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Abstract

Memory for a sexual assault and related memory functioning are directly related to persistent assault-related psychopathology such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its prevention and treatment. A complex, dynamic conceptualization of memory following a sexual assault requires understanding the processes involved in the strong encoding of emotional events and factors that alter this encoding. It also requires understanding the role of retrieval and reexperiencing as well as the acceptance of the fact that any form of memory is susceptible to unintentional memory distortions and actual errors. There are also general memory effects involved beyond the memory for the assault itself, including attention to threat, working memory deficits, and lack of specificity for memory of autobiographical events. Finally, memory is often the target for some of the strongest evidence-based treatments for assault-related psychopathology. Recognizing that memories for sexual assault are complex and dynamic ought to allow for a more flexible understanding of the range of observed memories characteristics and reduce inaccurate, misguided judgments about what “ought to be remembered.”

We found to our great surprise … that each individual symptom immediately and permanently disappeared when we had succeeded in bringing clearly to the light the memory of the event…when the patient had described the event in the greatest possible detail and had put the affect into words….

—Breuer & Freud, 1893–1898/1955, p. 6

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Acknowledgment

This chapter was funded in part by NIH grants R34DA040034 (Bedard-Gilligan, PI) and R34MH112756 (Zoellner, PI).

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Correspondence to Lori A. Zoellner .

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Zoellner, L.A. et al. (2019). Sexual Assault and Memory. In: O’Donohue, W.T., Schewe, P.A. (eds) Handbook of Sexual Assault and Sexual Assault Prevention. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-23645-8_20

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