Starting in the 1980s therapists and feminist activists popularised the idea that many adult social and psychological problems were caused by past sexual abuse. In many cases it was thought that the memory of this was hidden from the victim and needed to be ‘recovered’ from a deep-freeze memory bank.
Gradually the idea of one-track hidden cause of problems became widely assumed, and people began to ignore other potential factors and explanations in favour of past sexual trauma whether real, imagined or not remembered at all.
Fears of widespread sexual abuse of children led to pre-emptive action. The Cleveland and satanic abuse panics highlighted how professionals were overstepping the mark based on ideological conviction. Later the ‘recovered memory’ beliefs were found to be hollow with people induced to make up and belief false narratives.
But in the meantime the criminal justice system became more receptive to sexual offence allegations, with the police and prosecution less willing to test the reliability of complainants.