Dr Frans Gieles
In: Ipce Newsletter nr. E6, July 1999
An overview of the research of Bauserman, Rind and Tromovich was attached to Newsletter E4. The paper they presented at the Rotterdam Symposium in The Netherlands, December 1998 was also attached. Anyone who has read these papers is already familiar with the results of the research. The Dutch media took no notice of this research, but the USA has recently discovered it.
In this article I give an overview of the reactions in the USA. In the next Newsletter I shall give many more details about the kind of language used, the arguments used and will gather comments about these arguments. But first, here is an overview.
The reactions were not to the Rotterdam Paper, but to an article published in 1998:
A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples; Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch & Robert Bauserman; in: Psychological Bulletin 1998, 124-1, pp 22-53.
In the Rotterdam Paper you will find a summary under the heading "College Samples".
In response to the availability of a growing literature on the psychological correlates of child sexual abuse (CSA), numerous researchers have conducted literature reviews of these correlates. These reviewers have generally reported that CSA is associated with a wide variety of adjustment problems, and many have additionally implied or concluded that, in the population of persons with CSA experience,
CSA causes psychological harm,
this harm is pervasive,
this harm is intense, and
boys and girls experience CSA equivalently.
However, with few exceptions, these reviewers have included in their reviews mostly studies using clinical and legal samples; these samples cannot be assumed to be representative of the general population. To evaluate the implications and conclusions of these reviewers, we conducted a literature review of seven studies using national probability samples, which are more appropriate for making population inferences.
We found that, contrary to the implications and conclusions contained in previous literature reviews that were focused on biased samples, in the general population, CSA is not associated with pervasive harm and that harm, when it occurs, is not typically intense. Further, CSA experiences for males and females are not equivalent; a substantially lower proportion of males reports negative effects.
Finally, we found that conclusions about a causal link between CSA and later psychological maladjustment in the general population cannot safely be made because of the reliable presence of confounding variables. We concluded by cautioning that analysis at the population level does not characterize individual cases: When CSA is accompanied by factors such as force and close familial ties, it has the potential to produce significant harm.
NAMBLA was the first to publish about the article on their web site. The article has disappeared now, but it seems to have been a shot of joy. NAMBLA described the findings as "good news," adding that it was proof that the current "war on boy-lovers" has no basis in "science" and that most male child sex experiences with an adult were "positive."
It was NARTH (National Association on Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) who read this and reacted on its web site. NARTH is quite a conservative association who believes that homosexuality is an illness that can be cured. Leading persons at the NARTH site are leading persons at some right wing Christian sites as well.
NARTH wrote a long page on the Web, updated December 29, 1998. It attacks the APA, the American Psychological Association, who is the editor of the Psychological Bulletin. NARTH says that the APA is consciously trying to get pedophilia accepted, just as has happened with homosexuality. NARTH gave an overview on the current ideas about 'abuse', 'the victim' and 'the perpetrator' and added a long list of literature.
A Philadelphia radio talk show found out about the study through a caller and interviewed one of its authors on the air in March.
She is a very popular broadcast speaker with a program to which millions of people listen. She used many hours of her broadcast program, from March 22 and plenty of room on her web site and her newspaper column to attack the APA. The APA has connected itself with 'child molesters', is wanting to normalize pedophilia and to change the laws. "I, like you, right now probably cannot believe this," she told her nationwide audience, "I've read this so many times, I'm sick." And: "If pedophilia is not a mental disorder, what is it?" This was the style of her program. She wrote: "What really terrifies me is the idea that the Rind study will now be used to normalize pedophilia, to change the legal system and further destroy the family." Also the authors were attacked in a way that was soon described in the newspapers as "a crusade".
The APA had to react now and did it quite promptly with a declaration, dated March 23: "Childhood Sexual Abuse Causes Serious Harm to its Victims." In short, APA says it has never had another opinion. The Rind article tells us only that there are various degrees of harm and sometimes mitigating factors. This knowledge can help us to prevent child abuse and to cure the victims. "Such knowledge would, however, in no way excuse any form of abuse. All abuse is wrong, but abuse may not be equally harmful."
This APA cites the other APA, the American Psychiatric Association, who said: "An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act which never can be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior."
This council says it’s goal is to represent and to protect the American families. It condemns strongly the possibility that sexual contacts would not be harmful for children.
There was a meeting on May 12, where many organizations, journalists, radio speakers, therapists, victims and politicians were gathered to admonish the APA to keep distance from the Rind article. FRC Chief Spokesperson Janet Parshall said, "Children cannot consent to sex and any study that does not accept this premise should be dismissed." "Pedophilia has no presentable face". "We should treat it as the ugly demon it is and do everything we can to preserve our children's innocence. Adult-child sex is always reprehensible, always harmful and always forced."
One of the leaders of the FRC, Gary Bauer, is also a candidate for the presidency of the United States. The candidate’s first job is to win votes. So the scientific and moral case became a political case.
The State of Alaska was the first to make a resolution:
"The Alaska State Legislature urges the United States Congress and the President of the United States to likewise reject and condemn, in the strongest honorable written and vocal terms possible, any suggestion that sexual relations between children and adults are anything but abusive, destructive, exploitive, reprehensible, and punishable by law; and be it
further resolved that the Alaska State Legislature encourages competent investigations to continue to research the effects of child sexual abuse using the best methodology so that the public and public policymakers may act upon accurate information."
Similar resolutions have also been introduced in California and Illinois and later on in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The Republican Party was prompt in accepting a resolution. This resolution asks the president, in short, to condemn as strongly as possible every suggestion that sex with adults would not be harmful.
So the article came to the President's desk. However, a spokesperson for the White House said that the President had, as of May 12, not yet found the time to read it. Since this was not changed one week later, the Republicans stated that it should be clear to the American public how dangerous the Democratic Party is for our children. A great danger is that a child molester could defend himself using this article and so could be free... to molest our children again. This is the view that the public media has taken as well.
Many articles about the case appeared in the press, especially the conservative press including The Washington Post, the Agence France Press and the Jakarta Post. Clearly, the journalists rewrote each other's articles and clearly many of them have not read the Rind article themselves. They quote especially the opponents of the Rind team. They write, for example, that the Rind article should write about 'pedophilia', but that word does not even appear in the Rind article. The authors say explicitly that the law should not be changed.
The newspapers and other media asked experts for comment. One of them, an Indiana psychologist, Nancy Faulkner, condemns the study as "Garbage in, garbage out" without having read it. She admitted that she had not read the entire study but only the portions that have been reported in news articles. Another one, Alaska's Dyson admitted, "For me ... child safety issues and child welfare have been almost an obsession."
Dyson and Faulkner said that, indeed, there could be some specific cases in which a child-adult sexual experience would not adversely affect the child. However, they said that doesn't make it right. "We have universally said that children, particularly when faced with the overwhelming power of a persuasive adult, can't make a decision in certain situations: decisions about firearms, dope and sex. We have made that fundamental decision."
Members of Congress, seeking for publicity, want to investigate how the research of the Rind team is paid for (they have received no funding but have volunteered their time), whether they should be removed from their jobs and whether the University accepts funding from the state.
It's all about "danger" to the newspapers: for example the possibility that ‘dangerous’ child molesters may keep their freedom and harm another victim. It's the same USA, by the way, that keeps the selling of weapons quite easy, representing a far greater threat to our children.
I find opinions like this remarkable: "whoever does not see the harm, has not looked carefully enough".
In the meantime, also the ALA, the American Librarians Association, has been attacked. Supposedly, they refused to delete the article from their libraries and, factually, they have said something about the freedom of expressing opinions in the USA. Surely this freedom exists, say the opponents, but they act like they should only exist for the right wing opinions... These opinions defend Family Values, among which is the Authority of the Father, ignoring the fact that most child sexual abuse happens in the traditional family. But, you know it's all 'to protect our children'.
In the meantime, the American Psychiatric Association has also been attacked because some feel that they are trying to normalize pedophilia. Frequently, the DSM-IV-Revisited has been quoted, the manual in which all kinds of mental illness are mentioned, that pedophilia is the type of illness, that if the person feels unhappy with the feelings then it is an illness. Tell this to a journalist and you will read in the newspapers: 'So, a person who molests a child and does not feel unhappy about it, should not be mentally ill?'
On May 27, the American Psychiatric Association declared that there has never been any movement within their ranks to normalize pedophilia. Every sexual act between a child and an adult, if not an illness, is a crime. It's not possible, they say, for a child to consent. Research that presupposes the possibility of consent, can't be good research and the conclusions cannot be correct. If this type of research is not strongly condemned, the pedophiles will maintain their opinions and will be a danger to our children.
The first mentioned APA, the psychologists, gave a statement, dated May 25. APA writes:
"Many critics have demanded that APA repudiate the study. Because the article has attracted so much attention. We have carefully reviewed the process by which it was approved for publication and the soundness of the methodology and analysis. This study passed the journal's rigorous peer review process and has, since the controversy, been reviewed again by an expert in statistical analysis who affirmed that it meets current standards and that the methodology, which is widely used by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop guidelines, is sound." APA writes also:
"These conclusions have been distorted and misreported by various groups and media figures who are now claiming that APA is saying that child sexual abuse is not harmful to children, or that young children are capable of "consenting" to sex with adults. Of course, APA's position is just the opposite; child sexual abuse is harmful to children. Pedophilia is WRONG, should never be considered acceptable behavior, and is properly punishable by law."
Yet the APA raises questions for further research. Maybe the college students, who reported no harm, have been in psychotherapy, so the harm is over? Maybe the people who had harm were so harmed that they couldn't go to college? Maybe the harm is not felt at their college study time, but will show itself later on as they are married? (There must be harm, they assume, so they try to find it).
The APA gave their next statement in an open letter, dated June 9, to the Office of the Majority Whip [the Republicans] in the United States House of Representatives. APA says that the language of the Rind article was possibly not correct and that Rind's opinions differ from the APA's opinions about the possibility of consent. APA had not foreseen the public and political consequences of the article. APA repeats its opinion:
"The Association has always condemned the sexual abuse of children. This position is absolutely fundamental to our organization and is demonstrated by our strong record of advocacy on behalf of abused children and our work to educate the public, health, professions, and others about the prevention and treatment of such abuse. We do not support the "normalization" or discrimination of any form of sexual relations between adult and children. Such behavior must remain criminal and punishable to the full extent of the law."
APA shall make a brochure for all USA parents, to warn them about the dangers of sexual contacts with their children. APA shall send letters to all courts to forbid the use of the Rind article as a defense for child molesters; only the official APA opinion statement can be used in courts. A new statement, condemning all sexual contacts with children, will be presented to the next APA's member's meeting.
APA ends the letter with a long description of the projects it has supported to help the victims and gives a long list of publications that all condemn sexual contacts between children and adults.
Later on, APA has distanced itself more and more publicly from the study, saying that its leadership disagrees with the study's conclusions and that it should have considered the "social-policy implications" of such a paper before publishing it.
That change is the most important outcome of debate on the study, said Heather Mirjahangir, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.), chief sponsor of the resolution. "They said, from now on they're going to consider public-policy repercussions," she said. "You don't hear academic journals saying things like that."
The APA's chief executive officer, Raymond D. Fowler, wrote in a letter to another sponsor that his organization rejects the position "that much of what we call child sexual abuse is not particularly harmful."
"While there is doubtless a continuum of harmfulness depending upon the nature, intensity and duration of the abuse, there is no way to be certain that even the mildest forms of noncontact sexual encounter might not do serious damage to a vulnerable child," he wrote.
At July 12, the USA Congress has accepted a Resolution nr 107 by a vote of 355 to 0 and 13 'present'.
What stroke me, was the way of speaking of the honorable Members of Congress.
Mr. Salmon (Arizona): "There are no lower life forms than adults who sexually abuse children. Child molesters rob children of their innocence [sic] and subject them to a lifetime of nightmares. Those who engage in this activity deserve the harshest punishment." [...] "Words alone will not protect children from the monsters who prey on them."
Then, he says that the sentences for predators are too light in this country: about 4 years in prison. "In my opinion, the average sentence is about 96 years too short."
"Recidivism rates are quoted as high as 70 percent. Those are just the ones who get caught. In other words, they get out of prison and they prey on children again and again. The next time, the pedophiles may end up killing the child to make sure there is not evidence so they can be put away again." [The readers can compare this 70% with Prof. Frenkens 90% and with the 13.4% in the article here above about the recidivism rates.]
Mr. DeLay, Chief of the Republican's Majority Whip (say: 'Office'), said: "Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate the American Psychological Association for clarifying its position on pedophilia. Without question, sexual abuse of minors is child abuse. Child abuse is a plague on this country that cannot be overlooked or obscured by pseudo-scientific doubletalk."
This kind of resolutions is usually one very long sentence. First, many times "whereas....", amongst which:
" Whereas information endangering children is being made public and, in some instances, may be given unwarranted or unintended credibility through release under professional titles or through professional organizations; [...]
Whereas all credible [< sic!] studies in this area, including those published by the American Psychological Association, condemn child sexual abuse as criminal and harmful to children;
Whereas, once published and allowed to stand, scientific literature may become a source for additional research;
Whereas the Psychological Bulletin has recently published a severely flawed study, entitled ..."
Another "whereas..." mentions that Bauserman had written an article in Paidika. Also NAMBLA is mentioned:
" Whereas pedophiles and organizations, such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association, that advocate laws to permit sex between adults and children are exploiting the study to promote and justify child sexual abuse:
Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress--
(1) condemns and denounces all suggestions in the article `A Meta-Analytic [..etc..]' that indicate that sexual relationships between adults and `willing' children are less harmful than believed and might be positive for `willing' children [...]
(2) vigorously opposes any public policy or legislative attempts to normalize adult-child sex or to lower the age of consent;
(3) urges the President likewise to reject and condemn, in the strongest possible terms, any suggestion that sexual relations between children and adults--regardless of the child's frame of mind--are anything but abusive, destructive, exploitive, reprehensible, and punishable by law; and
(4) encourages competent investigations to continue to research the effects of child sexual abuse using the best methodology, so that the public, and public policymakers, may act upon accurate information."
I've always thought that good scientific research could bring more nuances into the debate about childhood sexuality, but reading all these articles and statements has made me doubt it.
I'm a bit astonished by the right wing's reactions. They worry that youth who have had sexual experiences with adults will always have their lives destroyed. Now they can read that the harm could be less than they had thought. One should expect that they should be glad about it. Instead, they got furious. Would they only be glad if research had concluded that every sexual act was disastrous and always destroys each young life? The right wing reactions seem to imply a kind of hidden agenda. What are they trying to accomplish?
What struck me was the careless way in which the research results were published, even by the APA president himself. The next Newsletter will give details about that. The content as well as the intention of the research has been represented incorrectly, if not deceitfully. Right wing Christian groups know themselves that "thou shalt not lie". What struck me also was the amount of names, associations, foundations et cetera (supposedly with lots of money) on the right wing and how easily they can reach the radio, the newspapers, the Congress members and even the President.
All these people have read into the Rind article - IF they have read it! - things that are not written by Rind et al at all. The authors do not plead for 'pedophilia' - they do not even use the word. It seems like a kind of 'moral panic' to read a plea for 'pedophilia' into an article that does not use the word at all. It tells about harm - although perhaps less harm than generally was thought. The authors differentiate between no harm, moderate harm and severe harm. The first is found in consensual man-boy relationships, the last is especially found in families between a powerful father and a young daughter. Why do they so furiously react against ‘pedophiles’ and NAMBLA and continually plea for "Family Values", of which parental authority is the first one? But let's have also a look at the NAMBLA side. It’s first article on the web seems to have been more or less a shout of joy. I've seen many shouts of joy on the web, for example on Boy Chat. For me, I do not see any cause for jubilation when I read that about one-third of the boys had negative feelings afterwards, while two-third of the girls had these feelings. For me, the 4% of permanently damaged girls that were found are 4% too much. If one may say that the chances of a positive or a negative feeling afterwards is approximately 50% on both sides, I am glad that it's not 100% negative and I’m gonna think very long and hard about my opinion as an Ipce member.