Monday, 16 November 2009

Bad Science: validity of 'repressed memories' challenged in court

Defrocked priest Paul R. Shanley was convicted in 2005 of preying on children in his Boston parish for decades. Shanley's case came to light amid a clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002 when church records revealed that officials knew of pedophile priests among them but did little to stop it.

There were dozens of priests and hundreds of victims involved, but Shanley's case is unusual in that there is no corroborating evidence of his crimes. Often in cases of accusations of sexual abuse — even ones that occurred years earlier — there is some other supporting proof. But the only evidence against Shanley was the memory of a now-grown man who said he didn't recall the abuse until 2002 when he heard about a newspaper article on the clergy abuse scandal. That, he claimed, triggered a flood of memories of abuse that had occurred decades earlier at Shanley’s hand.

The problem? What the victim claims is unheard of in science...

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