The Politically Inconvenient Truth

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2006

Over the past week, Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, has tried to make himself something of a media expert on the supposed link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse. Since October 3, he appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room, MSNBC’s Hardball and MSNBC Live, Fox’s The Big Story, with Charmaine Yoest on CNBC, and all three nightly network newscasts. And wherever he’s appeared, he’s been making the claims that he made in this blurb, entitled “The Politically Incorrect Truth” that he posed on his web site:

The more recent revelation that Foley himself was molested as a teenager, and his lawyer’s acknowledgment that he is indeed a homosexual, simply reinforce a pattern well-attested in the scholarly literature. For example, the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that boys molested by men are almost four times more likely to become homosexual or bisexual than boys who weren’t molested. Homosexual activists don’t want you to know that, because it undermines the myth that people are “born gay.” Although homosexuals and bisexuals are less than 3% of the male population, male-on-male abuse accounts for about a third of all child molestation. The Archives of Sexual Behavior reported that “eighty-six percent of offenders against males described themselves as homosexual or bisexual.”

Three specific statistical claims, but only two cited sources. Let’s examine them one by one.

Claim 1:

…the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that boys molested by men are almost four times more likely to become homosexual or bisexual than boys who weren’t molested.

I looked high and low in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy for this statistic. It was nowhere to be found. But after searching through the FRC’s website, I was able to find it repeated in another document that carried this footnote: Watkins and Bentovim (#35).

Update (10/20/2006): Almost there weeks after writing this post, I have learned the actual source for this claim. You can read that update here.

Okay. Here’s the first example of shoddy research: Tony Perkins got his source wrong. He should have referred to Bill Watkins and Arnon Bentovim’s “The sexual abuse of male children and adolescents: A review of current research”, which originally appeared in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry vol 33, no. 1 (January 1992): 197-248.

I happened to have that report on file, and this is what I learned:

Finkelhor (1984c) note it is a traditional mythology that molestation leads to homosexuality, but at the same time he found, in his college study, that boys victimized by older men were over four times more likely to be currently engaged in homosexual activity than were non-victims.

With that, I went to our local university library and found David Finkelhor’s 1984 book Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research (New York: Free Press) and found this on page 195:

Boys victimized by older men were over four times more likely to be engaged in homosexual activity than were nonvictims.

For this statistic, David Finkelhor cited yet another book he wrote clear back to a book he published in 1979, Sexually Victimized Children (New York: Free Press). This book presented some preliminary results of a survey that he conducted in the mid-seventies among social science college students at six New England colleges. Notice that now we’re talking about data that is some thirty years old. And since it comes from a convenience sample of social sicence college studients, the data is not representative. David Finkelhor plainly discusses the weakenesses of his sample in pages 38-41 of his book.

But that’s not all. Finkelhor’s claim about boys victimized by men doesn’t actually appear to be in the book (I can’t find it, anyway). So how did he determine that these kids were “currently engaged in homosexuality” as he said in his later book? I found my answer in appendix B, where the questionnaire was reproduced:

In the last year, how many sexual experiences have you had with someone of your own sex?

0. None
1. 1-2
2. 3-5
3. 5-10
4. 11 or more

So this is what it took for Tony Perkins to come up with his statistic that he’s so proud of. It wasn’t a comprehensive survey of adults who were molested as children. Perkins had to find an obscure third-hand reference to a thirty-year-old study that was not peer-reviewed, and was based on a convenience sample of college students taken at the very height of the sexual revolution (college students who were enrolled in social science classes in New England, no less). And that statistic included those who may only have had a single experimental experience in the past year.

How’s that for cherry picking?

Let’s skip Perkins next claim for now — that 3% of male homosexuals account for a third of all molestations, a claim we’ll come back to in a moment — and move on to his other attributed statement.

Claim 2:

The Archives of Sexual Behavior reported that “eighty-six percent of offenders against males described themselves as homosexual or bisexual.”

This is a very poor choice of support for such a broad contention. That 1988 study (Erickson, W.D.; Walbek, N.H.; Seely, R.K.; “Behavior patterns of child molesters.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 17, no. 1 (1988): 77-88; abstract available here) consisted of a convenience sample of only 63 convicted molesters against male victims. The brief sentence of “eighty-six percent of offenders against males described themselves as homosexual or bisexual” is the only mention of sexual orientation. There was no attempt to follow up on whether any of these predators had any adult relationships, or if so, what kind of relationships they were. There was no description of how they may have measured these predator’s sexual attractions. There was no attempt to quantify their erotic age preference. Just one single sentence in passing, with no further explanation or support.

This is important. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to label oneself as a homosexual than as a pedophile. Members of the Aryan Nation, for example, call themselves Christians instead of bigots, a claim which most Christians would vehemently disagree.

I’m sure the “researchers” at the Family Research Council had to dig long and hard to find that statistic, because it runs completely counter to what the most respected experts have to say about the subject — Dr. Carole Jenny, Nicholas Groth, and the late Kurt Freund, for example. They have all found that this supposed connection between homosexuality and pedophilia simply don’t exist.

And finally…

Claim 3:

Although homosexuals and bisexuals are less than 3% of the male population, male-on-male abuse accounts for about a third of all child molestation.

Here’s a news flash: that 3% statistic only applies to men who openly acknowledge their sexual orientation. It does not include those who engage in same-sex sexual activity but identify as straight.

A recent random survey of 4,193 men in New York City revealed that among men who have sex with men, 72.8% identified as straight. And these only represent those who admit to such sexual activity when questioned.

In short, this claim is not only unsubstantiated, it is logically false and demonstrably wrong. But he’s not the only one to make it. You can read an extensive analysis of that myth in my report, Testing the Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Friends, this is what passes for research at the Family “Research” Council: cherry-picking of thirty-year old data, ill-supported conclusions, and statements built on faulty logic. In other words, the same old stuff. It’s time we — and specially the press — called them on their so-called “science” and exposed it for what it is: junk.

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