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How Reliable Are the Memories of Sexual Assault Victims?

Scientific American – The expert testimony excluded from the Kavanaugh hearing [Editorial note by SA: If Jim Hopper had been permitted to provide his expert testimony at the September 27, 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, these would have been his remarks.]

“Incomplete memories of sexual assault, including those with huge gaps, are understandable—if we learn the basics of how memory works and we genuinely listen to survivors….As an expert witness, I review videos and transcripts of investigative interviews. It’s like using a microscope to examine how people recall—and don’t recall—parts of their assault experiences. I’ve seen poorly trained police officers not only fail to collect vital details, but actually worsen memory gaps and create inconsistences. Ignorance of how memory works is a major reason why sexual assault is the easiest violent crime to get away with, across our country and around the world…

Most important of all, when it comes to what will remain stored in our brains, is this: How emotionally activated, stressed, or terrified we were during the experience. Decades of research have shown that stress and trauma increase the differential storage of central over peripheral details…Whether it’s an enemy ambush in an alley or a sexual assault in a bedroom, our brain will encode and retain what were—for us, moment-by-moment as the attack unfolded – the central details of our experience. Seeing an enemy suddenly appear and fire at us from 10 feet away, and fearing we will die. Struggling to breath with a hand over our face, and fearing we will die…”

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