Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty tells the story
Old Dominion University put a professor who studies pedophilia on administrative leave this week …. “Reactions to Dr. Walker’s research and book have led to concerns for their safety and that of the campus,” the university said in a statement announcing that Allyn Walker is on leave. Further, Dr. Walker’s controversial research has caused disruption on campus and in the community and interfered with the institution’s mission to teach and learn.
Walker, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, was recently interviewed by the Prostasia Foundation about their book,The Long Dark Shadow of Minor Attracted People and their Pursuit Of Dignity. This foundation is described as “child protection organization” that combines an evidence-based approach for child sexual abuse prevention and its commitment to human right’s and sex positivity. Walker was asked questions regarding their research about “non-offenders”, or adult sexually attracted minors, but who don’t act.
In the interview, Walker advocated calling those who are attracted to minors “MAPs,” or “minor-attracted people,” because that is a term that non-offender advocacy and support groups prefer over “pedophile” or other terms.
Walker explained to Prostasia that many people assume that a “pedophile” means someone who is a sexual offender.
Walker also recommended affirming therapies, as opposed to conversion therapies, for people who need help navigating their attractions, and made a clear moral distinction between those who are attracted to children and those who act on those impulses. They said that the latter can cause severe harm to children while the former is not.
Walker stated that “having an attraction to minors as long as they don’t act on it doesn’t necessarily mean the person who has them is doing anything wrong.” My perspective is that attraction can be morally or importinal to any person, since no one has control over who they are attracted to. The attraction is not what we choose to attract, but how we react to this attraction.
Walker stated that help is not always readily available for people who are in need.
This interview was posted on YouTube last week and quickly became controversial both campus-wide as well as off. Several petitions call on Old Dominion to “release” or otherwise act against Walker, suggesting that they are a pedophilia apologist and that their comments make the campus less safe….
The university statement about Walker quotes President Brian O. Hemphill as saying, “I want to state in the strongest terms possible that child sexual abuse is morally wrong and has no place in our society. It is difficult times for our university but I feel confident that we will all come together to move forward as Monarch families.
In a separate statement, Hemphill said, “Many individuals have shared with me the view that the phrase ‘minor-attracted people’ is inappropriate and should not be utilized as a euphemism for behavior that is illegal, morally unacceptable and profoundly damaging. It’s important to be clear about what pedophilia is. “As a father, this story and the potential implications for my children as well as future generations is disturbing to me.”
Hemphill said, “Ideally we could debate the most difficult issues without interruption or threats to violence. But that is not today’s world.” Recent threats have been made to our campus, causing disruptions that are unacceptable.
Hemphill also addressed academic freedom by stating that academic freedom is about “sensitive topics” and “the expression of controversial or new views.” Old Dominion University is committed to providing an environment where faculty are able and willing to engage in rigorous research. However, freedom comes with the responsibility to communicate and write clearly and accurately, especially on subjects that have caused so much pain.
He said, “I’m confident that the Monarch family will rise up to the occasion during our ongoing campus dialogue and I’m equally confident that there is a common starting place for the discussion: rejecting any form of child sexual abuse.” …
Adam B. Steinbaugh is a Program Director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He stated that FIRE was “concerned about the deteriorating ODU situation.”
“We should be concerned whenever protected expression—and Professor Walker’s speech falls well within the protection of the First Amendment and academic freedom—is met with threats of violence, regardless of viewpoint. We should also be concerned when universities threaten or demonstrate against speakers.
Steinbaugh stated that credible threats to violence should be dealt with in the face of “unpopular or controversial speech.” ODU’s response to the former is to invoke a classic “helller’s veto.”
Steinbaugh asked ODU to “transparently and immediately explain why it removed a professor form the classroom and why no other more drastic measures were taken.”
Another appropriate response to offensive speech is “more speech,” not less, Steinbaugh said, adding that FIRE is also concerned by some student social media reports that messages written on campus in chalk calling for Walker to be fired have been removed.
Beyond academic freedom hawks, some academics who study sexuality have defended Walker’s views as being well within the realm of the disciplines….
You can read the entire Inside Higher Ed piece if interested. Steinbaugh has the right view. My opinion is that studying people who attract minors to them is academic freedom protected. It’s important to figure out how to stop these urges from manifesting themselves. There are likely to be many million of these people. We need to learn about them, and what helps them resist their urges.
Many adults are able to resist their sexual instincts. Even though they might choose multiple sexual partners or even fantasize about them, many adults remain loyal to their spouses. Adults who feel attracted to someone they don’t want to be sexually involved with resist these temptations. Many monks, priests, and nuns have normal sexual relationships with others. They believe abstinence is part of their religious call.
Maybe this is possible for those adults who love children. I sure hope it is. Perhaps it’s not. It is possible to solve this problem if you are willing to study the matter seriously, and in ways that penalize only people who act on their attraction. And while I understand why some bristle at euphemisms such as “minor-attracted persons,” I think Prof. Walker’s has at least a plausible point that “pedophile” is often used to refer to child molesters and not just to people who experience an unacted-upon attraction—and that a different term is useful to stress the attraction rather than the action.
It is important to note, however that academic freedom principles also protect advocacy for legalizing this sex. However, I’ve seen that Prof. Walker doesn’t advocate for this.