The letter supporting a Twitter policy toward those attracted to prepubescent and pubescent kids was about two years in the making notes, Dr. James Cantor, a world-renowned scientist, and psychologist on pedophilia and sex offending.
Recently, there has been some confusion and mischaracterization about Cantor’s role in the letter to Twitter asking Twitter brass to allow pedophiles and hebephiles a space to be active on the platform. Such a request has nothing to do with allowing child abuse; rather, it has a lot to do with reducing it.
According to Cantor, experts in the prevention of child abuse know that desperation causes crime. In fact, such is true across the board involving criminal activity. Driving those attracted away and isolating them can do the opposite of what prevention experts and those in law enforcement really want.
Cantor explained that the most pressing problem in getting pedophiles* the help and resources they need is the conflation of pedophilia with sex offending and the “fearmongering” that comes with it. Recently, I wrote a piece criticizing the New York Times for its conflation of pedophilia with sex offending, as well as getting several facts wrong. CNN also regularly conflates the two. Cantor refers to his own research, “Pedophilia is an innate, unchangeable, interest pattern. They cannot change it. The Twitter policy can do no harm.”
Disgust is No Reason to Ignore Science
The move to send the letter in supporting non-offending pedophiles, which include many experts, came after several people’s accounts from the group Virtuous Pedophiles were suspended by Twitter. Cantor said that such did not seem right because what violation did they cause? This group allowed pedophiles to be a support group of sorts that helped them with “the horrors of their attraction.” The group helped reduce the stigma and loneliness they felt about what they cannot change, their attraction to kids.
Jeremy Malcolm, a lawyer and the founder of Prostasia Foundation, said what drew him to the MAP issue (minor-attracted persons) was that he wanted to focus on reducing child abuse without using censorship because such censorship, he found, was very harmful to minority groups. He wanted to prevent child abuse. He writes, “In fact, it was the perfect example of a case in which censorship was harmful, not helpful to that cause.”
It seems that censoring a group that was doing no harm but was seeking support to live healthier and more positive would be a good way to reduce child abuse. Malcolm then approached his own experts and several agreed that a letter to Twitter would be the best way to create a “trial run” for the creation of the Prostasia Foundation.
At the time, Malcolm was still working at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He was able to pull the letter together with the help of several experts. He cannot say more about his interactions with Twitter because he agreed to keep the conversations confidential. He also noted that he cannot take credit for Twitter changing its policy because such a claim has come from “third-party commentators, and isn’t something I ever said.”
The claim that some have made that Dr. Cantor wrote and sent the letter is false. “I am a scientist, not an activist.”
He says this does not mean he is distancing himself from the letter. The letter “was not my initiative,” and his purpose was neither political or emotional. Cantor is among many experts whose work is in the prevention of child abuse. Like any researcher, scientist, or expert, he shares research and ideas, tests and re-tests. Malcolm and Cantor agreed that Cantor’s name on the letter added legitimacy to the cause, and because Cantor is so well known, he also takes the brunt of the criticism. For now, Malcolm says Twitter is standing strong behind its no censorship policy, but it is no myth that big tech companies fall to popular opinions.
YouTube Policy is For Appearance, Not Child Protection
The recent moves by Google’s YouTube is such an example that is based more on advertisers’ pressure and public phobia than any real “pedophile” threat to kids. Given the millions if not billions of videos posted daily, how many kids get physically harmed, trafficked or abducted through the YouTube platform? Like sex offender cases, only a few shocking cases can panic and ultimately punish all, a common theme in ineffective child protection rules.
Such restrictions seem to hurt and target kids more than the adults. Adults can easily get around YouTube’s “safety” restrictions (anyone can copy video links and share them, download the videos privately). Such a censorship policy does nothing to protect kids. In the end, YouTube’s censorship seems a front to simply please advertisers. YouTube is loaded with kid videos and will continue to be loaded with them, so maybe we need to be truthful with ourselves. Many look at them.
Even the elimination of comments, which has some value, on kids’ channels grounded my planned research preparations, leaving new researchers like me unable to conduct a study. I was preparing a study on the over-sexualization of young kids online, something the American Psychological Association did back in 2007. Now, the study is virtually impossible to do. As is often the case, such censorship policies give only the appearance of safety and obstruct those working to prevent child abuse. Twitter remains an important outlier, and, in no way, is supporting child abuse with its Terms of Service.
Those Attracted to Children Will Always Exist, so What is the Sensible Endgame?
Twitter Terms of Service allows those attracted to prepubescent and pubescent kids to communicate, as long as they don’t promote child abuse or openly sexualize or eroticize kids, and having them out in the open is much better for everyone. Cantor puts it this way,
If you are heterosexual, you can choose from 98% of the population. If you are gay, 2%, and if you are a pedophile, 0%. We have to provide an outlet because the best they can hope for is to be celibate the rest of their lives.
Where do we draw a line then? As nations, encouraged by the United Nations, are now charging people with having child-like sex dolls, stories, drawings, and cartoon images that seem to depict children, now what? What is the endgame for law enforcement and our society?
Pedophiles have always been here and always will be. We don’t have to celebrate them, but we do have to be mature and responsible. We cannot do that if we are too emotional. As Cantor says, “If you make child sex dolls and robots illegal, what outlet do we give pedophiles in terms of science and research? The truth is that child sex dolls and robots are lumps of latex.” They are not victims of child abuse, nor is there any evidence that such dolls encourage child abuse.
The point is that we cannot prevent child sexual abuse, abuse caused more by non-pedophiles than pedophiles, if we avoid current research while favoring emotion and censorship.
What if Everyone You Fell in Love with Had a Terminal Illness; Would You Choose to Love Them?
Mr. Fury (a pen name for a minor-attracted person) also notes that it is critical that MAPS get the support and resources they need. He even developed a website Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse to help educate the public about the wild misconceptions and panic that does little to help us keep our kids reasonably safe.
For MAPs, Fury writes that “I think the biggest challenge is the paranoia. Even in communities like MAP Support Club and Virtuous Pedophiles, we need to be on the lookout for people who infiltrate us. People are afraid of being outed and harassed.” He also argues that MAPs have more dire concerns than their sexuality since many suffer from ADHD, social anxiety, and depression. Sadly, most therapists only want to treat them for their sexual attraction, but this can be traumatizing and re-traumatizing. Such, Fury notes, “is a slap in the face.” These are vibrant people with varied interests, not in-the-bush predators, motherless, fatherless, and childless.
Cantor says that it’s understandable that this subject causes many people to get emotional and revolt, but he has a message to all of us. He is supporting the basic principles of crime prevention. If a whole family is in a terrible car accident, can the ER doctor help them if they get too emotional, notes Cantor? As Fury reminds us, many pedophiles get outed by professionals and therapists. “So, most of us do not really trust professionals, especially journalists.”
Twitter Policy is Having a Positive Impact
Malcolm notes that the Twitter MAP community has really moved away from pro-child contact persons to anti-contact views, and, in fact, many MAPs actively engage and report pro-contact or abusive accounts. Malcolm writes,
This is an achievement that the MAP community has reached all by itself, and in the face of considerable obstacles and hostility. So that’s something that they can be proud of and an indication that the experts that we work with are right to support the community as a prevention measure.
MAPs can help the police and experts target child sexual abuse, not encourage it.
Cantor left me with a powerful statement when I asked him why some professionals seem to ignore the latest research, not only from him, but from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. He said that even experts have to slow down and accept scientific debate and check their own biases and emotions. “Hatred is a primary motivator: People take the strength of their emotion and equate it with the strength of evidence. Activists that are more extremist, over-identify with victim identifying.”
The result, Cantor argues, is that the therapist goes along with whatever the client tells them. The therapist starts “treating recovered memories, the Circle of Satanic child abuse. It’s a game of one fooling the other. There is a lack of critical thinking.”
Cantor believes that the culture has to change if we expect to protect kids in a sensible manner. Everything is a war, “black and white.” He feels mandatory reporting and the sex offender registry need to be eliminated because experts know they make problems worse, not better. The laws are moving in the opposite direction of science and basic sensibilities. Cantor closes,
Policy is not making it about prevention. It is spending millions if not billions on vengeance. There is no interest in prevention.
Don’t expect tougher laws, further stigma, anger, and hatred to slow child sexual abuse, but Twitter’s policy may just help swing the pendulum in the other direction: a focus on child abuse prevention.
*It is important to note that not all researchers agree on what clinical label to give those attracted to children. Dr. Michael Bailey prefers “child attracted” because many adults are attracted to minors. “Child” means younger, usually below 15, though I would say below 12 (but trust the more experienced researchers). The age of consent is a legal definition, not a clinical one. Dr. Cantor prefers pedophilia or those attracted to prepubescent and pubescent kids. I prefer “minor-attracted persons” (MAPS or NOMAPs, non-offending minor-attracted persons) because such includes the sexual diversity of this group, which is complex and involves different age groups. However, Cantor’s concern is well noted because, in research, terms must be narrowed down for study. We can call girls, 1-18 years of age, girls, but such eliminates the physical, emotional, and psychological developmental differences within age groups. In the reverse, using this logic, calling all people that offend sex offenders or those attracted to children pedophiles, also overgeneralizes and can miss important distinctions.
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.