In what appears to be its debut in the English speaking world, the Czech documentary Daniel’s World will be shown at the Bertha DocHouse theater in London as part of the Open City Documentary Festival on June 20, 2015. The film tells the story of a university student who is attracted to boys. For more information, see the Bertha DocHouse website.
On March 20, 2015, B4U-ACT proudly resurrected its workshop series by hosting its seventh full-day workshop in Baltimore. Despite a three-year conference hiatus, this latest event, entitled “Working with Minor-Attracted People and Their Families: Facing Dilemmas Together,” garnered the highest participant turnout in the organization’s twelve-year history. For the first time, in addition to its minor-attracted contingency and a record number of clinicians, professors, and students hailing from as far as San Francisco and Montreal, B4U-ACT welcomed several photo essayists and documentary filmmakers interested in shedding sympathetic light on minor-attracted people (MAPs) in the general population – an encouraging sign that alternative therapeutic perspectives on minor attraction are gaining public interest.
The success of B4U-ACT’s mission – to address the barriers to mutual understanding between MAPs and mental health professionals (MHPs), identify the shortcomings of current treatment modalities, and suggest possible solutions, all by way of constructive, in-person dialogs between the two groups – is most vividly reflected in the impact of its workshop initiative. This year’s face-to-face effort packed an insightful punch from start to finish, as reflected in the overwhelmingly positive post-workshop evaluations submitted by participants.
Workshop objectives focused on how to widen the circles of personal and professional support for MAPs who otherwise risk grappling with their attractions in a self-loathing vacuum, cultivating a compassionate, trustworthy therapeutic haven not only for MAPs to openly and honestly discuss the tragically inconvenient challenges of being sexually attracted to children, but for family and friends to confront the implications of their loved ones’ sexual identities, distinguish rational concerns from irrational fears, and ultimately rally in support of the MAPs in their lives, serving as enlightened models of compassion for the general public.
After a brief introductory exercise to assess everybody’s comfort level and alleviate any tension in the room, psychodramatist Steve Kopp staged a mock therapy session between B4U-ACT’s Co-Founder and Board Chair Russell Dick, LCSW [retired], and an attending MAP. While the “client” discussed his depression and anxiety directly, he alluded in very non-specific terms to the source of his unrest, as the “therapist” gently attempted to drive toward the heart of the matter. At critical junctures in the dialog, Steve halted the session and invited attendees to come forward, stand behind either party, and channel the underlying fears and concerns that client and therapist might be hesitating to address out loud.
Spokespeople for the “client” voiced reticence about self-identifying as sexually attracted to children for fear of the “therapist” drawing premature conclusions about behavior based solely on descriptions of feelings, ceasing to treat the client as an individual, instead dismissing him as a bird of a predictable feather. The legal stakes of self-disclosure also figured prominently as client doubles weighed the risk of identifying as minor-attracted to a therapist who may or may not feel obligated to report him to authorities on the mere suspicion that he poses a threat to children.
Spokespeople for the “therapist” contended with how to give the “client” the edge to broach the “unspeakable” when conveying trustworthiness meant somehow tipping off the client in advance of any sexual admissions as to what to expect in terms of the MHP’s response. Therapist doubles also wondered if negative past experiences with a particular clinician might be tainting the client’s overall perception of the mental health community.
The exercise enabled both MAP and MHP attendees to empathize with the obstacles the other party faces to improving therapeutic relationships. During the discussion that followed, MHPs acknowledged the risk standardized criminal profiling poses to a minor-attracted client’s personhood, while MAPs acknowledged the ethical responsibilities that place MHPs in potentially adversarial positions.
The second half of the morning session featured several guest speakers who shared firsthand accounts of “coming out” as minor-attracted to family and friends, as well as the significant other of an MAP who discussed the challenges to intimacy of living with a partner whose objects of primary attraction are permanently off-limits.
The first testimonial, delivered in relay-style by four MAPs on behalf of the writer who could not be present, demonstrated that MHPs are no less susceptible than laypeople to common misconceptions about minor attraction – in this case, the idea that the mere attraction to children implies some type of boundary-crossing activity – as when the presenter’s father, a psychologist, in response to his son’s coming out, replied, “But pedophilia is illegal!” While his parents slowly began to wrap their minds around the concept of the law-abiding MAP and accept that aspect of his identity, the presenter felt uncomfortable forcing them to commit what most unsuspecting people would consider to be thought crimes in order to empathize with him, and so relieved his parents of functioning as his support system on that emotionally taxing front. Complicating matters was the crush he’d admitted having on a younger cousin and knowing his parents now shared the burden of a secret that could potentially alienate them from close family members.
The second speaker discussed the unexpected wave of support he received from close friends and family in the wake of his felony conviction and 28-month prison sentence for Possession of Child Pornography, despite the fact that, unlike many adults convicted of similar crimes, he never denied a longstanding [albeit unaddressed] attraction to children. The presenter credited his wife, friends, and family for helping him come to peaceful terms with his sexual identity and responsibly integrate it into his life, remarking that he wouldn’t “flip a switch” if given a choice, seeing how his experiences made him the person he’d proudly become. After serving his sentence, he managed to secure a “felon-friendly” job and devote his spare time to speaking to university classes and behavioral science organizations about minor-attracted issues.
The third presenter, while sporting an identical conviction to his predecessor and a similarly forthcoming nature, described diametrically opposite consequences to coming out as minor-attracted; in his case, to a single mother he’d dated 16 years previously while under house arrest, awaiting sentencing for purchasing child pornography. Though his girlfriend was initially willing (much to her credit) to risk her reputation as a good mother and woman of sound judgment because she believed he was a better person than what any legal document had to say, she could not – after assessing her child’s future as the adoptive daughter of a sex offender, the suspicions of family and friends certain to result, and the vindictiveness of her child’s father, who’d already threatened to sue for custody – justify raising her in the shadow of his crime. Knowing his presence in their lives posed an unacceptable compromise no matter how much he loved them drove him to attempt suicide, and has since left him wondering how to prove that love under his auspices need not equal its opposite without demanding such an unthinkable leap of faith. Currently rounding his 16th year as a lifetime sex offender registrant, his prospects in a reputation-conscious arts profession continue to dwindle as his Internet standing as an MAP advocate proliferates.
The final speaker, the girlfriend of an MAP, expressed deep sympathy for her boyfriend and the conditions which prevented him from pursuing his sexuality in any consummate way, but couldn’t ignore the toll his sexual dissatisfaction had taken on her self-image; i.e., her nagging self-perception as a consolation prize. The presenter’s reflections made clear how vastly the psychological needs of MAPs may differ from those of loved ones, ascribing value to the MHP’s role as arbitrator and facilitator of mutual understanding.
After an hour-long lunch break, during which participants built upon the discussions generated by the morning session, the workshop reconvened for a presentation by a social worker from the Maryland Department of Human Resources on mandatory reporting laws. Several relevant points she raised – e.g. the fact that the state of Maryland encourages MHPs to report the mere suspicion of sexual contact by sex offenders (who may or may not self-identify as minor-attracted) residing with or around children; the state’s non-existent statute of limitations where reporting adult/child sexual contact is concerned; the license penalties for failure to report that pressure MHPs to err too heavily on the side of caution; and the legal immunity that eliminates therapist accountability in cases where reported contacts prove unfounded – made for lively post-lecture queries into the collateral damage waged by these well-intentioned laws.
Attending students and practitioners worked to clarify the subtle differences in confidentiality statutes between their respective home states, resolve discrepancies in understanding of commonly shared mandates, all the while debating the ethics of when and when not to report. The confusion surrounding this topic drove home the tenuous situation faced by MAPs, who could plausibly disclose the same sexual identity traits to two separate MHPs and be deemed a non-existent risk in one instance while a public threat in the other. The unanimous show of hands amongst attending clinicians who received little to no formal education about MAPs revealed the extent to which the legal system has dismantled and monopolized MAP/MHP alliances: When policymakers obligate therapists to treat MAPs as social risks – encouraging full self-disclosure while simultaneously subjecting the client to a set of confidentiality restrictions that are frequently improvised and guessed-at in practice, placing the client’s most candid admissions and, by proxy, his/her civil liberties, at the mercy of the MHP’s interpretive powers – they insist that the therapist’s mission and purpose take a backseat to his/her impromptu post as a criminal justice liaison.
One minor-attracted attendee, in observing how U.S.-based “therapy” programs for MAPs are universally framed in terms of prevention (of child sexual abuse), wondered, more daringly, how to prevent the assumption of inherent perniciousness and inevitable transgression from transferring to the client, and emphasized the need for an identity-centered therapeutic model that helps clients responsibly integrate minor-attraction as a fundamental component of who they are. “If the purpose of therapy is to know oneself for better or worse,” he continued, “how do mandatory reporting laws support authentic excavations of self?” One clinician bluntly replied, “They don’t.”
The post-lecture discussion raised more questions than it answered, validating the need for future dialogs.
During the wrap-up session, participants tackled the obstacles to advertising independent, non-forensic clinical services for MAPs – namely, the risk of collegial ex-communication, the loss of non-MAP client bases, and the threat of vigilante justice for associating one’s practice with a publicly hated community. Possible solutions included funneling MHP referrals through back-channel sources managed by special-interest groups like B4U-ACT (though functioning as a referral agency entails insurance liability costs that exceed said special-interest group’s grassroots budget); and targeting clinicians with a sexuality-based focus, such as certified members of AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), who are more likely than general practitioners to publicly promote MAP services, then persuading widely circulated publications like Psychology Today to feature those listings in their clinical directories.
The focus then shifted to MAPs’ non-ranking as a social group and how best to induct them into the dominant sexual rhetoric. One MHP stressed the importance of identifying and addressing instances of well-meaning, yet misplaced compassion amongst clinicians and family/friends of MAPs who, rather than confront the “P-Word” head-on, attempt to camouflage minor-attraction as the by-product of some other socially acceptable neurosis. An educator suggested scoping out opportunities to present a demythologized view of the MAP community to formally recognized sexual minorities, who could theoretically serve as allies. Another MHP touted the advantages to MAPs of serving as experts on their own issues and to therapists who humble themselves enough to be educated by potential clients. A documentary filmmaker criticized the current research for being overly preoccupied with people under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system – many of whom boast aggressive offense histories or aren’t at liberty to speak in self-actualized terms about their attractions without facing indefinite civil detainment – warning that emphasis on the cognitive-behavioral modification techniques that form the backbone of forensic programs to the exclusion of more humane alternatives creates the impression that these procedures are more effective than they necessarily are. “And what fills the void when there’s no funding or critical inquiry to be had?” she asked. “Ignorance.”
B4U-ACT will continue to provide MAPs a platform of “empowered vulnerability,” as one MHP put it, in an effort to eradicate blind spots in clinical research and practice and enlist the mental health community as a trustworthy advocate.
By Matthew Hutton
I remember thinking to myself that just a few months ago these kinds of writings wouldn’t have been laying around my room at all. Not that I really kept them out in the open, but when parents are worried about their kids and they know something is up, they’ll understandably do a little forgivable prying. Not that I was actually a kid anymore, but twenty-three years old and still living at home.
I had recently found an online message board for people that have an attraction to young girls that was perfectly legal and very safe; a diverse group that had varying opinions on all kinds of subjects. I hadn’t even starting actually exchanging messages with anyone, but I still felt at home reading through the posts. Knowing I wasn’t the only nice one, more or less comfortable with who he is, while not fitting any of the images one typically saw in the media and stories about people with such attractions. I even had some writing materials from this site printed out and placed in a drawer.
One day I had gone for a walk and returned to learn that my parents had found the print outs while moving one of my small desks into another room when they were rearranging some furniture. They called out to me from upstairs as soon as I came through the front door. When I got to the hallway outside my opened bedroom door I could see the papers in plain view, and only hoped they had not gone online to look at my browsing history that I had forgotten to clear on that particular day. Of course they had, and found the previously mentioned message board.
I first gave an exasperated sigh at having my privacy invaded, but knew as always that my parents loved me and we’re only trying to help. I think I already knew then that I’d probably have to end up telling them I like young girls in “that way” and I remember thinking I was 99.9999% sure they’d never disown me over such a thing, but still, that nagging fraction of a percentage is an uneasy feeling.
After they mentioned that they did find the message board, I closed my eyes, gave another heavy sigh and asked them if they had any idea what I was about to say next. My Mom replied “no” so then I came out and said something to the effect that ever since I was thirteen years old, I’ve known I was a pedophile. Believe it or not, there wasn’t exactly a look of shock on their faces, just the same expression of intense and serious puzzlement that was there when I initially entered the room. Almost immediately my Dad said “But Matthew……..being a pedophile is illegal.”
What then followed was probably an awkward, tense, but in an odd way liberating conversation about attractions versus actions, how I was the same person they’ve always known, the fact that I’d never crossed any inappropriate lines or touched a child in a sexual way. How it’s a feeling of love and affection as well as physical attraction. How much I care and would never hurt the young people I occasionally had in my life over the years. And how in many cases, sexual abuse of kids is not motivated by feelings of attraction even though people call it pedophilia, but rather power, control, or a desire to harm that gets carried out on someone that happens to be available, like a child. They seemed to pretty much understand all the points I was trying to make.
In the coming days there were still similar conversations where they tried to persuade me that it was still just “wrong” but seemed to eventually be convinced otherwise, telling me they knew and trusted that I would not do anything sexual with underage girls. As well, they expressed sentiments that reassured me that I had no reason to worry, even a fraction of a percentage, about them abandoning me, even if they were not entirely comfortable with my attractions.
However several months later during one of our talks, some complications came to light surrounding the issue of me occasionally being in the presence of my younger cousin who was nine at the time. Although I never openly said so, during our chats my parents had correctly assumed that I have a crush on her and I didn’t deny it. My extended family has never learned this about me and it took a little while for me to realize that the fear of them finding out has been a great source of anxiety for my parents. Even though they trust that I will not try anything sexual with the girl, they are quite worried of other people in the family finding out and not understanding. During this most recent talk my parents told me they could potentially be judged and ostracized just as much as me because they hadn’t outright prevented me from spending time with my little cousin.
I thought I had never truly been alone with her, perhaps just down the hall in another room, playing with action figures or stuffed animals. However I then realized there was in fact one incident where I went to the park with her and no one else was around. At the time it had been my understanding that since my parents told me they knew I wasn’t dangerous, that my life would pretty much be like before they found out. I wouldn’t have to worry about potentially being alone with kids as I occasionally had been over the years growing up with younger relatives or friends of the family. Initially my parents hadn’t explicitly explained that if others in the family found out they’d be extremely bothered by me being around my little cousin, assuming it’s dangerous. They said the consequences for this could be as drastic as essentially cutting all three of us off for allowing the girl to supposedly be put in such danger.
I was quite shocked to learn this, and ever since have agreed to not be alone with the young girl for fear of false allegations. I would hate for that to happen to my parents. Obviously I’d be sad as well if my extended family disowned me like that but I couldn’t believe they’d do that to them as well. Sometimes I still don’t truly believe it, my family is great and I get along with them very well. They’ve always been very kind and caring; I even pretty much grew up with the Mother of this younger cousin, someone I’ve always admired because she was only sixteen when she had her baby and has done so well with the help of her parents. The young girl is so awesome, adorable and really bright. She’s has always hung around the older kids and adults like we’re all her same aged friends. For example, she’d get all excited to see everyone at family gatherings and hang out, instead of retreating to only play with kid stuff. Or even now as a young teenager she’ll walk around arm in arm in public with her Grandfather, giving him a kiss on the cheek and not be hesitant or embarrassed in any way.
Even if what my parents say is true, I still don’t feel like talking negatively about my extended family. I don’t really think of it as their fault. In a way they’ve just been indoctrinated into this way of thinking their whole lives, being led to believe minor attracted people have uncontrollable urges. So basically my number one reason for why I don’t come out to other people is to protect my parents and avoid this serious and devastating family conflict.
Over the years we haven’t talked about it much, maybe only every several months or so. The conversations often involve them reassuring me they love me but are worried. My Mom sometimes tells me she worries about it at least every day, mostly about people finding out and hating or mistreating me and how difficult it could make my life. I worry about them too sometimes. I wish she didn’t have to be concerned about this every day, but I don’t really know what to do to help them. Sometimes the conversations feel argumentative and so I’ve always thought it would be sort of nice to have some kind of family therapist who is well-informed about this subject to help each other explain our points of view and address all the concerns. Even to just have a professional there to reassure them I’m not the only one, someone who has worked with people like me before. My Dad has worked in our local mental health community and insists that most therapists in the area would break confidentiality because he doesn’t think any would truly understand the subject aside from what they’ve heard surrounding cases of abuse.
And the thing is, he is probably right, judging from what happened with the only other person I came out to and what her therapist advised her to do.
This was a few years after my parents had found out, and I had recently moved into the house of a good friend of mine; my first time living away from home. I had known my roommate literally all of her life and we had been friends for several years. However during all that time I never told her I like young girls because I was always a little worried she might decide not to see me anymore. A few weeks after I had moved in I began having regular conference calls with B4U-ACT, discussing issues such as the DSM, our website, and the planning of workshops and symposiums. Even though the conversations didn’t really involve any lengthy discussion or mention of my specific sexuality, it was still evident that I was hiding something which made her suspicious.
She eventually confronted me about this and I just came out and told her the truth, basically re-iterating what I had told my parents with more focus on explaining the work of B4U-ACT, who I was talking to and why. At first she was basically fine with it, saying she understood and almost acted like it wasn’t a big deal. She seemed moderately puzzled, asking questions like why I personally considered it a sexual orientation as oppose to a fetish. We talked about how my parents knew as well and she didn’t seem to think I was any danger to children. The discussion ended on good terms with me being quite pleased and delighted to learn that I had nothing to fear about telling her and could have probably shared it a while ago.
So as you can imagine I was quite shocked to hear from her two days later that she in fact wasn’t comfortable with it, and thought I should seek some sort of professional help in order to change. If I didn’t try to do this she wouldn’t be ok with me living in her house and told me I would need to move out. Additionally she later said it was a cop out to call it a sexual orientation, thinking I was somehow avoiding confronting some sort of psychological condition. She told me we didn’t have anything in common anymore for some reason, and didn’t see the point in spending time with each other if I felt this was an ok way to be. She was looking at me like I was a completely different person.
I asked her if she consulted with anyone about this, and she replied that she shared it with her therapist who apparently assumed I would have child pornography and would almost inadvertently get her in trouble. To my friend’s credit she talked her therapist down from this specific idea, understanding at least this much about me. However they still both came to the conclusion that I should immediately leave her house. After some yelling, awkward silences and frustrated tears when I wasn’t in front her, I had completely moved out within two days and haven’t seen her in over four years.
I don’t like to hold a grudge against her. People are obviously free to decide who they want and don’t want in their lives, she doesn’t owe me anything. But I strongly disagree with her decision even though I sometimes try to see it from her point of view. For example, she mentioned she would feel weird having kids over hypothetically. Even if she understands that I’m not dangerous, she can’t say the same about the parents of any potential children. Similar to the dilemmas my parents are facing and any potential therapist may face as well.
My experiences with coming out have been a mixed bag, some obviously much more negative than others. I’ve never discussed this with actual therapists outside of my work with B4U-ACT, but these stories do involve getting to learn a bit about my local mental health community’s perception of minor attracted people. Like the complete lack of any availability of confidential services and the recommendation my friend’s therapist made to her. I can’t help but feel that if there were more opportunities for the mental health community and minor attracted people to talk with each other, it could have maybe helped with the very tense reaction some people had to this.
I try not to resent my friend’s choice and I hope she’s doing well. Often I worry about my parents, probably just as much as they worry about me. I feel it’s a shame that feelings that are normally so good to so many people and a thing to be celebrated, can’t be the same for us but seem to usually only cause anxiety in others. I understand people are worried about children, but I think if more got to know minor attracted people, they’d realize were not so dangerous or different after all.
I know I can’t be sexual with young girls, but I still think people can accept this about me and that their fears can be alleviated. It breaks my heart to think that my family could almost in a way be split up over this, when I know in my heart that no one has been hurt or put in danger. I hope that if they do ever find out, they could hear these words and maybe try to understand. I found inspiration to talk about these matters one time when I was visiting my cousin and looking at all the family photos in their downstairs study. We’re all so happy together smiling, and I hope to always be in such pictures alongside everyone else in any future ones that are taken.
Matthew Hutton is a member of B4U-ACT’s volunteer staff. He moderates the online peer support group and the friends and family support group. This story was presented at B4U-ACT’s spring 2015 workshop.
The Mount Sinai Beth Israel/B4U-ACT study of MAPs in the general population will conclude at the end of April, so MAPs who want to participate should do so as soon as possible. The anonymous survey asks questions about sexuality, experiences as an MAP, and emotional and psychological traits. We realize the survey is long, but it will produce important, accurate information about MAPs in the general population, so we encourage participants to stick with it and complete the entire survey. We also especially encourage female MAPs to take the survey since so little is known about them. The survey will take approximately one hour and fifteen minutes to complete.
Director Veronika Liskova and producer Zdenek Holy discuss how much they learned and how their stereotypes were challenged by meeting MAPs in person, hearing their stories, and getting to know Daniel as a person. They also describe their appreciation, empathy, and understanding for Daniel, and note the extremely positive reception the film has received.
A few researchers are continuing the encouraging trend of recognizing and studying the harmful stigma that MAPs face. A study published in the January 2015 issue of the premier sexology journal Archives of Sexual Behavior documents what MAPs already know: that there are “high degrees of punitive attitudes” toward MAPs regardless of their behavior, and that these attitudes are increased by “the clinical label pedophilia.” The report’s author also points out that “unlike any other stigma we know of,” the public sees it as particularly socially desirable to condemn MAPs. Unfortunately, the author overlooks the fact that his own use of the unnecessary and derogatory word “deviant” contributes to stigma. In spite of this shortcoming, the study makes an important contribution to the scientific literature on MAPs.
The report, entitled “Punitive Attitudes Against Pedophiles or Persons With Sexual Interest in Children: Does the Label Matter?” by Roland Imhoff, can be found here.
Another study pointing out the stigma and discrimination faced by MAPs has been published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study was conducted by a group of German researchers who first published on the topic over a year ago in the International Journal of Sexual Health. While the report presents stark data on the stigma faced by MAPs, the very fact that researchers are beginning to recognize this as a problem is encouraging. The study notes that negative attitudes toward MAPs are associated with anger and “right-wing authoritarianism.” The authors conclude that MAPs are “a stigmatized group who risk being the target of fierce discrimination.”
The report, entitled “Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys” by Sara Jahnke, Roland Imhoff, & Juergen Hoyer, can be found here.
A German team of researchers has found that even a short online program can change prospective therapists’ negative attitudes about MAPs. The researchers developed a 10-min online educational program that included a video about an MAP intended to reduce stigma and increase the willingness of therapists in training to work with MAPs. They found that the program significantly reduced viewers’ agreements with common stereotypes about MAPs widely held by the public, and that this effect persisted at follow-up, although motivation to work with MAPs was not increased. The authors conclude that “stigmatizing attitudes, negative affective responses and social distance regarding people with pedophilia among psychotherapists in training can be positively influenced by a low-cost intervention.”
The study, entitled “Stigmatizing attitudes towards people with pedophilia and their malleability among psychotherapists in training” by Sara Jahnke, Kathleen Philipp, Juergen Hoyer, can be found here.
In its web magazine DW.DE, Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle has published an article emphasizing the distinction between sexual feelings and behavior, and the fact that MAPs can and do live law-abiding lives. The article tells the story of Graham, a British teenager who realized his attraction to younger children when he was 12, and who wants mental health care but is unable to find it. It also points out that Berlin’s most prominent hospital now provides a treatment program youth between ages 12 and 18 who realize they’re attracted to children. The article has some serious shortcomings–most importantly its focus on treatment for the sole purpose of control, a focus which fails to acknowledge the existence of both MAPs who don’t need such treatment, and those who seek services for a wide variety of other reasons. In addition, the article is accompanied by links to others in DW.DE that are based on the very myths the article attempts to dispel. However, the article seems to be part of an encouraging pattern of reports that are starting to challenge the myths, stereotypes, and stigma related to the attraction to children.
In this sensitive portrait of Daniel, who can only fall in love with a child, the director sought to demolish the label of sex offenders given to pedophiles and to highlight the taboos of modern society. A brave documentary encouraging discussion that would never be given the chance to take place, thus, setting a mirror up to the current level of social tolerance.