Science and Social Research / Psychology

Expert Testimony — A Researcher Speaks Out
Sexual Science and the Law, by Richard Green
Cambridge, Mass.  Harvard University Press, 1992
 Reviewed by Peter Reed

RICHARD GREEN is a professor of psychiatry who teaches at University of California, Los Angeles Law School.  The basic theme of "Sexual Science and the Law" is that the law has not kept pace with recent research into sex.  Also, some of this research suffers from methodological flaws.  Green hopes his book will help address these problems, and he surveys what the current state of sexual knowledge (as conventionally established by credentialed experts) has to say about such legal hot buttons as child custody by homosexual parents, intergenerational sexuality, and sex education.  Other topics Green considers include anti-discrimination laws protecting homo- sexuals, pornography, and the right to privacy.

Dr.  Green's expert testimony in several child custody cases involving a homosexual parent of either sex is neatly captured in his statement that ~[t]he only difference we see . . .  is that these children seem more tolerant of adult people who have different kinds of sexual preference from the majority.”  One might have wished also for a discussion of non- biological homosexual parents, such as those who adopt or provide foster care.

The chapter on intergenerational sexuality will be of greatest interest to Bulletin readers.  The age-of-consent was as low as ten in Elizabethan England, and seven (!) in Delaware as late as the 1950s.  In a parallel situation -- the need for consent to medical procedures -- Green notes that "Canadian cases have held that there is no age below which minors are automatically incapable of giving consent."

"It is not only radical factions, such as. . .  the Gay Liberation Movement's bete noir, NAMBLA. . .  that stir up the debate.  Mainstream. . .  researchers. . .  question whether all of the 'sexual' experiences between children and adults are necessarily 'abusive"' and "see parallels with the earlier sexual science view of homosexuality.”  That earlier view, of course, saw all homosexuals as sick, just as today's crusaders see all intergenerational sex as abusive.  As long as 40 years ago, Karl Menninger and Lauretta Bender found several cases of incest and other intergenerational sexuality that had positive outcomes.  Bender said that "in contrast to the harsh social taboos. . .  there exists no scientific proof that there are any resulting deleterious effects."

Various studies of randomly chosen subjects that Green cites report between four and 20 percent experiencing intergenerational contacts.  Studies of long-term effects of intergenerational sex are inconclusive, but one notable conclusion is that when parents react to a child's sexual experiences with anger or punishment, then there are behavioral disturbances.

Dr.  Green cites the famous "Sambia" of New Guinea, where swallowing older boys' semen during fellatio is a necessary rite of passage on the way to heterosexuality.  The contrast with Western society could not be greater, clearly showing that attitudes are what a culture chooses to adopt.

It will not come as a surprise to readers of the Bulletin that one study of pederastic relationships finds that "the boys overwhelmingly experienced their sexual contact with [an] older partner as pleasant.”  And that another extensive study discovers "that a [relationship that is paternal or platonic but allows erotic overtones] frequently salvages boys from sexual and other delinquency.”  More "no surprise" findings include that more harm is done by official intervention than by the relationship; that "the strongly negative American attitude toward adult-child sexuality is not universally shared by other Western nations"; and that many "perpetrators" show a genuine interest in children.

Incest, frequently intergenerational, has been a common practice among royalty in ancient Egypt, Ireland, Hawaii, and among the Incas of Peru, Green notes.  It has more recently been fairly common in places as diverse as Sweden, Utah, and Japan.  Searchers for negative affects have committed the usual methodological miscues, leading more objective researchers to comment that the evidence documenting the harmfulness of incest is inconsistent, and blurred by the effects of dysfunctional families.

Reporting of suspected "molestation" by health care professionals (including opticians!) of child sexual abuse is required in all 50 US states.  These laws, Green suggests, are widely ignored, at least part of the time, when physicians believe that reporting would be harmful to the family, or are dissatisfied with how state agencies handle the cases.  In one state, instituting a reporting requirement caused self-referrals by adults for treatment to drop to zero, while there was no change in the number of "abused" children.


Prosecutorial abuse

Trial procedures, such as videotaped testimony by children and use of anatomically correct dolls, are in a state of chaos, as is admissibility of various types of evidence.  One of the most bizarre theories to come out of the sexual abuse industry is the putative "child sex abuse accommodation syndrome," which holds that a child's recanting testimony of abuse is evidence of abuse.  Dr.  Green: "The McMartin Pre-school molestation case in California presented a caricature of the current legal system . . ..  By [the time the trials ended], the two defendants had spent a total of seven years in jail without ever having been convicted on a single count . . ..”  One ten-year-old had been cross-examined a total of 16 days on the witness stand.  "The jurors' principal reason for not finding the defendants guilty was their perception that the children had been coaxed by professionals into reporting sexual abuse."

Unhappily, there are other equally bad if not as lengthy cases.  Organizations such as VOCAL (Victims of Child Abuse Legislation) and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation are fighting an uphill battle against these abuses.  "Researchers and health care workers," Green writes, "are beginning to be concerned that the politics of child sexual abuse are compromising efforts to protect children from genuine victimization."

Just as much as the evolution-versus-creationism debate, the debate over sex education is a debate over whose religious values should be taught.  Isn't it obvious that we should teach science, including sexual science, in the schools, and let parents teach religious values in the home?  The whole point is that some parents are too uptight about sex to do the latter, so they don't want their children exposed to alternate points of view that they feel inadequate to refute.  In an evolution-versus-creationism case, the Supreme Court said that the "First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma.”  A New Jersey court held that allowing religious partisans to dictate that something could not be taught was in effect establishing that religion.  A California court said that "the Constitution. . .  does not vest in objectors the right to preclude other students.”  Dr.  Green: "Certainly the state has a compelling interest in reducing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.”  But in its present condition, it cannot be said that sex education achieves these goals.  Dr.  Green, in summarizing the problems with today's sex education, says that "the information comes too late, a school excusal system may withhold information from vulnerable students, some adolescents may take conscious risks, others may unconsciously deny risks, a sexual partner may exert pressure to ignore risks, and some adolescents may have an emotional need for pregnancy.”  After recognizing the state's compelling interest he asks, "What of the quality of relating socio-sexually to a partner?  What of the quality of parenting?"

To realize the fairly recent changes in attitudes to masturbation (corn flakes were invented as an anti-masturbatory food!) and even to homosexuality, is to wonder where sexual science will lead us and the law next.  Virtually the author's last word on the subject is, "to ignore sexual science in legal controversy is to ignore this essential aspect of human motivation and behavior.”  If you know where all the best precedents are, there is a lot of good sense floating around, but there is also a lot of nonsense abroad.

From the NAMBLA Bulletin, Vol. 15, No. 8.  Pgs. 27 - 28, Dec. 1994
Copyright © NAMBLA, 2008


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