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"Memories' split father, daughter

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Is there anything worse than the pain of being sexually abused by your parents, the people you love and trust the most?

Yes, says Jackie Gavrian. It's the pain of being falsely accused of sexual abuse by your child, the person you love the most.

Since Gavrian's brother was accused of that crime by his teenage daughter two years ago, based on "repressed memories" that emerged during her therapy, the whole family has been caught up in a storm of emotion.

He has since been cleared by the police and his name has been removed from the child-abuse list by the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. But there is no getting back the $500,000 in medical bills for his daughter's hospital and therapy treatment, and the $30,000 he spent in legal fees. Worst of all, he said, it appears he has lost his only child.

"You can rebuild the finances," said the father, a professional in Ohio who asked that his name be withheld. "But the emotional devastation is considerable, and I'm not sure what kind of price tag you could put on that."

The daughter, who is now 19 and lives in St. Petersburg, at first consented to an interview with the Times but changed her mind. She said she would have to talk to her therapist first; she did not call back.

This is Gavrian's account:

The teenager lived with her father for several years after her parents divorced, but when her mother moved to Florida, the girl decided to join her. Soon, she became despondent, developed an eating disorder and was treated several times at private psychiatric hospitals.

From a letter the girl sent to her father, it appears she developed the memory of abuse after her therapist told her she was hiding something. She saw a TV soap opera in which a girl was abused by her father, and after discussing it with her therapist, decided that must have happened to her.

Later she developed other "memories." She said her father tortured animals and left the carcasses in her room. She said she was offered money for sex at age 2 by her uncle, who was only a few years older than she. She said she was abused by her stepbrother, and by her half brother. After being brought in and treated by the same therapist, the half brother developed memories of having committed the abuse.

The father's first indication that his daughter's therapy was pointing to him as the source of her distress was a form letter from HRS. It said he had been confirmed as guilty of incest and placed on the registry of abusers.

He became suicidal, Gavrian said. She was worried about him.

But she became livid when the girl's therapist, who is a social worker, diagnosed the entire family as suffering from incestuous abuse for generations.

"I consider it unconscionable for anyone to presume to make a statement like that regarding me, my brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, when they have never met or even spoken to any one of us," Gavrian said.

After an investigation, police in Ohio cleared the father. He passed several polygraph tests, his sister said, and documents show his name was expunged from the HRS registry.

Today, Gavrian said, the young woman refuses to have anything to do with her father's side of the family.

The therapist destroyed not only the family, Gavrian says, but also the patient, by robbing her of her teenage years and turning memories of a happy childhood into bitterness.

Because of all this, Gavrian and her family have become involved in a group called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a Philadelphia organization that claims to have been contacted by 10,000 families suffering from false accusations of abuse.

In Florida, there were 232 member families as of last October, Gavrian said.

Some in the mental-health community have criticized the foundation, saying its members could well be child abusers looking for cover or in denial.

Another criticism of the organization stems from its name. Therapists say "false memory syndrome" is not a legitimate diagnosis _ mental-health manuals list no such ailment.

Those active in the foundation say it's possible there are child molesters in their midst, because they cannot investigate everyone who joins. They dread the day when an abuser is identified from their ranks.

"Nobody's saying child abuse doesn't happen," Gavrian said. And those who remember being abused without prodding from a therapist should be believed, she said.

Her brother says "voodoo therapy" is destroying families and robbing insurance companies. "If ever mental-health reform is needed," he said, "it is now."