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Harvey Weinstein’s “False Memory” Defense and its Shocking Origin Story

During the Harvey Weinstein rape trial, the defense called to the stand expert witness Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher on the phenomenon of so-called “false memory.” This legal tactic, explicitly designed to discredit the testimony of sexual abuse survivors, has a sordid and astonishing history dating back to the 1980s and 90s, an era known to the psychology field as the “memory wars.”

The “memory wars” were essentially a war on sexual abuse survivors who dared to speak out in an era before #METOO. More specifically, the “memory wars” targeted a particular group of sexual abuse victims: Incest survivors.

Incest is one of the most common forms of sexual abuse, and yet — despite the gains of the #METOO movement — it remains conspicuously missing from the conversation. This is largely because the “false memory” defense that was created to silence incest survivors has somehow persisted, both in the public consciousness and in the field of psychology itself.

This essay will examine the history of the “false memory” defense and its far-ranging impacts. To fully explore the issue, readers will have to open their minds to the possibility that the field of modern psychology is entrenched in pseudoscientific propaganda created by alleged child abusers, that some of Freud’s most enduring theories were based on protecting incest perpetrators, and that during the Cold War, the CIA engaged in widespread sexual abuse of children. It sounds fantastical, I know. But, so did the Weinstein case when it first broke. I hope you’ll bear with me.

You can read my full article here.

- Anna Holtzman

Anna Holtzman is a writer and mind-body psychotherapist who helps clients heal from trauma and chronic pain. Her writing includes a history of the so-called “false memory” movement that attempted to silence incest survivors. She enjoys learning, long walks, and lazing around with her partner and their three orange cats. Her website is

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