Falsely Accused of Incest
When Meredith Maran was in her 30s, she accused her father of molesting her. She didn’t see him or talk to him for eight years. She didn’t let her children see him, either. And then she says she realised that it wasn’t true.
She published a book called My Lie which has recently been promoted again.
Melanie Blow is an incest survivor too. She told the truth about her father raping her. Her father still roams free protected by New York laws that protect the rapists of children. Here she responds to Meredith’s story.
As someone deeply involved in the movement against child sexual abuse, reading about the movement’s darkest days- the hysteria concerning “satanic abuse” and “repressed memories” in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s is always interesting. Child sexual abuse, and the movement to end it, are both huge issues, and as such there is room for many perspectives and stories.
Ever since one particular evening in May of 1990 when I became an incest survivor, I have had no ability to forget the act that made me one.
My story differs from the Meredith’s in this way- ever since one particular evening in May of 1990 when I became an incest survivor, I have had no ability to forget the act that made me one. There have been times I lied about it, mostly to deceive myself, there have been times I could get through a day without thinking about it, and there were so many years where I was absolutely certain I would never tell anyone about it. But the memories were always there. Seventeen years after the last sexual assault I endured from a relative, it hasn’t ended for me.
Eventually, I met many women and men who “identified strongly” as incest survivors, or survivors of non-incestuous child sexual abuse. They all had stories much more similar to mine than to the Meredith’s- stories of control, manipulation, and suffering. Stories about how PTSD derails their daily lives years or decades after their abuse. Stories in which things like a vinyl shower curtain, a pitcher of orange juice, the smell of cooking sherry can re-create the panic of a child being raped for the first time, the 51st time… it makes no difference. It hasn’t ended for them. For all the survivors of childhood sexual abuse I’ve ever met, our memories are something too hot, too caustic to be contained in our pasts, and they constantly leak into our present, burning us all the while. I meet survivors who enter therapy to deal with the various burns and scars inflicted by their memory, not ones who enter therapy and are later diagnosed as sexual abuse survivors.
“Their studies proved that incest wasn’t the rare anomaly it was long believed to be. Incest happened often. It happened in normal families — in the house down the street, in the bedroom down the hall.
A psychological phenomenon called repressed memory had allowed this outrage to go unacknowledged, even unknown. As Freud had first asserted a century earlier, the impact of child sexual abuse on young psyches was so profound that victims often lost their memories for years or decades. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were walking around with the time bomb of untreated childhood sexual abuse ticking inside them.”
I meet survivors who enter therapy to deal with the various burns and scars inflicted by their memory, not ones who enter therapy and are later diagnosed as sexual abuse survivors.
Meredith Maran seems to be saying that repressed memories are the only thing that would possibly allow a huge number of CSA survivors to live alongside society’s non-abused members. That statement is as dangerous and false as the litany of commonly-believed lies she mentions at the end of her piece. The majority of CSA survivors, who would do anything to forget their abuse for a day, still manage lives that look mostly normal. We don’t carry a ticking time bomb inside of us- we survived the detonation long ago, and we go about our lives as best we can with what’s left of our selves. And as for the notion that something utterly horrible can’t possibly happen “in the house down the street”, I recommend the author talk to Ariel Castro’s neighbors.
And as for the notion that something utterly horrible can’t possibly happen “in the house down the street”, I recommend the author talk to Ariel Castro’s neighbors.
The actual incidence of child sexual abuse (a term not technically interchangeable with “incest”) is staggeringly high, and many researchers, using many different modalities, conclude that about 20% of Americans have survived this atrocity. The most recent and reputable round of research drawing this conclusion was the CDC’s ACE’s study. When assessing for childhood sexual abuse, this study didn’t ask participants “were you sexually abused as a child”, but asked them if they experienced specific acts. Previous researchers had found something myself and my survivor friends will attest to – for most people, the label of “child sexual abuse survivor” is so dirty, so ugly, so frightening, that they avoid wearing it, rather than confabulate a past that entitles them to it.
“Reported cases of child abuse and neglect surged from 669,000 in 1976 to 2.9 million in 1993. During those years, according to “Victims of Memory” author Mark Pendergrast, up to one million families were torn apart by false accusations of sexual abuse.”
Reported cases of child abuse were as low as they were in 1976 because that was the first year most states started their centralized registries of child abuse and neglect. And since these registries focus on investigating ongoing acts of abuse committed in the present, it is unlikely they would have captured many false memory cases. The increase in reported cases of abuse and neglect in this 18-year span is most likely due to the staggering rate of abuse in our society.
Convictions for child sexual abuse are hard to come by, and cases lacking any evidence besides a child’s testimony rarely make it to court. While this makes false convictions exceptionally rare, it also ensures that most abusers are still on the street, and ensures that the horror of child sexual abuse hasn’t ended for the next generation
As someone who seeks to influence public policy in order to stop abuse, I have come to see the era of “repressed memories” and “satanic abuse” as the worst thing that ever happened to the movement. In the 80’s and early 90’s, the science of forensic interviewing of children was still in its infancy. The mantra “children don’t lie” and the baseless belief that adults don’t lie under hypnosis did, unquestionably, lead to false convictions. As society realized this, the pendulum swung the other way. Now, convictions for child sexual abuse are hard to come by, and cases lacking any evidence besides a child’s testimony rarely make it to court. While this makes false convictions exceptionally rare, it also ensures that most abusers are still on the street, and ensures that the horror of child sexual abuse hasn’t ended for the next generation.
The single biggest legislative action to put more sex offenders behind bars and spare more children is states’ removal of their Statutes of Limitations for the prosecution of the crime of child sexual abuse.
The single biggest legislative action to put more sex offenders behind bars and spare more children is states’ removal of their Statutes of Limitations for the prosecution of the crime of child sexual abuse. The arguments in favor of eliminating the statutes are always met with at least some mention of false and repressed memories. Current SOL reform bills, such as New York’s Child Victims Act, require a certificate from a licensed professional saying that there is psychological merit to the plaintiff’s case, when old cases are being considered for trial. This ensures both that false accusations stay out of court, and that plaintiffs have received at least some psychological care before enduring the rigors of trial.
I dedicated myself long ago to preventing child abuse not so much because my past hasn’t ended, but because bodies of research shows it is the most significant thing we can do to eliminate many of society’s ills. It is a way to purge so much pain from our world. I’m glad the author purged her own family of some pain, and I applaud her efforts to educate us on how something truly bad and damaging happened. But by downplaying the scope or severity of actual incest, she is harming all those who have suffered from it, and all those fighting to end it.
Click here to read more of my story and sign my petition to end the statutes of limitation laws that protect my father and others like him from prosecution.
Melanie Blow is on the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse NY and the New York Coalition to Protect Children. She leads the Stop Abuse Campaign’s campaign to eliminate Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, and sits on the Rochester Area Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She blogs for the Stop Abuse Campaign and Prevent Child Abuse NY, has written for survivor magazines, parenting columns, and has had blogs and editorials published in local and national venues. She regularly testifies before the New York State legislator for children’s issues, and regularly provides educational talks about child sex abuse laws, child sex abuse prevention, and human trafficking.