10 de novembro de 2017

“A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples”, by Rind, Bauserman and Tromovitch.

“A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples” was written by Bruce Rind, Robert Bauserman and Phillip Tromovitch. Below are some statements made in that text. They may or may not reflect my opinion on this subject. Questions about my personal opinion can be asked in the comments.

  1. The allegation that intimate relationships in childhood and adolescence always cause intense harm despite the minor’s gender do not find empirical base.
  2. Media gives the sensation that relationships involving minors are always harmful, no matter if it’s an adult-child relationship or a child-child relationship.
  3. Many researchers agree with that media’s view on things, saying that majority, or even all, of the relationships involving minors are harmful.
  4. Some researchers go as far as saying that all mental health problems that appear in adulthood are consequence of child sexual abuse.
  5. But is it true? People’s imagination dictates that all relationships with minors, be child-child or adult-child, are intensely harmful all times they occur, no matter the “victim’s” gender (if boy or girl). The purpose of the report made by the authors is to verify if that belief is correct.
  6. We have the habit of saying that all relationships involving minors are “child sexual abuse”, that all those minors are “victims”, that all those adults are “perpetrators”, but the use of those terms in scientific literature is problematic, because there are adult-child relationships that aren’t negative. In those cases, there’s no victim and, if there’s no victim, there’s no abuse. Thus, there’s no scientific reason to label all those relationships as abusive. Plus, the use of negatively-charged terms harm the neutral appraisal of those events.
  7. The attack on social values doesn’t necessarely constitutes abuse. Masturbation and homosexuality were once considered socially wrong (with masturbation being even regarded as “self-abuse”) and, however, neither practice causes damage, nor can you say that they are abuse most of the times. That way, there’s no causality between attacking social values and harm to the involved parties.
  8. An immoral act isn’t necessarely harmful.
  9. It’s different when a father forcefully penetrates his five-year-old daughter and a thirteen-year-old teen who kisses his fifteen-year-old girlfriend on the lips. Does it make sense to punish the second case? Can we really say that the second case constitutes “rape”?
  10. When science labels as “abuse” all adult-child intimacy, whenever it happens, even when there’s no damage, even when the minor claims that the act was beneficial, it reveals that science is working with moral or legal concepts. But science, if it tries to be neutral, can not give moral judgement. Let the data speak; the reader will say if it’s abuse or not.
  11. Before, all “immoral” sexual acts were considered abusive, but, today, relationships with minors (adult-child, for example) are the last frontier of traditional sex morals. It’s one of the very few sexual acts that are still labelled as “always abusive”.
  12. Even if there are researchers who say that intimate child-child or adult-child relationships are always harmful, there are also researchers who disagree. So, scientific literature isn’t agreeing in this point.
  13. The problem with some research is the lack of variable control. For example: an eight-year-old boy who has some exploratory sexual games with his brother who is ten years older, but this same boy receives daily beltings from his father. He then grows up psychologically disadjusted. Some researches would wholeheartedly ignore the father’s acts and accuse the brother of being the cause of disadjustment, for having sexually abused the minor, even if the boy claims that those games were harmless.
  14. Intimate adult-child or child-child relationships, even if the child is prepubescent, aren’t necessarely negative and not always result in harm.
  15. Some researchers reason that the result, if negative or positive, is more influenced by extra-sexual factors. It’s not the act per itself, but the conditions surrounding it (for example, if the act was forced by a stranger or violent, if the parents found out and made big deal out of it, and others).
  16. And for other researchers, the damage caused to minors is overestimated because researchers, by interviewing people who are already in treatment for consequences, try to guess how many minors are harmed. It’s like going to a hospital to gauge the percentage of ill people. Of course you would get a number close to 100%. So, clinical individuals aren’t a reliable demographic to study the impact of adult-child or child-child intimacy in the general population.
  17. For disagreeing researchers, the fact that there are people who had intimate relationships in childhood or adolescence, but say that the experience wasn’t bad nor harmful, only indicates that the symptoms had no time to appear. Before 2009, in Brazil, relationships with people under age of fourteen would only be criminal if the minor didn’t approve the act, if the minor’s parents didn’t approve the act or if the act ended in damage to the minor. A relationship which met the safety and approval criteria wouldn’t even be consiered “pedophilia”. I doubt that there’s a single man of my age in Northeast who didn’t “fool around” with their very father. Are we all waiting for symptoms to occur?
  18. Those researchers use those samples for generalizations, despite clinical and legal samples not being fit to be used for generalizations outside of clinical and legal spheres, that is, they can not be used as representative of the whole population.
  19. People who had intimate relationships in childhood or adolescence, but didn’t report, nor sought treatment, did neither thing because they didn’t feel the negative effect. So, there’s a population os “victims” who didn’t suffer with the “abuse”. It’s hard to call it abuse that way. Think about it: at what age did you lose your virginity and how was your partner? Are those relationships that uncommon?
  20. When it comes to gender equivalence, there are researchers who say that relationships in childhood and adolescence cause equivalent effect in boys and girls, but there are also researchers who say that boys respond better. It’s important to remember that “sexual relationships” here doesn’t include only sex in strict sense (phallic penetration to mouth, anus or vagina). Of course, penetrating a child causes pain, disgust and trauma most of the times. So, if we were discussing only sex in strict sense, it would be impossible to conclude that there are children who do not suffer with those relationships. The researchers are also including in that group of sexual relationships the “libidinous acts” (kisses on the lips, intimate fondling, genital tickling, mutual nudity and other non-penetrative acts).
  21. The authors of the study found out that, in the college population and the national population, men who had sexual experiences in childhood, yes, react way better to them than women do.
  22. Other researchers, however, conclude that the apparent fact that boys react better is a myth.
  23. There’s another problem with some studies: the researcher tends to pay more attention to negative experiences, despite positives. They exclude, diminish or abstract the positives, making them look meaningless.
  24. Traumatic events are a statistical minority in the population of individuals who had relationships in childhood or adolescence. For the reason why only negative relationships appear in media, see MAP Starting Guide.
  25. Even traumatic events may be a comorbity: besides having intimate relationships, the child was also neglected by parents and abused in a non-sexual manner. Is the “molestation” the only thing to blame for the trauma?
  26. Several children who had trauma not only had intimate relationships, forced or not, but also suffered bullying, emotional pressure, neglect, among other things, in a way the trauma could very well be a combination of factors, with the relationships, specially if not forced, nor painful, having a minor role.
  27. Many researches are in agreement that it’s not the intimate relationship that causes the damage, but “third variables”, such as degree of willingness, degree of pain and family dynamics.
  28. Those who research child sexual abuse must take non-sexual aspects in consideration while considering judgement.
  29. Even non-traumatic, but still negative, events are minority.
  30. If you are recruiting people who had relationships in childhood or adolescence, don’t make an ad asking if there are “molested” people around, because, that way, people who had positive experiences and don’t feel victimized won’t attend to the study, harming neutrality. After all, people who had positive experiences, such as myself, do not feel “molested”.
  31. Not only the damage of those relationships is not frequent, but is also rarely intense.
  32. How can some researchers say that adult-child intimacy has equal impact in boys and girls… if they aren’t willing to include more boys in the samples?
  33. Studies done before the nineties have subjectivity, imprecision and sampling problems, which leads them to contradict each other.
  34. To solve that problem once and for all, the study authors conducted a meta-analysis using neutral samples: college students. In the college population, there must be a good number of individuals of both genders who may or may not have liked the experience, thus, who may or may not have disclosed or sought treatment.
  35. To be fair, the authors did that meta-analysis by means of literature review. They took studies that were already available and did the math, rather than doing direct interviews. However, their results are validated by other studies done with better methods, one of them, by the way, conducted in Campinas, Brazil.
  36. On United States, half of the population is exposed to college in some way. So, the college population is perfect for that kind of study, in terms of generalization.
  37. Strangely, studies about child sexual abuse using college samples are rare… Why?
  38. This study will only use college samples.
  39. Before anyone becoming “irritated”, this study doesn’t take only forced acts into account. If it did, it wouldn’t conclude the way it concluded. It takes in account “degrees of freedom” and the presence of elements such as penetration and force. Thus, not all cases analyzed in the college population involve violence or coercion, but they also include sexual acts in which the minors engaged willingly.
  40. The study also looks for somatic problems, such as sleep disturbances or gastrointestinal problems, which could be linked to the experience of childhood intimacy.
  41. What’s child sexual abuse? Depending on your doctrine bias, it can be any intimate contact between adult and child, regardless of absence of damage and the kid’s willingness to participate, or it can be only unwanted experiences, since the “abuse” label should only be assigned to cases in which harm is done.
  42. What’s a “child”? For most of the studies revised by the authors, “child” is anyone below age sixteen. For Brazilian law, “child” is anyone under age twelve. However, more than half of the revised studies also claim that situations involving two minors are also abuse, as long as the age gap between them is five years or more (example: thirteen-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl, or twelve-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy).
  43. If we take in consideration all possible definitions of abuse, the amount of cases that can be included in all those definitions is very small.
  44. The cases analyzed by the authors vary in intensity. A simple invitation to do something intimate would already count as abuse. The scale would be: invitation, exhibitionism, fondling, masturbation, oral sex, attempted intercourse and completed intercourse. Putting things that way, one can see how the study can conclude that many cases of abuse end in no damage, because everything under masturbation generally cause no pain or suffering, unless the subject is forced into it.
  45. Damage varies according to intimacy of the act and degree of closeness between the two. An intimate fondling done by someone who’s trusted probably causes no harm, while penetration done by a complete stranger may cause a trauma.
  46. About half of the people who had intimate relationships in childhood or adolescence repeat the experience before adulthood.
  47. Use of force in adult-child relationships or in child-child relationships doesn’t occur even in half of the cases. More than half of the times, the minor isn’t forced.
  48. If a relationship ends up causing harm (by force or penetration, for example), the degree of disadjustment caused by the act per itself is small. The violence associated with the act causes most of the damage.
  49. It’s important to remember that this data refers to general population, not to those who sought help for sexual abuse consequences (who are a minority of the population and whose experiences can not be generalized).
  50. The authors verified the study subjects looking for any of the following symptoms: alcoolism, anxiety, depression, dissociation, eating disorder, hostility, interpersonal problems, sensation of not being in control of their own life, obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoia, phobia, psychopathy, low self-esteem, sexual disadjustment, social disadjustment, somatization, suicidal tendency.
  51. Two factors that contribute for disadjust are force deployed (rape) and the fact of the victim being a girl (penetration, probably). So, boys tend to suffer less or even not suffer at all in sexual experiences in childhood or adolescence, as long as there’s no force deployed.
  52. The number of forced relationships with minors is small, compared to the number of consented relationships, be it with adults or other minors.
  53. Truthfully, what causes harm to the minor is the violence in the relationship, not the relationship per itself. Eliminating the violent element, there’s no victim. If you are a boy, however.
  54. Boys don’t differ from control group if there was no violence in the relationship they had. But girls, strangely, manifest problems even in consented relationships.
  55. Unwanted intimacy is always harmful.
  56. The chance of harm is higher is there’s penetration. Even more if the act is repeated or if it’s long-lasting. Even more if forced and done by an authority figure, such as the father.
  57. Out of the samples studied, 72% of the girls and 33% of the boys agree that the sexual experiences they had in childhood or adolescence were “negative”. However, 37% of the boys and 11% of the girls agreed that their experiences were “positive”. From that information, we draw that sexual encounters in childhood or adolescence aren’t always negative, which means that it’s not the relationship per itself that causes the damage, but elements that are associated. Plus, that shows that boys react much better.
  58. One of the studies reviewed by the authors made the interviewees classify their sexual experiences in childhood and adolescence in a scale that went from 1 (very positive) to 7 (very negative), in a way that a lower number indicated a better experience. The mean rating for boys was 3.38, while the mean rating for girls was 5.83. So, yes: boys tend to react much better to intimacy with adults or other minors during their childhood and adolescence. That also shows that intimacy before age 18 doesn’t necessarely result in harm.
  59. On one hand, the experience might have felt good when it happened, but how those children see the act after they grow up? 59% of 514 women see those experiences as negative, even if they felt positive at the time they happened, but only 26% of men (118 samples) have the same sensation. On the other hand, 42% of men see those experiences as positive even after reaching adulthood, while 16% of women keep positioning themselves positively towards the positive experiences even after maturing.
  60. It’s very unlikely that relationships before age of consent could harm sexual performance in adult life.
  61. Those who were harmed by the act get over that in some time. That means that permanent damage is also uncommon. That’s equivalent to saying that, when there’s harm, the harm is not typically intense. Traumatic sexual experiences are a very small minority.
  62. After all that was seen, it’s clear that child-child and adult-child intimacy doesn’t cause harm in a lot of times that it occurs. So, therapists who work with minors who had sexual play or relationships shouldn’t assume that those experiences were negative and must ask the minor how do they feel about them. The psychologist mustn’t treat a problem that doesn’t exist. Analogically, parents shouldn’t take their child’s romance as an automatic bad sign.
  63. But one thing is still unclear: if there’s positive and negative relationships, what causes the damage? Of course, factors such as penetration, pain and coercion influence the result negatively, in a way that the sexual experience without those elements may very well be harmless. But how can one explain the disadjustment in people who only report positive experiences?
  64. It seems that the answer resides in family. Besides the minor’s sexual experience, which was positive, family problems unrelated to their sexuality could have caused the disadjustment. So, disadjustment in people with positive experiences can be explained by other factors, such as neglect (letting the child starve or ignoring their cry) and nonsexual abuse (spanking, belting).
  65. That way, if a person had positive sexual experiences in childhood or adolescence, but still shows some sort of psychological problem, it makes more sense to attribute their problem to other factors, rather than the sexual experience.
  66. Some adults were asked if their emotional problems have those relationships they had as minors or current family problems as source. Many report that the relationships no longer affect them, but the family continues bad.
  67. The authors conclude that, in the college population, around 14% of men and 27% of women had sexual intimacy in childhood or adolescence. However, if any of them had any psychological problem, it rarely had roots in that intimacy.
  68. Thus, traumatic involvements are a statistical minority.

  69. So, the affirmation that sexual experiences in childhood or adolescence, specially if not painful or forced, are always harmful is prejudice. They can be harmful, but, statistically, they usually are not and, when they are, the damage is usually small. Trauma caused by sexual experiences are rare.
  70. One third of studied men report that experience was negative, but two thirds say it was not (that is, it could have been positive or neutral). With women, it’s the opposite. However, when damage occurs, it’s normally overcomed.
  71. On the other hand, three in every eight men who had intimate experiences in childhood or adolescence report that the experience was positive. With women, the number is one in ten.
  72. The reason for that is cultural: boys see sexual experiences like an “adventure” or a way to satisfy natural curiosity, but girls, because of social standards built around the female gender, tend to see those experiences as immoral. That’s specially bad if penetration occurs.
  73. Minors can feel pleasure.
  74. Girls tend to feel shame over those encounters, but boys see them as a proof of maturity, specially if interacting with the opposite gender, specially if the woman is older. When the experience isn’t positive, the boy is usually indifferent.
  75. Another reason for the boy to respond better to those encounters is that his body needs less stimulation to feel pleasure. They get involved with the act quicker. It seems that the male gender is more active.
  76. The reactions to the act, when it’s not painful or violent, can easily be attributed to gender roles traditionally attributed to men and women. Men learn in adolescence that they must be manly, libidinous, dominant, in movement. Women are taught to be passive, chaste, sexually reticent. But the world is ridding itself of social roles based on gender.
  77. Why is the number of negative experiences with girls so high? Because, for some reason, they are a more common target of forced sexual experiences. So, it’s not the act per itself, but the pain and violence that causes the harm. Women who respond positively or indifferently didn’t experience nor pain, nor violence.
  78. If on one hand the reactions to sexual experiences were very different between boys and girls, on the other they are very alike, if we only take in consideration the experiences in which the minor was forced. Because the effects are almost the same when coercion is present.
  79. Many people who had sexual experiences in childhood or adolescence and have some sort of emotional disadjustment already had said disadjustment before the experience.
  80. Negative sexual experiences happen more commonly inside the family.
  81. Sometimes, it’s not the father having intimate relationships with children, but children between themselves. Siblings can force each other.
  82. Sexual experiences rarely affect family structure. Usually, it’s family structure that makes those experiences easier to happen. For example: a child who is sexually involved with an adult, hiding in plain sight from their parents, is, certainly, being neglected in other areas as well. Their parents do not care. That’s why the child grows disadjusted, even if the relationship is positive: a relationship like that, in the current society, is a sign of parental negligence.
  83. If your child is going bad at school, there’s a good chance that he is being physically, emotionally or verbally abused, rather sexually abused.
  84. Verbal abuse is more harmful than intimate relationships in childhood or adolescence, according to the study. That’s because verbal abuse is more common and is always violent, while sexual experiences aren’t so common and can be willingly engaged in.
  85. If the relationship happens within family, the chance of harm is higher. It wasn’t my case.
  86. Many times, everything goes well… until someone finds out.
  87. Child-child and adult-child relationships were usually analyzed from a legal and moral bias, rather than empirically.
  88. If there’s no harm, it’s not abuse, from a scientific point of view. So science should not label harmless relationships as abusive. To deserve the “abuse” label, there must be damage somewhere.
  89. Label everything as “abuse” induces the researcher and the reader to presume that the act was negative, even if it was not.
  90. On 18th century, masturbation was immoral. On 19th century, homossexuality was immoral. On 20th century, relationships involving minors are immoral. In this century, maybe people will no longer see them as immoral. I’m sure that it was this clue that sent the conservative Christian right into overdrive.
  91. Treating masturbation like an illness spanwed treatments that caused more harm than benefit, as they treated a problem that was not there. Treating relationships with minors as “sick” makes up for the same effect, if there’s no harm in those relationships. Of course some minors may suffer with the act. But if the minor didn’t suffer, doesn’t need treatment.
  92. Some of our medical definitions have bounds with the laws, which in turn have bounds with customs and, of course, religion.
  93. Masturbation, promisuicity, oral sex and homossexuality were all behaviors once taken for “sick”. Now they are treating child sexuality as sick.
  94. A socially unnacceptable act isn’t necessarely sick.
  95. “For these male college students, 37% viewed their CSA experiences as positive at the time they occurred; 42% viewed these experiences as positive when reflecting back on them; and in the two studies that inquired about positive self-perceived effects, 24% to 37% viewed their CSA experiences as having a positive influence on their current sex lives. Importantly, SA men across all levels of consent (i.e., both willing and unwanted experiences) did not differ from controls in current psychological adjustment, although SA men with unwanted experiences only did, implying that willingness was associated with no impairment to psychological adjustment.” How can “abuse” bring benefit?
  96. If the act isn’t forced, the chance of harm is way smaller. Negative sexual experiences in childhood and adolescence, even if the partners were adults, are statistical minority.
  97. To tell a child “you have been abused” when they don’t feel abused will simply make them ignore you. The experience remains the same. If you try to force the abuse idea through the child, the abuser is you.
  98. Many minors who had those relationships refuse to be called “victims”.
  99. It’s the minor who should judge the experience.
  100. According to the authors, if a minor willingly participated in an act and the act resulted in benefit, the correct term to be employed is “child-child sex” or “adult-child sex”, saving the term “child sexual abuse” for forced or negative experiences. I, however, think that the term “sex” should be replaced with “intimacy”, because “sex” delivers the idea of penetration, which doesn’t always occur.

  101. Another problem is that the current definitions treat children and adolescents as having equal maturity. A five-year-old child is different from a fifteen-year-old adolescent.
  102. Relationships between adult and adolescent are more common and were socially accepted in the past.
  103. There’s no need to presume violence in relationships with minors below age of consent. But that doesn’t imply that the researchers want a change in the laws.
  104. Cases of sexual experiences which occur outside of family before legal age can affect the family if found out, because of judicial intervention. However, the number of minors who tell the secret represents less than ¼ of the cases. Which means that ¾ of the cases are never found out.

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