Although I have come to believe that simple child pornography possession should not be a criminal offense, I am naturally still concerned about harm to children who appear in child pornography.
<A fascinating article> from WikiLeaks covers a great deal of ground. The author Mr. X has some views supporting sexual activity of minors that I don't share. But the detail with which he writes suggests that a lot of what he says is true, especially about the technical and financial aspects of the CP industry. I don't just believe everything I read, and would love to see a similarly detailed critique rebutting his points, if there is one. But to my knowledge the governments involved always say as little as possible and what they do say has a propaganda edge to it. If anyone knows of substantive arguments for opposing views about matters of fact, I would love to see it.
As Mr. X describes the industry today, there is no payment to the producers of hardcore material where children are involved in sexual activity. That is all produced by people for purposes of prestige within their own online communities, and distributors pick it up and sell it. <Another source> says that "more than 96% of child pornography victims already know the individual producing the pornography." If Mr. X is correct, then the idea that paying for child porn encourages the production of more is incorrect. It certainly doesn't seem to be a major factor. And to the extent it is a factor, it is limited to the few who actually pay for the videos.
If the makers of a hardcore child porn video are caught, they will be punished severely. Although that remedy is all too often not available, they are the ones primarily responsible. If the inability to find the true perpetrators fuels the desire to find someone else to punish, that is not good ethics and does not lead to good law.
But what sort of harm can we ascribe to a man who downloads and looks at these videos, thousands of miles away and years later? My view (familiar to readers of previous posts) is that no private thoughts that another person never finds out about can harm them.
Some CP subjects (victims? survivors? "subjects" seems simplest) are distressed knowing that people are still getting sexual pleasure out of looking at records of their abuse. I ascribe blame for this to the people who originally posted the images into the vast space of the internet. An individual download or view makes no difference if the subject never finds out about it.
And subjects hardly ever do find out about it. The exception comes from laws which provide for the notification of subjects in CP videos when they are seized. This in turn allows the subjects to bring civil suits against the person who possessed a copy. It's hard for me to think of a more wrong-headed procedure. See this article by Cortney Lollar for a lengthy discussion and scathing indictment. It may be the pedophile's responsibility that he has such video, but it is the government who has the last clear chance to avoid upsetting the subject of the video; instead they make a point of tracking her down and informing her. But of course the chance to win a large sum of money by way of civil litigation may be attractive and well worth any incremental distress. Lollar cites many reasons why this procedure is totally inappropriate. To me as a layman, the idea that one of thousands of men who view an image is responsible for harm makes no sense. The US Supreme Court recently <took a muddled middle position> on the issue.
Let's consider other videos that cause distress, say a video distributed by terrorists of their execution of a prisoner. The family of the prisoner could understandably be distraught at the idea of people watching with grim fascination. Can you imagine a law providing for monetary damages from people who have watched such a video? Or consider the popular internet category of "fail videos". People are captured in situations that are humiliating, often through no great fault of their own. They might feel acute distress that the videos are out there and very much want them to go away, but they know that is impossible. They can't even dream of suing someone who looked at a copy, even if there was video proof of him laughing uproariously at the subject's misfortune.
But somehow a pedophile's sexual interest in a child is so alien, so foreign, and so evil that his viewing and perhaps getting sexual pleasure out of a video of someone else abusing a child is cause for a monetary reward (not to mention prison time). Once again, the added element that makes this a crime when execution and fail videos are not is that pedophilia is a thought crime.
Some families may be paid for much tamer pictures of their girls in provocative clothing and poses. Some jurisdictions have argued that some of these pictures are illegal, but the spirit is more in tune with the bans on virtual child pornography. Only by an implausible stretch of the imagination is this a record of child sex abuse. These girls might grow up and feel betrayed by their parents, who knew that these pictures would be viewed in a sexual light. I say that's a discussion they can have with their parents, not a matter for the legal system. Parents are allowed to put "Romney" or "Obama" placards around their children's necks at rallies. They can similarly label them as pro-life or pro-choice on the abortion issue. Children could grow up to resent being associated with either side of those issues. Parents decide whether to let their kids appear in clothing catalogs or act in movies. A prohibition regarding "modeling sites" would rest on the idea that it is so horrible that it should be treated as child pornography, where parents' ability to decide is overruled.
Just how horrible is it to know you are giving a man an opportunity to fantasize sexually about your child? It doesn't lead to increased child sex abuse. It's the closest a pedophile can come to fulfilling his sexual desires. Apparently some parents don't mind if all it involves is daughters striking poses in special clothing -- something well within the range of what some girls love to do anyway. I believe the law is on their side -- so far.
The main subject of this post is children in real child pornography. Some is truly awful, and the producers should be punished severely. It's worth noting an emotional side to it too. From descriptions I've read, if I saw some of the videos I could well fly into a homicidal rage at the producers. But that's not the basis for formulating good policies.