There were many research presentations this year at the ATSA conference relating to MAPs. This was a great thing to see as, from a scientific perspective, we just don’t know much about the MAP community, which means we don’t know about their needs and how best to help those individuals who seek help. As my goal for this blog is to bring science to the non-research community, I am not going to spend time here discussing this research. Instead, I am going to focus on education.
To start with, what is a MAP? Very few people are aware of the term. MAP is the acronym for a Minor Attracted Person.
Semantics recap –
Pedophilia – the name for the attraction to pre-pubescent children. We use this for diagnosis (DSM-V), and research purposes.
Hebephilia – the name for the attraction to pubescent children (not pre or post pubescent). Again, we tend to use this term for diagnosis (not in the DSM-V) and research purposes.
MAP – Minor Attracted Person. A non-diagnostic umbrella term for a person who is attracted to children. There is no specific age nor pubertal status associated with this label.
The MAP debate: There are some people who do not like the MAP moniker. I have heard these arguments from people who often work in research and supervision. The argument loosely goes like this. The MAP label is not descriptive enough. It lumps all minors together and does not distinguish between pre-pubescent, pubescent and post pubescent attraction. I understand this argument when it comes to research. There is not enough scientific research in the community looking at any type of attraction to minors. To lump pedophilia and hebephilia together for research purposes assumes that there are no differences between people who have these attractions. While this may be the case, due to lack of research, we just don’t know. It is better to look at these groups differently until we can say that they are, or are not, similar enough to put in the same subject category for research purposes.
Arguments have also come from treatment providers or supervising entities. I need to state that these are usually treatment providers for people who have sexually offended. From a treatment perspective, for someone who has engaged in offending behavior, it is very helpful to understand a person’s arousal template so that we can help the person manage unwanted or illegal sexual behavior. However, I can argue that once we have made the diagnosis, we have the information and perhaps no longer need to continue to use the pedophile language, particularly with our clients.
I am not a person who identifies as a MAP but am a treatment provider and not a researcher. I am going to make an assumption based on my work with clients that the main reasons to use the MAP language have to due with shame and stigma.
The general public (fueled by the media) equate pedophile with child molester. There is an assumption made that someone who is attracted to children either has or will eventually sexually offend with a child. We know that this is not true. As I recently wrote, attraction is not a behavior. While pedophilia and sexual offending are related, they are not synonymous. The label of pedophile is stigmatizing. There is no way around that truth.
So that brings me back, again, to shame. I recently learned of the work of Braithwaite (1989) and how this researcher classified shame. Braithwaite argued that there were two types of shame, reintegrative and disintegrative shame. “Reintegrative shaming is temporary, used to communicate censure to an individual, but ultimately aimed at correcting a person’s behavior and, for offenders, reintegrating them back into the community. Disintegrative shaming is a more permanent and reoccurring shame, resulting in a master status that encourages stigmatization and breaks the bond between the person and the community (Bailey & Klein, 2018)” I learned of this work when researching the effects of the sex offender registry on the people who have to register.
As the general pubic equates attraction to children with child molesting, those individuals who are attracted to children get put in this category (valid or not) and thus, if they come forward for treatment or talk about their attraction to family or friends they can face the disintegrative shame that encourages stigmatization.
Levenson and Grady (2019) recently published work where they spoke to MAPs about their experiences. Specifically, this study looked at people seeking help for their attraction. The subjects of this study reported that they often felt isolated and alone with their feelings. They also experienced feelings of shame, fear and expected to be misunderstood by people, including therapists. Particularly distressing was the finding that the therapists tended to want to focus on the minor attraction as a treatment focus when the client wanted to work on concerns such as depression or loneliness and not specifically their minor attraction.
Returning to the title question, why does the term MAP matter? From a person centered, trauma informed perspective, we should be using terms that the people with the attraction identify with and don’t function, by the stigma associated with the term, to increase shame and isolation. From a public education standpoint, using a term that is not as value laden and stigmatizing might help to counter the popular narrative that all people who are attracted to children sexually offend against them.
If you have read any of my blog posts, you know that the misuse of the term pedophile is one of my soap boxes. Yes, I argue about semantics and how the word is used. I also get frustrated with the media’s use of the word as equal to child sexual abuse.
I challenge people to think about these issues for themselves. Can you accept that some people are attracted to children and it is not a choice? Can you decry the assumption that every person who is attracted to children is going to offend?
To end, I will leave you with something heard more than frequently in graduate school.
Correlation is not causation.
Bailey, D.J.S. & Klein, J.L. (2018). Ashamed and Alone: Comparing offender and family member experiences with the sex offender registry. Criminal Justice Review, 43(4), 440-457.
Braithwaite, J. (1989). Crime, Shame and Reintegration. Cambridge, England, Cambridge University.
Levinson, J.S. & Grady, M.D. (2019). Preventing sexual abuse: Perspectives of Minor Attracted Persons About Seeking Help. Sexual Abuse, 31(8), 991-1013.