USA Today was lambasted this week for publishing an article framing pedophilia as "misunderstood." Swift backlash caused the publication to delete tweets promoting the article, which was originally titled "What the public keeps getting wrong about pedophilia," before being edited to "The complicated research behind pedophilia."
"Pedophilia is viewed as among the most horrifying social ills. But scientists who study the sexual disorder say it is also among the most misunderstood," the article begins.
"When most of the public thinks of pedophilia, they assume it's synonymous with child sexual abuse, a pervasive social problem that has exploded to crisis levels online," USA Today national correspondent Alia E. Dastagir wrote. "Researchers who study pedophilia say the term describes an attraction, not an action, and using it interchangeably with 'abuse' fuels misperceptions."
The article cites psychologist Anna Salter, who argues, "There are the people who are sexually attracted to children ... (and then) there are some people who molest kids who are not pedophiles. They molest kids because of anger. They molest kids because they're scared of adult women. They molest kids to get revenge, but they don't actually have an age preference for prepubescent children."
The article quotes James Cantor – a clinical psychologist, sex researcher, and former editor-in-chief of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. In 2018, Cantor advocated for pedophilia to be labeled as a sexual preference and be included in the LGBTQ+ collective.
"Speaking as a gay men [sic], I believe we SHOULD include the P. To do otherwise is to betray the principles that give us our rights," Cantor wrote on Twitter.
The article also cites Allyn Walke, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University. Walker was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 16 after referring to pedophiles as "minor-attracted people" or "MAPs."
On the topic of "minor-attracted people," Walker claimed, "There is no morality or immorality attached to attraction to anyone because no one can control who they're attracted to at all. In other words, it's not who we're attracted to that's either OK or not OK. It's our behaviors and responding to that attraction that are either OK or not OK."
Walker's bio states the assistant professor is a "white, queer, nonbinary trans person" with pronouns of "they/them."
Walker – who will leave Old Dominion University in May because of the controversy – said in a resignation statement: "My scholarship aims to prevent child sexual abuse. That research was mischaracterized by some in the media and online, partly on the basis of my trans identity."
The article states, "Allyn Walker argued destigmatizing the attraction would allow more people to seek help and ultimately prevent child sexual abuse. There is growing support in the field for Walker's point of view."
USA Today shared the article on Twitter with the caption: "We think we know what a pedophile is. There’s a lot we’re misunderstanding.”
“When most of the public thinks of pedophilia, they assume it’s synonymous with child sexual abuse," the since-deleted tweet posted on the USA Today Life Twitter account. "A pedophile is an adult who is sexually attracted to children, but not all pedophiles abuse kids, and some people who sexually abuse kids are not pedophiles."
USA Today deleted the entire Twitter thread.
"A previous thread did not include all information and the story it was written about is behind a paywall," the newspaper said in a later tweet. "We made the decision to delete the thread. The initial thread lacked the context that was within the story and we made the decision the pull down the entire thread."
The USA Today article was bashed by critics who claimed the newspaper was attempting to "normalize pedophilia."
NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck: "Ah, yes. Here we go with the liberal media celebrating and trying to normalize pedophilia. That's right, folks. @USAToday, trying to destigmatize...grown adults having sex with little kids."
Donald Trump Jr.: "USA TODAY TRIES TO 'UNDERSTAND' PEDOPHILES!!! To me (and probably anyone who has been watching) this is nothing more than the first step of trying to normalize this kind of behavior."
Former congressional candidate Barrington Martin II: "So you’re deciding to double down on being pedophile sympathizers?"
Second Amendment Foundation editor Lee Williams: "Hey, @USATODAY -- you can't normalize and destigmatize pedophilia in context. It's a nonstarter. You should pull down the entire story, not just the Twitter thread."
Radio host Dana Loesch: "After deleting their tweet defending child predation, @USATODAY changed the headline on their story."