. I have written dozens of letters to newspapers and appeared on more Canadian Radio and Television shows since. I helped translate into English a booklet commissioned by the Netherlands Ministry of Justice and prepared by Dr Peter van Koppen of a forensic research institute attached to the University of Leyden, to be used by crown attorneys, prosecutors, police officers and others investigating claims of child sexual abuse made by adults following suggestive therapies. I forwarded that booklet to the RCMP, and provincial large city police forces of Canada. All this was excellent therapy for me.

I have attended in the early nineties several court cases where falsely accused parents were to face the ordeal of having to defend themselves. I have kept a record of 240 such cases in Canada. In some of these the verdict went against the parent and a few have served time in prison. Allan Rock and Anne McLellan, ministers of Justice during these years, to whom many parents have written about their plight, have ignored the problem.

First, Canadian defense lawyers, notably Allan Gold, and soon after also Canadian judges discovered the fallacy of amnesia for childhood sexual abuse and as far as I know since 1996 there have been very few convictions where the testimony was based on allegedly repressed memories, supposedly recovered in therapy. In most of these cases where people were convicted, the defense lawyers were not properly prepared to defend their client. Often, in these cases the same two particularly ill-informed Canadian psychologists, believers that traumatic memories hide for years in the unconscious, acted as expert witnesses for the crown.

Confusion of course exists not only in the minds of some therapists, but among the public at large as to what "repression" is. Freud, who first used the term, even used the term ambiguously, sometimes meaning consciously suppressing a memory. True believers nowadays prefer the term" dissociative amnesia". They believe that victims for years or even decades on end may have no conscious memories of a history of many traumatic experiences, such as childhood sexual abuses, but may retrieve the memories of these events later in adult life. True believers in the "repression" of traumatic childhood memories have never properly defined "repression".

Contact with my son was re-established in 1999 when my son called me, announced that I had become a grandfather, and that he wished for me to see my granddaughter. He informed me that this did not mean that he was retracting the allegations of incest. We were not to discuss that issue he told me.

Since that time I visited his family regularly. In 2000 he called me out of the blue to tell me that he had come to see that his allegations of incest were false. I told him that I would be right over to hear about that.

Again we walked through streets as he explained what had made him change his mind. I heard for the first time that in addition to what he told me eight years before, he had acquired additional beliefs that he and I had been involved in a Satanic Ritual Abuse cult, and that when he began to realize how absurd these ideas were, he also began to doubt the other beliefs he had acquired in therapy.

He warned me however that he well remembered that there had been emotional abuse. I was disappointed about that and asked him to put that in a letter to me so that I could discuss it with his mother and sister. That letter never came. Instead my son told me soon thereafter that there had not been any emotional abuse either.

Nov 3, 2001, my son described to a meeting of Toronto and area parents how he acquired his false beliefs about being a victim of incest and what his years in therapy and being a member of "survivor groups" were like. Since that time he has spoken to Justice reporter Kirk Makin of the Globe and Mail. When his story appeared in that paper, I was surprised to read that as a young child he was always afraid of me. A true believer in repressed memories, still thinking that I am guilty of child abuse, triumphantly pointed that out.

When sometime later I asked my son about his childhood fears for me, he told me that he had just said this to Kirk Makin as a sort of excuse for believing the false memories. Giving up false memories can be a slow process.

Another fad in psychotherapy has run its course. While in the early nineties thousands of parents were reporting cases of false accusations after their adult sons or daughters had been in therapy, only a dozen or so in 2001 reported such cases in the U.S. and only one in Canada.

Many of the therapists, most of them so-called "traumatologists" once involved in the Recovered Memory craze of the eighties and nineties, began to advertise their services as distress and bereavement counsellors. The U.S. Government and businesses did set aside huge funds to help those distressed by the events that happened on Sept 11 and following get therapy from these quacks. As one U.S. critic of the trauma therapy scene observed: "Good grief!"

For many parents the problem is far from resolved. Their daughters still reside in the limbo of their false memories. At present I act as clearing house for newspaper and research articles on FMS, RM and MPD/DID that reach me from all over the "civilized" world, that is those areas where RM and MPD therapy has wreaked havoc with families: North America, Western Europe, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. The rest of the world was blissfully unaware, having better and more urgent things to do than engage in navel gazing therapies. In spite of the fact that Recovered Memory therapies are in rapid decline, Japanese psychotherapists, unfortunately have discovered Multiple Personality Disorder a.k.a. Disssociative Identity Disorder, Identities, so we may have to add Japan to the still psychotherapeutically misguided world.

Canadian psychiatrist Dr Harold Merskey, who has been of such tremendous help to many parents, well before the MPD craze infected a number of young therapists, wrote articles condemning this new trend in psychiatry. His 2004 article series, co-authored with Dr August Piper, in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, may well drive the final nail in the coffin of one of the most absurd of diagnoses. Some film makers and novelists seem still fascinated about this disorder, which as Merskey and Piper know, belongs in the same garbage can as beliefs in goblins, UFO's, spiritualism and similar so-called paranormal phenomena.

My aim is to corner and recruit as many people who have computers and can write brief letters to editors to comment on articles about the disastrous effects of repressed and recovered therapies. So far only in one country, The Netherlands, has a government fully condemned recovered memory therapy, warned the professionals to smarten up and re-educate themselves about avoiding suggestive methods and acquaint themselves with the most recent findings in memory research.

From Adriaan Mak: Many people have asked me what the Canadian Minister's reply was to Allan Gold's letter about an inquiry involving repressed / recovered memories.

Because my old computer crashed, I no longer have on-line the response by the then minister of justice Anne McLellan.

Here is some information

Can recovered memories be trusted?
Justice minister rejects call for inquiry

Globe and Mail Editorial April 15, 1998: Remember Those Justice Forgot

Justice Minister Anne McLellan says it is premature to call a special inquiry into the cases of men convicted of sexual abuse on the basis of victims' "recovered" memories. The unusual request to Ms. McLellan for such a review is the latest salvo in a raging international legal and scientific controversy over whether it is possible to repress traumatic memories of childhood abuse and later recover them as an adult during therapy.

Alan Gold, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, said in a recent letter to Ms. McLellan that there is an "urgent and powerful need" to review the cases of men convicted based on such "totally unreliable" memories. Many courts in the United States have begun to recognize the injustice of convicting people based on recovered memories, yet the "now discredited concept" has been applied in scores of cases in Canada, Mr. Gold wrote. "Real or not, such alleged memories are too readily confused with the results of suggestion and confabulation to have any degree of reliability," wrote Mr. Gold, a prominent Toronto lawyer who has campaigned against the use of "junk science" in Canadian courts. "Those men convicted under the older naive views continue to suffer, and some of them are still in prison because of it."

Mr. Gold says he doesn't believe that men are still at risk of being convicted solely on the basis of recovered memories but estimates there are "several dozen" wrongly convicted men in jail. "Today, except for a few intellectual backwaters, the professional organizations have caught up, they've blown the whistle. Recovered memories are joining electroshock, lobotomies and other psychiatric malpractice in the historical dustbin."

His request for a federal review is supported by several dozen academics, psychologists and psychiatrists and the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

Mr. Gold said the inquiry should be similar to the one conducted into the cases of 98 women who claim they killed abusive men in self-defence, but were still convicted of murder and manslaughter. After that report by Ontario Court Judge Lynn Ratushny was released last year, the federal government announced it would pardon two women and erase the remainder of the sentences of two others. The Ratushny review was set up after years of lobbying by women's groups, following a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that recognized battered woman syndrome as a defence to murder.

Mr. Gold wrote: "Given the systemic nature of the original injustice, and given the failure of Canadian courts to act on the problem even in individual cases, and given the ongoing suffering of those convicted without any adequate grounds, it is absolutely imperative that you act on this matter without delay."

Ms. McLellan said she has asked her officials to study Mr. Gold's letter, but she noted there is already a process within her department to review individual claims of wrongful conviction after all other avenues of appeal have been exhausted. "Traditionally, the issue of the reliability and admissibility of evidence, especially expert evidence, has been left to the courts to decide. However, I will monitor the case law in this area to ensure that applications (for review) are dealt with appropriately. A decision to do anything beyond this at this time is premature."

Toronto lawyer Susan Vella, who handles many sexual assault cases, said Mr. Gold's letter is another attempt by defence lawyers to "totally confuse the public."

Ms. Vella said judges already carefully consider the reliability of a particular recovered memory before convicting an accused person. "I think it's important to recognize that recovered traumatic memory is a delicate issue and has to be dealt with accordingly. It is not a black and white issue -- not all recovered memory is reliable and not all recovered memory is unreliable. Sometimes it results in an acquittal, and sometimes it results in a conviction. It depends on the circumstances."

Carleton University psychology professor Connie Kristiansen said that, contrary to Mr. Gold's assertion, it is "blatantly obvious" from the academic literature that there can be recovered memories of traumatic events and that they can be as accurate as those that have never been forgotten.

"Everybody is clear that caution is necessary, but to claim that all recovered memories are by definition false is certainly overstating the literature to date and the research that's been done," said Ms. Kristiansen, who has tangled with Mr. Gold on several occasions. "It's clear that accurate recovered memories are possible."

While she doesn't support Mr. Gold's call to reopen numerous cases, Ms. Kristiansen agrees there is a need to develop ways of evaluating whether such memories are true. "But until there are criteria, I don't know who could go around and figure out which recovered memory is true and which one is false."

In the United States, there have been many lawsuits in which therapists and hospitals are being sued by patients who accuse them of implanting false memories of abuse by using coercive and suggestive therapies. In the most prominent case, a Chicago woman and her family accepted a $10.6M out-of-court settlement from a hospital and two psychiatrists she accused of brainwashing her into believing she was a satanic high priestess.

Earlier this year, an inquiry commissioned by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in England concluded that any memory recovered through hypnosis, dream interpretation or regression therapy is almost certainly false. It blames "dangerous and powerful tools for persuasion" for spawning hundreds of false accusations against parents.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association in a position paper two years ago said reports of recovered memories of sexual abuse may be true but "great caution" should be exercised before accepting them without corroboration.