01Oct11b May01 Pacific News on RBT
Uproar Over Child Sex Study Still Going Strong After Two Years
By Walter Truett Anderson, Pacific News Service, May 30, 2001
Quarrels in academia tend to stay indoors, however ferocious they may become. But a paper challenging conventional wisdom on the question of adult-child sexual relations has produced resounding noises.
PNS Contributor Walter Truett Anderson is the author of "The Future of the Self" (Tarcher Putnam, 1997).
A study suggesting that sexual encounters between children and adults do not necessarily cause long-term psychological damage has stirred a storm of controversy that shows no sign of abating.
Arguments about sexual abuse of children, homosexuality, academic freedom, censorship, and the stability of family life -- among other topics -- have swirled around the research paper published two years ago in Psychological Bulletin, one of more than 40 journals published by the American Psychological Association.
The controversy reached Congress, where a resolution against the paper was introduced, and moved radio psychologist "Doctor Laura" Schlessinger to launch a series of attacks on the paper. Now it is the subject of a major conflict within the psychology profession itself.
As its unsensational title suggests, "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples," by Bruce Rind of Temple University and two associates, analyzed 59 different studies of subjects who had sexual experiences of one sort or another with adults when they were children or adolescents.
Their findings, though definitely against the grain of mainstream thinking on the subject, could not be called shocking. The paper merely reported that such experiences didn't always have traumatic long-term effects. Some people -- particularly adolescent males -- remember them as positive. The authors claimed that several factors -- age and sex of the child, specific nature of the sexual experience (exhibitionism, masturbation, intercourse, etc.), whether the subject willingly took part, whether the adult involved was a family member -- accounted for the great range of psychological consequences observed.
Further, they held, it makes no sense to lump the incestuous rape of a nine-year-old girl in the same psychological category as a relationship between an adolescent boy and an older man.
Their conclusion? Not every instance of adult-child sex is necessarily the "special destroyer of adult mental health" that many workers in the field -- and the media -- assume. Such experiences do not doom a child to grow up mentally disturbed.
However cautious, the article's dissent enraged a number of people. The Family Research Council, an organization that defends "the traditional family unit and the Judeo-Christian value system" blasted the work as a veiled defense of adult predators.
"Dr. Laura" attacked the article in her radio broadcasts, charging that it was part of an attempt by the APA to "quietly redefine pedophilia like it did homosexuality."
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay and four Republican Congressmen sponsored a resolution criticizing the APA's decision to publish the paper.
That provoked a response from the APA, whose chief executive officer wrote DeLay saying the article was "inconsistent with APA's stated and deeply held positions on child welfare and protection issues."
He also said the organization was taking steps -- including an independent re-evaluation of the study -- which he called "unprecedented in the association's history of scholarly publishing."
That, in turn, provoked a counter-response by psychologist Scott O. Lilienfeld of Emory University, who wrote an article criticizing the critics. It used the Rind article as a prime example of what happens "when social science and politics collide."
The APA, he said, had simply caved in to political pressure.
Lilienfeld's article was accepted by another APA journal, American Psychologist, and set for publication in June. Then the journal's editor announced that it was not accepted after all, and suggested that the author either submit it to some other publication or revise it without referring to the Rind study.
So we now have a whole herd of arguments -- not just about the impacts of child-adult sex experiences, but about whether the APA should have published the Rind article or then apologized for publishing it, or should have published the Lilienfeld article.
None of these arguments has been resolved. The only concrete step so far is that Lilienfeld has reportedly resigned from the APA. And the only clear conclusion to be drawn from it is that adult-child sex is too hot a subject for academic publications.