Memory is important and essential to everyone’s life. We all use our memory every day in order to function. Our memory helps us maintain information over long periods of time and learn new things. Our memory can store large amounts of information whether its physical features or sounds, smells, tastes, etc. There are 3 stages of memory that involve acquiring, storing and retrieving information (Cherry, 2019). In order to learn any new information, our brains must change information into a useable form which is known as encoding (Cherry, 2019). Then after encoding occurs the brain will store the memory for later when we go through the retrieval process which allows us to use our stored memories consciously (Cherry, 2019).
While memory is fascinating and essential in our lives, there are still flaws. No one is perfect and many times we forget things quickly or we misremember things. Another issue is that sometimes the brain does not properly encode the information we initially took in (Cherry, 2019)There are also different types of memory which includes short term and long term memory. Short term memory is less than a minute and mostly includes the information we want to get or are thinking about (Cherry, 2019). Then long term memories last for much longer such as days, weeks, months and years. Most of these memories are outside of our consciousness but we can retrieve them as needed (Cherry, 2019).
The theory surrounding recovering memories and child abuse is that it is not accurate and hardly ever occurs accurately (‘Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse’, 2020). Recovering memories as a child can be tricky because they are so young snd their brain is not fully developed yet. Especially dealing with such a sensitive topic of abuse it can be hard for some children to fully remember what happened to them in those situations. Many times children want to forget about things that make them feel bad so they try and forget what happened to them. Some experienced clinical psychologists say that recovering memory is quite rare (‘Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse’, 2020). Research has also shown that memory can be easily inaccurate due to outside factors, such as the environment in which the child grows up in or the different social interactions they encounter. Some clinicians also say that children understand and respond to trauma differently due to their age, being so young (‘Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse’, 2020).
Some clinicians also believe that childhood trauma can cause issues in the stages of memory storage as well as retrieval (‘Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse’, 2020). Clinicians believe that dissociation is likely a factor and one explanation for a memory that was forgotten and later recalled. Dissociation occurs when a memory is not lost but is unavailable for retrieval for some time. The memory is in storage, but cannot be recalled right away (‘Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse’, 2020). This likely occurs because as mentioned previously, children would rather forget and repress this bad memory, to not relive through such a painful and traumatic experience at such a young age pushing that memory further and further away which could lead to them not remembering all details clearly and accurately.
Recovered memories are not used or relied on during legal proceedings. Many cases, both civil and criminal, were dismissed when it was disclosed that the plaintiff had memory recovery (Howe & Knott, 2015). In my opinion, I think that recovered memories helped the court systems to question and further investigate people’s stories. Courts do not just rely on people’s word or memory because it’s been proven that memories may not always be as accurate and there are flaws that could go wrong in the stages/storage of memory. There must be some type of clear evidence in order to prove that your memory is true which many times is hard to come up with and show clear concrete proof. It is important to remember that memory gets encoded based on the particular individuals understanding of a particular event, their expectations, needs, wants, and emotional state (Howe & Knott, 2015).
For example, in the case of Holly Ramona, Holly filed a childhood sexual abuse lawsuit against her father, Gary Ramona, stating that she had repressed the abuse and memories from her conscious memory for a long time until after she started going to therapy as an adult (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). Holly’s mother, found Holly vomiting in the bathroom one summer, where Holly then admitted to her mother that she thought she had an eating disorder (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). Holly’s dad Gary, set up an appointment for Holly to see psychiatrist, Barry Grundland. Holly’s mom Stephanie set up another appointment for Holly to see a marriage, family, and child counselor, Marche Isabella (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997)
Stephanie discussed Holly’s condition with Isabella and Isabella told Stephanie that many times people with eating disorders may have been sexually abused. This led to Stephanie asking Holly if her dad has ever sexually abused her. At that time, Holly did not claim to have been abused (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997).
Holly began treatment for bulimia and depression with Isabella and Isabella asked Holly, if she had ever been sexually abused then went on to tell her the same thing she told Holly’s mom that many times people with eating disorders may have been sexually abused(Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). During the first session, Holly did not claim to have been abused at all. Weeks later, Holly began group therapy with some of Isabella’s female patients with eating disorders, including some women that have been sexually abused as well (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997)
Holly went home during a school break and said she got a look from her dad that she described as disturbing. Then sometime later, while driving back to school with her mother, Holly began experiencing visual flashbacks involving her dad when she was a young girl (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). Holly filed the lawsuit on her dad when she was 21. Holly allegedly stated though that she recalled the abuse approximately three months after beginning treatment for depression and bulimia (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). She was not sure if the flashbacks she was experiencing was real so she took drugs, sodium amytal to be exact, to undergo hypnosis in order to see if the flashbacks were true (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997).
Overall the jury decided on the majority vote that therapists and the hospital were negligent in the diagnosis and treatment of his daughter. The case was dismissed and Ramona’s dad was not convicted, and was awarded money due to all the damages he encountered throughout the trails and process (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997) In this particular case Holly was influenced by her therapists and support groups to believe that she has an eating disorder due to the fact that her father sexually abused her when she was younger. In my opinion, she wanted to find something to blame her eating disorder on which she did by really believing she was abused by her father and even created flashbacks in her head. This case clearly states how unreliable recovered memories are.
Another case that is briefly mentioned in the article by Corelli, Hoag, and Howell is the Tyson vs. Tyson case. The plaintiff accused her father of sexual abuse during her child and teen years. The daughter stated that she repressed all memories of her father’s abuse until she started attending therapy more than 1o years later (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). In a five to four decision, the Court let the case go and the father was found not guilty due to the lack of empirical clear evidence (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). Knowing that therapy can alter the truth, it was hard to determine the facts of this case after such a long period of time has passed when she started to recover memories (Corelli, Hoag & Howell, 1997). Overall, most clinicians and professionals in the field are in agreeance that although rare, a memory of early childhood abuse can be recovered and remembered later. However, professionals also agree that it is possible to make up false events and memories for events that never occurred which children especially tend to do since they hear and see many different things which can alter their memory, judgment and the way they perceive as well as store information.