IPT Book Reviews

Title: Long-Range Effects of Child and Adolescent Sexual Experiences  Positive Review
Author: Allie C. Kilpatrick
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. 1992

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Description:

Allie Kilpatrick has produced a book of ten chapters and 207 pages to describe her retrospective study of 501 women and the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse.  Part I has three chapters that set the stage for the actual study report.  Chapter 1 briefly reviews the history of attitudes toward human sexuality.  Chapter 2 sets out the issues to be aware of for those employed in the field of child sexual abuse.  Chapter 3 examines what researchers who want to assess long-term effects need to know in order to do a credible job.  Part II begins with Chapter 4, and describes the methodology used in Kilpatrick's study.  Chapter 5 describes the nature of the sexual experiences reported by the sample of 501 adult women.  The sample was primarily black and white so Chapter 6 discusses the ethic differences that appear in the data.  Environmental factors are reported in Chapter 7 while Chapter 8 presents the primary findings of the study on the long-range effects.  The implications of these findings are set forth in Chapter 9.  Finally, Chapter 10 draws a picture of potential future directions for research and treatment.

The book closes with five appendices, a short list of references, and a subject index.  The appendices contain a summary of the studies she analyzed along with the questionnaires used in her research project.

(There are two separate discussions of this book, by Ralph Underwager and by LeRoy Schultz.)

Discussion:

The book is described by the author, Kilpatrick, and by the author of the Foreword, Walter Holland, as having the intention of debunking popular myths about the long-term effects of child sexual abuse experiences.  This may be the reason for what appears to be a long delay in publication.  While there is no specific date given, it appears that the data were collected in the early 80s.  In the extensive list of references for the volume, only 4 are dated in 1990.  The bulk of the references come from the early 80s and before.

The data from this study were first briefly presented in a 1986 article.  There Kilpatrick included the study in the classification of studies that report primarily neutral effects of childhood sexual experiences.  Here, based upon rather sophisticated data analyses, she reports no significant differences between women with childhood sexual experiences and those without.  This is true even when force, pressure, and guilt are factored in.  Also she reports: "For the 501 women in the study the primary reactions to the experiences were positive" (p.113).  Most women were voluntary participants in the sexual experience.

The incidence of incest is .6% in this study, considerably less than what is spread about in the media.  Kilpatrick suggests that the frequency of sexual abuse is declining rather than increasing.  The gap of six years between the first publication of the data and the full report in this book may be due in part to the fact that given current child sexual abuse dogma, Kilpatrick's findings would not be considered politically correct.

Kilpatrick's findings are indeed demythologizing.  Her study is important because it is based on a respectable sample size, uses a community-based sample and includes all sexual experiences so peer sexual contacts are also reported.  In addition, an effort is made to avoid biasing the responses.  This book is recommended highly and should be read carefully by all those concerned with juvenile female sexual experience.
 

Kilpatrick, A. (1986). Some correlates of woman's childhood Sexual experiences: A retrospective study. The Journal of Sex Research, 22(2), 221-242.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

Discussion:

This book will be disturbing to many readers.  The assumption that all children are "damaged" by their experiences is challenged by Kilpatrick's finding that 38% of the adult respondents reported the sexual experiences as children to be "pleasant" while only 25% reported them to be "unpleasant."  Kilpatrick also found that, although the majority of the women stated that the experience was initiated by the partner, for many (23% of the children 0-14 years and 39% of adolescents 15-17 years) the women reported having been the initiator.  Another surprising finding was that only 4% of the respondents reported that they would have liked to have had counseling.

Kilpatrick's plea to give truth a chance will probably fall on deaf ears.  The "child advocates" who believe adult-child sexual contact is always harmful and destructive will see these findings as distracting society from its mission to protect children.  Those who believe that all sexually abused children need psychotherapy to help them cope with the experience are not likely to change their views.  The implications of this research simply are counter to our society's prevailing political ideology.

Obviously, the confusion about the effects of adult-child sexual contact needs to be clarified for everyone concerned and this study provides important information.  If a given child is, in fact, not harmed by a sexual experience with an adult, treating the child like a victim and subjecting the child to months of feeling-expressive play therapy is likely to be iatrogenic.  Also, attorneys, social workers, and mental health experts would profit from using Kilpatrick's findings as they apply to various states in judicial proceedings.

This book, which ruptures prevailing myths, should be read by all professionals who deal with child sexual abuse.

Reviewed by LeRoy Schultz, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, West Virginia University.

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