Anyone who looks at child pornography is going to make people uneasy, to say the least. It engenders in most people anger and disgust, which has in turn led to harsh penalties for simply possessing any such material. But as I have <written before>, men who just look at it -- never creating, distributing, buying or even commenting -- are an interesting case. The harm they do is hard to detect.
What do we expect ordinary men to do who have a strong sex drive? Try to fulfill it with a willing partner is the first choice. But if they cannot find one, we expect them to masturbate while looking at pornography. What do we expect a pedophile to do -- a man who knows he cannot possibly find a truly consenting partner? Much of society assumes he will just molest a child. Barbra Streisand's controversial remarks suggest <that was her assumption>. Yet we know that a great many of us pedophiles do. Some of us strive hard not to fantasize at all. Others make a strict point of fantasizing only to freely offered, innocent images. But others look at pornography, just like ordinary men -- except in their case this is highly illegal. A child was harmed when it was made, but it is very difficult to trace any direct harm to a man who is all alone in his bedroom bringing up a video made ten years before and viewed thousands of times.
A pedophile who looks at child porn is nowhere near as bad as a hands-on child molester, but he is also not a "virtuous pedophiles" poster child. His viewing is highly disrespectful to the children involved, and he is a part (if a very small part) of victims feeling upset knowing their images are being used again and again for erotic purposes.
With this background in mind, I'm always on the lookout for ordinary guys who get in trouble expressing their sex drive in inappropriate ways without being out-and-out rapists.
So we have this <recent story>, titled "Serial Sex Offenders Are a Big Problem on Subways. Should They Be Banned for Life?"
Authorities in New York are frustrated because there are men who "grope, grind, molest or indecently expose themselves" on subways, and repeat the crime over and over again. Since the crime is only a misdemeanor, they rarely serve significant prison time.
The women and girls who are the victims of these crimes are suffering a direct sexual assault. There are people who would like to punish the men more harshly, but so far the penalties are only modest. Why the lenient treatment? Some people seem to feel that these subway offenses just aren't that serious. They are expressions of a sex drive -- unacceptable expressions, but the motive of the men involved is not mysterious. On the other hand, the behavior is common. Authorities reasonably fear that if they gave out significant prison terms for such crimes, the prisons would soon fill up and overflow.
These crimes are against adult women, and on balance society has so far reluctantly concluded there are just too many offenders to punish them harshly. It makes total sense that when such crimes are committed against children instead of adults, harsh punishment is appropriate. But what about when the crime is against not children but just the images of children? At present, harsh punishment is still seen to be appropriate. We pedophiles do not choose who we are attracted to, but we do have control over what we do about it. In the case of viewing child porn, they have made a choice that most people find uncomfortable -- but it is a choice not to harm real flesh-and-blood children.
I don't have a strong opinion about how harsh a sentence New York should hand down to its subway sex offenders. My concern is the relative penalties given for CP viewing as compared to groping, grinding, molesting and indecent exposure. The harm from the first is indirect and elusive, while each instance of the second upsets an actual woman directly, right as it happens. Remember too that some of those females on the subway are themselves minors. Some who developed early are probably 10 or 11 years old.
Aside from the flimsy idea of each viewing of CP actually harming the original victim all over again, the main justification offered for harsh CP penalties has been that its viewing is a stand-in crime for harder-to-prove hands-on sexual abuse. Recent studies all show that this is nonsense -- a great many men who view child porn never molest children.
CP viewing is not a good thing to do. But it is not just to punish CP viewers who hurt no one more harshly than men who hurt real women with their groping, grinding, molesting, and indecently exposing themselves.