Issue 74, Summer 1999

The American Psychological Association stepped into a hornets’ nest when a scientific paper published in one of its most respected journals was attacked in Congress. The article compiled and evaluated the results of many studies on the psychological effects of child sexual abuse (“CSA”). Responding to complaints from conservative constituents, a Congressional resolution condemned the study as “severely flawed.”

The paper notes that research on CSA defines it as encompassing “virtually all sexual interactions between children and adolescents and significantly older persons,” and does not necessarily require physical contact. Because CSA covers such a wide range, including “repeated rape of a 5-year-old girl by her father and the willing sexual involvement of a mature 15-year-old adolescent boy with an unrelated adult,” it’s not surprising that the study found that the psychological effects vary, and may be less harmful or non-existent for some victims, while severe for others. The researchers note that “the lack of harmfulness does not imply lack of wrongfulness.”

Sound pretty reasonable? Not to Congress, which apparently wants to suppress any study which even suggests that young people might not be harmed by sexuality, even if careful research supports that conclusion.

The APA, to its discredit, responded not by defending the integrity of the scientific process by which research is peer-reviewed, published, debated, and critiqued, but by “resolving to evaluate the scientific articles it publishes in light of their potential social, legal, and political implications.” The APA says this isn’t censorship—but what else can it be called?

For a critique from concerned scientists, click here. For an op-ed by Carol Tavris, click here.