THE REAL EVIL AMONG US
The raging public debate currently surrounding the July 1998 publication of "A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples" by Doctors Bruce Rind and Robert Bauserman and graduate student Philip Tromovitch is reminiscent of that which ensued when Doctor Edward Wilson published "Sociobiology" some two decades ago. When careful scientific research shows that time honored and revered "wisdom" is not based in fact, but that a different point of view actually is, there is often a stridently vocal reaction invoking misinformation and innuendo in an attempt to discredit the research.
The authors and the American Psychological Association, which published the article in one of their journals (Psychological Bulletin), have been repeatedly castigated by unabashedly homophobic organizations such as the Family Research Council and the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, as well as by ultraconservative individuals like "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger. There have been indignant news conferences and outraged responses from the child sexual abuse industry; even the United States House of Representative entered the fray by passing a resolution condemning the research, despite the fact that none of the congresspersons ever read it. Apparently Congress thinks that they can evaluate the validity of a scientific report by merely looking at its conclusions, or being told of them second-hand from special interest groups, as in this case.
So what actually is this modern day heresy, this latest target of witch hunters and book burners? To begin with, the authors took exception to the indiscriminate use of such value-laden terms as "perpetrator," "victim," and "child sexual abuse" (CSA). However, after considering alternatives, they decided to retain these throughout their article simply for convenience, and attend to at least the last of these three terms in their conclusion.
Then, simply put, they took 59 previous investigations of CSA, subjected them to rigorous statistical analyses, and showed that, based on responses from some 35,000 college students, commonly held beliefs in four areas were highly inaccurate: that CSA causes harm, that this harm occurs in all cases, that this harm is likely to be intense, and that the effects of CSA are equivalent for boys and girls.
These cherished tenets are foundational for the enormously profitable and well entrenched child sexual abuse industry. They are also mainstays for those who are determined to preserve the archaic concept of asexual and innocent children, sexually uninformed robotic chattel property who are to be manipulated, molded, and used however their owners see fit, until they reach an arbitrary age at which they are to be suddenly and magically transformed into intelligent, responsible, and sexually competent adults.
There is no attempt in this research to say that actual child sexual abuse does not occur, nor that significant psychological damage cannot result from non-consensual and coerced sexual relationships with an older person. The main premises are that the consequences of actual CSA are grossly exaggerated, that inadequate consideration has been given to the vast differences in responses of boys versus girls and consensual versus non-consensual incidents, that the clinical terminology is inaccurate and highly biased, and that a revision in attitudes, terminology, perceptions, conclusions, and applications is long since past due.
For us laymen, large portions of the thirty-two full size double column pages of this research are a nightmare of incomprehensible statistical hieroglyphics. But careful reading and re-reading of the non-statistical portions will give the average reader an understanding of the data, methods, and conclusions. To wit:
CSA causes harm:
Most of the 59 sets of data used in the study indicated that people who had experienced CSA as children developed more emotional and psychological problems than those who said they had not been exposed to CSA. But there are several problems here which need to be dealt with, not the least of which is that this correlation is exactly what some of those 59 investigators expected and wanted to find. Neglect, and such factors as physical, emotional, and mental abuse were either scrambled in with CSA or were largely ignored, since there was no perceived need to look any further once the preconceived and desired results had been obtained.
But when these studies were sorted out and properly examined under the microscope of computerized statistical analysis, the assumed relationship between CSA and "maladjustment", as emotional and psychological problems are known, diminished almost to the vanishing point. There was some correlation remaining for females, but for males it was so small as to be insignificant. On the other hand, "family environment", which is a catchall for the other forms of abuse described above, had a markedly higher correlation with maladjustment than did CSA.
The net effect of this aspect of the research was to disprove, in the vast majority of cases, and especially with males, that there is any reason whatsoever to ascribe any significant amount of maladjustment to the occurrence of CSA.
Harm caused by CSA occurs in all cases:
Much of the research done in years past on CSA was based on data from clinical populations, i.e., people who sought help for emotional and/or psychological problems. The inevitable result was that the pervasiveness of harm was greatly exaggerated, since only those who perceived themselves as needing treatment were included. Not to mention that clinical psychologists are predisposed to specifically inquire about possible CSA, and, if they find even a vague hint that it may have occurred, utilize that CSA as the probable cause of any and all maladjustment they can find. There have also been many cases where a "memory" has been elicited simply from the persistent questioning by the psychologist, a memory that was later determined to be based on circumstances that, in fact, never occurred.
Analyses of the data from the non-clinical samples used in the Rind study show that this supposed pervasiveness is not the case, since only a small minority of females, and a minuscule number of males, reported that they perceived they had been permanently harmed by their childhood or adolescent sexual encounters. Many of the women reported temporary harm, but many did not. The majority of the men did not even report temporary harm.
Harm caused by CSA is likely to be intense:
In the case of a small boy or girl who is forcibly and repeatedly raped by an older man that they had previously loved and trusted, there is good reason to believe that intense psychological harm is likely to result. However, as one author has put it, "children are amazingly resilient", so it cannot be assumed that a severe maladjustment is the inevitable outcome of even this extreme example. And this is most definitely an extreme and rare example, although, sadly, it does occur. But the data do not support the presupposition that CSA causes intense harm except in rare cases.
The effects of CSA are equivalent in boys and girls:
This position is especially espoused by those who have yet to be convinced that there are very real cognitive, emotional, and behavioral differences between boys and girls. This study continues to demolish any remnants of this concept by demonstrating the completely different attitudes, approaches, and experiences that boys and girls report about sexual activities with significantly older persons. In simple and understandable numbers, the study notes that two thirds of the men who reported CSA experiences viewed them at the time as other than negative, and three eighths remembered them as positive. These figures do not take consensuality into account, and it is reasonable to believe that there would be a much larger proportion of positive memories if the non-consensual experiences were eliminated from the computation.
Over two thirds of the women, on the other hand, reported negative feelings, and only one tenth had positive recollections.
Only when unwanted sex is considered separately do the male versus female findings tend toward being equivalent, and even in these cases the association with harm is, on average, small.
As noted earlier, the adverse reactions to this study were swift and vehement. Some were successfully manipulative, as when Representative Matt Salmon hoodwinked the United States House of Representatives into unanimously approving a hasty resolution denouncing both the research and the researchers. It goes without saying that it would have been political suicide for any member of Congress to fail to vote in favor of condemning what Mr. Salmon trumpeted as "the emancipation proclamation of pedophiles." By approving this absurdity, these congresspersons showed themselves to be politically astute, but totally devoid of any understanding of, or respect for, science, scientists, or scientific principles.
The "Family Research Council" also made a feeble attempt to discredit the research on an imagined procedural blunder reported by an ex-president of the American Psychiatric Association, but wound up with considerable egg on their collective faces when they stated "Of the 59 studies included in the analysis, over 60% of the data are drawn from a single study done 40 years ago." An examination shows, instead of being 60% of the some 35,000 respondents to the 59 studies, that particular study comprised only 4%, and because it was completed before child abuse researchers began collecting objective data on the effects of CSA (as measured by psychological tests, rather than self-reports), it was not used at all in the primary analyses upon which the researchers based their conclusions.
"Dr. Laura" Schlessinger, a talk show host, published a lengthy tirade in her magazine "Dr. Laura Perspective" (sic), proclaiming the "Evil Among Us". She quotes one of her trusted correspondents as saying that any attorney who would dare represent a "pervert" is "scum", and recites a lengthy but predictable statement from Joseph Nicolosi, the director of the anti-gay "National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality". She continues by demonstrating her total lack of comprehension concerning the merits, procedures, and implications of a well done meta-analysis, and then trots out an assortment of carefully screened and self serving testimonials. In conclusion, she rises up in righteous indignation, announces the formation of a new task force, "Dr. Laura's Warriors", and graciously agrees to furnish recruits with a militia like camouflage T-shirt, which, along with a subscription to her magazine, is available for only $29.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling.
It is interesting to note that those who have truth and facts on their side are pleased to invite the whole world to investigate both their deliberations and their conclusions. But those who are perpetuating lies and misrepresentations, since they have nothing of substance to say in response, so often resort to innuendo, emotional appeals, irrelevant accusations, and attempts to suppress any discussion of the real issues.
There is no way of accurately determining the quiet and inner mindset of the majority of people. Polls tend to get answers on controversial subjects such as childhood sexuality that agree mostly with what people believe they are expected to think, rather than what is actually going on in their minds. And the perceptions perpetuated by the media are mostly derived from the minority of radicals who do the most and loudest screaming. So we can only hope, or perhaps be cautiously optimistic, that beyond the blaring sirens and roaring cannons there is a quiet revolution brewing, a revolution of thinking people who are at long last beginning to realize that for decades they have been spoon fed a diet of misinformation and lies about a very critical factor of human emotional life, that of the sexuality, sexual needs, and the sexual nature of their own precious children.
It took nearly twenty years for Ed Wilson's pioneering work to begin to be accepted and recognized for the truth and wisdom it really contained. How long will it take this time for the dark clouds of the real evil among us to be dispelled by the bright sunshine of reason and truth?