In the 1980s, Meredith Maran, an author and journalist, remembered her father sexually abusing her as a child. For eight years she didn’t keep any contact with him. Many years later, she realised that it was a false memory she had. Having immense courage, she wrote a memoir that narrates the fallout from her false accusations of being sexually abused. Her book also touches on themes such as false memory, the sex-abuse panic that hit USA in the 80s and 90s and incited dialogue about empathy for the sexually abused and those who are falsely accused as sexual abusers.

I realise what a sensitive topic I am exploring here and so as I tread carefully, I invite you to open your mind to what I express without slamming me with any label or judgment of not empathising with the victims of sexual abuse. I recently came to know of a social media group being formed where many young girls from local universities and colleges are sharing cases of being sexually harassed and naming the people who have allegedly committed the abuse.

A client of mine reached out for a session overwhelmed, as her fiancée was accused of sexually harassing his friends as well, with the word ‘rape’ being used in connection to him a few years back in his college. I did a joint session for the couple and going by my gut feeling as well as the information shared by the accused, I could see that the reality might be different.

One girl who had accused him was a good friend of his for years posted on the same group that he had sexually harassed her. The immediate question that came to my mind was; why did she not discuss this with him and more importantly why were they friends then? He has text messages to prove his case. He was also falsely accused of raping on a social media forum.

I mean rape is a very serious accusation and to recklessly use that word on a forum like social media is highly irresponsible. So firstly, I definitely believe in listening to anyone who expresses a case of sexual harassment with openness and empathy. It’s a serious thing and no one should be dismissed or the narrative not given a fair chance. Having said that it is also important to hear the accused party’s version. I definitely believe that for the most part, such accusations are authentic but is it fair to paint the canvas with a single splash? This individual for example, is telling the truth where he very courageously admits to a few interactions, which in my opinion were co-created.

Who will take responsibility for the personal and professional damage he might go through? His fiancée was very upset and wanted to know what the truth was, and the only thing I asked her was what her two years of experience had been like, and she said she has never felt so safe in a relationship.

Here I want to discuss a very important concept in psychology called transference. This concept is mostly used in the therapeutic setting. It is the unconscious process whereby a client transfers feelings about their parents, as one example, on to the therapist. It usually concerns feelings from a primary relationship during childhood. Many times, I have been seen as a father figure, a nurturing mother etc. by my clients.

But this transference also happens beyond the therapy setting. For example, when sometimes we meet a new person and we express not getting a good feeling whereas there is no history between you and that person can be a case of transference.

Now why this is important to understand is because transference can cause false memories and contaminate the reality at times. Imagine a scenario; a young girl, who has been sexually abused as a child, never explores it and parks it aside. Now in an adult relationship, she might be minimally physically intimate with the significant other and suddenly starts feeling fear and mistrust even though she was willing in the first place. The interaction will get amplified in her mind as unconsciously, she might see her abuser in the person, which would muddle present facts. She might park this experience as well until someone else steps forward and she finds the courage to talk about this one rather than the original trauma. But transference would amplify the fact and as it is an unconscious process and a very powerful one, she will not be able to see the current reality as it is.

Sexual abuse is serious. It needs to be addressed with responsibility so the truth can be separated from deception.