Prevention Podcast Transcript: Dr. Allyson Walker

Original audio.

Candice:

Welcome to the prevention podcast, I’m your host, Candice Christiansen. Our goal, at the prevention podcast, is to talk about dicey, controversial issues related to preventing sexual abuse. Why? Because it needs to be said. Topics include the biology of pedophilia, risk, need and responsivity principles related to non-contact and contact sex offenders, researchers in the field of sex offender treatment, and more.

Join us bi-weekly, and let’s talk about it.

Hello, this is Candice Christiansen, welcome to the Prevention Podcast. As I have been sharing, we are doing a series of podcasts talking about pedophilia, and we’re interviewing all kinds of interesting people, including anti-contact pedophiles, and today we have a wonderful guest, doctor Allyson Walker, welcome.

Allyson: Thank you!

Candice: I first want to say that Dr. Walker identifies as non-binary, and so today we will be referring to Dr. Walker as “they,” “them,” and “they’re.” Alright, well welcome to our podcast.

Allyson: Thank you so much!

Candice:

I’m so happy we met! It’s really great that you found us, and that we found you, and that you’re doing the amazing research that you’re doing. That’s one of the things that I want people that are listening to us to know, is that you are doing research on pedophiles. And so, really, if you are open, let’s start with that. What is your research about?

Allyson:

So, I did a study that I call the MAP resilience study, MAP stands for minor attracted person. A lot of the time, people will talk about pedophiles and MAP is a term that is used by people in the minor-attracted community to refer to themselves. It includes pedophiles, which are people who are attracted to prepubescent children, and then also to hebephiles, who are attracted to children in the early stages of puberty, and then sometimes ephebophiles, which are attracted to children in the late stages of puberty. So often, MAP is used by people in this population as a less stigmatizing term and also as an umbrella term that kind of includes everyone.

So, I did this study, the MAP resilience study, to find out… I come from a criminal justice background, my PhD is in criminal justice, and also a social work background. So, I wanted to find out what motivates MAPs to not commit offenses, how do they strategize not to commit offenses, and then also, how do they cope with their attractions, their sexuality, and deal with the stigma that they’ve got going on in their lives.

Candice: That’s great! I appreciate you explaining MAPs because we have talked about MAPs on this podcast, and I kept saying pedophile, which is funny because I do know about hebephiles and ephebophiles. And so, thank you for clarifying that, I think that’s really important. And it’s such an interesting topic of research. What interested you in this type of research?

Allyson:

So, before I had gone back to get my PhD, I was hearing about individuals who are attracted to minors saying, “I’m attracted to minors, I don’t want to offend, and I never have.” I had never really considered that, that this population even existed. So, I was working in criminal justice at the time, I started looking into the criminological literature about it, and there’s really nothing that talks about people that are attracted to minors that don’t commit sexual offenses, so I got really interested in this.

Especially, I don’t know if you’ve heard this research, but there’s a bunch of it saying they’ve done studies the general population and talking about pedophiles and asking them, “Do you think this population should be incarcerated, even if they haven’t committed an offense?” And a huge proportion say yes. A huge proportion say they would be better off dead. So, it’s really upsetting stuff, and I was interested in how are people dealing with this stigma and how do they deal with their sexuality in general, so I decided to study it.

Candice:

I appreciate you saying that it’s upsetting. One of the things that I post on Twitter quite a bit is that it is upsetting anti-contact, and I’ll literally put it in CAPS, “ANTI-CONTACT pedophiles” are told, like, “Die,” threatened, and there’s so much hate out there, and it’s acceptable in our society. And, this misunderstanding, “Oh, yeah, let’s just throw them all… lock them up and throw away the key.” And so, what I think I’m struggling with, and this is why I’m doing this podcast, they’re anti-contact. They don’t have a history of contact. But because the media has run wild with the term, “pedophile,” I think really misused it, and I think you see that too, right?

Allyson:

So many people think that “pedophile,” means “sex offender,” and that wasn’t a finding of my study necessarily because I already knew it doesn’t mean that. But so many people talked in my study even about that misconception, people have come out to their parents, people in my study said that, you know, this one person in particular told his dad, “I’m a pedophile,” and his dad said, “But being a pedophile is illegal.”

No, it’s not illegal, it specifically refers to that attraction, or sexuality if you will, of being attracted to minors, and does not in any way refer to their behavior at all. It’s really upsetting that so many people make that connection, and also like you were saying, about the online people saying, “Kill yourself! Die!” I’ve seen Tumblr pages belonging to MAPs. So, often people connect to other people using hashtags, and tags to spread positivity to each other. And so, there’s like a tag that’s “#map positivity” or “#nomap positivity” for “non-offending minor attracted person positivity.”

So, people on Tumblr who are against MAPs have been latching onto this tag and posting things like, “Kill yourself!” but with hearts and stuff so MAPs will look at it think, “Oh, this is going to be some positivity!” and they see, oh no, it’s someone telling me to kill myself again. One of the people in my study told me, “We get used to the phrase, ‘Kill yourself!’ we hear that a lot.”

Candice: Which is sad. But you and I are talking, and some of our listeners are going to be people who believe that. And so, I think what I’d like you to, even though you may have already said it, I feel like we need to say it again. What is a non-offending or anti-contact pedophile?

Allyson:

A non-offending pedophile or MAP is a person who has an attraction to minors, if we’re talking specifically about pedophiles, to prepubescent children, and they have not committed a sexual offense against a child. Anti-contact people are specifically people who are against sexual relationships or sexual contact of any kind between adults and youth, and those people exist. So, not all MAPs, not all pedophiles are interested in sexual contact. A lot of them believe it would cause harm to children, and so they just don’t have any interest in engaging in that and causing that kind of harm. Never have, and never will.

Candice:

So, some of our listeners might say, “So this is a choice. Being a pedophile’s a choice.” What do you say to that? And, what does your research say, perhaps?

Allyson:

So, a lot of research, I have not done this particular research, but a lot of research out there shows that, pedophilia is a sexual orientation, it can’t be changed. So, a lot of the people in my study had tried to change their orientation, tried to change their sexuality. What we find is, people who study this have found, it mirrors being gay. You keep being attracted to that age throughout your lifetime, so Michael Seto refers to it as a sexual age orientation rather than a gender orientation. So, some people are just attracted to a specific age.

Candice:

Well, I appreciate you saying that too, sexual age orientation, because I can… my guess is… a lot of individuals might listen to this LGBTQ and say, “WHOAH, whoa, whoa… we DO NOT want to be affiliated with someone that’s a pedophile.”

Allyson:

Yeah, and that’s understandable, especially given the assumption that pedophiles are automatically sex offenders, really it’s difficult for us to in our minds separate that. There’s also been a history of people in the LGBT community being accused of sexual contact with minors based on their sexual orientation. So there’s really a lot of parallels in how MAPs and the LGBT community have been treated, have been assumed to exist.

Unfortunately, those parallels have maybe made the LGBT community not want to associate with the MAP community, which makes sense. It’s also unfortunate.

Candice:

Yeah, it’s unfortunate. Let’s get into your research. Your research is amazing and I hope that the world gets to read it and see it and I hope you present it at ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers), ATSA conference, I think it needs to be out there. So, who did you interview for your study, specifically?

Allyson:

So, I interviewed 42 minor-attracted individuals. They came from all over the world, so I had a lot from the US, some from Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa… they were from all over. These were all individuals who not only were minor-attracted, but also were committed to not offending and had not offended. They had not committed a sexual offense against a child: That was a requirement for participation in the study.

Candice:

Where did you find your participants? I was thinking that, like, how did they come to you?

Allyson:

So, I interviewed them from two different groups. One is Virped, which stands for Virtuous Pedophiles. They’re an amazing website. I don’t know the latest count, but when I was doing my study, which was a little over a year ago, there were 1,800 members of Virped, and not all of them post regularly but a lot of them do, and they’re a peer support group so they kind of help each other with the stigma that they’re facing and sometimes with strategizing not to offend. So, I got a lot of my participants through there, I advertised on there, or, people advertised for me on there I should say.

And then I also advertised on the B4UAct website. They’re a group located out of Baltimore, Maryland. They also provide peer support like Virped, but they have an in-person component as well. They try to advertise to mental health professionals, who might work with MAPs, and try to teach them about issues related to them so they can provide effective services.

Candice:

So you got a wide range and from all over it sounds like, which is great!

Allyson:

Yeah, I had also a wide age range as well, so a lot of people think that pedophiles/MAPs, that they’re… even people in my study told me they had this image of pedophiles as like, creepy old men. The people in my study ranged in age from 19 to their mid-60’s, and were a mix of men and women, I had 39 men and 3 women in my study.

Candice:

And I think one of the things I’ve talked about before is women… there are female pedophiles. It’s such an under-researched population, so I think it’s great that at least you had 3, right? I also, we interviewed somebody that was in their late teens recently, and so I think that’s… There is a clear misunderstanding that like, it is this old man, this dirty old man, hiding out in n alley waiting to snatch you up in the van. That type of a thing… I do wonder if some of our listeners might say, well, “If you’re a teenager, how do you know if you’re a pedophile?” What would you say to that?

Allyson:

Sure, I mean, I think for a lot of people, even in the MAP community, you hear people saying, “Well, you’re a teenager, this could change, your sexuality could change as you age.” But, for a lot of folks, they just know. Especially, teens tend to have attractions towards adults and other teens, so if you’re a teen and you’re having attractions toward people that are way younger than you, that can be a pretty solid sign that they’re minor-attracted.

Candice:

I think that’s a good delineation. What surprised you most about what you were told or about what the participants told you?

Allyson:

I came from a criminal justice background, as I said, and I was really trying to figure out, well, what is motivating people not to offend. So, I just generally assumed, when I asked people that question, they would say, “Well, I don’t want to go to jail.” And, for some people, that is what they told me… but the overwhelming majority just were kind of like, “Well, obviously I don’t want to hurt a child.”

Really, that did surprise me, these people are highly moral people, you know, they’re like anyone else, a lot of them told me, “I love children, I wouldn’t want to hurt them.” So, this is not just the sexual urge that people have, it’s also, people have romantic attractions to children, they have romantic feelings, they have emotional feelings, and they’re not interested in harming a child.

They love children, they’re attracted to them, but they don’t want to harm them. So, that was their answer and it shocked me.

Candice:

Yeah, and I appreciate you saying that too, because we have interviewed individuals who have said, “Well, I love a child, I love children, I would never do that.” So, I can see with some listeners saying, “Well, they love children!” And then judging it, like, “That’s disgusting,” or, “That means they’re going to hurt someone! If they’re around the child…!” What I hear you saying, which I appreciate, “No, because I love children…” They truly don’t want to harm a child, because it’s this moral choice and they don’t want to hurt anybody.

Allyson:

So, I was asking people, “How do you strategize not to do this?” And, for a lot of them, they were like, “It’s easy! I just don’t! I can’t just trip and fall into a child!” …is what one of them said. And it’s really interesting that we think of this group as having maybe impulse control issues, and like if they just saw one, they’d you know, prey on that child? That’s not the experience of the people I spoke to at all.

Candice:

Well, that’s a huge assumption too, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the assumption that pedophile equals child molester.

Allyson:

Right, absolutely, and it’s a ridiculous assumption if you think about it. But, media interpretations of pedophiles, of MAPs, it’s so pervasive. I had someone tell me that it was a trope, and that, “If you want to make your character a bad guy, make him a pedophile.” He said, “When have you ever seen, in the media, a pedophile being a good guy?” And I said, “Well, no, I never have…” And he said… “Well, that’s the point! You never do! It’s easy to villainize someone.” Because that’s just our expectations.

And the really upsetting thing to me was that when I talked to a lot of these folks, they told me that when they realized that they were attracted to children they assumed they were going to be monsters. That was literally the term that they used, “Am I a monster? What’s wrong with me? I assumed I was going to end up like those other people I’ve seen in the news, who hurt children.” And it took them a while sometimes to get to that place where they were like, “That’s not who I am, I’m not going to do this, I’m not a monster, I’m not going to do that.”

Candice:

Isn’t that interesting, that influence though? Right, the media’s influence? So even someone say, growing up and watching a movie where there’s a rape, but growing up and watching it so much and “Oh, this boy with blonde hair and blue eyes was a rapist. So, if I have blonde hair and blue eyes, I’m going to be a rapist… I’m going to be a rapist… I’m going to be a rapist…” Instead of, no. But it is sad that the media’s so powerful that for someone who has an attraction such as this, it really can impact them to think, “I am a monster.”

Allyson:

Absolutely, and there’s so little community… I mean, the community that exists is amazing, especially VirPed and B4UAct, but there’s so little advertising for these communities that so few people know that they exist. So, even when the people that I talk to that thought originally, “Am I a monster?” They got to this place where they were like, “No, it’s not going to be me,” but then they thought, “I’m the only one who’s good and minor-attracted,” or “I’m the only ‘good’ pedophile out there…”

It’s shocking the number of people that I heard tell me that, because they just did not realize that there were other people like them out there. When they told me that they found a community, that they did find out there were people like the, it was just this revelation of, “I’m not alone, I’m not the only one, there are others like me.”

Candice:

There are a lot of similar people who are pedophiles, and I think our society wants to say, again, it’s the older man in a dark corner alleyway that’s a child molester. Then, they automatically say, “Oh, they had sex with a 16-year-old, they’re a pedophile.” Again, it’s just this uneducated explanation, which does isolate people with pedophilia. There is, because there’s so much stigma, and there’s pedo hunters and so much hate, that it makes sense that people do feel alone. And it also, when I think of the work we do with prevention, and thinking of the folks that we’ve treated, it is really scary to reach out. Because, who are we, first, can we be trusted to offer that support, or, are we going to judge them as monsters, are we pedo hunters, you know, what might we do, are we going to expose them on the web and slander them, and so on and so forth…

Allyson:

That was something that I found in my research to, I talked to people a lot about how they coped with their sexuality, and a lot of people told me that they wanted some kind of mental health treatment, wanted to go see people like you, and they were just too afraid. They’d heard stories about people where mental health professionals were outing them to the police, outing them to family, just straight-up telling them, “I can’t help you,” leaving them without a referral, treating them with suspicion in general, or even trying to do some kind of conversion therapy where they would be asked to write down their attractions and then smell bath salts or ammonia or something.

So, just really horrible treatment from a lot of mental health professionals. It kept a lot of them from seeking out care at all. A lot of the people I spoke to did have those experiences, where they were turned away from care, they were treated with suspicion. Someone said to her counselor, “Would you be able to work with someone who is attracted to children?” And her counselor said, “No, I can’t work with someone who’s hurt a child.” And she said, “No, that’s not what I said…” and they were able to have that conversation and fortunately work it out, but there was that moment in the beginning where the person got up to leave, and the practitioner said, “Well, I can’t treat you if you’ve done something to a child.” She had to go back, and then it was on her to educate her counselor about that.

Candice:

Which would be nice if counselors were more educated, one of the things that we’re known for is, we get calls from clinicians and therapists nationwide who will say, “We’ve heard that you’ve got support for psychoeducational support,” or locally we’ve heard that you are willing to treat, and then we do a lot of educating as well. We’ll also get a lot of questions when we first started out, this was several years ago, people saying, “Well, how is it possible that you’re treating these individuals? Don’t you need to report them?” And it’s like… what exactly do we need to report them for?

Allyson:

That’s scary that so many people think that they need to be reported, and I did talk to someone who had never committed an offense, he did not say that he was going to commit an offense, but his counselor reported him to the police and told him about that in his second session with her, and he hasn’t been able to trust mental health professionals since. So, a lot of these people if they are concerned that they are going to act out about their orientation and they don’t feel like there’s anyone out there they can trust, that’s a huge problem that keeps us from preventing crime.

And also, a lot of these people don’t struggle with urges, with that kind of stuff, but they struggle with the stigma that is attached to their sexuality, they struggle with depression or anxiety, shame for sure, and again they just don’t feel like they can find any help out there.

Candice:

So, I appreciate us talking about that too because, you’ve talked about some of the damaging ways that mental health practitioners will show up for these individuals, and one of the things that we are huge proponents of is, let’s work on shame reduction, let’s work on lifestyle and choices, and ways to stay safe and have a healthy adult relationship and… manage your attractions in a way that keep you and society and children safe. That’s such a more productive way to look at supporting these individuals rather than, again, lumping them in a category as a child molester and a sex offender, so I’m so happy we’re talking about this. What challenges did you or your research participants face or come up against?

Allyson:

The big one I would say is that stigma piece, people saying, “Well, I can’t be out on the internet because people will tell me to die.” They had issues with coming out to their family, or not coming out to their family, because they really didn’t feel like they could trust them with that. A lot of them were in relationships with other adults, so another piece that we didn’t talk about is this difference between being exclusively and non-exclusively attracted to minors. So, a lot of the people in my study were exclusively attracted to minors or children, and some were attracted to minors preferentially, but then had attractions to adults as well.

They were often able to find adult partners that they could be in relationships with, and even though they were in those relationships, often very happy in those relationships, that’s a big secret to be keeping from someone. These attractions, this sexuality that you have. And you want to be open and honest in any relationship, so to feel like, not necessarily that this person that they’re with is not trustworthy in general, but everyone has this idea of what a pedophile or minor-attracted person is, so even a very trustworthy person in general could have suspicions toward people.

Some people did come out to their partners, and that was to a range of different reactions. Some of them were very supportive, which was awesome, some of them broke up with them immediately or reported them, even though they hadn’t committed a crime, so it was a big risk to them to tell their partners.

I think another huge challenge that these folks came in contact with was loneliness. Especially for the people who were exclusively attracted to minors, these people often grew up assuming, “I’m going to get married, I’m going to fall in love, I’m going to have kids, yada yada,” and… then they realized they were minor attracted and, again, exclusively, and they said, “That’s never going to happen with me, I’m never going to be with someone I’m romantically or sexually attracted to, at all.”

And that’s… a really tough thing to deal with, this realization that you don’t have any prospects romatically? Or sexually? I can’t imagine feeling that way. Just, that loneliness was a big part of their lives, and there’s really nothing that a lot of people can say to them about that. So important for them to get some kind of support. To know that they didn’t have that support, on top of those feelings of loneliness, that’s really hard to hear.

Candice:

I wanted to ask you if any of your colleagues or anyone in your cohort, when you were doing your research, if they had any judgment or opinions about, or even your professors, had any opinions… because this is definitely such a dicey topic…

Allyson:

Yeah, when you say professors, so, first day of a specific class, I won’t say which, we were asked to go around the room and say our research interests, and it got to me and I said, “I want to study individuals who are attracted to minors, who have never committed a sexual offense.” My professor looked at me and said, “YUCK!” and moved on to the next person. So, that was quite a way to start my program.

Candice:

What was that like for you?

Allyson:

I think I thought, “Well, I’m going to get a lot of this, I may as well get used to it.”

Candice:

Did you?

Allyson:

You know, I really haven’t encountered many of those kinds of reactions. I have had people tell me my research is triggering to them. I can see people being triggered by, triggers can happen with anything, so that’s understandable. But I think a lot of the idea of it being triggering is, again, this assumption that individuals who are minor attracted are going to commit an offense. So, even if I’m talking about people who have never committed an offense, they’re committed to non-offending throughout their lives, it’s still… that really says something when someone says, “I’m triggered by that.” It shows how deep those assumptions are.

I think the majority of the responses I get are interest. People really don’t know that this is a population that exists. I had a job talk where I started talking about my research, and people in the room started Googling while I was talking. They started, like, taking out their phones? And what I found out afterward is that they were doubting whether or not this was a population that existed. I think what they specifically were Googling was the word “pedophile” they were like, wait… and these are criminal justice people, they did not know that pedophile does not mean sex offender. They were checking up on me.

Candice:

I was on a listserv recently, and an individual reached out and said, “Hey, I’m in a different state, I’ve got an individual who has pedophilia and needs some support,” so I responded and said, we have these services, and gave my information, then a colleague reached out on the listserv and said, “Hey, just so you know, we treat pedophilia as well, we’re all sex offender providers,” and just went into this language of sex offender treatment. Again, it’s kind of frustrating, this automatic assumption that, “sex offender providers” and, “therefore we’re treating pedophiles,” and nowhere on the email did he say this was a contact-offending individual who was a pedophile.

Allyson:

A lot of the people that I spoke to who had sought out mental health care, they ended up in treatment with people who specialized in sex offender treatment. On the one hand, it kind of makes sense, it made sense to them, they were saying, “well, okay, these professionals know what a pedophiles is, they specialize in this, I should get help from them,” but then on the flip side, they often treated them, a lot of the times the phrase was, “like a ticking time bomb.” They said, “You’re probably going to commit an offense, we’re going to work with you not to,” and a lot of the time they weren’t there to try to get help with non-offending, they were just there to deal with loneliness, deal with stigma, all that stuff, and so this suspicion that providers had, who are there to hopefully start where the client is, treat them like a person… they just weren’t.

Candice:

Well, hopefully you’ll be doing some research with providers or research on providers to find out…

Allyson: That’s the goal. So, the next step for me is to do some research with mental health professionals and their opinions toward pedophiles and MAPs, and also looking at their knowledge of mandated reporting, since it was such an issue with a lot of folks in my study, and just to see how do people know who are providing services or who are going to be providing services. The laws, the policies in this field surrounding when you should and can report.

Candice:

That is so needed, I’ve not heard of any research out there that’s looked at mental health provider’s views. I think that is so needed. And then some education, and even training, and hopefully some continuing education for professionals, right?

Allyson:

I think B4UAct is trying to start that kind of dialogue. They have a monthly dialogue between MAPs and providers. But yeah, we need a lot more of it.

Candice:

Yeah, we do. Well, thank you so much for being on the show. Is there anything else, Doctor Walker, that you want to share with our listeners? This has been such a privilege, so anything else that…

Allyson:

You know, I asked at the end of my interviews with MAPs, “What would you say to another person who’s struggling with this?” And, the majority of them said, “You are not a monster.” And, I really want to take that and leave you with that message of, these people are not monsters and if you are struggling with these attractions and you haven’t been able to tell others, just know that for yourself, and know that there are groups out there. There’s VirPed, there’s B4UAct, there are others who would love to talk to you.

Candice:

Great, thank you so much, thank you for being on our podcast. Thank you for listening to this week’s podcast. Please visit, www.thepreventionproject.org to learn more about our project and programs. Please remember to subscribe to our podcast at www.thepreventionpodcast.com or iTunes. See you next time!

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