Letters

Recovered memories of childhood abuse

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7164.1012 (Published 10 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1012

We must tell patients that they were not to blame

  1. J K Ilsley, General practitioner
  1. Nunwell Surgery, Bromyard, Herefordshire HR7 4BZ
  2. Safety, New York, NY 11218-4315,USA
  3. New York, NY 10025, USA
  4. Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX
  5. Richland, WA 99352, USA
  6. Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA

    EDITOR—Pope welcomes the recent report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which counsels caution when treating patients with “recovered memories” of sexual abuse in childhood.1 This report may encourage disbelief of patients presenting with any memory of childhood abuse.

    Child sexual abuse is common in the United Kingdom.2 It is associated with long term physical and psychological sequelae.3 Its victims are reluctant to disclose their histories to doctors: only one in 20 will try to do so.4 They wait an average of 17 years after the abuse has occurred, and expect to be disbelieved and blamed.5

    Since 1896, when Freud radically altered his opinions and pronounced that his patients' stories of incestuous abuse were the stuff of fantasy, society has found it difficult to confront the reality of child abuse. There is a national organisation that represents people who allege that they have been falsely accused of perpetrating abuse, but there is no one body to which adult survivors can turn for help and advice. Should any of our patients be desperate enough to entrust us with their stories of childhood sexual abuse then the least we can do is to believe them and tell them that they were not to blame.

    References

    People with memories of abuse must be given reassurance

    1. Carl-David Birman, Director
    1. Nunwell Surgery, Bromyard, Herefordshire HR7 4BZ
    2. Safety, New York, NY 11218-4315,USA
    3. New York, NY 10025, USA
    4. Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX
    5. Richland, WA 99352, USA
    6. Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA

      EDITOR—I agree with the recommendations by the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported in Pope's editorial.1 One problem with memories of sexual abuse in childhood is the absence of empirical evidence. In certain cases the “recovered” memories have been shown to be based on hysteria, fantasy, malicious invention, or lies. These cases, however, are surely the exception that proves the rule.

      There is an epidemic of child sexual abuse in the world today. In the United States, several million cases of child abuse and neglect are “indicated” each year, and this figure continues …

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