A relevant question for today’s audience is: what can we do to prevent child sexual abuse (CSA), including the consumption of child sexual exploitation material (CSEM)? A less often asked, but still highly relevant question is: how can we both prevent CSA and CSEM use while upholding basic civil liberties and human rights for all? Well, right now (at least in the US), our primary approach to CSA/CSEM prevention is punishment, namely incarceration and potential civil commitment. Keep in mind, however, that this sort of response only functions after an offense has occurred. This means that a child must be victimized before we intervene.
Relatedly, there are many useful CSA prevention programs designed to help adults identify signs and symptoms of CSA in potentially exposed children, but this is still meant to limit exposure to CSA by intervening after its occurrence. It does very little, if anything, to actually prevent CSA from happening in the first place1,2 To this end, we are also making it easier for victims to seek reparations for damages caused by CSA, as there is now no longer a statute of limitations on civilly suing offenders in New York State.3 These methods are incredibly useful, and it is certainly not my intention here to say otherwise. We, as a society, certainly must intervene when a child is in harm’s way, or we suspect a person may be engaging in problematic, dangerous, and/or harmful behaviors.
However, if this is our only approach to CSA/CSEM prevention, we are not doing all we can. It necessarily means we are excluding an entire group of individuals who may not only require, but also actually want, professional support in order to lead law-abiding, offense-free, fulfilling lives. These are individuals who experience pedophilia/hebephilia, or the sexual preference for pre-pubescent/pubescent children, more commonly referred to as Minor Attracted Persons or MAPs.
Practical prevention of offending
A common belief is that all sexual offenders are pedophiles or MAPs, and that all pedophiles/MAPs will eventually offend (meaning it’s just a matter of time until they do, if they haven’t already).4,5,6 The evidence shows, however, that this is not the case.7,8,9 In fact, there is a dedicated group of non-offending MAPs who are very outspoken against child sexual abuse and CSEM use. But for those in the middle, who may be just looking for information about pedophilia/minor attraction, or who may be actually considering engaging in CSA/CSEM use, we pretend they don’t exist. We actually go so far as a society as to prevent them from seeking help, from obtaining information, from living good lives. What should we do in this circumstance? How can we together improve CSA/CSEM prevention and protect children?
There are currently very few resources available to anyone experiencing (and perhaps struggling) with these preferences and other associated mental health symptoms and who also want support.10 So, what is a person in this situation to do?
Some available programs include The Global Prevention Project, B4U-ACT, Virtuous Pedophiles (VirPed), Stop it Now! (in the US, UK, and NL/Belgium), The Prevention Project (Kein Taeter Werden – Don’t Offend), Troubled Desire, in addition to individual MAP-friendly therapists available via B4U-ACT. If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual thoughts toward children, here is what we do know and how you can get help:
- Telephone hotlines. These are wonderfully useful ways to reach out to someone for help if you live in an area not served by MAP-friendly clinicians. The Global Prevention Project and B4U-ACT are two that have telephone hotlines specifically for minor-attracted individuals that provide either telephone-based support (especially in “crisis” mode) or referrals to known and supportive clinicians who can provide more formal services. Therapy is expensive, as we all know, however clinicians may offer sliding pay scales or deferred payments, depending on your situation. It never hurts to ask!
- Informational Websites. Oftentimes, the first place a MAP may look for information is online. Unfortunately, two things make this problematic. One, there is frequently misleading, factually incorrect, and emotion-laden information posted on many websites, for example, equating pedophilia with committing CSA or promoting views such as “all MAPs/pedophiles/hebephiles should be put to death!” Two, with the recent passage of FOSTA/SESTA, websites that may have once provided useful information about treatment services, support groups, or even just factually-correct information about minor-attraction, are now effectively banished. Hence, I would refer you to the support groups of Virtuous Pedophiles or to the knowledge-base of Troubled Desire. These sites offer not only loads of information about what these attractions are, but also support services for individuals looking for such things. They are also both explicitly anti-contact, meaning they expect and moderate users and members to refrain from any harmful behaviors toward themselves or others.
But it doesn’t end there. If we truly want to end CSA/CSEM use, we must do it in a sex-positive, human- and civil-rights upholding manner. This means that we, as a society, must acknowledge that MAPs exist. We must support them to live law-abiding, fulfilling, and honest lives (as we all strive to do!) without judgement, retribution, or anger. We must acknowledge that they are among us, they work with us, they are us. We must help them help us to protect our children.
If you are a MAP, there are supportive and accepting services out there. A new treatment and support program is coming soon to New York State, so if you are reading this from my native NYS, know you are not alone.
- Letourneau, E.J., et al., Preventing the Onset of Child Sexual Abuse by Targeting Young Adolescents With Universal Prevention Programming. Child Maltreat, 2017. 22(2): p. 100-111.
- Mendelson, T. and E.J. Letourneau, Parent-Focused Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. Prev Sci, 2015. 16(6): p. 844-52.
- Anthony, A., New York passes child victims act, allowing child sex abuse survivors to sue their abusers., in CNN. 2019, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
- Jahnke, S., R. Imhoff, and J. Hoyer, Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: two comparative surveys. Arch Sex Behav, 2015. 44(1): p. 21-34.
- Jahnke, S. and J. Hoyer, Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: A Blind Spot in Stigma Research. International Journal of Sexual Health, 2013
- Jahnke, S., K. Philipp, and J. Hoyer, Stigmatizing attitudes towards people with pedophilia and their malleability among psychotherapists in training. Child Abuse Negl, 2015. 40: p. 93-102.
- Tenbergen, G., et al., The neurobiology and psychology of pedophilia: Recent advances and challenges. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2015. 9.
- Levenson, J.S. and M.D. Grady, Preventing Sexual Abuse: Perspectives of Minor-Attracted Persons About Seeking Help. Sex Abuse, 2018: p. 1079063218797713.
- Seto, M.C., Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment, and Intervention. 2nd ed. 2018, Washington, D. C. : American Psychological Association.
- Levenson, J.S., G.M. Willis, and C.P. Vicencio, Obstacles to Help-Seeking for Sexual Offenders: Implications for Prevention of Sexual Abuse. J Child Sex Abus, 2017. 26(2): p. 99-120.