Start Omhoog

Social workers learn from pedophiles

Richard Kramer, March 22, 2008

This past Thursday, B4U-Act held its one-day workshop entitled "Beyond  Fear and Mistrust: Toward Open Communication between Mental Health  Professionals and Minor-Attracted People" in Westminster, Maryland. 

The workshop was planned by Mike Melsheimer and myself and two social  workers. It was highly interactive, with four mental health professionals and four BLs [BoyLovers] taking leadership roles as presenters or discussion leaders.

Attendance was by invitation only and the number was intentionally kept small to encourage interaction and honesty. There was a total of 19 participants. Those who were social workers received continuing education units through Baltimore Mental Health Systems. The morning began with opening remarks by a board member of B4U-Act who  is a social worker. He spoke about the goals of the workshop: 

to understand the barriers to communication between minor-attracted people  and mental health professionals, 
to promote mutual empathy and understanding, and 
to change the way minor-attracted people and mental health professionals interact. 

He explained how he became convinced of the importance of this work as an activist for peace and non-discrimination and as a result of getting to know  Mike as a friend. Then a psycho-dramatist led Mike and the social worker in the enactment  of a mental health professional and a minor-attracted person meeting for  the first time. Attendees were asked to describe what they thought the  each actor might be thinking or feeling during this meeting. 

The discussion brought out preconceptions, fears, and other factors that may  act as barriers to communication. Quite a bit of time was spent discussing the implications of mandatory reporting laws. Then I gave a short presentation on facts and myths regarding attraction  to minors. The presentation made the following points: 

most people may have some feelings of attraction to minors, 
estimates are that 0.5% to 7% of all males are preferentially attracted to minors, 
the cause is unknown (as is the cause of attraction to adults), 
attraction to children becomes apparent at puberty, and 
attempts to change these attractions are as ineffective as they were with gays. 

The presentation used published research to refute the myth that all or most  minor-attracted people are child molesters, use violence or deceit, have  personality disorders, or "groom" children for sex. After a break, the psycho-dramatist led a social worker from Baltimore  Mental Health Systems and Spencer Kaplan, a college student and BL, in  the enactment of a therapy session where a minor-attracted person seeks  help in finding a supportive environment where he can be himself. 

Discussion addressed the awkwardness and fears felt by a minor-attracted  person when he discloses his sexuality, the need for safe avenues for  addressing concerns, the fact that minor-attracted people don't want to  hide, and the therapist's concerns about how to respond in an ethical  and helpful way. 

We talked about how barriers can be broken down by both  parties getting to know each other and understanding each others'  humanity. We also discussed the therapist's conflict between wanting to  know whether the client has interacted sexually with a minor in order to  help the client, and not wanting to know since she would have to report it.

After lunch, we showed attendees a presentation I had put together on  the stereotyped and often hateful messages the media, politicians, and  sometimes professionals give the public about minor-attracted people,  the abusive treatment programs we are sometimes placed in, and quotes  from minor-attracted adolescents and young adults as they try to deal  with the rejection and hatred.


A social worker then gave a presentation on what was missing from these messages: 

stories of minor-attracted people who contribute to their communities,  and 
opportunities for minor-attracted people to participate in the  development of policies, laws, and programs that affect them. 

He advocated mental health services that focus on self-worth, dignity, and  a meaningful life. His presentation also 

listed the venues in which mental health professionals give messages about minor-attracted people (e.g., in legal and legislative testimony), and 
asked attendees to think about 
what kinds of messages they should be giving and
what kind of language they should be using: "predators" and "monsters" vs. contributing members of the community

This led into a work session where participants brainstormed ideas for  future work. It was decided that B4U-Act would plan another workshop for  late summer or fall of 2008 and that each person attending Thursday's  workshop should invite at least one colleague to attend it. 

In addition, it was suggested that a listserv be started for continued discussion,  and that additional mental health professionals and minor-attracted  people be invited to join. 

Other ideas included 

holding additional workshops in different parts of Maryland, 
writing articles for publication in newsletters and professional journals,
involving university professors who educate practitioners, 
starting an educational or anti-stigma/anti-hate campaign, and 
giving presentations at training programs and conferences.

The opinions and openness of the attendees varied from person to person,  but it was clear that many had their preconceptions challenged and came  to see minor-attracted as human beings who can live responsibly without  external control and whose insights have value. Most seemed to respect  what minor-attracted people were saying and were open to learning from  us. 

Some new friendships and partnerships were forged. 

One social worker offered to work with me to write a paper for possible publication, 
another suggested we present at a training session for people who work  with juvenile sex offenders, and 
a psychologist asked if he could use my Power Point presentation on facts and myths about minor-attracted people.

Probably the most notable thing about the workshop was that  minor-attracted people and mental health professionals were working  together as equals, without the minor-attracted people being required to  label themselves or their sexuality as sick or identify themselves as  potential offenders who need to be controlled.

Start Omhoog