Friday, February 27, 2004

What Can We Deduce From the Priest Sexual Abuse Numbers?

It's always tricky working with statistics. Looking at this item by Michael Williams I found myself wanting to rewrite his ideas in a form that gave me more confidence in the conclusions. After pointing out that 81% of the sexual abuse victims were male, Williams argues that this suggests three possibilities:

1) Homosexuals are over-represented among Catholic priests compared to the population as a whole.

2) Homosexual Catholic priests are more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual Catholic priests.

3) Some combination of the above.

Now, let me try to rephrase his points into a form with which I am more comfortable, because there are some logical leaps in his article that may be correct, but that leave out some assumptions or steps.

Male priests abuse male victims 81% of the time. Homosexuals like to insist that pedophiles aren't really homosexuals. Okay, fine. I don't buy this, because you would then expect roughly equivalent numbers of male and female victims. Homosexuals like to draw a line between "pedophiles" (those who victimize prepubescent minors) and "ephebophiles" (those attracted to pubescent and later minors). Most seem to admit that "ephebophiles" who pursue same sex minors are homosexuals.

According to this detailed report (on p. 58), a majority of the victims were males 11-17--showing that the priests were largely homosexual "ephebophiles" not "pedophiles." We've therefore established that at least half of the priests engaged in sexual abuse were homosexuals.

So here's the question, rephrased from how Michael Williams asked it: Why is it that at least half of the priests engaged in sexual abuse of pubescent minors were homosexuals? Obviously, half of all of priests aren't homosexuals; it is a lot more likely that this reflects higher rates of sexual abuse by homosexual priests than by heterosexual priests.

If homosexuals are proportionately represented among Catholic priests, this means that about 4% - 4.5% of Catholic priests are homosexual--and yet they represent, even taking the homosexual's preferred claim that "pedophiles" aren't homosexuals, at least 50% of the sexual abuse. In other words, homosexual priests who engage in sexual abuse of minors are at least ten times overrepresented from a normal distribution (Michael Williams' point #1).

Okay, maybe homosexuals are overrrepresented among Catholic priests. I'll buy the claim that someone who is conflicted about their sexual orientation might go into a line of work that requires them to be celibate, in the vain hopes that this will protect them from temptation. (That is Michael Williams' point #2.)

There is no way, however, that more than half of Catholic priests are homosexual in orientation. That would mean that homosexuals were at least 10x - 12x overrepresented in the priesthood. At best, part of the overrepresentation of homosexuals among molesters is #2. We are still looking at very disproportionate overrepresentation of homosexuals among molesters in the priesthood.

Masters, Johnson, and Kolodny's Human Sexuality, 4th ed., makes the claim that 26% of molesters go after boys only, with another 4% that go after boys and girls. The lowest claim that I have seen on this subject is from Janet Shibley Hyde, Understanding Human Sexuality, 4th ed., (New York, McGraw-Hill Co.: 1990), 422, which says that only 20% of child molestation is homosexual (and she uses that word). In conjunction with the data from Catholic priest molesters, and that only about 4%-4.5% of men in the general population are homosexual or bisexual, we see general agreement that the sexual orientation of child molesters is disproportionately homosexual.

This doesn't mean that every homosexual man is a molester, but it does mean that the traditional concerns about this have a factual basis. This is not simple ignorance. It is as valid a basis for discrimination as our laws that discriminate against drunk drivers (by prohibiting them from driving drunk) and against convicted felons (by taking away their right to possess firearms). Is this unfair to homosexual men who aren't interested in little boys? Sure.

Guess what? There's a lot of that sort of unfairness. If I walk down a dark city street at night, 200 feet behind a woman who doesn't know me, she will be afraid, and she will noticeably speed up her walking to get away. This isn't theory; I've had this experience before. I was at first offended and hurt, because I was a nice guy. If she had anything to fear from a guy, it wasn't from me; I would come to her defense. But she didn't know that.

Her "discrimination" against me for being a guy was completely rational, because she knows as a first approximation that a man is twice as likely to be a rapist as the average member of the population. (Simple math: effectively all rapes are done by men, who make up half the population. Ergo: any unknown man is twice as likely to be a rapist.) She loses nothing by assuming the worst of an unknown man, and she has much to lose if she incorrectly assumes that a guy is harmless.

I think the larger issue that no one wants to confront, however, is that child molesters are nearly always former victims. The exact mechanism, from what I have read, isn't completely understood, but some of the characteristics fit into several examples that I have blogged about recently:
The perpetrators in our sample had all had sexual encounters as children, and there was evidence of a relationship between this childhood experience and sexual abuse as an adult. The sexual abuse had a narcissistic quality to it that the perpetrator identified with the victim. The victim was usually the same sex as the perpetrator, and frequently the victim was approximately the same age as the offender when he was victimized, and in a number of cases the sexual acts were the same. In addition, the family backgrounds of perpetrators reflect deprivation and harsh treatment.[Kathleen Coulborn Faller, Child Sexual Abuse: An Interdisciplinary Manual for Diagnosis, Case Management, and Treatment (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 85-86]
Homosexuals fight any discussion of a possible link between child sexual abuse and adult sexual orientation. The idea, I am told, is preposterous. Why? It's not like I am proposing two completely unrelated activities, say, child sexual abuse and hating broccoli as an adult. Anyone that can't see a pretty obvious mechanism that could lead from one to the other must be extraordinarily clueless.

One book that I read made an interesting point about how sexual abuse victims deal with their pain, especially once they start to confront it in therapy:
Apart from this obvious repression, a client may also have diminished the intensity of the event by some form of the disassociative process. As one woman so clearly summarized after describing years of brutal physical and sexual abuse by her father, "You know, being beaten up isn't that bad; after the first hit you don't feel it anymore." It is worth reflecting that these kinds of defenses may have been the person's protectors and friends -- in many instances a victim's only solace. When casting off these defenses and telling someone about the trauma, the person may feel that the only shield has been stripped away and that he or she is without anesthesia against the pain of the original assault. One client described a previous therapist, the leader of a woman's group who aggressively confronted the client's defenses before the group, in these words: "That therapist attacked me! She tried to take away my way of coping. I know I'm hard. I have a shell and there's some stuff I won't look at. But I protect myself the best way I know how. Who is she to attack me... trying to take away all I have that protects me from me?... Is she going to protect me? No!" [Diana Sullivan Everstine and Louis Everstine, Sexual Trauma in Children and Adolescents: Dynamics and Treatment (New York: Brunner/Mazel Publishers, 1989), 155-156]
I'm not expecting homosexuals to confront what is probably a very painful memory--one that many homosexuals have acknowledged that they have repressed. A survey done some years ago about drug and alcohol abuse in the gay community asked this question about child sexual abuse: "As a child, were you ever sexually assaulted or abused?" [EMT Associates, Inc., San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alcohol and Other Drug Use Anonymous Survey Appendix A, (San Francisco, San Francisco Dept. of Public Health: 1991), 6.] A startling 28% of the men and 48% of the women answered, "Yes." [EMT Associates, Inc., San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alcohol and Other Drug Use Anonymous Survey Vol. I, p. 24.] When compared to the survey results for more general populations, these are astonishing numbers for men, and somewhat surprising for women. One of the volunteered marginal comments on the survey included the painful acknowledgement:
I am beginning to deal with the possibility I may have been sexually abused as a child. I know I use alcohol to medicate that pain and my drinking has increased with 'seeping' memories and work stress. [EMT Associates, Inc., San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alcohol and Other Drug Use Anonymous Survey Vol. I, 55-56.]
This unwillingness to seriously consider a possible connection between child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality is insane. I was astonished at how many books written even 15 years ago on the subject of child sexual abuse admit that adult homosexuality is a common response. Yet this has become almost like arguing for a flat-Earth today.

UPDATE: One reader points out that the suvey was not a random sample, because not everyone that was given a survey actually returned it, and may thus not be particularly representative. That's true (and it was true of Kinsey's sex surveys as well, but homosexuals were quite willing to use a misstated version of Kinsey's results to create the 10% myth). One of the difficulties when you try to gather any sort of data about a minority population is that you have to either:

1. Pick from a list of members of that minority population; or,

2. Survey the entire population, then identify members of the minority population as part of the survey.

For homosexuals, both of these are difficult problems. It's not like you can stand on a street corner and pick out homosexuals with any certainty. Yes, there are certain subgroups of homosexuals who stand out--but there are a lot that do not, and do not fit the stereotypes. A survey based on who is willing to identify him or herself as homosexual is going to bias the survey to those who are most "out" about their sexuality.

Option #2 is problematic both because to get a statistically significant sample, you will need a huge sample of the general population--and then you have the same problem about homosexuals who are closeted perhaps being less willing to identify themselves as such on a survey.

However, the reader who wasn't too happy about my use of the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health survey claims that the 30% and 48% numbers really aren't that far out of the norm:
And as you no doubt know, the values for men are within the range found in general population studies, (3-29%) and the women are just a bit above that (7-36%).
I am a little startled by those numbers. If those are numbers from current studies (that is to say, done more than ten years after the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health survey), then we are not comparing equivalent populations. I would expect there to have been an increase in child molestation rates because so many children are not being raised by their biological fathers now. For a variety of reasons, children growing up in the homes of their biological fathers are at much lower risk of molestation.

In any case, when the survey in question showed child molestations rates of 30% and 48%, respectively, the data that I was able to find on molestation rates for the general population was lower--although the very high end of the numbers for females were getting close to the S.F. Dept. of Public Health survey. The range of the 11 studies summarized in Bagley & King are 12%-40% of females, and 3%-8.6% of males.[Christopher Bagley and Kathleen King, Child Sexual Abuse: The Search for Healing (New York: Tavistock/Routledge, 1990), 76.] Faller quotes the same studies, though in less detail.[Faller, 19.] The Everstines use the figures 15%-45% of females and 3%-9% of males, but "believe that the currently accepted percentages for males who have been molested will be revised to 10% or 15% of the population when more accurate data are forthcoming."[Everstine & Diana Sullivan Everstine and Louis Everstine, Sexual Trauma in Children and Adolescents: Dynamics and Treatment (New York: Brunner/Mazel Publishers, 1989), 2.] These studies were conducted in Britain, Canada, and the United States, with Bagley and King asserting that child sexual abuse survey reports in California are unusually high, though it is unclear whether this is a methodological problem, or reflects higher incidence in California.[Bagley and King, 69.]

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