Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: Current findings and their legal implications


Correspondence should be addressed to Elke Geraerts, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Mary's Quadrangle, St Andrews, KY16 9JP, UK (


Recent research on recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse has shown that there are at least two types of recovered memory experiences: those that are gradually recovered within the context of suggestive therapy and those that are spontaneously recovered, without extensive prompting or explicit attempts to reconstruct the past. By focusing on well-known imperfections of human memory, we were able to find differing origins for these recovered memory experiences, with people recovering memories through suggestive therapy being more prone to forming false memories, and with people reporting spontaneously recovered memories being more prone to forgetting prior incidences of remembering. Moreover, the two types of recovered memory reports are associated with differences in corroborative evidence, suggesting that memories recovered spontaneously, outside of suggestive therapy, are more likely to correspond to genuine abuse events. In this paper, we summarize recent research on recovered memories and we argue that these scientific findings should be applied in the justice system, but also in clinical practice.