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Research: Association or Causation

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Part of NewgonWiki's
research project
Research flaws and false constructs  

Methodological flaws/false constructs

Minor-Adult sex  

Prevalence of harm
Association or causation?
Secondary harm
Family environment
Effects of age on outcomes

Minors  

Commercial and online victimization
Youth sexuality
Sexual repression
Cognitive ability
Teen pregnancy
Effects of pornography

"Child Sex Offenders"  

Characteristics of the offender
Who offends and how often?
Recidivism

Minor attraction  

Child pornography
Cognitive distortion
Abnormal psychology
Pedophilia as an orientation
Nonsexual aspects
Prevalence
Dangers of stigma
A "cure" for pedophilia?

Broader perspectives  

Non-human relationships
Historical relationships
Nonwestern relationships
Double-Taboo (Incest, Prostitution)
Evolutionary Perspectives

Template: Research - This template
Web Archive (within series)

Our page on family environment demonstrates that any relationship between adult-minor sex and harm is unlikely to be causative. Our section on outcomes and poly-victimization shows that the purported relationship is unlikely to exist in the first place, when all legally-defined "abusive" interactions (rather than just forceful/unwanted) are accounted for.

Mental exercize

For more examples of the following deduction, see Methodological flaws and syndrome construction.

A mental exercize you can perform to better understand how lesser (clinically sampled, criminally/coercively sampled) studies associate CSA with later psychological sequela:

  1. Forceful or unwanted sexual contact with a minor is deemed highly unacceptable throughout the western world.
  2. Forceful or unwanted sexual contact is therefore deemed an extraordinary and highly taboo behavior throughout the western world.
  3. Extraordinary and highly taboo, coercive behaviors are generally only perpetrated against extraordinary individuals, under extraordinary circumstances, lest they cause alarm or be discovered.
  4. One such predicating circumstance is vulnerability. In other words, to ever be subjected to a forced sexual contact, the minor is far more likely to have been seen as vulnerable, or to come from a vulnerable background.
    1. Vulnerable individuals from vulnerable backgrounds are statistically more likely to suffer from mental disturbances, drug dependency problems, and any number of negative life trajectories.
  5. Another such predicating circumstance, is that the perpetrator of the assault is likely to be mentally disturbed. What respectable and responsible person would carry out such antisocial acts? They may therefore already be in an abusive relationship with the victim.
  6. Given the above, is it really likely to be a single (or even multiple) "sexual" contact/s that caused the later impairment? Or instead, is the correlation with negative events in later life caused by pre-existing characteristics, general life trajectory, abusive relationships and other factors such as self-perception?

Correlation =/= Causation: The scientific approach

The 9 criteria outlined by Austin Bradford Hill in The Environment and Disease: Association or Causation? are used to determine whether causation can be assumed in medicine. This page will review the research on adult-minor sex to see if these criteria have been met. Unfortunately, much research fails to disentangle voluntary adult-minor/child sex from clearly abusive activity, so from this point onwards, our papers examine the construct of 'child sexual abuse' as arbitrarily defined, for instance by law:

  • Biological gradient: the demonstration of a biological gradient, in which more of the causative agent leads to a poorer outcome.
    • Shen, F., Liu, Y. (2023). Perceived Parental Attachment and Psychological Distress Among Child Sexual Abuse Survivors: The Mediating Role of Coping Strategies. J Fam Viol. DOI:10.1007/s10896-023-00568-w
      “We found that parental attachment significantly predicted CSA survivors’ psychological distress. Additionally, both approach coping and avoidance coping mediated the effect of perceived parental attachment on psychological distress. CSA severity was found to be a nonsignificant predictor of psychological distress.”
    • Forouzan, Elham, and Gijseghem, Hubert Van (2005). "Psychosocial Adjustment and Psychopathology of Men Sexually Abused During Childhood," International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 49(6), 626-651
      "Certain studies conducted with clinical participants have revealed that frequency and duration of sexual contacts had a significant effect on the development of the participant (Freeman-Longo, 1986; Friedrich, Urquiza, & Beilke, 1986; Gerber, 1990; Mendel, 1995), whereas studies carried out with nonclinical participants reported no clear link between frequency and duration of contacts and the development or later aggravation of disorders of whatever nature among participants (Finkelhor, 1979; O’Neill, 1990; Sarbo, 1984; Urquiza & Capra, 1990)."
    • Rind, B., Tromovitch, P. & Bauserman, R. (1998). "A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse (CSA) using college samples," Psychological Bulletin, 124(1), 22-53
      "Multiple regression analyses showed that the intensity of the relationship between CSA and adjustment varied reliably as a function of gender, level of consent, and the interaction of these two factors. It is noteworthy that neither the level of contact nor the interaction between gender and level of contact was related to intensity. These latter results failed to provide support for the common belief that contact sex is more harmful than noncontact sex or that contact sex for girls is especially harmful. These conclusions, however, should be viewed cautiously because of the overlapping nature of the two levels of the contact variable (i.e., contact only versus contact and noncontact sex). This same caveat applies to consent because its two levels (unwanted versus willing and unwanted) were overlapping as well. [...] In separate moderator analyses, we examined how aspects of the CSA experience moderated self-reported reactions and effects, as well as symptoms. Although these results should be viewed cautiously because they were usually based on a small number of samples, we found that only force and incest moderated outcomes. The largest relation occurred between force and self-reported reactions or effects, but force was unrelated to symptoms. Incest moderated both symptoms and self-reported reactions and effects. Penetration, duration, and frequency did not moderate outcomes. The near-zero correlation between penetration and outcome is consistent with the multiple regression analysis finding that contact sex did not moderate adjustment. [...] This finding is consistent with Laumann et al.'s (1994) failure to find an association between their composite variable (consisting of penetration, number of older partners-abusers, relatedness of partner-abuser, frequency of contacts, age when having contacts, duration of contacts) and adjustment for SA respondents in their study of a U.S. national sample. "
    • Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.
      "Unlike force, sexual activity and duration both are ambiguous in their implications. A longer relationship and one involving intercourse indicate greater intensity. Intensity may be more harmful, but it could also be an indicator in some cases of a positive, or at least. an ambivalent, bond. In contrast, presence of force would almost always signal something negative about the relationship. It is a concise symptom of a whole negative context - the reluctance of the child, the pressure exerted by the partner, the difference in power and control. The primary recollection of the child is of the coercion. That there was sex involved is perhaps less important than the fact that there was aggression." (pp. 104-105; as cited in Rind, 2001)
  • Consistency: consistency of the findings across research sites and methodologies.
    • Bauserman, Robert, and Rind, Bruce (1997). "Psychological Correlates of Male Child and Adolescent Sexual Experiences with Adults: A Review of the Nonclinical Literature," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26(2), 105-141.
      "Clearly, by whatever measures of effects are used, the nonclinical research findings reviewed here differ consistently from clinically based studies of the correlates of early sexual experiences."
    • Forouzan, Elham, and Gijseghem, Hubert Van (2005). "Psychosocial Adjustment and Psychopathology of Men Sexually Abused During Childhood," International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 49(6), 626-651
      "Certain studies conducted with clinical participants have revealed that frequency and duration of sexual contacts had a significant effect on the development of the participant (Freeman-Longo, 1986; Friedrich, Urquiza, & Beilke, 1986; Gerber, 1990; Mendel, 1995), whereas studies carried out with nonclinical participants reported no clear link between frequency and duration of contacts and the development or later aggravation of disorders of whatever nature among participants (Finkelhor, 1979; O’Neill, 1990; Sarbo, 1984; Urquiza & Capra, 1990)."
  • Plausibility: the demonstration of a biologic rationale, such that it makes sense that the causative agent causes the outcome.
    • The most popular proposed mechanism for the relationship between adult-child sex and its supposed non-sexual symptoms cannot reasonably be applied to fully consensual activity in the context of an accepting society. See "The traumatic impact of child sexual abuse: A conceptualization" in Research: Secondary Harm
  • Analogy: evidence from analogous conditions.
    • Minor peer sexual activity is (when defined correctly) analogous to adult-minor sexual activity. The results are similar (impairment can be found, sometimes before elimination of confounds, sometimes when forceful contact is insisted upon), but only in a way that appears to demonstrate the absence of a relationship, let alone causation. See the studies on mental health at Research: Youth sexuality.
  • Coherence: coherence of the findings, such that the causation argument is in agreement with what we already know.
  • Experimental evidence.
    • As demonstrated throughout this project, as studies improve in quality and become more exacting, the purported association between CSA and later psychological impairment fades to insignificance.

Excerpt Graphic Library

The EGL on Harm has some relevant information. Just right click/save and reproduce by uploading in short-form media to bypass character limits.