We use this term to refer to adults who experience feelings of preferential sexual attraction to children or adolescents under the age of consent, as well as adolescents who have such feelings for younger children. It is important to realize that these sexual feelings are usually accompanied by feelings of emotional attraction, similar to the romantic feelings most adults have for other adults. It is also vitally important to note that the presence of such feelings do not imply anything about behavior; non-criminological researchers note that many minor-attracted people live within the law (see our fact sheet). Such people are involved in the work of B4U-ACT, and more are known by people who work with B4U-ACT.
Because of extraordinary stigma, such people rarely let anyone know about their sexual feelings. They fear rejection and harassment from family, friends, employers, and their community. They rarely come forward to mental health professionals voluntarily because they are not sure if they can trust them to maintain confidence, focus on their mental health needs, or treat them with respect, compassion, and understanding. Only those who violate the law come to the attention of law enforcement authorities and therefore mental health professionals and the public.
Many minor-attracted people would like to receive mental health services but are afraid to seek them due to severe stigma and lack of trust. In addition, an accurate understanding of the attraction to minors is essential for professionals to meet the mental health needs of minor attracted people compassionately, ethically, and effectively. Also, mental health professionals frequently make statements that influence public perceptions and policies regarding minor-attracted people. Such statements need to be informed by accurate, first-hand knowledge about minor-attracted people, especially about those who do not violate the law or otherwise come to the attention of professionals and the public. Only through communication can mental health professionals and minor-attracted people develop the necessary trust and understanding, begin the work of reducing stigma, and disseminate accurate information that will benefit all segments of society.
Like all people, they sometimes want mental health services to deal with issues unrelated to their sexuality, but they feel the need to be honest about their sexuality and still accepted. Some are dealing with depression, anxiety or other issues that are found throughout society. Some minor-attracted people seek services to help them deal with issues that result from society’s negative reactions to their sexual feelings. Others seek assistance and support in developing fulfilling lives and relationships while living within the law.
Some minor-attracted people have had very negative experiences with therapists who did not understand them, or who saw them only as criminals and did not value their mental health needs. Those who have not interacted with mental health professionals suspect that professionals, like most Americans, are strongly influenced by the negative messages in the media and from politicians. They especially notice stigmatizing and stereotype-perpetuating statements made by some professionals and professional organizations. As a result, minor-attracted people often fear that therapists will not understand them, will ignore their mental health needs, or will not treat them with respect and compassion.
Popular beliefs about minor-attracted people are not supported by the evidence. Research shows that they are no more violent or aggressive than the general population, nor do they suffer from psychopathology or personality disorders. As a group, they do not share any particular characteristics or behaviors other than their feelings of attraction. For more information, see our fact sheet.
Forcing minor-attracted people to remain secretive and without access to mental health care does not protect children. Stigmatizing and stereotyping minor-attracted people inflames the fears of minor-attracted people, mental health professionals, and the public, without contributing to an understanding of minor-attracted people or the issue of child sexual abuse. Minor-attracted people are unable to seek services when they want them, and mental health professionals are unable to reach out to them. Perpetuating secrecy, stigma, and fear can lead to hopelessness and even self-destructive or abusive behavior on the part of minor-attracted people, and disrupts the fabric of society.
It is also important to realize that some of the children or adolescents in need of protection are themselves developing an attraction to children. The attraction to minors does not suddenly appear in adulthood; minor-attracted people usually become aware of their sexual feelings in late childhood or adolescence, and are harmed by stigma.
Finally, no person should be denied their dignity and humanity because of feelings of attraction that they did not choose. Some experts have estimated that 0.5% to 7% of all males are attracted to minors, although there is no solid research to confirm this. If they are correct, it is likely that most Americans, without realizing it, have a good friend or loved one (possibly their own child) who is attracted to minors.
We generally recommend that therapists work with minor-attracted people to set goals, select methods, and develop a treatment plan in the same way they do with other clients who may be dealing with less stigmatized issues, such as anxiety or depression. We do not recommend those components of sex offender treatment that are based on an adversarial, law enforcement perspective. Instead we recommend approaches that are therapeutic and build trust. We see minor-attracted people as whole human beings whose mental health is of primary importance, not as criminals or “deviants” who need to be controlled. (See our Principles and Perspectives of Practice for more about this.)
We are a cooperative effort of mental health professionals and minor-attracted people. Our board of directors and volunteer staff consist of members of both groups as well as laypeople. We also have a larger group of about 40 people involved in on-going dialogue who are either minor-attracted or mental health professionals.
We are always seeking to expand our circle of mental health professionals and minor-attracted people. If you are interested in helping us to promote respectful communication and mutual understanding with the goal of making positive mental health services available, then contact us so we can learn more about you and your interest in our work.