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Rind et al. (1998)

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Rind et al. (1998) refers to a controversial study on child sexual abuse published in the American Psychological Association journal Psychological Bulletin in 1998. The study, titled "A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse (CSA) using college samples," was written by psychologists Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch and Robert Bauserman.[1]

The authors stated that their goal was " address the question: In the population of persons with a history of CSA [child sexual abuse], does this experience cause intense psychological harm on a widespread basis for both genders?" Some of the authors' more controversial conclusions were:

  • "CSA does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis regardless of gender."
  • "An important reason why the assumed properties of CSA failed to withstand empirical scrutiny in the current review is that the construct of CSA, as commonly conceptualized by researchers, is of questionable scientific validity."

Rind et al. also claim that the "consensual" versus "non-consensual" variable is predictively valid because it can be used empirically to predict the degree of psychological damage based on whether the child describes the encounter as consensual or not.


July 1998 - the study by Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch and Robert Bauserman was published in Psychological Bulletin.

December 1998 - the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) criticized the study for its methodology and conclusions. It was then attacked by The Wanderer, a Catholic religious newspaper, the talk show host Dom Giordano, Dr. Laura Schlessinger (known on her popular radio talk show as "Dr. Laura") and numerous Republican politicians.

March 23, 1999 - in response, the APA declared in a press statement that "the sexual abuse of children is wrong and harmful to its victims" and that "the findings of a research project within an APA journal is in no way an endorsement."

June 9 1999 - the president of the APA, Raymond Fowler, announced in an open letter to Representative Tom DeLay that there was to be an independent review of the controversial study.

July 12 1999 - the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the study, declaring that child-adult sex could be nothing but "abusive and destructive." The resolution was passed unanimously in the Senate.

September 15 1999 - the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), whom APA under political pressure had asked for an independent review of the article, did refuse to review the article again in order to respond to its political rejection saying that:

We see no reason to second guess the process of peer review used by the APA journal in its decision to publish the article in question. While not without its imperfections, peer review is well established as a standard mechanism for maintaining the flow of scientific information that scientists can refer to, critique or build on. After examining all the materials available to the committee, we saw no clear evidence of improper application of methodology or other questionable practices on the part of the article's authors.
The Committee also wishes to express its grave concerns with the politicization of the debate over the article's methods and findings. In reviewing the set of background materials available to us, we found it deeply disconcerting that so many of the comments made by those in the political arena and in the media indicate a lack of understanding of the analysis presented by the authors or misrepresented the article's findings. All citizens, especially those in a position of public trust, have a responsibility to be accurate about the evidence that informs their public statements. We see little indication of that from the most vocal on this matter, behaviour that the Committee finds very distressing.

The AAAS's Committee of Scientific Freedom and Responsibility reported that they "saw no clear evidence of improper application of methodology or other questionable practices on the part of the article's authors." However, AAAS also added that "if there were such problems, uncovering them would be the task of those reviewing it prior to publication or to readers of the published article" and attached the following disclaimer: "The fact that the Committee has chosen not to proceed with an evaluation of the article in the Psychological Bulletin should not be seen either as endorsement or criticism of it." (p. 3)

March 2002 - The fact that the politics has intervened into the field of science has raised many objections from researchers concerned about its implications for independence of scientific peer-reviewing process. Some, including two Psychological Bulletin editors, call Raymond Fowler's June 9 letter a capitulation to political pressure. The affair was also later discussed in issue of another APA journal, American Psychologist.

Criticism and responseEdit

Criticisms of Rind's 1998 study are drawn largely from an article titled "Science or Propaganda?", authored by Dallam, et al. on behalf the Leadership Council. The Council claims it is an organization "whose membership includes many of the nation's most prominent mental health leaders," whose mission it is "to insure the public receives accurate information about mental health issues." However Rind, et al. claim that it is "a recently formed organization of victimologists who had long advocated the validity of recovered memories and MPD" [2]. Whatever the truth regarding the Leadership Council, Dallam's criticisms are among the most frequently cited.

As part of their activism, proponents of revising or abolishing age-of-consent laws often make use of studies such as Rind et al. in contending that adult-minor sexual relationships do not always cause psychological harm for the minor.

Sample biasEdit

Dallam et al. note that, by restricting their analysis to convenience samples of college students, Rind et al. introduced a systematic bias in favor of their conclusion by excluding victims so traumatized that they did not go on to attend college. In addition, Duncan (2000) found that child sexual abuse survivors were far more likely than non-abused individuals to drop out of college, especially after only one semester. (See: Dallam, ibid., [3])

Rind, Bauserman, and Tromovitch have responded to this criticism by emphasizing that "the representativeness of college samples is in fact irrelevant to the stated goals and conclusions of our study" since the purpose of their research was "to examine the validity of the clinical concept" of CSA. According to the commonly understood definition of the term, child sexual abuse is extremely and pervasively harmful, meaning that "in any population sampled - drug addicts, psychiatric patients, or college students - persons who have experienced CSA should show strong evidence of the assumed properties of CSA." The authors of the study note that because the college sample did not show pervasive harm, "the broad and unqualified claims about the properties of CSA are contradicted." (See: Rind, et al., [4])

Non-standardization of variablesEdit

Dallam et al. and Holmes and Slap (1999) assert that Rind et al. did not standardize their definition of child sexual abuse, leaving out certain studies that were appropriate, and including studies that were inappropriate. That is, they allege that Rind et al. uncritically combined data from studies of CSA with data from studies looking at other phenomena such as consensual peer experiences, sexual experiences that occurred during adulthood, and homosexual approaches during adolescence. Holmes and Slap (1999) noted that Rind et al. uncritically combined psychological outcomes measured by different instruments with varying validity, relevance, and different interval scaling and cut points. After reviewing the Rind et al.’s study, Holmes and Slap concluded, "meta-analysis is not appropriate when methodological rigor, let alone the question asked, is so varied" (p. 2186).

Rind, et al. have also responded to this criticism, affirming the appropriateness of including all five of the studies (Landis, 1956; Shultz and Jones, 1983; Sedney and Brooks, 1984; Grenwald, 1994; and Sarbo, 1985) specifically identified by Dallam as inappropriate to a study about child sexual abuse.

Dallam claims that the first three studies focused on all types of child sexual activity, not just child sexual abuse. Rind et al. reject this claim. In regards to the Landis study, Rind et al. note that it has been used by many other sex researchers (e.g., Finkelhor, Fishman, Fromuth & Burkhart, Sarbo, and others) as an example of an early study about child sexual abuse. In regards to the Shultz and Jones study, Rind et al. concede that the study "looked at all types of 'sexual acts' before age 12," but explained that the respondents in the study were all asked "if their experience was with a person over the age of 16," thus allowing Rind et al. to include only the relationships that were age-discrepant. In regards to the Sedney and Brooks study, Rind et al. admit that the study used a broad definition of child sexual abuse, but explain that the researchers themselves chose to use such a definition "because of the difficulty posed by a priori decisions about what type of sexual experiences are 'problems.'" Rind et al. also mention that many of the scientists cited in other portions of Dallam's critique have referred to the Sedney and Brooks study as an important early nonclinical study about CSA. [5]

The last two studies, according to Dallam, were inappropriate because they included respondents who were over the age of 17. In contradicting this claim, Rind et al. refer to the fact that, in using the Sarbo study, they included only the respondents aged 16 and under in the effect-size calclulations. In their use of the Greenwald study, Rind et al. included only respondents under the age of 16 in their effect-size (harmfulness of CSA) computation. [6]

Statistical errorsEdit

Dallam et al. also contend that Rind et. al. miscoded or misreported significant amounts of the underlying study data, thereby skewing the results. According to Dallam et al., Rind et al. incorrectly used "Pearson's r" instead of "Cohen's d" to calculate the effect size, which resulted in a failure to correct for base-rate differences of CSA in male and female samples, and which led to the finding that males were less harmed by CSA. After correcting for base-rate attenuation, Dallam et al. claimed to have arrived at identical effect sizes for male and female samples. In other words, Dallam et al. challenged Rind et al.'s claim that males are less affected by CSA. [7]

In responding to this criticism, Rind et al. report that they did indeed describe the contrast between the effect size estimates as "nonsignificant, z = 1.42, p > .10, two-tailed." However, they continue, "What [they] did report as significantly different was the contrast between male and female effect size estimates for the all-types-of-consent groups, where rus = .04 and .11, respectively. In "follow[ing] Dallam et al. (2001) [by] apply[ing] Becker's correction formula to these values, they become rcs = .06 and .12 for men and women, respectively. The contrast is still statistically significant (z = 2.68, p < .01. two-tailed), contrary to Dallam et al.'s (2001) claim."

Rind et al. claim that their own "handling of Pearson's r in the face of base-rate differences was methodologically proper and produced no important bias, if any at all." Furthermore, they contend that Dallam's criticisms "exhibited bias ... [by] selectively ignoring key clarifying quotes ... and citing them elsewhere in their critique to argue different points, and [by]ignoring or overlooking a key caveat by Becker (1986) regarding appropriate use of his correction formula." [8]

Researchers' personal biasEdit

As Rind himself has noted, the research findings can be skewed by an investigator’s personal biases. Rind et al. (1998) stated, “Reviewers who are convinced that CSA is a major cause of adult psychopathology may fall prey to confirmation bias by noting and describing study findings indicating harmful effects but ignoring or paying less attention to findings indicating nonnegative outcomes” (p. 24).

Critics have opined that the number of controversial, CSA-related studies conducted by Rind and Bauserman is proof that they may have a bias. For example, when Rind (1995b) reviewed human sexuality textbooks' coverage of the effects of adult-child sex, he concluded that the use of terms such as victims, survivors, offenders, and perpetrators were scientifically invalid.

Dallam echoes this claim, stating that "[a]fter a careful examination of the evidence, it is concluded that Rind et al. can best be described as an advocacy article that inappropriately uses science in an attempt to legitimize its findings." (In "Science or Propaganda? An examination of Rind, Tromovitch and Bauserman.")

Rind, et al. have responded by claiming that the convention of using only legal and clinical samples (that is, individuals who are receiving psychological treatment or who are engaged in legal proceedings) represents a bias on the part of prior researchers -- a bias which they believe they are remedying through their use of non-clinical samples (like college samples). They assert: "Our study brought rigorous and skeptical attention to an issue that has spun out of control, into what Jenkins (1998) called a 'moral panic.' Victimologists are advocates, not scientists. There is certainly a place for advocacy, as long as it is not confused with science--and as long as public policy is informed by the best scientific information available, rather than by unvalidated beliefs, however passionately held" [9].

See alsoEdit


  1. ^  This study is not to be confused with Rind et al. (1997), "A meta-analytic review of findings from national samples on psychological correlates of child sexual abuse", an study published in 1997 by Rind and Tromovitch in the Journal of Sex Research.

References Edit

External linksEdit

fi:Rind et al.

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