In August of 2009, Kristi Roberts, who was at the time a 17-year-old living with her parents and older sister, went into therapy. According to her parents, they had discovered that an older neighbor who helped with the family’s gardening had molested her. Additionally, there was the incident at Bible camp, where a member of the custodial staff allegedly sexually harassed her.
The Roberts’ put their daughter in counseling with a therapist named Kathryn Salmi, who advertised her practice as being biblically based. Because the Roberts family was Christian, they felt this was a good fit. The relationship quickly turned sour. Shortly after starting therapy, Kristi began to uncover repressed memories of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, Lale Roberts. Or did she?
That is the million dollar question. Kristi is convinced that she was sexually abused by her father, now that she has been able to recall those lost memories that she was repressing due to the emotional trauma they caused. But Lale and Joan Roberts both flatly deny that anything like that ever happened. As a result, they have accused Salmi of manufacturing false memories during therapy sessions with their daughter.
Although both the police and CPS investigated the allegations against Lale Roberts, it was determined that there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations. And so nothing was done, and no charges were brought. But Kristi had already moved out of her parent’s home and cut off all contact with them.
Although Lale and Joan Roberts are still engaged in a long and protracted battle with Salmi over the authenticity of her claims and allegations against them, none of this answers the question. Are repressed memories of abuse later recovered in therapy real? Or are they simply fantasies, created by the mind when it is encouraged to invent?
According to Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University, “25 percent to 30 percent of people can regularly ‘recall’ false memories, given enough encouragement, even those that are painful and traumatic.” So does that mean that recalled memories of traumatic childhood abuse are no more than fairy stories, invented when a therapist encourages a patient with the right cues and hints?
Maybe. In fact, in certain situations it’s almost certainly the case. But with regards to Kristi Roberts, nobody’s quite sure. While Lale and Joan deny that there was any abuse of any kind in their home, their other children both disagree.
Elsa, the Robert’s oldest daughter claims that her parents were fundamentalist Christians whose parenting style was “restrictive and abusive.” She says that when she left home and joined a campus LGBT group after starting college, her parents tried to disown her. She describes her upbringing as “hellish.” Aaron, the younger brother, has also been disowned by his family for the fact that he is gay. But not before his parents attempted to put him through “anti-gay” therapy at their church. All three Roberts children claim that their parents were abusive. Lale and Joan dismiss these claims as fabrication, and say that their children are immature and subject to brainwashing through therapy.
So while no one knows the truth in this case, and we may never know it, the question of whether repressed memories of abuse can be later recalled during therapy will likely be a subject of hot debate for years to come. Both for those who claim they were victims of forgotten abuses, and for those who are suddenly accused of abusing a child years ago, with nothing more than a therapy-induced allegation to back it up.