Privilege, Injustice, & Credibility

I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the most recent Research Symposium hosted by B4U-ACT. Researchers, therapists, and minor attracted people (MAPs) came together to hear research presentations and have discussions all in relation to MAPs. It was amazing to be in a place that was not only hosted by MAPs but also welcomed MAPs from the general public. Presentations were broad and diverse and since what was discussed at the conference is confidential, I won’t be going into detail about the presented studies. Instead, I’ll discuss my experiences broadly and generally and how it relates to the myriad of challenges faced by MAPs as well as those individuals who wish to research and support MAPs.

It was incredible to be in a place where the research was presented to its exact target population, i.e., MAPs. Even though I was presenting, I felt like an outsider intruding on a space that didn't belong to me, which I'm sure is how many MAPs often feel in general, like they don't belong or are welcome. I don't mean to say that I didn't feel welcome, quite the contrary, I just felt very aware that I as a non-MAP was surrounded by MAPs who are faced with challenges that I have the privilege of never experiencing. Needless to say, it was incredibly humbling. This experience of being protected by certain prejudices or acts of discrimination because of my non-MAP identity is a privilege. The fact that I also get to be 'humbled' by it, is a privilege as well. 

In the context of this post, when I say 'privilege' I'm referring to prejudices or acts of discrimination that certain individuals will never experience because of their identities (i.e., non-MAP vs MAP, white vs person of color, male vs female, etc.). I am not a MAP, therefore, it's never assumed that I'm a child molester or will become one. I am able to move about my day without my sexual identity being scrutinized. This is a privilege. I am not a MAP, therefore, I'm able to find a romantic/sexual partner that is fulfilling. I'm also able to openly discuss my attractions without fear of being condemned, judged, or stigmatized. This is a privilege. I am not a MAP, therefore, when I discuss MAP related issues with my friends and family or express why we should support MAPs, my credibility isn't undermined or questioned. This is a privilege. Being an 'ally' of any marginalized identity has inherent privilege. 

One of the round-table discussions was on the concept of ‘epistemic injustice'. 'Epistemic' is defined as "relating to knowledge or to the degree of it's validation" (Dictionary, 2008). 'Epistemic injustice' is a philosophical concept best concisely defined by Fricker as "the act of wronging someone 'in their capacity as a knower'" (2007). 'Testimonial injustice', is a form of epistemic injustice that occurs when the testimony of a person or 'knower' is given less credibility than it deserves, often due to prejudices or stereotypes. Hopefully at this point it's clear who the 'knower' in this context would be, i.e., MAPs. 'Prejudice' refers to pre-conceived or implicit opinions or beliefs about  people not based on fact. No one is without prejudice, just as no one is with out bias. Again, because I'm not a MAP, when I discuss MAP related issues my credibility isn't always undermined or questioned. However, when MAPs openly discuss experiences of discrimination, these experiences are given less credibility than they deserve because society has a lot of misinformed pre-conceived opinions and beliefs (prejudices) about MAPs.  

MAPs experience discrimination from society, mental health providers, and almost anyone they come in contact with who has a belief system that equates a pedophile with a sex offender. Which brings me to the quandary.  MAPs were vocal about wanting to be involved in research done on or about MAPs. A fair desire, yes. B4U-ACTs tag-line, speaks to this: "Nothing about us without us." Yet there is a profound lack of desirability to be associated with this kind of research already, and I don't expect this acceptance to change if it is to have intimate procedural involvement of MAPs. Researchers have their credibility and motives questioned simply for wanting to do this kind of research and are often met with scrutiny. 

I do believe marginalized and oppressed voices are not given the credibility and platform they deserve in order to be heard and understood. After the symposium I was left with the question, “How does one reconcile what MAPs view as being in their best interest with what professionals view as being in MAPs best interest?” A question perhaps for all of us to ponder. 

To come, the dynamic experiences of MAPs and their different identities. 

Pedophile ≠ Sex Offender: Challenging the Stigma

It seems there are still those who would like to say we are pushing a ‘pro-pedophile’ agenda and advocate for child sexual abuse (CSA)Not only is this appalling, but is libelous. Our ‘agenda' is to prevent CSA by treating and supporting minor-attracted people (MAPs) and other individuals who engage in or are at risk of engaging in risky sexual behaviors. MAPs are a small fraction of the clientele we serve. 

AGAIN, MAP is not a term used to ‘rebrand’ pedophiles. It's a common term in the global Sex Offender Treatment and Research community used to describe three different ages of attractions. These words are not used in order to gain “praise” or “acceptance.” 

Using the term MAP is about separating not conflating an ‘attraction’ and a ‘behavior.’ Its about de-stigmatizing a group of people who do not want to harm a child and are asking for help because of an attraction they neither asked for nor desire. Please do not also conflate us with NAMBLA. We are in no way similar. NAMBLA advocates for the abolishment of age of consent laws and believes intimate adult-child relationships that involve adult-child sex, should be widely accepted. This is not something we have ever advocated for and advocate for the literal antithesis. Adult-child sex in and of itself is CSA.

Imagine a part of yourself that pre-determined your emotional and mental well being. Imagine that this part of you was innate and virtually unchangeable. Imagine this part of you was seen by society as something worth denigrating, stigmatizing, and condemning. Imagine living in a world where a part of you was conflated with a child molester but you had never sexually abused a child. Can you? Maybe you think this is a ludicrous assumption. But this population exists, and it’s not in a vacuum. 

While statistics vary, the prevalence of pedophilia (having a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children) is estimated to be around 5% (Seto, 2009), and a large portion (50-70%) of sex offenders with child victims are not pedophiles (Marshall, Barbaree, & Eccles, 1991; Seto, 2009; Schmidt, Mokros, & Banse, 2013). 

Assuming all pedophiles are child sexual abusers and vice versa is like assuming all teleiophiles (an individual sexually attracted to adults) are adult rapists. Read that statement again. We realize you may have a strong visceral reaction to this statement, but we hope you’re able to set aside your emotions, reactions, and for some of you, hate, and think about this rationally. Again, we are not saying, promoting, or advocating for the abuse of children. That is never ok! What we are saying and will continue to say is that an attraction is very different from sexually abusing anyone.  

Challenging The Assumptions of Who Actually Abuses Children

The words we use to describe and label individuals are largely predicated on our belief systems. These belief systems are shaped by our experiences and how we internalize those experiences. As discussed previously, the belief that all pedophiles have sexually abused children is based on two assumptions —>

  1. Anyone who is sexually interested in children would act upon this interest given an opportunity and;

  2. An individual would not have sexual contact with a child unless they were sexually attracted to children (Seto, 2009).

These assumptions have a profound impact on our ability to understand child sexual abuse (CSA). They create misinformed beliefs about who sexually abuses children and why that when confronted are almost impossible to conceive, i.e., —> 

  1. An individual would sexually abuse a child even if they are not sexually attracted to children or;

  2. An individual who is sexually attracted to children hasn’t sexually abused a child nor has any desire to do so.

You may have a hard time reconciling the above statements with your beliefs about CSA. That’s ok, stay with me. There are many factors that contribute to an individuals likelihood or risk for sexually abusing a child. Risk factors vary significantly depending on the type of sexual offending behavior, an individuals physical or cognitive abilities, and the environment in which they were raised. Some risk factors include but are not limited to: 

  • sexual preoccupation

  • pornography use

  • intimacy deficits

  • deviant sexual interests

  • sexual self-regulation

  • substance use

  • sudden access to a victim

  • lack of social supports

   (Bonta & Andrews, 2017) 

To reiterate, these are just some risk factors, there are many more. What’s imperative to understand is that there are many reasons why an individual may sexually abuse a child, and not everyone who acts out in the same way, does so for the same reasons. While an attraction to children may be one reason, it is often not the only reason.  

Considerable evidence within the academic community supports the notion that most MAPs (i.e., pedophiles, hebephiles, and ephebophiles) have never committed a sexual offense against a child (Goode, 2010) and; current statistics indicate approximately 20% to 50% of sex offenders with child victims are pedophiles (Marshall, Barbaree, & Eccles, 1991; Seto, 2009; Schmidt, Mokros, & Banse, 2013). 

What’s important to understand is that not all individuals who sexually abuse children are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles have sexually abused children. Through the following blogs, I hope to broaden your understanding of CSA by confronting this deeply held belief system that is detrimental to us all. 

Minor Attracted Person vs. Pedophile vs. Sex Offender

‘Minor attracted person’ or MAP is a widely acknowledged term used in the global Sex Offender Research and Sex Offender Treatment Community. To reiterate, this is not a term we invented, NOR is it a term used to rebrand pedophiles OR link them to the LGBTQ community.

MAP is an umbrella or all-encompassing term used to signify or delineate specific age's of attractions. 

  • A pedophile is an individual attracted to a pre-pubescent child; 
  • A hebephile is an individual attracted to a pubescent child (11-14) and;
  • An ephebophile is an individual attracted to a post-pubescent child (i.e., a teen, 15-19). 

Regardless of whether you believe attractions are chosen or innate, the point is that these terms define an attraction, not a behavior. The behavior being, acting on these attractions, i.e., the sexual abuse of children. In our program this is exactly what we want to prevent. By providing treatment and support to MAPs we are in NO WAY condoning child sexual abuse. To assume this is ludicrous and ignorant. Writing slanderous articles claiming that we are advocates of child sexual abuse drives individuals who struggle with this attraction further into isolation and further from help. 

Identities are shaped by individual characteristics, family dynamics, historical factors, and social and political contexts, essentially, who we are is largely dependent on who the world around us says we are (Tatum, 2000). Because pedophile is so often conflated and used interchangeably with sex offender, individuals who identify as a MAP or a pedophile are viewed by society, their friends, their families as sex offenders. Both these terms are used contemptuously to define abusive acts, i.e., the sexual abuse of children. It is no wonder then that the word pedophile elicits such strong visceral reactions. When you hear the word pedophile, you likely have an image in your head based on societal assumptions and prejudices. 

Even among the academic community, pedophilia is described with disgust and contempt, “these feelings strongly influence the kind of research that is done on the topic of sexual attraction to children and adolescents, promoting research that supports the narrative of the sexually deviant predator and stamping out any research that contradicts it” (Cash, 2016, p.1). Which is essentially confirmation bias. 

In Pedophila, Seto (2009) asserts the idea that all pedophiles have sexually abused children or will, is based on two assumptions, one, anyone who is sexually interested in children would act upon this interest given an opportunity, and two, an individual would not have sexual contact with a child unless they were sexually attracted to children. While fair instinctual assumptions that attempt to understand insidious acts (i.e., child sexual abuse), they are inherently flawed. Research indicates that, “after thorough police and child welfare instigations, some pedophiles are found to have no history of sexual contacts with children” (Seto, 2009, p.392). 

If we continue misusing these loaded labels we are doing an injustice not only to children, but to MAPs and pedophiles who want help and have NO desire to cause harm. Educated discussions about who actually sexually abuses children and why is absolutely imperative to ensure the prevention of child sexual abuse. 

Other topics to be discussed in future blogs include: who sexually abuses children and why, current treatment for individuals with sexual attractions to children, child sexual abuse facts and myths, and much more. 

 

 

 

 

Thanks KJ McElrath for the accurate article about our program!

The “Prevention Project” – Is It An Attempt To “Normalize” Pedophilia Or Can It Really Help Protect Children From Sexual Predators?

McElrath states: "Any reasonable person would agree with the old proverb, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If Candice Christiansen’s Prevention Project can help save children from being the victims of sexual predators by stopping potential abusers from acting on their desires in the first place, its work deserves support."