The Power of Conversation:
November 6, 2009, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Together at One Table
Nine mental health professionals (MHPs) and seven minor-attracted persons (MAPs) met to discuss the fear and stigma surrounding people who are attracted to minors.
The workshop began with small group discussion of three introductory questions: What do you hope to gain by attending? What consequences of fear or stigma have you experienced or seen? What can be done to reduce stigma and fear?
This was followed by a discussion of the terms “minor-attracted people,” “pedophilia,” and “hebephilia.” There were varied viewpoints on the definition of the second term, including disagreement on whether distress and/or sexual behavior with minors is necessary for the term to apply (as specified by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)), and on the validity of the DSM definition. The point was made that attendees who are not attracted to minors probably have friends, loved ones, or neighbors who are, but don’t know who they are. In addition, minor-attracted people are more than their sexuality, and they experience feelings of being in love with minors.
Attention returned to the topic of stigma as a particularly talented minor-attracted person presented his personal story of having been publicly identified and demonized on the Internet by vigilantes, and the resulting loss of housing, jobs, and friends. He was also subjected to death threats. All in attendance showed tremendous empathy and appreciation for his story, and some offered to provide ongoing support.
Attendees agreed that his story, and those of other minor-attracted people, need to be told. B4U-ACT plans to compile such stories for its website, and it was suggested that a book be published. Attendees noted that such stories are tragedies not only for the minor-attracted people targeted, but also for others, including young teenagers who are minor-attracted, who learn they must remain secret. In addition, they represent a tragedy for society in lost talent and human potential.
A mental health professional then told her story of uncertainty when first confronted with the presence of people who are attracted to minors, then coming to understand the need for dialog and understanding, and the elimination of barriers to information and services. Other mental health professionals chimed in with similar experiences.
Other aspects and consequences of stigma were also discussed, including the fears of most minor-attracted to attend B4U-ACT workshops, fearing that they may be attempts to “out” them. They were even unwilling to submit audio recordings describing their reluctance, for fear that vigilantes or government agents would use them to track down the speakers, even using special technology if the speaker used voice-altering software.
Another consequence of stigma addressed was the unwillingness or inability of researchers to study minor-attracted people in society. Attendees laughed about the story of Sarah Goode whose university prohibited her from interviewing subjects on university property for fear that they would attack her or other adults on campus.
The workshop ended with discussion of work planned for the future. B4U-ACT expects to begin publishing a newsletter in the spring that will include contributions from both MAPs and MHPs. Two people from B4U-ACT have also submitted a proposal to present at a professional conference in the spring. It was also suggested that B4U-ACT eventually network with MHPs and MAPs in other states to develop satellites of B4U-ACT.
B4U-ACT also plans to facilitate one or more working groups to address particular issues. The following topics were suggested:
- Fundraising for the work of B4U-ACT
- Developing an educational program for university counselors or students in social work, psychology, nursing, etc.
- Developing a mutually educational relationship with a suicide prevention program in order to develop welcoming and understanding services within the mainstream of publicly available resources
- Supporting the work of Lifeline at Free Spirits
- Developing a public education effort
- Researching mandatory reporting laws and producing reliable information for both mental health professionals and minor-attracted people, so that both groups would be more knowledgeable and comfortable when interacting
- Publicizing the work of B4U-ACT
- Planning workshops in other parts of the state