Repressed Memory Versus False Memory - Going To Court

eileen franklin terr memories

Suing Alleged Abusers

According to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), between 1983 and 1998 many individuals who had "recovered" memories of childhood sexual abuse sued their alleged abusers, many at the instigation of their therapists. During those years a total of 589 lawsuits based on repressed memory were filed, of which 506 were civil and 83 were criminal. Following a sharp rise in 1992, the year the FMSF was created, the number of lawsuits dropped rapidly after 1994.

While the courts readily accepted some early cases of child sexual abuse, courts in more and more states are becoming increasingly suspicious of accounts of outrageous abuse. Therapists are being held liable for malpractice not only by their patients, but often by third parties (usually the accused parents of someone who has allegedly recovered memories of sexual abuse).

The Case of Eileen Franklin

In 1990 George Franklin was convicted of killing his daughter Eileen's friend twenty years earlier. Eileen claimed to have recovered memories of her father's murderous act as she was gazing into her own daughter's eyes. She told her secret to her therapist. She then told police she suddenly remembered herself as a nine-year-old watching her father kill her friend. Later on Eileen changed her account of how she recalled the murder, at one point telling police that the details of the killing became clearer to her after she underwent therapy.

Lenore Terr was an influential expert witness at this first criminal trial in the United States involving recovered memory. Terr, who supports the idea of repressed memory, later wrote about Eileen's story in the book Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories, Lost and Found (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1994).

Harry MacLean, who reported on the case in his book Once upon a Time: A True Story of Memory, Murder, and the Law (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993), claimed that Professor Terr had repeatedly distorted the facts to suit her purpose. Terr claimed to offer a dramatic proof of Eileen's truthful testimony when she described the "body memory" (a physical manifestation of trauma that the conscious mind has forgotten) of Eileen's repressed trauma. According to Terr, Eileen had a habit of pulling her hair out, resulting in a balding spot on her scalp. Eileen had allegedly seen her father murder her friend with a blow to the head using a large rock.

According to MacLean, in his interviews with Eileen's mother, sisters, school friends, and teachers, no one could remember Eileen's pulling out her hair or having a bleeding spot on her scalp. Dr. Ofshe and Ethan Watters (Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria, New York, NY: Scribners, 1994) found more than forty photos taken of Eileen during the relevant period that were wrongly withheld from the defense and that showed no trace of a bald spot.

In November 1995 a federal appeals court overturned George Franklin's murder conviction. By this time Franklin had served almost seven years of a life sentence. The court ruled that the trial had been tainted by the improper allegation that Franklin had confessed and by the exclusion of crucial evidence: Eileen had been hypnotized by her therapist, Kirk Barrett, prior to the first trial, making her testimony unreliable. The court ordered a retrial. On July 2, 1996, the prosecution dropped the charges, citing the problem of Eileen's hypnosis that, by California law, would probably prevent her from testifying. In addition, new DNA evidence showed that it was impossible for Franklin to have committed the second murder his daughter had accused him of, which she claimed happened when she was fifteen.

In June 1997 George Franklin filed a civil suit in federal court against his daughter, her therapist, Barrett, and county officials, claiming violation of his civil rights. The suit alleged, among other things, that Eileen, Barrett, and county officials conspired to deny George Franklin the due process of law and violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to confront witnesses against him. He also sued Professor Terr for conspiring with Eileen to give false testimony.

In 2000 the court dismissed Franklin's suit against the county officials. The judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also threw out the claims against Professor Terr, writing in his opinion, "Terr is absolutely immune … for civil damages based on the allegation that she conspired to present her own and another witness's perjured testimony at Franklin's criminal trial…. Absolute witness immunity is based on the policy of protecting the judicial process" (Franklin v. Terr, No. 98-16843 [2000]). The court dismissed the suit against Barrett because George Franklin failed to state the right claim that the therapist had conspired with a state official to deny him his constitutional rights. Franklin had sought a token $1 award from his daughter, but that, too, was thrown out.

Suing the Therapist

In February 2004 Elizabeth Gale settled a lawsuit against three therapists and the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center and Tush North Shore Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, for $7.5 million. In 1986 Dr. Bennett Braun, a psychiatrist, first diagnosed Gale as having multiple personality disorder when the patient sought treatment for mild depression. Gale was hospitalized for five and a half years and was treated by two other therapists, Doctors Roberta Sachs and Corydon Hammond. Under hypnosis, Gale believed that she was involved in a secret cult that sacrificed children. She was told she had repressed memories of her participation in the cult. She had a tubal ligation, with Braun's approval, so that she would not bear any more children for the cult.

Dr. Bennett Braun settled a similar repressed-memory malpractice suit in 1997, with co-defendants Dr. Elva Poznanski and the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, for $1.6 million. The plaintiff, Patricia Burgus, consulted Braun for postpartum depression in 1986. For the next six years, using hypnosis and medication, Braun convinced his patient that she had developed more than three hundred multiple personalities as a result of child abuse. She believed that she was horribly tortured by her family and had participated in ritual murders, cannibalism, and devil worship. Braun also convinced Burgus and her husband that their two sons, ages four and five, might be predisposed to multiple personality disorder like their mother and should be committed to the hospital psychiatric ward. Doctors Braun and Poznanski helped the children "remember" abuse perpetrated by their mother, exposing them to guns and handcuffs for "therapeutic" purposes.

Third-Party Suits

The courts now often hold therapists liable to a third party, usually the patient's accused parent, when they implant or reinforce false memories in their patients. Social worker Susan L. Jones, while treating Joel Hungerford's daughter Laura, convinced her that her anxiety attacks were the result of sexual abuse by her father. Jones not only advised Laura to cease contact with her father but also convinced the patient to file a complaint of aggravated felonious sexual assault against Joel. In addition Jones contacted the police regarding the alleged assault and aided the prosecution in indicting Joel Hungerford.

Hungerford sued Jones for the misdiagnosis and negligent treatment of his daughter's condition. Jones claimed that she owed Hungerford no duty of care, meaning that since she had treated Laura Hungerford, not Joel Hungerford, Joel Hungerford could not claim that her treatment had hurt him. On December 18, 1998, in Joel Hungerford v. Susan L. Jones (No. 97-657 [1998]), the New Hampshire Supreme Court, in this case of "first impression" (with no existing precedent), ruled:

We hold that a therapist owes an accused parent a duty of care in the diagnosis and treatment of an adult patient for sexual abuse where the therapist or the patient, acting on the encouragement, recommendation, or instruction of the therapist, takes public action concerning the accusation. In such instances, the social utility of detecting and punishing sexual abusers and maintaining the breadth of treatment choices for patients is outweighed by the substantial risk of severe harm to falsely accused parents, the family unit, and society.

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over 3 years ago

Unless you have ever, ever met Dr. Elva Poznanski you have no clear idea as to why she was sued. She should have lost her license to practice children long before this case. She is perhaps the worst doctor to treat children, let alone adults. She treated my son while a patient at Rush Hospital & never saw me after the day he was admitted in her care. She believes she is 'above' it all. If you are capable as I was, please do your own research, look at all of her records, including while she was a resident. Her papers are very explicit and she turns everything into sexual deviation with young girls to whom she is very attracted. I had her paperwork analyzed by a renown doctor without giving up her name and he was truly troubled with all of her past and current work. Dr. E. Poznanski is clearly obsessed with female sexual ideation's, because she herself is not a heterosexual although she did try to establish a marriage with man having bore 2 female children, who moved in with the father. Read all of her divorce decree which is public; this too will give you grave reasons to doubt any of her findings on adults or children. She has a strong dislike for the female gender who are not attracted to her and especially strong career minded females who are very attractive and above her income level. I met no one in the hospital including office staff that stated one good word of or about Dr. Elva Poznanski on her staff or even in the cafeteria for that matter as I sought everyone she came into contact with. At first she appears professional until you sit longer enough with her to deter all of her advances if you are a very attractive heterosexual female. She will not take NO for an answer.

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over 3 years ago

I hired Dr. Elva Poznanski for my young son when he was just 7 years old who wanted to die and told me how he would kill himself. I got on the phone and found out that Rush had a child Psychiatrists, Dr. Elva Poznanski was the head of the department with a plaque of the name 'Kellogg' on the wall. How bad could it be? I was desperate to save my only child...it was VERY BAD! She only met with me once in the initial interview before I admitted him. Dr. Elva Poznanski admitted him into the child Physic dept, & pocketed tons of money per day being paid to the Hospital and in her own pocket. She never answered my telephone calls and NEVER saw me again after admitting him in as an in-patient. Then, I was NOT allowed to see my son! Dr. Elva Poznanski is the biggest quack in child Psychiatry you will ever, ever meet. I even paid in cash $12,000.00 for his last week of his stay to debunk her diagnosis that I was the problem & even sexually! OMG.. It was his father whom I divorced who I believed sexually abused my son as my Ex was gay after having him followed. Dr. Poznanski only wanted to know "where did you get that kind of money?" Is that strange sounding to anyone else here? STAY away from her, she is lead poison. She never told me that she 'mediates' in custody battles on the side either..which my ex paid her another $10,000.00 for a letter to the court that my EX'S lawyer authored. While she was in a deposition, she did NOT know about that so-called letter, because it was in fact written by my EX'S lawyer! If you want to know the real truth of Dr. Elva Poznanski, get a copy of all of her divorce records. Everything you need to know about her is in her divorce decree which is public. THERE is the real poison if you want to sue her. Dr. Elva Poznanski's EX husband laid it all out and it is damning, VERY DAMNING. If you have a case against Dr. Elva Poznanski, seek her public divorce decree from the 1980's. You will win you case & she will crawl away like the hoorid person she is. I saw Karma in real action this morning after I read all of the damning records. I left Chicago and never looked back & never knew what happened to her professional career. I was extorted into hell; 1988. She paid 10 years later...believe in Karma folks..it comes around eventually. Blessed be to all of the GOOD therapists. And, Hell to be paid for the bad ones like Elva Poznanski who is also a treating children by the way...do you want a female that is flaming to treat your precious children? No you don't. If I would have shown sexual interests with the BAD Doctor, she would have given me the letter saying my Ex was the problem, that is how bad her own divorce records are! rotflmao now! Karma is a real bi**h, isn't it!

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over 3 years ago

Could you comment on the Marilynn (sp?) Daly case in Wisconsin roughly ten years ago?

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over 4 years ago

Unless you have suffered the unbelievable emotional crucifixion of being falsely accused it is likely people tend to believe the accuser. Trust me. Nothing to hide. False accusation of abuse has almost ruined me. But I will not sink to the depths of my accuser. He lives in hell, and I won't join him. This site has brought me hope as I plan on seeking my own recovery of the huge amount of my families money required to defend this allegation. Thank you.

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almost 7 years ago

Unless the accuser can be proved of undeniably unsound mind, this is all very dubious.

A well-funded group of people (any FMS society) that aggressively pursues alleged child abuse victims seems a bit strange.

The fact that the founding father and mother of the FMS movement were themselves accused of abuse, and subsequently dragged their daughter through dirt, should be informative to those who take a cursory glance at this issue.

I suspect that many of these people have something to hide themselves, and would rather err on the side of destroying the abused rather than face their guilt.

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