Certain commentators have used the Penn State allegations to spread misinformation about gay people, people who are attracted to children or adolescents, B4U-ACT, and even the American Psychiatric Association (APA). A recent comentary in the Washington Times made false claims about the APA's proposed entry for pedophilia in the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Similarly, like a few other commentators who have been most vocal on the topic, this critic made false and potentially inflammatory statements about the goals of B4U-ACT and its position on the DSM. Examining the DSM-5 and B4U-ACT websites, or talking to researchers or clinicians who are familiar with the DSM or B4U-ACT, shows that these claims have little basis in fact. The claims could, however, unnecessarily inflame public fear and anger, and impede accurate understanding and effective solutions to serious problems.
To clarify, here are B4U-ACT's positions on the issues:
To ensure the protection of children, we must end the secrecy and lack of knowledge surrounding the attraction to children and adolescents. B4U-ACT's goals are to make accurate information about it widely available, and to make research-based mental health services available to people with such feelings of attraction. The mental health of minor-attracted people ensures the well-being of children. B4U-ACT works toward these goals by holding workshops for clinicians, speaking to university classes, providing peer support, disseminating information through email, and facilitating other means of discussion and collaboration among researchers, clinicians, and minor-attracted people.
B4U-ACT's name refers to the fact that it is crucially important for minor-attracted people, therapists, researchers, and citizens to think before they act in ways that could harm children, society, or minor-attracted people. Obviously, minor-attracted people should abide by the law because of the potential risk to children and themselves of doing otherwise. In addition, all people should recognize that no one chooses to be attracted to children, that these feelings typically begin in adolescence, that many, perhaps most, do not act on these feelings, and that minor-attracted people can and do live law-abiding lives and contribute positively to their communities. Therefore, vilifying them for their feelings is unjust and harmful; it forces them into lives of secrecy and prevents them from getting help when needed, ultimately putting children at risk.
B4U-ACT's position on the DSM is completely in line with the APA's own position: that the DSM be based on high quality research (using representative samples rather than misleading prison samples), that it meet the needs of patients, and that it be revised with input from a variety of research disciplines and from minor-attracted people. Ascribing any position beyond this to B4U-ACT is inaccurate.
There are four questions that those who mischaracterize B4U-ACT's work should consider.
1. What should young teenagers do when they realize they are attracted to children? These feelings of attraction are not chosen, and the American Psychiatric Association notes that they begin in adolescence. Other researchers say they may begin earlier, and estimate that at least 1% of males have such feelings. Currently there is nowhere these teens can turn. In a recent survey of almost 200 people, the median age of respondents when they were first attracted to children younger than themselves was 13. Respondents made comments such as, “At the age of 13, I didn't really feel there was anyone I could talk to about my attraction to minors or the difficulty I experienced living with the attraction.” These kids remain in hiding because of fear they will be viciously called names and condemned in the way the commentators noted above have responded to those who admit to having such feelings. Two of those criticss are employed at a Christian university with about 6,000 residential male students. We challenge them to consider the following quesion: What should the 60 or more of your students who are attracted to children do?
2. How does it protect children to force teenagers and adults into hiding by demonizing and stigmatizing them for feelings they did not choose and they have not acted upon? One survey respondent wrote, “Parents will disown you, teachers will report you, friends will abandon you...people in my situation can't discuss this without serious risk of harassment.”
3. Why is it so difficult to distinguish between feelings and behavior? Is it really true that making accurate information and compassionate services available will cause adolescents and adults who are attracted to children to act on their feelings? Is the only way to protect "normal" kids to condemn the "abnormal" ones and incarcerate the over one million American teenage boys and men who are attracted to children or young adolescents?
4. Do these kids' lives have value? Should they be treated with compassion? B4U-ACT believes that every teenager's life has value. A civilized society will offer compassionate care to them. Almost half of the survey respondents said they had seriously considered suicide--almost 1 out of 4 at age 15 or younger and 42% when under 18. Some teens are looking for help anonymously at on-line mental health forums, like one who recently wrote, "I'm a 15 year old male...I'm not attracted to anyone my age or older anymore...I feel like there is no hope for me to live and sometimes I feel like killing myself...I can't talk to anyone at this time because my parents would find out and get the wrong idea and people will judge me."
These questions need to be considered by those who would seek to discredit attempts to develop humane and effective responses to the attraction to children and adolescents.
Updated December 31, 2011