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Joel Dvoskin has been involved in a multi-party, online debate regarding false allegations. When the debate deteriorated to a brawl, he circulated the following message, which is the most concise, clearly articulated delineation of the situation as any of us at The Zero has ever read.

By Joel A. Dvoskin, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Forwarded Message:
Subj: Memories
Date: 97-11-10 00:51:31 EST
From: JoeltheD

This endless, relentess back and forth sniping has finally become as tiresome as it is counterproductive. As a person who has a strong and long-term interest in child protection, I would like to assert a few things that I believe to be true, and then ask both sides of this "debate" to tell me what, if anything, I have missed. My assertions:

Re: Allegations

1. Some people have stated that they have recovered formerly not self-apparent memories of being abused as children.

2. Some of these allegations were corroborated (e.g. by confessions, discovery of photographs or videos et al) and others were proven false (e.g., via corroborated alibis, revelation of extortion schemes, et al), and some were neither corrobated nor disproven.

3. Some people have been accused of sexual abuse and said they were innocent.

4. Some of the people who said they were innocent were proven to be lying, and some were proven to be telling the truth, and some of their stories were neither corroborated nor disproven.

5. None of the folks on either side of this debate has even the most remote idea of how many cases are in any or each of the above groups.

6. But none of this has stopped the participants from asserting various "statistics," or "proof" or "common knowledge" as to the validity of their own position.

Re: Memories

1. Of the people who said they did not remember, and then said they did remember, and whose allegations were corroborated, no one knows the exact mechanism by which this phenomenon took place.

Re: Science

1. It is not appropriate to generalize from anecdotes regarding the prevalence of phenomena that have not been systematically and empirically studied.

2. Proving that something can happen does not prove that it does happen, nor if so how often it happens. This is as true of recovered memories as it is of implanted memories.

Re: Therapist Behavior

1. Some therapists (no one knows how many) behave inappropriately in regard to the issue of child sexual abuse.

2. The fact that a therapist behaved inappropriately does not tell us anything about whether or not the alleged abuse took place. We do not know that it did, and we do not know that it didn't.

Unless I have missed something amid all of this rhetoric, it seems to me that the above is a nearly exhaustive list of what we really know about this issue. All of the rest of it is in my judgment hurtful to true victims, falsely accused perpetrators, psychology and kids. It trivializes a real human tragedy to see professionals spitting at each other in print and across the internet.

Extremists have taken over the floor, so the public is presented with either a "witch hunt" or a "presumption of abuse" scenario, neither of which adds to the credibility of our profession.

I have been reading and listening to impassioned arguments on this topic for a number of years now. I am sickened at the direction this "debate" has taken. I can understand why a person who has been molested or one who is accused of molesting a child would be motivated to respond in an extreme and emotional manner, whether the accused are innocent (i.e., falsely accused) or guilty. But don't forget that both realities are tragic.

I suspect that if (God forbid) I were ever to be falsely accused of such a heinous crime that I would be tempted to join an organization such as the FMSF. I also suspect that if I were a guilty person of some status in the community who was correctly accused of such a crime, I would also be motivated to join such an organization. In other words, just knowing that a person is a member of FMSF tells us nothing about whether or not they are guilty of anything.

The only way to resolve allegations of sexual abuse is the old-fahsioned way: through painstaking investigation. Anyone who suggests that so-called delayed recovery of memories is not possible is not telling the truth, and anyone who suggests that no one is ever falsely (including incorrectly) accused is also not telling the truth. It would be nice (or perhaps not so nice) if the world were so simple that either extreme of this debate would be simply correct. But that is not the world in which we live.

"False allegations" is not an "issue" on which one has a "position," such as capital punishment or abortion. At least, when it comes it our profession, it should not be. Unless and until we examine each allegation on a case-by-case basis, unless and until we seek genuinely unbiased, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may investigations, unless each side stops its mindless "interpretation" of any findings which do not support their "position," we will be utterly impotent in the face of what we all acknowledge is a problem of monumental dimension.

So I say to all of you, for God's sake please stop sniping at each other. Have the courage to hear the truth in the other side, and to honestly and openly seek answers, even if they are not the ones you want or expect to hear. More importantly, have the courage to say the words most tragically missing from this debate, from mental health professionals on both sides. Those words are: "I don't know."

I apologize for the length and "preachy" tone of this but I have been observing this sad display for a very long time, and these things were on my mind.

Respectfully submitted,
Joel Dvoskin

For more information about Dr. Joel A. Dvoskin, or to read more articles by this leading leading forensic psychologist, click here.