Letters to the APA from Concerned Members of the Scientific Community
||July 3, 1999
Dr. Raymond Fowler
President: American Psychological Association
750 First Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002-4242
Dear Dr. Fowler:
We, the president and past-presidents of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, members of the SSSS Executive Committee, and editors of Journal of Sex Research and the Archives of Human Sexuality would like to urge the American Psychological Association to take a strong stand in support of Dr. Bruce Rind (Temple University), Dr. Robert Bauserman (State of Maryland), and Mr. Philip Tromovitch (University of Pennsylvania), and in support of the right and need for sexual scientists to be able to conduct human sexuality research, unconstrained by political considerations. We would like to make the following points:
(a) If society is going to solve the serious social problems that confront us, it needs knowledge and accurate information. Theorists and sexual science researchers can make a unique contribution. Their tradition demands that they attempt to provide a fair and objective analysis of social phenomena and provide scientific informationboth qualitative and quantitativebased on the highest of scientific standards.
(b) Political considerations and calculations must be kept separate from the scientific enterprise and/or in the publication decisions of the decisions of scientific journal editors. Only scholarly research that is free, disinterested, and scrupulously honest can hope to provide useful answers to challenging questions.
(c) We would hope that APA would resist the efforts of various political, religious, and special lobbying groups to intervene in the scientific enterpriseshaping what is studied, by whom it is studied, how it is studied, and the results that are secured and reported. At the present time, the major scientific journals have peer-review process in place to evaluate ALL studies and experiments. Currently, all kinds of research are evaluated, using the same rigorous scientific standards. For APA or any other organization to single out "controversial" studies from all others and apply a second and a third filter in judging whether or not such studies should be published and disseminated is to cast a chill on all such research. In addition, this process would be, by definition, discriminatory.
We, the past presidents of SSSS and the current editor of the Annual Review of Sex Research join together in urging you to staunchly support the right of sexual scientists to engage in free intellectual inquiryespecially in the area of "controversial" research.
Dr. Elaine Hatfield, President SSSS
Also signed by:
Dr. Albert Ellis, First President of SSSS
July 15, 1999
Raymond D. Fowler, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer,
As a long-time APA member and a long-time sex researcher, I write to object in the strongest possible terms to the contemptible public position you have taken in response to the political furor over the Psychological Bulletin paper by Drs. Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman. I have been a great admirer of the clear-eyed and comprehensive work these authors have contributed to the murky and polemical field of child sexuality and child sexual abuse, and your failure to defend their approach and the policies and procedures of APA journals is unforgiveable. As you surely must know, it is almost impossible to conduct research on child sexuality as a result of a chilling political climate, and that, as a consequence, important legislative, policy, and judicial decisions are made every day in the absence of the kind of reliable scientific evidence which we as a profession ought to be providing to guide these decisions.
Your response to the Congressional and conservative organizations' furor, as presented in The New York Times, seems to me to have been exactly the opposite of what was needed. You should have taken the opportunity to rush to the Hill to explain to Congress how peer review works and is an inviolable bulwark against prejudice and bias, to explain to Congress how meta-analysis is an excellent new tool in medicine and social science to overcome the vicissitudes of individual studies and present the current state of evidence, to explain to Congress that political interference with scientific processes is exactly what won't help children and won't help society understand complex and controversial issues, and to offer workshops on child sexuality and meta-analytic techniques to assist Congress in the future.
But, sadly, apparently none of those was your response. Instead, you fell for the ambush, you fell into the trap, and you responded defensively to insist that the APA condemns child sexual abuse, and that you would take steps to muzzle freedom of scientific process.
Whose interests are served by your failure to strongly defend Rind, Tromovitch, Bauserman, the editor of Psych. Bull., and its entire peer review process? Not mine, or the other members of the APA. Not psychologists or others struggling to conduct valid and reliable sex research. Not the public who needs information about child sexuality and about professional scientific methods. Not children, for whom you accomplished nothing. Whose interests did you serve? I'd like to know.
Leonore Tiefer, Ph.D.
by Sharon Lamb
The Boston Globe
In three weeks, thousands of psychologists will descend on Boston for the American Psychological Association's 107th convention. And it's quite likely that over their clam chowder and steaming lobsters, one hot topic will be a study on child sexual abuse published last year in the
APA journal Psychological Bulletin.
This is the ''meta-analytic'' study that looked at 59 earlier reviews of college students who had been sexually abused as children. It found that not all sexually abused children are wounded for life, and not all victims are traumatized.
This is also the study that the House last month voted almost unanimously (13 members abstained) to condemn on the grounds that it supported pedophilia. The APA, after defending the article for several months, eventually caved in and, in a letter from APA President Raymond Fowler to House majority leader Tom DeLay, the organization said it may have erred in publishing the article.
The discussion at the APA's Aug. 20-23 meeting in Boston will be divided, as it often is; experimentalists arguing about the study's methodological accuracy, and clinicians criticizing it for its narrowness of vision and conclusions that go far beyond the findings.
The hottest debate will probably occur in Division 35: Psychology of Women, where feminist psychologists have been defending recovered memories for a decade, and are ready for another fight.
What will be lost in the discussion -- and almost certainly won't be covered in the media -- is the other feminist point of view which argues that in some ways this study supports women and children who have been abused.
While many -- including, unfortunately, The North American Man/Boy Love Association, whose name is self-explanatory -- say this study gives a green light to pedophiles, some feminists believe it's great news for victims.
If it is true that many victims do not suffer lifelong consequences from abuse, and that many victims are not traumatized, permanently damaged, or wounded for life, we should be happy. But the culture, and not just feminist psychologists, wants its victims portrayed in a particular way. In a culture supported by a victim-hungry media and made-for-TV movies, we have bought into the idea of a victim as long-suffering and damaged. It is not always accurate, even if it's been carried out in an honest effort to show that abuse of children is wrong.
This may have been a much-needed approach 20 or 30 years ago when it was hard to convince the culture that sexual abuse of children is pretty common. Then, we were battling responses like ''She asked for it,'' or ''Mr. Smith is such a decent citizen; he would never do that'' or even, ''Well, now she's damaged goods.'' When these attitudes prevailed it was absolutely necessary to point out to the public how innocent children really are, and how devastating sexual abuse can be.
But now, when public awareness of these issues is heightened, a different strategy is needed. We can recognize that abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. One child may have been fondled one time by an uncle in a swimming pool; another may have experienced lifelong incestuous abuse from her father. They are both victims of abuse, but doesn't it make sense to acknowledge that in the first case the child may remember the incident only as something confusing and unpleasant while in the second, the girl may need long-term psychotherapy to deal with the issues of betrayal, exploitation, fear, and sexuality that such abuse often brings?
Children respond in different ways to abuse; they are influenced by their own history, their support systems, and internal resources. For one child who has been fondled by her grandfather several times, the incident may be a defining one in her life, causing her great anguish; for another, who had the family structure and internal wherewithal to tell her mother who then stopped the abuse, she may look back at the experience as unpleasant but not self-defining.
Why can't we let victims ''get over it''? We surely don't like to see all the suffering that's trotted out. Most psychologists are decent people who want to help others, and who even take great reductions in their fees to do so; thus this is proably no plot by psychologists to drum up more business by creating patients-for-life.
But psychologists, too, are influenced by cultural expectations, and our culture requires that for a victim to be a ''real'' victim, she needs to deal with her victimization all her life, and she needs to be devastated.
It is exactly such a presumption - those who have been abused can never be viewed as unharmed or resilient - that is targeted in the study whose authors were Bruce Rind, a professor of psychology at Temple University; Robert Bauserman, an evaluation specialist with Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; and Philip Tromovitch, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.
Victims implicitly know what's expected of them. Amanda Konradi, a sociologist at Ohio University, studied rape victims going to trial. She found that they played up their helplessness, their devastation, and their weakness in hopes of influencing the jury's decision. One woman hid the fact that she was an avid backpacker from the lawyers for fear the jury would see her as too self-reliant.
While we need victims to be total victims, the culture also needs its perpetrators to be total monsters. Despite hopeful studies that show that some child molesters can, with therapy, recover, the media consistently put out the view and the public generally believes that the child molester is incurable.
We don't need absolute innocence nor absolute devastation from our victims to make the point that abuse is wrong. Boys and men who are taught respect, and who develop compassion and empathy, have no reason to exploit a child. They would never consider doing something that might be so harmful.
And abuse can be devastating -- even if sometimes it is not.
The way to support victims is not to call each and every one a survivor. Some were survivors; others were not. Some experienced horrific abuse akin to torture; others were confused by a mild exploitation. Some are still dealing with the aftereffects; others have moved on.
APA has done a disservice to victims of child sexual abuse in its refusal to support the most important finding of this study. Of course all victims deserve support, therapy, and encouragement when they need it; they also all deserve the right to ''get over it'' when and if they can.
© 1999 Globe Newspaper Company