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Conclusions and Recommendations
The findings of the ten studies which met many of the criteria used in the analysis demonstrate the fact that many variables enter into the relationship between childhood sexual experiences and long-range effects. There is no simple linear cause and effect relationship. All but one of the 10 studies were retrospective in nature. As in all retrospective studies that relate early experiences to the current state of the individual, it is not possible to trace the current condition in a direct causal line from the previous condition. There exists a need for longitudinal studies which could determine the intervening variables between these two points.
As my analysis indicates, there is also a need for
On the basis of this review and analysis, the following recommendations for future research are made.
1. Researchers need to adopt a clear nomenclature of distinction between a "sexual offense" and "sexual abuse." An offense is the act of breaking a law or violating a social norm. An abuse is a mistreatment or injury that is perceived by the recipient.
2. When referring to incest, researchers must be very clear about which definition of incest is being used. If the dictionary definition in Webster's (1978) were consistently used, much confusion would be avoided.
3. Some studies indicate that psychological harm is greater if children who have sexual experiences with relatives. Researchers must be careful to be very specific as to who the partner was, the type of sexual behavior that occurred, and if the child was pre-pubertal or post-pubertal. Only in this way may implications for later functioning be clearly delineated.
4. Much more attention must be paid to sampling issues.
5. Careful consideration should be given to measures of adult functioning. Previously used measures (such as marriage, parenthood, having a job, being a solid member of the community, etc.) are not sufficient. More specific. empirical data are needed.
6. Conditions under which the sexual behavior took place and reactions to the sexual behavior are also important variables which need to be considered by researchers.
7. Developmental studies are needed which take intervening variables into consideration.
8. Analyses of data on the long-range consequences of childhood sexual experiences are needed which include not only the relationship of variables such as partner, type behavior, conditions and reactions to the measures of later functioning but also the relationship of the interactions of these variables to the measures of later functioning. Controls for socio-economic and other background variables must also be included.
The study of long-range consequences of any type of behavior that may cause harm to a person or interfere with optimum social functioning is a serious endeavor. Researchers must be clear about what it is they are studying and diligent in their pursuit of scientific objectivity.