Memory, masculinity and class


On the 28 march, 2015 the Daily Mail published an article that began in the following way:

Aristocrats ‘feel entitled to abuse people’

The article was about a member of the British aristocracy who was abused as a child within his family. He also went on to say that sexual abuse was a common occurrence at Eton college.

Are  upper-class men starting to identify as as survivors of sexual abuse?

 Changing definitions of masculinity?

Bet the Mail won’t suggest that

But are people more likely to remember abuse when articles like as this one are published?

And what was it  really like to be sent away to school when you were so young?

Tape-recorders, fun runs and old postcards


Pub-skeptics  make light of other people’s memories. They make requent references to tape-recorders and assert that most people think memory is like a tape-recorder.

They like to inform the public that memory actually does not work like a tape-recorder – it is “constructed”.

This is an interesting suggestion.  Especially seeing as pub-skeptics tend to be sceptical of the social sciences.

For those who are interested, here is some social science blurb of my own:-

  • Memory construction is influenced by politics and power.

  • The more power that a body has in a specific context, the more likely it is to be handled with respect

  • The more power that a body has in a specific context, the more likely that its claims will be accepted as “true”

  • It is easier to find forensic evidence that confirms the memory of the those with power than those without

  • Forensic evidence from people and organisations with power is handled with greater care than evidence from people with less power

Here are some examples of this:-

The handling of legal documents

In the inqiuiry into abuse in care homes in Jersey, witness statements were handled with more or less care according to the status of the person to whom the documents refer to. A commentator wrote that all documents relating to such an inquiry should be handleled

” with the utmost care and take all of the obvious precautions”

However this did not happen and statement from witnesses were not sent by registered mail. Instead a:

“200-page draft witness statement – from one of the core witnesses – whose knowledge is so extensive – was simply shoved into an envelope and posted” (1)

Documentation of time spent in care

If people spent time in the British Care System before a certain date they may have very little physical evidence of their childhood. If they were abused in the Care System then they may have nothing other than their own testimony to prove it.

Adequate records do not seem to have been kept ( or have been destroyed ) by individuals or organisations with authority.


That’s why it is fascinating when a little scraps of everyday life can confirm the memory of those who are otherwise not believed. For example, a postcard, a ticket to an event or a faded photograph.

For example, in 20008 Jimmy Savile denied ever having visited the Children’s home Haut de la Garenne in Jersey ( according to The Sun he paid the Jersey Government £50,000 to be excluded from an inquiry into the home ) (2).

Then another ex care home resident of this home produced a slip of paper for a fun-run signed by Savile. (3) He had been there after all!



Another example is a postcard that has been found by a person who was at a childrens´ home in Islington in the 1970’s. The postcard was sent by him to his family from Jersey when he was five hears old. However his file from Islington Social Services makes no mention him ever being in Jersey.
What other little scraps of paper are out there? That can help confirm the memory of those who are dis-empowered?


(1) Syvret, Stuart. Formal Submission to the Jersey Chief Minister Senator Ian Gorst . 21th October, 2014.
(2) Goslett, Miles. `Savile in £50,000 bribe to stop child abuse rap` The Sun. October 2014.
(3) ITV News. Evidence Jimmy Savile was in Jersey in 1976, despite his denial . 9 December 2014.
(4) Johnson, Andrew `Postcards that link Islington care home children to scene of notorious Jersey sex abuse` . Islington Tribune. 3 Oktober, 2014

The Ethics of Debunking


According to an article published 22 March in the online newspaper Exaro News (1) the BBC is planning a Panorama program that aims to “debunk claims of a Westminster pedophile network”. 

In response to criticism the program’s producer has said that it will retain “a very open mind”
The use of the words debunk and open mind suggest to me that the program will be looking at issues related to the statutory inquiry into child sexual abuse from the point of view held by magazines such as the Skeptical inquirer and organisations such as Skeptics in the Pub.

These organisations apply a method of:-
1) Saying that they abhor child sexual abuse
2) Dividing what they see as real child sexual abuse from the non real. If there is no forensic evidence then it is non-real. Memory does not count as forensic evidence even if it is the memory of more than one person.
3) Comparing reports of child sexual abuse that are based on human memory to moral panics and witch-hunts
4) Introducing straw-man topics such as satanic panic and alien abductions into dialogue about child sexual abuse
5) Suggesting that people can be falsely accused as the result of moral panics
6) Moving the focus of attention away from the injustice of child sexual abuse to the injustice of false allegations.

One of the people who popularised the word debunk was the stage magician James Randi. An article in the Telegraph (2 ) described him as the king of the debunkers.
James Randi also sits of the advisory board of the US false memory group. ( 3)


(1) Watts, Hencke  and Fielding. “BBC at war over Panorama on claims of VIP pedophile network” Exaro News. 22 March, 2015

(2) “James Randi: Debunking the king of the debunkers” The Telegraph. Dec 9, 2014

(3) the advisory board of the US false memory group.

The memory wars

(c) Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Village Ball Game. Alexander Cause. Detail

In the opening of the book Recovered Memories and False Memories Martin Conway writes

At the centre of the recovered memory debate there is a dialogue between psychotherapists and memory researchers concerning the veridicality of human memory.

For a long time I beleived this. And then I realised that its not true.

There dividing line does not go through two professions, psychotherapists versus research psychologists. It doesn\t even go through the subdivisions of the profession of psychotherapy, with cognitive psychotherapists lining up on one side and psychodynamic therapists on the other. That how the false memory movement wants to promote it, but it doesn\t work like that.

I now think that the dividing line is more political than scientific.

The British Psychological Society’s report on false memory

The Independent  newspaper has been consistently more critical of the notion of false memory  than The Guardian

Here is an article by Liz Hunt from 1995 describing the report by the British Psychological Society.  The report was called:

“Recovered Memories: Working Party of the British Psychological Society”

Liz Hunt’s article was called

Recovered Memories of Sex Abuse Usually True

“Recovered memories” of previously forgotten childhood trauma, including sex abuse, are largely reliable but memories of such events can be false and implanted by poor therapeutic technique, a study has found.

The report by the British Psychological Society (BPS) which carried the study will do little to defuse the fierce debate on recovered memory related to child sex abuse.

The report also concludes there is little evidence that false memories can be created from scratch unless they have been “extensively rehearsed” in the imagination.

More than 500 families in Britain are claiming false accusations of sex abuse following an adult son or daughter’s therapy in which they “recovered” memories of childhood trauma, including satanic and ritual abuse.

The British False Memory Society, (BFMS) which represents the families, reacted angrily to the report, claiming it endorsed “pseudo-scientific” theories.

Roger Scotford, a spokesman, said it gave credence to unreliable techniques such as hypnotic regression and “question-begging” associated with recovered memory therapy.

But Professor John Morton, chairman of the BPS working party, said “. . . we clearly say that false memory can be implanted and we clearly say there are certain techniques we disapprove of.

It is not clear what else we could say . . . In individual cases either parents or the [son or daughter] may be lying or both . . . we cannot make any individual judgments. It is up to the police and the judiciary. . . ”

Professor Phil Mollon, of the Lister Hospital, Stevenage, also a member of the working party, said false memories could result from a child growing up in an atmosphere of “overt sexuality” which fell short of sex abuse but would lead to confusion and uncertainty.

Nine out of ten senior psychologists who took part in the survey said that “recovered memories” of traumatic experiences are sometimes or usually “essentially accurate”.

However, two-thirds also believe that false memories of such events are also possible. One in five psychologists believed their clients had experienced false memories.

Dr Bernice Andrews of the Royal Holloway College, London University, said that the survey of 810 psychologists (27 per cent of those sent the questionnaire) was representative of those practicing in Britain.

She said that recovered memory of trauma was not uncommon; 50 per cent of respondents said they had clients who had experienced this during therapy.

But the survey also found that almost one-third of respondents had clients who had started to recover memory before they had entered therapy, and often it was the reason for seeking help.

Of the psychologists surveyed, only 10 per cent said they used hypnotic regression.

Dr Andrews said she accepted that confidence in BPS members did not preclude “unscrupulous therapists” using leading questions, ambiguous interpretation and bad techniques.

The report recommends that the BPS ensures its members carry out therapy in accordance with its new guidelines.

It also asks research organisations to give higher priority to the properties of memory, and asks the Department of Health to consider the report in its review of NHS psychotherapy services.

Professor Larry Weiskrantz, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Oxford University, speaking for the BFMS, described the report as “badly flawed”.

Going Underground

The false memory movement of the early 1990’s nearly killed me.

If I hadn’t gone underground I don’t know if I’d still be alive today


In 2002 Stephanie Dallam (1) wrote that:

“A study of 113 adult victims of childhood sexual abuse in Ottawa found that although many of the women had corroborative evidence for their memories, over one-half had been accused by someone of having false memories. The women reported that exposure to false memory rhetoric led to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression, increased self-doubt about their memories, and an overall slowing of the progress of therapy (2)

Dallam writes that during the 1990’s some therapists in the UK became worried that they could be accused of implanting false memories and therefore suggested to clients that their memories might be false. She cites a newspaper report about a teenager who committed suicide after being told that her memories of sexual abuse were false. The mother of the deceased said

“She had been told her abuse was part of false memory syndrome. Two weeks later she took an overdose of prescription medication and died. I believe that had my daughter been believed, she would have stayed at the unit and would be alive today.” (3)

There is a need for research on what may happen to people when they are told that their memories are false.

A members survey of an Australian false memory movement ( now no longer in operation ) found that

  • only 58% of those surveyed were able to comment on the condition of the person supposedly suffering from false memory.

  • 7% of this 58% had committed suicide

  • A further 15% of this 58% had attempted suicide. (4)

In other words, an possible 22% of people acused of having a false memory have either committed suicide or are or have been suicidal.

The Australian false memory people think that this is the result of being implanted with false memories.



(1) Dallam, Stephanie Crisis or Creation?A Systematic Examination of “False Memory Syndrome” The Leadership Council. 2002.

(2) Allard, Kristiansen, Hovdestad, & Felton – cited by Stephanie Dallam (ibid.)

(3) Dobson, R. (1998, April 5). Abused lose out over memory scares. The Independent (London), p. 2.
(4) Elson, Merle. Accusations of childhood sexual abuse based on recovered memories: A family survey. 1996

False Memory on your CV?

academic advisory 3_edited

After being accused of false memories, destroying families, leading witch hunts and  brainwashing others in the early 1990’s I stopped speaking – even to myself.

I fled, went underground and was very quiet for a long time.

I’ve now started to write about this injustice online.

But not IRL.

And I can’t ever imagine wanting to put the words false memory on my CV

 So why do others do so?

 Why do they want to blab about their association with a movement that has caused myself and so many others so much harm?

 Contratto and Gotfreund give four possible reasons why people might want to put the words false memory on their CV

  •  Concern about the future of science

  • Concern about the cocept of repression

  • Concern about the damage done to families

  • Concern about the professional status of psychology

I have to confess that I have given a lot of thought to these reasons.

I now think I was wasting my time.

Here is my present analysis of why some people want to put the words false memory on their CV

  • they hate feminists

  • they hate women

  • they hate vulnerable people of any sort and gender

  • they hate feminists

(1) Contratto and Gotfreund A feminist clinicians guide to the memory debate. Taylor and Francis. 1996

Bishop cautions against using term “false memory” in House of lords. 2001

lewis chessman

 Thankfully,  there were some powerful people in the UK who dared to criticise the false memory movement

One of them was the now retired Bishop of Birmingham, Mark Santer who said this in the House of Lords in 2001:-

“The notion of “false accusations” deserves some critical examination.It is often used to refer to cases in which an investigation does not lead to a criminal conviction.

But we know a great deal more now than we did only a few years ago about the abuse of children and young people.

We know about the skill and cunning of many abusers, the powerlessness of children and young people, the difficulty that we have in listening to them and the difficulty that people experience for very many years in speaking about traumatic experiences, together with the inherent difficulty of securing convictions in situations where it is very unlikely that there will be other witnesses.

We also know that there is a great deal of hidden abuse.

When convictions are secured, it is common for several–often a large number–of other incidents to emerge. Very many cases never come to court, even though there is a moral certainty that there has been abuse.

I can remember a case where a priest was brought to trial. Two boys were involved. The prosecution outlined the case.

One boy gave evidence, but the other, the younger brother, panicked and would not go into the witness box. The case collapsed.

The man in question went around saying that he was not guilty. The police knew, and I knew, otherwise.”

Thank you Bishop




Keep the memories flying: funding false memory in the UK


In the UK a registered charity called The Odin Charitable Trust has funded research into memory.

Examples of this research are:-

In 1996 it provided funding for a survey of members of the British False Memory Society carried out at Kings College, London (1)

In 2002 it provided funding for research into the memory of children.(2)


In 2006 it provided funding for research into clinicians beleifs about abuse, memory and hypnosis (3)

The Odin Charitable Trust is run from the same address as the British False Memory Society (BFMS). (4)

It also provides funding for the BFMS  –  usually around £46,000 per annum


(1) In 1993 Odin Charitable Trust funded A Survey of Members of the British False Memory Society By. Gudjonsson, G at Kings College, London. . £16,260

(2) The Odin Charitable Trust ( registed charity ) provided funding for an article that was published in 2002. the article was entitled Inhibiting children’s memory of an interactive event: the effectiveness of a cover-up. It was published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Pschology. 16: 651-662 ( 2002). The Odin Charitable trust is aknowledged in the article.

(3) In 2006 the Odin trust awarded £9200 to research into Clinicians beleifs about abuse, memory and hypnosis. Appication submitted by Dr James Ost in colaberation with Prof Chris French, Mr Simon Easton, Dr Daniel Wright. Information from the online CV of Dr Chris French.Goldsmiths. University of London.

(4) See the Trust  annual reports