As a member of the professional community that works with Minor Attracted Persons as well as individuals who have committed sex crimes, I was immediately aware of the controversy surrounding Dr. Allyn Walker and the publication of their book A Long Dark Shadow: Minor-Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity.
Dr. Walker is a professor and researcher who focuses on various aspects of human sexuality. The book is the result of a qualitative study they did using interviews of individuals in the MAP community. This research was done in a completely appropriate and professional manner with the full support of their academic institution.
After an interview discussing the book, Dr. Walker became the subject (or victim) of social media. There was immediate pushback from people at their university stating that they were promoting child abuse or other similar complaints.
The comments went crazy.
This initially resulted in the university placing them on leave. I imagine the hope was that the fervor would die down. Dr. Walker ultimately resigned from their position based on the harassment and death threats they were receiving.
All of this for what? People, who had not read the book, getting upset by assumptions.
People misconstruing Dr. Walker’s statements, which clearly stated that sexual abuse of children is abhorrent and unacceptable, as being supportive of sexual offending. It is because of this controversy that I immediately purchased the book. The topic is of interest but my main motivation for purchase was to support Dr. Walker.
I will start this review by saying that if I were ever to write a book about minor attraction, this is the book I would write.
The first thing I felt upon reading it was a great sense of validation.
There are other psychology professionals in the world who understand that pedophilia ≠ sexual offending. There are other psychology professionals willing to spread the word.
I am an adjunct professor for a local graduate program as well as an instructor of a law enforcement polygraphy school.
Everyone who has ever had a class with me leaves (hopefully) with a clear understanding of the differences between attraction and behavior and that pedophilia is a sexual attraction and not a behavior AND that there are plenty of people in the world who are attracted to children who never commit a sexual offense.
The book is based on Dr. Walker’s research which involved extensive interviews with people who identify as minor attracted. These individuals were brave enough to come forward to a psychology professional, who they often duly distrust, to share their stories. The chapters focus on many aspects of living with a minor attraction.
The first chapter discusses identity formation. MAPS themselves often share the negative views held by society about minor attraction and struggle to integrate their own sexual interest into their identity. Many of them questioning, “Am I a Monster” which is a question I have heard in my office many times.
The book continues to address the effect of societal shame on MAPS.
Many people, due to stigma, feel that they have to live a dual life and never disclose their minor attraction. They fear rejection from family, partners, loved ones, friends and society at large. Unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded as many also do experience that rejection.
Often this living a dual life can lead to depression, anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts for some.
Strategies for Coping
Subsequent chapters deal with the strategies they use to cope with their own attractions as well as to refrain from sexual offending. Many MAPS acknowledge an attraction to children but do not have a desire to physically act on those attractions. This goes against a societal assumption. As the book states, we don’t assume all adult attracted people are walking around actively thinking about raping other adults so why do we think this about minor attracted people?
However, the reality cannot be ignored that some MAPS do, in fact, not resist these urges and sexually abuse children. The book also discusses what strategies some of the individuals use to avoid engaging in any type of contact sexual offense.
Medical Professional Reactions
Another book chapter discusses MAP’s experiences with mental health professionals.
This chapter is upsetting to me as a mental health professional but an expression of reality. People avoid seeking therapy to help cope with the attraction, stigma, shame, or other mental health issues around the minor attraction for many reasons.
They fear, rightly, that many therapists will have a negative reaction to their disclosure and will refuse to treat them. They often fear that a therapist will make an unwarranted call to children and youth, or the police based on the disclosure of an attraction, not based on any behavior. While some might think this is farfetched, I have experienced this in my own practice, hearing of other therapists thinking they need to make a mandatory report when a client says they have an attraction to minors but never disclosed any behavior in that direction.
A final concern for some MAPS that keeps them from treatment is the fear that a therapist might try to engage in a sexual orientation change experience. Basically, the minor attraction equivalent of conversion therapy. We know that we cannot change sexual attractions, and many consider SOCE to be inhumane or unethical.
The plea to reduce stigma against individuals who are attracted to minors is twofold.
The one that comes to mind first for many is to help with primary prevention. For those MAPS who do struggle with urges to act on their desires, providing safe spaces to work through these urges and work on resilience techniques can help keep a child safe as well as keep the person from engaging in a behavior that everyone knows is not appropriate.
The main reason to reduce stigma, particularly by therapists, is that MAPs are people.
They are just as deserving of a safe place to work through their issues with depression, anxiety, stigma, grief, and loss, etc. as the rest of us. They deserve a safe space and a nonjudgmental professional to work with that can help them improve their general health and wellbeing.
If you have an interest in this topic, I strongly urge you to read this book. I will be incorporating it into our treatment program for those individuals who are minor attracted.
I don’t want to make this disclaimer but given the nature of our world and the internet, I feel that I need to say that supporting Dr. Walker, this book, and the reduction of stigma against minor attraction in no way supports harming children.
It actually supports working to prevent child abuse.
Have you found yourself in legal trouble due to your sexual behavior? Seek assistance before the court mandates it, with Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.
Do you feel your sexual behavior, or that of someone you love, is out of control? Consult with a professional.