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Review of the Literature
I found 34 studies which attempted to account
for long-range differential outcomes of sexual experiences which occurred
during childhood. These 34 studies are listed in Table 1 with relevant
information about each one. Each study was reviewed, considering the concerns
previously described, to determine if the data presented were relevant to three hypotheses.
Childhood Sexual Experiences Inevitably
Lead to Long-Term Harmful Effects
Nineteen studies reported negative outcomes as the more
frequently reported effect, with 5 of these reporting very negative outcomes.
Each of these 19 studies will be briefly summarized and analyzed in the order
that they appear in Table 1.
Sloane and Karpinsky (1942)
The primary strength of this descriptive study of 5 adolescent incest cases is that the authors drew their
conclusions from only adolescent cases. Hence differences could be compared with findings on effects of incest on
pre-adolescents. There are, however, the sampling problems of no control group,
a small number of cases, and the use of a clinical, lower-class
The conclusion that "indulgence in incest in the post-adolescent
period leads to serious repercussions in the girl" (p. 673) is, therefore,
questionable. The findings cannot be generalized and can, at best, serve as a
working hypothesis for other studies. Other variables, such as background
characteristics, should also be considered.
Weinberg was one of the few researchers who
adhered to the dictionary definition of incest. He studied 203 lower-class
families in the Chicago area in which incest had occurred, primarily between
father-daughter. These cases had all been reported to the courts. Although
Weinberg used an offender population with no control group, he did study a large
number of cases by structured interviews in the home. We can accept his evidence
that childhood incest experiences in lower-class families where the perpetrator
has been prosecuted lead to long-term harmful effects. Yet we must question how many of these harmful effects were due to the
lower-class background or to the court procedure and incarceration of the
Greenland analyzed seven
letters written to an advice column in Great Britain regarding the writer's
incestuous experiences during childhood and resulting present problems. The very small
number of cases studied, lack of a control group, and the
self-selected and non-representative sample who wrote because of problems they
were having lead us to reject the evidence. His findings of harmful effects
may be used as a working hypothesis for more definitive studies.
This Japanese study of 36 cases of incest from
clinic or agency records and interviews defines terms specifically but contains
the sampling problems of lack of a control group, a rather small
number of cases, use of a clinical population, and the combining
of age groups. Kubo was quite cautious and conservative when reporting effects,
however. Although he saw strong negative behaviors such as crimes, misconduct,
and mental disorders, he stated that "it cannot be concluded these were
directly attributable to incest" (p. 154). We can acknowledge the definite
trend toward harmful effects but must realize these effects may have been
caused by background variables.
This author studied 13 cases of parental
incest in Copenhagen in which the fathers had been sentenced to prison. Vestergaard conducted interviews with women whose incestuous experiences
more than 10 years previously. All the women felt the experience was much worse than the court records showed.
Although the definitions of terms were clear-cut, the problems of few cases,
no control group. offender population, and combining age groups were present.
Again, we must be cautious in interpreting the trend which is indicated by these
Weiner's study of 5 paternal incest cases in
New York through psychotherapy with the father has the serious flaw of the
perpetrator father being the only source of information on long-term effects on
the daughter. If daughter had also been studied directly, this would have been a
contribution to the literature because few studies have been done with both sexual partners. The
other problems of extremely few cases, no control group, and offender
population render these findings useless for purposes of generalization
about long-range effects.
Chaneles (1967) *
* Upon close examination of the literature, I found that the
Chaneles (1967) and De Francis (1969) studies were both funded under the Child
Research Grant R-222, U.S. Children's Bureau. It is not known if both these
authors reported on some of the same cases. Therefore, both are included in
159 child victim cases as reported by public agencies in a 3-year project of the
Association. Due to the clinical population, lack of control groups,
and the preliminary conclusion by the author that "at present, we may only
conjecture long-range effects" (p. 55), this evidence of a strong negative
trend must be viewed with caution.
This New Zealand study of 27 psychotherapy
cases of reported parental incest compares the 17 actual incest cases with the
10 falsely alleged cases. In this sense there is a control group, but the nature
of the evidence which permitted the judgment that the alleged cases were
actually alleged is not described. No significance
testing was reported, but the author did find rather large
differences in some areas of sexual adjustment of the two groups. The small
number of cases and clinical population do not provide conclusive support for
the hypothesis, but a trend is indicated.
De Francis (1969)
This study of 263 sex-offense cases
reported by child protection agencies in New York and consisting primarily of
lower-class families had no control group, but the sample was large and both
objective and subjective measures of consequences were obtained. His findings
can not be generalized to nonclinical, middle- or lower-class populations,
but the data suggest that child victims of reported sex crimes in lower-class
families in large urban areas are likely to experience harmful effects.
Katan psychoanalyzed six middle- to
upper-class women who had experienced oral, anal, or genital rape when they were
1 to 3 years of age. Again we have a small clinical study with no control
group, which makes generalizing to other populations impossible.
Benward and Denson-Gerber (1975)
These authors studied 52
women in Odyssey House drug treatment centers who had experienced incest as
children. Of the 93 different incestuous partners reported by the women,
intercourse took place with only 34 (37%) of these. The other behaviors ranged
from fondling to attempted seduction. Incestuous partners included
step-relations, in-laws, and "quasi-family."
These definitional problems in a clinical setting cloud the
study, which is admittedly an exploratory study of incest as a causative factor
in antisocial behavior. The author did use comparison groups which support
their claim that "incest was a significant factor necessitating further study" (p. 339). This exploratory study
should be viewed as such.
Molnar and Cameron (1975)
Eighteen cases of parental incest
in Canada were studied by these authors in psychotherapy interviews in a general
hospital psychiatric unit. Behaviors described as "incest" were
"a wider range of comportments which mayor may not include intercourse" (p. 373). We also have the few cases, no controls, and clinical
population configuration that is typical of many of the studies in this
analysis. The author, of course, reported harmful effects because all the
patients were there because they were having problems.
James and Meyerding (1977)
Two studies of a total of
228 prostitutes through questionnaires and interviews constituted this
report. Through comparisons of their findings with findings of other studies of
"normal" females, some interesting trends emerge which support the
authors' conclusion that early sexual experiences and prostitution
are related. The familiar configuration of a biased population
and no control group is present.
Meiselman studied 58 cases of incest which were seen at a Los Angeles psychiatric clinic. She used a control
group which consisted of a random sample of 100 patient charts from the
previous 5 years. Her definition of incest was clear and specific in regard to
both behavior and partner. The primary problem with this study is the use of a
clinical population for both the incest group and the control group. We do not
know how these cases differ from a nonclinical population. We can, however,
use the evidence from her finding regarding a clinical population that the
occurrence of incest does predispose the individual to certain kinds of
problems, such as difficult relationships with men or sexual maladjustment.
Justice and Justice (1979)
These authors studied 112 incestuous families in Texas through a survey and therapy with selected cases.
No control group was used for the clinical population studied. Conclusions
regarding long-term consequences of incest were drawn from their review of the
work of others regarding incest as much as from their own study. Therefore,
their measures were more a summary of the literature than specific analyses of
their own study. It is not possible to extract their own findings from the
larger body of literature they discussed.
Again we have a small clinical study (4 cases
of incest) , without a control group. A unique feature of this study was that it
studied hysterical seizures in adolescent girls and found incest in their
backgrounds. As with all small descriptive studies, the finding of the study
provides questions for further research.
Tsai, Feldman-Summers, and Edgar (1979)
compared : a clinical group of 30 women who had been molested as children and were seeking therapy with a nonclinical group of 30 women who had
been molested and also with a control group of 30 women who had
not been molested. All of the women were secured through media advertisements,
producing a potentially biased sample. Specific behaviors and partners were
defined. Although no causal inferences could be made, these findings are
certainly worthy of serious consideration. Noteworthy is that not all sexually
molested children necessarily experience adult maladjustment and that a later
age at cessation, stronger negative feeling, higher frequency and longer
duration of molestation are key variables in explaining adult maladjustment.
Sedney and Brooks (1984)
This study was of 301 middle- to upper-class college women. Those having sexual experiences as children
involving other people were compared to women with no such experiences.
Definitions were clear, no clinical or offender populations were sampled, age
groups were separated for purposes of some analyses, a primarily middle- to
upper-class population was used, and there were specific measures of
These features, together with the sizable number of women studied, make the findings that
reports of childhood sexual experiences are frequently associated with symptoms of distress
later in life acceptable. It must be remembered that this is a retrospective study of
primarily middle-class women.
Three women who had experienced incest
with fathers were personally selected by the author from three different populations in order to study varied outcomes from a developmental perspective.
One was from an offender population, one from a clinical population, and one was
referred by a friend. Definitions were clear but the small number studied and the sampling method based on
outcome with no control group make the findings interesting but not
Of these 19 studies, only 5 met enough of the
scientific criteria to be given serious consideration in accepting or rejecting
hypothesis I (see Table 2):
Studies Supporting Hypothesis 1 by Scientific Criteria
||Clinical / nonclinical
Sydney & brooks
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All five studies went beyond using a few descriptive cases in
regard to numbers, all clearly defined their terms, and all used
specific measures of consequences. The state of our knowledge regarding hypothesis
1 can be summarized as follows:
1. Childhood incest experiences
in lower-class families where the perpetrator has been prosecuted are
associated with harmful effects (Weinberg, 1955).
2. Occurrence of incest may predispose the individual to
certain kinds of problems (Meiselman, 1978; Sedney & Brooks, 1984).
3. Child victims of various reported sex crimes, in addition
to incest, in lower-class families are likely to experience harmful effects (De
4. Older age at cessation of molestation, stronger negative
feelings, higher frequency, and longer duration seem to contribute to adult
maladjustment (Sedney & Brooks, 1984; Tsai et al., 1979).
With this tentative evidence, we cannot say unequivocally that
childhood sexual experiences inevitably lead to long-term harmful effects.