Self-reported amnesia for abuse in adults molested as children


  • This article was accepted for publication under the Editorship of Charles R. Figley. A version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, LA, August, 1989. The authors wish to thank Dan Sexton, M.A., for his substantial contribution to the data collection.


A sample of 450 adult clinical subjects reporting sexual abuse histories were studied regarding their repression of sexual abuse incidents. A total of 267 subjects (59.3%) identified some period in their lives, before age 18, when they had no memory of their abuse. Variables most predictive of abuse-related amnesia were greater current psychological symptoms, molestation at an early age, extended abuse, and variables reflecting especially violent abuse (e.g., victimization by multiple perpetrators, having been physically injured as a result of the abuse, victim fears of death if she or he disclosed the abuse to others). In contrast, abuse characteristics more likely to produce psychological conflict (e.g., enjoyment of the abuse, acceptance of bribes, feelings of guilt or shame) were not associated with abuse-related amnesia. The results of this study are interpreted as supporting Freud's initial “seduction hypothesis,” as well as more recent theories of post-traumatic dissociation.