On Psychology

Jewish World Review April 21, 1999 /5 Iyar, 5759

Dr. Wade Horn

Baffling Conclusions About
Child Sex Abuse

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

NOT TOO LONG AGO, I was driving in my car listening to Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the radio. In between telephone calls from listeners eager to hear her reactions to their moral dilemmas, Dr. Schlessinger commented on a study that appeared in an official journal of the American Psychological Association (APA). Essentially, she claimed, this article advocated that we discard the outdated term "child sexual abuse" for the more "value neutral" term "adult-child sex." She thought this was nuts.

This can't be right, I thought. I know that the APA can be a little extreme at times, but they wouldn't publish an article that actually advocated defining child sexual abuse down in this way. The APA couldn't be that crazy.

So I looked up the article. Well, Dr. Laura was right.

The article in question appears in the July 1998 volume of the Psychological Bulletin, published bimonthly by the American Psychological Association. The title of the article is "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples," and is authored by Bruce Reed of Temple University, Philip Tromovitch of the University of Pennsylvania, and Robert Bauserman of the University of Michigan.

The premise of the article is this: what do we know about the long-term consequences of child sexual abuse? Legitimate question. It is important to know whether or not the victims of child sexual abuse suffer long-term consequences, because this knowledge would be helpful in developing treatment programs for minimizing the effects of this atrocity.

What the authors found, at least for college age students, is that many of them had, in fact, put the abuse behind them and were functioning pretty well. Only a small percentage of any current pathology was directly attributable to their having been the victim of child sexual abuse experience.

So far, so good. It is somewhat re-assuring to know that many college students are able to adapt reasonably well to the impact of having been raped or sodomized as a child by an adult.

But the authors are not content to merely report their findings. No, not by a long shot. In a section entitled, "Child Sexual Abuse as a Construct Reconsidered," the authors discuss the "implications" of their findings.

First, the authors decry the fact that "[i]n most studies... [child sexual abuse] was defined based on legal and moral, rather than empirical and phenomenological criteria." In other words, believing that child sexual abuse is a legal and moral monstrosity is not good enough. To define sex with children as abusive one must be able to show that it is "...likely to cause harm to an individual." Apparently, these authors believe, it's perfectly fine for an adult to sodomize a 10-year-old so long as that 10-year-old doesn't develop psychological problems because of it.

Expanding their argument further, the authors argue that we Puritans should stop using the term child sexual abuse except in cases where the sex was unwanted and there are negative consequences for the child. If the sex were merely unwanted or did not have negative consequences, then that would be A-OK.

Econophone In fact, in their vision of a wonderful world run by psychologists, "[a] willing [sexual] encounter with positive reactions would be labeled simply adult-child sex, a value neutral term." Of course, the authors don't explain how an 8-year-old can "want" or "enjoy" sex with a 25 year-old, but I guess I'm just being picky.

But these authors are just getting started. In a particularly horrifying paragraph, they assert that there is scant evidence that little boys in particular suffer from having been sodomized by an adult male. No wonder this study was listed on the website of the North American Man/Boy Love Association as "good news."

Girls don't get off that easily, however. In the article we are urged to be "cautious" about defining sex between adults and little girls as abusive "..because some women perceive their early experiences as positive, do not label themselves as victims, and do not show evidence of psychological impairment." This is really sick stuff.

To be fair, the authors do acknowledge in a concluding paragraph that "lack of harmfulness does not imply lack of wrongfulness." However, it is quite clear that if society were to adopt their position, it would have the effect of putting "escape clauses" in laws prohibiting sex between adults and young children. Within no time, sexual perverts would begin arguing that their having sodomized a 10-year-old boy is wrong if and only if that sexual encounter was both unwanted and had negative long-term effects. It would encourage, in effect, the resurrection of the defense in adult rape cases that the victim "was asking for it."

As a member of the American Psychological Association myself, I have watched in dismay as the APA has pursued one fad after another. Most of these fads, like the self-esteem movement, have been relatively, but not completely, harmless. Advocating for the normalization of pedophilia is quite another thing. I can not even begin to understand why the APA would give legitimacy to this kind of argument by publishing it in one of its most prestigious journals.

Unless, of course, the APA believes the argument. In which case, there is something deeply and profoundly corrupt at the core of the American Psychological Association.

For the sake of our children, I hope that isn't so.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn