Homosexuality and child abuse: the bigots are missing a link
The latest news from Auld Reekie deals with the high profile case of child sexual abuse has ignited predictable controversy and also an age old hateful debate… That is to say ye olde canard that homosexuality and paedophilia are linked.
I agonised over what to title this blog post, as I fear people may draw the wrong conclusion from it, the rationale behind using the term “the missing link” is to point out that despite the claims of proponents of traditional values and certain religious fundamentalists the supposed link between homosexuality and paedophilia is a myth. The evidence for such a proposition is weak and built upon shaky foundations of prejudice and bigotry. In short the evidence is missing, the link is missing and one might be tempted to add that the brains of those who propagate such hateful lies are perhaps missing also.
It is important to separate male paedophiles who abuse young boys from homosexual males as certain commentators have often “massaged” statistics so that paedophiles who abuse young boys are counted as homosexuals so as to suit their line of argument. It may not surprise people to learn the people guilty of perpetuating this myth via such dishonest methods are the religious right: see here
In response to the scandal involving former Congressman Mark Foley, a number of conservative religious groups have claimed that homosexuals pose a substantially greater risk of committing sexual abuse against children than heterosexuals, and have issued papers citing a number of scientific studies to support these claims. However, when one examines the studies cited in these papers, one finds that the religious right has engaged in some serious distortion of the works of others. The scientists who authored the studies made no such claim about homosexuals posing a greater threat to children, and in fact in many cases argued the opposite.
It is also important to separate paedophilia from homosexuality as it allows us to see that adult-orientated homosexuals are no more likely to become sexually involved with children than are heterosexuals. Indeed this is the approach found here.
Surveys have identified few paedophiles amongst homosexuals: Westwood (1960) found less than 3% claiming to be interested in young people sexually — which is not the same as actual sexual contacts.
About 12% of Westwood’s sample had contact after 18 years of age with boys of 16 or younger.
and 6% said that they felt free to engage in sexual activities with a boy of any age.
Another study showed that nearly half of the men convicted of sexually molesting boys were actually married at the time (Gebhard et al., 1965); less than a third preferred children sexually to older people. Using measures of sexual arousal to different sets of pictures, it was discovered that although heterosexual men were sexually aroused by pictures of girls rather than by those of landscapes, homosexual men were no more aroused by pictures of boys than landscapes (Freund, 1963).
In short, just knowing the nature of an adult’s sexual involvement with children says little or nothing about their orientation to adult men or women.
However if we were, for a moment, to accept the line of reasoning that sleeping with male children indicates adult sexual preference as homosexual then how does that square with the statistics for the gender of abused children? Well not very well as it happens given that girls are almost twice as likely to have been abused as young boys: 2.433 versus 1.614 (thousand) on the 2000 child protection register because of sexual abuse (stats available from the national office of statistics). Thats a statistic that rather suggests, using the simplistic association implying a link between homosexuality and abuse, that most of the abusers should, in line with the association, be heterosexual. One might be tempted to waggishly suggest that to reduce child abuse that halving the numbers of heterosexual or doubling the numbers of homosexual men might be a good idea…
One of the roots of the idea that homosexuality and paedophilia are linked is that a researcher, Nicholas Groth, found that one-third of all child molestation cases involve men and boys. The only problem with the adoption of this by those wishing to promote the idea of a link is that Groth himself stated that it is a myth that men who molest boys are homosexual.
Groth suggested there are two kinds of offender fixated and regressed – fixated offenders picking boys more often than girls but not due to homosexuality and regressed offenders picking boys due to their lack of male sexual characteristics and feminine appearance. Indeed many researchers in the field of child sexual abuse agree that the absence of secondary sexual features (such as pubic hair, breasts etc) is what causes the attraction and gender is of little concern.
If we accept the lack of secondary features hypothesis then there is perhaps an explanation for the rate of abuse of young boys – access. Male paedophiles will be more able to gain access to young male children by becoming sports coaches and the like. As culturally and socially these roles will attract less suspicion from the wider community they can attract individuals who wish to take advantage of these professions to build and then abuse the trust of the children in their charge. Although I stress these individuals are rare and advents of them holding such positions are rarer still.
Nearly all the research suggests that adult sex offenders are generally a reasonably heterogenous population however there are some commonalities that are shared among some offenders: Up to 80% may have been abused in the past themselves, they can be typically emotionally isolated, lacking in self esteem and assertiveness. Homosexuality is not associated as a characteristic of paedophiles and paedophilia is defiantly not a characteristic of homosexuality.