Before 2012, the only way that people with sexual attraction towards minors (MAPs) became visible was if they entered the criminal justice or child welfare systems. There were small organizations that hosted the first peer support networks, like B4U-Act, but it still came as a surprise even to many professionals when in June of 2012, an online community called Virtuous Pedophiles formed, with the message that MAPs committed to never offending existed in large numbers. This community soon grew to become a valued resource for professionals who suddenly had access to a new population of anti-abuse, non-offending MAPs that they hadn’t even known existed. Many professionals soon came to endorse this peer support model as an important complement to professional support. At the time, though, there was one unaddressed need: What about people age 13-17 who need support?
Fast-forward to November, 2016, a former Virtuous Pedophiles staff member named Ender Wiggin formed MAP Support Club, a new chat open to minor-attracted people age 13 and up. The chat was to be separate from Virtuous Pedophiles, where under 18 members weren’t allowed. Since the average age for MAPs to discover their attractions is 14, Virtuous Pedophiles began to refer these younger people to MAP Support Chat. Things largely went smoothly (except for the usual community drama and occasional rulebreaker) until Discord—with no warning, no TOS violation, and no provocation—shut down and banned the server on July 16th, 2018. MAP Support Club was renamed at the end of 2019 and found a home on Rocket.Chat, and since November, 2019, MAP Support Club staff have been in talks with Prostasia Foundation about a public partnership, which is the first such public and formal collaboration in history between a child protection charity and a chat-based support community for minor attracted people.
What minor attracted people struggle with
While you may find it hard to believe, the most common struggle is not with child sexual abuse images. Many people have come for recommendations on where to get professional help. Many of them want to know what professional help involves, and whether they are safe coming forward for help. The biggest concern is that a therapist will report them simply for being attracted to children. Can they trust a therapist at all? Will the therapist actually be helpful?
Some minor-attracted people do struggle with viewing sexually harmful images, and they are provided with the support needed to stop, but these people are not the majority of us. No, the majority of us struggle with basic mental health issues—some diagnosed, some not—and just need a place to talk about things they feel they can never talk to friends and family members about. Many of these minor attracted people are children themselves.
The biggest struggles are when minor-attracted people do not have access to professional support. Over two years ago, MAP Support Club had an individual join us, who I will call Betty. We found out that Betty had been previously banned for crossing the boundaries of a younger member when they asked Betty to stop messaging them. Betty came to us again because she was struggling with what some would call an overactive sex drive or hypersexuality. We chose to let Betty back in because she was clearly in need of support. Betty spoke with many of the staff and members of the community. We came to learn that Betty lived in a group home where her caretakers beat her, and that her therapist refused to report the abuse for reasons they did not adequately explain. We learned that medication was not really available in her country. Betty would sometimes cross social boundaries in the chat by bringing up how sexually frustrated she felt and how she felt tortured by her feelings. She would talk about how she wanted to end her life.
A few days after a very disturbing description of how she was trying to kill herself, we saw a little of Betty. She said she had left the hospital, despite still being suicidal. That was the last we heard from Betty since May, 2018. Betty was only 14 years old at the time, and many of us feared the worst. Thankfully, we just this month heard from her again, so this story does not have the tragic ending that it seemed to be leading towards.
But when people disappear for long stretches, with no way to check in on them and no way to know if they are alive, that can be very hard on staff.
The next person, and we will call him John, came to us in April, 2019 and shared his story. Even for us, his introduction was a little suspicious to begin with. John would say hi, lots of people would say hi, and he would spend the next five minutes forming a response. In early May, he finally shared his story.
John had come out as a minor-attracted person to his high school counselor… who had told John’s parents and the school’s administrators, breaking confidentiality. John told us that his school was now having a staff member present with him at all times and not letting him eat lunch with his peers. We were understandably skeptical, until John shared that some expert had already talked with the school via phone.
Early in April, the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse held their annual symposium, which they livestreamed and I livetweeted on Twitter. At the conclusion of their symposium, Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau had talked about a situation in which a youth who was being ostracized by his school and his peers, and she had a phone conference with his school’s team about his minor attraction, explaining to them what it means and what it does not mean.
So, when John shared that information, I reached out to Dr. Letourneau and her team and Dr. Letourneau herself responded the very next morning to verify that the John we had in our chat was indeed the person from her story at the symposium. So, we were able to let John into the rest of our chat and help give him some guidance around his situation.
In the end, though, there was not a lot we could do beyond listen. John eventually moved in with a friend and recently dropped out of high school to get his GED (for the non-Americans, that is the same thing as a highschool graduation certificate).
As you can imagine, being treated this way by his school was incredibly difficult. John feared being outed to the rest of the school due to the school’s actions, and who could blame him?
Taking away safe spaces is no solution
The reality is that safe spaces help minor-attracted people talk about their struggles, whether they are struggling with viewing these harmful images or with some other issue, like Betty and John did. Talking with others like them helps minor-attracted people feel safe, as we can identify with what they are struggling with and explain what has helped others in their struggles. For some, that peer support is essential to mental and emotional wellbeing. Mental wellness in turn also reduces the pressures that can lead people towards offending—which is the last thing that anyone wants.
Peer support in our chat gives people the safety, privacy, and space to be open, honest, and raw with what they are experiencing and why they need help, and it gives people the opportunity to listen. It is like the internet equivalent of an in-person peer support system, and it can even give minor-attracted people the capability of talking to professionals. In fact, last year, MAP Support Club had a therapist from a European organization for several group therapy sessions. It was made possible in part by having a safe space to have that professional present.
Right now, most of those safe spaces are on the dark web, and those safe spaces are mostly run by ragtag groups of people who generally think that society is in the wrong for hating them, and for making the acting on their desires so stigmatized that they have to hide in these communities. In general terms, these communities often promote the acceptance of sexually harmful imagery.
The main point is that taking away these safe spaces is not an option either. Instead, we must populate them with people willing and able to make positive culture changes and allow those in the community who want support to get it.
That is what MAP Support Club tries to do. Often, we succeed. Sometimes, we wish we could do more, even knowing that we are human and therefore limited.
An active abuser in the community
During the summer of last year, I was supporting someone who was struggling and, through talking with them, I found out that there was someone else in our community who was actively abusing multiple children. I had the duty to report the situation to our administrators, Ender Wiggin and OliverViking (both pseudonyms). We eventually figured out who this person was, reported them directly to the authorities in their country, and banned them from our community.
This incident was especially hard on the person who was already struggling; but it was also hard on the rest of the staff to be put in a position to have to take that step. Our first rule is “You must be committed to never engaging in sexual activity with a child, under any circumstance.” We put that rule and the rest of them there for a reason. Most of the time, the most violating behavior we see is someone getting angry at someone else for something.
Less than three months after that incident, Ender Wiggin left to focus on his own life and his family.
The toll of providing support
There are realities that we accept as staff running a peer support chat. Some of those realities are harsh, but they are realities we accept. We accept the reality that such a stigmatized group struggles with a lot of different issues, most of which we are familiar with but some of it we are not. As a peer support chat, we are limited unless we can get professionals to help guide us through those complex issues. We also accept the reality that some of our members are, at times, suicidal. These things do take a toll. That is why we began talks with the Prostasia Foundation about a possible partnership.
Now, we have the support of the Prostasia Foundation. When MSC was taken down by Discord, Prostasia Foundation wrote to them to explain why professionals had identified the server as an important resource for CSA prevention, and to encourage them to reconsider, but they received no reply, and Discord’s ban on the server remained in place. Since then, Prostasia has been working with the chat’s independent administrators to support its reestablishment on an independent hosting platform, ensuring that it would be more resilient against censorship in the future. If there were attempts to have the chat shut down, or to breach the anonymity of its members, those attempts would now have to come through Prostasia.
At the same time, MAP Support Club has been run primarily as amateur peer support, and many of our policies were in dire need of upgrade. As part of their due diligence, Prostasia asked us some difficult questions and requested a few changes and improvements. MAP Support Club and Prostasia Foundation came to an agreement around several things. Prostasia Foundation is helping us develop the technology to scan member’s direct messages for TOS violations and to better keep its minor members safe, and we overhauled a policy from Ender’s time as administrator around who we do and do not allow. Prostasia Foundation is also helping us implement image-scanning software so that in the unlikely event a member uploads illegal content, we could ensure it is reported to law enforcement and removed, an industry best practice that Prostasia Foundation has long supported.
Whether the reader decides to side with law enforcement when they say that “catching the bad guy” is the solution or you decide that every human being deserves caring support to help them in their struggles, is their business. I will continue advocating for support, because I have seen that support is what works to help people with their struggles. I also believe that support should be available to people before a child is harmed, and right now, that is not the reality in far too many cases of child sexual abuse images and sexual assault.
That reality needs to change.
To learn more about MAP Support Club and its partnership with Prostasia Foundation, attend our next webinar on May 9. You can also donate to help keep the service operational and expand professional support options. If you are a licensed therapist and are interested in volunteering your time in MSC’s support channel, contact us to discuss.
If you think you might be minor-attracted and are interested in joining MSC, please click here.
You will want to keep these safety and privacy tips in mind if you join.