Memory on Trial: Ghislaine Maxwell, Elizabeth Loftus, and the Legal Convenience of False Memory Syndrome

Ryan DeLarme,
January 4th, 2022

“Child abuse has been the most ‘repressed’ idea in the history of psychology”
James Cronin

The Ghislaine Maxwell Trial has provided an uncomfortable peek into a world that exists behind the outward public facade of certain elite social circles. It has presented us with stories of how predators in high places manipulate the young and vulnerable, warping the natural boundaries of what they perceive as acceptable and unacceptable in regards to their sexuality. The Epstein and Maxwell saga has called into question the alleged secret lifestyles of many wealthy and influential people. But what if the accuser’s memories themselves are called into question instead?

Imagine, you’re a British high-society “socialite” and the consort of a wealthy and well-connected financier. Your partner made a name for himself at Bear Stearns in various capacities, eventually starting his own firm and forming a social circle that includes beloved celebrities and world leaders. Despite being fast friends with powerful people, you and your “partner” managed to fly under the radar of the greater public beyond a fluff piece in Vanity Fair.

Now imagine, to your shock, that some woman you’ve never met is accusing your confidant of engaging in sexual acts with her 14-year-old daughter. Soon, there are women coming out of the woodwork accusing him of the same debauched behavior.

Now imagine that dangerous extremists the world over conspire against you on shady internet forums, concocting fantastic stories of how you and your cohort have been providing a honey-pot to gather blackmail on all kinds of people by offering them young women and filming it to ensure that they play ball with the international intelligence apparatus. Your partner in crime dodges all charges against him by accepting a sweetheart deal. A decade goes by and he is arrested again after new accusers emerge, only this time he decides to take his own life while awaiting trial in a New York jail. Now, all the leftover public scorn and malice shifts its focus, unfairly, onto you…

This is the picture that the defense has painted for Ghislaine Maxwell, that she is in fact the real victim in all of this, not the 4 accusers mentioned in the indictment. The defense would have you believe that these selfish accusers are just looking for a handout and have somehow been implanted with false memories by malicious psychotherapists. 

Enter Elizabeth Loftus, a “memory expert” who was called by the defense to testify in the Maxwell trial last week in lower Manhattan. Loftus’s work has made her a figure of acclaim, scrutiny, and even fury. She has authored several books and articles, has appeared on a variety of television programs, including 60 Minutes and Oprah, and was ranked 58th in the Review of General Psychology‘s list of the 100 most influential psychological researchers of the 20th century. Despite her popularity with the media, Loftus’ main gig seems to be acting as a witness and “memory expert” in high-profile trials. She’s appeared in this role for some 300+ trials dating back to the seventies, has been called by the defense to testify in the trials of many household names, including Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, OJ Simpson, and Ted Bundy, to name just a few.

According to Loftus, “Even traumatic experiences can be subjected to post-event suggestion,” and that “False memories … can be very vivid, detailed. People can be confident about them, people can be emotional about them, even though they’re false,”. Maxwell’s attorneys boldly claimed that “This case is about memory, manipulation, and money”. 

The only problem with the false memory defense, which seems to be a hallmark of high profile allegations of sexual misconduct, is that 4 individual accusers somehow being implanted with the same false memory is not only unheard of, it is cartoonishly preposterous. Loftus herself essentially admitted on the stand during cross-examination that her organization has never successfully implanted a false memory, yet many garden variety psychotherapists the world over have somehow mastered this art to exploit the rich and powerful.

Unfortunately, the Ghislaine Maxwell trial isn’t an isolated case. In recent years we’ve seen all manner of celebrity and public officials being outed for sexual abuse or misconduct in one form or another. Luckily, there exist organizations whose mission statement is to shut down allegations of sexual misconduct by labeling the victim’s memories as false, one such organization is the False Memory Syndrome Foundation or FMSF.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was a “lay advocacy and lobby group” operating out of an office in Philadelphia and headed by non-clinician Pamela Freyd. The FMSF roused the media through networking and hype to publicize the alleged phenomena as though it were commonplace. 

The FMSF could be seen from at least three different perspectives. Some might see the foundation as academic and essential, some might see its work as a solid defense when faced with sexual abuse allegations, while others (particularly the accusers) see the foundation as military-grade gaslighters who seek to not only hinder the victims healing process by denying them the ability to confront their abusers, but they compound the victim’s trauma by dismissing the memories of abuse as “false”. Their evidence for claiming that delayed memories of abuse are false appears to be mostly based on the denial of the accused, the stories of some retractors, and their interpretation of literature regarding ordinary memory.

The Foundation also has a rather questionable origin and membership. Attorney Sherry Quirk said: 

“… The majority of the members of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation are adults accused of [child] sexual abuse and experts who represent them in court – hardly a source of objective information on the veracity of memories of sexual molestation.”

The explanation they provided for why these memories showed up, to begin with, was due to “pushy psychotherapists”, without expressing the incentive these therapists would have to do something that has yet to be successfully replicated in any kind of actual scientific or medical research setting. Elizabeth Loftus admitted this herself while on the stand during the Ghislaine Maxwell trial.

The frequency of child sexual abuse is much higher than most would believe, it is often thought of as an abhorrent but rare occurrence. As of the early 90s, the most conservative figures at the time estimated that 50 to 80 million people had experienced some form of sexual abuse. Addressing these figures, trauma therapists Judith Herman and Mary Harvey say that:

 “Most abusers are known and trusted people in a position of authority over the child. Many are family members. This abuse is vastly underreported because offenders usually succeed in silencing their victims. Probably less than 10% of child sexual abuse come to the attention of protective agencies or police.

When asked “How do you know you are not representing pedophiles?”, Pamela Freyd gave the following statement:

“We are a good-looking bunch of people: graying hair, well-dressed, healthy, smiling…Just about every person who has attended (our meetings) is someone you would want to count as a friend”.

The late Dr. Charles Whitfield, an accomplished American medical doctor, and expert on childhood trauma, once wrote:

“…….the FMS defense may be the most sophisticated guise of denial of abuse-denial to a level finely honed-that we have yet seen, and it is possible that it will be exposed for what some believe it to be a front for abusers and co-abusers who are unable to take responsibility for having mistreated their children. But groups like VOCAL and the FMSF may nonetheless last for a long time. ”  

  “…….If most accused child sexual abusers and many co-abusers deny having mistreated their alleged victims, then a quick way to appear right and to take the heat off of themselves is to deny the abuse and attack the victim with a term like ‘FMS'” 

   “In my best clinical opinion and that of several experts in the field of recovery from child sexual abuse, it is likely that 92 to 99 percent of survivors are telling the truth  and thus have real memories of having been abused.”

Closing Thoughts

While we certainly would never wish to contribute to a culture of persecution where mere allegations become tantamount to a duly-secured conviction, we must address the numerous issues and conflicts of interest present when a lay organization such as the False Memory Syndrome Foundation appears on the scene, ready to make all sorts of bizarre claims without real evidence, and without real explanation as to the motivation behind said claims. It’s one thing to apply a degree of rational skepticism when assessing any claim or accusation, but the application of said skepticism must go all ways, otherwise, it’s not true skepticism.

When Pamela Freyd told us that they couldn’t possibly be representing pedophiles because they’re “well dressed”, this is as blatant an admission as one can have that she and her illegitimate foundation were NEVER really skeptical — they’ve already decided that they “know” the truth, and they’ve yet to offer anything other than bluster to justify said “knowledge”. Indeed, such a pattern of communication is classic amongst sociopaths and psychopaths — such invalid diversionary conversational tactics do nothing but betray the agenda of their speaker. And the agenda, in this case, appears to be: DON’T LOOK HERE! NOTHING TO SEE HERE FOLKS!

The burden of proof lies with Loftus, the FMSF, VOCAL, and other like-minded groups to demonstrate that they have a valid point. “Trust us, we’re normal folks like you” cannot, and will never suffice.

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