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Duggal, S., & Sroufe, L. A. (1998). Recovered memory of childhood sexual trauma: A documented case from a longitudinal study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11(2), 301-321.

This account contains a prospective report of memory loss in a case in which there is both documented evidence of trauma and evidence of recovery of memory. The subject "Laura" participated in a prospective longitudinal large-scale study of children followed closely from birth to adulthood. The study was not focused on memory for trauma. Laura spontaneously reported a recovered memory during a routine interview. The memory was corroborated by historical records of a therapist who worked with the family when the subject was 4 years old. There was abundant evidence suggesting that Laura was being abused by her father during visitations. However, there was no report of penetration, only fondling. Without physical evidence, CPS did not feel there was enough evidence to prosecute the father. However, because the father was a drug addict and alcoholic, it was decided that Laura would only see her father during supervised visitations. As a young child, Laura entered short-term therapy to deal with her anxiety and anger towards her father along with her sexualized and regressive behaviors. Evidence in the historical records shows that Laura's memory for the abuse persisted until she was at least age 8. The last clear evidence of memory of trauma is in the therapy records from third grade. Her mother did not discuss the abuse unless Laura brought up the subject. As a result, the subject was not discussed again.

At age 16, Laura filled out a questionnaire which asked if she had ever been sexually abused. At this time, Laura indicated in writing that she had never been sexually abused. It is noted that her denial does not appear related to poor rapport with the interviewer or embarrassment, as she was open and answered multiple questions about drug/alcohol abuse, family relationships, and dating relationships which contained sensitive questions without any apparent discomfort. At 17, Laura again denied any terrible or unusual experiences including sexual abuse. Visitation had been increased with her father as Laura indicated that she felt good about spending time with her father.

At age 18, Laura had a conversation with boyfriend in which they discussed their earliest memories. Her boyfriend asked her about her earliest memory with her father. Laura reported that this question elicited a strange reaction:

"I told him and then all of sudden I got this really overwhelming feeling, like that was, that was really weird and like, and I just shut up and didn't say anything more."

Partial recall of the memory returned in the school office while talking with a trusted teacher about her father's drinking. Her recall consisted largely of her father kissing her along with a compelling sense that there was a sexual component to the interaction with her father. At the same time, she felt a fear of her father that she didn't ever remember feeling before.

Prospective data gathered in a neutral research context, corroborated and supplemented by retrospective information, circumvent many limitations of previous retrospective accounts of recovered memories. The memory was not suggested by a therapist and there were no apparent rewards for remembering the abuse which created a great deal of pain and confusion for Laura, especially concerning her feelings about her father.

 

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