NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — An assistant professor at Old Dominion University is making waves in the community by calling for change in the way we refer to those who are sexually attracted to children.

The teacher’s goal is to help people with an attraction to children seek the help that they need and then identify ways to help children. By understanding more about the group of people, the professor says we can better protect children.

The controversy began last week. Dr. Allyn Walker, who is an assistant professor in the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at ODU, did an interview with a group that works to end child sexual abuse.

In the interview, Walker distinguishes between people who are attracted to children and act on that attraction, and those who are attracted to children and do not act on that attraction.

Walker calls those who don’t act “MAPs” or “minor-attracted persons.” The professor says it doesn’t indicate anything about the morality of the attraction, but differentiates these people from those who sexually abuse children, which Walker says is always wrong.

Betty Wade Coyle, who is the executive director emeritus of Champions for Children: Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads, says it’s important to distinguish between thoughts and actions.

“I think that [the professor] states very clearly that pedophilia, or, I think one of the issues is the use of that word, that acting on your thoughts of sexual molestation of children is wrong. Absolutely. And that’s a good, bright line to draw,” said Coyle.

She believes this is a conversation worth having, especially if it encourages people to get help.

“Treatment and therapy are really important for these people because if they don’t get it, they may really end up acting on these desires,” Coyle said.

ODU issued the following statement:

An academic community plays a valuable role in the quest for knowledge. A vital part of this is being willing to consider scientific and other empirical data that may involve controversial issues and perspectives. Following a recent interview that gained national attention, Dr. Allyn Walker has released the following statement.

“I want to be clear: child sexual abuse is an inexcusable crime. As an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, the goal of my research is to prevent crime. My work is informed by my past experience and advocacy as a social worker counseling victims. I embarked on this research in hopes of gaining understanding of a group that, previously, has not been studied in order to identify ways to protect children.”

Following recent social media activity and direct outreach to the institution, it is important to share that Old Dominion, as a caring and inclusive community, does not endorse or promote crimes against children or any form of criminal activity.

A petition calling for Walker’s removal is circulating online. This is what the description says:

Old Dominion University students who support this petition are in agreement that Dr. Allyn Walker’s, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at ODU, views about minor attraction are unacceptable and we want them removed from ODU staff. Dr. Walker uses the term “MAP”, which is an umbrella term for minor attracted persons. We want to be clear that this is pedophilia and should not be considered a sexual preference. Being that they teach in the sociology and criminal justice department makes us worried their views will effect the next generation in a negative way. 

10 On Your Side reached out to Walker for comment, but did not get a response at the time of publication.