The truth about minor-attracted people

A hand pushes a red pin into a large paper map. In the foreground, several more pins are already embedded in the map.

By now, you've probably heard about minor-attracted people (MAPs). Depending on who you talk to, you may have been told that the term is an attempt to rebrand or "normalize" pedophiles, that MAPs are trying to make child sexual abuse legal and socially acceptable, or that they want to infiltrate the LGBTQ community. However, these claims are misleading and reflect a coordinated effort to spread misinformation and encourage bigotry.

What is a MAP?

As the name suggests, a minor-attracted person is somebody who experiences attractions to minors. These attractions are usually sexual, however, there are also MAPs who experience romantic, aesthetic, or some combination of attractions to minors. The term was popularized by mental health experts as an umbrella term for the four minor attractions: nepiophilia (attraction to infants and toddlers), pedophilia (attraction to prepubescent children), hebephilia (attraction to pubescent teens), and ephebophilia (attraction to post-pubescent minors). "MAP" is now widely used in research and considered established terminology by researchers and other experts in a variety of fields.

"MAP" only describes attractions and does not indicate that someone has committed a sexual offense, despite widespread misconceptions to the contrary. It is also not an attempt to "rebrand" pedophiles, which are simply a category of MAPs. Both experts and MAPs continue to use the term pedophile to describe people who are attracted to prepubescent children. Some people prefer to use the term MAP when discussing pedophiles because they believe "MAP" carries less stigma and is therefore easier for the average person to understand, but this is a matter of personal preference and does not make abuse more acceptable.

The MAP movement

Some MAPs and individuals who support them speak out against the stigma that allows misinformation about MAPs to gain traction and makes it difficult for MAPs to seek support. This advocacy can take a variety of forms, such as correcting false claims and sharing resources with MAPs in need of support. Despite pushback from critics, child protection and sexual violence prevention experts have pointed out that MAP activism can reduce the risk of a MAP committing a sexual offense.

Mischaracterizations

Unfortunately, due to widespread fearmongering about MAPs (often perpetuated by groups that stand to benefit financially or socially from the resulting hysteria), many people have been given misleading information about the objectives of the MAP movement. Among these is the idea that MAPs and their supporters have the end goal of making child sexual abuse legal and socially acceptable. While there was a time when groups like NAMBLA (which opposed age-of-consent laws) were the leading force in MAP-related advocacy, this is no longer the case. Today, the most mainstream voices in MAP activism are supported by child protection experts and work to help MAPs who are at risk of offending find support.

It is common for critics of MAP advocacy to accuse MAPs and their supporters of trying to "normalize pedophilia." This manipulative claim takes advantage of the common misconception that pedophilia is a synonym for child sexual abuse. Even when people are aware of the correct definition of pedophilia as nothing more than a pattern of attractions, this claim still plays on the popular belief that reducing the stigma surrounding pedophilia and other minor attractions will increase the likelihood of MAPs offending, even though this has been disproven.

MAPs and LGBTQ

In 2016, a group of 4chan users launched a disinformation campaign aimed at convincing the public that pedophiles were becoming part of the LGBTQ community. Known as HeartProgress, the movement was aimed at tarnishing the LGBTQ community's public image and undermining the rights they had spent decades fighting to obtain. While the trolls failed to impede the community's progress, they did succeed in convincing numerous people that pedophiles were seeking inclusion. To this day, many people, including members of the LGBTQ community, continue to incorrectly claim that MAPs are pushing to have minor attractions recognized as LGBTQ identities. This plays a role in perpetuating the modern far-right conspiracy theories that the LGBTQ community is full of groomers and predators.

Despite the lack of evidence of any significant connection between MAP activism and the present-day LGBTQ community, critics often point to similarities between the two as evidence that MAPs are pushing for inclusion. These include the fact that both communities have a concept of pride, represent themselves using flags, and refer to their attractions as queer. Of course, it is absurd to claim that the LGBTQ community has a monopoly on the concept of pride, the use of flags, or the word queer, and most of these similarities can be attributed to the fact that the two movements have similar objectives: fighting against stigma and discrimination they experience because of their non-normative attractions. Furthermore, fact-checkers determined that the existence of a MAP pride flag was not indicative of a push for MAPs to be included in the LGBTQ community after consulting multiple sources affiliated with each group.

That being said, some MAPs have LGBTQ orientations in addition to their attractions to minors, and can therefore be considered LGBTQ. Additionally, experts consider minor attractions to be sexual orientations and queer identities, albeit separate from the LGBTQ community. As a result, some have called for a united "queer community," which would include the LGBTQ community, MAPs and other paraphiles, kinksters, and anyone else with stigmatized attractions. However, there have been no significant efforts on the part of MAPs to form such a community, and doing so does not seem to be a primary goal for many MAP activists, likely due to the high levels of infighting and gatekeeping within the current LGBTQ community.

Goals of MAP activism

In reality, the objectives of the MAP movement are centered around improved quality of life and basic human rights protections for MAPs. This includes a broad range of topics, which are often summarized as "MAP rights." In an effort to define this term, a well-known MAP activist developed the following list of rights which MAPs are fighting to obtain (edited below for clarity):

  1. The right to good-faith assumptions, privacy, and safety
  2. The right to free and universally-accessible information on MAP-related topics
  3. The right to gather and support each other without interruption
  4. The right to be included and prioritized in discussions on minor attractions

In creating our own summary of MAP rights, we identified two major categories:

1. Access to support

MAPs face numerous sources of distress due to the stigma surrounding their attractions. This can lead to a variety of mental health issues, some of which are risk factors for offending. Unfortunately, this same stigma prevents MAPs from seeking support when they need it. Stigmatizing views held by mental health professionals can put MAPs at risk of being reported under mandatory reporting laws if they disclose their attractions to a therapist, even if they have never committed any crime. A reduction in stigma would make it easier for MAPs to seek support, improving wellbeing and ensuring MAPs who are at risk of offending are able to get the help they need.

2. Protection from discrimination

MAPs are often excluded from legal protections for marginalized groups. As a result, MAPs who are outed may be deprived of housing, careers, and equal treatment on the basis of their attractions, even in regions with strong anti-discrimination laws. This exception is based on the false premise that MAPs are likely or guaranteed to abuse a child, and therefore must be mistreated in order to prevent them from offending. This increases the risk MAPs face when disclosing their attractions to friends and family members, adding feelings of isolation to the numerous challenges they already encounter. Supporting, rather than mistreating, MAPs who come out or are outed would make it safer for MAPs to ask for help when they need it and reduce the prevalence of mental health issues among the minor-attracted population.

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