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01Sep08e New study

The Journal of Psychology (2001, 135, 1, 17-36) carries a 'Meta-analysis of published research on the effects of child sexual abuse (CSA)' by Elizabeth Paolucci, Mark Genuis and Claudio Violato, which reviews 37 good-quality studies.

By Peter

These covered 9,230 people who claimed that in childhood they had experienced unwanted sexual contact from an adult in a position of relative power.

The review has serious limitations: welcome contacts from ordinary adults were plainly excluded; advances from family members were very much included; clinical and legal samples were included, rather than using only representative population samples -- as in the work Bruce Rind and colleagues (e.g. 1997, J. Sex Research 34); the work of Rind et al. is not even mentioned; the review takes no account of stress caused to children by the post-CSA process of investigation and litigation; and published academic reports always over-represent studies finding 'significant' effects.

Nevertheless, despite the Calgary authors Elizabeth Paolucci, Mark Genuis and Claudio Violato themselves being eager to claim substantial harm to come from CSA, only 14% of their victims showed more psychological distress (on objective tests) than is found in controls: 86% had no detectable long-term effects to show for their experience of CSA.

More surprisingly (in view of previous research, e.g. Rind's), outcome was not affected by the victim's sex, class, age when abused, relationship to the perpetrator, the amount of contact experienced, or the type of contact (voyeuristic vs frottage vs penetration). The psychometric measures used were of 'post-traumatic stress disorder', depression, suicidal ideation, sexual promiscuity, victim-becoming-perpetrator, and academic failure.

The authors show their size-of-effect to be about half the size-of-effect achieved on the mortality rate of representative American physicians who experimentally took aspirin. Properly considered, Paolucci et al.'s results further attest that, contrary to the liberal-left view of the world, children are not doomed, passive creatures of the environment and its stresses.



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