False Memory News

Skeptical Inquirer Issue/November 1999
By Benjamin Radford

A woman who said her therapist convinced her she had been raped by a satanic cult and had killed an infant was awarded $200,000 by a California jury on June 21, 1999.

Ms. Leah Strout Simpson began seeing therapist Roger Litwin in 1986, when she was in her early twenties. Although Simpson did not initially relate stories of satanic abuse, Litwin treated her for multiple personality disorder.

Simpson came to believe she had been involved in ritual abuse and murder, and became suicidally depressed. She finally realized that what she thought were long-repressed memories were in fact untrue, an artifact of her treatment. The jury held Simpson to be 35 percent at fault for what happened to her. Litwin's lawyer said that his diagnosis and treatment were within accepted professional standards.

Two months later, on August 30, the California Supreme Court opened the door for prosecutors to try alleged child molesters for crimes they are accused of committing decades ago. The ruling upheld a 1994 state law that allows molestation charges to be filed within a year of the case being reported to authorities, regardless of when the crime occurred.

Justice Marvin Baxter's majority opinion noted that "young victims often have difficulty remembering and reporting traumatic abuse at the hands of adults. . . ." This statement contrasts sharply with the professional opinions of many psychologists critical of recovered memories, who say that in fact people who experience traumatic events typically have difficulty forgetting the events, not remembering them.

The ruling allows prosecutors to file charges only when the accusation is corroborated by independent evidence, excluding a psychiatric opinion.

Nevertheless, a representative of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Charles Sevilla, said that ruling would lead to prosecutions based on dubious evidence, especially the scientifically questionable theory of recovered memory.

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