Sunday, July 20, 2014

Virtual child pornography as thought crime

First, set aside real child pornography. There is no question that engaging a child in sexual activity is wrong. Filming it and distributing it makes is worse. People who are caught doing this face stiff prison terms, which is as it should be. I have never seen any, but I gather some of it is revolting. Some of the worst is produced within families by fathers abusing their own daughters and traded within communities of such criminals. I don't want to see any such material, and the idea of it makes me sick to my stomach. Children were harmed in its production.

However, there is a lot of material that would fit under the heading of "virtual child pornography" -- material that is intended to be arousing to pedophiles but does not involve any real children in its production at all.

In many countries production and possession of this material is against the law. The US courts have <upheld these laws> on the rationale that viewing such material might arouse pedophiles and lead them to abuse children.

In <a previous post> I cited evidence that even real child pornography does not lead to increased crimes against children and may even lessen them. However, those supporting these laws cite other weak evidence supporting their view and so far that prevails.

Even if viewing this material did raise child sex abuse slightly, I want to look at how truly extraordinary these laws are for a free country.

Some people complain that violent video games or movies cause some people to do violent things. Possibly, if they had their way, the production of such games or movies might be curtailed. But can you even imagine locking someone in prison for the crime of having a copy of such a game or movie?

It is perfectly legal to produce adult pornography glorifying rape. If in some future such videos were banned, can you imagine it being a felony to have a smuggled copy in your possession?

Virtual child pornography doesn't convey any knowledge to help a pedophile commit a crime. For comparison, maybe it's illegal to have classified documents on how to build weapons of mass destruction -- I really don't know. It isn't illegal to produce (let alone possess) material telling you how to hack sites on the internet, make crystal meth, set up Ponzi schemes, or instigate any number of other crimes -- we are guaranteed freedom of speech to learn about how to break laws.

The danger is in how looking at the material might make you feel, and this is somehow sufficient to justifying making possession of a copy into a serious crime.

In the US, the First Amendment protects the written word strongly, and so far it is not illegal to possess fictional written accounts of sexual activity with children, <though some have tried to prosecute authors>. But elsewhere in the English-speaking world, Canada, Australia and now Britain consider the possession of such fictional written material a serious crime.

It is illegal in the US to possess pornography involving actors or actresses who appear to be underage, even if they are not. Pictures of a clothed 17-year-old that emphasize the genital regions are also illegal -- or at least no one could assure you they are legal. Although there have been few prosecutions, it is far from clear that the cartoon depictions of child sex in shotacon and lolicon are legal.

You can watch violent movies even if it might make you act violently. You can look at pictures of expensive products even if it might make you steal them. You can look at adult rape video even if it might make you more likely to rape. You can look at movies glorifying drug use even if it might make you use drugs.

In today's society, possession of stuff you just look at is never outlawed just because it might possibly induce a person to commit a crime -- unless the person in question is a pedophile. What's going on here? I can think of only one explanation. Fundamentally, the public and the courts view pedophilia as a thought crime. They can't literally detect thoughts, but there is a strong impetus to prosecute a person if there is material evidence suggesting they have these thoughts.

I am not alone in finding this profoundly unjust. <The venerable ACLU agrees> that production and possession of virtual child pornography should be legal.

The technology to create realistic animations has of course progressed dramatically in recent years. I am not aware of the existence of high-quality animated virtual child pornography, which might be hard to distinguish from the real thing. (Perhaps since they are both illegal, real CP is preferred because it's easier to produce.) I get uneasy thinking about some of what I might see if it became legal. Some of it might make me sick. Many celibate pedophiles would think it was immoral and not want to see it. But I do not think its possession or even production should be illegal. If you do, is there some rationale that doesn't boil down to supporting the existence of a thought crime?


  1. In the Netherlands, virtual child pornography, even unrealistic, is forbidden. The motivation behind that is that it can still be used to groom children. I understand the reasoning, but I'm not sure if I agree with it. What do you think about this?

    Not Humbert, a Dutch celibate pedophile

  2. I had forgotten that argument when writing the post -- though I think it is quite forgettable. Children are plenty smart to get any message from a video of adults doing something sexual -- there doesn't have to be a kid. Also, we ban very few things just because they might be misused. The real impetus to the ban is that it supports the thought crime of adults thinking sexually about children, and use in grooming is a lame excuse.

  3. I think it was George Carlin who mused that child abuse is the only crime it's illegal to witness, while every other crime gets made into hit TV shows. It is a strange reaction to any particular crime, when so many others are so excessively glorified. I think given the abilities of CGI, virtual child pornography can enter a whole new thing (I've seen some cgi hentai on mainstream porn sites, and hentai is known for its girls looking somewhat on the "young" side, and I admit I've used this in the past and found it scratches that itch quite ably.) As you say, different countries don't even allow such images, which to me makes no sense, as nobody is actually harmed in the making (though I Guess the voice actors may well not be entirely comfortable.)

    I found one video years ago on Limewire, one of the videos that helped me realise I was a paedophile. I was maybe 14 when I found it. I'm now 29 and a few weeks ago I found it referred to on the site 9gag in a thread about young-looking porn actresses. It turns out this particular video, which I thought featured two young girls, starred girls in their 20s, they only looked young! I think it was filmed in Denmark, in the 70s or 80s. But that would be illegal in America because they look younger than they are? It wasn't marketed as child porn, simply in the Teens category like so many other videos on sites like xvideos. The law is confusing and seems so inconsistant when it comes to paedophilia and perception of age. It makes me afraid even to look for erotic literature which was my main go-to in case the cookies from google get me in trouble, even though, again, nobody is hurt.

    It feels like repression is my only option, but the pressure builds in need of a suitable outlet. Thankfully I'm not exclusively into young teens and prepubescent girls, and legal 18+ porn still works, but other times it's not enough and I need to resort to writing my own scenes to satisfy that craving. It's such a dangerous game to be stuck playing, I'm terrified it'll backfire one day even though I'm not hurting anybody or wanting anybody to get hurt for my gratification a la child pornography.

  4. Thanks for the comment. One thing I would note is that if you are in the USA, it is extremely rare for even those who post written erotic material to be prosecuted, and I believe unheard of for anyone to be prosecuted just for possessing copies. Even in countries where it is illegal to post (Canada, Australia, maybe the UK) I've not heard of people being prosecuted if they ONLY have written stories.