The Principle of Similarity: A Source of Legal Evidence on Sexual Abuse

by Max Scharnberg*

ABSTRACT: The principle of similarity is the mistaken belief that a cause of a phenomenon can be disclosed by finding a real or hypothesized earlier event which is similar to the phenomenon.  This belief which is found in Freud's writings, is now appearing as "evidence" in cases of alleged sexual abuse.  Such evidence, although lacking a sound scientific base, can be extremely persuasive to judges and juries and can result in erroneous decisions.

When scrutinizing legal cases, certain kinds of evidence are encountered again and again.  This evidence, which may appear quite convincing to judges and jurors, derives its convincing appearance from a number of causes.  The evidence may have been repeated so often in the mass media that it appears to be a type of "everyday truth."  It may be strongly supported by the testimony of psychologists or other experts.  Judges and jurors may not have closely examined the evidence and therefore have had no genuine opportunity to evaluate it in its proper context.  The evidence may bear an unsuspected relation to certain long-standing human habits of thought.

Although the historical origin of an idea provides no legitimate basis for assessing its truth value, insight into the origin tells us much about why we are strongly inclined to believe in an idea in the absence of empirical support.  I shall trace the principle of similarity through three stages: its role in primitive superstition, in psychoanalytic theory, and in contemporary trials.

The Principle of Similarity Before Freud

The fundamental idea of the principle of similarity is that the cause is similar to the effect.  Consequently the cause of a phenomenon can be disclosed by finding — or by postulating — an earlier event or state of things which is similar to the phenomenon.  In Robert Burton's (1927, p. 187f.)  In The Anatomy of Melancholy from 1621, we read that a harelip is caused by the pregnant mother having been scared by a hare.  In the 12th century, Hildegard von Bingen (1959, p. 125) informs us that deafness can be cured by laying the ear of a lion against the ear of the human patient.  While the normal German word for elk is "Elch," the Latvian work, "elen," has also entered the language in a transformed form, as "Elend-Tier," which means "misery-animal."  The alternative word has given rise to the idea that the elk suffers from epilepsy and, in turn, that elk horn powder is an effective drug against epilepsy (Kleinpaul, 1885, p. 357).  In 1610, Johannes Kepler (1941, p. 247) states that liquor made on rose leaves has a particularly "pricking" taste, because a rose bush has thorns.  In the then highly estimated psychiatric work, Psychische Heilkunde by Albert Matthias Vering (1817, p. 42), we are told of a woman who bore a child without both arms because she had been scared by a beggar without arms.

According to the antique dream book by Artemidoros (1969, p. 175), dreaming of hitting a ball means unchaste love to immoral women, because a ball is staying in no place and goes from hand to hand.  Von Schubert (1840, ch. 2) claims that dreams may reveal our real inclinations, unconcealed by the effect of education.  The inborn and universal language of hieroglyphics is the key to the understanding of dreams.  Peersavie peril may by "the hidden inner poet" first be substituted with a sea of water ("Wasser" in German) on the basis of universal symbolism and, in turn, by a knife ("Messer") on the basis of phonetic similarity.

It would be a matter of routine to list hundreds of examples of the same kind from the last two thousand years.  During the end of the 19th century, the principle of similarity was no longer prominent within psychiatry.  But in the 1890s Sigmund Freud brought it back and made it a cornerstone of his theory.

The Principle of Similarity in Psychoanalysis

Scharnberg (1993a) introduced the name "the incest ideology" about the contemporary tendency of seeing sexual abuse where it does not exist.  Although numerous psychoanalysts reject this ideology Freud's seduction theory is a cornerstone of the latter.  What was borrowed from Freud was not merely an isolated theory, it was an all-encompassing approach consisting of forged clinical observations, deliberate implantation of false memories, propagandistic denial of influence of the patients, and a comprehensive set of persuasive techniques.  Hence, we may learn much about the validity of the incest ideology from a close look at Freud's writings.

In his letter of 1897, Freud (1985, p. 220) mentions an adult female, G. de B., who suffered from eczema around her mouth.  From nothing but this fact Freud concluded she had been exposed to oral sex by her father in the cradle.  In the third seduction paper of 1896, Freud (GW-I, p. 453 / SE-III, p. 215) mentions an adult male, whom Scharnberg (1993a) gave the name Michael.  Michael suffered from a stiff leg.  Freud never considered the possibility of a somatic etiology, but deduced the cause in the following way: A leg has an oblong form, and has almost the "right" position on the torso.  Consequently, the stiffness derived from the leg having been applied where a "stiff" penis is normally used.  When Michael was 2 to 4 years old, an adult female had used his foot as a masturbation tool.

This variety of causal interpretations are by no means restricted to Freud's early writings, as can be seen from Scharnberg (1993a, 1993b), Israëls (1993), Wolpe and Rachman (1960) and, in particular, Esterson (1993).  They are equally prominent in the late 1930s and in the early 1890s.  Bed wetting in children of both sexes is explained as the result of masturbation, on the ground that bed-wetting is similar to nocturnal emissions in adult males (GW-V; p. 90 / SE-VII, p.190).  The 18-year-old patient whom Freud (GW-V; p. 211 / SE-VII, p.51) called Dora suffered from cough attacks which might last for six weeks.  Cough attacks are rhythmic like sexual intercourse, and they are related to the mouth.  Consequently, they are caused by Dora's unconscious wish to practice fellatio upon the husband of her father's mistress.  The only evidence that she entertained such a wish consists of her cough attacks.  Maryse Choisy, who would later become a psychoanalyst, was Freud's patient in 1922 when she was 19.  At that time Freud deduced from her cat dream, and by means of the principle of similarity, that her aunt had masturbated her during infancy in order to make her fall asleep (Scharnberg, 1996a).

Freud threatened to throw out G. de B. if she would not believe that she had been sexually abused.  As can be seen from his writings, he hammered his interpretations into his patients in the most coercive way.  But, while his persuasive techniques directed against his patients are primitive, his persuasive techniques directed against the reader are more sophisticated.  In his writings he repeatedly claims that he was always very careful never to expose his patients to undue influence.

Again and again Freud feigns great surprise by patient accounts which, allegedly, ran counter to all his expectations — although he had already stated in print that the "surprising" facts will be found in every case.  I have termed a lie supported by another lie a "twin lie" (Scharnberg, 1994) and the significance of this device derives from its enormous persuasive power.  It belongs to Freud's habitual technique of fabricating observations out of interpretations, and of putting his own fabrications into the mouths of other people (Scharnberg, 1993a).

Freud also exhibits another recurrent feature of habitual fabulators, that is, to let each fabrication rest in itself, with little regards to other true or false statements.  He does not recall his own lies from one page to the next.  Therefore, by juxtaposing his statements on different pages, the fictitious nature of his assertions will become apparent.  One set of juxtaposed statements from the third seduction paper will be listed (Scharnberg, 1993a, p. 21):

S-1  Any hysteric (within Freud's sample of 1896 comprising 18 patients, as well as within the total population of hysterics) will have at least one symptom that is caused by an infantile (seduction) event, and other symptoms (pluralis!) that are not caused by any infantile event at all (GW-I, p.449, 451 / SE-III, p.212, 214).

S-2  For each and all symptoms of each and all patients of Freud's sample, Freud succeeded in digging out the infantile (seduction) event that had caused this symptom (GW-I, p. 435 / SE-III, p 199).

S-3  A not indicated number among the 18 patients had (at the age of 2-4) initiated sexual actions involving solely other children and no adult.  Freud verified the fact that each and all of these children had previously been seduced by an adult person.  And within the pure child relation, they had seduced some other child to perform upon themselves the same variety of sexual action which the adult had performed upon them (GW-I, p. 452 / SE-III, p. 215).

S-4  [The 18 patients consisted of 12 females and 6 males.]  A not indicated number of THE BOYS had initiated such sexual actions involving only other children.  Freud succeeded in digging out all seductive events there might have been.  Nonetheless, for some of the boys who had initiated pure child sex he found no previous seduction by any adult (GW-I, p. 445 / SE-III, p. 208).

S-5  For each and all of the 18 patients Freud verified the following sentence.  Any symptom will necessarily disappear when the infantile causal event has been dug out (GW-I, p. 448 / SE-III, p. 211f.).

S-6  The infantile causal event was dug out for each and all symptoms of each and all 18 patients. (GW-I, p. 435 / SE-III, p.199).

S-7 Some of the 18 patients did not lose their symptoms (GW-I, p. 435 / SE-III, p. 199f.).

In this same paper, Freud presents three different versions.  According to the surprise version, his hysterical patients (and his non-hysterical ones as well) unexpectedly started to recount sexual assaults.  Freud (who had for years asserted in print that hysteria has a non-sexual etiology) now claims that he refused to believe his own ears, because he had so far entertained the firm prejudice that hysteria has a non-sexual etiology).  However, he was slowly and under great resistance forced to face the nature of reality.

According to the repression version, hysterical and other symptoms are caused by sexual assaults during preschool age.  The events have been repressed, but succeed in appearing in disguised form through psychopathological symptoms; e.g., constipation at adult age is caused by anal assaults during early childhood.

Freud developed a special method for lifting repression and, hence, for curing neurotic symptoms.  No patient supplied any account — unexpected or not — until repression was removed.  Freud also claimed his techniques could determine whether a recounted childhood experience was a fantasy or an authentic historical event.

According to the indoctrination version, the infantile events were interpretations invented by Freud.  The patients denied having been seduced.  But Freud applied coercive persuasive techniques to force the interpretations upon them.  While lifted repression universally associated with symptom removal would constitute invaluable evidence, Freud states in other writings (e.g. GW-V; p.217 / SE-VII, p.57) and GW-XVI, p. 50f. / SE-XXIII, p. 263f.) that the only way of confirming an interpretation, consists of patient reactions such as, "I never thought of that."

One of Freud's numerous assertions about never having exposed his patients to suggestive influence should be carefully read, not only because of its deliberate untruth, but because of the highly persuasive effect of the wording:

The danger of our leading a patient astray by suggestion, by persuading him to accept things which we ourselves believe but which he ought not to has certainly been enormously exaggerated.  An analyst would have had to behave very incorrectly before such a misfortune could overtake him; above all, he would have to blame himself with not allowing his patients to have their way.  I can assert without boasting that such an abuse of suggestion has never occurred in my practice (GW-XVI, p. 48f. / SE-XXIII, p. 262).

As shown by Scharnberg (1993a), most of the "18" patients — probably 14 — were fabricated out of empty air.  Moreover, even if Freud's theory had been absolutely correct, he could not have made the postulated observations, since he was a poor diagnostician; his patients were not hysterics at all, but merely suffered from all kinds of somatic diseases.  They showed no resemblance to the variety of patients described by Janet (1901).

Let us summarize the results of the present section:

  1. None of Freud's early patients claimed to have been sexually abused.  On the contrary, they denied having had any such experiences.
  2. The seduction ideas were exclusively invented by Freud himself.
  3. These seduction ideas were interpretations based upon the principle of similarity.  Disregarding the possibility of a miraculous coincidence, the interpretations were downright false.
  4. Freud used coarse persuasive techniques to force the interpretations upon his patients.
  5. As so often elsewhere, Freud constructed observations out of his interpretations.
  6. And as so often elsewhere, he put his own ideas into the mouths of his patients.
  7. He claimed that all hysterical symptoms were caused by sexual abuse during preschool age.  The recollection of the painful event had been repressed.  But the repressed event tried to pace its way through, and did succeed in manifesting itself in disguised form, that is, as the pathological symptom.
  8. He also claimed that lifted repression will have two effects.  The patient will recall the original causal event, and the symptom will disappear.
  9. Furthermore, he claimed to have invented another method, which unerringly would distinguish between fantasies and authentic recollections.
  10. He wisely abstained from describing any concrete feature of the method for lifting repression, or the method for distinguishing true and false recollections.
  11. Freud also claimed that he had been very careful never to expose his patients to any kind of suggestive or other undue influence.
  12. As a persuasive technique directed against the reader, Freud claimed that his patients had, completely on their own, started to recount events of sexual abuse.
  13. For the same reason, he assured the reader that he was highly surprised by these accounts, since he had so far entertained the firm conviction that hysteria has a non-sexual etiology.  This assurance was disseminated despite the fact that Freud had for years in print affirmed that the cause of hysteria is of a sexual nature.
  14. The following transformation of the facts is not stated in print until many years later.  But eventually, the patient's gradual capitulation to the pressure from the psychoanalyst and, hence, his gradual acceptance of a certain interpretation, as well as of increasingly more bold interpretations, was presented as the gradual lifting of the repressions.
  15. But it need be strongly emphasized, that the entire concept of repression is based upon a scientific fraud.

A Brief Note on the Successor of the Seduction Theory

The above 15 items seem almost like a description of today's memory recovery therapy. This close resemblance leaves no doubt that memory recovery therapy is a plagiarism in almost all respects. I shall eventually describe a series of phenomena associated

with the return of the seduction theory around the early 1 970s, but first a few words need be said about what originally took the place of the seduction theory.

It is a well-known fact that Freud retracted the seduction theory — in secret after less than two years, and in public after 10 to 18 years.  The motive behind the retraction is not clarified, but the motive is immaterial in the present context.  However, until around 1980 no one suggested that the seduction theory had met with massive resistance and had endangered Freud's reputation; this is a propagandistic distortion of the historical facts.

Freud's first successor theory was that the patients had really masturbated, but had "projected" these experiences upon others.  This theory seems to have had little influence upon practical treatment.  The real successor theory was that the child might have awakened and seen the parents involved in sexual intercourse (the so-called "primal scene").  The shock had laid the foundation for the subsequent neurosis.  The coitus theory is fully developed in the case study of the wolf man.  During the heyday of the ego analysts (whose theoretical leaders were Heinz Hartmann, David Rapaport and Erik H. Erikson), the coitus interpretation was commonplace in the consultation room.

Mania, depression, paranoia, hebephrenia, phobia, hysteria, compulsive neurosis, character disorder, learning disturbance, asthma, headache, delinquency — all have been explained as reactions to single or multiple exposures to the primal scene.  One is moved to wonder whether we are here confronted by one of those situations in which a theory, by explaining everything, succeeds in explaining nothing (Esman, 1973, p. 64).

Heinz Hartmann (1959, p. 21f.) invoked the best instance he could find during 60 years of a psychoanalytic "prediction of the past" which was subsequently confirmed in a scientific way (Bonaparte, 1945).  The deduction of the coitus including fellatio (practiced by the patient's uncle and wet nurse before the patient was the age of two) is of the same variety as all the psychoanalytic interpretations listed above.  The nature of the scientific verification should, however, be noticed.  It consisted in the patient's hammering for months upon her then 82-year-old uncle, until he confessed.  This example is analyzed in Scharnberg (1984, p. 121f.).

The Return of the Seduction Theory

Freud's own deduction of the Wolf baby's observation of coitus will be discussed later.  The deduction will turn out to be important because of several unexpected reasons.  For example, it found its way through strange intermediary links into the Swedish "cutting-up trial" (described below).

The seduction theory came into favor again, with an embryonic beginning in the 1970s and a full blossom in the 1980s.  There are several theories as to why.  The prevailing hypothesis — that unsuspected misery was no longer overlooked — is false.  The discovery of a high frequency of sexual abuse was made with manifestly invalid methods which were constructed in advance.  Only two hypotheses can be taken seriously, both of which may well be partially true.  Their main difference is concerned with the question of who were the original initiators.  One suggestion is feminism and the women's liberation movement.  But rightly or wrongly, I (Scharnberg 1993a, 1996a) believe the latter merely took over a development already in progress.

Psychoanalysts were always aware of their poor therapeutic results.  Until 1960, they had claimed to cure everyone and to provide guarantee against relapse (Freud, GW-XI, p. 469 / SE-XVI, p. 450).  They had zealously fought every successful competing approach.  While behavior therapy existed since at least 1924, psychoanalysts and psychodynamic therapists managed for generations to conceal its very existence and keep it out of psychiatric clinics.  But in 1960 Hans Jürgen Eysenck's Behaviour Therapy and the Neuroses put an end to this strategy.  The first psychodynamic countermeasure was to initiate a worldwide campaign against behavior therapy.  Nonetheless, the psychodynamic therapists eventually realized that they were fighting a losing battle.  An impotent male is not inclined to prefer a five-year treatment to a five-week treatment he knows of.  Psychodynamic therapists saw their practice declining.  In 1964, 803 patients sought psychoanalytic treatment at the Columbia University Psychoanalytic Clinic.  In 1971, this figure had gradually dropped to 162 (Rachman & Wilson, 1980, p.52).

Psychoanalysts and psychodynamic therapists started to search for new markets.  After abortive flirtations with existentialist, Marxist, and occult trends, they caught sight of the incest clinics.  They dug out Freud's fraud of 1896, and invented a series of fabrications: his early patients had really been seduced, the evidence in the three seduction papers is convincing, Freud's clinical observations evoked furious attacks, and because of cowardice he eventually retracted his true results.

What could better prove the competence of today's therapists, than the "fact" that their great leader was 100 years ahead of his time, and already in 1896 had studied numerous aspects of sexual abuse of children?  But in order to use the seduction papers as letters of introduction, contemporary therapists had to distort their content.  In Freud's papers all assaults took place at the age of 2 to 4, and were mostly performed by another child who was hardly older.  In addition, Freud's "clinical experience" showed that sexual assaults after the age of 8 could not cause any harmful psychic effects.

The Principle of Similarity as the Foundation of Contemporary Legal Evidence

The examples below are taken from three Swedish trials, all of which are described in Scharnberg (1993a, 1996a, 1996b).  The names of defendants and alleged victims are pseudonyms.  But there is no reason to give a pseudonym to the prostitute, since her real name is very well-known to the general Swedish population.  Although only a few of the facts illustrate the principle of similarity, I shall always outline the context of these facts.

Enhagen's daughters, aged 1 and 2 years respectively, showed a perfect normal genetic variant.  Each had hardly any hymen.  The child physician Anna Kernell and the child gynecologist Barbro Wijma are specifically recommended by The National Board of Health and Welfare (and were also involved in the case of Vanessa described in Scharnberg, 1993a and 1 996a).  Nonetheless, these doctors cannot have been very familiar with their own subject.  They interpreted the genetic peculiarity to be the result of sexual abuse and reported the father to the police. He was arrested for one month, until the case was removed from the cause list.

The principle of similarity is conspicuous in the following excerpt written by Dr. Kernell:

A high aberrant behavior was observed in both children during a home visit.  Inter alia, it was reported that both children had been lying upon each other, making jogging movements with their abdomen.  Because of this, suspicion is instilled that the children may have been exposed to sexual abuse.

Among many other things, we should also note the doctors' failure to make the transition from the adult's to the child's perspective.  First, a genuine victim of 1 to 2 years of age would primarily have paid attention to other things than abdominal coitus movement.  Second, she would not have been capable of imagining the transfer of such movements from the offender to herself.  Third, she would not have been eager to repeat those movements upon another child.  Note further that the source of the interpretation may well be statement S-3 in the above juxtaposition from the third seduction paper.

Chief physician Ulla Rydå is likewise highly estimated by The National Board of Health and Welfare.  She performs memory recovery therapy, and she was strongly involved in the case of Erna described in Scharnberg (1996c).  Moreover, she wrote the text that is quoted below.

After suspicion of sexual abuse by her father, 9-year-old Virna was placed on an institution. When she was playing corona, the following event took place:

At a certain occasion when Virna was playing corona with another patient of the same age, one of them happened to shoot the yellow marker into one of the four holes.  And then a member of the staff stated that the yellow marker must not get into the holes.  Thereby Virna turns to this member and says: "Don't talk to me about holes."

All evidence was of the same nature, and led to the conviction of the father.

Frank Lindblad is an M.D., chief physician, assistant professor, psychoanalyst, child psychiatrist, and is considered the foremost expert on sexual abuse of children of The National Board of Health and Welfare.  He is the primary fabricator of the evidence against two doctors who are described in Scharnberg (1996b) given mnemonic pseudonyms: Emil Gendel was a general practitioner, and Laurence Autonne was an autopsist.  The most comprehensive and qualitatively superior study of this case, called the "cutting up trial" in Sweden, is Holgerson and Hellbom (1991).

A mutilated corpse of a prostitute, Catrine da Costa, was found.  When Mrs. Gendel read in the newspaper that an autopsist had been interrogated by the police, the idea occurred to her that her husband and his former teacher had murdered the prostitute and had also performed a sexual desecration of the corpse in the presence of Dr. Gendel's 17-month-old daughter, Henriette.  She informed the police about her suspicions which started the snowball effect.

Moreover, Mrs. Gendel imagined she could see that the hymen of the child was broken.  She claimed that this was the sole basis for her suspicion of sexual abuse.  When a gynecologist told her that every feature of Henriette's sex organ was perfectly normal, she went to a second, a third, and a fourth gynecologist, all of whom made the identical assessment.  But she remained unconvinced — a strong indication that she was suffering from the Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (Rand, 1989, 1990, 1993).

In the district court the legally trained judge along with one lay judge voted for acquittal.  But five lay judges agreed on a conviction for murder and desecration.  After the verdict was reached on the guilt, but before the sentencing, the lay judges gave extensive interviews in the newspapers.  In public, they exposed reasoning at the same level as ordinary gossip mongering — this is not a rhetorical expression but the appropriate description from the scientific point of view.  Without these interviews, both doctors would today have served a life sentence.

Because the lay judges had publicly exposed their reasoning on the question of guilt before the complete written judgment was produced and made public, the entire trial had to be resumed from the start with entirely new judges.  Although the new court accepted that the prostitute might have died a natural death, it likewise decided that the doctors had desecrated the corpse.  However, no punishment was meted out, because the period for prosecution had expired.  The subsequent trials were exclusively concerned with the doctors' medical certificates, which were eventually withdrawn.  In a way that is absolutely unique in Sweden, the case has wandered forth and back between six different courts, which have made 10 verdicts or judgments.

During the ninth proceeding, eyewitness identification played a decisive role.  This pattern of sham facts has been analyzed in Scharnberg (1993a and 1996b) and, more extensively in Swedish, by Hellbom (1994).  But in the district court the entire evidence consisted of Dr. Lindblad's psychoanalytic interpretations of statements Henriette, according to what her mother claimed, had made.

Although there is not the slightest evidence that the corpse ever entered The National Laboratory of Forensic Science, Dr. Lindblad took the child to the autopsy hall.  He also drove slowly past Dr. Autonne's private house together with the child.  Henriette showed no sign of having ever been in these places.  Dr. Lindblad testified in a series of courts that her failing recognition revealed that she had experienced such shocking events that she had repressed them.

Now to the principle of similarity.  Fatty stains on soup may be called "eyes" in both Swedish, Danish, and German.  While eating soup Henriette (really or supposedly) said: "One can eat eyes, and daddy's eyes are the most tasty ones."  According to Lindblad, these words prove that Henriette was an eye witness of the desecration, at which occasion the doctors ate the eyes of the corpse.  Henriette also said that daddy was sawing in the nurse at the day care center) in all the children, and "in me."  And these words prove that she had witnessed the two doctors sawing in the corpse.

Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

Abuse symptoms fall into two rather distinct groups.  One of these consists of all kinds of diffuse symptoms which are either associated with a wide variety of diseases, or else are so vague that their etiology is, more often than not, unknown.  Examples are headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, etc.  Wakefield and Underwager (1988) and Underwager and Wakefield (1990) have noted that exactly the same symptoms which, 100 years ago, were thought to have been caused by masturbation, are today thought to derive from sexual abuse.

The connection of the second group of symptoms with sexual abuse is based upon the principle of similarity.  Oral eczema, vomiting, eating disorders, repulsion against specific kinds of food, etc., are thought to derive from oral sex.  Constipation and diarrhea result from anal sex.  Redness, soreness, and infection of the vaginal area are from genital assaults.

The glans of four-year-old Pontus was markedly asymmetric.  This is a normal variant which will eventually disappear without any treatment.  But Kari Ormstad, the primary expert of The National Board of Health and Welfare on somatic signs of abuse, claimed that the asymmetry derived from sexual assaults.

The above mentioned 9-year-old Virna refused to eat white sauce and to drink chocolate mixed with milk.  Both facts were used as further proof to justify the prison sentence of her father.

Monica Dahlström-Lannes was until recently the most aggressive incest ideologist within the Swedish police.  She is presently a member of the board of Save the Children.  In her widely applied book (1990, p.64) we read:

In some children the assaults remain in the body.  They cannot swallow soured milk (e.g.) without having strong nausea (from oral assaults).

Recently, Save the Children published Signals of Sexual Abuse in Young Children by Akselsdotter (1993).  This is not just a list of symptoms belonging to both the above categories.  The personnel at day nurseries are encouraged to report to the police suspicions of sexual assaults if a child refuses to eat sauce because it resembles sperm, if a child urinates too often, and so forth.

Strategic Pseudo-theories

These theories are specifically constructed to transform evidence of innocence into evidence of guilt.  They also bear a strange relation to so-called incest symptoms.  A girl may first report her father for longstanding sexual abuse.  She later may report dozens of other males, not only for having abused her, but also for having participated in ritual murder of children.  It would seem that the girl has thereby proved she is not sufficiently trustworthy for a sexual abuse conviction to be based upon her accusations alone.

But psychologists have invented an appropriate strategy for this situation.  Because the girl has really been abused, her cognitive apparatus has been injured and therefore she will go on making additional false claims.  The Court of Appeal in Stockholm applied this pseudo-theory in the Södertälje case.

The following pseudo-theory was used by the same court in the case of Ursula (Scharnberg, 1993a).  Starting at age 13, Ursula had accused two persons whose innocence was apparent, even to the prosecutor.  She then accused her father.  Although common sense and sound reason should have made it difficult to convict the father on the basis of Ursula's uncorroborated claims, her behavior pattern was magically transformed into proof of her father's guilt.  Allegedly, it is common for incest victims to want at the same time to expose the truth and to protect their father.  The outcome will be a psychoanalytic compromise solution, in which they will truthfully claim to have been sexually abused, but will identify the wrong offender.  Hence, if such a girl eventually reports her father, the agreement of the pattern with "what is known to psychiatry" is so close that the father's guilt is strongly supported.

Other more logical explanations are ignored by this reasoning.  For example, a girl who has been forced by external pressure to initiate a false accusation or has been pressured to maintain a fabrication she invented impulsively to impress a schoolmate might finally gain the courage to tell the truth.  But, in order to prevent dropped charges or acquittals based on such retracted accusations, Roland Summit (1983) developed the pseudo-theory that it is typical in true cases of sexual abuse for the girl to later retract the allegation.

Although the evidence was clear that 13-year-old Wendela had not told the truth (Scharnberg, 1996c), the social workers had been eager to gather sham evidence before the trial.  When Wendela wanted to retract, however, they encouraged her — if she felt like retracting, she should, of course, retract.  A person not familiar with the pseudo-theories might be dumbfounded by this apparent about face.  But, in actual fact, the social workers were looking for one more piece of evidence against the father.

The strategy of redefining the gradual submission to external pressure from a psychotherapist into the gradual lifting of repression should also be considered a strategic pseudo-theory.

The Principle of Similarity in American Literature

Since Freud's retraction and until the publication of Eysenck (1960), only Ferenczi and one of his coworkers adhered to the seduction theory seriously.  As far as I have been able to find out, the first writer who in "recent" time took the theory seriously, was Shengold (1963).  But a closer look should be taken upon a paper by Katan (1973), with the vivid title "Children Who Were Raped."  Note how the principle of similarity is very much alive in each of the interpretations.

The psychoanalyst Anny Katan received a female patient over age 30, who had already undergone two unsuccessful psychoanalytic treatments.  She thought the failures might derive from her inability to stand (a) being alone (b) with a man, who (c) was placed behind her (d) without sight.  From these facts Katan deduced the hidden cause of his patient's reactions: During preschool age she had (a) been alone (b) with a man who (c) approached her from behind (d) without her sight.  He practiced anal intercourse, which was an exciting rather than frustrating experience, but nonetheless ruined the two previous treatments.  (Although Katan was a female, certain remarks in her paper strongly indicate that her treatment likewise failed.)

Refusing to "take in" interpretations is similar to refusing to "take in" food.  Since the latter reaction may result from oral sex, the difficulty of convincing the patient of the truth of the above interpretations was said to prove that she had also been exposed to oral sex.

The patient had seen nothing remarkable about her husband bathing naked together with their 3-year-old daughter.  But Katan has a highly puritan view of nudity, and believes that children should never see either of the parents less than completely dressed.  The risk for Katan was not that the father might become sexually stimulated by the sight of his naked young daughter — the risk was that the 3-year-child might become sexually aroused at the sight of the naked father.  Katan thinks that all 3-year-old children masturbate and believes that this girl masturbated with the fantasy of castrating the father.

Mrazek and Mrazek (1981) provide a thoroughly distorted account of Katan's case and claim Katan established that some women, because they themselves were abused as children, may, as adult mothers, permit their husbands to sexually abuse their children.  Mrazek and Mrazek (1981) present two tables of 54 symptoms which, in 42 studies published between 1932 and 1981, are said to have been observed in victims of sexual abuse.  But, when the original writings are checked, it becomes immediately apparent that it is purely speculative interpretation that the patients in many of these studies were abused.  In quite a few of the studies, the symptoms "quoted" in the tables are not even mentioned.

In sum, Mrazek and Mrazek's tables are crank science.  They have nonetheless been used as legal evidence — also in Sweden (Scharnberg, 1 993a, 1996a).  The child psychiatrist Elisabeth Bosaeus "proved" that 17-year-old Violet was an incest victim; one of the "proofs" was that she had the same symptoms which are listed in the tables.  The Court of Appeal in Jönköping did not detect that this was a quintuple bluff.  The tables are false in the above two respects.  There is foolproof evidence that Violet did not have most of those symptoms she claimed to have.  Her alleged symptoms are so trivial that the pattern may be encountered in numerous syndromes of the most different variety, for example, the African sleeping-sickness.  Moreover, 94% of the symptoms of the tables are missing in Violet, while 42% to 75% of her symptoms (depending upon the preferred categorization) are missing in the tables.

Suzanne Sgroi (1982) — whose book was likewise relied upon in the case of Violet — also applies the principle of similarity.  Young girls who are prevented from masturbating may insert a toy in their pants so that they may produce friction by manipulating the outside of their clothes.  Considerations of efficacy suffice to explain the choice of a doll with the head against the vagina, rather than most other alternatives.  But Sgroi sees in this pattern evidence of previous exposure to cunnilingus.

A Predecessor of Memory Recovery Therapy: Recalling Observations of Coitus by the Parents

Psychoanalytic interpretations are by Franz Alexander (1976) rechristened "the psychoanalyst remembers in the patient's stead."  It is commonplace in the analytic literature to state that the patient "recalled" an infantile event, when the only objective fact is that he showed a symptom, a dream fragment, a verbal formulation, etc., which is similar to the infantile event.  In the above case, Katan states both that the patient "recalled" the infantile assault and that it was difficult to force this interpretation upon her.  Exactly the same double-talk is prominent in Freud's own writings.  This feature should be immediately apparent, but may also be learned from analytical works such as Esterson (1993) and Scharnberg (1993a, 1993b).

Lenore Terr (1988) — to whom we shall turn in the next section — claims that recollections from early childhood are retained in the unconscious on the basis of case studies of 20 young children suffering documented traumatic events.  Technically, her procedure reversed the temporal order of Freud's methodology in Chapter 4 of the case study of the wolf man (GW-XII / SE-XVII) — to which we shall therefore first turn.  But the primary importance of Terr's paper lies in the fact that it has been cited in a number of legal cases, such as by Lindblad in the Swedish cutting-up trial.

With great zeal and virtuosity Freud asserted on the basis of the wolf man's own associations that his central dream mirrored the fairy-tale of the wolf and the seven goatlings.  No one familiar with the peculiar nature of Freud's thinking could overlook that Freud has put his own fabrications into the mouth of the patient.  Moreover, the patient lived long enough to expose numerous deliberate fabrications in Freud's text.  For instance, the seven wolves of the dream were neither seven nor wolves (Obholzer, 1982).

Freud's main interpretation will be outlined, but his derivations will be deleted.  At the age of 18 months young Serge (the wolf man) suffered from malaria.  While sleeping in his parents' bedroom, Serge suddenly woke up and watched his parents performing coitus in the dog's position.  Hitherto, Serge had believed that intercourse is performed in the anus, and that babies are born through this opening.  At that occasion he realized for the first time that there is a difference between the openings.  This was the foundation of his future and life-long neurosis.

Mahony (1984) has provided a lucid discussion of the objections to this interpretation.  First, Freud elsewhere claimed that Serge was some 4 years old when he had malaria.  Second, it is absolutely impossible that a young child of a Russian family of aristocrats, to say nothing of a sick child, would sleep in his parents' sleeping room.  Third, it defies medical knowledge that an 18-month-old child in a paroxysmal feverish state of malaria would be lying with strained attention for half an hour without crying.  Fourth, the father allegedly performed three acts of coitus within half an hour, certainly no ordinary human achievement.  Fifth, the dog's position is the least suitable for detecting the anatomic difference, and the most suitable one for confusing vagina and anus.  Sixth, unless the child was lying immediately between the legs of the couple, "the observability assigned to the Wolf baby's angle of vision would exceed the ingenious staging of any pornographic film producer."

In sum, Freud's main interpretation is not only arbitrary and counterintuitive, it is also physically impossible and proves, if anything, the deficient reality feeling of the fabulator (Scharnberg, 1996c).  It is disheartening that this derivation was the interpretative paradigm of numerous psychoanalysts during the 1960s and 1970s, when thousands of patients were indoctrinated to believe that their ailments derived from similar experiences during infancy.  Many patients would have been pressed to claim to recall such events.

A Sham-objective Study of Infantile Recollections

The interpretative scheme of the wolf man interpretation has four constituents: (1) the symptoms or accounts at the time of the clinical observation, (2) the infantile event, (3) the similarity between both sets of facts, and (4) the axiom that the similarity proves that the infantile event was the cause of the symptoms or accounts.  Against my better judgment and knowledge, I shall take Freud's clinical observations at face value.  Under this assumption, the first and third constituents are objectively verified, and may function as the premises.  The second and fourth constituents will be the conclusion.

The only indication that the infantile event took place at all derives from the similarity relation.  Even if it did, we would still have to prove its etiological significance.  Freud and his followers have generally overlooked the fact that the true occurrence of the infantile event would not per se establish that the latter was causally connected with the symptom.

Terr (1988) tried to remedy the shortcomings of the above scheme by gathering instances in which the infantile event was objectively verified.  Hence, her premises consist of the first three constituents, while only the fourth one will function as her conclusion.  An example will clarify the merits and shortcomings of Terr's thesis:

At age 23 months Faith fell face first into the inboard motor of her father's boat, but she did not, when evaluated at age 11 years, remember that scene ...  It was the bathroom, not the boat, that encapsulated this toddler's horror because at the mirror, Faith discovered that the appearance of her face had changed drastically ...  But she also brought in another spot memory from that time, one that was wrong, entirely built upon contemporary symbols.  "Someone came in and said 'The boat blew up!"'  The boat was sold — it never did explode.  The toddler had integrated anal stage symbolism into her developing verbal memory (Terr, 1988, pp. 101 & 102).

Perhaps we should generously pass over in silence the reference to anal symbolism.  But Terr thinks that, since the original event is known to have taken place, Faith's recount at age 11 proves she had preserved a memory trace from age 23 months.  It is a most regrettable fact that so many psychiatrists and clinical psychologists show such a scarce familiarity with scientific research on human memory (e.g. Loftus, 1982).

Children may totally forget authentic events.  But since their parents may repeatedly tell them what happened, they may eventually develop extremely vivid sham recollections.  In her written statement in the Swedish case of Delphine and Solange, Loftus (1993) presented a formidable list of such examples, which included Jean Piaget's vivid "recollection" of attempted kidnapping.  The hypothesis that Faith had a sham recollection of seeing her injured face in the mirror is at least as probable as Terr's conclusion.  Moreover, even if the boat had not actually exploded, someone might well have come in and said, "The boat blew up."  One cannot prove that a statement was never made by a third person from the fact that this statement did not agree with the true state of things.

Terr's sample is 20 children, who were 6 to 58 months old at the time of their traumas.  In contrast to what Terr thinks, all her examples are singularly wanting in evidential power.  For instance: Pornographic pictures had been secured from the day care home where Sarah was from age 15 to 18 months.  On one of these photos a man's erect penis was pointing at her upper abdomen.  Asked at the age of 5 years whether she had ever been scared, she told about little Indians in Disneyland who pointed at her with spears.  While recounting, she fingered at her upper abdomen.

A presentation by de Saussure (1982) is somewhat analogous to Terr's interpretation.  She cites a dream which a 37-year-old female patient recounted and claimed to have had during childhood.  I shall quote a selection from this dream.  But it must be strongly emphasized that de Saussure supplies no information about the first version of the dream, which was "vague and confused," but only presents a version which eventually emerged during the treatment.  One need not be familiar with psychoanalysis in order to understand the sexual symbolism of this later version.  The patient had dreamt of:

a huge steam box with doors in front and a round hole in the top.  Inside each box a man was sitting, completely enclosed except for his head which protruded through the hole.  As the boxes became hotter the men's faces got very red.  They were all fat men and she thought they were there to lose weight by sweating.  In the last room she saw that the box was violently shaking the man inside.  Suddenly the heat was turned off and the vibrating stopped.  The doors opened and the man stepped out.  To her horror she saw an emaciated looking man, just skin and bones ..." (de Saussure, 1982, p.170, italics added).

The dating of this childhood dream was established in a most peculiar way, and not until during the third year of the psychoanalytic treatment.  The patient's mother told about an event where she had chased a young man who had broken in to steal food.  de Saussure wisely abstains from explaining how it was confirmed that this event occurred on the day preceding the dream.  She does state, however, that the patient (perhaps after much pressure?) suspected that her mother had had a sexual encounter with the young man and had invented the story about stealing food to conceal her immorality.  But if this was so, why would she in a distorted form remind her daughter of an event the latter had completely forgotten?

General Reflections

During a whole century, psychodynamic psychologists have manifested more or less the same features, and they have done so in many respects.  They have borrowed the principle of similarity from traditional superstition and by means of this etiological tool have constructed their interpretations.  It goes without saying that such interpretations could fail to be absurd only by a miraculous coincidence.  Although the content of their interpretations has been subject to fashions, two categories have been predominant during specific periods.  During the 1890s and from the 1980s onwards the patient was claimed to be the victim of sexual abuse.  During the 1960s and 1970s the patient was claimed to have witnessed his or her parents performing coitus.

The therapist (or the examining psychologist) forced interpretations upon their patients (or individuals under examination), sometimes by means of crude persuasive techniques and sometimes by means of sophisticated ones.  But the psychologist invariably denied to have exerted any influence at all.  He or she has invariably claimed that the final belief of the patient — or the final version to which the latter gave his or her outward consent — came from the depth of the patient's own mind.  Allegedly, the only contribution of the psychologist was to lift the repression, so that the hitherto buried recollections of the authentic events would regain access to the patient's conscious mind.  However, the entire concept of repression is intimately connected with a scientific fraud involving faked clinical observations and deliberate disinformation about therapeutic improvement.

Awareness of the factual and historical background of certain predominant categories of legal evidence which are frequently produced by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists should caution against the view that clinicians are in the possession of an impressive knowledge of human nature and a unique capacity for understanding people.  It should also stimulate judges and jurors to a more skeptical attitude toward evidence which appears particularly convincing on the surface.


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* Max Scharnberg is teaching the psychology of lying at Stockholm School of Economics, but correspondence should be addressed to the Department of Education, Uppsala University, P.O. Box 2109, S-750 02, Uppsala, Sweden. [Back]

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