Though researchers settled this question decades ago, it’s still a popular talking point among religious conservatives.
I came from the conservative, fundamentalist wing of Christianity. If that wasn’t far enough to the right, I belonged to a “prestigious” list of ex-gay leaders. We believed that homosexuals could be fixed and, if in fact they couldn’t, they were a blight on God’s America that would inevitably drag us all to hell.
So last week, when I wrote an article entitled What do we know about pedophiles? I knew in the back of my mind that someone, somewhere, would connect pedophilia to gay men. I wasn’t disappointed. Or perhaps I should say I was very disappointed, but not surprised.
These days, about the only time we hear a connection between pedophiles and gay men is when it’s coming from far right-wing “family values” organizations that use it to instill fear in their followers and raise funds to perpetuate bigotry and ignorance. We also hear it from some “ex-gay” organizations working to convince strugglers that unless they turn from their gayness, they will end up as destitute child molesters in hell.
An interesting note here. The only time I’ve heard anything about pedophilia and homosexuality from the ex-gay movement itself is from “ex-gay” female leaders. I’ve never heard a single male “ex-gay” testimony where a man said he had been attracted to, or had been molesting children. That distinction always seems to be for “those other gays.”
So let’s put this to rest once and for all.
First of all, in 1993 an expert panel of researchers, which was convened by the National Academy of Sciences, came to the conclusion that, “The distinction between homosexual and heterosexual child molesters relies on the premise that male molesters of male victims are homosexual in orientation. Most molesters of boys do not report sexual interest in adult men, however” (National Research Council, 1993, p. 143).
What led up to this report was years of research, such as the one in 1978, by researchers Groth and Birnbaum. They studied 175 male subjects convicted of child molestation and found that none of them had exclusive homosexual adult sexual orientations. The report went on to say that 53% of those, “in their adult relationships…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). The other 47% had an exclusive attraction to children and no attraction to adults.
Of all the cases studied by Dr. Carole Jenny, in which she and her colleagues reviewed 352 medical charts of molestation cases for one year in a Denver children’s hospital, less than 1% of the molesters could be identified as gay or lesbian. (Jenny et al., 1994)
In 1989, a Canadian researcher showed pictures of models of all ages and both genders to both straight and gay male subjects. The participants were first screened to ensure they preferred adult partners. They were connected to a penile plethysmography to measure sexual arousal. The research showed that gay males were no more sexually aroused by pictures of young boys than straight males were aroused by pictures of young girls (Freund et al., 1989).
And in 1982, Dr. A. Nicholas Groth, a leading researcher, 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).
As Dr. Greg Herek points out, the matter that there is no link between homosexuality and child molestation was settled so long ago that it is difficult to find more recent research on the topic. Herek notes that in the 1994 issue of Pediatrics, “debates about gay people as molesters ‘have little to do with everyday child abuse’ and lamented that they distract lawmakers and the public from dealing with the real problem of children’s sexual mistreatment.”
With the science community in agreement, where does this idea of a link between homosexuality and child molestation come from?
In the early 70s, Christian fundamentalist Anita Bryant began her “Save the Children” campaign, which sought to unite the conservative church against the gay community and deny gay people the right to hold jobs in public schools. Her fear tactics, claiming that gay men were molesters in teacher’s clothing, gained her a huge following and raised a lot of money. The same tactics are still used today, with much of the same misinformation used by Bryant.
A precursory Google search on the topic turns up a list of right-wing, fundamentalist Christian organizations, often affiliated with or supporting “ex-gay” ministries and reparative therapy counseling centers, that perpetuate this unscientific notion. In a few seconds I found statistics from TraditionalValues.org that said, “While they [homosexuals] comprise only 1-2% of the population, they are responsible for upwards of a third or more of all sexual molestations of children.”
WND titled a 2002 article (emphasis theirs) PEDOPHILIA MORE COMMON AMONG ‘GAYS’, and then proceeded to quote a religious organization’s “findings,” though none of those same statistics could been found in mainstream, peer-reviewed journals.
Not surprisingly, anti-gay group Family Research Council states unequivocally that gay people are “committing up to one-third of the sex crimes against children,” though it doesn’t state where it gets its information. Also not surprising, they supply a long list of resources on their website that state nothing more than most child molesters are male and then make the gigantic leap that male child molesters who molest boys are gay men. As I stated in last week’s article, pedophilia and child molestation is a very complicated issue. It is certainly more complex than simply blaming it all on the gays.
So why not let them be? Why not just ignore them?
According to a Pew Research, around 25% of Americans claim to be evangelical Christians. This doesn’t include all of the other conservative factions, such as Mormons, some mainline protestant churches, and conservative Catholics. Part of the problem is that when – inevitably – someone within their ranks comes out, there is an immediate assumption about them. They are frequently ostracized and many lose their support systems and families.
Homosexuality is a natural variation of human sexuality, as research has shown time and time again. LGBT people have no more of a propensity for child molestation than their straight counterparts. The mythical “gay agenda” doesn’t exist, except maybe to be able to simply live life like everyone else.
A very special thank you to the research of Dr. Gregory Herek and the U.C. Davis psychology site, from which much of this information comes.
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