The Scientific Study Condemned by Congress
On July 30th, 1999, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution 107 by a vote of 355 to zero. The vote was staggering, but not for its bipartisan appeal in an era of hyperpartisanship. It was staggering because it was the first and only time that a scientific study was condemned by an act of Congress.
"Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress... condemns and denounces all suggestions in the article 'A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples'' that indicate that sexual relationships between adults and 'willing' children are less harmful than believed and might be positive for 'willing' children..."
With wording like that, it's plain to see why the resolution passed as it did. A vote against would be seen as a vote for pedophilia! Understandably, no politician would ever want that on their voting record.
Representative Brian Baird was one of the few representatives who opposed the resolution, electing to do so by voting "present." As a licensed clinical psychologist and the former chairman of the Department of Psychology at Pacific Lutheran University, Baird knew that the study had been blatantly mischaracterized. But one didn't need a doctorate in clinical psychology (like Baird) to recognize that, one simply needed to read the study.
Any politician who bothered to do so would have realized that the paper did not endorse pedophilia at all. In her recent book, Galileo's Middle Finger, historian of science Alice Dreger described the paper and its findings:
"Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman performed a meta-analysis of studies of childhood sexual abuse... They took a series of existing studies on college students who as children had been targets of sexual advances by adults and looked to see what patterns they could find."
The authors uncovered a plethora of patterns, but none more controversial than the fact that childhood sexual abuse did not always inflict lasting harm upon the victim. The degree of harm seemed to depend on a variety of factors. Two of the most notable included forced abuse and incest. As Dreger recounted:
"Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman were saying something very politically incorrect: some people grow up to be psychologically pretty healthy even after having been childhood sexual abuse victims. In fact, Rind and company... [suggested] that the term childhood sexual abuse seemed to imply that child-adult sex always led to great and lasting harm, whereas the data seemed to show it did not in a surprising proportion of cases."
Aware that their findings would be controversial, the authors concluded their study by saying that they in no way advocate pedophilia.
"The findings of the current review do not imply that moral or legal definitions of or views on behaviors currently classified as childhood sexual abuse 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."
Their erudite invocation of nuance did not work. The North American Man/Boy Love Association quickly praised the paper, which, in turn, prompted righteous condemnation from religious, conservative, and family groups. Conservative radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger even went so far as to assert "the point of the article is to allow men to rape male children." (It wasn't.) Representative Joseph Pitts claimed that "the authors write that pedophilia is fine... as long as it is enjoyed." (They wrote no such thing.)
With the fires of controversy blazing and ideological battle lines drawn, the paper soon landed on the desks of Republican congressmen Tom Delay and Matt Salmon, who swiftly moved to score political points. Salmon drafted the aforementioned resolution condemning the study and Delay pushed it through the House.
Laypersons and politicians weren't the only people to criticize the study, other scientists did, too, particularly questioning the methodology and the matter in which the findings were reported. However, the American Association for the Advancement of Science commented that the paper did not demonstrate questionable methodology or author impropriety.
To anyone even remotely connected to the scientific enterprise, the "Rind et. al. controversy" (as it is called) offers a chance not only for ample face-palming but also for reflection. Science sometimes questions common sense and does not adhere to political correctness. It deals only in what is true and what isn't. All that's up to us is to decide whether to accept that truth and try to understand it... or deny it.
As Dreger noted in her book, the truth presented Rind's study is not as alarming as it was caricatured more than fifteen years ago.
"It seemed to me that the Rind paper contained a bit of good news for survivors, namely that psychological devastation need not always be a lifelong sequela to having been sexually used as a child by an adult in search of his own gratification."
"But simple stories of good and evil sell better," she added.
Primary Source: Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar's Search for Justice, by Alice Dreger. 2015. Penguin Books.
(Image: Public Domain)