UPDATE: This article was updated on 2-26-2020 to reflect some “rebranding” that Stop It Now! UK & Ireland recently did, and to reflect a reply that I received from someone associated with their organization, which is at the bottom.
Last year, over a period of several months, Lucy Faithful Foundation (a UK-based charity that runs Stop It Now UK & Ireland and is affiliated with Stop It Now Scotland, which recently launched the Upstream Project with the Scottish Government) worked out a deal with Ender Wiggin (then administrator of MAP Support Club) to allow one of their therapists access to provide a trial run of group chat therapy sessions in MAP Support Club, which is a chat-based community for minor attracted people age 13 and up. During the course of those sessions, it became clear that they took a fundamentally flawed approach to fantasy. In short, “Well actually, you are harming yourself because you are reinforcing your attraction to things that are illegal and abusive.” They also recommend methods that most would describe as a form of conversion therapy, which is widely condemned as unethical and harmful.
I realize that for most people, LFF’s advice is not controversial. However, their approach is harmful for three big reasons:
- There is no scientific evidence that the sexual attraction to minors can change.
- There is no evidence that fantasy is directly harmful for most people.
- Shame typically pushes people away from help, not towards it.
While fantasy is certainly not a fit for everyone either, and some can and do pursue a healthy form of purism because it is a fit for them, it would be just as harmful to suggest that everyone should pursue fantasy as it is to suggest that everyone should pursue purism. Their self-help advice does not contain nuance, and that is a big part of the problem.
This concern appears to have been addressed, though bear in mind that police form part of the background for LFF and if you use an email tied to your real identity, you are taking their claim at face value:
Lucy Faithful Foundation In A Nutshell
The second line on their main website reads, “We work closely with frontline workers and professionals such as police officers, social workers, and education staff to ensure children are as safe as they can be.” This pretty much encapsulates their approach, which utilizes fear-based campaigns to scare people into getting help. For example:
Their recent push for their new startup Upstream Project was no different, pulling on the fearstrings of emotional parents, homeowners, and families:
While I am happy that prevention is getting attention and I am happy their framing works well for them in terms of getting public support, there are a few different reasons why exploiting fear is the wrong approach to preventing sexual abuse. Firstly, when someone is afraid, they do not react rationally. There are basically three responses to fear: Fight, flight, and freeze. None of those are terribly helpful to preventing sexual abuse. Secondly, when the people you work closely with are the people responding to violence against children, that colors how you see the issue as a whole and this bias is reflected in their vision and the words they use. They like to label people. Second and third sentence: “We believe that changing offenders is one of the best ways of protecting children. Sex offenders must be held accountable for their actions.” Imagine how likely someone struggling with addiction would be to approach a helpline that refers to them as a druggie or a lowlife addict. Yeah, not likely.
While I absolutely believe in accountability for people who abuse or exploit children, labelling the very people you are trying to reach out to is no way to catch the attention of those looking for help. It is the best way to ensure they do not want to come to you to get it. To be sure, prevention needs to have the support of the general public to get off the ground. However, if getting off the ground quickly means ignoring the maintenance of the plane being flown, then many things can go wrong with the plane.
The approach LFF has decided to take is not inclusive and is very similar to how anti-sex trafficking organizations spread the myth that most women in sex work are actually being abused by pimps, when the reality is that most are in sex work through their own choice and do not want organizations dictating their lives. The approach these organizations have taken has resulted in wide criticism and will no doubt eventually lead to the financial ruin of these organizations due to lack of support. Adapt or disband are the eventual outcomes. This begs the question…
What Other Options Exist?
In my years as an advocate, I have touched base with many organizations for many reasons. I list most of these organizations on my website’s resource page for people who have an attraction to minors. On it, you will find several organizations in the UK, mainly Safer Lives, Safer Living Foundation and Stop SO UK. I hold Stop SO UK in especially high regard because they reached out to a number of people with a variety of backgrounds to better inform and train those within their organization to help people struggling with sexual issues. For UK-based resources, I highly recommend these three, though there is also ATSA. I know that all of these outfits take a more individualized approach than LFF.
I should note here that the Stop It Now! US and the Stop It Now! NL program (this is a completely different program than LFF) is very well-regarded in their locations, and are separate from the the Stop It Now! UK & Ireland. In the US, there is also Prostasia Foundation, which does advocacy work, and the Global Prevention Project, which provides direct support.
Currently, the field of supporting minor attracted people, whether for its own merits or for preventing sexual abuse, is not terribly populated, though this has changed over the last ten years and continues to change. I am determined to continue to be a part of that change, both in my connection with MAP Support Club, and in my advocacy activities. I think the organizations that share the framework of wanting to help people for their own sake and for the sake of protecting children in a way that is harm-free should band together, share resources, and tackle the challenges to helping minor attracted people.
I also think part of forwarding those goals absolutely involves holding programs that are not inclusive and attempt to shame people for their sexual attractions accountable for the harm they are causing.
Replies and Updates
Lucy Faithful Foundation finally addressed exactly one of the concerns this blog post raised while the most pertinent one about sex-negative conversion therapy remains. In fact, the head of a sister organization replied with a defense of their approach (PDF):
There are many concerns I have about their reply. In short, they attempt to make cognitive behavioral therapy seem like something it is not (it is not, has not, and was never intended to change fantasy or sexual attraction, it is aimed at negative and unrealistic thoughts). They attempt to claim that there is empirical support for arousal reconditioning and that this is somehow harmful for youth but not for sex offenders – stereotyping the very population they serve.
They also conflate populations in an attempt to support their approach. Bear in mind, their service is mainly aimed at image offenders, the majority of whom DO have a sexual attraction to children (contrary to their claim), so while I certainly do not refute their claim that most who commit a hands-on child sexual abuse offense are not sexually attracted to children (I put this on my website), I absolutely do refute the idea that their services are mainly aimed at this population. Indeed, their advice around fantasy is mainly aimed at reconditioning arousal, not treating each situation differently (there is no separate module for those with a sexual attraction to children and those with no such attraction, for example).
I have personally spoken to several people who have utilized their self-help resources and also have an attraction to children. They largely found the advice inapplicable to them and that their service did little to address their specific situations. I know from talking to many people that deterrence generally does not work well at all and just inspires more shame, which for many is part of the cognitive-emotional cycle they go through when viewing illegal images.
As of February, 2020, I must continue to advise that people seek help elsewhere. I personally have self-deluded myself at one point into thinking I was no longer attracted to children. I even attempted to view age-appropriate adult pornography to essentially utilize the very same advice this organization gives. I found that it was like trying to fight a rubber band, constantly snapping back to only occasionally finding adults attractive. I have been through the evidence. I find their claims lacking and their lack of nuance to be too much of a barrier to recommend their services to any minor attracted person.