Israeli Supreme Court Endorses Dubious Recovered Memory Claims

22 Sep 2014 12:13 PM | SSCP Webmaster (Administrator)

In a verdict announced on August 13, 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a father, Benny Samuel, for raping his daughter - who is now 38 - when she was a child.  What made this conviction unique is that it was based entirely on a recovered memory of a dream experienced by the daughter more than a decade after the ostensible sexual abuse ended. 

The daughter, who had moved from Israel to New York City as a young adult, reported that she had no prior memory of the sexual abuse until she had a nightmare that brought back horrific recollections of her father raping and sodomizing her.  Around the same time, she says, she began to read about the unconscious mind and its capacity to store repressed memories.  Following the dream, she soon recalled further memories of rape dating back to age 3, and continuing until age 11.  Following the accusations, Samuel became estranged from his daughter, and he and his wife divorced. 

Although Samuel had initially been convicted in 2007 and sentenced to twelve years in prison, he appealed to the district court, which upheld the conviction.  Three expert witnesses on behalf of the prosecution argued that the daughter’s symptoms of anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, combined with her realistic memories, provided clear-cut evidence for incest. Samuel vehemently denied the charges and eventually took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal two and half years later.  

The Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology (SSCP) is deeply disturbed by the Israeli Supreme Court decision, which runs counter to the best available psychological science.  There is no known psychological mechanism whereby memories of repeated traumatic events can be completely forgotten and then suddenly recalled following a dream.  Moreover, there is well-established research evidence that many or most purported recovered memories of early abuse are actually confabulations - sincerely held but false or distorted recollections.  Indeed, most psychological experts doubt that genuine recovered memories are even possible given what we know about how memories are created. Even those experts who hold a different view concur that recovered memories should not be accepted as genuine without compelling corroboration from other sources. 

SSCP believes strongly that legal decisions, many of which can affect the lives and livelihoods of individuals and their families, must be based on the best available scientific evidence.  As a consequence, SSCP takes strong issue with the Israeli Supreme Court decision, which lends credence to extremely dubious psychological claims. 

SSCP is Section III of Division 12 of the American Psychological Association (APA), and an organizational affiliate of the Association of Psychological Science (APS), but we are writing on behalf of SSCP, not APA or APS.