One Family's Story at Root of 'False Memory' Movement

Katie Heaney of the Cut recounts the controversial history of a key organization
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2021 10:55 AM CST
One Family's Story at Root of 'False Memory' Movement
Stock photo.   (Getty/kieferpix)

The idea that adults who accuse parents or others of abusing them as children might be relying on false memories is well established in society. Maybe less well-known is that this movement can be traced to a now-defunct group called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and Katie Heaney explores its controversial roots in a lengthy story at the Cut. The foundation was created by a couple named Pam and Peter Freyd in 1992 after one of their grown daughters accused Peter of abuse. Over its nearly 30-year run, the foundation helped raise doubts about abuse allegations in countless cases, and it has spawned similar groups that continue doing so. "Today, the notion that one's own memories of sexual violence are unreliable is owed, in large part, to how the Freyds responded to their daughter," writes Heaney.

Both elder Freyds are still alive, in their 80s, and they remain estranged from the daughter who made the accusations, Jennifer. "I wish them well," she tells Heaney. "I wish they would take responsibility for what happened and make amends, but I don't think they will." The story digs into Peter's own history, including his own sexual abuse as a boy. At one point, Pam tells Heaney that she was surprised to learn that her husband had sexually propositioned young men years earlier. "I didn't see it," she says. "It could easily be I didn't want to." To which Heaney adds: "Those dozen words, as it happens, are essentially the ones Jennifer has longed to hear from her mother for the past 30 years." Read the full story, which casts doubt on a much-cited "lost in the mall" study that suggests children can be easily manipulated into having false memories. (Read more Longform stories.)

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