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“If you are working with a woman of ill-repute, your job is not to change her but to make her the best woman of ill-repute she can possibly be” –a social worker named Mrs. Strump.
This article has two purposes. First, I am not justifying or condoning harm of children. Pedophilia is not the same as sex offending. Rather, I am providing important information on how to prevent child sexual abuse before it happens. Second, we have to be mature about pedophilia and attraction to kids. For nearly 40 years, we all have been fed a well-intentioned myth: pedophiles are monsters of choice, lurking outside our children’s bedrooms with one mission, to sexually assault and kill our children. Every pedophile is a monster, will offend, and they have no family, parents, or children.
Not only is such a myth extremely inaccurate, it prevents child sexual abuse prevention because, after all, there is no help for it. You all are taking on Satan. You will lose. And we are losing, not because these guys and ladies are monsters but because they are human beings.
What I provide below is a resource for those of you that have a loved one, a family member, a friend, colleague that is attracted to children. Maybe you stopped a friendship because of it. It is for those seeking knowledge about those attracted to children. My goal is to break a damaging myth and face a simple reality: often the people that abuse our kids are the last one’s we think would. Though some may offend, they often are people with remorse that can learn to make better choices.
What is Pedophilia and Isn’t it a Pathology?
The meaning of the word “pedophile” is simply, “one that loves children.” I hope you all love children, but I know many of you don’t. The word itself is not a bad word, but we made it the most horrible word in the English language. That has consequences.
While I was writing on a National Association of Social Workers forum, one person called pedophilia a “pathology.” I don’t like that word. I also don’t like “abnormal.” I decided to ask a bunch of sexuality scientists on SEXNET this question. Dr. Michael Bailey responded that he does not like that word either because “pathology” sounds scientific but is not. Pathology means “abnormal,” and there is no such thing as abnormal in science because such is a value judgment. There is typical and atypical. Then he said this, “Would I want my son to be a pedophile? Hell no. But if he was a pedophile, I would love him.”
I admit I was not expecting a hardcore scientist to say something so moving. He would love his child even if his child was the most hated word in the English language. He must know something the media is not telling us. So, I am here to set the record straight and to provide resources.
Pedophilia is not a pathology, nor is it “abnormal.” Science by Bailey, Seto, Cantor, and Blanchard, etc. have shown that pedophilia is a sexual orientation. It cannot be changed, and most people know they are pedophiles by 14.5 years of age. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) in 2013 called pedophilia a sexual orientation. Well, politics took hold and they had to revise this stance and call it a “sexual interest.” Politics almost always comes before science and fact. One can have Pedophilic Disorder, but the disorder is not the pedophilia. One can like feet, for example, and do fine, but if they are so distressed that they cannot go to work or they may stick someone’s foot in their mouth, then they have a disorder. Simply put, they may be at higher risk and are unable to function.
Call it whatever you want but remember this: no one chooses to be a pedophile. No one. No one can catch or be enticed or “groomed” to be a pedophile. Per the DSM, pedophilia is a form of paraphilia. Think sexual fetishes. These, which there are nearly 700 recorded forms, are extremely typical in the population because, well, there are nearly 700 different forms, but they are very diverse. So having an attraction to staircases may be unusual, but the woman two doors down is attracted to horses. You get the point.
Pedophilia, like other paraphilia, is not a disorder by itself. People with pedophilia live among you all. You all know and like some of them (if you only knew), and, yes, having an attraction to children can be a factor in sexual abuse, but such is not the smoking gun. I suppose being attracted to women can be a factor in rape, but it is not the reason rape happens. The truth is that most sex offenses against kids are not done by pedophiles. There are a series of issues there in each case.
If we consider the numbers of those attracted to children in U.S. culture, researchers put this between about 3 million to 16 million. Those defending the lower end, I think, are flawed because they tend to be too exclusive in their definitions: “strong” attraction or exclusive. Sure, those only attracted to kids or those that feel “strong” attraction may be at 2 or three million, but what about those that have some attraction to kids and have an occasional fantasy?
We are pretty fluid in our fantasies, as porn research suggests. Given the severe stigma of someone showing any interest at all in any person under 18, few would ever reveal that attraction even when asking them multiple times. I would favor the high-end, 16 or more million. In fairness, let’s just say it’s 8 million. That is more than our whole military and several states. You get the idea. Do you want to lock them all up? Kill them? What about their kids and families? Incinerate them, too? For those with such reactions, they have much personal work to do. None of these will work, but I will tell you what will shortly. I find that those offering a “final solution” are also those with the least to invest in knowing the subject. We are very quick to favor the demise of others because we are disgusted.
So, if we could wave the magic “Pedophile-Be-Gone” wand, we’d still have significant child sexual abuse in our society. My time treating those under supervision in prisons and private practice taught me this. If we call ourselves Christians, Muslims, Jewish, for example, I would lean to fair and compassionate treatment, understanding.
Understanding Child Attraction
Many of us in the field and many that are attracted to children use the term “Non-Offending Minor-Attracted Person” (NOMAP) or non-offending pedophile. It is important to know that the definition of pedophilia is someone with sexual attraction and/or romantic interest in kids under 12. This is muddy because the definition used to mean prepubescent, but girls, for example, are showing pubescence at 8.9 years of age. Yes, some kids have breasts or are showing Tanner 2 or 3 stages of development, so that dirty old man looking at your 9-year-old may be more typical than you think. He may not be a pedophile at all.
Nonetheless, pedophiles tend to like prepubescent kids. However, other people may like adolescent kids or only teens. Your best friend may like old ladies. These can all be paraphilia and not necessarily harmful unless they are causing distress and there is an elevated risk of harm or self-harm. Pedophilia is not a reason to call one into the cops or report them. Child abuse is. There is a distinction. One can have Pedophilic Disorder but even they will not necessarily harm kids. They can be at an elevated risk.
If you see the acronym MAP or NOMAP, this is not done to justify child abuse, that it is okay to sexually abuse kids. That is not true, but people often (think QAnon) say that the goal is making child-adult sex legal. Such an idea is offensive to most pedophiles. They don’t want to harm kids, the majority of them, but they can still be attracted to them and have fantasies. Our personal disgust is not a responsible reason to target this population. This definition allows us to include any person that is attracted to someone underage because they share some characteristics.
People can be exclusive or non-exclusive. Some are attracted to kids and adults; some are attracted to only kids. Most have a gender preference. Gay people are not more subject to pedophilia. In fact, little girls and young girls are abused at much higher rates by “typical dudes,” not pedophiles. For example, in incest offending, often if dad’s relationship with mom goes bad, he can move to his daughter, further enmeshing boundaries. These are often not pedophilic, even if the child is prepubescent.
Girls and women can be pedophiles, and, in fact, at a recent workshop put on by The Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention, one female MAP said that she believes there are just as many female pedophiles as males, though scientists would disagree. She equates that with females just “flying over the radar” of most people. We don’t’ think women or girls would be that way. If that is true, the numbers of minor-attracted people are much higher.
The most important point is this: those with attraction to children are not destined to become abusers. They can live happy and productive lives. Generally, like the rest of you, they are valuable people, but, like most of us, they have their own struggles. If we are open to helping them, we can reduce the risks that do exists, while focusing on science, not just correlation to make society safer. We just need more research where it counts, studying those attracted to children and what protective factors they use to prevent from abusing kids.
What Does it Feel Like to Be a MAP?
One of the presenters at ASAP International, a MAP himself, offered a theory, not science, but a theory as to the stages a person goes through, usually when they are children themselves, in dealing with their attraction to kids. Similar to grief these can happen in any order. I felt, from my experience, that this may help those of you that know or are a family member of someone attracted to children. I use the speakers’ terms and basic theory here, but I modified these based on my understanding, experience, and interpretation of them. ASAP International would be a good source for the original application of these terms, and for due credit:
Like most kids, at first, Tyrone mixes with kids his age and when they hit adolescence, they become interested in their sexual preference. They may explore a bit, which is totally natural, but at about 14 or so, Tyrone will notice that his friends moved on to teen girls and boys, but Tyrone still likes 8–10-year-old girls. He is horrified, more and more so, and, like most kids today, will go online and try to get information about pedophilia. What he will read is that he is a monster. He is better off dead. He will offend. It cannot be helped, and that people like him, even if they don’t offend, should be locked up, burned alive, raped, and executed. Some may lure him to the dark web or send him child pornography, where he will be encouraged to view child exploitation material. Tyrone will likely reject this “monstrosity” in himself and try to play the game of liking older kids his age. He will reject and deny his attraction. Such has severe consequences.
Everywhere Tyrone goes, he feels horrified by his sexuality. We generally live in a very sex-negative culture, where we associate sex with crime, shame, evil, and addiction. Such is tough on any kid, even typical kids can really suffer when their sexual rights; the right to be educated about sexuality, is compromised, as it is in most school districts. Few teachers, lawmakers, lawyers, or any professional, including doctors and nurses, have adequate sex education. This compounds the problem. He is too afraid to go to mom or dad, and even if he tells them, they will likely say, “Oh, you just need to hang out with kids your age,” or “who is grooming you?” When I was an ally for the LGBTQ+ community, we always had to tell kids to be cautious in “coming out” because 25% of parents throw their children out in the streets. If your kid says, “Dad, I think I am a pedophile,” what is dad’s or mom’s reaction?
Sometimes they choose being accepted by their community over loving their children. Organizations like B4U-ACT report that kids like Tyrone have a 40% suicidal ideation rate. It is no wonder. As I often write, our society creates most mental illness and can put Tyrone on the path, not toward self-acceptance, but Pedophilic Disorder. Our society pushes people to offend by making them outcasts.
The way I would describe this, and these can be different based on each person, is that the mind needs to reduce the pain, the distress. The result is that Tyrone may have this state of happiness and bliss come over him. This can be expressed in different ways. Loving a Netflix program with a child in his age of attraction (AoA), or him helping out kids in the community, many that share his AoA. Individual experiences can vary, but what is important is that this euphoria does not mean things are better. It’s medication for a symptom of the problem Tyrone faces. This state could lead to his premature “coming out” or even something inappropriate happening: Tyrone writes a 9-year-old a poem and the parents get alarmed.
Tyrone my then hit reality and have a severe inner conflict, or those that know of his attraction are ostracizing him. As an example, he tells his friend that he is attracted to the 9-year-old. His friend never talks to him again and outs him as a “pervert” to the whole school. His nickname is “pedo-bear.” Or the school brings the parents and Tyrone in for a conference. They recommend therapy, but the therapist is less than supportive, sees “pedophilia” as a disease, and says he should get sex offender treatment, even though he never offended. Keep in mind that much of this can happen when Tyrone is still a minor, compounding the problems and the inappropriate actions of the adults involved. For the rest of his time, he feels alone and an outcast.
Few get to this point of what the speaker called “resolution duality.” The truth is that many never get over the severe shame they feel, often isolating themselves, and when they attempt, as Tyrone attempts, to have community, the community is assumed to be a “child pornography ring.” The popular idea is that putting pedophiles together is extremely dangerous, encouraging them to offend. Such an idea is a myth. The more Tyrone is pushed out of society, the more distressed he is, and the more likely he may commit an offense. For him, the best resolution is to find resources offered like ASAP International, B4U-ACT, Virtuous Pedophiles, Help Wanted, Global Prevention Project, MAP Support Club, and a therapist approved through vetting that is knowledgeable about MAPS and their needs. None of these organizations are telling Tyrone to go out and have sexual relations with kids. On the contrary, they work with Tyrone to find legal and safe outlets, some of which are being targeted by said “child protection” groups that are really religious outliers with little interest in child protection.
Prostasia Foundation is supporting research on what protective factors work (dolls, cartoons, legal material) and what may be dangerous. To date, most child protection laws are not based on evidence or science, just correlation at best. We see cartoons and “child-like” dolls with disgust and then make laws “of morality” over science. Few are interested in changing that. Such does nothing for child sexual abuse prevention efforts.
With the help of a supportive family and a good therapist, ideally, a supportive community, Tyrone will not offend and can even work with children. He recognizes and accepts his attraction, does not blame or shame himself for his fantasies or attraction, but keeps a firm grasp of boundaries on what he would do if such a situation was a weakness for him.
The thing about therapy, as I was reminded in this workshop: therapists are more varied than the approaches they use; many approaches can help and hurt; but the most important approach is to genuinely listen and value Tyrone’s experience and “normalize,” yes, “normalize” his attraction because those are his attractions regardless of our judgments. Attraction does not equal offending. Bad choices can.
Seeing and Hearing a Pedophile Speak
There is a reason why most of you have never seen or heard a minor-attracted person speak. They are censored through a brutal labeling and demonizing campaign that meant to protect our children but was later used for political and personal gain. Only our powerful enemies write our histories. If you did hear a pedophile’s story, that was likely a serial child molester’s story or a murderous pedophile’s story told through sensational media or even more legitimately through a survivor’s viewpoint. It is understandable why so many of you revolt against my suggestions. And we need survivors’’ points of view, but if we elevate the horrors they tell to that of revenge over science, the abuse will continue.
Yet, we need to hear from those attracted to children, see them, that live their lives honestly and try hard to be safe. Some do fail, and some do offend, but people do change. Often, people stop offending on their own and seek help to change. Some continue with devastating consequences. But what we do know, is if we listen, learn, and work together, we can reduce child sexual abuse while helping those that had no role in choosing their attraction. No incinerators, prisons, “hospitals” or hatred needed. We just need to understand.
“If you are working with someone with pedophilia, your job is not to change that person but to make that person the best person with pedophilia they can possibly be” –a social workers’ should-be creed.
Earl Yarington (LMSW) is a social worker and school bus driver. He taught literature and writing for nearly 20 years and spent 3 years working in forensic social work internships with offending populations, including work at Delaware Correctional facilities and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He has a PhD in literature and criticism (feminism/women writers) from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Master of Social Work from Louisiana State University, and an interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Arts from Arizona State University, where he studied the impact of visual image and girlhood in media/social media. He also has an MA and BS in English from SUNY College at Brockport. The opinions and analyses that Earl writes are his own and are not necessarily the positions or views of his employers, the agencies he supports, or that of his colleagues. Reach out with comments or questions.