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Hypnotic Memories and Civil Sexual Abuse Trials

NCJ Number
Vanderbilt Law Review Volume: 45 Issue: 5 Dated: (October 1992) Pages: 1185-1262
J Kanovitz
Date Published
78 pages
Legislatures and courts are taking certain measures to prevent the claims of adults who were sexually abused as children from being time-barred because of delays attributable to psychological problems resulting from the abuse itself, and a central issue is whether hypnotic therapy techniques can restore trustworthy memory.
The legal system's knowledge about hypnosis has come from cases concerning forensic uses of hypnosis to refresh the memories of eyewitnesses and victims about forgotten details of recent crimes and accidents. Due to expert testimony in these cases, most courts now believe hypnosis cannot provide testimony that satisfies courtroom standards of reliability. Courts may fail to appreciate, however, that hypnotic testimony offered in child sexual abuse cases differs from hypnotic testimony with which courts are familiar and that such testimony can be more reliable. The author maintains that hypnosis works best when information is kept out of conscious awareness by ego-defenses that protect the psyche from trauma. She examines how two ego- defenses, repression and dissociation, operate to prevent voluntary conscious recall of traumatic experiences. In addition, she considers hypnotic methods and techniques used in clinical practice, as well as paradoxical positions espoused by the clinical world and the hypnosis research community on whether hypnosis can restore memory without changing it. The author argues that courts should determine whether memory-restoring techniques used in "talking" psychotherapies possess an accuracy superior to that of hypnosis for patients who enter treatment with no memories of childhood sexual abuse and who leave with memories of childhood horrors. She concludes that the risk of memory distortion from hypnotic and talking psychotherapies is about the same. Reasons why hypnosis may perform more accurately in clinical situations than in laboratory experiments are noted, and the probable impact of refusing to admit hypnotherapy recall testimony on patient care is considered. 327 footnotes


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