By Jill Levenson, PhD, Barry University, Inc. at ; Melissa Grady, Ph.D, The Catholic University of America at ; and Julie Patrick with RALIANCE at
W. Edwards Deming once famously said, “In God we trust, all others must bring data.” Designing effective primary prevention services starts with collecting good data. Yet this proves challenging for many stigmatized populations who remain “in the shadows.”
The scholarly literature, for instance, about non-offending minor attracted persons (MAPs) is in a nascent stage. Though they remain an under-studied and somewhat misunderstood population, we are learning more about individuals who have sexual interests in children (Cantor & McPhail, 2016). Studies have revealed that most MAPs become aware of their unusual sexual interests in early adolescence (B4UAct, 2011b; Buckman, Ruzicka, & Shields, 2016), and that among MAPs, about 42% report a primary attraction to pre-pubescent youngsters (Mitchell & Galupo, 2016; Piché, Mathesius, Lussier, & Schweighofer, 2016).
Due to stigma, fear, and shame, and many other factors, many MAPs have not sought help from professionals, and others have been discouraged by the services they received (Jahnke, 2018). Some MAPs who did seek services but did not receive them reported that failure to obtain adequate help resulted in negative ramifications. These include an exacerbation of mental health symptoms such as depression, suicidality, withdrawal and isolation, lost productivity, fear and anxiety, hopelessness, and substance abuse (B4UAct, 2011a). Furthermore, a small group (3-4%) said that after being unable to obtain counseling, their attraction to youngsters continued or escalated and that they were later convicted of a sexual crime (B4UAct, 2011a). MAPs in non-forensic samples tend to have higher education and socio-economic status than those convicted of sex crimes, and may have greater willingness and opportunity to engage in formal and informal help-seeking through various professional or online resources.
Thanks to an impact grant by nonprofit leadership collaborative RALIANCE, Dr. Jill Levenson at Barry University and Dr. Melissa Grady at Catholic University surveyed minor-attracted persons (MAPs) to better understand the obstacles they faced when seeking help[JP1] .
The project complemented information gained from the “Help Wanted” project developed by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau [described in Buckman, Ruzicka & Shields (2016)] by collecting data from a larger sample with a greater age range. The quantitative survey for more robust data analyses including group comparisons and associations between variables.
Good data and collaborations
The researchers built relationships to partner with consumer groups that provide online support, resources, education, and information for MAPs who are concerned about their sexual interest in children. With the help of organizations like Stop It Now! and VirPed, the project was able to collect a non-random, purposive sample of MAPs (n = 293; 154 completed all questions). The on-line survey included quantitative questions to gather information about their histories, help-seeking experiences and behaviors, as well as 10 open-ended prompts designed to capture their lived experiences of seeking counseling for minor-attraction.
Confidentiality and anonymity concerns were addressed by building in protections in the survey platform. Many MAPs have worked to separate the constructs of minor-attraction or pedophilia from “sex offender.” The conflation of these terms perpetuates the stigma and shame felt by MAPs. For this reason, some MAPs did not want to be part of a study focused on the prevention of sexual abuse, arguing that many MAPs are not at risk for abuse.
Implications for service delivery
The participants reported that stigma was the primary barrier to seeking help from others. Although stigma was reported as a stand-alone theme, it overlapped with many of the other themes, such as fear of being judged or being reported to authorities even though they had never acted on their attractions. They also reported high levels of shame, which focused on internal views of themselves as a “bad person,” which was sometimes reinforced by mental health professionals. To counter these negative experiences, many noted the importance of building a community with other non-offending MAPs (either in person or online). To learn more about the implications for practice and policy, please review: “I can’t talk about that”: Stigma and fear as barriers to preventive services for minor-attracted persons [JP2] [Original Journal article in Stigma & Health] and Preventing Sexual Abuse: Perspectives of Minor-Attracted Persons About Seeking Help [JP3] [Original Research Article in Sexual Abuse].
This project promotes the idea that we can make communities safer when we provide compassionate, relevant, ethical, and effective psychotherapy services accessible and available for non-offending MAPs who wish to maintain an emotionally healthy and non-victimizing lifestyle.
B4UAct. (2011a). Mental Health Care and Professional Literature Survey Results. Retrieved from http://www.b4uact.org/research/survey-results/spring-2011-survey/
B4UAct. (2011b). Youth, suicidality, and seeking care. Retrieved from http://www.b4uact.org/research/survey-results/youth-suicidality-and-seeking-care/
Buckman, C., Ruzicka, A., & Shields, R. T. (2016). Help Wanted: Lessons on prevention from non-offending young adult pedophiles. ATSA Forum Newsletter, 28(2).
Cantor, J. M., & McPhail, I. V. (2016). Non-offending Pedophiles. Current Sexual Health Reports, 8(3), 121-128. doi:DOI 10.1007/s11930-016-0076-z
Jahnke, S. (2018). The stigma of pedophilia: Clinical and forensic implications. European Psychologist, 23(2), 144-153. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000325
Mitchell, R. C., & Galupo, M. P. (2016). The role of forensic factors and potential harm to the child in the decision not to act among men sexually attracted to children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 0886260515624211.
Piché, L., Mathesius, J., Lussier, P., & Schweighofer, A. (2016). Preventative Services for Sexual Offenders. Sexual abuse: a journal of research and treatment. doi:10.1177/1079063216630749