The other side of the coin - Study conference in Rotterdam

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By: M. de Jong & Dr Frans Gieles

The Other Side of the Coin; M. de Jong and Frans Gieles on a remarkable conference.

On December 18th 1998 a study conference took place in the Paulus Church in Rotterdam. One of the items was the presentation of the results of a scientific research. OK magazine asked two people to write about this conference. First, M. de Jong will tell something about the previous history. After that, Dr Frans Gieles will examine the presented research results. Lastly, M. de Jong will tell a little more about the conference. - The editors

Account of a conference, part I

By: M. de Jong

Halfway the seventies, the tide of the sexual revolution was turning. For a short while in the preceding decade it had seemed like there would be a liberal breakthrough in the field of sexuality that people wouldn't be able to reverse. Cautiously, pedophiles started to out themselves. This turned out to be a mistake, since they quickly attracted the attention of ultraconservative groups that were hostile towards sex. These groups applied a spearhead tactics by attacking the pedophile movement. Some attacks were very direct, like the publication of articles on 'public child auctions in Amsterdam', others were more subtle. Feminists for instance suddenly came with horror stories about victims of incest who had been abused so terribly that they had repressed these experiences for decades. Only under hypnosis could the victims recall what had happened, and it became clear that they had acquired 'multiple personalities' because of the trauma caused by sexual contact with an adult. Other sources spread accounts of 'ritual satanic abuse', which involved the raping and murdering of children and even babies during ritual sex orgies. Under the influence of these and other stories, certain scientific circles thought it time to examine the consequences of sex with children. The atmosphere taken into account, it's not so difficult to imagine that the results of these studies were fixed. In addition, most of the examined people were amongst these reported victims of incestuous abuse et cetera. Gradually, the notion spread that all sexual contacts between children and adults are inherently harmful. To date, and especially in the USA, this is the dogma according to which the subject is treated.

In the meantime, however, the theories behind this dogma, like the multiple personality syndrome and ritual satanic sexual abuse, have been completely invalidated. Today there's hardly a soul left who still believes in the widespread occurrence of these things. Yet the idea that even the mildest form of sexual contact between children and adults always results in mental damage on the part of the child, like there was magic involved, still hasn't weakened. That's to say up till now!

Going against the current and without state subsidy or any other kind of aid, two psychologists, Bruce Rind and Robert Bauserman, have reexamined all the available research material by carrying out a so-called meta-study in their own spare time. Their findings were stunning. It turned out that of all men who in their youth had a sexual experience with an adult a majority looks back on it positively and with them no traces of damage can be found. With women the findings were less favorable, but here too only a small minority suffered demonstrable damage. The researchers are by no means marginal and insignificant: in professional circles Rind and Bauserman are established and renowned for their meta-analytical publications. They did experience a lot of difficulty trying to get the findings of the study that cost them years published. Thanks to their reputation and the fact that their study seemed quite sound, they eventually managed to get it publis­hed in the leading scientific journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. After that there was silence. The news got across only to a very small group of experts; most of the media willingly ignored it. The researches did get the support of another renowned scientist, Philip Tromovitch. Follow-up studies carried out by the three men met with little response. Last year they were invited over to Holland to present their research.

The date was December 18th 1998. The conference 'De andere kant van de medaille', led by the well-known clergyman Hans Visser who is controversial for standing up for the rights of pedophiles, took place in the Paulus Church in Rotterdam With the help of other authors, Mr Visser wrote a book on the subject matter of the conference, also called 'De andere kant...'
The speakers included: Mr Visser, Dr Robert Bauserman (Michigan University), Philip Tromovich (Pennsylvania University), professor Gert Hekma (Homostudies, Amsterdam University), Dr Lex van Naerssen (Utrecht University), and Mr Donald Mader. There were a great number of visitors, many of whom had a professional interest in the subject, like sexologists and other social scientists. Some had even come all the way from France.

During the largest part of the morning Mr Bauserman and Mr Tromovich were busy explaining their very technical study with the help of slides (that not everybody understood equally well). Yet the professionally interested appeared to have grasped the explanations, because during the lunch break the author of this account heard one of the visitors sigh that she knew certain concepts were being treated incorrectly in her profession, but she had never expected the truth to be so completely different to what is assumed.

So which are those assumptions concerning sexual contacts between children and adults? Briefly summarized, they are the following: 1) these contacts are always harmful; 2) harm occurs frequently; 3) the damage is severe; 4) the damage is equally severe for boys and girls. It is also assumed that that which is known about the subject through the studying of people in therapy, in other words through clinical sample surveys, is applicable to the entire population.

Rind, Bauserman and Tromovich investigated whether such contacts are indeed responsible for the assumed severe psychological damage, and whether the damage is equally severe for boys and girls as well as clinical and non-clinical populations.

Their method to find answers was meta-research: the analysis of previous researches according to strict scientific (statistic) procedures. By using this method, they tried to prevent any prejudices and other influences that polluted these researches from affecting their own research.

The results of their research can at the very least be called interesting. Dr Frans Gieles has summarized the technical explanation Bauserman and Tromovich gave of their project, clarifying the applied scientific methods. - The editors

A closer study of sexual experiences of children - On the research by Bauserman, Rind and Tromovich

By: Dr Frans Gieles

'Child sexual abuse'
These words represent a widespread opinion: sexual experiences of children are always harmful, indeed, extremely harmful, for boys as well as for girls, and the harm is pervasive. This opinion is supposedly based on scientific research. And it's true that various publications reach this conclusion.

Research of research
Dr Robert Bauserman, Dr Bruce Rind and Philip Tromovich make up an American team that has subjected the previous researches to a critical examination. They took a closer look at all publications in the English language, reanalyzing the statistical analyses. In other words, they conducted a meta-analysis: an analysis of existent analyses.
The results were also presented in The Netherlands: at a conference taking place in the Paulus Church in Rotterdam on December 18th 1998. This conference wasn't covered by the Dutch press, so OK magazine will have to make up for that.
The lecture can be ordered from the MARTIJN Association, both in English and in Dutch, preferably through e-mail or on a diskette in the desired format [Edit address Martijn, not valid anymore]. The title is: All Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Based on Non-clinical Samples, by Bruce Rind, PhD, Robert Bauserman, PhD, & Philip Tromovich, PhD-cand., Rotterdam, December 18th 1998.

Nearly all of the researchers in this field use the term 'child sexual abuse' abbreviated CSA. This is not a neutral term. It contains a conclusion that taints the research. The term is so widespread that Bauserman also used it in his lecture in order not to complicate matters. I prefer a more objective term: child sexual experience. The term 'abuse' is usually defined very broadly, causing it to be used for various occurrences ranging from a father raping his infant daughter to experimental or affectionate behavior between teenagers. Another one-sided aspect of practically all of the researches is that they involved people who had come into conflict with the law and/or had sought assistance, often even psychiatric assistance. So these people had acknowledged problems in the first place.
The next step is the assumption that what caused the problems was the sexual experience. Not every researcher assumes this, though: some question such reasoning by pointing out that there are other factors that may have caused the problems, such as the family situation, the social situation, and other events that occurred during the process of growing up and maturing. Yet these remarks are often left out of the summa­ry. Also, general conclusions can't be drawn from such restricted sample surveys. Doing this is called a 'sample error'.
Bauserman and co. draw attention to the one-sided, subjective, and often emotional language in many reports. Researchers who only write about 'victims' and 'offenders' write themselves towards a conclusion, i.e. they confirm the judgment that was already there. Bauserman and co. also spotted inaccurate manage­ment of statistics, and inaccurate presentation of statistic results. A statistically determined connection can be strong or weak, and this ought to be stated in the research results. Moreover, a statistic connection is not the same as a causal connection (where it is determined that one factor or event has been the cause of another).

Broader approach
Bauserman's team opted for a different approach. They collected data about people who hadn't come in conflict with the law and hadn't sought assistance (hence the 'non-clinical samples' in the tide of the lecture); they looked for samples that represented the entire population. Also, the team looked for researches that consist of statistic analyses, rather than researches that are in fact only based on an argumentation and give examples. Instead of constructing their own research, they analyzed all the researches they could find and that were suitable, thus conducting a meta-analysis. While doing this they paid attention to the differences between boys and girls.

Effect size
If one examines the intelligence of people who live in America, and looks at the different races, one finds there's a statistic connection. The variation of intelligence (the extent to which people differ from each other in intelligence) seems to be explained by the factor (the influential source) 'race'. But if one also looks at the socio-economic situation, one finds that this factor has a much greater impact on the level of intelligence. There are statistic techniques to calculate in terms of percentage the influence of the factors 'race' and 'socio-economic situation' on the variation of intelligence. This is called the effect size.
The effect size of different factors was calculated by some researchers studying youthful sexual experience. Taking sample surveys of adults, they measured the degree of well-being and the degree of adjustment. They also asked a broad range of questions in order to measure possible factors that influenced these degrees. After that they could determine to what extent each factor was responsible for the variation of well-being and adjustment.
It turned out that child sexual experience for the non-clinical population was about 1.5% responsible for the variation of well-being and adjustment. Mark the percentage doesn't refer to the number of researched people, but to the effect size of the factor 'child sexual experience'. For clinical populations this percentage is about 5.5%. So there is a connection between child sexual experience and the degree of well-being later on in life, but from these figures one can't conclude that such experiences 'always' cause 'severe' harm.
Most of the researches didn't really focus on the subjective experience of people, and none were constructed in a way that took possible positive perceptions into account. In order to draw conclusions one needs more detailed research, which has also been provided. Some researches pay attention to the nature of the experience (coercive or consensual), the way it was experienced, and the differences between boys and girls. They especially consider other factors that may have been of influence, like the family situation.

Inquiry into 'the population'
By using random sample surveys one can draw relatively reliable conclusions concerning a country's population. This was done in several countries. People were asked whether they had had sexual experiences as children and if so, what they thought had been the implications. It is estimated that of all children about 10% of the boys and about 20% of the girls have sexual experiences. A rough third of the men and two thirds of the women reported negative consequences.
It was calculated to what extent the sexual experiences had a share in the variation of adjustment. The effect size of tile experiences was 0.5% for boys and 1 % for girls. For the remaining 99% another explanation will have to be found. Once more we find that the assertion that child sexual experience always causes severe harm is rather exaggerated; we also see differences between boys and girls.

Research among students
The percentages in the previous paragraph stem from researches for which more than 8,500 people have been questioned. Quite a lot, but yet too few for a truly competent research into the population So information was gathered from research among students. This research is ample, and university research usually stands for good quality. First it was examined whether students are representative for the entire population with regard to this subject. This appeared to be the case. The results of these researches, involving a much larger number of people, were comparable to those of the sample surveys.

Desired or undesired
A couple of the researches among students distinguished between desired and undesired sexual experiences of children, so the outcome was subtler. It turned out that as for the desired sexual experiences of boys there was no connection with the variation of well-being (an effect size of 0%); for girls the effect size of desired sexual experiences was 0.6%. The effect size of undesired experiences was 1.69% for boys and 0.64% for girls. A distinction between desired and undesired contacts is quite important.
There appeared to be no difference in effect size between once-only contacts and longer relations. Once again there did appear to be a difference between boys and girls. The women reported more incest at a younger age as well as more coercion and violence.

The 'third factor'
More and more churches arise in villages, small towns and big cities. Criminality is also growing in villages, small towns and big cities. So do churches cause criminality? No, because there is an influential third factor: the population density. More churches as well as more criminality originate from population growth. There is no immediate connection between churches and criminality (no effect size).
Now we observe the occurrence of youthful sexual experience and (psychological) problems later on in life. Are the experiences the cause of the problems? Let's first look if there's an influential third factor. Take the family situation. From the meta-analysis it was concluded that the effect size of the family situation on later problems is 8.41%. The effect size of the family situation on youthful sexual experience is 1.69%. The effect size of youthful sexual experience on later problems is a mere 0,81%. So there is a very slight connection between the experiences and the problems. In researches previous to the meta-analysis it was concluded 34 times in total that child sexual experience is the cause of several symptoms. The statistic structure of these researches has been examined critically. Was the 'third factor' taken into account? After the correction, 14 of the determined connections remained; a decrease of almost 60%.

We may conclude that there can be a connection between child sexual experience and the degree of well-­being later on in life, but it's a slight connection. The family situation is of much greater influence, especially when there's mental or physical maltreatment or neglect. There's also a difference between coercive and consensual experience, as well as a difference between boys and girls. With consensual experience of boys, there is even no effect size at all. Girls reported more incest occurring at a younger age, and more coercion. This may be why the effect size of child sexual experience on the variation of well­-being is bigger for girls.

The concept 'child sexual abuse'
According to this concept, as used in researches, child sexual experience is harmful. We find that there can be harm, but not necessarily, not always, and it's usually not as intense as many people claim. What should be emphasized, being of much greater importance, is mental or physical maltreatment or neglect within the family.
Consequently, the concept 'child sexual abuse', which is used to describe all sexual experiences of children, should be revised. Especially the notion that youthful sexual experience is always the cause of problems later on in life needs revision. It can namely work as a self-fulfilling prediction. People with child sexual experiences are approached exclusively as 'victims', and this is how they start to see themselves, while the adult they've had the experience with is portrayed as the 'offender'.

Searching in the wrong direction
The conviction that child sexual experience always leads to problems, causes people to search in the wrong direction. "If there are problems, there has to be a sexual experience." Very often, people with problems were asked rather suggestively whether they'd had a sexual experience in their youth. "If there's an experience, there's also an offender." So the offender is searched for. It's this searching in the wrong direction that's got many innocent people in trouble.
So far for an explanation and summary of the lecture by Dr Bauserman and Dr Tromovich.

Frits Abrahams's four percent
The Dutch press have ignored the conference. Only Mr Hans Vissers speech (and its rejection by the churches) was mentioned, and the columnist of one newspaper, Frits Abrahams, reflected on the event. He wrote: "In general, children don't suffer, or hardly suffer, permanent damage from pedophile contacts. That was the drift of the conference. Two American scientists tried to prove this with a flood of cluttered figures. But even their most favorable calculations showed that at least four percent of the children remain scarred for the rest of their lives. At least four percent, I say. Only four percent, the Americans say. An enormous different opinion."
Where do these four percent come from? We can find them in one of the tables (no 10). Landis's research from 1956 states that of 531 women 4% were never able to come to terms with their experiences. It also states that 51% of the women reported it had taken them 'days up to years' to deal with the experiences. For boys these percentages are 0% and 22%. 3% of the women and 0% of the boys reported 'permanent damage', whereas 30% of the women and 17% of the boys reported 'temporary damage'.
The four percent Abrahams mentions come from one of the many researches, and a very old one too. A little more subtlety on his part would not be out of place. 0n the other hand, that particular percentage can't be used to defend 'pedophile contacts' (that is, sexual contacts). Some visitors seem to have done this at the conference.
Abrahams describes the Rotterdam conference as a congregation of pedophiles. Reverend Visser has no bad intentions, he writes, but isn't he letting himself be led by the pedophile lobby?

A wrong framework
I personally think it's a pity the thorough research was presented within the framework of pedophilia. The focus should have been put on youthful experiences and the way youth deals with them, on potential problems, on assistance when problems arise, and on the family influence. The research was carried out with these things in mind, but its presentation within the scope of pedophilia had three consequences. Firstly, the term pedophilia was once again associated with sexual contacts, whereas it actually only denotes a sexual preference. This way the taboo on the concept pedophilia is upheld. Secondly, the attention is directed to adults and their wishes instead of youth and their experiences. It's kind of obvious that this causes the message to be ignored. Thirdly, undesired contacts are once again considered to be sexual contacts, while physical and mental maltreatment takes place mostly within the family and usually isn't sexual. This kind of maltreatment has the biggest influence on the degree of well-being later on in life.

No permit
Bauserman said it, and I want to stress it too: no one ought to see these research results as a permit for sexual contacts. One certainly can't choose one of the lowest percentages and attack opponents with it. There also are percentages that point out contacts weren't experienced as pleasurable. Only, they're lower than people easily tend to assume. Those 4% that could never come to terms with the experience are still 4% too much, and the 51% that needed days up to years to recover can't be ignored either.
When 4% of the children who have used a water slide suffer permanent damage, this water slide should be closed and made safer. On the other hand, it would be wrong to close all swimming pools and prohibit water. It's mostly the involuntary contacts that caused damage. It would be wise to offer swimming lessons. I don't really understand the victorious attitudes of people who identify with 'pedophilia'. From the research report I conclude that one third of the boys and two thirds of the girls comment unfavorably in retrospection. A manufacturer of potato crisps would immediately stop the production and order the improvement of the product when those figures applied to the consumers of his crisps. I think the report justifies critical self-examination.

A balanced debate
It's to hope people will realize that mostly girls express an unfavorable opinion on the contacts, and that girls reported more incest and coercion. So we should focus on this coercion within the family. There's a reason to examine the 'normal' families in a neighborhood, instead of just that one pedophile who lives up the block. The entire debate about child sexual experience ought to be subtler. The fanatical opponents as well as the proponents of more freedom for children ought to study all figures and adopt a balanced argumentation.
This balanced thinking is extremely necessary, since the phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prediction is rampant. Supposing everyone remains convinced that child sexual experience always causes intense harm, the cases will be treated with that notion in mind and other factors will be ignored. If in research people are asked about sexual contacts and the consequences, they will link the contacts to their problems since they're convinced that child sexual experience causes problems. Researchers will conclude there is a link, because people suppose there is one. That's how scientific research can work.

Account of a conference, part II

By: M. de Jong

After the well-organized lunch it was time for the other speakers, such as sexologist Gerda van Dijk. She considered possible explanations for the differences in reactions between boys and girls (girls' role in society is different and people have different expectations of girls). She put forward it's decisive whether or not both people in a relation can talk about it openly with each other. If not, the chance is big that a girl will later think she's been used. She also stressed that sexual violence, physical violence and emotional neglect frequently go hand in hand.

Dr Van Naerssen said that in his practice he often gets to deal with people who have psychological and sexual problems because of a lack of physical intimacy in their youth. Coming himself from an environment in which youthful affection is customary, it struck him that children in the Western world usually only have physical contact in the form of fights. He pleaded for a legislation that's less moralizing and more focused on the social climate in which children grow up.

Professor Hekma's plea was especially striking. Though slightly utopian in its vision of the end result of a truly completed sexual revolution, it testified a clear understanding of sexuality in this society. Hekma stated children should be taught about sexuality in a way that's less biological and negative, and more practical, i.e. that enables them to give and receive pleasurable feelings, and instructs them how to avoid doing things that are not found pleasurable. As a clear analogy he said that the average car driver doesn't have to know precisely how the motor of his car works, but he should know the traffic rules! The government would have to adopt a more positive attitude towards sexuality, instead of supporting repression and feelings of shame.

When the guest speakers had finished the auditory could pose questions. Bauserman and Tromovich gave an affirmative answer to the question whether a research that was completely free of prejudice could produce even milder results. There were some good suggestions for follow-up research into various forms of sexual behavior and their consequences.

The retired psychiatrist Wijnand Sengers showed the last issue of OK magazine and declared it was an excellent magazine with relevant articles. The conference ended with the opportunity for informal chat with the speakers.
The media response in the subsequent days was truly pathetic. The purport of the conference was ignored completely. The only reactions were attacks on the booklet Reverend Visser had written on the symposium matter, and attempts to marginalize the research and dispose of the conference as the lobbying of pedophile groups. Consequently, the result of this conference should be sought in new initiatives in academic circles to spread the importance of the research, rather than in a sudden change of opinion in society. Soon after the conference it was made known that in the short term more symposiums on this subject will be held in Holland.

What can we conclude from all this? At any rate public opinion won't all of a sudden change completely. This wasn't expected either, since the arguments in favor of condemning sexual contacts between children and adults have always been fallacies. Condemnation is based on a moral 'reflex', a culturally determined pattern of values that has little to do with the true properties of child sexual experience. This doesn't mean we don't have to be critical towards our own behavior, although it's very difficult not to become rigid and cynical in this society. These research results may lift a large burden off the shoulders of many people, but they're also a reason for very critical self-examination.

source: Article 'The Other Side of the Coin - Study Conference in Rotterdam' by M. de Jong & Dr Frans Gieles; OK Magazine, no. 67; March 1999