Deposition of Charles Brainerd

Deposition of Charles Brainerd. Ph.D. Watson v. Roman Catholic Church, Superior Court of the State of Arizona, Maricopa County. August 17, 1999.

In the following exchange Dr. Charles Brainerd uses Rind et al.s 1998 to suggest that a victim of priest abuse would not have been harmed by having been abused.

Q. Have you studied, at all, what the traumatic effects, if any, would bee on a boy Sean’s age, to have been sexually abused by a priest?

Charles Brainerd: Have I personally conducted research studies on that?

Q. Yes.

Charles Brainerd: No.

Q. Have you thought about that in the context of this case?

Charles Brainerd: I have studied literature on that in the context of this case.

Q. And what literature have you studied, in that regard?

Charles Brainerd: I have studied a series of recently published reviews on this question. Most particularly, the most recent and authoritative review that I’m aware of appeared just a year ago in the journal Psychological Bulletin, which is the American Psychological Association’s main peer review journal for scientific literature reviews. And that’s the most comprehensive recent one that I’ve looked at. And I’ve looked at a couple or three earlier ones that led to that review.

Q. Do you know the title of any of the articles?

Charles Brainerd: The authors of the 1998 review are Rind – let’s see – Tromovitch, and Bauserman is the third author.

Q. What basically do those studies say .

Charles Brainerd: Well.

Q. On this issue.

Charles Brainerd: They challenge the — what — what they say is the widely accepted view among therapists and psychologists and social workers, that child sexual abuse has massive traumatic – traumatic maladjustment consequences for the victims when they become adults.

The gist of the scientific reviews is this: That on the one hand – and I believe, as I recollect, they quote some of those statements at the start of the article – on the one hand, that one can identify any number of proposals in the literature on child sexual abuse referring to the very serious long-term consequences during adulthood for a number of symptoms of maladjustment, There would be things like depression, alcohol and drug dependency, somatization, phobia tendencies, neurosis, a large number of symptoms of maladjustment. And that one can find any number of statements in the literature about how child sexual abuse will translate into serious difficulties on these variables when people get into adulthood.

And they pointed out, though that in the literature on this, that these kinds of statements are usually not based on systematic scientific literature on the question, it’s self-evident, it’s stated as though it were a self-evident truth.

And I think it’s something that is very, very difficult for all of us not to believe. You know, it is in one of those categories where – of heinous events involving betrayal and distrust. I mean, it is horrific, where naturally that is what our intuition is going to tell us.

And what Rind, et al, have done in the series of reviews, culminating with the big one in Psychological Bulletin a year ago, is they have carefully gone back and gathered together all of the studies they could find in which you had adults who were in their twenties, young adults, who had a confirmed history of child sexual abuse. And these are studies in which you had comparisons with matched controls of the same age and the same – you know, so on.

And in these studies, measures or clinical reports of these various symptoms of maladjustment were available as dependent variables. And what they did is, they carefully went through the studies and looked at whether there was a relationship between a history of child sexual abuse, and not just whether a person had been sexually abused as a child, but the severity of it as well, and the symptoms of maladjustment.

And they obtained a number of findings, but two of the key ones, that challenge this idea and have created a lot of discussion, I understand, in the scientific literature too.

The first one was, they found that, contrary to the claims of child sexual abuse having massive maladjustment consequences for adults, that in fact, there were only very small differences, very tiny correlations. I believe the average correlation – they did what is called a meta-analysis, which is a statistical technique where you look at the average strength of relationships, and a standard measure of the strength of a relationship in a study like his is a correlation coefficient, which can range in value from zero to one, with one being the strongest relationship and zero being no relationship.

And what they found was that the average correlation between the symptoms of maladjustment and the history of child sexual abuse was only .09, and in statistical terms, that is a correlation that accounts for less than one percent of the variance in symptomatology as predicated by whether or not you were sexually abused.

In most studies, a correlation like that wouldn’t even be statistically significant. But in these studies there were thousands and thousands of subjects, so even very, very small correlations were significant. So that was the first surprising finding.

But they then went on to look at a second factor. A number of studies in this literature have pointed out that when a study reports a correlation between child sexual abuse and some symptom of maladjustment, that the studies typically confound child sexual abuse with family environment, so that there are a number of characteristics of family environment that also produce the same symptoms of maladjustment. So those are characteristics like authoritarian parenting style, lack of – there’s a – bad family, let’s say, or negative family environment type dimensions that are different than the question of abuse, physical and sexual.

And so this was a confounding variable that may be responsible for these small correlations. They may be due to the fact that sexual abuse and opportunities to be sexually abused tend to be – tend to occur in certain kinds of social strata and certain kinds of environments.

So what they then did is they then went back to the literature, and of the studies that they reviewed – and in case I didn’t mention it, there were 59, as I recall, large scale studies that they reviewed – they then went back and called out the studies, which was about half of them, as I recollect, that included independent measures of quality of family environment and child sexual abuse, and symptoms of maladjustment.

And what they found was that, across all these studies, that the small correlation that previously existed between child sexual abuse and symptoms of maladjustment simply disappeared, when you control for the correlation between family environment factors and symptoms of maladjustment and the correlation between family environment factors and child sexual abuse.

So what they concluded was that in all of this scientific literature on correlations between child -verified, measured child sexual abuse and the standard symptoms of maladjustment that people are treated for in psychotherapy, that there was simply no scientific evidence that there was any correlation at all. And that was the conclusion of their review.

Q What does that all mean for you, if anything, with regard to Sean Watson and whether or not, if he were sexually abused by Father Bredemann as a priest at the age of his abuse, by the circumstances that he was abused, whether or not that might cause a maladjustment in his life?

Mr. Weiss: Object to the form.

Charles Brainerd: Well to me it means – to me it means simply that there isn’t – and this would not apply just to Mr. Watson – but in a cases like this, where a claim is being made that here are symptoms of maladjustment and they are due to child sexual abuse, what I have to say is that the current scientific literature does not support the existence of such a relationship in the population at large. And that’s the interpretive framework that I bring to this particular case, that there isn’t scientific evidence for that assumption.