The New York Times reports that the New York City Administration for Children’s Services will no longer work with Theo Sandfort, a professor who headed a study on LGBTQ youth in foster care, after parent activists drew attention to his previous research into pedophilia as a graduate student in the 1980s.
In fairness, the research in question… does not look good. It’s easy to see how it seems to promote a pro-contact agenda, and is out of step with our current understanding of child development and child sexual abuse. Here’s the abstract of one of the 1980s articles, followed by a link to it:
The experiences and perceptions of 25 boys in on-going relationships with pedophiles in the Netherlands were studied using a semi-structured interview technique. Areas of personal significance or value to the boys, including the pedophile relationship, the pedophile himself, and the sexual contact, were investigated for their emotional meaning and salience. The older partner and pedophile relationship were found to be significant but not overly important aspects of the boys’ experiences. The partner and relationship, including sexual aspects, were experienced in predominately positive terms; evidence of exploitation or misuse was absent.
With all that said, that doesn’t mean that the findings of the research were in any way fraudulent. Although we know that the outcomes of child sexual abuse are strongly negative overall, and that the risks of harm to children from condoning “sexual relationships” with adults are therefore completely unacceptable, it has long been known that some survivors of child sexual abuse—especially males—may self-report their experiences in neutral or positive terms. If we are to believe survivors, then we also have to allow them to speak their truth about their own experiences, without forcing them into a frame of “abuse survivor” that they may not wish to inhabit.
A famous 1997 meta-study by Bruce Rind that reported the inconvenient finding that child sexual abuse is not always associated with intense or pervasive harm, led to a massive controversy at the time. The study was ultimately the subject of an unprecedented vote of condemnation in Congress, and the journal that published it undertook a full review—but found that its methodology and analysis were sound. In the wake of the controversy, the APA released a press statement affirming that child sexual abuse is harmful and wrong, and that the study was in no way an “endorsement of pedophilia.”
Researchers into pedophilia continue to suffer significant stigma and misunderstanding, often to the extent of receiving physical and verbal threats and abuse. To give a very current example, Dr Gilian Tenbergen, the Principal Investigator of our own research project into the effect of fantasy sexual outlets on offending, is currently under attack from a well-resourced right-wing troll, Ayden Ferdeline, who has written to every member of her department falsely accusing her (and us) of furthering an agenda “to normalize sexual relationships between children and adults”, when in fact our agenda is the opposite of that.
Scientists walk a delicate line here; they need to be able to follow wherever the science leads, even if their findings challenge the established wisdom. Given the hyperbole that surrounds reporting on this topic, it is inevitable that findings that challenge stereotypes about abusers and survivors of abuse will be framed by conspiracy-minded individuals as furthering an agenda for the toleration of child sexual abuse. As such, researchers need to be conscious of how their research may be simplistically misreported in the media, or misused in pro-contact discourse. One of the benefits that working with Prostasia Foundation can provide to researchers is that we will communicate their research in a way that avoids framing it in this way, by connecting it back to the mission of child sexual abuse prevention that we and the research community share.
With the benefit of hindsight and years of intervening research, the likelihood that Professor Sandfort’s research on adolescent sexuality would be misrepresented and misused now seem obvious. And indeed, the criticisms of that research that are resurfacing now are not new. But really, there’s the rub; when research into pedophilia and other stigmatized sexualities is open to good faith criticism, then the scientific community itself has established robust mechanisms for doing this. Is it also necessary for social services agencies to “cancel” scientists who are shamed by parent activists for their previous work? How will this affect our ability to continue to research these controversial and understudied topics?
We really need to stop cancelling people over research just because their findings deviate from most other research. Science should not be political. We should be able to argue that, yes, those findings of 25 boys are very unusual and at the same time still say the outcomes of child sexual abuse are extremely harmful overall and must never be tolerated under any circumstances.
As far the “outlets” study this organization is partaking in. I do hope you do collect valuable data. At the moment, I don’t support child like dolls and other types of fake CP being legal. But if the study proves any benefit in reducing sex crimes, I would support making them heavily regulated form of legal or prescription only.
No sane person or country would want to “heavily regulate” drawings, writings, or 3D renderings. Those should be allowed in any case. This is also true for literally pieces of plastic, PVC, whatever the internal frame is, etc.
Guilty until proven innocent is disgusting, in any context.
I read that somewhere in the region of 9 out of 10 of pedophiles can be attracted to adults, it’s just that they were born with a brain defect that lead them to being equally or more attracted to prebubescents than adults. I have extremely strong doubts it would be desirable for these individuals to engage in child sex dolls as oppose to adult sex dolls. Though prostasia wants to do a study to figure out whether these types of outlets reduces or increases offense risk. I would make an educated guess that it would increase risk for some while /possibly/ reducing risk for others. Which is why it must be prescription only or extremely heavily regulated.
ATSA supports arousal conditioning. Giving a pedo a child like sex doll or fake CP goes against this idea of arousal conditioning. Maybe an experiment can be conducted on this 90% of pedos to make them more attracted to adults and less to children. It shouldn’t be too difficult to test these methods on sex offenders in prisons since they have no where to go. Maybe include probationers as well. It shouldn’t be too difficult… If they refuse, their suspended sentence can be revoked and they can be thrown in prison. This isn’t a true conversion therapy for pedophiles but maybe it’s a half way type of conversion. I’d rather a pedophile be equally aroused by adults as children than for the adult to be much more aroused by children than adults.
But those who are exclusive pedophiles are essentially screwed. They are completely fucked in the head. Maybe for these individuals, it might make sense to prescribe them a child like sex doll in a heavily controlled and regulated setting IF it turns out that outlets reduce risk of crime for some. But I have doubts that this would be desirable for the 9/10 of pedos who can be attracted to adults.
See. In a land that allows freedom and liberty, the burden of proof lies on those who wish to remove any freedoms or liberties and not on those who value them. Frankly, we don’t need to prove shit. It’s your job to somehow make it so that pure fiction is “dangerous”.
The problem right now is that it’s not clear whether they are safe. In order for products to be legally sold and distributed, THEY MUST BE SAFE AND USEFUL. This is why prostasia is making the right choice in funding research in this area which will determine whether they should remain banned or should be regulated, and if so, how much.
Prove that eating 3 meals daily is safe. A lot of diets tend to disagree. Should we prohibit people from having 3 meals per day because we don’t really know whenever it’s safe or not? Of course not.
Cars are useful, but not safe. By your logic, cars should be prohibited.
And what about alcohol? It has a link with sexual abuse of children, is not useful, and is not safe. Why you don’t advocate to prohibit it, instead of going after things that don’t have such link, at least to our current knowledge?
Australia bans both child sex dolls, regular dolls, lolicon arts, non erotic anime and manga, regular sex dolls, and even adult porn actors that “look too young”.
Japan doesn’t ban any of those things.
The result is, that Australia has 3000% more rapes than Japan. What more proofs do you need when you have such a drastic disparity between those two countries while seeing the opposite approaches to the topic of sexual crime prevention?
No, you have to prove that they are dangerous. Do you not understand that the simple concepts of burden of proof and not being able to prove negatives? Am I speaking to a child or just one with the brain of one?
This is why MAPs distrust the scientific community, and they are right to. There are no criticisms of the validity of the research or results discussed here, no data backing up the counterarguments against it, just blind moral panic. If scientific rigor disappears against the question of sexual relationships between adults and children, then how could MAPs possibly trust the scientific community and prevention agencies?
And yes, my personal opinion on the topic is that any sexual interaction between an adult and a child likely carries a substantially higher potential for harm than one between adults. But I don’t have any decent evidence to back that up, and because of reactions like this, the question isn’t considered because acknowledging that it’s an open question to begin with is social, political, and career suicide. And at that point, the whole endeavor ceases to be science.
Well, I can’t definitely talk for all individuals who were sexually exploited in their youth, but personally, I also have a hard time putting any trust into the scientific community, the governments and the society, when they simply dismiss a potentially incorrect research paper on the merit of social pressure or personal bias, instead of conducting additional research that repeats the methodology of the controversial one to validate or invalidate it and put a spotlight at the credibility of the researcher with actual proofs instead of just opinions.
Because there is a chance, that something was overlocked in this research paper, and by repeating it, we might discover some important informations that could be useful in increasing our effectiveness in protecting children. Or maybe the data in this research is correct, but it’s the conclusion that was skewed in favour of some narration, and we can learn something important from it when we analyze the data alone. Confirmation bias, after all, does exist, and in many research papers, I have seen situations where people adjusted their understanding of information to manipulate them in such a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs.
How can I trust the organizations, governments and scientists, that they have never dismissed something very effective in the fight against child abuse, when it seems that majority of their efforts in that regards is driven by how they personally feel given day, instead of actual observations and empirical data.
I mean, is it really that hard for the greatest minds of our world, to look into this paper, read some of it, and analyze it, even simply on a logical level, to verify it’s validity?
Because I could do it, it wasn’t hard, there are some oblivious issues with this paper, that strongly affect the correctness of the conclusion.
The paper has 20 pages, but even in the very beginning, there are some initial problems with definitions, for example:
It’s an incorrect definition of consent. Willingness and consent aren’t the same things. A heavely drunk person can indicate that they like sexual contact and want to participate in it, but that doesn’t mean such a person is able to make an informed consent. So is the case with minors.
Or this one:
And while I can understand the point the researcher was trying to make, that is, that absolutes are rarely the case, he goes completely wrong about conveying this point. There are differences in power between children and adults. If you throw a 10-year-old boy and 24-year-old adult male into an arena, it’s clear on whom to bet your money. An people in relationships arguing with each other is like such an arena. Conflicts do happen, and the power differences are visible mostly during those conflicts. But that simple fact seems to be excluded in the analysis of this researcher.
The sample is composed of 25 boys, ranging from ages from 10 to 16, with the mean age of 13 years and 4 months.
A sample that is definitely not enough to make any conclusion about the larger picture. And definitely not enough to make any policy changes.
But what is worse, the methodology of this research, was nothing else, than just an interview. An interview with individuals around the age of 13 years old.
The questions asked, are about their “feelings about older partner”, rated from 0 (never) to 5 (very often). Feelings like: “happy”, “nice”, “safe”, “free”, “contented”, “proud”, “strong”, “sad”, “shy”, “angry”, “naughty”, “lonely”, “afraid”, “dislike”.
And about “Reported Behaviors of Older Partner”, like: “to pay attention to”, “to make allowance for”, “to cooperate”, “to give chances”, “to help”, “to consult”, “to encourage”, “to domineer”, “to make fun of”, “to coerce”, “to scare”, “to mislead”, “to leave in the lurch”, “to deceive”, rated with the same method.
And the values have been presented as means of all the 25 boys ratings.
But as it can be seen, the categories in which the harm has been made are quite unreliable and not extensive. What is being measured isn’t all potential harm. What is measured, is how mean or nice the adults were to the individuals. And I mean, is it really that surprising, that individuals who want to have a stable means of supplying their sexual needs will not threaten the people who are willing to supply their demand?
After all, the process of child grooming isn’t about forcing the individual into sexual intercourse, it’s about manipulating and subtly coercing the minor, for them to agree to such relationships and interactions willingly. It’s about gaining trust, making the minor feel happy, safe, free, contended. And definitely not sad, angry or afraid of the adult.
And when you take that under consideration, and the bias that was clear in the initial part of the paper, it’s easy to see that: This research isn’t about such relationship not causing harm, it’s about how effective the child grooming can be..
And it’s confirmed further in the paper:
This quote is particularly interesting, as it shows the exploitation of emotional problems of one of the boys interviewed, related to the lack of attention and care received from his family members:
And this one, a direct quote from the interview:
Of course, the 13-year-old boy being allowed to smoke is completely ignored as harmful towards the child. Naturally, the individual who sexually exploited him would allow the kid to do everything he wanted, simply to continue keeping him willing to participate in sexual acts. The long term wellbeing of that child wasn’t his priority, as it was in case of this child’s parents. So it’s not surprising to see, that the adult wasn’t mean to the child, but his decision to allow him to smoke was definitely harmful to that kid in the long term.
There are many examples that actually negate the hypothesis of whenever such relationships can be “an alternative lifestyle for the children” in the next and last 9 pages of this paper (of the interviews).
And there are many issues with the methodology alone.
There has been no effort to make a psychological evaluation of the state of these children. Since naturally, children don’t know much about psychology, and they might interpret some of their own behaviours and problems as regular for them, while in reality, they might be atypical.
There has been no effort to investigate long term effects of such relationships, how those children respond to the events of their past looking from a perspective. When we can see adults idealizing the abusive relationships with other adults, I don’t see a reason why a child wouldn’t be able to do it as well, especially considering how many times did they mentioned what they gained from such relationships (like more freedom to do what they want, attention etc. In general, most of the good parts of the relationships those children have mentioned is what they gained from them at the moment, and not about the characteristics of the adults, future plans or anything like that).
There has been no analysis of the motivations of those adults, to see whenever they really had correct approach, or had predatory intentions. It’s mentioned that some of them had problems with the law. And the general situation kind of reminds me of the stories of adult female teachers having a romanse with their male underage students, with many people seeing no problem with them, while the research into such female sexual offenders does indicate that at the core their motives were predatory and exploitative, instead of being an “misunderstood love” as some speculated.
All of the boys were in a relationship with those adults during the time of interviewing them, which naturally does affect the credibility of the children’s statements. They could be afraid to mention anything bad about their current partner, out of fear, even if irrational, that their adult partner might discover it and be angry at them. This is really something that needs to be taken under consideration while reading those statements, especially considering the young age of the kids interviewed, and that their adult partners were invited to the research as well. It’s easy to make such kids say things you expect them to say, since kids, in general, tend to be agreeable with unknown adults in unusual situations, like an interviewer, for their own safety.
And there is a couple of more, smaller problems. But in general, this research was extremely poorly conducted, and doesn’t support, and even negate the conclusion:
All this research has shown to me, is that adults in those relationships tend to be careless and overly nonrestrictive, don’t care about the child wellbeing in situations that carry a risk to them, tend to be nice and kind to them, since naturally, it is in their sexual interest to sustain the relationship with the minor and making the child angry or unhappy would be counterproductive for that goal, which could also work as a hypothesis for the low score of negative emotions and rapports of negative behaviors of those adults from the minors (considering even relationships between two adults are filled with negative situations and emotions, it’s weird to see the child-adult ones be exempted from it). That parents tend to be oblivious or maybe even willing to allow their children to participate in such relationships and that those adults in those relationships tend to exploit emotional vulnerabilities of those kids, like the more restrictive parenting their parents give them, lack of attention, problems with life etc., adjusting their own behaviour to better suit the demands of the child, even when those demands can be harmful to them.
All this research has measured, is how harsh the adults were to the children who they dated, nothing else. And that is simply not enough to make a statement that “our data show that they can be experienced by children as meaningful and positive”.
But there is one quote from this paper that I find interesting, that can be overlooked if you instantly become outraged about the topic, instead of actually reading through the document:
And this is what I was talking about in the beginning. This is a piece of useful information that can be derived from this poor research paper, that might be important in understanding how such relationship works, how do they happen, and to improve our prevention methods. It’s definitely something that should be researched on its own, and that could be researched if the response of the scientific community was appropriate, instead of driven by personal emotional reactions. This is the entire point of the scientific method after all.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been through such a situation, so I know first hand that it has negative effects, and I have no doubt about it. But all the outrage such papers generate indicates to me that people actually don’t really believe that sexual relationships between minors and adults can be harmful. They react with anxiety that is covered with anger and outrage because they are afraid that such papers can be correct, and that fear can only occur if a person has strong doubts about the validity of their beliefs, or in other words, lack any foundation of their beliefs. Which is not surprising, considering that when it comes to pedophilia, people prefer to make blind appeals to morality as a concept, instead of actually gaining solid and concrete knowledge about why such relationships are wrong. I do know, that such relationships are harmful, without any doubts. So my reaction to such papers is without any strong emotion. I simply see such paper, and think “Oh, okay buddy, let me see the details of what you have written”.
This is what moral outrage is at its core, a persons lack of confidence in their own moral values. So we are living in a world, where most researchers, politicians, child protection organizations and people on this planet, simply don’t know or don’t really believe that sexual exploitation of minors is wrong, and instead, they simply pretend and perform a “moral outrage” to make others, and themselves, believe that this is not the case, because they think that the society expects them to do so, and fear that not aligning with this notion will make them excluded from the society, but at the same time, by doing what society expects them to do, they reaffirm the sense of the validity of their positions, that aren’t rooted in any solid foundation, by assuming that they must be correct in them because society thinks so as well.
Both you and @David seem to be blaming the scientific community here for something that a government department did. It wasn’t other scientists who cancelled Professor Sandfort! But your critique of the paper is compelling. Thanks for going to that effort.
I was talking more in general sense, not only about this particular example of what happened to Profesor Sandfort. This is not the only paper of such nature that I’ve seen, and not the first controversy. Also, some of people in scientific community do tend to act unprofessional in those regards too.
We cannot just ignore ethics and research methods in science as well, David, nor can we ignore logic. There are a myriad of studies that show both harm and in some cases a lack of harm from self-reports of such “relationships” (more accurately called child sexual abuse), but no study or science can predict when someone will not be harmed in the future or the mechanism by which that harm occurs.
The question of whether or not such “relationships” or ethical cannot be resolved by ethical studies on the subject because you would essentially have to study people who are and are not harmed and attempt to discover in order to predict why that harm happened. In order to do that objectively, you would need to design an experiment where groups of children are and are not subjected to such “relationships” and that is deliberately putting children in harm’s way and no institutional review board is ever going to approve that. Nor should they.
Minor attracted people distrust the scientific community because the research often stigmatizes us, not because science does not engage in unethical experiments.
Sorry for being imprecise, you are correct that my critique is not of the scientific community per se, but rather the larger scientific process, including the anti-scientific influences that affect it.
This is an interesting analysis of the paper, and I think that one of the conclusions that you came to is absolutely vital: it does not address potential long term harm from sexual relationships between adults and children. Unfortunately, since the anti-scientific reaction to Rind et al which Jeremy mentioned, it has been almost impossible to continue research on that topic. I would love it if someone were to try to replicate Rind et al’s attempt to distinguish between coerced and uncoerced sexual interactions without the problems that I think lead it astray, such as biased language (iirc, they asked people who had been in relationships with adults whether those relationships were “consensual,” implying they viewed it as such in hindsight, rather specifically asking than whether they had viewed it as such at the time). If not for the reaction to it and the chilling effect it had on research, we’d likely have an answer to that which I personally think would shut up a lot of people who use that study to defend adult-child relationships. That’s my worry about what will happen to all research related to minor-attracted people, based on the kind of reactions we’re seeing about “not supporting pedophiles”.
If I’m being thorough, I don’t think the other parts of your analysis hold up as well. Your criticisms of definitions are based on answers to the very questions being researched, and assuming answers before the study began would have made it meaningless (much like my problem with Rind’s). I also don’t see anything that actually supports the statement that “all this research has shown is that adults in such relationships are irresponsible, don’t care about the child wellbeing, are nice to them, since naturally, they would be nice to people who supply them with some difficult to obtain benefits.”
The problem was that the introduction to this paper had a lot of definitions that were ignorant of the bigger picture in which they are used. They were purposefully reduced into a simpler form that is easier to use in the narration of this entire paper. Because this paper does have a narration, there is a clear bias visible in how those definitions were structured as well as in the whole paper.
Those definitions are incorrect in their own right. I didn’t base my criticism of them on anything other than their contents. The author stated, that “it should be not excluded that children are able to consent”. But he then defines consent as enjoyment and willingness of participation in sexual intercourse. This is not the definition of consent, and redefinition of this term is irresponsible due to the confusion and misinformation it can result in. Most people enjoy sexual intercourse, so the first criterion of his definition is pointless. The second definition is simply willingness. But there is a lot of cases of people who are willing, yet at the same time, are incapable of actually consenting for sexual intercourse. This was my criticism, nowhere did I ever referenced anything outside of this simple quote from that paper.
You don’t see anything that supports it because I only presented the examples from the first out of 10 pages of the interviews with those minors. You saw already how much text I had to write to cover a single page, and I wanted to keep my post relatively short. You need to read the rest of those pages on your own to see what I was referring to in bigger detail.
Although I would agree that I could specify this line a little bit better because after reading my post the second time, it seems like this statement of mine seems to hold more value than it really should, and didn’t really convey what I had in mind exactly the way I intended.
But the one example that I did reference, does show the irresponsibility of the adult that has allowed a 13-year-old boy to smoke cigarettes.
In general, the rest of those interviews are characterized by a theme of those boys valuing a huge degree of freedom in those relationships, bigger than their families has given them. Those adults allowed them to do whatever they want, because naturally, they would do that, to keep the child in their favour for an extended period of time.
But a kid who lacks experience in life, doesn’t have a lot of knowledge, isn’t often concerned with their own future, is driven mostly by a basic desires, without second-guessing themselves, lacks many abilities and much more is very prone to making poor decisions with long-lasting negative consequences.
This is why parents don’t always allow their kids to do everything their heart desires. But in those cases from the research, those adults didn’t take the responsible approach of even simply explaining, that some of the decisions those kids might want to do aren’t good to them, they simply allowed all of them, because otherwise, they would risk making the child angry (which as shown in the research, practically never happened with the mean of 0.56 in a 0 to 5 scale of frequency), and that creates risk for them.
So naturally, their priorities were fixed on personal benefits instead of the wellbeing of the child. This person didn’t want to risk going to prison, so they allowed the kid to smoke, knowing it can result in the kid having health problems in the future.
Pay in mind that what I do is the analysis of the statements told by those minors. Of course, I do add more substance to it than it’s directly presented in those responses, speculating about what circumstances could be present behind them since this is exactly the same thing this researcher has done. He made huge conclusions based on scarce information from 25 people he got during interview sessions, believing them to be correct ones, without actually being able to make such claims.
My motivation wasn’t to prove this research paper is incorrect or fabricated since to do that, as I said, I would have to actually copy the same research methodology to conduct my own research, and see if I got different results. So instead, I tried to create a counterbalance with my post, to explain the flaws of the methodology and to show that it’s possible to interpret those interviews from the opposite perspective since there is a lot of unknown things that are still left unanswered and vague. There is too much of a hidden area to be filled with anything you want, to construct any narration you want. And this was the point I was trying to convey.
On the contrary, many researchers pointed out methodological issues in the paper. Heather reproduced it without those issues, and found smaller effects, although those effects were still present. Heather did not however make the assertion that such activities are okay, but that victims may more easily bounce after such an adverse experience. She strongly repudiated the idea of engaging in it.
Some of the studies the meta analysis looked at went as far back as the 1950s IIRC, and I can imagine many parts of the scientific method were nowhere as rigorous then as they are now.
They’re just going to play along and say it is effective when it isn’t to get released sooner, get off parole sooner, get the monitoring to end sooner. It’ll be a big pointless charade where they and the researchers fool each other. But, perhaps that isn’t so bad. They can get out sooner. Researchers can move up the tenure track with new “research”. Recidivism rates are mostly exaggerated.