Memories Of Sexual Abuse Often Unconvincing In Court
In cases of sexual abuse which the supposed victim only remembers at a later date, no proof is found other than the victim's own statement. With a few rare exceptions, such cases are therefore invariably dropped or end in acquittal. Nevertheless, they often cause great psychological damage to the woman concerned and to her family. Sloppy investigation by the police can make things even worse. These are the findings of research carried out by the Dutch criminologist Dr. Peter van Koppen on behalf of the Ministry of Justice at the NWO's Netherlands Centre for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR). The study was commissioned because of the increasing number of reports of sexual abuse since the period of limitation for this type of offence was extended in 1994.
Like other countries, the Netherlands is seeing an increasing number of reports by adult women of sexual abuse during their youth, with some of them saying that they have repressed their memory of the incidents. These women generally recover images from the past during therapy involving suggestive techniques such as hypnosis, dream interpretation or "body memories". In many cases, the patient develops an unshakeable belief in her having been sexually abused. Indeed, accounts become more and more serious in the course of psychological treatment, up to and including infanticide, cannibalism, animal sacrifice and orgiastic abuse.
The reaction of the police in such cases can vary. Sometimes the woman is not immediately believed because her story is so bizarre. On the other hand, the police sometimes believe her because it would seem that "nobody could ever invent a story like that". In the advisory document which he has written for the Minister, Dr. van Koppen writes that both reactions are wrong because the person involved is not dealt with seriously, i.e. according to a systematic plan. He also indicates how allegations based on repressed memory can be distinguished from other allegations. Dr. van Koppen's research is based on interviews with parents who have been accused of sexual abuse by their children and with the child protection and vice squad detectives who investigate such cases.