[Scientific Articles] [RBT Files]
to Bauserman *
Journal of Homosexuality, 20 - 1/2, 1990
I do not believe that my views about Sandfort's research are accurately represented in Bauserman's article*, and I will try to present them here.
findings are probably valid and could be (and need to be) replicated by other
investigators. That is, a researcher can find certain children, especially boys,
who report that their sexual experiences with adults were positive and had no
short-term negative effect on them. The real debate concerns the implications of
In studies using more representative samples than Sandfort's, only a minority of people, at least in the U.S., report reacting positively to their childhood sexual encounters with adults. This has been demonstrated in a number of studies
tend to react less negatively than girls, but even the majority of boys (62% ),
in one recent national American sample, said they felt somewhat victimized or
worse (Risin and Koss, 1987). Sandfort did not try to obtain and correctly does
not pretend that his is a representative sample. In fact, it is probably an
extremely unrepresentative sample. It is impossible to make policy on the basis
of such a sample.
among those boys who rate their contacts with adults as positive, there is
evidence that these feelings sour over time. In a study of 53 men who had had
contact with adults, although 38%
are many children who are seriously traumatized by their sexual encounters with
adults. Epidemiological studies show that adult-child sexual contact is a
predictor of later depression, suicidal behavior, dissociative disorders,
alcohol and drug abuse and sexual problems even when other noxious background
factors are controlled for (Browne and Finkelhor, 1986). The association with
psychopathology has been shown to be every bit as great among men as among women
(Stein, Golding, Siegel, Burnam & Sorenson, 1988). Certainly not all
adult-child encounters have such effect, but we are talking about an experience
that has a very high risk.
public policy priority to protect children from unwanted and coercive sexual
approaches by adults seems justified given the evidence of its wide prevalence
and the high risk for serious effects. The (now grown) children who have had
such experiences are very active in lobbying for such protection. I have
encountered very few individuals with self-defined positive experiences who are
lobbying for legal protections for their kinds of experiences. Mostly it is
pedophilicly oriented adults who argue for such rights. Personally, I am much
more open to academic discussions about the implications of positive adult-child
experiences with those who grant that the problem of unwanted sexual contacts is
a very pressing public policy issue (Sandfort is such a person).
I do continue to believe that the prohibition on adult-child sexual contact is
primarily a moral issue. While empirical findings have some relevance they are
not the final arbiter. The social judgment that slavery is reprehensible would
not have been challenged by empirical findings that some slaves felt positively
about being a slave (as some undoubtedly did) or even benefitted from it. The
social judgment that child labor needed to be prohibited similarly would not
have been vitiated by evidence that some children felt positively and benefitted
from it (as they undoubtedly did as well). Some types of social relationships
violate deeply held values and principles in our culture about equality and
self-determination. Sex between adults and children is one of them. Evidence
that certain children have positive experiences does not challenge these values,
which have deep roots in our worldview. This is the main reason that Sandfort's
research has had relatively little attention, and has little relevance for
A. & Finkelhor, D. (1986). Impact of child sexual abuse: A review of the
research. Psychological Bulletin, 99(1 ):66- 77.
Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.
M.E. (1986). The relationship of childhood sexual abuse with later psychological
and sexual adjustment in a sample of college women. Child Abuse and Neglect, 10(1):
L.I. & Koss, M.P. (1987). The sexual abuse of boys: Frequency and
descriptive characteristics of childhood victimizations reported by a national
sample of male post-secondary students. Kent, OH: Kent State University.
D.E.H. (1986). The secret trauma: Incest in the lives of girls and women. New
York: Basic Books.
J., Goiding, J., Siegel, J., Burnam, M.A. & Sorenson, S. (1988). Long-term
psychological sequelae of child sexual abuse: The Los Angeles Epidemiologic
Catchment Area Study. In G. Wyatt and G. Powell (eds.), Lasting effects of
child sexual abuse. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Urquiza, A.J. (1987). The effects of childhood sexual abuse in an adult male population. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Washington, Seattle.