I was 14 years old when I realized that the attractions I was feeling towards younger kids weren’t normal. Scared and confused, I turned to the internet, where I found supportive voices and useful information, but quickly stumbled across extreme hatred. Terrified, I resolved to push this part of me deep inside, hoping it would simply disappear. It was the most isolated I’ve ever felt, unable to confide in my family or closest friends about this terrible secret.
Over the next 3 years, my mental health spiraled, to the point where I felt the only way I would ever get to tell my story was in a suicide note. Finally, just as I was reaching what felt like the point of no return, a YouTube video on the subject convinced me to try looking for support one last time, and I found a support group for people like me. It saved my life. Slowly, and with extensive support from my newfound support network, I built myself back up, eventually finding self-acceptance, and with it, a willingness to go on. But that scared 14-year-old never truly went away, and although I can’t save him from the 3 years of hopelessness and fear, I can do everything in my power to protect other children from that pain.
According to the Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention, approximately 151 minor-attracted people (MAPs) are born worldwide every hour (an estimate consistent with existing research). Most countries consider someone a minor until they turn 16 or 18, so there are over 21 million minor MAPs in the world at any given time. They could be your co-worker’s daughter, your neighbor’s son, even your own child. They could be the teenager behind the counter at your favorite fast-food restaurant. On the surface, they would be no different from any other kid.
Yet, the vast majority of these children and teenagers, through no fault of their own, have already been condemned to a life of secrecy and self-hatred caused by the societal stigma surrounding their attractions. The demographic is plagued by high rates of mental health struggles and even suicide attempts. Based on existing data, over 1 in 3 will experience suicidal thoughts and 1 in 10 will attempt suicide over the course of their lives. Worse still, these already-disturbing numbers may underestimate the severity of the problem, as MAPs who attempt suicide and succeed are no longer around to participate in research, and current data is preliminary and incomprehensive compared to research on other populations.
The stigma and fearmongering do nothing except kill children. Teenagers die every year because to be giving them compassion is seen as a monstrous act.Arcane, admin in MAP Support Club
Despite being incredibly susceptible to mental health difficulties, minor MAPs are often overlooked or even demonized by many mainstream child protection and advocacy groups. Due to their financial dependence on their parents, minors who are MAPs are often unable to seek professional support, and many turn to the internet, where they often face harassment and abuse. Some decide to end their lives, feeling that they’re out of options, while others blindly trust promises of acceptance and support from strangers. Some of those strangers turn out to be predatory. The lucky few minor MAPs who find their way into support-focused MAP communities or manage to convince their guardians to let them receive professional support will still spend every day carrying a secret that could destroy their lives.
How can minors be MAPs?
I and others who support minors who are minor-attracted people receive this question often, and for good reason. Many elements of sexuality, such as attraction, emerge and develop during puberty, and it’s not at all uncommon for tweens and teens to experience sexual attractions to their peers. However, calling every minor who is attracted to their peers a MAP would be counterproductive, as most of the research on and support available to MAPs is centered around the idea of minor attractions being non-normative. For this reason, the term “minor MAP” is reserved for children and teens who experience an attraction to children who are much younger than them that persists over several months.
Like other attractions, minor attractions tend to emerge during puberty. The most common age for a MAP to discover their attractions is 14 years old, meaning most MAPs find themselves dealing with these feelings and the associated stigma before they are even adults themselves. Younger MAPs are at an increased risk of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts, and the most common age for a MAP to first attempt suicide is just 14 years old.
Searching for support
Understandably, most young MAPs quickly conclude that it isn’t safe for them to tell anyone about their attractions. After all, in a society that uses the term for their attractions interchangeably with “child molester” and advocates for people like them to be “hunted,” it’s clear how even a slight misinterpretation could result in disaster. Many could be disowned or even physically harmed if they discuss their attractions with a parent or guardian, while telling a friend comes with a risk of being publicly outed, potentially ruining their life. As a result of having to hide part of themselves from the most important people in their lives, many young MAPs feel isolated from their friends and family, which can exacerbate other mental health issues caused by stigma.
When I was about eight years old, I overheard an adult tell my mother what [they believed] should be done to pedophiles….I knew I was a pedophile at eight years old, and as I listened, I visualized them doing those things to my eight-year-old body. It was terrifying, and since my mother didn’t disagree with the person saying those horrible things about people like me, I felt totally helpless.MytheBe, MAP and activist
In hopes of finding safer forms of support, minor MAPs may turn to the internet, where the situation is arguably just as dangerous. A glance at a MAP-related hashtag on Twitter reveals a plethora of hateful and disturbing content, ranging from unsubstantiated accusations of criminal activity to explicit calls for genocide, the same type of content social media platforms ban when it’s directed at other groups. Minor MAPs who use social media to talk about their experience as a MAP are usually subjected to more targeted harassment in the form of replies to their posts and threatening DMs, which social media companies consistently fail to remove.
The people who send these types of messages to minor MAPs often claim to be “protecting children” by doing so. Some try to justify their actions by viewing minor MAPs as less than human and therefore not worthy of their “protection,” while others convince themselves that minor MAPs don’t actually exist and every MAP claiming to be one is actually an adult. No matter the excuses, however, the logical conclusion is obvious: people who use children as an excuse to attack groups they don’t like care about justifying their bigotry, not protecting children.
I know for certain they struggled (and still do struggle) with self worth and receiving hatred and threats. My child went to pretty dangerous places online in order to find community as a minor and ended up being traumatized because of lack of support and resources. This is something I regret not being aware of and helping with at the time.Parent of a MAP who discovered their attractions as a minor
In addition to hatred and bigotry, some minor MAPs seeking support online face another more pressing obstacle: addiction to images or videos of child sexual abuse. There isn’t currently any publicly available data on what percentage of minor MAPs struggle with illegal content. However, researchers have determined that 65% of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) viewers were first exposed to illegal content while they were minors. Though it’s unlikely that all of these people are MAPs, it’s evident that some minor MAPs are exposed to, and subsequently struggle to stop viewing, CSAM. There are several possible reasons for the first exposure, from curiosity and a lack of understanding that viewing such content is harmful, to being shown CSAM by someone who is sexually abusing them and continuing to seek it out after the abuse has stopped.
It was a struggle for a while. I had to resist going back to the same routine of what I’d been doing. It was even more difficult because the content was very easy for me to have access to again.Anonymous MAP on the challenges they faced to stop viewing illegal content as a minor
What needs to change
By far the most pressing issue faced by minor MAPs is the lack of safe access to support. Support for MAPs can come in many forms: sympathetic friends or family members, online peer support groups, and mental health professionals, to name a few. However, in many cases, minor MAPs have difficulty finding or accessing any of these. Therefore, one of the most important methods of supporting minor MAPs is raising awareness of resources. This can be as simple as sharing this blog post or the Prostasia Foundation’s Get Help page, both of which contain support resources for MAPs, including minor MAPs. If you have a role that puts you in a position of authority over one or more children (i.e. as a parent, sports coach, camp counselor, etc.) make sure the children in your care know they can talk to you about anything that’s bothering them and be met with an open mind and a desire to support them.
It is key that we create both the environment and resources that do provide non-judgemental and helpful responses, so that we can tackle the isolation and self-hatred that prevents these young people from seeking the support they deserve.Jenny Coleman, child sexual abuse prevention expert and the director of StopItNow!
Another major step towards better supporting minor MAPs is improving education, both for and about minor MAPs. The taboo surrounding discussions about sex and sexuality makes it hard for children who are experiencing uncomfortable thoughts to ask for help if they need it, which is harmful, not only to minor MAPs, but also to minors who are LGBTQ+, have another stigmatized attraction, or are otherwise struggling with their sexuality. Building these topics into sex education curriculums would help all of these groups gain a better understanding of their attractions and make it easier for them to speak up if they need additional support. More widespread information on minor MAPs would also benefit the parents of these vulnerable children. No parent wants to hear the words “I’m a pedophile” from their beloved child’s mouth, but some inevitably will, and those that do should have access to the resources and information they need to adequately support their child. Even mental health professionals would benefit from expanded access to this information, as it would increase their understanding of how to treat and support MAPs, including minor MAPs.
Lack of information about minor attraction broadly, and lack of developmentally appropriate information for youth specifically are two broad challenges that minor MAPs face when coming to terms with their sexual preferences.Dr. Gilian Tenbergen, assistant professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Oswego
Additionally, more needs to be done to prevent children and teens from accessing CSAM and to support those who are struggling to stop viewing it. Currently, minors who come forward about viewing illegal content risk being prosecuted, placed on the sex offender registry, and possibly even jailed. Though there is a growing push to treat CSAM viewership as a preventable public health issue, many of the resulting treatment programs are not currently accepting minors as participants. In addition to expanding the scope of these programs, better educating the public about the harmful effects of viewing CSAM is also necessary, as this would likely reduce the rates of people, especially minors, searching for illegal content. Furthermore, legislation that allows minors to get help to stop viewing CSAM without risking incarceration is necessary so that no child has to choose between getting help and staying out of jail.
Perhaps most importantly, the narrative surrounding minor attractions needs to change. Misinformed people saying horrible things about MAPs are everywhere, and it’s far too easy for minor MAPs to be exposed to this rhetoric. Whether it’s a parent wishing aloud that they could “kill that pedophile down the street” or a celebrity calling on their fans to help “end pedophilia” after coming forward about their CSA experience, these comments, however well-intentioned, can easily cause harm. “Pedophile” is not an insult, nor is it synonymous with “child sexual abuser.” Pretending otherwise sends the message to minor MAPs that they are destined to become abusers. MAPs who internalize these stigma-ridden lies experience increased mental health issues and a decreased willingness to access support. Using accurate terminology isn’t difficult, and if enough people are willing to do it, the resulting decrease in stigma could save lives.
Ignoring, and even worse demonizing youth with minor attractions, only opens the door for more abuse of children. Let’s help minors rather than drive them to hurt themselves and others.Feather Berkower, child sexual assault prevention expert, author, and the founder of Parenting Safe Children
Finally, for those who are able and willing to do so, supporting or participating in efforts to protect minor MAPs is an easy way to make a big difference. The donation form at the bottom of this article will automatically earmark contributions for a peer support group that allows minor MAPs. Additionally, many support groups for MAPs allow non-MAPs to join as allies, and many organizations dedicated to protecting and improving support for MAPs accept donations. Right now, there are over 21 million children doomed to grow up in a world where they feel hated and isolated because of attractions they did not choose. This is entirely preventable, but only if we are willing to step up, put children’s wellbeing before stigma, and take action to ensure these kids live to see a safer, more supportive society.
Society isn’t doing enough to support minor MAPs, a community plagued by high rates of suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues, a risk of accessing and struggling to stop viewing CSAM, and intense stigma from strangers and loved ones alike. When they look for help, they are often met with death and rape threats, leaving them with few options other than trusting seemingly supportive strangers on the internet. Anyone who cares about children’s wellbeing would recognize this as a problem. Thankfully, among MAPs and a growing number of child protection experts, many do, and some are trying to help. Over the last few years, several new resources focused partially or entirely on supporting minor MAPs have become available.
MAP Support Club – MSC is the first MAP peer-support group to specifically focus on and address the widespread need among minor MAPs for a strong support network. The group is open to MAPs ages 13 and up, as well as adult allies, as long as they’re opposed to child sexual abuse. They partner with the Prostasia Foundation for funding and access to safeguarding tools. Their community is vibrant, dedicated, and happy to support minor MAPs who need someone to talk to about their attractions and experiences.
Help Wanted – Developed by researchers and experts at the Johns Hopkins Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, Help Wanted is a self-paced online course designed to provide minor and young adult MAPs with skills and tools to support their mental and emotional wellbeing. It consists of several informative videos regarding the research behind minor attractions, testimonials from MAPs about their experiences living with minor attractions, and guided activities to help participants gain a better understanding of their attractions.
What’s OK? – Created by the child sexual abuse prevention organization StopItNow, What’s OK is a collection of resources designed to provide individuals between the ages of 14 and 21 with a safe space to ask questions and learn more about sexual thoughts and behaviors. The resources they provide include a list of FAQs, some of which focus specifically on minor attractions, as well as a helpline for additional questions, which can be reached via text, email, online chat, or phone call.
MAP Resources’ Minor MAPs Page – MAP Resources is dedicated to maintaining an up-to-date list of the growing number of resources available to minor-attracted people. Their Minor MAPs page does exactly that, focusing on resources intended for or inclusive of minor MAPs. The page also contains answers to commonly asked questions so minor MAPs can learn more about their attractions and the experiences of other MAPs. There is also a “messages” feature where anyone can leave words of support and reassurance for future visitors.
If you or someone you know struggles with attractions to minors, you can find support and resources here.