A few weeks ago, I was approached by the TED team to weigh in on a recent TEDx talk titled “Why our perception of pedophilia has to change.” After giving the talk, the speaker received death threats and asked TEDx to remove it from their YouTube channel.

In explaining their decision to do so, TEDx noted the threats and also that they felt that the talk did not cite current research about pedophilia. TEDx further noted that the talk left many to believe that the speaker was promoting the abuse of children.

I concur that the speaker makes some statements not fully supported by the research. We do not yet know what causes some people to have a sexual attraction to children. There is as yet no intervention that has been shown to keep “98%” of patients from offending. Yet she does not in any way promote the abuse of children. What she promotes is a more thoughtful, objective understanding of people who may pose a risk to children and how to effectively address that risk and prevent the sexual abuse of children.   

Child sexual abuse is a topic that can evoke strong emotions. When professionals (or, in this case, students) speak objectively about individuals with sexual interest in children, it can sound like we are taking an “offender defender” stance. We are not. When we talk as if people with sexual interest in children are, in fact, people and not predators or monsters, some listeners react with anger. This is unfortunate because, as the speaker rightly notes, open and honest conversations about child sexual abuse are necessary if we are to move the field toward the development of truly effective prevention interventions. 

In my opinion, the speaker took some liberties with the available research. She is a student and students make this type of mistake. But the real issue is that she is promoting a very different view of people with sexual interest in children – a view that those with an unwanted attraction to children are people who need and want help to not offend. She should be applauded for making this stance public.

Elizabeth J. Letourneau, PhD
Director, Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse