There are many issues in MAP culture that are easy to overlook, and possibly the most important issue is how sensitive we are to other marginalized groups. Unfortunately, many of us are somewhat tone-deaf to the plights of other marginalized groups – especially victims/survivors of child sexual abuse. In this article, I will explore some examples of this insensitivity and what we can do to be more understanding via the language we use and discussions we have.
Now, before I continue, let me first say I get it. This is stuff nobody wants to hear or discuss. It makes us uncomfortable and we squirm around thinking to ourselves, “Surely this isn’t me. Surely I’m better than that.” That very aspect of this is why this article has taken me a year to start writing, and several months to finish. I began this article in February, 2020, when I saw Lecter, a prominent figure of the community, arguing with a sexual assault prevention advocate I know after she messaged me to ask what Lecter’s deal was. What I saw and heard from both left me dismayed that the MAP community does not have more sensitivity, and that got me thinking about how to address it and what all must be addressed.
That has not been an easy process, and it is my sincere hope that this article sparks conversations that fleshes out what we can improve on. So, let me highlight a few of the important areas I have observed.
Discussing “Contact” Abstractly
Possibly the biggest optics issue with the language and assumptions we use to discuss what MAPs refer to as ‘the contact issue’ is going to be the biggest chafing point. You see, for us to discuss what basically the rest of the world sees as child sexual abuse in an abstract way by using terms like ‘contact’ to refer to child sexual abuse comes off as minimizing of child sexual abuse. I realize this is often not the intention. However, for minor attracted people to gain footing in being heard, we must be willing to hear others and if we cannot hear that the language we use can be off-putting to potential allies, we make our work harder.
Another issue is where we choose to have these discussions. I do not believe it is supportive to have those discussions in a public manner because of the high risk of misunderstanding, fear, stigma, and most importantly, hurting traumatized people. That is why, in my advocacy, I have always distanced myself from so-called ‘pro-contact’ advocacy because I do not find such advocacy helpful in any meaningful sense. It only causes pain for most participants.
The reality is, people do not view child sexual abuse as something that can be dissected and discussed in terms of what is or is not okay. To just about everyone, to be sexual with a child is wrong, period. To even be discussing ethics around this shows most listeners that there is a lack of morality on the part of the person discussing it.
Using Poor or Borrowed Terminology
This one is a close second for optics, the terms that we use in our communities. “Contact” we call it. “Pro-contact,” as if we can sanitize the opinion that “sexual contact” with children can be “harmless” in the “right” circumstances. “Anti-contact,” as if there is really any position other than being against “sexual contact” with children, or, as some call it, “adult-child sex” or even “child-adult sex.” Do I need to explain further why these terms are horrid? No? Great.
But let us also mention innocent-sounding terms well ingrained in our communities, like “young friends” which can make people really squeamish, really quickly. This is also a term used by some communities to refer to children that adults abuse, photographing and filming the abuse. Some have proposed “little friends” as an alternative, but that also can seem demeaning. Seriously, what about just “kid friend” instead?
Using terms borrowed from communities that enable the sharing of sexually harmful imagery is a terrible idea. These are not terms we can “take back” from sounding creepy or gross. We need to move away from this kind of terminology.
Defending or Excusing Offenders
This is a controversial area for us, because many of us have made friends in the community who have directly (child sexual abuse) or indirectly (sexually harmful imagery) harmed children – or we know someone who has committed what is technically a crime, but a victimless one (viewing fictional materials depicting children in sexual situations is a crime in some countries). However, what matters is how we go about this. I am not talking about attempts to humanize and foster empathy towards people who have sexually harmed others. Those are perfectly valid, and should be frank and serious.
I am talking about the attitude we take while we do so and how that can come across. Often, we put the emphasis on the fact that someone is an ex-offender. The harm has stopped, the perpetrator got the help they needed and are committed to not harming again. That does not erase the harm they did, though, and the fact that others cause that harm and do not stop harming.
I realize this is an area that many in the community might see me as a participant in. I believe that is a fair viewpoint because when someone makes a general, disparaging statement about their own trauma and the person who harmed them, we can have a tendency – not even as MAPs but as human beings – to think “I know someone who harmed like that and I object to how this other person is being treated.” It is essentially a way of projecting our own experiences onto others.
Given how often we are traumatized by stigma, it is understandable that we do not want to see others traumatized this same way. This is fair. But how we go about expressing this needs to be careful and considered because we also do not wish to add to the trauma of others by seeking to de-stigmatize. That can fuel further trauma and stigma, which is the opposite of what we want to do.
It is no secret that MAP spaces tend to be male-dominated. That is for two reasons: One, because paraphilias are less frequent among non-male genders, certainly, but also because our spaces are simply not welcoming to non-males. From my experience, we barely tolerate trans people, and the moment someone suggests that we are not welcoming to any group of people, we get defensive and we deny it. Why is that? Surely we, who know what it is to be hated for something we never had a choice in, can do better by being honest about our attitudes and how others perceive us, and create room to grow beyond such exclusiveness.
The problem is, a lot of our leaders are of an older generation when these attitudes were not only common, but expected. A boiling frog analogy works here to illustrate that these older leaders are quite comfortable and possibly ignorant of why their misogynistic attitudes are misogynistic or even a problem, let alone how to change them. One great example of this is the attitude spread by researchers like Ray Blanchard and James Cantor that because “science” has no “record” of females “having pedophilia” in the same sense that men do (largely due to reliance on penile plethysmography to detect pedophilia, when obviously these tests cannot be performed on females where more modern testing like fMRI can), and their attitude in pointing this out. The issue to these men is not that the testing needs to be updated to be more gender-neutral, it is that “oh sorry we don’t have the evidence,” while you literally have female pedophiles saying that they exist and are willing to “pimp out [their] brain” for science.
One would think that in the year 2021 this would not even be controversial, but alas, there are holdouts who deny there is a problem.
Speaking About Sex Abuse Prevention In Ignorance
This is one of the most central criticisms I have, because I have spent a significant amount of time and energy learning about sexual violence prevention and what makes for effective best practices. Often, I have presented these best practices and patiently explained why they are there, only to be argued with. Surely there is no harm in asking a child for a hug! Well, the thing is, when we as a MAP community argue with these practices or general conclusions, it makes us seem like we have an issue with the goal of these practices.
Speaking as someone who was harmed sexually, and has spoken to people who have harmed others sexually, I have a unique perspective. I know effectively communicating these best practices can be a real challenge because you then have to give people background information on why it is a best practice, and what the problem is if it is not followed. But there is a deeper issue here. We like to think critically about issues that can affect us and weigh in. But the issue on this subject is, we often weigh in without first listening and understanding, and that causes problems. We must listen before we speak if we expect others to listen when we speak. If we cannot extend that courtesy to others, they will not extend it to us.
As much as we, as minor attracted people, would wish otherwise, optics do matter to how we are perceived and what people believe about us, individually and as a group. If we are perceived to be minimizing child sexual abuse, to victims/survivors or to the general public, we will not be taken seriously when we say we condemn child sexual abuse and say we want to keep children safe from harm. In short, we look like hypocrites, and at that point, it does not matter if we are hypocrites or not, what matters is how we look and most people will not look past that.
Do we want acceptance? Do we want people to take us seriously and view us as human beings who happen to have this attraction? Do we want to distance ourselves from awful perceptions? That we watch harmful sexual imagery? That we supposedly “want to abuse children?” Or are we content with the status quo and being hated?