To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>
From: Ferrel Christensen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CC'd (w/ minor changes to the article) FYI
March 25, 2001
[To whoever first receives this letter: please get it without delay to Mr. Whyte, or to whichever editor is in charge this weekend. It involves a pending legal matter.]
Mr. Kenneth Whyte
The National Post
Subsequent to my lawyer's sending you a letter on Friday, I began to worry about the various ways in which your columnist might attempt to stay back from the edge of libel while still seriously misleading readers about me and my views. I have great respect for your newspaper, and I believe you will agree that, should you publish any attack on me, both I and your readers deserve a chance for the other side to be told.
Without prejudice, then, to any legal action which I may need to carry out to protect my good name, I make the following request: that IF any attack on me should be published, I be allowed adequate space to respond. Knowing in advance the type of irrational reasoning which led her, allegedly, to suggest to my associates that I may condone pedophilia, I have prepared a provisional response (attached)--one which could quickly be put into final form in order to be printed on the same day as her column. [There had been no uncertainty in the ECMAS president's words to me about the reporter's accusing me of condoning child abuse. But I was mindful of her power to sue ME for defaming HER, so here and elsewhere I cushioned what he'd told me about her accusation to him by the uncertainty-expressing words 'may' and 'suggest'.]
Thank you very much for your time.
cc.: Julian Porter, Q.C.
BY FACSIMILE TRANSMISSION AND E-MAIL
Moral fervour without accurate knowledge does evil
My scientific and moral integrity have been called into question in the pages of this newspaper by columnist Donna Laframboise. There is not space here to counter the effects of her carefully culled snippets, but readers must be told there is far, far more to the story.
Let us begin by recalling a lesson of history. Thanks to scientific enlightenment, few people today believe in witches, once claimed to have sex with devils and thereby acquire magical powers to harm others. But look at it from the perspective of those who held such beliefs. Given that intellectual framework, witchhunts made good sense. "What if these individuals, accused by witnesses, really are causing the horrible plagues we are experiencing? If we err, it must be on the side of safety. Burn them."
People today look condescendingly on those times. But human nature has not changed in the centuries since; unfounded belief imbued with strong emotion can still lead to horrible injustices in society. As long as people actually believe in witches, there will be witchhunts. So we cannot escape such injustices just by trying to damp the emotions; we can do it adequately only through eliminating the unfounded beliefs that trigger the emotions.
It is no coincidence that modern witchhunts have involved irrational beliefs and fears over sexuality, which have not all disappeared from this society. The day-care and satanic-cult sex abuse hysterias of the 1980's and early '90's. The "recovered memory" sex abuse hysteria of the '90's. (Seldom did the "recovered" memories involve any kind of abuse except sexual, in spite of what is known about the greater amounts of often horrific physical and emotional child abuse--a telltale sign of the real origins of at least many of the "memories".) The ongoing, though now reduced, acceptance of false accusations of incest in child-custody disputes.
So irrational overreaction to real problems, not just to fictional problems, can produce horrible consequences. In each of the above witchhunts, the motivation has been the same: "Child sex abuse is so unspeakably and uniquely harmful, we can't take any chances. Burn them."
Nor have the falsely accused been the only casualties of these witchhunts. So, for example, have the victims of actual child sex abuse. Irrational attitudes involving sex have led to therapies that were ineffective--or worse. Those encouraging the victims to believe the event was uniquely horrible, to revisit it continually in imagination, have been shown to have gravely increased the original psychological harm. Other casualties have been the victims of physical and emotional child abuse, comparatively neglected through all this. (So lopsided was the overemphasis that in the vocabularies of many, 'child abuse' became synonymous with 'child sex abuse'.)
But what if child sex abuse were *not* believed to be hugely more harmful than the other kinds of child abuse, which have inspired no comparable insanities--would the modern witchhunts, with all the broken innocent lives they have left, have occurred? What if in fact the origin of the harms associated with child sex abuse, in general, is not sexual contact per se but accompanying factors: On the one hand, the physical or emotional abuse, notably coercion, that may attend the sex abuse; and on the other hand, negative things put into children's minds about sex, before or after any abuse may have occurred.
It is largely for espousing the latter claim that I have been attacked by Ms. Laframboise. I maintain, based on years of study of sexuality through research literature in anthropology, ethology, psychology and sociology, that the latter view is correct. (Ms. Laframboise herself has not put in such amounts of study of this huge corpus. She is reacting out of moral fervour.) And a lot of authorities in sexological research share the view. But it is not a popular one with the general public; inherited sexual fears and aversions lead to outraged responses to the very idea.
A couple of years ago, a massive meta-analysis of
scientific studies of child sex abuse led to the conclusion that physical and
emotional abuse are far more psychologically harmful to children than sex abuse
per se; that the former account for most of the harm that is done when they
accompany the latter, and the latter alone not infrequently does no such harm.
The reaction was deafening. The
"Horrors! Drive the heresy-promoting scientists from their jobs! Don't let them be around children!" Ms. Laframboise used threats of exposing me in her column, made earlier to a volunteer group I have long worked with, in an attempt to get them to expel me. (Even though my views on sexuality have never been taught to anyone connected with the group.) Ms. Laframboise has herself spoken up for persons convicted of sex abuse; should others infer from this that she is soft on pedophilia? Because of the widespread fears, no doubt many have done so, and maybe her attack on me is a defense mechanism to prove she is not. [Back]
Whether the claim under discussion, or any other, is true or false must be decided by careful analysis of the evidence, not by emotional gut responses or by what "everybody already knows". To repeat: it is precisely because "we can't take a chance" where there is danger of serious harm, to children or to anyone else, that we must be sure of the right answers. To be wrong about the actual nature and sources of the harm in child sex-abuse cases invites being tragically wrong about solutions--like blaming witches for the plague. And silencing serious voices on such issues can only obstruct getting such knowledge.
The second part of the claim above is that negative things put into children's minds about sex itself by those around them, from fear to self-loathing, can itself cause serious psychological hurt and harm. Hence, in particular, these negative feelings can be a dominant factor in the harm when such children are also sexually abused, and can even do more harm than sex abuse itself.
There is absolutely no scientific doubt about the truth of this. Huge amounts of accumulated evidence prove it--though Ms. Laframboise will evidently not reveal the evidence I have given.
A dear friend of mine, now around age 50, has for nearly all her life been stricken by terror whenever she finds herself in complete darkness, hence has to sleep with a night-light. It stems from being caught masturbating as a child, and locked in a dark closet for hours in an effort to make her see how evil she was for doing so. I myself grew up with the horror of being taught "You nasty little boy! How could you be so vile as to have those thoughts about little girls' bodies!" and assured that God would torture me for it.
Antisexual attitudes are certainly not as strong in society today, but are still wreaking harm. Why do so many teenagers with a homosexual orientation commit suicide? Right-wing religionists sometimes put it down as an effect of homosexuality itself; but the plain fact is that it comes from the self-hatred inculcated by a society which still widely despises such feelings and behavior. (Ms. Laframboise's close collaborator in preparing this attack on me is tightly allied with a certain far-right-wing antihomosexual propagandist. Will Ms. Laframboise use her column to expose the website her collaborator shares with him?)
Even the horror often expressed, in words and deeds, to children by people suspecting child sex abuse is enough to do psychological damage to the children. Or to adults. It has become plain that at least many cases of "repressed memories" of child sex abuse "recovered" by adults are of events that never took place. Yet the power of aversion and fear to cause psychological harm--all by themselves, in the complete absence of sex abuse--is very great. So great as to make large numbers of people caught in this hysteria go through personal hell, even killing themselves.
It cannot be stressed too strongly: such hysteria has not occurred over other kinds of real or alleged child abuse. Irrational feelings about sex have all too often done more evil than sex abuse itself. I will not be silenced by your columnist's vicious attack.
Ferrel Christensen holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of science and is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta. Praeger, the publisher of his book, is a respected academic press.