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Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma.

Michael Yapko Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. 260 pp., $22. Reviewed by Paul Mones

Until the early 1980s child abuse was not acknowledged as a serious social or legal problem--children silently suffered through sexual, physical, and psychological brutality, and their victimizers often escaped responsibility. Since that time, our national consciousness concerning treatment of children has undergone profound transformation.

Along with recognizing the plight of battered children, we have also been sensitized to the dilemma of adults abused as children. We have taken decisive steps to help wrongs done to them by their parents. The most visible reform made on behalf of this group has been extension of the statute of limitations for filing suits against abusers, typically the victim's parents.

Within the last four years and particularly during the past year, there has been a backlash against victims of child abuse, especially adults who come forward saying they were abused as children. The focal point of this controversy has been therapists who counsel and otherwise assist adult victims in recalling and dealing with their abuse.

In Suggestions of Abuse, clinical psychologist Michael Yapko attempts to address the problem of distinguishing real memories of child abuse from false memories of abuse allegedly suggested to vulnerable patients by mental health therapists. Such a book would be extremely useful to plaintiff's counsel who represents an adult victim or to counsel who represents the accused parent either as a defendant in a child's suit or as a plaintiff suing the therapist for damages. Unfortunately, Suggestions of Abuse is not that book.

Although Dr. Yapko goes to great pains to state he is focusing only on "those cases in which the therapist suggests memories of abuse," he strays into criticism of all adult allegations of childhood abuse and even casts a skeptical eye on allegations made by children.

Relying on the research of memory experts, not child abuse professionals, the author seems fixated on the fact that adults--and, by a logical extension of his thesis, children--cannot possibly remember early events of abuse. Indeed, he is so skeptical of memory itself that he concludes every chapter with a section entitled "Key Points to Remember" --a testament to Dr. Yapko's concern that even readers may have forgotten what they had just read in the past 20 minutes. The book is like a high school text; I expected a quiz at the end.

Though the bibliography contains references to professional journals, Dr. Yapko in the text attempts to support his thesis by quoting from mass media sources. There's something particularly troublesome about a book for professionals that seeks to make its points by a critical analysis of Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael, "Prime-time Live," "Inside Edition," Ann Landers, and Dear Abby. Dr. Yapko does not stop here. He also tries to make the experiences of David Koresh, Jim Jones, Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Hahn, the Moonies, Hare Krishnas, Senator Bob Packwood, Mike Tyson, Leona Helmsley, George Bush, and Arnold Schwarzenegger relevant to his thesis. Whatta book!

And there's more. Dr. Yapko also tries to use trial lawyers to make a point.

Walter Olsen, in his book The Litigation

Explosion, describes well the sky-rocketing

number of lawsuits filed, often

over outrageously trivial matters.

Of course there are true victimizers

who ought to be brought down. In

such a case taking an active role in

one's own care and defense by fighting

back not only is desirable but may

be emotionally necessary to recover

from hurt, anger, and shame.... But

too many cases illustrate that too many

people will go to almost unbelievable

lengths to avoid taking personal responsibility.

This might be a good sentence for Alan Dershowitz's recent book, The Abuse Excuse, but it is hardly that relevant to the problem of false memory. Without much support, aside from his analysis of talk shows, Dr. Yapko believes one cause of false memory is that "turning people into victims has become nothing short of a growth industry in this country."

This book has difficulty deciding what it wants to be. Specifically troublesome is that while the putative focus is on therapists who consciously "assist" patients in "recovering" memories of abuse that never existed, the author also slings arrows at all victims of child abuse. The author is even aware of this problem:

If you are a survivor of abuse, you must

not think even for a moment that I am

lacking empathy for you or that I am

not offering my support to your difficult

life struggle. I am deeply involved

in helping men and women deal with

the aftermath of abuse and I am very

aware of and responsive to their pain.

Despite this protestation, the last story in the book discusses a San Diego County grand jury investigation into unsubstantiated allegations made by children against their parents.

The problem of false allegations of abuse made by adult children against their parents is one that needs further critical exploration. The result here, however, is a rambling, confusing polemic on personal responsibility, psychotherapy, and hypnosis.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Association for Justice
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Mones, Paul
Publication:Trial
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1994
Words:842
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