article is on Dr. Gregory Herek's website at http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_molestation.html
Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation
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a separate window Members of disliked minority groups are often stereotyped as representing a danger to the
majority society's most vulnerable members. Historically, Black men in the United States were often falsely accused
of raping White women, and commonly lynched as a result. Jews in the Middle Ages were accused of murdering Christian
babies in ritual sacrifices. In a similar fashion, gay people have often been portrayed as a threat to children.
When Anita Bryant campaigned successfully in 1977 to repeal a Dade County (FL) ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination,
she named her organization "Save Our Children," and warned that "a particularly deviant-minded [gay]
teacher could sexually molest children" (Bryant, 1977, p. 114). [
Bibliographic references are on a different web page] In recent years, antigay activists have routinely asserted
that gay people are child molesters. This argument has often been raised in debates about the Boy Scouts of America's
policy to exclude gay scouts and scoutmasters. It has also been raised in connection with recent scandals about
the Catholic church's attempts to cover up the abuse of young males by priests. Indeed, the
Vatican's early response to the 2002 revelations of widespread Church cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests
was to declare that gay men should not be ordained.
Public belief in the stereotype The number of Americans who believe the myth that gay people are child molesters
appears to be decreasing. In a 1970 national survey, more than 70% of respondents agreed (either strongly or somewhat)
with the assertions that "Homosexuals are dangerous as teachers or youth leaders because they try to get sexually
involved with children" or that "Homosexuals try to play sexually with children if they cannot get an
adult partner."1 By contrast, in a 1999
national poll, the belief that most gay men are likely to molest or abuse children was endorsed by only 19%
of heterosexual men and 10% of heterosexual women. Even fewer “ 9% of men and 6% of women “ regarded most lesbians
as child molesters. Consistent with these findings, G
allup polls have found that an increasing number of Americans would allow gay people to be elementary school
teachers. For example, the proportion was 54% in 1999, compared to 27% in 1977.
Examining the Research Even though most Americans don't regard gay people as child molesters, confusion remains
widespread in this area. To understand the facts, it is important to examine the results of scientific research.
However, when we evaluate research on child molestation, our task is complicated by several problems. One problem
is that we do not know to what extent the samples used in research studies are representative of all child molesters.
Most studies in this area have been conducted only with convicted perpetrators or with pedophiles who sought professional
help. Consequently, they may not accurately describe child molesters who have never been caught or have not sought
Terminology A second problem is that the terminology used in this area is often confusing and can even be misleading.
We can begin to address that problem by defining some basic terms. Pedophilia and child molestation are used in
a variety of ways, even by professionals. Pedophilia usually refers to an adult psychosexual disorder characterized
by a preference for prepubescent children as sexual partners; this preference may or may not be acted upon. The
term hebephilia is sometimes used to describe adult sexual attractions to adolescents and children who have reached
puberty. Whereas pedophilia and hebephilia refer to psychological propensities, child molestation and child sexual
abuse are used to describe actual sexual contact between an adult and someone who has not reached the legal age
of consent. In this context, someone who has not reached the age of consent is referred to as a child, even though
he or she may be a teenager. Although the terms are not always used consistently, it is useful to distinguish between
pedophiles/hebephiles and child molesters/abusers. Pedophilia and hebephilia are diagnostic labels. Not all pedophiles
and hebephiles actually molest children; an adult can be attracted to children or adolescents without ever actually
engaging in sexual contact with them. Child molestation and child sexual abuse refer to actions, and don't imply
a particular psychological makeup or motive on the part of the perpetrator. Not all incidents of child sexual abuse
are perpetrated by pedophiles or hebephiles; in some cases, the perpetrator has other motives for his or her actions
and does not manifest an ongoing pattern of sexual attraction to children. Thus, not all child sexual abuse is
perpetrated by pedophiles (or hebephiles) and not all pedophiles and hebephiles actually commit abuse. Consequently,
it is important to choose one's terms carefully. Another problem related to terminology arises because sexual abuse
of male children by adult men2 is often referred
to as "homosexual molestation." The adjective "homosexual" (or "heterosexual" when
a man abuses a female child) refers to the victim's gender in relation to that of the perpetrator. Unfortunately,
people sometimes mistakenly interpret it as referring to the perpetrator's sexual orientation. To avoid this confusion,
it is preferable to refer to men's sexual abuse of boys with the more accurate label of male-male molestation.
Similarly, it is preferable to refer to men's abuse of girls as male-female molestation. These labels are more
accurate because they describe the sex of the individuals involved but don't convey implicit assumptions about
the perpetrator's sexual orientation.
"Fixated" and "Regressed" Offenders The distinction between gender of victim and sexual
orientation of perpetrator is important because many child molesters don't really have an adult sexual orientation.
They have never developed the capacity for mature sexual relationships with other adults, either men or women.
Recognizing this fact, Finkelhor and Araji (1986) proposed that discussions of the sexual attractions of perpetrators
should be conceptualized along a continuum ranging in degrees from exclusive interest in children to exclusive
interest in adult partners. Perpetrators with an exclusive interest in children are labeled fixated by some researchers.
Fixation means "a temporary or permanent arrestment of psychological maturation resulting from unresolved
formative issues which persist and underlie the organization of subsequent phases of development" (Groth &
Birnbaum, 1978, p. 176). Put in simple terms, fixated offenders are "stuck" at an early stage of psychological
development. By contrast, other molesters are described as regressed. Regression is "a temporary or permanent
appearance of primitive behavior after more mature forms of expression had been attained, regardless of whether
the immature behavior was actually manifested earlier in the individual's development" (Groth & Birnbaum,
1978, p. 177). Regressed offenders have developed an adult sexual orientation but under certain conditions (such
as extreme stress) they return to an earlier, less mature psychological state and engage in sexual contact with
children. Fixated offenders never developed an adult sexual orientation of any sort, whereas regressed molesters
have done so. Thus, regressed molesters can be adult homosexuals, heterosexuals, or bisexuals. But it is meaningless
to speak of fixated molesters in these terms “ they are attracted to children, not to men or women. Using this
distinction, Groth and Birnbaum (1978) found that none of the 175 adult males in their sample “ all of whom were
convicted in Massachusetts of sexual assault against a child “ had an exclusively homosexual adult sexual orientation.
83 of the men (47%) were classified as "fixated;" 70 others (40%) were classified as regressed adult
heterosexuals; the remaining 22 (13%) were classified as regressed adult bisexuals. Of the last group, Groth and
Birnbaum observed that "in their adult relationships they engaged in sex on occasion with men as well as with
women. However, in no case did this attraction to men exceed their preference for women....There were no men who
were primarily sexually attracted to other adult males..." (p.180). Another researcher took a different approach.
Dr. Carole Jenny reviewed 352 medical charts, representing all of the sexually abused children seen in the emergency
room or child abuse clinic of a Denver children's hospital during a one-year period (from July 1, 1991 to June
30, 1992). The molester was a gay or lesbian adult in only 2 of the 269 cases in which an adult molester could
be identified “ fewer than 1% (Jenny et al., 1994). In yet another approach to studying adult sexual attraction
to children, some Canadian researchers observed how homosexual and heterosexual adult men responded to slides of
males and females of various ages (child, pubescent, and mature adult). All of the research subjects were first
screened to ensure that they preferred physically mature sexual partners. In some of the slides shown to subjects,
the model was clothed; in others, he or she was nude. The slides were accompanied by audio recordings. The recordings
paired with the nude models described an imaginary sexual interaction between the model and the subject. The recordings
paired with the pictures of clothed models described the model engaging in neutral activities (e.g., swimming).
To measure sexual arousal, changes in the subjects' penis volume were monitored while they watched the slides and
listened to the audiotapes. The researchers found that homosexual males responded no more to male children than
heterosexual males responded to female children (Freund et al., 1989). Science cannot prove a negative. Thus, these
studies do not prove that homosexual or bisexual males are no more likely than heterosexual males to molest children.
However, each of them failed to prove the alternative hypothesis that homosexual males are more likely than heterosexual
men to molest children or to be sexually attracted to children or adolescents.
The Mainstream View Reflecting the results of these and other studies, the mainstream view among researchers
and professionals who work in the area of child sexual abuse is that homosexual and bisexual men do not pose any
special threat to children. For example, in one review of the scientific literature, noted authority Dr. A. Nicholas
Groth wrote: Are homosexual adults in general sexually attracted to children and are preadolescent children at
greater risk of molestation from homosexual adults than from heterosexual adults? There is no reason to believe
so. The research to date all points to there being no significant relationship between a homosexual lifestyle and
child molestation. There appears to be practically no reportage of sexual molestation of girls by lesbian adults,
and the adult male who sexually molests young boys is not likely to be homosexual (Groth & Gary, 1982, p. 147).
In a more recent literature review, Dr. Nathaniel McConaghy (1998) similarly cautioned against confusing homosexuality
with pedophilia. He noted, "The man who offends against prepubertal or immediately postpubertal boys is typically
not sexually interested in older men or in women" (p. 259).
Other Sexual Abuse In the recent scandal involving the Catholic church, some Church officials have tried to
link sexual abuse with gay priests, arguing that the victims were often adolescent boys rather than small children.
Here is an example where the term pedophilia “ referring as it does to attractions to prepubescent children “ can
cause confusion. More broadly, such accusations against gay priests raise the question of whether gay men or lesbians
should not be trusted in positions of authority where there is any possibility of sexual abuse or harassment. Scientific
research provides no evidence that homosexual people are less likely than heterosexuals to exercise good judgment
and appropriate discretion in their employment settings. There are no data, for example, showing that gay men and
lesbians are more likely than heterosexual men and women to sexually harass their subordinates in the workplace.
Data from studies using a variety of psychological measures do not indicate that gay people are more likely than
heterosexuals to possess any psychological characteristics that would make them less capable of controlling their
sexual urges, refraining from the abuse of power, obeying rules and laws, interacting effectively with others,
or exercising good judgment in handling authority. As explained elsewhere
on this site, sexual orientation is not a mental illness nor is it inherently associated with impaired psychological
functioning. Gay men and lesbians function effectively in a wide variety of employment settings. No differences
have been reported between heterosexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals in job performance or ability to properly
exercise authority in supervisory roles. As indicated by workplace policies around the United States, a large and
growing number of private and public employers do not perceive a problem with hiring gay and bisexual people as
employees or managers. A large number of corporations, educational institutions, and local governments have adopted
policies that prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. In many cases, those
organizations give employee benefits such as health insurance to employees' same-sex partners. Indeed, one reason
often cited for providing such benefits is that they enable a company to remain competitive by attracting high
quality employees who happen to be homosexual or bisexual. Thus, the scientific literature does not provide any
basis for organizations to avoid hiring homosexual or bisexual people, simply on the basis of their sexual orientation,
for positions that involve responsibility for or supervision of others, whether children, adolescents, or adults.
Do Any Studies Claim To Show That Homosexuals Are More Likely To Molest Children? One individual has claimed
to have data that prove homosexuals to be child molesters at a higher rate than heterosexuals. That person is Paul
Cameron. As detailed elsewhere on
this site, Cameron's survey data are subject to so many methodological flaws as to be virtually meaningless.
Even so, his assertions are often quoted by antigay organizations in their attempts to link homosexuality with
child sexual abuse. In a 1985 article published in Psychological Reports, Paul
Cameron purported to review published data to answer the question, "Do those who commit homosexual acts
disproportionately incorporate children into their sexual practices?" (p. 1227). He concluded that "at
least one-third of the sexual attacks upon youth are homosexual" (p. 1228) and that "those who are bi-
to homosexual are proportionately much more apt to molest youth" than are heterosexuals (p. 1231). Cameron's
findings are based on his assumption that all male-male molestations were committed by homosexuals. Moreover, a
careful reading of Cameron's paper reveals several false statements about the literature he claimed to have reviewed.
For example, he cited the Groth and Birnbaum (1978) study mentioned previously as evidencing a 3:2 ratio of "heterosexual"
(i.e., female victim) to "homosexual" (i.e., male victim) molestations, and he noted that "54% of
all the molestations in this study were performed by bisexual or homosexual practitioners" (p. 1231). However,
Groth and Birnbaum reported that none of the men in their sample had an exclusively homosexual adult sexual orientation,
and that none of the 22 bisexual men were more attracted to adult males than to adult females. Cameron's 54% statistic
does not appear anywhere in the Groth and Birnbaum (1978) article, nor does Cameron explain its derivation. It
also is noteworthy that, although Cameron assumed that all male-male molestations were committed by homosexuals,
he assumed that not all male-female molestations were committed by heterosexuals. He incorporated a "bisexual
correction" into his data manipulations to increase further his estimate of the risk posed to children by
homosexual/bisexual men. In the latter half of his paper, Cameron considered whether "homosexual teachers
have more frequent sexual interaction with their pupils" (p. 1231). Based on 30 instances of sexual contact
between a teacher and pupil reported in ten different sources published between 1920 and 1982, Cameron concluded
that "a pupil would appear about 90 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by a homosexual practitioner"
(p. 1232); the ratio rose to 100 times when Cameron added his bisexual correction. This ratio is meaningless because
no data were obtained concerning the actual sexual orientation of the teachers involved; as before, Cameron assumed
that male-male contacts were perpetrated by homosexuals. Furthermore, Cameron's rationale for selecting particular
sources appears to have been completely arbitrary. He described no systematic method for reviewing the literature,
and apparently never reviewed the voluminous literature on the sexual development of children and adolescents.
His final choice of sources appears to have slanted his findings toward what Cameron described as "the relative
absence in the scientific literature of heterosexual teacher-pupil sexual events coupled with persistent, albeit
infrequent, homosexual teacher-pupil sexual interactions" (p. 1232). A subsequent paper by Cameron and others
(Cameron, Proctor, Coburn, Forde, Larson, & Cameron, 1986) described data collected in a door-to-door survey
in seven U.S. cities and towns, and generally repeated the conclusions reached in Cameron (1985). As before, male-male
sexual assaults were referred to as "homosexual" molestations (e.g., Abstract, p.327) and the perpetrators'
sexual orientation apparently was not assessed. This study also suffers from severe methodological problems (Brown
& Cole, 1985). These problems are discussed in detail elsewhere
on this site. In summary, the findings reported in the papers by Cameron et al. cannot be considered valid.
The work is too methodologically flawed.
Conclusion The empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual
men to molest children. This is not to argue that homosexual and bisexual men never molest children. But there
is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. And, as explained
above, many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated
on children. Notes
1. The survey was conducted under the auspices of the Kinsey Institute (Klassen, Williams, & Levitt, 1989).
(return to text)
2. Sexual abuse by women occurs but has not been well documented. It has most often been documented in cases
of a female accomplice assisting a male perpetrator in procuring victims, or an adult woman seducing a young male
(Erickson, Walbek, & Seely, 1988; Finkelhor, 1984; Johnson & Shrier, 1987). Perhaps it is not surprising,
therefore, that the child molester stereotype is applied more often to gay men than to lesbians. (return
Facts About Homosexuality
and Mental Health
Facts About Changing Sexual
Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation
Bibliography for Facts
About Sexual Orientation