Impulses and actions

We must not confuse attractions and behaviors, argues Allyn Walker. Pedophilia is only condemnable as long as it results in action. Reducing the stigma inflicted on people attracted to minors could even facilitate their efforts to resist their urges.

The work of Allyn Walker, Long, Dark Shadow, is taken from a thesis of criminal justice, defended at the City University of New York in 2017. It deals with people who declare a sexual attraction to minors, but who have not put these attractions into practice. Published in June 2021, the work went relatively unnoticed in academic circles, but the dissemination of the results of the research it reports gave rise to intense controversy in November 2021, which resulted in the resignation of Allyn Walker (also a researcher). trans) from his positionAssistant Professor Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

The central issue of this research is to clearly distinguish between perpetrators of sexual violence against minors and people attracted by minors. To do this, the authorea conducted forty-two online interviews (including 13 via a cat) with people presenting these attractions and declaring not to have committed violence, met through discussion forums.

This choice of construction of the research object aims to establish a clear difference between these two groups of people, who are generally confused under the term pedophiles. A. Walker specifies that although pedophilia involves attraction for children, it does not describe anything THE behavior of an individual (p. 3). The heart of his argument is that this confusion unfairly places a strong stigma on people attracted to children, which isolates them and dissuades them or prevents them from seeking forms of help or support that could prevent the perpetration of violence. They are therefore in favor of destigmatizing these people (but not the perpetrators of violence), in order to make it easier to find support and improve their living conditions. The first way to reduce the stigma is to replace the pejoratively connoted term of pedophile the expression Minor Attracted People (MAP). This enterprise is justified by the authore by a child protection imperative, to the extent that stigmatize the MAP for their attractions alone can put children in greater dangerbecause this affects the ways in which MAP face their attractions (p. 9).

Stigma and resilience strategies

The main part of the work then consists of reporting on the difficulties induced by these attractions and the stigma associated with them, and highlighting strategies for resilience implemented by the MAP. Among these difficulties which are caused by lower psychological well-being (p. 75) are mentioned the dissimulation linked to the fact of being in the closet (p. 42), characteristic of stigmatizable deviants, but also isolation, self-hatred (caused by the internalization of the stigma) or even the frustration of not being able to experience a satisfactory emotional life. Although they frequently find themselves in situations of psychological distress, as indicated by the high prevalence among respondents of depressive or anxiety disorders, they face great difficulties in accessing care, precisely because of the stigma to which they are subject, including from health professionals. For those who dare to disclose their attractions to therapists, abusive reporting is common, as is the use of sexual orientation change effortsthat is to say conversion therapies.

Allyn Walker nevertheless pays particular attention to the strategies implemented by MAP For to face Or do with (to cope) the difficulties encountered. Taking up a distinction established in clinical psychology regarding the different modes of reaction to stress, A. Walker distinguishes between disengagement strategies and engagement strategies. Where the former result, for example, in the use of narcotics, concealment or denial, engagement strategies take forms as diverse as engagement in the community (mainly online), an information approach, seeking support from loved ones, engagement religious (described more as a source of comfort than shame) or even self-acceptance. In this exhibition, the authore is generally confined to the descriptive register and is content to mention that (its) participants are likely to be distinguished by their ability to access certain modes of adaptation (coping styles) (p. 100), where an analysis of the conditions of access to these modes of adaptation would have been possible and welcome.

Chapter 4, dealing with the strategies put in place to avoid committing violence, is one of the highlights of the book, as we can see the concrete implications it can have in terms of preventing violence. Taking a preventive perspective, A. Walker questions the MAP on their motivations and strategies to avoid committing violence. Among these motivations, the most frequently mentioned is the desire not to harm children. Then comes the fear of sanctions or other reasons, such as the shame that these acts would inflict on the family of their perpetrator. Here again, we can regret that these motivations are simply repeated as they are, without analyzing for example the effects of the interview situation on these discourses and without calling into question the transparency of the motives of action for the actors.

As for the concrete strategies put in place to avoid violence, we can mention the choice to limit interactions with children in daily life, or the fact of revealing one's attractions to a third party so that they can exercise additional supervision. But in reality, three-quarters of those surveyed said they did not feel particularly at risk of realizing their attractions, and therefore did not feel the need to implement particular strategies to avoid it. The consultation of child pornography is finally addressed in this chapter, where the authorHe takes part in an existing debate, which aims to decide whether this practice is likely to encourage the realization of attractions, or on the contrary to encourage abstinence. They maintain that child pornography would be a sexual derivative (p. 128) and could therefore constitute an abstinence strategy, provided that fictional content (deemed harmless towards children) is distinguished from content featuring real children. Legalizing fictional content would thus represent a practical although uncomfortable solution (p.128).

From stigma reduction to moral panic

Following an interview given by Allyn Walker to the child protection organization Prostasia Foundation, the video of which was posted on November 8, 2021, his research sparked a wave of indignation, first on Twitter and in online conspiracy networks, then on the campus of his university, where a petition launched by a student and denouncing unacceptable ideas about attraction to minors obtained more than fifteen thousand signatures. Batteriese to normalize pedophilia and sexual relations involving children, A. Walker defended himselfe in a joint press release with the president of the university declaring: My research program aims to prevent sexual violence against minors. This research has been misused by some people in the media and online, in part because of my trans identity. This same press release announced the dismissal of A. Walker, until his contract expired six months later. Relayed by the Washington Post on November 18, the affair was then taken up by part of the right-wing and far-right press, including in Europe (from Daily Mail At Toronto Sun, Passing by Current Values). From the academic community, few reactions were heard, with the exception of a report published by Mr. Ball in the journal Critical Criminologyaiming to demonstrate the bad faith criticisms addressed to the work.

For a critical approach to attraction for minors

The work has therefore not been the subject of serious discussion, which it nevertheless deserves. Indeed, if distinguishing attractions for minors from the practice of violence seems salutary to us, this approach remains caught in Walker's case in a contradiction that it seems good to clarify. One of the theses defended by Walker is that people attracted to minors do not represent necessarily a threat to children, and as such they must not inherit the stigma intended for aggressors. However, the central justification given for this reduction in stigma is the prevention of sexual violence: by reducing the stigma weighing on MAP, we facilitate their access to assistance and resilience, and we therefore reduce the probability that they will put their attractions into practice. In a word, we reduce their danger. Allyn Walker defends himself, however, asserting that (his) intention is not to describe the MAP as a danger or threat (p. 167), but nevertheless evokes in a euphemistic manner their need for preventive assistance.

It seems that the author heree comes up against the degree of determination existing between attractions and practices, which it leaves unheeded in favor of the affirmation of their strict separation, which fits poorly with the preventive ambition adopted, which induces by definition the existence of a group considered as risk. The risk paradigm implicitly underlying this demonstration is rooted here in a conception of sexuality as a drive, dominant in psychology and criminology work on the subject, which considers sexuality as an irrepressible natural instinct that must be channeled by the social structure. It is this conception which justifies the position of the authore on the subject of fictional child pornography images (the impulses sometimes need to be free so as not to overflow), and requires a resilience of its investigators facing their own desires. A critical and constructivist conception of sexuality, like that formulated by John Gagnon and William Simon in their theory of sexual scripts, would make it possible to overcome this contradiction by emancipating, at least for the time of analysis, from an approach in terms of risk. These authors consider sexuality not as a channeled instinct, but as a set of socially and historically situated representations and practices that must be the subject of socialization. Illustrating the socially constructed character of sexuality through dramatic metaphor, they describe the emergence of sexual behavior as the interpretation of scripts preexisting, and distinguish three levels of script: cultural scripts, interpersonal scripts, and intrapsychic scripts.

Starting from this theoretical basis, it would become possible to examine in more detail what attractions for minors actually consist of, how they can be informed by a set of cultural representations surrounding childhood, and finally to call into question the chain of instinct and practices, considering that each level of script influences the other contextually, but rarely with sufficient force to provide a comprehensive understanding of the other level. In the absence of an attentive description of the fantasies, representations and sexual practices of the MAP, the work of A. Walker barely envisages concretely their articulation, and produces a truly critical analysis of the desires for minors (which could, for example, have been shown to be part of structural inequalities of status between adults and children). This research, on the other hand, clearly exposes the experience of the stigma of those who are attracted to minors, and makes it possible to address in a stimulating manner the question of the merits of the suffering inflicted on minors. MAP by stigmatization mechanisms.