Without Change, Situations like the Penn State Allegations May Occur Again

The allegations at Penn State University are not surprising to those who are familiar with the serious shortcomings in the way our society responds to the attraction to children and adolescents. If the allegations are true, what happened can be seen as the result of widespread taboo, secrecy, fear, and lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, there’s little sign of any attempts to address these factors, increasing the probability that similar incidents will occur again. If we truly want to prevent this, policies and responses must be based on knowledge and understanding.

Most people who are attracted to children or adolescents can and do behave responsibly. Researchers estimate that at least 1% of all males (more than one million in the U.S.) are attracted to minors, yet only a small minority of them become known because most live quiet, responsible lives. Due to the large number of such people, most Americans have a close friend, child, or other loved one who is attracted to children or young adolescents, but they will never know it because the person behaves responsibly and is afraid to let anyone know.

People who are attracted to minors have no choice in the matter and usually realize it as young teenagers. The American Psychiatric Association says the attraction begins in adolescence, and other researchers say it may begin earlier. In a recent survey of almost 200 people (http://b4uact.org/science/survey/01.htm), respondents said they were first attracted to children younger than themselves when they were at a median age of 13. They made comments such as, “At the age of 13, I didn’t really feel there was anyone I could talk to about my attraction to minors or the difficulty I experienced living with the attraction,” and “Parents will disown you, teachers will report you, friends will abandon you…people in my situation can’t discuss this without serious risk of harassment.”

Some of these teens, as well as adults, are in significant need of mental health services. Over 80% of survey respondents said minor-attracted people could benefit from mental health services. Some need help learning to live their lives responsibly and within the law, but even more need help developing fulfilling relationships and productive lives with a sexuality they cannot act on, or dealing with internalized self-hatred, depression, hopelessness, and/or other effects of extreme stigma. Almost half of respondents said they had seriously considered suicide–almost 1 out of 4 at age 15 or younger and 42% when under 18–and 13% of respondents had attempted it.

Currently, there is virtually no opportunity for adolescents and adults who are attracted to children to get help. They feel they must remain in hiding due to public and professional revulsion and condemnation for simply having feelings–even while never acting on them. Only 30% of survey respondents said they would seek mental health services if needed, fearing unethical treatment, negative judgment, or lack of knowledge by professionals. Some teens post anonymously at on-line mental health forums, like one who recently wrote, “I’m a 15 year old male…I’m not attracted to anyone my age or older anymore…I feel like there is no hope for me to live and sometimes I feel like killing myself…I can’t talk to anyone at this time because my parents would find out and get the wrong idea and people will judge me.” If Mr. Sandusky was one of those young teenagers decades ago who was never able to get the help he needed, then the results should not be surprising.

Only through knowledge and rational dialog among clinicians, researchers, minor-attracted people, and concerned citizens can effective solutions be developed. B4U-ACT’s name refers to the belief that it is crucially important for minor-attracted people, therapists, researchers, and citizens to think before they act in ways that could harm children, society, or minor-attracted people. Obviously, minor-attracted people should abide by the law because of the potential risk to children and themselves of doing otherwise. In addition, all people should recognize that more of the same old policies and reactions that increase fear and loathing will only force teenagers and adults who are attracted to children into hiding and desperate behavior, increasing the chance of harm to children. Instead, we must all seek openness and knowledge, in the same way we do when addressing other pressing social issues.

Statement Adopted December 5, 2011