Implanted Memories of Sexual Abuse

Parents May Have Case Against ‘Hypnotherapist’

A couple may show that their daughter’s therapist used hypnosis to implant false memories of sexual abuse, a Michigan appeals court ruled.

In 2009, Lale and Joan Roberts had two daughters living with them at home: L, who is a person with Down Syndrome, and her older sister, K. After it was discovered that a friend of the family had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with K, Lale and Joan Roberts sought help for K from a mental health professional. Eventually Lale and Joan Roberts hired Salmi to provide counseling to K, she began to see Salmi in July 2009. K was 17 years of age when she first started counseling with Salmi. K began to live with family friends at around the same time.

Shortly after Salmi began to counsel K, K purportedly remembered that her father had physically and sexually abused her since she was five years old. Salmi invited Lale and Joan Roberts to attend a group counsel ing session, which was held in July 2009. At the group counseling session, K allegedly confronted her father with what Lale and Joan Roberts maintain were false allegations of sexual abuse.

In September 2009, Salmi reported the allegations to the Department of Human services. Salmi provided the investigators with a handwritten note wherein she described the abuse that K “just remembered.” In the note Salmi stated that K told her that L was also abused at home. Thereafter, the Department of Human services and the Michigan State Police investigated the allegations.

The investigators found no physical evidence that L had been or was being physically or sexually abused. An investigator with the Department interviewed K and K’s allegations, as recorded by the investigator, were strikingly similar to that provided by Salmi in her note. An investigator also interviewed K’s older sister, who had not lived in the home for several years. She described her parents as fundamentalist Christians who hold strong beliefs and practice discipline that she felt was emotionally and physically abusive, but she nevertheless stated that she did not believe that her father would hurt L or K. She also stated that she never observed anything that could be characterized as sexual abuse in the home. The investigator ultimately determined that it was unnecessary to take any action. Police officers also investigated and reviewed K’s allegations, but no charges were brought against Lale or Joan Roberts.

The trial court held a hearing on the motion in January 2013, the trial court entered an order dismissing Lale and Joan Roberts’ claim later that same month. After the trial court eventually denied their motion for reconsideration in April 2013, Lale and Joan Roberts appealed in this Court.

Child sexual abuse is one of the most heinous offenses that a person can commit. And, for that reason, there is nothing more stigmatizing than being branded a child molester. “It takes very little imagination to recognize the damning horror that must ensue to a parent falsely accused of child molestation.”

A diagnosis does not by itself implicate any particular person as the perpetrator of the abuse. More over, a patient confronted with such a diagnosis and no memory of the abuse is less likely to act on the diagnosis to his or her parent’s detriment. In the absence of evidence that the professional contributed to or caused the formation of a false memory or otherwise encouraged the patient to falsely implicate his or her parents, the mere diagnosis of childhood sexual abuse as the underlying cause of a mental disorder does not result in a direct foreseeable harm to the patient’s parents.

The trial court erred when it determined that Salmi did not owe K’s parents a duty of care; Salmi had a limited duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that her treatment of K would not cause K to have false memories of childhood sexual abuse. Therefore, the trial court should not have dismissed Lale and Joan Roberts’ claim on that basis.

Reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction. There being an important question of public policy, we order that the parties may not tax their costs.

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