Reprinted by permission.
Compensation for 'false memory syndrome' costly for B.C. taxpayers
B.C. tax dollars are being spent to compensate people who have uncovered "memories" of childhood sex abuse, even though there is no proof the crimes occurred.
Critics of so-called "false memory syndrome" -- including a father who says the B.C. government funds helped tear his family apart -- say governments that pay for counselling reinforce the impact of artificial memories "recovered" during dubious therapies.
The lawyer for the agency that runs B.C.'s Criminal Injuries Compensation program says no money is paid without corroboration that a crime truly occurred. But The Vancouver Sun has learned that the corroboration can be -- and has been -- nothing more than a statement from the very therapists who benefit financially from the compensation program.
And the government does nothing to ensure the therapists are not practising discredited therapy techniques -- relying instead on the therapists to regulate themselves. Nor does the government program demand or ensure that the therapists receiving the money are trained in any way. In this province, anyone can call themselves a therapist.
The B.C. program keeps no figures to show just how much has been spent to compensate people with "recovered memories," but figures in Washington state show the cost could be in the millions.
A study by a Washington State criminal compensation program concluded that "recovered memory" therapy actually did more harm than good. In 1997, Washington stopped funding therapy that focused on the recovery of repressed memory.
But in B.C. the payments have continued, and the Criminal Injuries Section of the Workers' Compensation Board says there is no reason to review its records to examine cases of "recovered memory."
Auditor-General George Morfitt said he has never examined the books of the compensation program, but he said The Sun's findings "are the kind of things we're interested in."
B.C. taxpayers spend more than $4 million a year compensating victims of sexual abuse for pain, suffering and counselling costs. How much of that money has gone to people whose only proof of a crime is "recovered memories"?
Records at the Workers' Compensation Board. which administrates the criminal compensation program, are private, so there is no way to determine the figure from that source.
And in any case, the criminal injuries compensation program "does not distinguish a sexual abuse claim resulting from recovered memories," WCB spokesperson Avrill Peters said.
In Washington State an examination showed the bill could have totalled more than $2 million before the payments were stopped. B.C. has a lower population, but has been making the payments longer than Washington.
Roderick Ferguson, chief counsel for the CIC, said his program would never make a payment without corroboration that a crime had occurred.
But WCB documents show the "corroboration" can be nothing more than the word of the therapist who is being paid to provide counselling and help " recover" memories.
"The criteria for assessing a sexual abuse claim is whether the person is a victim of crime, with evidence substantiating the condition from health and mental care professionals, which could include a psychologist, psychiatrist, medical doctor or lay counselor," Peters said.
Former Victoria resident Lloyd Corney subpoenaed WCB documents that showed both his daughters received more than $2,000 each -- the money was paid to therapists Janet Oakes of Victoria and Patricia Donahue of Vancouver -- who helped them "recover" lost memories. His daughters maintain they had "repressed" memories of their father abusing them, and recovered them in therapy. Another government cheque for more than $5,000 was paid to one of his daughters from the compensation system.
In a separate case, a report of the WCB's appeal division noted a woman had received $9,500 for pain and suffering, as well as thousands of dollars in disability payments for a crime the board felt probably never occurred.
The woman had developed memories "through the recall process that began with hypnosis in 1987 and expanded to include more intensive therapy by 1991," said the decision, written by appeal panelists Herb Morton, Anne-Marie Drosso and Judith Williamson. "While this committee concludes that (the victim's) memories of abuse are unreliable, we also have no doubt that she firmly believes them and has become genuinely disabled by their development." The woman was denied any more money.
The B.C. College of Psychologists and its national counterpart have both warned members not to focus on unearthing repressed memories and to recognize that so-called "recovered memories" can be unreliable. Similar organizations in the U.K. and U.S. have also issued such admonitions.
Members of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation stress that sexual abuse is a sickening reality of life, but they note that court cases throughout the U.S. are hearing from people convinced by their therapists they were victims of satanic and ritual abuse. In many cases, the alleged victims "recant" their accusations when they realize the bizarre tales could not be true.
A worldwide study by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S. into claims of ritual satanic abuse could not find proof of a single example, anywhere or at any time, of such an act. Nevertheless, a report released by the B.C. Ministry for Children and Families in November, 1998, notes that "Sexual aspects of organized or ritual abuse should be considered a form of sexual exploitation."
Dr. Tana Dineen, a psychologist who gave up her profession in disgust and then wrote a book called Manufacturing Victims, an expose of what she calls "the psycho-therapy industry," says "recovered memories" of sexual abuse can be developed in the same fashion as "past-life regression therapy" and counselling that convinces people they were abducted by aliens or victimized by satanists. Copyright 1999 Pacific Press Ltd. The Vancouver Sun March 12, 1999, FINAL SECTION: News; C5 LENGTH: 443 words HEADLINE: Compensation ends in U.S. for 'recovered memory' cases: In Washington State, a preliminary study suggests current therapy practices are damaging to clients. BYLINE: Rick Ouston BODY:
A preliminary study of Washington State's compensation program quickly resulted in a decision to stop paying money for "recovered memories" because the therapy was causing more harm than good.
In 1990, the Washington Crime Victims Compensation Program started allowing people who claimed to have recovered "previously repressed memories' ' of crime to seek compensation.
Between 1991 and 1995, a total of 670 claims were filed and 325 were allowed.
For some reason that the state declines to specify, an employee of the Washington department of labor and industries separated out 183 claims that involved repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.
She then took 30 of those cases at random and found the average age at which first memories were reported was seven months -- although scientists say human beings cannot truly recall much of anything before the age of two years.
Also troubling were findings that all 30 claimants were still in therapy three years after recalling the first memory, 67 per cent of them reported self-mutilation after recovering memories compared to just three per cent before, and the numbers considering suicide had similarly skyrocketed.
While just two people were hospitalized before recovering memories, 11 (37 per cent) were hospitalized after. Employment had plummeted, marital breakdown had increased, all were estranged from their extended families. A total of 150 murders had been recalled, 22 people remembered infant cannibalism and eating body parts and all recalled torture or mutilation.
The number of medical exams that corroborated torture or mutilation, however, was zero, and not a single police investigation resulted.
Average cost of a mental-health claim to the program that did not involve recovered memory was $2,672, while the average cost for the 183 repressed memory claims was $12,296.
"These preliminary results strongly suggest that current therapeutic practices of memory retrieval are damaging to the clients," wrote a panel of doctors and nurses who studied the results. "Furthermore, the validity of the memories are not in any way scientifically validated."
The panel suggested further study; the Washington government held hearings and filed new regulations, including a section called, "Prohibited Treatment: The department will not allow or pay for any therapies that focus on the recovery of repressed memory or recovery of memory that focuses on memories of physically impossible acts, highly improbable acts for which verification should be available, but is not, or unverified memories of acts occurring prior to the age of two."
Copyright 1999 Vancouver Sun. Republished here with the permission of the Vancouver Sun.