Now that safe spaces and universal acceptance have become the norm, it is fashionable to tolerate all kinds of proclivities and inclinations in the name of diversity. But until recently, we respected the nebulous line that faintly dissects the parameters of what we consider to be good and evil. Not so today, where there is a growing campaign to destigmatise everything, even if doing so requires us to unpick the moral fabric of our society.
How else are we to explain the two most disturbing causes trumpeted by modern progressives: of paedophilia and of polygamy? To some extent, they can’t be compared. Polygamy remains legal in a number of countries — from South Africa and Malaysia to Iran and Morocco. Paedophilia, on the other hand, has long been considered beyond the pale, and is effectively banned across the world. Most countries have an age of consent — and those that don’t, such as Sudan and Afghanistan, require a couple to be married before sex is legally allowed.
And yet, in America of all places, activists are now campaigning for the destigmatisation of paedophilic desires. To remain horrified is bigoted; we need to feel empathy for the “suffering” that paedophiles face. What makes this movement even more disturbing is that its advocates are not confined to some progressive fringe: even those whose jobs it is to end child sexual abuse now support it.
Only last week, Elizabeth Letourneau, Director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at John Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, tweeted: “Many adults with sexual attraction to children want help to control it, hate the feeling, don’t want to act on it. Helping them prevents #childsexualabuse. Stigmatizing the conversation puts kids at risk. #prevention.”
She was responding to the debate sparked at Old Dominion University earlier this month, after word spread around campus that one of its professors, Allyn Walker, had released a book over the summer titled A Long, Dark Shadow: Minor-Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity. The book, according to its blurb, “offers a crucial account of the lived experiences of this hidden population”. In reality, all it offers is a disconcerting defence of paedophilia.
Walker, whose preferred pronouns are they/them, is concerned for the well-being of ‘minor-attracted people’ or MAPs, the new preferred term for individuals attracted to children. When asked about the use of MAPs in a recent interview, Walker responded: “I think it is important to use terminology for groups that members of that group want others to use for them. It is less stigmatising than other words like paedophile.” In other words: let’s not hurt the paedophiles’ feelings.
Throughout the interview, Walker deploys terms taken straight from the social justice playbook — as if paedophilia were just another sexual preference in need of its own Pride. Activists talk of “lowering stigma”; of a minority that is “at-risk” and “universally maligned”. As far back as 2017, in a PhD thesis titled Understanding Resilience Strategies among Minor-Attracted Individuals, Walker notes how “child pornography as a harm reduction technique has previously been theorised to be a potential strategy for MAPs to maintain abstinence from sexual contact with children”.
Although A Long, Dark Shadow was published in June, Old Dominion did not place Walker on leave until November 16th, after students began to protest. A petition was launched, making clear that paedophilia “should not be considered a sexual preference” and Walker should be fired. It has received more than 14,000 signatures.
Yet despite such overwhelming condemnation from the student body, the university’s statement regarding the situation was short, vague, and inadequately critical of Walker’s views. For Walker, however, the university’s action reflected the “gravity of the threats to me and other people on campus”. Walker’s critics’ disapproval was part of a “coordinated effort” against the LGBTQ community and academic freedom.
I am a firm defender of academic freedom. And I believe the problem of paedophilia needs to be studied. But that does not mean that we can ignore the danger destigmatising paedophilia poses to children. We should not be normalising the idea that it is tolerable to fantasise about sex with children. A university and a university press should not be pushing this kind of harmful material.
And yet this dangerous tendency to tolerate every and any proclivity, no matter how wicked, has become widespread: along with paedophilia, polygamy — a practice which should have ended centuries ago — is making a comeback as an acceptable form of relationship. Last year, Utah enacted Senate Bill 102, which lowers the penalty for polygamy from a felony to an offence on par with a traffic summons, as long as the new spouse consents to the marriage. Even pop culture is embracing the trend. Just this week, millennial influencer Lauryn Bosstick posted her thoughts on polygamy to her 1 million Instagram followers: “i am in to freedom of choice. i don’t waste my energy worried about what people’s relationship choices are – everyone’s different. if not hurting anyone & it works for you, go for it.”
But polygamy is harmful — to women, in particular, but also to society in general. Earlier this year, I interviewed Dr Dan Seligson on my podcast about its harms and dangers. He explained that polygamy actually breeds poverty in societies. It turns the human female into a commodity, destroys trust in society, and produces unhappiness in families. Growing up in Somalia, I have seen this all first-hand: my father had four wives. Not one of them was happy; not one of them thought their union was empowering.
And yet proponents of polygamy in the US today model their movement on the successful (and legitimate) campaign for same-sex marriage, pretending it is a similar form of liberation. Two practising polygamists summed up this tactic in a peculiarly supportive recent New Yorker profile: “I wish people would be as accepting with us as we try to be of everyone else.”
Here is where the slippery slope becomes a terrifying cliff face. Ingeniously, ‘minor-attracted people’ and polygamists are seeking the protection of the progressive umbrella. They want recognition as ‘maligned’ minorities who have been marginalised and overlooked by society. They want the freedom to love whomever they want, regardless of a person’s age or number of other partners. And it is working. The social justice movement is heeding their calls.
At the core of what we are seeing today is an assault on Western civilisation. In the West, we have a general moral framework. We share a broad understanding of right and wrong. But our norms and values are under attack. We have abdicated our responsibility to make moral judgements — and evil has started to seep in.
There will be some who claim that I am overreacting; that those arguing in favour of destigmatising paedophilia and polygamy are small groups who live in the dark corners of Twitter and will never have any real staying power. But the first steps have been taken. The path ahead is clear. As activists like Allyn Walker insinuate themselves into the social justice fold, the ranks of their warped campaigns will swell.
I have been a vocal advocate for women, children, homosexuals, apostates, and religious minorities for the past two decades. I believe in giving the voiceless a voice. I have also been a free-speech fundamentalist. But there must be a red line. No matter the context, there will never be anything progressive about paedophilia or polygamy.