Previously, we argued that the Dallam et al. (1999) critique was a "kitchen sink" attack, throwing every possible criticism our way
irrespective of relevance or importance but in the end failing to demonstrate any bias that would necessitate altering our basic conclusions (Rind, Bauserman, & Tromovitch, 2001b).
We believe that we have shown that their current critique (Dallam et al., 2001), a more refined version, similarly fails to show any such bias, let alone justify or support the media and political attacks on our study as being severely flawed.
We believe we successfully showed
At the same time, we believe we successfully demonstrated that Dallam et al. (2001) repeatedly erred in charging us with such things as
Further, we believe we have shown that they, in making their points, were frequently selective in terms of
The conceptual criticisms are no improvement. Our decisions regarding terminology, using consent as a variable, and making cross-cultural comparisons were characterized by Ondersma et al. (2001) as extra-scientific. We believe that the empirical justification for our handling of terminology and consent issues is clear, however, and that cross-cultural comparisons are scientific, not extra-scientific. It is incorrect to assume that human sexual nature can be fully understood by relying on a single culture with a traditionally negative stance toward sexuality, especially juvenile sexuality (Ford & Beach, 1951). As historian Randolph Trumbach (1977) put it,
We believe that calls for incorporating moral and ideological stances into research methods and interpretations, such as Ondersma et al.'s (2001) contention that the moral standard is integral to the scientific understanding of CSA, are themselves extra-scientific. Expansive and all-encompassing victimological definitions of harm violate Popper's (1961) falsifiability principle, and arguing for an "emphasis on understanding CSA-related harm rather than on proving that harm" (p. 713) stems from an unexarnined assumption of harm in all cases, regardless of context.
Both sets of critics pointed to supposed dangers coming from our study. Dallam et al. (2001) reported that our study has been used in court in a few instances, but testimony from a victimological perspective has occurred innumerable times, putting forth ideological beliefs as verified facts (Sarnoff, 2001).
Continuing this theme, Dallam et al. (2001) ended by stating that attempts to use our study to argue that an individual has not been harmed by CSA are a "serious misapplication of its findings" (p. 729). Certainly, a review such as ours examined only general patterns or trends and cannot be used to show or argue that any particular individual has or has not been harmed. Some individuals are undoubtedly harmed by CSA, a point we clearly acknowledged in our review.
However, the claim that the typical person with CSA, as typically and broadly defined, suffers extreme, pervasive, and lasting harm has not been verified in a scientific sense. Ondersma et al. (2001) feared a backlash against therapists. Psychotherapy, like medical intervention, must proceed from sound science. Psychotherapy, unlike medical intervention, has traditionally not been held up to the same standard of scientific rigor in verification of treatment efficacy and concern with potential side effects. Any research, such as ours, that can improve therapists' knowledge of who needs to be treated and to what degree and for whom treatment is unnecessary or even contraindicated, should be welcome.
Finally, our review and the issues raised in our current rebuttal offer a number of guideposts for future research.
First, in terms of causality, researchers should take into account as possible confounds not only family background but also peer variables and personality dispositions, as problem behavior theory has identified these latter factors as also highly relevant to precocious sex and its correlates.
Second, contextual factors should be taken into account. Aside from the obvious factors of frequency, duration, relatedness, and presence or absence of force, level of willingness should be examined, with the understanding that the issue in this case is perceived willingness, assent, or simple consent, not informed consent. It is important for psychologists to uncover and examine participants' own perceptions of their experiences, not project their own point of view onto participants' responses.
Third, if researchers choose to examine only unwanted CSA, as many have, then they should be clear in their interpretation of the results that their findings do not apply to all CSA but just unwanted CSA for a particular population, a qualification that researchers currently generally do not provide. The Coxell et al. (1999) study is a clear illustration of the benefits of categorizing participants by level of consent and the inferential biases that can occur if only unwanted CSA is assessed but then generalized to all socio-legal CSA.
Fourth, informed sexual consent should be formally studied by psychologists, which it never has been to our knowledge. It is a construct with important legal and social implications. Across societies, those in politics and government vary greatly in proclaiming at what age it is possible, not infrequently alluding to psychological opinion. Yet, such opinion is almost always based recursively on legal and social criteria. To break this circularity, researchers should begin by defining this ability in scientific terms and examining it scientifically.
Fifth, related to uncovering participants' actual perceptions, researchers should assess and report reactions from negative to positive, along with perceived costs or benefits. Many college studies did this, in sharp contrast to studies based on other populations (e.g., clinical, forensic), whose assessments have often structurally disallowed reports of positive reactions or benefits (Okami, 1990). Furthermore, negative reactions are typically labeled by CSA researchers as traumatic (e.g., Finkelhor, 1979a), when in fact they may range from slightly unpleasant to truly horrific. To avoid overstatement, researchers should draw distinctions among types of negative response.
Sixth, to understand socio-legal CSA more comprehensively, the further researchers
move away from clinical samples, the more scientifically valid their findings will be both in terms of external and internal validity. Examination of participants in non-Western cultures in which victimological values have not taken hold, for example, has shown striking differences in perceived reactions and effects (e.g., Williams, 1996). The interaction of culture and sexual response has for too long been ignored in CSA research (cf. Ford & Beach, 1951).
Finally, the victimological perspective has dominated almost all research in this area for the past quarter-century. Victimology has its place but contains a heavy degree of ideology. Researchers should not feel obligated to restrict design, analysis, and interpretation to a victimological perspective, but rather they should consider other models. All of these approaches can help move research on CSA and its correlates beyond the current paradigm in this field.