There is a controversy swirling around psychology circles these
days. It has to do with pedophilia, which some psychologists now argue
is less harmful than we all believe.
The matter was provoked by an article in the American Psychological
Association's Psychological Bulletin. Bruce Rind, Phillip Tromovitch
and Robert Bauserman conclude that the negative effects of child
sexual abuse have been overstated. ''The self-reported effects data do
not support the assumption of widescale psychological harm from (child
sexual abuse),'' they write.
In addressing sexual relations between adults and children, and
particularly men and boys, they introduce phrases such as ''a willing
encounter with positive reactions.'' They want psychologists to dump
judgmental terms like child abuse and molestation in favour of
value-free terms like ''adult-child sex.'' And they would prefer
people talk of ''level of sexual intimacy'' instead of ''severity of
The authors claim their intention was to differentiate between
willing and coerced acts, and negative and positive childhood sexual
experiences. But they fail to differentiate between homosexual and
heterosexual experiences, and to address the issue of how young
children can give consent.
NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, once the lone
voice for the normalization of pedophilia, is pleased with this study.
It gives its cause respectability. Posting the ''good news'' on its
Web page, NAMBLA states that ''The current war on boylovers has no
basis in science.'' It continues, ''on average, nearly 70 per cent of
males in the studies reported that as children or adolescents their
sexual experiences with adults had been positive or neutral. ''
All of this has evoked a cry of outrage from ''Dr. Laura''
Schlessinger. The radio talk show host has launched a crusade against
the article and the APA. Using terms such as ''conspiracy,'' she
believes there is an agenda, supported by psychological associations,
to normalize adult-child sex.
She points out that homosexuality was once considered illegal and
that, by redefining it as normal behaviour, psychologists and
psychiatrists paved the way for it to become legal and then for
homosexuals to achieve special protection under the law. She fears
pedophilia is headed in the same direction.
Dr. Laura's supporters point out that the American Psychiatric
Association may already have set the stage. According to their latest
diagnostic manual, child molestation is no longer indicative of
psychological disorder. To be considered psychiatrically disordered,
molesters must feel anxious about the acts or be impaired in their
work or social relationships.
The article raises an interesting dilemma for psychologists Can
they continue to proclaim that child sexual abuse invariably causes
serious psychological damage?
Historically, the profession has been erratic, stating with
certainty one thing at one time and then another later. Once they
touted divorce as good for children, claiming it taught ''more co-
operation and respect.'' Once they endorsed spanking as a form of
parental discipline; now they encourage law makers to call spanking
assault. What will they do with this new information about the effects
of child sexual abuse?
There are two moral issues here. The one that Dr. Laura raises, I
support. Pedophilia is wrong.
The second issue is that of professional honesty. If psychologists
truly do not know, are they not obliged to stop telling clients and
the courts that child sexual abuse is inevitably harmful.
Space restrictions of the newspaper on
May 11 led to the column, originally titled "The Pedophilia
Controversy," being edited. One crucial point was reduced
in emphasis, that of professional honesty. Dr. Dineen had
expressed the concern that that psychologists, having convinced
thousands of people that CSA had left them severly psychologically
damaged, may merely change their tune. The question is: Are
they going to admit their lack of knowledge or are they going
to quietly cover-up their earlier errors?
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See also: Censorship