This International Page on our website is meant for sharing posts from our international partners, supporters, proceedings, or general contributions in the wider context of false memories. If you also like to contribute, please get in touch with us.
British False Memory Society
The British False Memory Society (BFMS), a homologous to False-Memory Deutschland in the UK, issues newsletters on a regular basis. Both the British and the German societies have been working closely since 2020, exchanging experiences and scientific work from the respective regions. For those interested to read more about the BFMS, please go to https://bfms.org.uk/. The following articles are excerpts from the latest December 2021 newsletter. For the entire newsletter go to BFMS or download here.
False Memory Deutschland
A brief description
Federico Avellán Borgmeyer, Chairman
False Memory Deutschland e. V. (FMD), a nonprofit incorporated society, was founded in 2012 as a spin-off from a growing working group embedded in a public agency combating religious sects issues. Our statutes define our purpose, namely, to provide the general and affected public with information about the phenomena of false memories leading to untrue allegations of past sexual abuse and helping people affected by such ‘memories’.
Currently, FMD has slightly over one hundred active members, a board of three official directors, further three assessing board members and four members who act as honorary counsellors covering North, South, East and Central Germany, as well as German speaking Switzerland and Austria, when required. In addition, we count on the honorary work from our members as well as people who consider our work worthwhile supporting, whether via active participation and/or funding any of our multiple initiatives.
Over the last eight years of work, FMD has been contacted by numerous individuals and accumulated a total number of 460 cases, all digitally recorded under German, i.e. EU-GDPR. We have been seeing an increase of some 20% p.a. of new contacts over the last four years, an increase that may arise from an absolute growing number of people affected by false memories of sexual abuse or, more likely, from an increased awareness about the subject of FM topic resulting
from our work in providing public information about the subject of false/recovered memory.
Our telephone helpline receives two to three new contacts per week. We organize and convene two annual events, one in Spring and one in Fall, where members and newly affected FM families come together to speak out about their cases in a supportive environment. During a normal gathering we host around 50 participants. These gatherings are extremely emotional and show all the drama false-memory type sexual abuse allegations can produce, independently of age or gender, independently of whether one has been affected 20 years or 2 months ago or whether re-encounters have been possible or failed completely. During the gatherings, we also bring in external speakers to educate all of us on false memories from different perspectives, whether forensic, legal, scientific, psychological, ecclesiastical, philosophical, and discuss coping mechanisms following false allegations.
Our communication is directed especially to individuals who are or have been in psychotherapy while suddenly ‘recovering’ buried ‘memories’ of sexual abuse sometimes spanning back decades, after putatively having no cognitive recall, prior to commencing therapy, of these alleged events. We thus aim to prevent the situation from deteriorating
further and ‘recovering’ more ‘memories’, at an early stage and to consult an independent, different therapist for reassertion or rejection. Unfortunately, this scenario is achievable in a minority – about 5% – of all our cases.
The collateral damage caused by such a recovered memory on one person does normally involve a whole family, close relatives, friends, employers, public institutions, etc. The collateral damage is thus immense, emotionally, sychologically, financially and sometimes, even existentially. We therefore focus a high attention on those who have been wrongly accused; they make up some 95% of all our cases. Due to the increase in awareness about our society and work, we also get increased call-for-help from prisoners maintaining innocence, an issue new to us, but an issue which we are exploring in two cases right now. Our society and members from our society have written publications about false memories and given interviews to the press, either via public TV, different print media and brand new, recently on podcasts. False-Memory Deutschland is about to broadcast a professionally produced audio play about false memories of sexual abuse. In addition, we organise national conferences on the subject matter of false memories and recently became part of a National Roundtable for Patient Safety in Psychotherapy.
What sounds much though is actually very little in comparison to believers and followers of (satanic) ritual sexual abuse theories or dogmatic trauma therapists who continue to insist that many adult problems originate from past childhood sexual abuse. This belief system – which is not supported by the vast body of scientific literature from memory scientists – continues to influence public opinion and even government and academic institutions. Nonetheless, our society stays firm, grounded by data and science to continue to provide help and support to individuals and families who have fallen prey to falsememory type allegations.
Need more information about FMD? Don’t hesitate to contact us over www.false-memory.de or firstname.lastname@example.org
Counselling Activities at False Memory Deutschland e.V
Dr Hans Delfs, Oliver Völckers
Editor’s note: Madeline and I have been speaking this year with our European colleagues to share ideas and experience about false-memory type issues on the continent. As Henry Otgaar and his colleagues have demonstrated , the ‘memory wars’ are far from over and belief in repressed memories may in fact be on the increase (Otgaar el al, The Return of the Repressed: The Persistent and Problematic Claims of Long-Forgotten Trauma, 2019).
Helping people is part of our statutes
At the time of its foundation, one of its cofounders, Heidemarie Cammans, had already more than 20 years of experience counselling people as the head of a public agency against problems of religious sects. During the 1980s and
1990s there was an increasing number of cases where people claimed to be sexually abused by people organised in satanic and/or ritual groups, frequently including the parents of the person affected. Investigation into such cases showed without exception that no religious sects were involved and no evidence neither for sexual abuse nor for the existence of such organisations could be found, but in all cases the claims could be traced to psychotherapies. At the same time, more and more cases came up where parents reported that their children had cut off all contact without
explanation and following untrue allegations involving a religious sect. In fact, the allegations were therapeutically driven following psychotherapy to recover alleged repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.
Heidemarie is still very active in our counselling activities, though we have a few more counsellors who have professional experience from an assortment of backgrounds.
Who approaches FMD for help?
Among our requests for counselling services, the most frequent cases are from parents who are accused of non-recent sexual abuse allegations. (NRSA). No memory nor suspicion of SA existed before the adult accuser entered psychotherapy. In most cases, the parents are traumatised about their children cutting off contact; in even worse cases they are already charged with NRSA and face a criminal trial.
In many cases, a written discussion of their situation based on memory science helps them. A minority of cases, however, require very sensitive advice due to mental health vulnerabilities. Some accusers are still in contact with their psychotherapist who will try to bring them back to her/his track.
Another minority are people – mostly fathers – who are in the process of separation or divorce from their partner and try to reclaim the visitation rights to their children. Then suddenly and mostly out of the blue the abuse allegations rear their ugly head. As these cases do not appear to involve false memory, the only help we can provide is information about attorneys who have experience with such conflicts.
Most people approaching FMD for help have found us through our homepage on the internet. An increasing number are word-of-mouth recommendations from attorneys, social agencies or psychotherapists.
How do we ensure that the person seeking advice is not in fact a perpetrator?
One of our principles is never ever to counsel persons who are in fact guilty of sexual abuse. The crucial question is: How can we find out? One thing is for sure: unless we find substantial evidence that no abuse happened, we can only achieve high probability but never certainty. Firstly, the person must be willing to have an extensive interview with us. The interview is held preferably as a personal meeting. But conditions of large distance (and presently corona restrictions) often limit the interview to telephone contact. The interview extends to all aspects of the case, so far as known to the person. If more persons can contribute to the case (partners, siblings …) these are interviewed separately. And we are very sensitive to contradictive information about facts.
Such interviews already give a personal impression. What is the central concern? Is it to demonstrate innocence? Or is it the worry about the children living in a false reality and the grief of lost contact? Innocent people speak openly and do not defend themselves or insist on their interpretation of the case. Instead, they have a lot of questions, including what, if anything, they might have contributed to these problems. How personally affected is the person? It would need a very good actor to falsely pretend real concern, despair, or grief.
Another point of the interview is to find out what is known about the development of the memories. Did memories or suspicion of NRSA exist from youth up or did they pop up later, perhaps under some known influence? If we can get information about the development of memories, we apply the criteria of forensic psychologists.
Nevertheless, there are cases where we cannot persuade ourselves sufficiently to rate them as cases of false memory. In such cases we do not continue the counselling. Instead, we provide information about attorneys who are experienced in this field.
Possible counselling outcomes?
If we decide to rate the case as one of false memory, what can we do for the person?
- Initially, we can provide an array of information. Many people approaching us have no idea what happened to them. We can tell them what science informs us about cases like theirs. We tell them where on the internet or in printed books they can read more. In many cases, it helps them a lot to understand what might have happened.
- Depending on the details of the case we develop plans regarding how to proceed. What can they do to get more information? Writing to their children? Trying to make contact with the psychotherapist? How to inform or not to inform the rest of the family? Enter psychotherapy themselves in order to grapple with the case? Consult with a specialised attorney?
- FMD organises regular workshops and seminars for those affected by false memories. Such one- or two-day events give the opportunity of personal contact to persons sharing the same fate and to speak to a limited and understanding audience. Mostly we include an expert’s presentation on a related subject. People find these events particularly helpful. Presently, such events suffer from corona restrictions and are limited to online events.
We find that the task of counselling victims of false memory may sometimes seem to be a work of Sisyphus, but the results we are able to achieve in many cases make it worth doing.