The Rind et al. controversy was a unique historical debate in scientific literature, public media, and the US government, regarding a 1998 peer reviewed paper on child sexual abuse (CSA) that conducted a meta-analysis of several samples of college students. The paper was written by researchers Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch and Robert Bauserman, following a related 1997 meta-analysis by Rind and Tromovitch in the Journal of Sex Research. The debate resulted in the unprecedented condemnation of the paper by the United States House of Representatives and concern in the social science research community over the chilling effect the resolution may have on publication of controversial research results.
The authors' stated goal was "...to address the question: In the population of persons with a history of CSA [child sexual abuse], does this experience cause intense psychological harm on a widespread basis for both genders?" Some of the authors' more controversial conclusions were that child sexual abuse does not necessarily cause intense, pervasive harm to the child; that the reason the current view of child sexual abuse was not substantiated by their empirical scrutiny was because the construct of CSA was questionably valid; and that the psychological damage caused by the abusive encounters depends on whether the encounter was consensual or not.
Rind et al. concluded with a statement that even though CSA may not result in harm, this does not mean it is not wrong or morally repugnant behavior and denied that their findings implied current moral and legal prohibitions against CSA should be changed. Numerous age of consent reform organizations have quoted the paper in support of their efforts to lower or rescind age of consent laws, and defense attorneys have used the study to argue for minimizing harm in child sexual abuse cases.
The paper was first published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in July, 1998, in the widely-respected Psychological Bulletin, to little reaction. The first substantial and public reaction was a December criticism by the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization dedicated to the view that homosexuality is a mental illness that can be cured by psychotherapy. In March 1999 talk show host Laura Schlessinger criticized the study as "junk science" and stated that since its conclusions were contrary to conventional wisdom, its findings should never have been released, and she questioned the motives of the authors, asserting the purpose of the study was to allow the homosexual rape of children. Shortly thereafter, the North American Man/Boy Love Association posted an approving review of the study on their website, furthering the impression that the piece was an endorsement of pedophilia.
In response, the APA declared in a press statement that child sexual abuse is harmful and wrong, and that the study was in no way an endorsement of pedophilia. In an internal APA email, President of the APA Raymond D. Fowler stated that due to the controversy the article's methodology, analysis and process by which it had been approved for publication was reviewed and found to be sound. In June 1999, Fowler announced in an open letter to Congress Representative Tom DeLay that there would be an independent review of the paper and stated that from a public policy perspective, some language used in the article is inflammatory and inconsistent with the position of the APA's stance on CSA. The APA also implemented a series of actions designed to prevent the study from ever being used in legal circumstances to defend pedophilia and stated an independent review would be undertaken of the scientific accuracy and validity of the report.
In the following month the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution declaring sexual relations between children and adults are abusive and harmful, and condemned the study on the basis that it was being used by pro-pedophilia activists and organizations to promote and justify child sexual abuse. The resolution was passed unanimously in the Senate and was greeted among psychologists with concern due to the perceived chilling effect it may have among researchers. In September 1999 the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), upon a request by the APA to independently review the article, stating it saw no reason to second-guess the peer review process that approved it initially and that given the materials available it saw no evidence of improper methodology or questionable practices by the authors. The AAAS also expressed concern that the materials reviewed demonstrated a grave lack of understanding of the study on the part of the media and politicians and were also concerned about the misrepresentation of its findings. The AAAS stated that the responsibility for discovering problems with the article lay in the initial reviewers, and declined to evaluate the article and concluded with a statement that the decision not to review the article was neither an endorsement, nor a criticism of it.
In August 2000 the APA drafted and adopted a position statement in response to the Rind et al. controversy which opposed any efforts to censor controversial or surprising research findings and asserting researchers must be free to investigate and report findings so long as the research has been conducted within appropriate ethical and research standards.
Criticism and response
A series of 2001 papers published in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse discussed and criticized the findings of Rind et al. Stephanie Dallam stated that after reviewing the evidence the paper was best described as "an advocacy article that inappropriately uses science in an attempt to legitimatize its findings." Four other researchers also discussed flaws in the methodology and generalizability of Rind's findings, and concluded the paper's results were scientifically invalid. The criticisms were co-published in the 2001 book Misinformation concerning child sexual abuse and adult survivors.
Sample bias accusation
Dallam et al. note that, by restricting their analysis to convenience samples of college students, Rind et al. introduced a systematic bias in favor of their conclusion by excluding victims so traumatized that they did not go on to attend college. In addition, Duncan (2000) found that child sexual abuse survivors were far more likely than non-abused individuals to drop out of college, especially after only one semester.
Rind, Bauserman, and Tromovitch have responded to this criticism by emphasizing that "the representativeness of college samples is in fact irrelevant to the stated goals and conclusions of our study" since the purpose of their research was "to examine the validity of the clinical concept" of CSA. According to the commonly understood definition of the term, child sexual abuse is extremely and pervasively harmful, meaning that "in any population sampled - drug addicts, psychiatric patients, or college students - persons who have experienced CSA should show strong evidence of the assumed properties of CSA." The authors of the study note that because the college sample did not show pervasive harm, "the broad and unqualified claims about the properties of CSA are contradicted."
Non-standardization of variables
Dallam et al. asserted that Rind et al. did not standardize their definition of child sexual abuse, leaving out certain studies that were appropriate, and including studies that were inappropriate. That is, they allege that Rind et al. uncritically combined data from studies of CSA with data from studies looking at other phenomena such as consensual peer experiences, sexual experiences that occurred during adulthood, and homosexual approaches during adolescence.
Rind, et al. have also responded to this criticism, asserting the appropriateness of including all five of the studies (Landis, 1956; Shultz and Jones, 1983; Sedney and Brooks, 1984; Grenwald, 1994; and Sarbo, 1985) specifically identified by Dallam as inappropriate to a study about child sexual abuse.
Dallam claims that the first three studies focused on all types of child sexual activity, not just child sexual abuse. Rind et al. reject this claim. In regard to the Landis study, Rind et al. note that it has been used by many other sex researchers (e.g., Finkelhor, Fishman, Fromuth & Burkhart, Sarbo, and others) as an example of an early study about child sexual abuse. In regard to the Shultz and Jones study, Rind et al. concede that the study "looked at all types of 'sexual acts' before age 12," but explained that the respondents in the study were all asked "if their experience was with a person over the age of 16," thus allowing Rind et al. to include only the relationships that were age-discrepant. In regard to the Sedney and Brooks study, Rind et al. admit that the study used a broad definition of child sexual abuse, but explain that the researchers themselves chose to use such a definition "because of the difficulty posed by a priori decisions about what type of sexual experiences are 'problems.'"
The last two studies, according to Dallam, were inappropriate because they included respondents who were over the age of 17.
Dallam et al. also contend that Rind et al. miscoded or misreported significant amounts of the underlying study data, thereby skewing the results. Dallam et al. contend that Rind et al. incorrectly used "Pearson's r" instead of "Cohen's d" to calculate the effect size, which resulted in a failure to correct for base-rate differences of CSA in male and female samples, and which led to the finding that males were less harmed by CSA. After correcting for base-rate attenuation, Dallam et al. claimed to have arrived at identical effect sizes for male and female samples.
In responding to this criticism, Rind et al. report that they did indeed describe the contrast between the effect size estimates as "nonsignificant, z = 1.42, p > .10, two-tailed." However, they continue, "What [they] did report as significantly different was the contrast between male and female effect size estimates for the all-types-of-consent groups, where rus = .04 and .11, respectively. In "follow[ing] Dallam et al. (2001) [by] apply[ing] Becker's correction formula to these values, they become rcs = .06 and .12 for men and women, respectively. The contrast is still statistically significant (z = 2.68, p < .01. two-tailed), contrary to Dallam et al.'s (2001) claim."
Rind et al. claim that their own "handling of Pearson's r in the face of base-rate differences was methodologically proper and produced no important bias, if any at all." Furthermore, they contend that Dallam's criticisms "exhibited bias ... [by] selectively ignoring key clarifying quotes ... and citing them elsewhere in their critique to argue different points, and [by] ignoring or overlooking a key caveat by Becker (1986) regarding appropriate use of his correction formula."
Rind et al.'s model of "assumed properties of child sexual abuse," (that is, of universal and pervasive harm in all victims of CSA) has been criticized as a straw man assertion in that it is both simplistic and misleading. The reactions of victims in their adult lives have been found to be extremely varied, ranging from severe to nearly unnoticeable, and many pathologies are not diagnosable in the strictly clinical sense Rind uses. Victims often have a flawed or distorted appraisal of their abuse, and fail to connect distressing and sometimes debilitating pathologies with their experiences. Further, these studies make no accounting for emotional support of the victim's family, clinical treatment of the victim prior to the study, or personal resiliency, which can easily account for less severe outcomes.
Assertions of bias
Rind, Bauserman and Tromovitch stated that research findings can be skewed by an investigator’s personal biases, and in Rind et al. claimed that "[r]eviewers who are convinced that CSA is a major cause of adult psychopathology may fall prey to confirmation bias by noting and describing study findings indicating harmful effects but ignoring or paying less attention to findings indicating nonnegative outcomes". They defended their deliberate choice of non-legal and non-clinical samples, accordingly avoiding individuals who received psychological treatment or were engaged in legal proceedings as a way of correcting this bias through the use of a sample of college students.
Stephanie Dallam and Anne Salter have pointed out that Rind and Bauserman have had associations with age of consent reform organizations. In the years before the paper was written, both Rind and Bauserman had published articles in Paidika, a defunct non-scholarly journal whose purpose was "to demonstrate that paedophilia has been, and remains, a legitimate and productive part of the totality of human experience." In addition, shortly after the paper's publication, Rind and Bauserman were keynote speakers at pedophile advocacy conference occurring in the Netherlands.
Usage outside of scholarly discussions
Despite the author's comments that the paper should not be used to change moral or legal prohibitions on sex with children, it caught attention and was used by advocates for pedophilia. The paper was posted on numerous of advocacy websites such as International Pedophile and Child Emancipation (IPCE), the Male Homosexual Attraction to Minors information center (MHAMIC) and North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), and has been used to argue that the age of consent should be lowered or abolished.
It has also been used in several court cases by child sexual offenders as a defense. In State of Arizona v. Steward (1999), a man convicted of molesting 5 different children attempted to use the study to achieve leniency in his sentence by arguing the children were not harmed. In another case, a defense expert argued that the victims of a Catholic priest were not harmed, citing Rind's study.
Subsequent research and legacy
Numerous studies and work in the field of psychology from long both before and after Rind et al.'s publication have supported the stance that children cannot consent to sexual activity and are harmed by it. The study continues to be trumpeted by various pro-pedophilia groups and individuals, but its usage in legal action to defend such individuals has gradually waned since its congressional condemnation.
In the behavioral sciences, modern works may make passing reference to the study, but largely ignore its conclusions. There has been greater emphasis in subsequent work on the range of responses that are possible from victims. For example, a few studies make reference to the paper's findings about "consensual" encounters, but approach it from the opposite direction (i.e. that the use of force causes more intense negative outcomes).
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- Co-published as a book chapter in Dallam SJ (2001). "Science or Propaganda? An Examination of Rind, Tromovitch and Bauserman". In Whitfield CL; Silberg JL; Fink PJ. Misinformation concerning child sexual abuse and adult survivors. Routledge. pp. 109–134. ISBN 0789019019. http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=CZmPet1s07AC&oi=fnd&pg=PA109.
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