Socio-historical Context

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Historical trends regarding CSA have varied and evolved over time (Olafson, Corwin, & Summit, 1993). Perhaps the most long-standing school of thought regarding CSA has held that it is a rare and relatively innocuous phenomenon that is often made up by the supposed victim, which -when it does occur - is typically at least partially the fault of the child him- or herself. According to some accounts, the fervor with which this view has been held led to Sigmund Freud's being ostracized for his initial suggestion that neuroses were largely the result of CSA, as well as his consequent reversal on the issue (Masson, 1984).

A second perspective regarding CSA became more prominent in the mid-1970s. Through the accumulating influences of the child protection, victim's rights, and women's movements, combined with emerging scientific research regarding CSA, a dramatic shift in public awareness of and concern regarding CSA took place (Myers, Diedrich, Lee, Fincher, & Stern, 1999). Children began to be seen as victims of adult sexual exploitation who were in need of protection. As with all movements, advocates for victims of CSA have had their share of extreme protagonists. In some quarters, the zealously disseminated thesis was that sexual abuse was ubiquitous, was never falsely alleged, and was inevitably seriously harmful. Some child advocates and the popular media embraced these postulates into the 1980s.

By the late 1980s, however, the ascendancy of the child protection movement was met with what is popularly known in the child abuse field as "the backlash," or the energetic and highly critical reaction of skeptics to professional practices surrounding CSA. These skeptics became invested in efforts to debunk the excesses, both real and imagined, of the sexual abuse field. Scientific publications questioned the reliability of recovered memories of CSA and of child testimony regarding CSA. As with data regarding the prevalence and dangers of CSA, these reports were used by some advocates to support their extreme views (in this case, to vigorously question the validity of nearly all alleged cases of CSA). 

As a result, although initially emphasizing the "hidden problem" of sexual abuse and our collective denial of its reality and impact, media and public attention shifted to a focus on false allegations, over-zealousness, and witch-hunting (Beckett, 1996). 

The results of this backlash continue to have an impact on our profession. For instance, a review of 24 recently published introductory psychology textbooks found that few devoted any significant space to CSA, and those that did focused primarily on the frequency of false memories and suggestive interviewing (Letourneau & Lewis, 1999).

The Rind et al. (1998) manuscript appears to have been written and accepted for publication within the context of this backlash. Evidence of this is found in Rind et al.'s introduction, in which  they take as their premise the need to critically examine wide-spread and dominant beliefs that, invariably 

"(a) CSA causes harm, 

(b ) this harm is pervasive in the population of persons with a history of CSA, 

(c) this harm is likely to be intense" (p. 22). 

But how true is it that such beliefs are widespread? Most child abuse researchers have long believed that CSA, like other forms of maltreatment. is associated with a wide range of reactions and outcomes (from devastation to no detectable harm), mayor may not be traumatic, and mayor may not lead to mental health problems in the short or long term (Cicchetti & Rogosch. 1997; Finkelhor, 1979).

Evidence of this more moderate view within the child maltreatment field is readily available. As far back as 1979, a pioneer in the field emphasized that children may not be clearly harmed by sexual abuse, and may even report such experiences as positive (Finkelhor, 1979). In 1993, a review article published in psychological Bulletin emphasized that a significant number of sexually abused children have no measurable long-term negative outcomes (Kendall-Tackett, Williams. & Finkelhor, 1993). Others (e.g.. Fromuth, 1986) have reported similar results, and differ more from Rind et al. ( 1998) in their interpretation of findings than in the findings themselves. Rather than focusing on the lack of inherent harm in CSA because some children are not affected, previous publications have carefully qualified their findings, have demonstrated an interest in understanding the resiliency among children who are not negatively affected, and have left untouched the basic societal value that sex with children is abuse.



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