It’s a funny joke, and not a joke at all.
What do you call someone who knows the difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia? A pedophile.
Assistant prof Allyn Walker doesn’t call them pedophiles, but MAPs, minor-attracted people. It’s not a new approach, just as ex-cons are now “previously-incarcerated persons,” where adding more words to the description is intended to break from derogatory words and humanize the individuals. But these are pedos, and why would anyone want to humanize pedos?
Walker, whose book A Long, Dark Shadow: Minor-Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity was published in June, believes adult sexual attraction to children should be destigmatized and viewed as another sexual orientation, not inherently immoral unless the “minor-attracted person” (a stigma-free alternative to “pedophile” proposed by Walker and some others) is an actual child molester.
Confronting taboos has become a badge of courage, even honor, for many. But this taboo, pedophilia? Walker draws a line between people who feel a sexual attraction to children and people who act upon it, the “actual child molester.” But that didn’t save her from the storm.
Reports on Walker’s book and opinions, which surfaced last month, stoked outrage both among [Old Dominion University] students—some of whom demanded the professor’s removal—and within right-wing media. Threats followed. The administrative leave, according to the school, was as much for Walker’s safety as for general safety on campus. The university’s statement also mentioned that “the controversy over Dr. Walker’s research has disrupted the campus and community environment and is interfering with the institution’s mission of teaching and learning.”
There are issues here. On the one hand, Walker’s purpose isn’t to gain approval of pedophilia, but to destigmatize the attraction, rather than the action, much like people have sought to destigmatize mental illness and drug addiction. By making it less shameful, if not horrible, people can seek help without fear that they will destroy their lives by revealing their worst flaws.
Walker’s supporters see the professor as an advocate for child abuse prevention (through better understanding of sexual attraction to minors) misrepresented as a defender of child abuse. And some of Walker’s critics do seem to make the mistaken assumption that Walker is defending child molesters. For instance, statements on the controversy from ODU president Brian O. Hemphill stressed that “child sexual abuse is morally wrong” and that “the phrase ‘minor-attracted people’ … should not be utilized as a euphemism for behavior that is illegal, morally unacceptable, and profoundly damaging.”
But then, even if Walker has no purpose to defend child molesters, can the humanization of pedophiles be distinguished from its normalization, if not its slide into action that we abhor but can’t be helped since humans are flawed?
There is, of course, an entirely separate issue here, that Walker’s freedom as an academic engaged in the study of perhaps the most taboo subject possible is being precluded because it’s a subject too cringey, too disgusting, to be studied. There is no question that robust academic freedom should encompass the study of all aspects of human existence, even those like “minor-attracted persons.” They exist, even if we don’t want them to, and pretending otherwise by condemning their study isn’t going to make them go away.
But then, is Walker just another misunderstood academic researcher or an advocate for a cause?
The goal here is not simply to promote compassion for non-offender “MAPs”; it is to legitimize “minor-attraction” as a sexual orientation. The book repeatedly uses the term “coming out” in reference to pedophiles disclosing their sexual attraction to children to family and friends. Walker also defends the use of the term “MAP” as a matter of respect, because “it’s important to use terminology for groups that members of that group want others to use for them.”
Is pedophilia just another sexual orientation, as entitled to respect and empathy as any other? Is it fair game for academic study? Does humanizing MAPs normalize or legitimize conduct that society still finds too reprehensible to discuss? Is the limiting factor of attraction versus action enough to prevent the slide down this repugnant slippery slope?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.