SK-L: Child Sexual Abuse Article (fwd)

Leslie Schentag (
Thu, 25 Mar 1999 17:06:35 -0800 (PST)

  Leslie Schentag
  Gremlin Research Consultants
  Web Site:


  "When Freedom Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Free"
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1999 21:01:04 GMT-5
From: "Joe F. Walenciak" <>
Subject: SK-L: Child Sexual Abuse Article

Streetkid-L: Promoting awareness of the plight of street children
and other children at risk worldwide. Your participation is welcome.

The following was just passed on to me.  Am I just strange, or are 
there some alarming statements here????!!

For the entire paper; please see the American Psychological
AssociationAEs Psychological Bulletin 1998, Vol.124, No.1, 22-53 

copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.

The following is the Summary and Conclusion 

Beliefs about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) in American culture center on
the viewpoint that CSA by nature is such a powerfully negative force
that (a) it is likely to cause harm, (b) most children or adolescents
who experience it will be affected, (c) this harm will typically be
severe or intense, and (d) CSA will have an equivalently negative
impact on both boys and girls. Despite this widespread belief, the
empirical evidence from college and national samples suggests a more
cautious opinion. Results of the present review do not support these
assumed properties; CSA does not cause intense harm on a pervasive
basis regardless of gender in the college population. The finding that
college samples closely parallel national samples with regard to
prevalence of CSA, types of experiences, self-perceived effects, and
CSA-symptom relations strengthens the conclusion that CSA is not a
propertied phenomenon and supports Constantine's (1981) conclusion
that CSA has no inbuilt or inevitable outcome or set of emotional

An important reason why the assumed properties of CSA failed to
withstand empirical scrutiny in the current review is that the
construct of CSA, as commonly conceptualized by researchers, is of
questionable scientific validity. Overinclusive definitions of abuse
that encompass both willing sexual experiences accompanied by positive
reactions and coerced sexual experiences with negative reactions
produce poor predictive validity. To achieve better scientific
validity, a more thoughtful approach is needed by researchers when
labeling and categorizing events that have heretofore been defined
sociolegally as CSA (Fishman, 1991; Kilpatrick, 1987; Okami, 1994;
Rind & Bauserman, 1993). 

One possible approach to a scientific definition, consistent with
findings in the current review and with suggestions offered by
Constantine (1981), is to focus on the young person's perception of
his or her willingness to participate and his or her reactions to the
experience. A willing encounter with positive reactions would be
labeled simply adult-child sex, a value-neutral term. If a young
person felt that he or she did not freely participate in the encounter
and if he or she experienced negative reactions to it, then child
sexual abuse, a term that implies harm to the individual, would be
valid. Moreover, the term child should be restricted to nonadolescent
children (Ames & Houston, 1990). Adolescents are different from
children in that they are more likely to have sexual interests, to
know whether they want a particular sexual encounter, and to resist an
encounter that they do not want. Furthermore, unlike adult-child sex,
adult-adolescent sex has been commonplace cross-culturally and
historically, often in socially sanctioned forms, and may fall within
the "normal" range of human sexual behaviors (Bullough, 1990;
Greenberg, 1988; Okami, 1994). A willing encounter between an
adolescent and an adult with positive reactions on the part of the
adolescent would then be labeled scientifically as adult-adolescent
sex, while an unwanted encounter with negative reactions would be
labeled adolescent sexual abuse. By drawing these distinctions,
researchers are likely to achieve a more scientifically valid
understanding of the nature, causes, and consequences of the
heterogeneous collection of behaviors heretofore labeled CSA. 

Finally, it is important to consider implications of the current
review for moral and legal positions on CSA. If it is true that
wrongfulness in sexual matters does not imply harmfulness (Money,
1979), then it is also true that lack of harmfulness does not imply
lack of wrongfulness. Moral codes of a society with respect to sexual
behavior need not be, and often have not been, based on considerations
of psychological harmfulness or health (cf. Finkelhor, 1984).
Similarly, legal codes may be, and have often been, unconnected to
such considerations (Kinsey et al., 1948). In this sense, the findings
of the current review do not imply that moral or legal definitions of
or views on behaviors currently classified as CSA should be abandoned
or even altered. The current findings are relevant to moral and legal
positions only to the extent that these positions are based on the
presumption of psychological harm. 

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