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.
There is another issue with LFF’s services: They claim they are “100% anonymous” yet their service relies on phone number, email, and an HTTPS web address. While it is true that their HTTPS site will not out which specific page a user is visiting (they cannot know if you are getting support for yourself or as a friend/family member of someone who needs support), an internet service provider or tracking cookies/snoops/the government CAN see that a given device is accessing get-support (the subdomain) at the domain stopitnow.org.uk, not to mention your DNS provider. In other words, it would be easy for an internet service provider and therefore the government to see which devices access the service. For most, it is a simple matter for technology to identify who someone is based on their device’s internet usage.
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, 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.