Crime and Courts: Rethinking the ‘false memory’ controversy by Steven Elbow | The Capital Times

The article below, penned by Steven Elbow of The Capitol Times, Madison, Wisconsin, is one of the most faulty articles I’ve read. The misquotes, misinformation, and simply wrong information in this publication is astounding. Some of the facts Mr. Elbow got wrong could have easily been published correctly had he conducted a simple Google search that would have led him to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) website; a search most 13-year old students know how to conduct.

I am not a spokesperson for the FMSF; I am not, nor have I ever been, a member. I’m posting this article because I abhor misinformation posing as fact.

Mr. Elbow, in his own words did research (and I use that word loosely) “to cobble together a quick and interesting story”. However, he not to tell his readers that facts would be lacking.

I contacted Dr. Pamela Freyd at the False Memory Syndrome Foundation to inform her of Mr. Elbow’s sloppy reporting and the quotes used out of context to fit his agenda against the Foundation and its distinguished advisory board. Dr. Freyd told me she spent an hour on the phone with Mr. Elbow during his investigative research for this article.

Evidently, he wasn’t listening to Dr. Freyd.

For accurate information about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, please visit their website @ or call Dr. Pamela Freyd, Executive Director, at USA 215-940-1040.

This is a long article. Below are only pertinent excerpts illustrating the misinformation published:

Crime and Courts: Rethinking the ‘false memory’ controversy

STEVEN ELBOW | The Capital Times | | Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2011 1:45 pm

“In December I wrote a story about a case in Dane County Circuit Court in which the parents of a woman sued their daughter’s therapists for psychotherapy treatment they said prompted false memories of sexual abuse by the father.

The case was being closely watched by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a group founded in 1992 to advocate for parents who were wrongly accused.”

…A Wisconsin member of the foundation gave me a call to tip me off to the case, then put me in contact with executive director Pamela Freyd, who offered compelling quotes and easy research for a reporter trying to cobble together a quick and interesting story. It never occurred to me that I was dealing with a highly organized public relations machine until a victim and a sexual assault advocate emailed me with their concerns.”

Mr. Elbow then uses anecdotes from a victim of child sexual abuse, “Beth” who claims her memories just came to her one day at the age of 37 – she also claims to have a confession from her brother regarding the abuse. “Beth” goes on to say: “It appeared that because some women recanted their story, we should believe that recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse as adults is not something that happens.”

Mr. Elbow states that the FMSF “…rejects the idea of trauma-induced amnesia, often called repressed memories, the notion that long-forgotten incidents of abuse can be later recollected by adults. …

…The phenomenon that people think of as repressed memories can be explained by ordinary memory processes,” says Freyd, a psychiatrist. “It doesn’t take some kind of special mechanism to explain them. It doesn’t mean that the memory was repressed. …

Beth and many others maintain that perpetrators will go to any lengths to deny the allegations against them. And they believe the False Memory Syndrome Foundation provides offenders with the means to refute the allegations against them.

…Freyd says she has no way of knowing if any of the tens of thousands of parents who have contacted the foundation are perpetrators.”

“We don’t know the truth or falsity of what happened in people’s families,” she says. “The only thing that we can do is provide people with information. We can put them in touch with other families, if that’s what they want. We can help them find therapists, if that’s what they want. We can help them find attorneys, if that’s what they want.”

“The foundation does more than that, sometimes providing expert witnesses in court cases to discredit accusers. …

In an even more embarrassing incident, Ralph Underwager, a psychologist and minister who helped found the group and who became a prominent expert witness in cases involving accused parents, gave an interview to a Dutch pro-pedophilia magazine that sank his career….

…Freyd and her husband, Peter Freyd, also a psychologist, founded the False Memory Syndrome Foundation after their daughter, Jennifer Freyd, accused Peter of sexually abusing her during her teen years. Memories of the abuse surfaced in the course of psychotherapy treatment.

Jennifer Freyd has never recanted her accusations, and has become a well-respected memory researcher in her own right at the University of Oregon. …

…”Pamela Freyd says it may be time to declare the mission accomplished. A long string of court cases has practically stamped out controversial therapies for memory retrieval. And court cases concerning repressed memories that have been teased out through therapy are now rare.”

Mr. Elbow goes on to report on detail a recent case in Wisconsin where the parents of an adult-child in therapy sued the therapist for encouraging false information of sexual abuse to be remembered.

“What is the impact of mental health records being used against a patient’s will?” asks Kelly Anderson, executive director of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center.

She says the release of protected mental health records could set a dangerous precedent.”

…”Freyd says the number of cases of false memories has fallen precipitously as litigation has changed psychiatric practices.

Retrieved again on 4/28/11.

About Steve Elbow

Steve Elbow

Steven Elbow has covered police and court issues for more than a decade in Wisconsin. He joined The Capital Times in 2000, where he has covered city, county and state government in addition to law enforcement. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison. Retrieved from The Cap Times, published 9/1/09.


Brief reality Check: Elementary My Dear Watson.

Pamela Fryed, PhD holds a degree in Education – she is NOT a psychiatrist (someone who holds a medical degree) as Mr. Elbow states

Peter Freyd, PhD holds a degree in mathematics – he is NOT a psychologist, as Mr. Elbow states.

Mr. Elbow may have written a quick and interesting story and in so doing failed miserably in writing a piece with journalistic integrity. He chose not to present factual statements and took information out of context as many do whose actual agenda is to discredit.

This type of sloppy reporting is shameful to investigative journalism and to the Capitol Times who published it. Perhaps Mr. Elbow would be interested in writing another article that he could pack with facts and with a slant towards the truth in this controversy that rips apart many families?

Mr. Elbow could have done a lot to bring polarized opinions in this matter towards understanding through information – instead he took the lazy way out and did nothing more than meet his deadline and entertain a few people for a few minutes with his “quick and interesting” story.


Leave a comment


  1. Don’t you love it when a pic attached with an article like this shows the Man as the doctor and the patient as sad or otherwise reclining, woman?

    Freud alive and well.


  2. Jellybean

     /  04/28/2011

    What ruined Ralph Underwager’s career was that he died. Prior to passing, he did explain his reasons for granting the interview with the magazine, and vehemently denied having said anything that condoned pedophilia. But apparently, Mr. Elbow, as well as many others before him, has chosen to trust the integrity of the pedophile magazine’s reporter instead. I find that frustrating and odd.

    It’s also a shame that Mr. Elbow didn’t bother to read the court documents in the Johnson case. If he had, he could have set Ms. Anderson’s mind at ease. The judicial opinion specifically states that the release of medical records in the case was only binding to those parties, and not intended to set a precedent.

    Of course, that would have required Mr. Elbow to get off his arse, or at least stop thinking with it. They probably don’t teach that technique in the “How to Cobble Together a Quick and Interesting Story” courses at Mr. Elbow’s Alma matar.

    Perhaps he should try actually watching the Frontline documentary someday. He might learn a little more about the debate he’s attempting to write about – as well as getting an idea of how to investigate a story.


    • The Ralph Underwager story will never die because it is a juicy (albeit incomplete) assessment & too difficult to resist & too easy to pull out of your back pocket. I wish proponents of MP & DID would do more reading and find other quotes to use. This one is old and worn out.

      When that debacle occurred with Ralph Underwager, he removed himself from the advisory board of the FMSF immediately knowing what repercussions were coming.

      I’ve never read of anyone reporting that fact.

      I agree, his career was ended with his death.



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