The Leadership Council completed its review of a controversial study that purported to show that children are rarely harmed by sex abuse by adults. For an overview of what we found, click on "Overview." It will take you to each of the other areas listed.
Empirical testing of the Rind et al.'s conclusions
More Information on the Effects of Sexual Abuse on Boys
The Leadership Council (LC) is a multidisciplinary group of scientists and professionals in psychiatry, psychology, law and journalism committed to providing accurate mental health information to the public and promoting the ethical applications of psychological science to human welfare.
In July 1998 a paper titled " A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples " was published in the Psychological Bulletin, the premier scientific journal of the American Psychological Association. In this paper, psychologists Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman analyzed the association between child sexual abuse and maladjustment in college samples. They reported that childhood sexual abuse is only slightly associated with psychological harm, and that harm may not be due to the sexual experience, but to negative family factors in the children's backgrounds. They also reported that "consenting" boys show no evidence of harm and often have positive reactions to sex with adults. Rind et al. concluded that behavior which professionals commonly term "child sexual abuse" may merely constitute a violation of social norms and should be considered "abuse" only if the child reacts negatively to the encounter. They also advocated less judgmental terminology. For example, a "willing encounter with positive reactions" involving a 9-year-old boy and an adult male, would no longer be considered sexual abuse; instead it would simply be called "adult-child sex," a value neutral term.
In the furor that greeted the Rind paper's publication, the scientific evidence for the authors' arguments has been largely ignored. However, it is here that we must start. Because the conclusions of the Rind et al.s study ran contrary to 20 years of research showing a robust relationship between child sexual abuse and negative outcomes, researchers affiliated with the Leadership Council joined with researchers at Stanford University and Texas A&M University to conduct an independent scientific review of the data. Our scientific critique was recently published in the Psychological Bulletin (see abstract below).
Dallam, S. J., Gleaves, D. H., Cepeda-Benito, A., Silberg, J., Kraemer, H. C., & Spiegel, D. (2001). The Effects of Child Sexual Abuse: Comment on Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman (1998). Psychological Bulletin, 127, 715-733. [warning large pdf file]
B. Rind, P. Tromovitch, and R. Bauserman (1998) examined the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) by meta-analyzing studies of college students. The authors reported that effects "were neither pervasive nor typically intense" and that "men reacted much less negatively than women" (p. 22) and recommended value-neutral reconceptualization of the CSA construct. The current analysis revealed numerous problems in that study that minimized CSAâ€"adjustment relations, including use of a healthy sample, an inclusive definition of CSA, failure to correct for statistical attenuation, and misreporting of original data. Rind et al.'s study's main conclusions were not supported by the original data. As such, attempts to use their study to argue that an individual has not been harmed by sexual abuse constitute a serious misapplication of its findings.
Our analysis found that the study by Rind et al. was seriously flawed. In fact, we found the paper was a stacked deck of poor population and study selection, misreported data and misrepresented findings that led to faulty conclusions. Some of these problems are outlined below.
1. One of the paper's main findings had no supporting data. Rind et al. concluded that when boys consent to sex with adults, they are not harmed ("willingness was associated with no impairment to psychological adjustment" [Rind et al., 1998, p.45]). However, none of the original studies of male samples that Rind et al. included in their analysis actually asked participants whether the sexual experience was "consensual" or whether they participated willingly. Rind et al.'s so-called "consent" group was actually comprised of a wide variety of subjects including victims of forced assault and intrafamilial incest. In addition, we found no data to suggest that the abused males in this group were better adjusted than abused males not included in this group. To read about the problems with Rind et al.'s analysis of consent, click here.
2. Rind et al. made numerous errors in reporting and analyzing data. Almost every error served to minimize the harmful effects of sexual abuse. For example, Fishman (1991) was an unpublished study of male college students for which Rind et al. (1998) reported mainly positive or neutral reactions to child sexual abuse. Rind et al. also reported an overall result for Fishman which suggested that abused males were better adjusted than nonabused males. However, when we examined Fishman's dissertation, we found that results which Rind et al. reported were in direct contradiction to the results reported by the author. Fishman clearly stated that abused males scored lower on measures of adjustment than their peers: "Students who disclosed such a sexual event (versus those who did not) were more likely to . . . identify higher levels of sexual dysfunction, and lower levels of sexual self esteem" [emphasis added] (Fishman, 1991, p. viii).
3. Rind et al. often failed to report important qualifying data. Rind et al. accurately reported Urquiza's (1989) findings that most of the males in his study reported neutral reactions to their abuse, however, they failed to note that the men's subjective perceptions did not correlate with their results on objective measures. Compared to their nonabused peers, over two times as many abused men reported using illegal drugs, three times as many had sought therapy for emotional problems, and five times as many had attempted suicide. This is important qualifying information. Not only do Rind et al. fail to address the critical disconnect that Urquiza and other researchers have found between abused males' subjective perceptions and their objective behaviors.
Rind et al. also fail to reveal the conflicted feelings that abused males often report. For example, Fishman (1991) described one male's reaction to sexual abuse when he was 5 years old. "Ralph was only able to describe his reaction during this experience as confusion. He did later tell a priest and a counselor about this experience despite having neutral feelings at the time it was happening. He perceived mostly negative general effects of this experience on hs life and mostly positive effects on his current sexual life" (p. 169).
Rind et al. lumped neutral reactions with positive reactions and argued that such reactions "are scientifically inconsistent with classifying these male students as having been abused." (Rind et al, 1998, p. 46).
4. Rind et al. often reported their own findings in a misleading fashion. For example, Rind et al. concluded that "men reacted much less negatively [to CSA] than women" (p. 22). However, their own data showed no significant differences in scores for men and women on measures of adjustment. When we corrected for the differences in base rates for child sexual abuse between males and females, we found that results for men and women were almost identical. In other words, outcomes for males were just as negative as those of females.
5. The study design ensured that little in the way of harm would be found. Meta-analysis is not a magic truth-finding methodology. The results of such an analysis are dependent upon the quality of the original research that is utilized. In the case of Rind et al.'s study, the deck was stacked toward finding less harm. Many of the samples were poorly defined and the studies used were not uniform with respect to: the purpose of the study, the questions asked, the definition of sexual abuse, and the degree of sexual interaction. In addition, Rind et al. examined only college students -- a healthy, high functioning population -- and much of their data involved mild, noncontact experiences. Rind et al. also included some data that does not meet any accepted definition of child sexual abuse such as the sexual experiences of adults or reports of peer-sex play.
6. When Rind et al. found evidence of harm they immediately searched for an alternate explanation. After finding that abused students were less well adjusted in 17 of the 18 areas of psychological adjustment examined, Rind et al. attempted to blame the abused students' poorer functioning on environmental influences despite the fact that their research design did not allow for causal determinations.
Summary: We have highlighted several examples of the paper's flawed approach. There are many more. Overall, the quality of the research was so poor that it does not merit over-turning solid clinical and research evidence that serious forms of child sexual abuse often does lasting harm. Overall, rather than advancing our understanding of the long-term effects of sexual abuse, the paper by Rind et al. is likely to mislead the general public regarding the effects of child sexual abuse on later functioning.
A review of the empirical literature examining the long-term consequences of CSA show that we are not the only researchers who disagree with Rind et al.'s findings.
Rind et al.'s (1998) findings conflict with the results of that of researchers using equal or higher quality methods.
Their findings are refuted by those of three other meta-analyses that have examined the relationship between child sexual abuse and long-term adjustment, along with numerous large scale representative studies, prospective studies, and co-twin studies using nonclinical samples. These studies, which are considered the "gold standard" in terms of validity and reliability, report significant associations between a history of child sexual abuse and a wide variety of mental, physical, behavioral problems which persist even after controlling for family dysfunction. For a list of these studies, click on the link below.
Rind et al.'s (1998) agrument that positive initial perceptions of CSA experiences should be viewed as evidence that these males are not harmed by CSA has also been refuted empirically. Recently, several studies have examined Rind et al.'s assertion that CSA that is retrospectively reported as haveing been "consensual" or that was initially perceived positively, is not harmful to males. They have found that these factors are actually associated with increased adjustment problems in many of the males studied.
Public Policy Implications of Rind et al.
We recognize that many flawed studies make their way into scientific journals and that this in and of it self is not usually newsworthy. What makes the situation with the Rind study unique is that the conclusions of the study seemed to support the normalization of what the authors term "consensual" sexual relationships between men and boys -- something that is a criminal offense in our country.
Moreover, unless challenged and corrected, erroneous social science research has a way of infiltrating into legal and social structures where it may affect all of our lives. Sexual exploitation of children by adults has been identified as a major public health and criminal-justice problem. Both the National Violence Against Women Survey and the Rape in America National Survey reported that the majority of rape victims are children or adolescents. The paper by Rind et al. erroneously asserts that children are rarely harmed by such crimes, and that any harm that occurs is only temporary.
Clinicians and researchers have long noted that maladaptive beliefs and distorted thinking play an important role in facilitating sexual offenses. Two of the beliefs that child molesters routinely rely on to justify having sex with children is that: (1) children can consent to sex with adults, and (2) they aren't harmed by the experience (see e.g., DeYoung, 1989). Moreover, the reconceptualization of children as willing sexual "partners" is one of the main goals of pedophile advocacy groups.
According to crime consultant Ken Lanning, who studied sex offenders for more than 20 years with the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., "There is a great deal of material out there, far more than people realize, which presents a different view of having sex with children. It doesn't present it as evil, disgusting and perverted, but as something that is misunderstood by society, that was considered a good thing in other societies and other times. Most of these philosophies would say they are against kidnapping children and forcing them into sex. But they say it's OK to have sex with kids as long as you ask them first and they want to do it." (quoted by McLachlin. 2001 )
This philosophy is very similar to that contained in Rind and Bauserman's many writings on the subject, two of which were published in a pedophile journal. (To see a list of Rind et al.'s other writings on the subject of sex between adults and children, click here). In addition, Rind et al.'s 1998 paper appears to reinforce maladaptive beliefs by claiming to provide scientific evidence that males are less harmed by sexual abuse than females, and that "consenting" boys aren't harmed at all. These two "findings", the first of which is completely erroneous and the second of which was formed from data that didn't even examine the variable of interest, have been adopted by pedophile advocates around the world as scientific proof that boys of any age are not harmed by sex with adult males. For more information about the effect of sexual abuse on boys, click here.
The North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) has praised the study by Rind et al., saying it confirms that "the current war on boy-lovers has no basis in science." The National Post noted that Gerald Hannon, a gay activist and former Ryerson journalism instructor, expressed gratification that an academic body had finally vindicated his longtime critique of the "taboo" against "man-boy sexual relationships." A new book called " Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers " uses the Rind paper to justify seeking out boys as sex partners. (See description of book at Amazon.com).
In addition to "gratifying" pedophiles, the paper by Rind et al. has been used by convicted child molesters to argue that they didn't harm their victims. (For more information about the use of Rind et al. in legal cases, click here) . Rind et al.'s paper has also been used as evidence that the age of sexual consent should be lowered for boys. For example, Dr. Helmut Graupner (1999) , a lawyer and Vice President of the Austrian Society for Sex Research, used Rind et al.'s paper to support his argument that consensual sexual relations between men and boys aged 14 and older should be decriminalized, and that sex with younger children should not be prosecuted as long as the contact is proven to be "consensual and harmless."
Are Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman victims of political persecution?
In July 1999, the meta-analysis by Rind et al. became the first scientific study to be formally denounced by the United States Congress. The House of Representatives and Senate both unanimously passed a resolution which rejected "the conclusions of a recent article published in the Psychological Bulletin , a journal of the American Psychological Association that suggests that sexual relationships between adults and children might be positive for children." The Congress noted its intent to "vigorously oppose any public policy or legislative attempts to normalize child sexual abuse" saying that "elected officials have a duty to inform and counter actions they consider damaging to children, parents, families, and society" (House Con. Res. 107 PDF) .
Rind, Tromovitch and Bauserman responded to criticism by cloaking themselves in the authority of science, implying that the controversy over their ideas is purely political, and that their data is unimpeachable. They have also suggested that their critics are attempting to censor good science because they disagree with its findings. Responding to their claims of political persecution, a number of pyschologists to rush to the authors' defense. Social psychologist Carol Tavris (1999) charged Congress with "scientific illiteracy" for condemning the study. Tavris also accused psychotherapists who disagreed with the authors' conclusions of trying to "suppress" the study's important findings. Psychology professor Stanley Woll (1999) suggested that "religious/moralistic zealots" are conducting a "McCarthyesque witch hunt" against the study's authors and the APA. For more information on the controversy surrounding the publication of Rind et al., click here.
Some have suggested that the Leadership Council's criticism of Rind et al.'s study was motivated by the desire to convince the public that all types of sexual abuse are the same and always cause irreparable harm. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such an extreme position defies both common sense and current scientific thinking. Many on our Council have worked extensively with trauma victims, and researched these very questions. We know that there are clear differences between severity of abuse and outcome.
We would have been pleased if in their study Rind et al. had seriously addressed the question of harm. Instead, we found that that Rind et al. used watered down data of predominantly noncontact or nonabusive experiences to conclude that sexual abuse effects are typically neither pervasive nor intense. They then used their finding of minimal harm as a platform to push for sweeping changes in our child sexual abuse is viewed and responded to by professionals.
The Leadership Council believes that properly conducted research that asks important questions about the human condition should be supported, even if the findings challenge core beliefs. However, the integrity of psychological discipline is threatened when science is misused to promote a sociopolitical agenda. A careful reading of Rind et al.'s paper makes it clear that basic scientific principles were often not followed and empirical data to support the paper's main conclusions were frequently lacking. In short, while we strongly support scientific freedom, we do not believe that this study should be its poster-child.
Decide for yourself
We encourage anyone who is interested to examine our critique of Rind et al.'s meta-analysis and to review the original studies included in Rind et al's data set. You will then be in a better position to decide for yourself the scientific merit of their work.
To get a reprint of our study, contact us. Ask for Dallam et al 2001. Provide an email address for an electronic copy, or postal address for a reprint.
Fishman, J. (1991). Prevalence, impact, and meaning attribution of childhood sexual experiences of undergraduate males (Doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts, 1990). Dissertation Abstracts International, 52 , 114.
Graupner, H. (1999). Love versus abuse: Crossgenerational sexual relations of minors: A gay rights issue? Journal of Homosexuality, 37 (4), 23-56. [Abstract ]
Riegel, D. (2000) Understanding loved boys and boy lovers. Philadelphia PA : SafeHaven Foundation Press.
Abstract: Many lay persons and professionals believe that child sexual abuse (CSA) causes intense harm, regardless of gender, pervasively in the general population. The authors examined this belief by reviewing 59 studies based on college samples. Meta-analyses revealed that students with CSA were, on average, slightly less well adjusted than controls. However, this poorer adjustment could not be attributed to CSA because family environment (FE) was consistently confounded with CSA, FE explained considerably more adjustment variance than CSA, and CSA-adjustment relations generally became nonsignificant when studies controlled for FE. Self-reported reactions to and effects from CSA indicated that negative effects were neither pervasive nor typically intense, and that men reacted much less negatively than women. The college data were completely consistent with data from national samples. Basic beliefs about CSA in the general population were not supported.
Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (1998, November). Prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Research in Brief . Washington , D.C. : National Institute of Justice. (Available: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/172837.htm)
The Leadership Council is a nonprofit organization composed of national leaders in psychology, medicine, law, and journalism who are committed to promoting the ethical application of psychological science to public welfare.