SF Chronicle uncritically reported discredited, anti-gay "research" on same-sex parenting

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

In a clarification addressing an article on a new campaign encouraging same-sex parents to adopt foster children, the San Francisco Chronicle acknowledged that Family Research Institute director Paul Cameron, whom it had suggested was an expert on gay issues in its article, had been expelled from the American Psychological Association and that the institute has been "named a hate group." But the clarification did not address Cameron's discredited claim, reported in the article, that gays "are more likely to molest children of their same sex"; nor did it note that Cameron's "research" has been widely discredited.

In a May 22 post on the Americablog weblog, John Aravosis noted that, in a May 21 article on the San Francisco Department of Human Services' new campaign to encourage same-sex couples to adopt foster children, the San Francisco Chronicle cited "the leader of a known hate group" -- Family Research Institute director Paul Cameron -- as an expert on issues pertaining to the gay community, "without identifying him as such." Later that day, the Chronicle attached the following clarification to the online version of its article:

CLARIFICATION: In an article about San Francisco's campaign to get more gays and lesbians to adopt foster children -- as well as an opposing evangelical campaign to get more Christian families to adopt -- the Chronicle quoted Paul Cameron, director of the Family Research Institute. The article should have noted that Cameron, who believes gays make unfit parents and self-published dozens of articles he said were based on his research, was expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983 when he refused to subject his work to peer review. The article also should have reported that his Family Research Institute was named a hate group in 2006 by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Yet, the clarification did not address reporter Ilene Lelchuk's uncritical reporting of Cameron's discredited assertion that gays and lesbians "are more likely to molest children of their same sex." Nor did either the article or the clarification note that Cameron's "research" on gay parenting has been widely discredited.

From the May 21 Chronicle article:

The campaign, which will include a billboard in the Castro featuring two dads with their teen daughter, is perhaps the first of its kind and sure to be controversial. It comes just two weeks after the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family began its drive to recruit more Christians as adoptive parents, partly -- the group said -- to keep foster children out of homosexual hands.

Focus on the Family's objection to same-sex parents is grounded in interpretation of biblical scripture and research by Paul Cameron, director of the Family Research Institute in Colorado. Cameron says gays and lesbians are unfit parents, are more likely to molest children of their same sex, switch partners frequently, have shorter life expectancies and cause their children embarrassment and social difficulties.

"Any child that can be adopted into a married-mother-and-father family, that's the gold standard," Cameron said. "An orphanage would be the second choice, and then a single woman."

According to Dr. Gregory Herek -- psychological researcher and University of California-Davis professor -- "[m]ost of the Cameron group's academic publications in the past 15 years have been based on a survey study conducted in 1983 and 1984." Herek analyzed the "group's sampling techniques, survey methodology, and interpretation of results" and found "at least six serious errors in their study. The presence of even one of these flaws would be sufficient to cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of any study's results. In combination, they make the data virtually meaningless."

Among Cameron's studies that apparently relied on this flawed data was Cameron's 1986 "Child molestation and homosexuality" study, in which Cameron concluded that homosexuals were more likely to sexually abuse children than were heterosexuals. Herek identified several other errors, false assertions, and flawed analysis relating to Cameron's research on this topic:

In a 1985 article published in Psychological Reports, 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 claims hinge on the fallacious assumption that all male-male molestations are 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. The "54%" statistic reported by Cameron doesn't appear anywhere in the Groth and Birnbaum (1978) article, nor does Cameron explain its derivation.

It is also noteworthy that, although Cameron assumed that the perpetrators of male-male molestations were all homosexual, 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). Even Cameron himself admitted that his conclusions in this study are "based upon small numbers of data points" (Cameron, 2005, p. 230). 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 fatal methodological problems, which are detailed elsewhere on this site.

In yet another article published in Psychological Reports, Cameron claimed to have reviewed data about foster parents in Illinois and found that 34% were perpetrated by a foster parent against a child of the same sex, that is, female-female or male-male (Cameron, 2005). Not only did Cameron again make the fallacious claim that all male-male molestations are committed by homosexuals, he also made the same claim about female-female molestations. Once again, he had no data about the actual sexual orientations of the molesters.

Various bodies of research have also found that homosexuals are no more likely to molest children than heterosexuals. For instance, Dr. Kurt Freund, Dr. Robin Wilson, and Doug Rienzo published several studies which found, in Wilson's words, "that androphilic (i.e. a preference for male adults) men had" no "greater relative erotic interest in children than did their gynephilic (i.e. a preference for female adults) peers." Herek, Freund et al.'s 1989 study, titled "Heterosexuality, homosexuality, and erotic age preference," also concluded: "Findings indicate that homosexual males who preferred mature partners responded no more to male children than heterosexual males who preferred mature partners responded to female children." Additionally, a 1994 study by researchers from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the Children's Hospital in Denver found that "the children in the group studied were unlikely to have been molested by identifiably gay or lesbian people." As RA Dershewitz further explained of the study in the July 19, 1994, edition of Journal Watch (subscription required), a news service of the New England Journal of Medicine:

Researchers reviewed the charts of 352 children who attended a sexual abuse clinic at a children's hospital. Eighty-three cases were excluded because sexual abuse was ruled out or because the offender was a minor (none were identified as gay or lesbian) or could not be identified. The offender was gay or lesbian in only two of the remaining 269 cases. A lesbian woman abused one of the 219 girls and one possibly homosexual male was accused of abusing one of the 50 boys. Most offenders were heterosexual partners of a close relative, primarily fathers.

The American Psychological Association (APA), the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and the Colorado Psychological Association also argued in an amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court that "there is no evidence of any positive correlation between homosexual orientation and child molestation."

Furthermore, as Media Matters for America noted, a July 2002 USA Today report cited numerous experts in psychotherapy, psychiatry, and child sex abuse who rejected the claim that statistics showing "male pedophiles are more likely to molest boys than girls" represent evidence that gay men are more likely to abuse children than straight men. For example, the article quoted David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, as saying that pedophilia is "kind of a separate sexual orientation" from homosexuality, and that pedophiles "often ... have no attraction to adults whatsoever." The article also reported that the "largest study on priests' sexuality," which was conducted by psychotherapist Richard Sipe, found "no tie between sexual abuse and homosexuality."

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBTQ
Network/Outlet
San Francisco Chronicle
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