Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A false accusation finally laid to rest

Some readers might remember that back at the height of third wave feminism in the mid-90s, there was such a focus on men as oppressors and abusers of women, that some men were arrested after being accused of preposterous crimes by daughters undergoing "recovered memory therapy".

One of these cases hit the news last week, when the British National Health Service agreed to compensate a young woman, Katrina Fairlie, who had been subjected to the therapy.

Katrina had a good relationship with her father as a child:

He would take me and my sister for Sunday walks, and also used to take us skating, swimming and riding. As the youngest, I always felt very loved.

In 1994 she suffered abdominal pain, which wasn't cured by two operations. Doctors decided that the cause was psychological and she underwent psychiatric treatment at a Scottish hospital.

Like other patients who underwent recovered memory therapy she was given drugs (one patient of the therapy in Ohio was injected 141 times with sodium amytal):

I was on anti-depressants and sedatives, drugged up to the eyeballs, and I was mingling with schizophrenics and drug addicts. I quickly became overwhelmed with depression and was losing all sense of reality.

When a nurse suggested to her that she had been abused by her father she replied no, but the staff (the treatment lasted five months) continued to suggest that she had. She began to have hallucinations which she was told were genuine flashbacks.

These hallucinations were bizarre and incredible, but her carers were nonetheless pleased:

When I told them these things, it didn't seem to come as any surprise. It seemed to be the answer they were looking for.

What had Katrina "remembered"? She now had memories of her father murdering a six-year-old girl with an iron bar and of being raped not only by her father but by 17 other men, including two MPs she had never met.

The accusations were investigated by the police, but quickly dropped; however, the family was left in turmoil.

In 1996 Katrina checked herself out of hospital and reduced her drug dose. Soon after, her sense of reality returned:

one morning I just woke up and had this revelation. I thought: "This is all garbage" - and there was this enormous sense of release, and relief.

She was able to repair the relationship with her father:

The first time I saw my father after making the allegations, he was standing on the doorstep. He'd had pneumonia and looked so vulnerable, and I felt so guilty. All I wanted to do was cuddle him and make it all go away.

This story is a reminder of why we need to oppose exaggerated accounts of male violence against women, including accounts which blame men as an entire class for such violence. When the theme of "men as abusers of women" gets out of hand, we get a cultural climate in which men like Jim Fairlie can be unjustly accused and in which young, vulnerable women are harmed rather than helped.

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