Tuesday 25th February 2020

Sexual Abuse Allegations

Innocent priest sues back

Father Joseph between his false accusers of SNAP

Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang is a 31-year-old Chinese priest who, after being persecuted in China for his faith, migrated to St. Louis in the US and went through a similar fate dressed up differently.

Twice he has been falsely accused of sexual abuse of minors and cleared. In both cases the charges had been wild and unsubstantiated, and were dismissed or dropped.

Now the innocent priest is suing his false accusers.

It's the first time that an innocent member of the Catholic clergy sues his false accusers, but it's by no means the first time that a Catholic priest has been falsely accused.

In many cases the accusers were well aware that they were lying and were just after monetary gain. The charges were dismissed because of the material impossibility of the alleged events. Often these were repeated liars who tried again and again by moving from a failed attack against one person to a different target.

In many other cases, though, the phenomenon has greater psychological interest, as these people genuinely thought - or at least appeared to think - that the abuse really occurred. They were victims of psychotherapists they saw as patients and who led them to believe that they had forgotten and then as adults - through therapy, drugs or both - miraculously recovered memories of sexual molestation from their childhood.

The psychotherapists, in this case, were the real abusers, and no-one else. They abused their power and influence as psychological "professionals" to instill in their clients ideas without any solid scientific foundation.

In this those who planted false memories were qualitatively no different from many of their colleagues: most therapists practise a more or less serious form of quackery - the notable exception being Cognitive-Behavious Therapy (CBT). Only the degree of preposterousness and gravity of the claims in their potential to wreck lives - many patients who believed in these "retrieved" memories of abuse went on to sue their parents and destroyed their families - are unusual, even in the charlatan world of psychotherapy.

People, especially in the 1990s, had an immense, incredibly high level of trust in "therapy". It resembles the blind faith found in astrology, "alternative" medicine and New Age remedies.

The relationship between psychotherapist and client is such that trust must be at the centre of it. Those who - wisely - have staid clear of psychotherapy and therefore have never had that experience don't realise how difficult it is for a patient to question anything the therapist says.

Actually, in psychoanalysis and the therapies derived from it - psychodynamic therapies -, it's in-built in the method itself that the patient cannot question the therapist: if he does, he's exhibiting resistance to the analysis. That means two things: the analyst's interpretation, denied by the client, is correct, and the treatment cannot progress unless the analysand accepts it.

In this general frame, it's not surprising that the wildest and most fanciful views about the patient's problems and their causes are taken as gospel without much discussion.

There are many cases, some well known, of people who have left their husband or wife of decades because persuaded by a therapist that it was the right thing to do. A famous case was in the early 1990s that of British novelist Fay Weldon, whose husband of 30 years divorced her on the advice of his hypnotherapist.

The "recovered" or - according to what side you were on - "false" memory syndrome was a subject of dispute throughout the 1990s, first in the USA when the phenomenon started in the 1980s and then, a decade later, in Britain.

America was home to many legal cases of adults suing parents for having abused them as children (sexually and sometimes also physically or sadistically), of which the most prominent in the media was that of Holly Ramona, who in her early 20s took to court her father Gary Ramona, a wine company executive in Napa Valley, California.

Gary's life was ruined. He lost his job, was divorced by his wife and abandoned by his three daughters including Holly. The family believed Holly's accusations that he had raped her throughout her childhood, starting when she was 6 months old, which is not surprising considering that the idea of sending Holly to this particular therapist had come from the mother herself.

It must be noted that adult memories of their childhood relating to before they were 7 are not considered legally acceptable as reliable, at least in the UK.

The court vindicated the father, though, who sued his daughter's therapist, a psychiatrist who had administered a fake "truth serum" drug to Holly and the hospital where that had occurred. The jury found that the defendants had been irresponsible and incompetent in encouraging Holly to "recover" memories of sexual abuse. Gary Ramona was awarded half a million dollars in damages in 1994.

On the other side of the Atlantic, accusations of "satanic ritual abuse" of children based on "recovered" memories raged in Britain in the 1990s. They turned out to be totally untrue.

These days there has been a paedophilia allegation after another against British showbusiness celebrities and politicians, with "recovered" memories (and quite possibly the desire for compensation) fuelling the panic.

The field of psychotherapy is unregulated and its professionals are generally not accountable for their behaviour in the way that medical doctors are.

Scientific psychology shows that memory doesn't work as many psychotherapists believe, as a tape recorder that faithfully preserves what happened: memories are susceptible to subtractions, but also to additions to real events.

International memory expert, Professor Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, has shown over decades with her experiments that memories can be easily planted in a lab. Subjects are sure that they "remember" unreal things and events that didn't happen. And these were not even emotionally vulnerable people or in the setting of a therapeutic session, where suggestibility and the inclination to believe the therapist are much stronger.

The theory behind repressed and then retrieved childhood memories of a sexual nature can be traced all the way back to Sigmund Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis.

Freud initially believed that these memories of his patients during therapy were true and, although he later changed his view and thought they were fantasies, the Freudian general theory of psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on repression of difficult memories on one hand, and on the ubiquitous importance of sexual trauma - real or imagined - in the aetiology of neuroses on the other, is the pillar that supports all these groundless views of today's psychotherapists.


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