Occasionally a wealthy individual wants to donate some money with the goal of stamping out child sex abuse. It is a noble goal. Part of that problem is the child sex abuse that happens in front of a camera that is subsequently spread around the entire internet. Another problem is the people looking at this material once it has been widely disseminated.
But can you imagine a funder who says they want to donate money for the specific purpose of incarcerating those who download and look at child pornography? I have trouble doing so. Their funding goal will always be reducing child sexual abuse at the source. If you are considering donating a sum of money, that is the cause you will want to donate it to.
Sometimes you hear impassioned pleas that looking at CP is child sex abuse -- it is just as bad as doing the abuse yourself. This is rhetorical hot air. Simple logic would then say that abusing a child in person is no worse than looking at pictures of abuse that happened long ago and far away. And no one would want to endorse that. But funding is another line of evidence. If looking at CP was just as bad as doing it yourself, funders would be just as likely to donate money to punish CP viewing as to punish the abuse that happens when CP is made.
Far more than private funders, the government is a big source of funding to prevent child sex abuse. When it's time to allocate funds, legislators have to set aside rhetoric and look carefully at how to allocate limited funds among competing priorities. Have legislators ever allocated funds specifically for finding viewers of CP? I doubt it.
The money is instead allocated to stamping out child sex abuse. Low-hanging fruit will be eagerly plucked. But the problem is that the fruit remaining is rapidly limited to that above our grasp. Hands-on abuse is very difficult to prove if there is no evidence but a child's word, given tentatively or inconsistently. Makers of CP are often in foreign countries that do not put a priority on cooperating with western governments to track them down. Those remaining inside the western countries are clever with computer security and police cannot locate them.
So what do police departments do with these funds if they cannot effectively spend them to make progress on the intended purpose? One solution is to <entrap ordinary guys online> into looking like they seek sex with underage girls.
Another is to find those who download child pornography. Among the millions who download are many who aren't clever with internet security and can be identified by the IP address that downloaded illegal images. A search warrant can be issued on that basis, and they can be arrested and convicted based on the files found on their computers. In the context of justifying their budgets, the police point to their success in jailing hated pedophiles. Their narrow bureaucratic interest and public hatred of pedophiles feed off and reinforce each other.
But if we back up, the government and private funders did not allocate this money to find those who download CP, they allocated it to stop child sex abuse. Their purpose is not really being met. Once you recognize this, the solution is to allocate only the money that can be effectively spent in finding actual child sex abusers and spend the rest on some other vital need.
In sum, another line of evidence that simple CP possession should not be a serious crime is that no one allocates funding specifically for that purpose.