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.
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
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 /
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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:
- None of Freud's early patients claimed to have been sexually
abused. On the contrary, they denied having had any such experiences.
- The seduction ideas were exclusively invented by Freud himself.
- These seduction ideas were interpretations based upon the principle
of similarity. Disregarding the possibility of a miraculous coincidence,
the interpretations were downright false.
- Freud used coarse persuasive techniques to force the interpretations
upon his patients.
- As so often elsewhere, Freud constructed observations out of his
- And as so often elsewhere, he put his own ideas into the mouths of
- 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.
- He also claimed that lifted repression will have two effects.
patient will recall the original causal event, and the symptom
- Furthermore, he claimed to have invented another method, which
unerringly would distinguish between fantasies and authentic
- He wisely abstained from describing any concrete feature of the
method for lifting repression, or the method for distinguishing true and
- Freud also claimed that he had been very careful never to expose
his patients to any kind of suggestive or other undue influence.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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
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
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
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
The Principle of Similarity as the Foundation of Contemporary Legal
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.
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
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
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
A mutilated corpse of a prostitute, Catrine da Costa, was found.
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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
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.
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
Lenore Terr (1988) to whom we shall turn in the next section
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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]