The Science of  Dissociative Amnesia in Childhood Sexual Abuse Cases

Netflix’s documentary series The Keepers investigates the mysterious 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a Catholic nun.

The show has received acclaim not only for the suspenseful story but also for its subject matter. Part of the story involves a victim recovering memories of her childhood sexual abuse and how those memories fit into the overall story of the young nun’s murder. But how and why are traumatic memories “repressed” and “recovered”?

What is dissociative amnesia—the correct term for the traumatized mind protecting itself? According to the American Psychological Association, dissociation occurs when a memory is not lost forever but is unavailable for retrieval for some time. Reputable scientists believe that stressful experiences, like sexual abuse, can be so traumatic that the brain protects the individual from the pain of the memory. These blocked memories can cause issues like anxiety, PTSD, and dissociative disorders.

In the cases our firm has litigated over the past twenty years, we have represented several individuals who have experienced dissociative amnesia due to the sexual abuse they suffered as children. If you have not watched The Keepers, please do. I am told the documentary is very affirming for survivors especially those violated by clergymen.

The Law Office of Tahira Khan Merritt exclusively represents victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault. We stand ready to help you with your legal needs. If you were sexually assaulted or sexually abused, our law firm can help explain your legal remedies.  For almost twenty years, we have represented victims of sex crimes in civil cases against institutions, including colleges and universities, religious organizations, such as the Catholic church, Baptist church, Greek Orthodox church, Episcopal Church, and Presbyterian church among others. We have also represented victims of sexual abuse in schools,  youth sports organizations,  youth camps, daycares, scouting and the like. You may confidentially contact our office at 214-503-7300 or through our website :

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