False Memories In Child Sexual Assault Cases
Questioning potential witnesses or persons of interest is an important part of any sexual assault case, particularly the potential victims. But with such traumatic cases, how can we guarantee the testimony is accurate to avoid a possible false conviction? False memories have been an underlying issue since they were first brought to light after a study in the 1980s.
The study found that Freudian theories regarding depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem could be signs of repression, or the subconscious blocking out and deeply suppressing a traumatic event. In instances where this occurs, psychoanalysis would have to perform “memory recovery” techniques, such as hypnotic regression and guided imagery. Combined with their own confirmation bias, these psychologists could create clear memories of events that never happened, sometimes including gruesome details.
HOW FALSE MEMORIES CAN AFFECT CHILD SEXUAL ASSAULT
In some cases, law enforcement and those who question a potential victim may contaminate their memory accidentally without knowing it. This can create situations where a witness’s recall can be influenced by this contamination, and thus lead to false testimony being presented to a jury and a false conviction of an innocent person.
For example, if a child undergoes psychoanalysis and the examiner suspects they may have been the victim of sexual assault, the examiner might continually question the child about any contact he or she had with a relative or family friend. While the child may have no memory of the instance, the repeated questioning may cause the child to develop detailed memories of an incident in which sexual assault occurred. This can lead to a guilty verdict on the victim’s word where the victim fully believes the accused committed the act while the accused never did any such thing.
In an interview with The Guardian, Professor Tim Valentine discussed a well-documented instance of false memories from a 1999 British Murder trial. Barry George stood trial for the murder of Jill Dando with three witnesses to the case. The first identified him but two of his neighbors made no identification. All three witnesses left together and discussed the case. The next time they were asked to make an identification, they all identified George.
The Berry Law has combated false memory cases like these. Since 1965, Berry Law has helped their clients preserve their reputations and freedoms from these highly-stigmatized and difficult cases.