Shock study: Increased availability of child porn results in lower rates of child abuse

By J. DeVoy

A new study from the Czech Republic claims that the availability of child pornography has led to lower rates of child abuse.  This result allegedly is consistent with similar observations in Denmark, Germany, Finland, Sweden and the USA.  Here’s the research’s crux:

The findings support the theory that potential sexual offenders use child pornography as a substitute for sex crimes against children. While the authors do not approve of the use of real children in the production or distribution of child pornography, they say that artificially produced materials might serve a purpose.

The inference to be drawn from this research is that legalizing and further increasing child pornography’s availability would decrease the incidence of child abuse.  The problem with these studies, and from which this one does not seem to be immune, is that there is no control for alternate or outside variables.  This research shows a correlation between availability of child porn – despite its illegality in most nations – and the decrease in child abuse, but ignores other explanations and ultimately cannot establish a causal relationship.

This leads the critical reader to a disturbing place: What content competes with child pornography?  For one, there’s the entire genre of “barely legal” porn – just do a search for “teen” and the market’s representation is readily apparent.  We don’t care or pass judgment on any kind of porn, so long as its made by consenting adults, but it seems far-fetched to think that its producers aren’t at least cognizant of the child porn market when they specialize in cheerleader themes, models in braces, and pigtails.  To their credit, they are providing a legal alternative and monetizing a market segment that can otherwise ruin lives if handled irresponsibly.

There is also the existence of virtual child pornography.  In 2002, the Free Speech Coalition won a decisive victory for expression over the DOJ in Free Speech Coalition v. Ashcroft, 535 U.S. 234 (2002).  In that case, the Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. §§ 2256(8)(B) and (D) were unconstitutionally overbroad, as their prohibitions on virtual child pornography and production or distribution of material pandered as child pornography – even if it is not – captured speech that was not unprotected within the scope of its earlier decisions in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973) (defining the test for obscenity) or New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982) (allowing states to ban child pornography sales, as it was not protected speech).  While undoubtedly a small market – and one I have no interest in personally investigating – this allowance for computer-generated images and other “virtual” child pornography displaces the demand for actual child pornography, yet may contribute to the overall decline in child abuse crimes.

Other possible reasons for the decreased incidence of child abuse despite increased child pornography availability may be more related to features of criminal law rather than the adult marketplace or First Amendment doctrines.  First, state and federal laws may have become stricter against child offenses, inhibiting child abuse despite the availability of child pornography.  20 years ago, implementing a ubiquitous data repository for every sex offender to be mapped out like many states have done under their respective Megan’s Law provisions, as the internet was not available.  But today, those databases are active and seemingly everywhere, ruining lives while providing dubious benefits to public safety.  Depending on the relevant state’s laws, viewing child pornography may carry a lesser prison sentence than actually touching a child, and be the economically efficient choice on that basis.  Because fulfilling one’s desire is going to result in penalties and sex offender registration either way, a rational pedophile is going to choose the path that costs him the least amount of his life behind bars.  Furthermore, downloading child porn is more likely to put him into a federal prison upon conviction or reaching a plea deal – a depressing place, but far preferable to many state prisons.  Another reason for this perceived decline in child abuse is simply that reporting it has gone down.  With families more broken than ever in recent history, do parents care, and do their children even tell them if they were molested?

Ignoring these covariants and assuming the relationship between child porn availability and child abuse is causative, everyone from social scientists and policy-makers to parents is left with significant moral questions: Is it preferable to end child pornography so that the actors are not abused if it comes at the expense of the broader child population?  Or is it preferable that the actors suffer so fewer random children are victimized?  Ultimately this is a moral and ethical question that could be resolved with further research, but cannot be conclusively “answered” with any empirical truth.  Ultimately, society does not tolerate child abuse.  While the age of consent is an arbitrary line, the asymmetries of power and knowledge between adults and minors, wherever the line is drawn, makes preying on the young, the weak, the naive and inexperienced, so abhorrent.  Even if a 16-year-old is capable of forming subjective consent, the line is drawn at 18 (for production purposes) because, well, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Should a causative or at least highly correlative relationship between child pornography and child abuse in fact exist, it would not be the first time such a finding was made.  In a study tracking rape data from 1980 to 2000, there was a .95 r^2 correlation between internet access and per capita incidence of rape; in the four states where internet access was highest, rapes per capita fell 27%; the four states with the least internet availability saw the per capita incidence of rape increase 53%.  Granted, this study as well was subject to the covariants I mentioned above, as the states with highest internet access (New York and California, among others) tend to be the most liberal and presumably disinclined to rape, but a .95 r^2 is damn high.  If not causative, it at least suggests that pornography was a meaningful substitute for sex among potential rapists.  Where pornography was not available, the incidence of rape increased, and porn’s inaccessibility very likely was a factor.  At the very least, it controverts the feminist claptrap that sex is about power — wrong, sugar: It’s about sex.  This consideration is orthogonal to the Czech Republic study, though, as it does not address child pornography and the important social, legal and political issues it entails.  Virtually nobody objects to consenting adults filming their sex acts; nobody can ignore the problems presented when children are involved with sexual content.

One Response to Shock study: Increased availability of child porn results in lower rates of child abuse

  1. Dee Mented says:

    I can’t imagine what is “shocking” about statistics that show societies with less repressive outlooks towards sexual materials have fewer sex crimes? This has always been historically true-statically speaking.

    The American pedophiliaphobia of the last decade brought about by the internet’s availability of bringing “in your face” into everyone’s home, causing an irrational over reaction of repression, is what should be shocking. Some of the assertions in this article are as absurd as the illogic behind the repression.

    A true pedophile-the kind that society actually does need to protect children from-is incapable of controlling an urge to act. Therefore, the belief that a prison term could effectively deter an “urge” is simply an emotional reaction to the impotence of society to be able to control or protect against people’s urges:

    “Other possible reasons for the decreased incidence of child abuse…First, state and federal laws may have become stricter against child offenses, inhibiting child abuse despite… Depending on the relevant state’s laws, viewing child pornography may carry a lesser prison sentence than actually touching a child, and be the economically efficient choice on that basis. Because fulfilling one’s desire is going to result in penalties and sex offender registration either way, a rational pedophile is going to choose the path that costs him the least amount of his life behind bars. Furthermore, downloading child porn is more likely to put him into a federal prison upon conviction or reaching a plea deal – a depressing place, but far preferable to many state prisons”

    A “rational pedophile” would be able to not act on their urges. It is the inability to prevent themselves from acting on an urge that makes someone a pedophile that is dangerous to others. The argument that punishment makes rational people of those with uncontrollable urges is quite absurd. Someone who is in control is not a danger to society and doesn’t need punishment.

    Pedophilia is not an accepted “normal” behavior in today’s society (this was not always true) and therefore those incapable of controlling their behavior should be treated, not jailed. In other cases, uncontrollable urges outside of acceptable norms are considered behavior illnesses and get treated in an appropriate facility. You can be temporarily, criminally insane by virtual of the irrationality of the act of murder you committed-and it would be recognized as an illness. However, American society states that you can only be a criminal if you are incapable of controlling yourself when the other party involved is a minor. This is simply not rational. A pedophile needs to go to a hospital for behavior disorders not a prison.

    Until at least the mid 1990s, bestiality and what is now called “child pornography” was readily available in most any Times Square adult bookstore. In most countries you only needed to be 16, in at least 1 European country you could be as young as 12 years of age to be in adult productions until, at the insistence of the United States, in order to prevent Americans from being able to bring these materials into their homes via the net, Europe and South America changed their laws to require 18 as a minimal age for adult productions. This didn’t happen till the late 90s and wasn’t complete till the early 2000s. So 18 is a somewhat recent development.

    Therefore, finding adult materials in the Czech Republic after the fall of the Soviet Union that contain persons under the age of 18 should not be in any way shocking. Eastern block nations, as is true of countries with harsh living conditions and large populations of poor with few economic opportunities, usually have much younger ages at which the average person marries than western middle class societies. Marrying at 16 was not uncommon in Eastern Europe or most poor societies until recent times. It was simply a reflection of reality of the difficulties that survival required in those societies.

    In a society where commonly 16 year olds are making babies and running households the attitude toward a 25 year old having sex with a 15 year old, is a bit different than present day American society. Having naked pictures of 15 year olds in those societies may have made more sense than the MILFs that are popular today in the states. It’s a likely explanation as to why in the Czech republic there was/is so called “child porn” available. It is likely to be teens and not what most people would picture-grown men fucking 6 year olds.

    Society creates an artificial shell of rules that each member is expected to live in. Much, if not most of what makes up that shell is contrary to man’s nature. The tighter the shell, the more difficult it is to live in. Looser shells leave room for meeting man’s basal needs. The more needs of man that can be met within that shell, the fewer people there are observed breaking out of the shell. The studies discussed and the Diamond, Jozifkova, Weiss study about the Czech Republic describes, societies with looser or that loosened their shells. Why would anyone expect to find anything but fewer broken shells?

    Logically there is a direct correlation in statistics of how required repression of natural human behavior to comply with social norms can not be repressed by some members of society. The less repression society requires, the fewer the number of people that act outside of the norms.

    When you don’t apply American standards to non American societies, when you don’t have an attitude that the American way is the right way-then other parts of the world make perfect sense.

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