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Post-traumatic stress and dissociative autobiographical memories : overview and exploratory study in a sample of prostitutes Cooper, Barry


The empirical foundation of traumatic memory is obscure, perplexing, and in many instances, candidly paradoxical. In some cases, trauma has been found to produce accurate and persistent memory, while in others, memorial distortions such as dissociative amnesia. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the literature is laboratory based, raising the issue of external validity and necessitating the need for more field research. This field study set out to explore this complicated and often empirically contradictory area. The objective was to review the relevant literature and to ultimately, while incorporating the present results, validate a model of eyewitness recall for criminal and other traumatic events. It was proposed that situational features of the event interact with both trait and state characteristics of the victim to ultimately produce recall. Thirty-six prostitutes were interviewed using the 'Step-Wise' semi-structured interview for adult assault victims. Employing a repeated measures design, participants were instructed to provide three autobiographical narratives (i.e., a sexual assault, a non-sexual traumatic event, and a positive event) which were audio-taped and then qualitatively coded for quantity of recall. After each narrative, participants were assessed for retrospective state dissociation and for current post-traumatic stress (PTSD) symptomology. In addition, participants completed a trait dissociation scale and were queried as to the extent of their substance abuse and sexual assault histories. Results are discussed in terms of implications for interviewing, expert testimony and credibility assessment concerning memory for traumatic events.

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