Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"Recovered memory" now admissible in Missouri lawsuits

See the article: Ruling spurs repressed-memory debate. Due to a recent ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court, lawsuits alleging sexual abuse that are beyond the statutes of limitations, can be brought to trial if the plaintiff had "repressed memories".
David Clohessy was watching a movie when he says the first memory came back to him - a horrible image that he says remained deep in his subconscious for more than 20 years.

The memory was of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. Clohessy was 12.

"If you had asked me before that movie if I had been abused, I would have said 'no,'" Clohessy said. "And I would have passed a lie detector test, too. That's how repressed those memories were."

In 1991, Clohessy filed a lawsuit against the priest. Because of the Missouri statute of limitations, the case was thrown out a few years later.

But last week, the Missouri Supreme Court broke with precedent and allowed a man to proceed with a lawsuit based on repressed memories.
We all have memories that we would like to forget. And sometimes, bad memories can be forgotten for a very long time. But we usually remember that we have bad memories and by force of will, keep those memories in the subconscious: if they flow in our minds, we can train ourselves to let them flow back out again, instead of obsessing about them. But this new theory of repressed memories says that due to trauma, we can forget completely that something bad happened, and it can only be recovered by therapy.

"Repressed memory therapy" was most famously used by therapists of purported UFO abductees and those who have claimed to live past lives. It was later applied to child sex-abuse cases. It was originally proposed by Sigmund Freud, founder of psychiatry, who later abandoned the theory in favor of the more orthodox Id, Ego, and Superego model of the psyche.

Amnesia does occur, but it is very rare, and usually involves brain trauma or disease. If not outright fraud, I would suspect that these "recovered memories" are actually false memories.

Most notoriously, "recovered memory therapy" derives from psychological warfare techniques pioneered by the Communists during the Korean War. After the war, large numbers of former prisoners of war had communist sympathies; it was later determined that this was due to various psychological therapies. Americans soon learned these lessons very well, and started applying them to our own citizens, with disastrous results.

A patient approaching therapy is often given a large list of general symptoms, such as headaches or sleeplessness, which anyone could have. The therapist will then declare that the patient is a victim of child sexual abuse. A patient is told that they are "in denial" if they do not think that this abuse actually happened. The patient is told to ignore feelings and actual memories, and will then explore the "abuse" with the therapist. After months or years of therapy, the patient will have a "recovered memory" of abuse. Objectively, it is certain to be a false memory.

Trial lawyers love recovered memory, since it increases greatly the pool of potential plaintiffs in lawsuits. Not surprisingly, trial lawyers and the psychological profession are close political allies, and both cooperated in the revolution in law and psychology back in the early 1970s. Follow the money:
...Patrick Noaker, a lawyer from Minnesota who has filed more than 2,000 clergy or school sex abuse cases nationwide...
is a big supporter of recovered memory therapy.

Nearly the only target for these new kind of lawsuits is the Catholic Church. Even though sex abuse rates are far higher in public schools, they typically have sovereign immunity or statutory limitations that makes lawsuits impossible or unprofitable. Protestant denominations and independent religions are just too small to make them a likely target: no deep pockets. Besides, Catholicism is just too weird for many Americans, so it is unlikely to get any sympathy.

The trial lawyers also have allies in the media and in the National Teachers Association. The media is guaranteed juicy stories while the NEA's competition is eliminated.

At one time, the American legal system was based on the concept of justice, which is the objective virtue of giving people their due. Not surprising, the American system of justice comes from England, and its system of justice came from Catholic moral theology. Under this old system of justice, a person had to be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of guilt before he could be punished. And the criminal act itself had to be a violation of the objective moral law. Also, the context of the act and the mental state of the defendant had to be taken into consideration. The punishment had to be proportional to the wrongdoing.

The legal revolution of the 1970s changed all of this. First, the crime no longer had to be a violation of the moral law; now the theory of "positive law" is used, which is just a form of amoral social control and power politics. Also, a person no longer has to be guilty of a crime to be charged: this is most evident in environmental, narcotics, EEOC, and RICO cases. Finally, the standards of evaluating a defendant's mental state and circumstances has changed violently. Punishment is now proportional to the financial means of the defendant. The law has moved from a Christian to a socialist model.

These cases are taking place under the civil, and not criminal law. In criminal cases you need a much greater burden of proof of wrongdoing compared with the civil law; also, you can get money in a civil case, whereas you can only send someone to prison in a criminal case. Trial lawyers can get rich off of civil cases.

Ironically, our civil (or equity) law system originally came from Roman Catholic ecclesiastical courts back in England. The Crown would only punish criminals, while the Church would attempt to address wrongs: for example, by making someone give back money they had stolen. The Church thought that the State was virtuous enough to handle these equity cases, and so mostly got out of the law business; obviously, it was wrong! The Church could be financially ruined by the institution that it started.

I have the greatest sympathy for actual victims of child abuse, and punishments should be severe and in the criminal justice system. Bishops and others who cooperate with this abuse should be prosecuted as accessories. Members of the media who have knowledge of this abuse should not be granted journalistic immunity. Only the confessional is inviolate; fortunately, in most of these cases, the abusers were well-known for their acts. It is completely injust to make parishioners pay for abuse that was perpetrated decades ago by clergy that are long dead. If someone has "recovered memories" of abuse, I feel very bad about what they think happened to them: however, they should try to objectively determine the truth.

And to the trial lawyers: if you want to destroy the Church, it will never happen and it shall be victorious. And, money can buy all that money can buy, but it can't buy happiness or true love. I would guess that most of these trial lawyers are agnostics or atheists, but they should consider the possibility that some day they may have to defend themselves in front of the Supreme Judge of Heaven.

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