Author of child sex abuse book is sued

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The Independent Online
THE AUTHOR of a self-help manual designed to assist adults to recover repressed memories of sexual abuse in their childhood - which has been a bestseller in Britain and the United States - is being sued by a woman who claims that the book was partly to blame for giving her false memories of sexual abuse and satanic rituals.

In a lawsuit filed in a US court, Kimberley Mark accuses Laura Davis of professional negligence and misrepresentation for the advice she gave in The Courage to Heal Workbook. The premise of the manual, a companion to an earlier book Ms Davis co-wrote, The Courage to Heal, is that up to one-third of women have been sexually abused but many cannot remember it.

Ms Mark is also suing doctors and therapists, including a hypnotherapist she blames for encouraging her to believe that she had been sexually abused as a child in satanic rituals by several people including her father.

The case will intensify the debate about child sexual abuse and 'recovered memory' - highlighted this week in a California court where a father sought to prove his daughter's claims of abuse were false. Yesterday a jury of eight men and four women awarded Gary Ramona dollars 500,000 (pounds 342,000) damages after he claimed that therapists planted bogus memories of incest in the mind of his eldest daugher, Holly.

During the seven-week trial Mr Ramona, once a dollars 400,000-a-year wine company executive, told the court he had lost his family and his job after Ms Ramona's unqualified therapist planted false memories of rape in the mind of his 23-year-old daughter.

He sued for dollars 8m but the jury decided he should be compensated only for lost pay, rejecting his request for compensation for emotional distress.

However, the case will have repercussions in the world of therapy. It will not only stem the growing influence of recovered-memory techniques, but could also inspire further lawsuits against therapists, and deter many therapists from helping bona-fide victims of sexual abuse. Tighter regulations on the therapy business are likely.

Ms Mark's case will also be monitored closely because it is a 'victim' rather than an 'abuser' who is suing. Her case, filed this month in San Luis Obispo, California, claims damages for severe mental anguish and emotional distress caused by her treatment by the defendants, and for medical and legal costs.

Ms Mark claims a hypnotherapy trainer told her that unexplained chest pains about which she had consulted him were caused by sexual abuse by her father when she was a child: they were a 'body memory' of an incident when her father was abusing her and his glasses fell off and struck her on the chest.

In January 1993 she bought The Courage to Heal Workbook and over the next few months carried out recommended 'exercises' to help her to recover memories.

The book describes its author, Laura Davis, as a 'survivor' of childhood abuse. The original volume had sold more than 800,000 copies in Britain and the US by 1992 and has been widely criticised by mental-health specialists for encouraging thousands of women to believe - perhaps wrongly - that their current problems are the result of sexual abuse as a child.

The Mark case is believed to be the first in which an author is being held responsible for advice given.

In the US, 12,000 families who claim they have been falsely accused by their adult children, mainly after therapy for other problems, have joined a group called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, to fight the allegations. In the UK, almost 400 families have joined a similar group, the British False Memory Society, since it was formed a year ago. The British group says that at least half its members have reported that the Courage to Heal manual had been given to their accusing children.

The lawsuit claims that all the defendants injured Ms Mark's mental health by their 'negligent conduct', which included 'teaching, coaching and implanting into her mind false memories of childhood sexual abuse by her father and others, and false memories of ritual and satanic child abuse which directly resulted in her developing therapist-induced multiple personality disorders, clinical depression, psychosis, suicidal tendencies and other mental disorders'.

Documents filed in court said Laura Davis 'represented that the book was to be used by adults as a means to heal from the effects of childhood sexual abuse, whether or not one had memories of sexual abuse . . .(and) the representations made by the defendant were in fact false'.

The lawsuit quoted many extracts from the workbook which encouraged Ms Mark to believe she had been abused: 'You can heal from the effects of abuse even if you never remember'. . .'You deserve to heal whether you have clear memories or not'. . .'If you have doubts, it doesn't mean you weren't abused.'

Roger Scotford, founder of the British False Memory Society, said The Courage to Heal featured in more than half of the cases known to him. 'The book serves as a do-it-yourself sexual-abuse discovery manual and encourages everyone who reads it to believe that all life's problems are due to sexual abuse. It does not allow for any other possible cause.'

(Photograph omitted)