False Memories and Resilience

The NY Times reports there is a bill to extend the statute of limitations for cases of sex abuse.

Although I believe that the church should take a zero-tolerance rule regarding sexual abuse, I have two nagging anxieties.  One is that human beings are often prone to suggestion and false memories.    It is possible that people, in the hunt to figure out the root cause of their personal challenges, invent stories.

Secondly, I also wonder what it means to say that being sexually abused ruins someone for life.   This intimates that one’s life is worth less because of the abuse.   Is there merit if someone says, “this horrible event happened to me, but I’m not ruined”?   Must we assume that healing is always beyond our reach?  Resilience is a worthy, admirable virtue, even if it may not be mandated or expected.   Throw the offending priests in jail.  Let’s also, however, expect the truth and hope that the victims lives are still considered worthy rather than damaged.  Let us resist saying a victim is “damaged goods.”

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2 comments on “False Memories and Resilience

  1. Tif says:

    There should be no statue of limitations on criminal behavior, sexual or other wise. “False memories” although have been documented, are more rare than the thousands upon thousands of real survivors of rape and incest by-a priest, parent, husband, boyfriend or your date.

    I have worked with many survivors and victims of these two heinous crimes (it’s about power over someone and NOT sex). Some heal, some don’t. Many of them are somewhere in between.

    I would suggest that we don’t judge where someone is in that process. Many things determine the healing. Often, we as a society contribute to the pain the person feels as we continue to blame them for the crime, or tell them to “get over it” and move on.

    Resilience may be a worthy virtue to some, but until you walk a mile in their shoes I think we need more compassion to wherever that survivor/victim is in the healing process, and less judgment on their ability to heal.

    • padremambo says:

      I would also err on the idea that false claims are rarer. However, one reason to insist on a statue of limitations, however, is to minimize the effect of false accusations. Any innocent priest, teacher, or coach who is simply accused of sexual abuse becomes guilty. I do believe those who have been abused or harmed should be encouraged to make their cases known if only to stop predators immediately. But yes, this is the choice of the victim.

      False accusations can be serious, and the politics of the problem may especially effect gay men. Right before Bishop Robinson, the first gay bishop of the church, was elected, someone came forth saying they had been touched by him during a coffee hour. The timing was right before General Convention was going to vote him in. To the church’s credit they examined the charges immediately, and it was pretty evident that it was … a hug. The situation was at a public event, in front of people, and the accusing man was simply… uncomfortable with Gene’s homosexuality. Was that transgressing a boundary? Currently the way the Roman Catholic Church is addressing pedophilia is rooting out its gay clergy (which will be… impossible). My general point: False accusations make victims as well. let’s err on the side of the victim, but without making more victims.

      The seemingly caring perspective that people who have been abused are “ruined” has an odd cast and problematic consequences. Are victims less worthy now? Although I don’t believe that victims have to be resilient, our expectations – if we are to have any – may err on their strength rather than their weakness.

      I wonder if the perspective that victims are “ruined” implicitly informs the fetishization of virginity; justifies the abandonment of women who’ve been raped and rationalizes its use in war (after all, that is one of its purposes – to ruin); and the reparative movement in homosexuality. Non virgins must become property; raped women become polluted and unmarriageable; homosexuals become disordered… because they were hurt by absent fathers and overprotective mothers.

      The Christian right often argues that gay people were somehow victimized previously, and need to be healed through addressing their psychological “victimization.” I’m suspicious of such reparative therapy, and it is derived much from the idea that such people are “ruined.” It would be much better to interrogate the notion of “wholeness” altogether and instead focus on practical life-building skills that foster confidence and trust.

      By and large I agree with your points, though.

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