Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Child sex abuse -- recorded or not

We care a lot more about what we see than what we don't.

Tsunamis and earthquakes are big news stories and call forth our sympathy. Everyday suffering is not newsworthy and never comes to our attention, even if it is actually more serious. People get upset about multiple-victim shootings, but when you look at the statistics, the great majority of the victims of gun violence die one person at a time -- none of them a national news story.

There are strong reasons to resist this natural tendency. Sensational crimes such as the sexual abuse and murder of children are news precisely because they are so rare, and guiding policy from them has led to such travesties as public sex offender registries. Most actual sexual abuse of children is done by men who have never before been arrested. These sensational crimes also give pedophiles a bad name, while ordinary men are proportionally more likely to commit such crimes against grown women -- they are so common they do not make national news.

Child pornography is an interesting case because most people never see it. But the police see it. It leaves indisputable evidence of a crime. As police convey (even in the vague terms they use) the contents of the videos and pictures, this second-hand report seems to have the same effect and people are outraged. We can be sympathetic when victims of unrecorded child sex abuse recount what they have suffered, but there is always that lingering doubt as to whether perhaps their memories are faulty. A video record removes all doubt. It also rules out an impulsive act done in a moment of weakness -- someone took the trouble to set up a camera in advance. Distributing the recording to others also rules out regrets after the fact, and compounds the crime.

There is a natural tendency to feel rage at the people who make such videos. But the problem is that it is rarely possible to find them -- the recordings were usually made thousands of miles away and years in the past. Feelings are running high for punishing someone -- and the people who can be found are are those passively watching it.

Without doubt the vast majority of child sex abuse is never recorded at all. A tiny proportion is recorded and released into the dark web and seen thousands of times. Michael Seto in <"Internet Sex Offenders"> highlights a middle case -- abuse that is recorded but never distributed. He says 3/4 of those who make it don't distribute it, but just keep it for their private collection. A key argument for making CP viewing illegal is that it fuels a market for the creation for more. If 3/4 of the producers never distribute it at all, surely demand has nothing to do with their activity. It makes clear what a tiny portion of child sex abuse could even possibly be committed by the hope that recordings of the act will be viewed a lot. (The evidence that this tiny portion is actually influenced by viewing statistics is also extremely weak.)

What else distinguishes child sex abuse that is recorded and distributed? Could it perhaps be especially vile? Although possible, Michael Seto reports that it is rare to find CP in which the child is not smiling and it is not popular with typical CP viewers.

Another aspect is that victims report distress knowing that men continue to masturbate to images of their past abuse. I'm sure this is true. What victims suffer is often horrible, and this knowledge could deter men from actually using the images in this way. And yet this is a rather weak argument for a legal prohibition. It concerns not the entirety of what they suffer -- the abuse and knowledge that it was recorded can't be changed. It concerns only the additional suffering from knowledge that the material is widely available to others. I doubt any scientific studies have documented this additional harm.

My main point is that while the prohibition on the making of CP is justified, it has the potential to reduce only the tiniest fraction of child sex abuse. It comes to our attention because the record of the abuse is there for all to see and the police publicize its existence. The prohibition on viewing CP that has been made previously has only the tiniest potential influence on the CP production that is the most infinitesimal sliver of all child sex abuse.

What really fuels the sense that CP viewing should be a serious crime is that it is <a thought crime>. Instead of enjoying the fact of a child's suffering, CP viewers are mostly troubled men dealing with their sexual attraction in a way that is <not ideal> but does not directly harm children. There is <intriguing evidence> that it might reduce such direct harm.

If our real goal is to reduce overall child sex abuse, going after men whose only crime is the viewing of CP is nearly useless and surely not worth the resources society invests.

17 comments:

  1. Does Michael Seto say if he's ever seen any CP? Or has he only heard descriptions of it by the police?

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    1. He has consulted with police and I believe seen child porn legally in a professional capacity. I presume he has also confidentially gotten the true impressions of police about their work, without the public relations spin that we suspect police of using.

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    2. Has he spoken about what he's actually seen?

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  2. I've only read what's in his book and scientific papers. I do think the perspective is based on the cases that police investigate. Images that the police never find out about wouldn't make it onto his radar screen, I presume.

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    1. Could you post up some of the things he's written about it?

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    2. I provided a link in the article to my review of his book, http://celibatepedos.blogspot.com/2014/08/setos-internet-sex-offenders-on-cp.html
      Beyond that, you can either ask me specific questions privately (ethane72@gmail.com), or buy the book.

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  3. >"Another aspect is that victims report distress knowing that men continue to masturbate to images of their past abuse. I'm sure this is true."

    I have some sympathy with this view (though that does not exculpate a society that so stigmatises all child-adult intimacy that even recordings of harmless interactions become de facto harmful - but that is an other debate...)

    But there is a major problem though with this way of thinking: why is it only applied to one form of recording?

    Child pornography is not the only form of recording of which an awareness of its extensive viewing and distribution is likely to cause profound distress to those affected - what about footage of accidents or violent crimes? Or the propaganda of Daesh?

    I've never watched this sort of thing - for me just the idea of watching recordings of suffering and cruelty is infinitely more offensive than that of watching some child filming him or herself naked because it turns them on...

    I can only imagine what it must be like to be a friend or relative of a victim of one of Daesh's recorded murders, knowing that a loved one's barbaric murder is 'out there' on the net, being watched, even being 'enjoyed' by people.

    Yet, as far as I can tell, it is not illegal to distribute or watch such footage.

    But if "the suffering that the survivors and relatives experience at the knowledge that the footage is being viewed" is valid reason for making child porn illegal - why isn't the same argument applied to the infinitely more nasty stuff that is put out by Daesh? by 'gore' sites and such-like?

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    1. I suppose it may just be that no one has taken up the cause of those victims enough to get political notice? But as I said, the real reason is they think pedophile fantasies are horrible. Fascination with murder and mayhem may just be considered more acceptable?

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    2. One difference, I believe, is that people don't generally suspect viewers of masturbating to mutilation/decapitation videos. (I know that you can then start to ponder why arousal is so special (not saying it isn't entirely).)

      Also, I haven't heard talk of communities where you have to provide fresh and original decapitation videos or images to be a member.

      I could imagine decapitation videos becoming illegal if it's believed that such videos can radicalize young people.

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  4. I believe that child porn possession should remain illegal. We don't arrest people for hitting others because it will traumatize the victim. We do it because it is disrespectful to the victim to behave in such a way.

    We have men who are masturbating to someone else's stolen childhood. They are getting enjoyment from someone else's pain!

    I say the officer should give the guy a summary citation and tell him to get a therapist. If it continues, lock him up for 90 days. Don't lock him up for decades for mere viewing images, though. The punishment has to fit the crime.

    Children have the right to not be abused, and that includes on camera, under international law. I side with children on this issue, while saying that the punishment has to fit the crime.

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    1. Your plan would certainly be a big improvement over what we have now. There are many things that are harmful, like telling people they are horrible or ugly, that aren't illegal. I'd rather the police stay out of people's private internet habits entirely, even if what they do is (mildly) harmful. Would you still think downloaders ought to pay the penalty if they were not actually masturbating -- but only studying the images for purposes of journalism, inspiration to write a great novel, or to confront their own childhood abuse?

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    2. I agree with the citation and therapy for punishment. dontoffend.org offers free therapy in Germany for pedophiles who want help with there attractions and that is what is needed in the US.

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    3. Currently under Pennsylvania law, one can legally view child pornography if it is for an *bona fide* educational or scientific purpose, something I would agree with. I would gladly extend that to journalism if I could, as long as those images weren't blasted all over newspapers.

      But is calling someone they are horrible or ugly really legal? Here in Pennsylvania, if someone is so offended by you saying those things, they can have you charged with harassment. In that case, it is a misdemeanor of the third degree. Cyberbullying is illegal as well. Do you want children not to be protected from cyberbullying? Do you want little girls not to be protected from online predators?

      Sorry, but what you are suggesting just won't fly in our society. Society will and must never accept child pornography, because such is a slippery slope to things that the pro-contact camp want enacted. Children were abused in those images. Do we want those things accepted by society? I don't want to raise my future kids in a world where they can easily find child porn.

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  5. It doesn't matter if viewing CP has any effect on the victims in it. Anybody who gets off looking at videos of kids being raped and hurt must be mentally ill and in need of treatment. Do you agree, Ethan?

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    1. I separate the legal from the ethical. I don't think the law has any business in what people fantasize about in private. "In need of treatment" is intermediate. People who get off on fantasies of torturing adults or animals have an unusual preference, and it would personally disturb me to have such fantasies, but I don't see any "need" to label them mentally ill or mandate treatment. As reported by Seto (http://celibatepedos.blogspot.com/2014/08/setos-internet-sex-offenders-on-cp.html) videos almost always feature smiling children, and hardly any show kids being hurt. The harm in the first is something a person must infer from knowledge of how it was likely made. I find this less distasteful. It's still morally problematic for me personally, but not something where I think the law should intervene in just watching it.

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    2. "[CP] videos almost always feature smiling children, and hardly any show kids being hurt."

      This isn't what organizations like the NSPCC claim. Would you say that they're lying about how bad CP is?

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    3. I don't know for sure. NSPCC has an incentive to portray CP as as upsetting as possible, and to my knowledge Michael Seto (my source) has no incentive other than to tell the truth. Surely some horrible videos exist -- a minuscule fraction of the horrible things are are done to children every day without being recorded. But if we are thinking about what the typical CP viewer is doing, it is not fair to assume he is watching the worst stuff.

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