10. Summary and Conclusion

Vorige Omhoog

Beliefs about CSA in American culture center on the viewpoint that CSA by nature is such a powerfully negative force that

  • (a) it is likely to cause harm,
  • (b) most children or adolescents who experience it will be affected,
  • (c) this harm will typically be severe or intense, and
  • (d) CSA will have an equivalently negative impact on both boys and girls.
  • Despite this widespread belief, the empirical evidence from college and national samples suggests a more cautious opinion.

    Results of the present review do not support these assumed properties; CSA does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis regardless of gender in the college population. The finding that college samples closely parallel national samples with regard to prevalence of CSA, types of experiences, self-perceived effects, and CSA-symptom relations strengthens the conclusion that CSA is not a propertied phenomenon and supports Constantine's (1981) conclusion that CSA has no inbuilt or inevitable outcome or set of emotional reactions.

    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. Overinclusive definitions of abuse that encompass both

  • willing sexual experiences accompanied by positive reactions and
  • coerced sexual experiences with negative reactions produce poor predictive validity.
  • To achieve better scientific validity, a more thoughtful approach is needed by researchers when labeling and categorizing events that have heretofore been defined sociolegally as CSA ( Fishman, 1991 ; Kilpatrick, 1987 ; Okami, 1994 ; Rind & Bauserman, 1993 ).

    One possible approach to a scientific definition, consistent with findings in the current review and with suggestions offered by Constantine (1981) , is to focus on the young person's perception of his or her willingness to participate and his or her reactions to the experience.

  • A willing encounter with positive reactions would be labeled simply adult-child sex, a value-neutral term.
  • If a young person felt that he or she did not freely participate in the encounter and if he or she experienced negative reactions to it, then child sexual abuse, a term that implies harm to the individual, would be valid.
  • Moreover, the term child should be restricted to nonadolescent children ( Ames & Houston, 1990 ). Adolescents are different from children in that they are more likely to have sexual interests, to know whether they want a particular sexual encounter, and to resist an encounter that they do not want.

    Furthermore, unlike adult-child sex, adult-adolescent sex has been commonplace cross-culturally and historically, often in socially sanctioned forms, and may fall within the "normal" range of human sexual behaviors ( Bullough, 1990 ; Greenberg, 1988 ; Okami, 1994 ).

  • A willing encounter between an adolescent and an adult with positive reactions on the part of the adolescent would then be labeled scientifically as adult-adolescent sex, while
  • an unwanted encounter with negative reactions would be labeled adolescent sexual abuse.
  • By drawing these distinctions, researchers are likely to achieve

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    a more scientifically valid understanding of the nature, causes, and consequences of the heterogeneous collection of behaviors heretofore labeled CSA.

    Finally, it is important to consider implications of the current review for moral and legal positions on CSA.

    If it is true that wrongfulness in sexual matters does not imply harmfulness ( Money, 1979 ), then it is also true that lack of harmfulness does not imply lack of wrongfulness. Moral codes of a society with respect to sexual behavior need not be, and often have not been, based on considerations of psychological harmfulness or health (cf. Finkelhor, 1984 ).

    Similarly, legal codes may be, and have often been, unconnected to such considerations ( Kinsey et al., 1948 ). In this sense, the findings of the current review do not imply that moral or legal definitions of or views on behaviors currently classified as CSA should be abandoned or even altered. The current findings are relevant to moral and legal positions only to the extent that these positions are based on the presumption of psychological harm.


    Vorige Omhoog