How Reliable are Old Memories of Sexual Abuse?
In a few days, a woman may testify before the U.S. Congress about her recollection of an attempted sexual assault, allegedly committed 36 years ago by a then intoxicated 17-year old high school student, who is the current nominee for a lifetime appointment as Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
How reliable will her testimony be? Many articles can be found on the internet supporting the validity of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse, which were previously repressed. Lawmakers have accepted this view and expanded statutes of limitations in both criminal and civil cases to allow victims an opportunity to present their evidence and seek justice for physical and emotional injuries, even those occurring long ago. This is an exception to the general purpose of statutes of limitation, which put limits on the time period to pursue claims, recognizing that after the passage of time, memories may fade, witnesses may be lost, and discovering the truth is more difficult.
Could old memories be unreliable? Many articles on the internet also suggest that old memories may be unreliable and could have been suggested or implanted by therapists. Nevertheless, the victim believes the memory to be true and accurate. Perhaps it’s reasonable to believe that a victim of a traumatic event is more likely to remember the details of that event than an ordinary event such as what she may have eaten or worn on a past occasion.
What is the truth? The real truth may only be known to God. But in the legal system, truth is determined by allowing the victim to testify (tell her story under oath, under penalty of perjury), allowing the accuser (or his advocate) to cross examine the victim to test her memory, question her veracity, or explore her motives, bias or prejudice. All of this is weighed on a scale called “the burden of proof” or “standard of proof” which in a criminal case requires “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” but less in a civil case, which requires only a finding of “more probably true than not true.”
Who decides what is the truth? Depending on the forum, what is true may be decided by an arbitrator, a judge, a jury, a majority of jurors, or a majority of representatives or senators. Sometimes this majority may require a vote of two-thirds, or sixty percent or one more than half.
Through what lens is the truth being viewed? Like every other human being, judges, jurors, congressmen and senators have their own inherent biases and prejudices, born of their personal history, race, religion, wealth, poverty, education, experience, gender, political affiliation and many other factors.
What do we do with the truth? In the court system, we accept that a judge or jury’s determination of the truth can form the basis for convicting or acquitting a person charged with a crime or awarding monetary damages in a civil case. In the case of a congressional hearing involving an accuser and a judge, about conduct from 36 years ago, and what impact the truth may have on the nominee’s current judicial qualifications, the rules have not yet been written.
If you currently have or may have a case in the court system, with both sides claiming the truth, you need a good lawyer on your side. Greg Martucci is a good lawyer who will aggressively prosecute or defend your civil case, or defend you against criminal, traffic or DUI charges. He will utilize over 30 years’ experience in negotiations, litigation and advocacy to achieve excellent results, maximize compensation, or minimize adverse consequences. Call Martucci Law today at 630-980-8333 to schedule your free initial office consultation and learn more about how we can help you right a wrong or fight injustice.