Scientifically speaking, should the accuser be expected to remember when and where?

First, the disclaimers: On balance, I support Kavanaugh for the SCOTUS (though he wasn’t my first choice) … and, I’m not a psychologist.

But, over the years, I’ve done a lot of reading on how  brains work … largely focused on how students students learn – cognitively and mechanically.

So, politics aside, I found the accuser’s story (as reported to the WaPo) to be curious … mostly because of the self-admitted memory gaps … e.g what year the alleged  incident took place? where the incident took place? who else was present?


The cable coverage has been predictably biased on the question of how much an accuser should be able to recall … cherry-picking folks who fit their respective narratives.

CNN/MSNBC have rolled out experts arguing that memories of traumatic events are usually vague, fragmented and incomplete. Think: fog of war.

FOX has presented rape victims who claim precise recall of all sights, sounds and smells from start-to-finish. Think: mechanical evidence gathering.

Note: I do channel-switch to hear both sides.  If you don’t, try it to get a more complete picture.

I wanted a more scientific treatment, so I did some digging.

Here’s what I found…


The most on-point article that I found was a TIME article titled Why Rape and Trauma Survivors Have Fragmented and Incomplete Memories.

It was written by a forensic psychologist from Harvard in 2014 – during the Rolling Stone – UVA case.

I liked that the article is dissociated from the Kavanaugh case and walks through the brain science.

In a nutshell…

The author concludes that it is more common than not for persons confronted by traumatic stress to vividly remember some details … but their memories will have gaps and fuzziness.

The passage that really caught my eye was:

Victims may remember in exquisite detail what was happening just before and after they realized they were being attacked, including context and the sequence of events.

However, they are likely to have very fragmented and incomplete memories for much of what happens after that.

That starts to answer the when and where question.

Scientifically-speaking, the accuser should be able to recall when and where.

So, how to explain that memory gap?

From other reading, I’ve gleaned 3 plausible  rationales:

1) The traumatic event started earlier, e.g. a kidnapping.

2) The memory is  being repressed because it is psychologically “uncomfortable”, e.g. embarrassing or incriminating.

3) The accuser was in an impaired state of mind, e.g. intoxicated.

Kidnapping can probably be ruled out since there should be a memory of when and where it would have taken place.

That leaves repression or impairment … or a bit of both.



The whole TIME article is worth reading!  It offers ammo for all political points-of-view.

Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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One Response to “Scientifically speaking, should the accuser be expected to remember when and where?”

  1. Where’s the beef? | The Homa Files Says:

    […] See Scientifically speaking, should the accuser be expected to remember when and where? […]

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