We wish this weren’t a real tweet, but it is. And there are plenty of others like this person who are attracted to children, and openly express it.
The Shadow Hunters
Under the cover of darkness somewhere in England, mother “Chelsea Hunter” (name has been changed) poses as a young girl on social media, acting as bait to lure in online child sex groomers—people who connect with children to prepare them for a sexual encounter. She chats with them and plays the part, until inevitably the groomer initiates a meetup.
Police clued in, she arrives at a meetup point with her evidence in hopes that the elusive predator gets a date with a jail cell instead of a child.
In the last few years, the BBC Network published a series of reports about these sting operations. Chelsea is part of the Shadow Hunters—an undercover, unofficial group of adults who make it their mission to catch pedophile groomers. While law enforcement does not condone their taking the law into their own hands, the Shadow Hunters and similar groups across the UK tell us something about the current crisis of child sex predation. (FTND note: we do not endorse taking the law into your own hands as it concerns this issue.)
Pedophilia’s other name
On a broader scale, you may have noticed conversations about MAPs emerging on social media. If you haven’t, we’ll catch you up. It’s a bunch of tweets that sound/look like this:
MAP, standing for Minor-Attracted-Person, is the acronym pedophiles are attaching to themselves in an effort to destigmatize their sexual preference for children. (It is worth noting that many MAPs claim to be anti-contact between adults and children, while they still personally identify as a MAP and demand equal treatment.)
Even while the vast majority of people still denounce pedophilia and many are shocked by the MAP movement, it’s a cultural phenomenon that is worth learning about.
How has sexual attraction to children become normalized enough to raise even a limited call for social acceptance? And how did we arrive at a place where enough citizens stalk children online that entire groups like the Shadow Hunters feel the desperate need to rise up and counter this trend?
At least part of the explanation may surprise you.
A driving supporter of child attraction
Dr. Julie Newberry is a psychologist who has worked with patients who have had a history of child abuse image consumption or child abuse. In an article for PsychReg, she writes:
“My therapeutic experience is that a person who views child abuse images, though committing a sexual offense, is not necessarily a pedophile. A pedophile has a primary sexual interest in children. I suggest that for some people, it is porn addiction rather than pedophilia, which is the cause. A person, usually a man, who has no sexual interest in children, can find himself ‘crossing the line.’”
She continues on to describe her experience, saying, “[My clients] didn’t go onto the internet with the intention of looking at child abuse images, but nevertheless ended up there. They couldn’t understand why they continued to do something that disgusted them and which they knew was illegal. I suggest that each of them became desensitized to mild porn and sensitized to extreme porn. Their higher thinking brain, compromised by addiction, could not win the battle, even when it came to viewing child abuse images. Porn sex was too powerful a need and withdrawal too difficult.”
While not every porn consumer will end up turning to illegal content, many do. This is why we raise awareness that porn is anything but harmless, personal entertainment. In too many cases, the porn consumer ends up becoming consumed by their porn.
It’s a normal conversation, right?
But what does all this data have to do with MAPs?
It should not be ignored what role the porn industry has played in normalizing pedophilia and the sexualization of children. Consider how porn featuring “teens” or even adult performers dressed in adolescent clothing has topped popular porn site charts for years. Because of porn’s widespread accessibility and cultural influence, and because of its responsibility in rewiring consumers’ brains, formerly protective barriers have eroded.
The MAP preference and lifestyle involves sexual fantasies of children, even if it doesn’t involve sexual contact for some.
It should be no surprise that fantasies of these sorts are the heartbeat of child porn videos and online experiences. Though many MAPs argue they would never act on their desires with real children, consider how pornified child fantasies make that transition eerily thin.
For many consumers who stumble across or specifically navigate to child exploitation images, videos, and online live sex demonstrations, this becomes the new normal. The dopamine-influenced brain may start to thrive on sexual fantasies of children, and in the escalating nature of addiction, consumers are at a risk for pursuing these fantasies with children outside of fantasy.
In fact, there is an overwhelming link between child porn possession and sexual molestation of children.
Even if not every person identifying as a MAP seeks out child porn, or is addicted to child porn or a looming sex offender, the child porn industry as a whole has destigmatized the leap to child sexualization enough to allow for a cultural MAP movement. MAPs would not ask for acceptance if they did not consider their child-centric behaviors/fantasies to be normal.
Porn’s power play
And make no mistake. The porn industry loves churning out those fantasies. After all, they’re making billions off of violent fantasies, aren’t they?
Banners such as “Barely Legal!” headline porn sites. To evade the law, producers use makeup and computer-generated images to convey childlikeness with of-age porn actors. As long as they can capitalize off of pedophilia, they’ll keep those vids coming.
And pro-porn lobbyists? They have directly fought against protective measures such as the ’96 Child Porn Prevention Act, and U.S. Code Title 18 Section 2257, which requires porn producers to keep stringent records on the ages of performers and allows federal agents to inspect them at any time.
And with enough of a well-worn footpath, there grows a social space for pedophiles to campaign for acceptance with a simple name change. If a $97+ billion industry proclaims that you can visualize whatever you want with children and it’s fine, people will believe them.
Passivity is not an option
So what’s the real issue here?
It isn’t the new title. Our fight is with the bully behind the scenes. The porn industry unapologetically panders the sexualization of children, stripping down defenses against adult-child relations. And for all the child victims of groomers, rapists, and molesters, that’s an utter nightmare. The Chelsea Hunters of the world can’t keep all the predators from abusive encounters that leave ruin in their wake. Kids too young to consent have the psychological trauma of assault, rape, and manipulation to deal with for the rest of their lives.
And as we’ve discussed, pedophiles who choose to “only” act out their preference online harm children too by fueling child trafficking.
Look to the industry that disseminates distorted and dangerous ideas about one of the world’s most vulnerable people group—children of every nation—and choose to take a stand. No child’s abuse should be a normalized fantasy.