How Do We Talk About It?
Developing a Language for Discussing Attraction to Minors
November 13, 2008, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
During this workshop, twelve mental health professionals and six minor-attracted people critically examined some of the professional and popular language that describes minor-attracted people. The purpose was to identify problematic aspects of this language, note possible consequences, and suggest ways the language could be made more productive. The following is a summary of points on which most of the MHPs and MAPs in attendance seemed to agree.
Participants felt that the current language used to describe MAPs has the following characteristics:
- It uses clinical jargon.
- It suggests that all MAPs are the same and engage in the same harmful behaviors
- It is value-laden and depersonalizes MAPs.
- It is not descriptive and it is not supported by unbiased research.
- It gives the general impression that any attraction to children is an illness.
- It uses terms that MAPs do not have the opportunity to help define.
Several consequences of this language were identified:
- It makes communication with the general public difficult.
- It creates fear, separation, secrecy, and shame, rather than promoting hope or understanding.
- It disenfranchises MAPs, resulting in their lack of access to services, and in their exclusion from research data.
Participants believed the language will be more productive if:
- An effort is made to more clearly define certain words (e.g., pedophilia and molestation) and to disseminate those definitions to other professionals and to the public.
- Language differentiates attractions from behavior.
- MHPs and MAPs are sensitive to the limitations and differing interpretations of words, and to the fact that some usage might be inaccurate or offensive to certain groups. Then they can use words that will not stop the conversation between MHPs and MAPs.
- MAPs accept themselves, reclaim words, and become involved in changing the discourse, in line with the concept of “Nothing about me without me.”
- The language is objective and example-specific.
- The language does not pathologize the attraction to minors.
- The importance of what is conveyed by non-verbal language is recognized.
Workshop participants also noted some specific terms that are problematic, and identified ways they cause confusion and inaccurate impressions:
- The word pedophile is used in ways that does not distinguish between feelings of attraction and behavior. In addition, clinical usage differs from cultural usage.
- The word predator is an animal metaphor that tends to be applied to all MAPs, suggesting they have a monstrous nature or animal instincts that cannot be controlled. The term is sometimes used with the intent to demonize.
- The word grooming fails to recognize that there is a continuum of behaviors from normative to harmful. If behavior is manipulative, then it should be called manipulative.
- The word molestation has different meanings according to the law, MHPs, and MAPs.
- In general, terms should recognize the spectrum of behaviors and avoid over-generalization.
Finally, participants suggested several possible actions that could be taken:
- Hold more workshops in different parts of the state.
- Look for opportunities to present at conferences and in classes.
- Publish articles in professional journals and letters in professional newsletters.
- Publicize the need for more accurate research.
- Connect with other relevant state agencies and involve them in the discussion.