Police Scotland came in for sharp criticism early this year when it came to light that they had referred to adults who have committed child sexual offences as “minor-attracted people”, or MAPs in Chief Constable Iain Livingstone's annual year-end report

The use of the term “minor-attracted people”, or MAPs by Police Scotland is a consequence of there being one of 21 organisations who are involved in an EU funded project called '2PS - Prevent & Protect Through Support' (“the Project”), which has been granted €2.4million in EU funding over three years and commenced work in October 2022. To be clear, Police Scotland are not receiving any of the EU funding and their involvement in this Project arises in the context of law enforcement organisations working together on international projects regardless of EU membership.

While it is clear that the Project condemns all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, and says that there are no excuses that justify behaviours and actions that harm or victimise children, it goes on to say, that in order to reduce the number of abused children and those at risk of exploitation we need to consider what supports and guidance can be provided for people with a sexual interest in children to prevent them from abusing children in the first place.

The Project states that it is offering a paradigm shift in the approach to tackling child sexual abuse and exploitation across Europe and that by addressing the support, needs of people with a sexual interest in children, sharing the best practices for guidance, therapy and treatment methods, combined with new training and awareness for frontline support workers and Local Education Authorities, the Project can begin to move preventive actions to the forefront, offering alternative courses of action to existing offenders and individuals at risk of offending, including people with a sexual interest in children.

Chief Constable Livingstone defended the use of term “minor-attracted people”, or MAPs by Police Scotland, saying that it was meant to “… develop understanding and approach to avoid the victimisation of children by engaging Minor-Attracted People (MAPs) and providing them with the necessary support, treatment and guidance to help prevent criminal activities.” He went on to say that using terms such as paedophile, which stigmatise child sexual offenders make it less likely that these offenders will reach out for help, which is against the interests of the community and that if we can provide these offenders with the support services and guidance, which is contemplated in the work of the Project, this will ultimately benefit society by reducing the likelihood that these people will reoffend.

He went on to say that the use of the term ‘minor-attracted people’, or MAPs has been “taken out of context”, and that he and the others who have signed up to this Project are simply trying to lower the incidence of child sexual abuse and that one of the ways that this can be achieved is to support rather than stigmatise offenders.

Despite this, at the first meeting of the Project in September 2022 officers from Police Scotland successfully lobbied for the term “minor-attracted people”, or MAP to be removed from recognised terminology used by more than 20 European partners saying that “Our view was that the term was entirely unacceptable in describing someone either involved in sexual offending against children or who has indecent thoughts towards them.”

Maggie Mellon, an independent social work consultant, said the term “minor-attracted people”, or MAP risked "the danger of normalising and therefore perhaps decriminalising a serious offence" and she went on to say that "There should be diagnostic and treatment options for those who present a risk to children but the police are not a therapeutic service - they should be devoting their resources to closing down porn sites that feature children and abuse of women and upping their detection and conviction rates for those promoting child abuse."

The main popular criticism of referring to child sex offenders as ‘minor-attracted people’, or MAPS’s is that it may diminish the seriousness of their offending conduct, and to humanise them in a way that some feel they don’t deserve.

Police Scotland, like many others who are involved in this area of work, will once again be reminded, how crucial the correct use of language is, when it comes to the highly sensitive issue of child sexual abuse.