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''Sex Abuse'' Mitigates The Effects Of Other Abuse

Posted by Puzzled on Sunday, September 22 2002 at 0:54:37PM

That subject line is too short. My real title is:

A Study Shows Sexual Experiences With Adults Might Mitigate the Effects for Children of Other Forms of Abuse or Neglect

In 1994 a study by Pilip Ney, Tak Fung, and Adele Wickett was published1 that seems to suggest some very interesting things about the possible positive effects of sexual experiences2 for children. Interestingly, and predictably, the authors do not seem to notice that this is a result of their own study and, if anything, seem to assume that the opposite is the case. But a careful examination of their own findings suggests a different set of facts.

The opening paragraph of the article (p. 705) announces the issue that they wish to study:
"Although there is a great deal of literature on the mistreatment of children, there is almost nothing on combinations of various types of abuse and neglect. Most writing in this area is about one form or another, as if different abuse or neglect incidents occurred singly. Clinicians know this is not the case. Clinically, it appears that physical, verbal, or sexual abuse seldom occur without some component of other mistreatment. Various forms of abuse are frequently combined with either physical or emotional neglect."
They then go on to report the results of their study of 167 children and adolescents (both boys and girls) aged 7 to 18 who had reported3 having experienced more than one of the following: physical abuse, physical neglect, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, and sexual abuse.

Firstly, the authors assess how strongly correlated each form of abuse or neglect is with each other form. For each type of abuse or neglect, severity and frequency were highly correlated (ranging from .848 to .949) except for sexual abuse, which had a very low correlation (.100). This suggests already that sexual abuse is a very different thing from the other types of abuse or neglect. It suggests that comparisons or analogies to these other types of abuse may simply not apply. so viewing sexual abuse as we view physical abuse (and they often are seen as similar in important ways) could lead to great error.

Secondly, the authors produce a table that shows the effects each form of abuse or neglect had on the children when the effects were isolated and measured independently. The variables measured, based on the child's own reports of how they felt, were:
  • Low enjoyment of living
  • My own future is bad
  • Poor chance of a happy marriage
  • Poor chance of having children
  • Poor chance of living to old age
  • Poor chance of developing into the person I could be.
Based on the results of this the authors were able to rate the different forms of abuse and neglect from worst to least effects on children in this order:
  1. physical abuse
  2. physical neglect
  3. verbal abuse
  4. emotional neglect
  5. sexual abuse.
Their own conclusion was that of the five forms of abuse and neglect that sexual abuse was the least harmful on these measurements. In fact, of the six categories measured, sexual abuse produced a positive correlation with negative answers only to "poor chance of a happy marriage" and "poor chance of developing into the person I could be." But even in each of these cases, several other forms of abuse or neglect had even higher correlations. In the category "my future is bad" the correlation for sexually abused children was a mere .03 while it ranged from .22 to .37 for the others. In other words, sexual abuse is dramatically less connected with children having a negative outlook on life than other abused or neglected children.

Thirdly, the authors produced tables to rank the 20 different possible ways4 that the forms of abuse and neglect could appear in combinations of two or three together. When looking at the top ten worst combinations, the authors note the following:
  • Verbal abuse appears seven times in the top ten combinations (including all of the six worst combinations).
  • Physical neglect appears six times in the top ten combinations (including combinations 1, 2, and 5).
  • Physical abuse appears five times in the top ten combinations (including the worst combination).
  • Emotional neglect appears five times in the top ten combinations (including the 3rd worst combination).
  • Sexual abuse appears only one time in the top ten combinations (and only the 8th worst combination at that, when combined with both verbal abuse and physical neglect).
These conclusions are striking, but not nearly as striking as the one conclusion that the authors of the report failed to make. Since they compared all possible combinations of two or three forms of abuse or neglect together, we can see in the rankings an amazing pattern: In every case without exception the combination of two of the forms of abuse or neglect had worse results if the pair did not include sexual abuse than the combination of the same two forms with sexual abuse added. To give an example, the combination of physical neglect and verbal abuse was the second worst combination of the twenty, but the combination of physical neglect, verbal abuse, and sexual abuse was only the eighth worst combination. This seems to suggest that the sexual abuse that these children were subject to over and above the two other forms of abuse/neglect made their situation better, not worse. The same thing is true for all six possible pairs that exclude sexual abuse - in each case adding sexual abuse to the equation improves the outcomes.

Now before we can conclude that sexual abuse is clearly beneficial to children suffering other forms of abuse or neglect, we need to be careful about possible misreadings of the data. Firstly, this is only one study, and so other studies need to be done to see if these results can be confirmed or not. Secondly, the results actually only show a correlation between children's experiences of abuse/neglect and their outlook on their futures, so to assume that it proves causality could be mistaken. I will be making another post in the next few days that looks at exactly this error in scientific studies of sexual abuse. But in the absence of possible other explanations for why these results are as they are, they do suggest that it is possible that sexual abuse mitigates the effects of other forms of abuse/neglect that children experience.

How could this be possible? Well, the average pedophile has an answer that most scientists are not willing to consider. It just might be the case that these studies are including a lot of children as "sexually abused" who are engaged in freely chosen, enjoyable, and beneficial sexual relationships with adults. So if a child is being verbally abused and physically neglected by his or her parents, it should be no surprise that the child who has an adult friend with whom he or she is having a sexual relationship has a more positive outlook on his or her life than a child who does not.

Is it likely that some of these cases being called "sexual abuse" are really not abusive at all, but loving and beneficial relationships? One needs only read the only narrative they offer of a specific case. Here it is, in its entirety:
"Joe was brought for psychiatric evaluation because of violent altercations with his siblings, alternating with periods of morbid fascination with death. Over a 4-year period, he, together with his older brother and sister, had been sexually abused by their mother's bisexual husband. this often occurred while the mother was having an affair with her husband's lover. The mother had been sexually abused when she was very young and was frequently neglected by her mother. She was now physically and verbally violent toward her own children. Both the sexual and physical abuse had been preceded by periods of neglect when the mother was partying. Treatment required a number of hospitalizations. It was complicated by Joe's attachment to his mother's bisexual lover (that they both insisted was a father-son affection)."
One does not need to be a genius to read between the lines here, one only needs to believe that sexual relationships can be consensual and positive for children. The anecdote is clear: The mother neglected her son. The mother physically and verbally abused her son. The step-father had a sexual relationship with the boy that both called positive. This claim that the relationship was positive was seen as a complication to the boy's treatment. But what they overlook is the real possibility that the step-father and his affection might have been exactly what the boy both wanted and needed.

If scientists doing this and other related research want to really understand the effects of sexual abuse, they will first need to separate the cases of real abuse from other consensual sexual experiences. I doubt highly that real sexual abuse has positive effects on a child's life and outlook on it, but so long as researchers fail to separate the good sexual relationships from the abusive ones, studies might just show results like this again and again. While the scientists scratch their heads to try to understand how this could be, the pedophiles of the world will not be the least bit surprised by it. We have known (or should have known) all along that sexual relationships with adults can be beneficial for children.


1 Ney, Philip, Tak Fung, and Adele Wickett (1994), "The Worst Combinations of Child Abuse and Neglect," Child Abuse and Neglect, 18, 705-714.

2 The article consistently uses the term "sexual abuse" which is defined on p.707 as "exposed, forced intercourse, incest, used for pornography, etc." It should be noted that there is good reason to believe that the authors of the study would not consider a consensual relationship possible between a minor and an adult, and so any such relationships also are included as cases of "sexual abuse."

3 The subjects were partly a clinical sample, partly a criminal sample, and partly a general population sample.

4 For the math buffs, that is 5P2+5P3=20 (or the combinations are PN+VA, PN+SA, PN+EN, PN+PA, VA+SA, VA+EN, VA+PA, SA+EN, SA+PA, EN+PA, SA+EN+PA, PA+EN+VA, PA+SA+VA, VA+EN+SA, PN+PA+EN, SA+PN+PA, PN+SA+EN, PA+PN+VA, EN+PN+VA, PN+SA+VA)



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