Rind controversy redux: Psychological sequelae of adult-child sexual contact.

Forensic psychologists may be called upon to render opinions concerning psychological harm following adult-child sexual contact. Rind et al. (1998) examined assumed properties of CSA and found that psychological harm is variable. They found that family environment was consistently confounded with CSA, and explained considerably more adjustment variance than CSA. CSA-adjustment relations generally became nonsignificant when studies controlled for family environment. They concluded, “Basic beliefs about CSA in the general population was not supported.” They raised concerns about the indiscriminate use of terms such as “abuse,” “victim,” or “perpetrator” reflecting confusion between moral and legal concepts, and linking of wrongfulness (violation of social norms) with harmfulness, threatening scientific objectivity.

These findings exploded into controversy following the publication of the Rind et al (1998) meta-analysis in Psychological Bulletin. Lilienfeld (2002) documents the controversy which will not be reiterated here, except to say, that the findings were excoriated by Dr. Laura and the United States Congress. After the outburst of controversy, subsequent studies conducted by Rind et al. (2001), Ulrich et al. (2005-2006) addressed the issue, and a Congress-mandated panel of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Committee on Scientific Freedom concluded, “We saw no clear evidence of improper application of methodology or other questionable practices on the part of the article’s authors.” The APA Council of Representatives in 2000 reiterated principles of scientific freedom no matter what the area of controversy.

From a practical forensic assessment point of view, any consideration of psychological harm caused by adult-child sexual contact must be multifactorial in design and exposition of findings must take into account pre-existing, predisposing, incident-related, and post-incident- related factors, including protracted litigation, and potential artifacts of the assessment situation (e.g., validity of findings).

The attempts to model complex multi-factorial models (Barker-Collo & Read, 2003), notes the large, unexplained individual differences in the presentation of mental health problems following CSA. They conclude that “no single variable can, on its own, account for individual variation in symptom development, and empirically tested models point toward a complex interaction between abuse-related factors, interactions with others (e.g., responses to disclosure, attachment), and individual factors (e.g., attributions, emotion-focused coping) as mediators and moderators of outcome.

References:

Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 1, 22-53.

Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (2001). The validity and appropriateness of methods, analyses, and conclusions in Rind et al (1998): A rebuttal of victimological critique from Ondersma et al (2001) and Dallam et al (2001). Psychological Bulletin, 127, 6, 734-758.

Ulrich, H., Randolph, M., & Acheson, S. (2005-06). Child sexual abuse: a replication of the meta-analytic examination of child sexual abuse by Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman (1998). Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 4, 2, 37.

Lilienfeld, S. (2002). When worlds collide: social science, politics, and the Rind et al (1998) child sexual abuse meta-analysis. American Psychologist, 57, 3, 176-188.

Barker-Collo, S., & Read, J. (2003). Models of response to childhood sexual abuse: Their implications for treatment. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 4, 2, 95-111

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