Priest Scandal Reinforces Anti-Gay Stereotypes Study Shows [Amherst MA]
September 14, 2003

(Amherst, Massachusetts) Prominent media coverage of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals has reinforced inaccurate and misleading stereotypes of gay men as child abusers. That is the conclusion of a new study released by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies (IGLSS).

The report, entitled “Subtle Stereotyping: The Media, Homosexuality, and the Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal,” analyzed the content of 1,326 news articles reported in the Boston Globe during the first year of the scandal.

Throughout the year’s coverage, Globe readers were exposed to an average of two articles per week that linked homosexuality and child sexual abuse.

The study’s authors, psychologists Glenda Russell and Nancy Kelly, suggest that the Globe’s linkages between homosexuality and child sexual abuse were not necessarily intentional. However, as Russell adds, “Linkages don’t have to be intentional to be harmful. The stereotype of gay-man-as-pedophile gets used in many policy contexts to justify discrimination and violence against gay people.”

In their study, Russell and Kelly separately applied a research technique designed to study implicit messages in written material. The two authors’ independent analyses of the articles were in agreement more than 95% of the time.

“When Catholic Church spokespeople began to place the blame for the abuse explicitly on gay priests,” points out Russell, acting executive director of IGLSS, “the Globe reporters often—but not always—directly refuted those claims. Independent social science research is quite clear that gay men are not more likely to commit child sexual abuse than non-gay men.”

More subtle or indirect conflations of homosexuality and child sexual abuse occurred more frequently and were rarely challenged within articles. As an example, Russell noted an article that describes several incidents of priests abusing children, yet begins with a description of a sexual encounter between two adult men. Placing stories of the scandal alongside descriptions of other inappropriate behaviors and emphasizing the victims’ sex also help to create a misleading association between homosexuality and abuse, according to the report.

Before news of the Catholic Church scandal broke, public perceptions of gay men as pedophiles had begun to fade, the authors note. When news media reopen old and unsupported stereotypes, they may inadvertently renew the use of such misinformation. Therefore, the report argues that journalists and editors have a responsibility to become more aware how they contribute to stereotyping.

The report concludes with recommendations for media professionals who wish to ensure accurate and fair coverage of the ongoing scandal. Recommendations include reporting on the stereotype itself, exercising greater vigilance to eliminate indirect conflations, and consulting with communication specialists.

The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies is a nonprofit, independent think tank based in Amherst, Massachusetts. IGLSS provides policy-oriented research on issues of importance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.


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