An article authored by Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman, entitled "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples," was published in the July 1998 issue of Psychological Bulletin. It initially received little attention outside the scientific community.
However, when the article was hailed on the Web site of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and other pedophilia advocacy sites as providing scientific evidence in support of their views, it was brought to the attention of Laura Schlessinger, a radio talk show host, in the spring of 1999. "Dr. Laura" characterized the article as endorsing adult sex with children and attacked the American Psychological Association (APA) for publishing it. Public furor ensued when the perceived implications of the article became the talk of the airwaves, newspaper columns, and the Internet.
Eventually some members of Congress were informed and joined the outcry. On July 12, 1999, the House of Representatives proposed a resolution condemning what it interpreted as suggestions in the article that sexual relationships between "willing" children and adults are not harmful and might be positive and noting that one of the authors had previously published in what the resolution described as a pro-pedophilia journal (i.e., Paidika, Issue 5).
The APA responded to this situation in a variety of ways. First, the scientific validity of the article was defended in a statement to the APA Council of Representatives dated May 25, 1999. The memorandum explained the findings and asserted that the article did not support changes in current social policy or law. To counter any misperceptions engendered by the article, the APA Board of Directors also issued a resolution asserting the association's position against child sexual abuse and asserting that sexual abuse causes serious harm to its victims.
On June 9, 1999, Raymond Fowler, chief executive officer and executive vice-president of the APA, sent a letter to Representative Tom Delay, majority whip and chief congressional critic. This letter acknowledged that the APA had given insufficient attention to the implications for public policy contained in the article and stated that the article included opinions of the authors that were inconsistent with APA positions. Specifically, the letter stated that some of the language in the article was inflammatory, reasserted the APA's position that children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults, and emphasized that sexual activity between adults and children should never be "considered or labeled harmless or acceptable." Also highlighted were the APA's plans for addressing any possible misperceptions, including a promise to prepare amicus briefs for
use in court to challenge any attempts to base defense of child sexual abuse (CSA) on the Rind et al. (1998) study.[*1]
The APA then took the unprecedented step of requesting an independent review of the article in question from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS chose not to perform this review, stating in a letter dated October 4, 1999, that they believed the peer review process and subsequent discussions among professionals to be an adequate and appropriate means of response. Without performing a thorough review, the AAAS noted in this letter that they saw "no clear evidence of improper application of methodology."
Clearly, a range of issues concerning science and public policy has been raised by the publication of this article. The controversy surrounding it is a microcosm of many larger debates. At issue is scientific freedom, the relation between science and values (those of the scientist as well as those of academia and the larger public), scientists' responsibility for awareness of potential public use of their data, and the historical progression of scientific and social movements pertaining to controversial topics. The issues raised are especially relevant to the APA as a professional society because social perceptions of the APA have an impact on public trust and therefore influence the ability of psychologists to practice-particularly in service to victims of child maltreatment.