Factiods and the Sex Abuse Panic

Sex offenders in the US have been subjected to a large variety of draconian laws and practices. Many of these laws are highly questionable from a constitutional point of view. They also serve to make the world a more dangerous place for everybody -- not only for the sex offenders and their families -- but for potential future victims as well. Whatever a person might think about sex offenders and their treatment in this society, surely we can all agree on the need for a rational and informed discussion of the issue. One of the main obstacle in the way of the needed discussion is the huge amount of misinformation that is published in the nation's media. This misinformation is largely in the form of factoids. A factoid is a statement of presumed fact that people believe to be true because they hear it repeated over and over. The extensive use of factoids has been a central strategy of those who appear motivated to maintain a high level of sex abuse hysteria. Here are a few examples of common factoids:

1. Factiod -- The "pedophile" is set apart from most men because he finds children or adolescents sexually attractive.

Fact -- A study of randomly selected "normal" men at Kent State University (Hall, G. N., Hirschman, R, and Oliver, L. 1995) discovered that "20% of the current subjects self-reported pedophilic interest and 26.25% exhibited penile arousal to pedophilic stimuli that equaled or exceeded arousal to adult stimuli."

Kent State Study

2. Factoid -- The "pedophile" is a violent man who forces himself on children.

Fact -- Baurmann in the largest study of child abuse ever carried out discovered that in 80% of all cases of reported illegal sexual contacts "the perpetrator had exhibited something other than threatening or violent behavior." (Baurmann, Michael. "Sexuality, Violence, and Psychological Sequalae." 1983, Wiesbaden: Federal German Police Bureau, pg. 291. )

3. Factoid -- The activities of the "pedophile" are always traumatizing and cause great harm to the "victims."

Fact -- In their study "A Meta-Analytic Review of Findings from National Samples on Psychological Correlates of Child Sexual Abuse," Rind and Tromovitch (1998) came to the following conclusion: "CSA [child sexual abuse ] is not associated with pervasive harm and that harm, when it occurs, is not typically intense." This peer reviewed article appeared in the most prestigious psychological journal in the US.

Rind Meta-review

4. Factoid -- The "pedophile" is unable to control himself and will always "re-offend."

Fact -- One of the more extensive studies on this issue is called "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994" It is available from the US Department of Justice. (Langan, P, Schmitt, E., and Durose, M., 2003) According to this study, "Within the first three years following release from prison, 3.3% (141 of 4,296) of released child molesters were rearrested for another sex crime against a child.

Dept. of Justice Study

5. Factoid -- The "pedophile" is a brutish, primitive, self centered person who is incapable of empathy.

Fact -- Who have been some well know pedophiles? (I will use this term to mean a person who is strongly attracted to children or young adolescents.) Here are a few: Thomas Mann, James Barrie, Lewis Carrol, Alan Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, T.E. White, W. H. Auden, and last but not least Shakespeare. Most people who know anything about these people would not see them as brutish and primitive.

6. Factoid -- Minors never feel positive about their relationships with older partners if there is a sexual component in that relationship.

Fact-- Heinz Kohut, the founder of "Self Psychology" and one of the most important psychological theorists of the 20th Century reported that "I had this private tutor, who was a very important person in my life. He would take me to museums and swimming and concerts and we had endless intellectual conversations and played complicated intellectual games and played chess together." They also did sexual things together, which they both enjoyed, but Kohut felt the sex was more or less incidental. The important thing for him was the relationship. He said "I was an only child. So it was in some way psychologically life-saving for me. I was very fond of this fellow." Heinz was about 10 or 11 at the time. He describes his years with his tutor as being perhaps the happiest ones in his life. (Strozier, 2001. "Heinz Kohut: The making of a Psychoanalyst." PP. 95 and 96.)

(If a person were interested in how relationships typically appeared to the younger partner in a more permissive society, he or she could read "Boys and Their Contacts with Men" by Theo Sandfort.)

7. Factoid -- Every one convicted of sexually abusing a child was also abused as a child.

Fact -- In "Self-Reported Sexual Interest in Children: Sex Differences and Psychosocial Correlates in a University Sample," Smiljanich and Briere report that no statistically significant relationship was found between childhood sexual abuse and adult attraction to children. A small correlation between childhood sexual experiences and adult sexual behavior toward children has been reported in studies using prison populations, but no responsible researcher has ever suggested that every child abuser was abused as a child.

Smiljanich Study

8. Factoid -- Children are not able to consent to a sexual relationship with an older partner.

Fact -- Before saying whether this is true or not it is first necessary to determine what the statement means. If it means that they are not legally permitted to make such decisions, the statement is true providing the child falls within the age range of people who are not permitted to make their own decisions about their sexual lives. If it means that they cannot make an "informed decision" and by this use of the term it is meant that they cannot see all the possible ramifications of their decision, this is also true. But it is true of every important decision anyone of any age ever makes. So by itself it has only a very limited meaning. If it means that children are not able to express their disinclination to do something they don't want if they are in a relationship with an older person, it is untrue. Anyone who has ever tried to get a child to eat something he or she does not like, or do his or her homework when a special program was on TV or tried to get a child to go to bed when she or he did not want to knows this is not true. Children do in fact know what they want, and in a situation where they are permitted to say yes or no, they are quite capable of doing so in accordance with their real wishes.

9. Factoid -- There is a natural progression in the "career" of the typical sex offender from minor and non-violent offenses to acts of violence or even murder.

Fact -- A person who has engaged in sexual activity with a child or young adolescent that is non-violent and consensual is no more likely to progress toward violent acts that is the heterosexual or homosexual person who is sexually active with adults. Baurmann, in the conclusion to the study cited above, gives great emphasis to the fact that exhibitionists, non-violent individuals who have disregarded social norms, and violent sexual offenders are three very distinct groups. He points out that "the uncritical conflation of these three groups, combined with anxious attitudes regarding sexuality, prevent the rational discussion of deviant sexual behavior that we so desperately need." He points out that people who have committed violent acts of any kind against people are more likely to commit violent sexual acts than are non-violent sexual offenders. (Pg. 468).

10. Factoid -- Children do not experience significant sexual urges until after puberty. This factoid is frequently expressed by the affirmation that children are "innocent."

Fact -- Mary Calderone, an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of human sexuality sums up what is known about this very nicely. "What do we know about childhood sexuality? First of all, that it exists in every child ... from birth, even before birth. ...Both boy and girl babies discover by the end of their first year that penis and clitoris are sources of pleasurable sensations when touched. Parents tend to equate puberty with the onset of sexual feelings [but] sexual responsiveness [is} present from before birth." From SIECUS Report VIII (2). From an anthropological point of view Floyd Martinson makes the following point: "Anthropologists have complained for years that both the hormone and the psychoanalytic theories failed to account for the sexual activities of young children in certain primitive societies. United States data have shown the romantic interest in the opposite sex begins in infancy or early childhood, depending on the degree of permissiveness and stimulation in the social environment. (In Wolman and Money, "Handbook of Human Sexuality" pg. 31.)

11. Factoid -- Homosexual contacts between men and boys and a boy are a particularly damaging form of sexual abuse.

Fact -- Baurmann, in his summary of the German study "Sexuality, Violence, and Psychological Sequalae." by the Federal German Police Bureau states that "homosexual contacts played no important statistical or criminological role in this study. On the one hand, they composed only 10-15% of the cases, and on the other, the sexual contacts were described by the victims themselves as "harmless", almost exclusively without the use of violence by the suspect (page 287), and as a result, none of the male victims questioned felt themselves to have been injured. In addition no injury could be determined in these cases with the help of test procedures.

Baurmann Study