Research: Child Pornography

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For legal implications, see Child Pornography Laws

"Child pornography" has no agreed definition. Legally, it refers to media featuring minors in sexual situations.

The Effects of Child Pornography

The criminalization of child pornography is, in part, justified by the assumption that it will cause paedophiles to abuse children. No conclusive evidence substantiates this assumption. On the contrary, child pornography appears to have a cathartic effect:

Sex crimes dropped markedly in Denmark following porn legalization.[1]
  • O'Carroll, Tom (2000). "Sexual Privacy for Paedophiles and Children: A Complementary Background Paper."
    "Such an effect has been proposed in relation to Denmark during the few years when child pornography was openly and legally available: in that period sex offences against children were significantly lower than either before or after. (5) A similar phenomenon occurred during a period of liberalisation in West Germany, where from 1972 to 1980 the total number of sex crimes known to the police in the Federal Republic of Germany decreased by 11%. (6) Sharpe himself, whose possession of pornography was in contention, made the astute point in an interview that if child pornography led to sexual assaults, then there would have been a huge increase in assaults as a result of the allegedly much greater availability of child porn on the Internet. (7)"
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  • Kirby, Stuart (2005). "No link between child porn and sexual abuse," Life Style Extra, UK, 15 December.
    "There is no link between looking at child pornography and sexual abuse of youngsters, a senior police officer told a conference today. Studies have found no correlation between those who download graphic images of youngsters via the internet and child molesters. Dr Stuart Kirby, Detective Chief Superintendent with Lancashire Police, told the International Investigative Psychology Conference: "When you look at all the research that has been done nationally, the consensus is that there has not proven to be a link between the viewing of pornography and the committing of hands-on offences. In a follow-up study by Lancashire Police, that was found to be clearly the case."
  • Howitt, Dennis (1995). Paedophiles and Sexual Offences Against Children, p. 161-162.
    "Common-sense theories tend to be contradictory. For example, there is a lot to be said for the notion of fantasy as substitute for action, a largely separate stream of experience or a substitute for reality. The original psychoanalytic view of fantasy as wish fulfillment took a similar stance. [...]
    One cannot simply take evidence that offenders use and buy pornography as sufficient to implicate pornography causally in their offending. The most reasonable assessment based on the available research literature is that the relationship between pornography, fantasy and offending is unclear."
  • Diamond, Milton, and Uchiyama, Ayako (1999). "Pornography, rape, and sex crimes in Japan", International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 22, 1-22.
    "However, there are no specific child pornography laws in Japan and SEM depicting minors are readily available and widely consumed. [...] The most dramatic decrease in sex crimes was seen when attention was focused on the number and age of rapists and victims among younger groups (Table 2). We hypothesized that the increase in pornography [in general], without age restriction and in comics, if it had any detrimental effect, would most negatively influence younger individuals. Just the opposite occurred. The number of juvenile offenders dramatically dropped every period reviewed from 1,803 perpetrators in 1972 to a low of 264 in 1995; a drop of some 85% (Table 1). The number of victims also decreased particularly among the females younger than 13 (Table 2). In 1972, 8.3% of the victims were younger than 13. In 1995 the percentage of victims younger than 13 years of age dropped to 4.0%."
  • Kendall, Todd (2006). "Pornography, Rape, and the Internet." Paper presented at the Stanford Law and Economics Seminar.
    This study found that "an increase in home internet access of 10 percentage points is associated with an 7.3% decline in [forcible] rape" of females of all ages as a group. Slate Magazine reported on this.
  • Stanley, Janet (2001). "Pornography, Child Abuse and the Internet," Child Abuse Prevention Issues, 15.
    "Research to date has not determined whether child sex offenders are more, or less, likely to offend if they view and/or collect child pornography (Queensland Crime Commission and Queensland Police Services 2000; Smallbone and Wortley 2000). Although a Queensland study found that non-familial offenders reported using adult pornography (72 per cent) and child pornography (9 per cent) (Smallbone and Wortley 2000), these findings need to be treated with caution. The study sample was almost exclusively comprised of male incarcerated offenders who had low Internet literacy (88 per cent had not used the Internet). Thus, the characteristics of incarcerated offenders may differ from the wider population of offenders and it would also appear that the Smallbone and Wortley sample may potentially represent a different group to those offenders who target children via the Internet".
  • Sheldon, Kerry & Howitt, Dennis (2008). "Sexual fantasy in paedophile offenders: Can any model explain satisfactorily new findings from a study of Internet and contact sexual offenders?", Legal and Criminological Psychology, 13, 137-158.
    "Internet offenders may have less need to contact offend since they can generate fantasy more easily. The contact [offending] group may be unable to generate fantasies at all or may have weak and short-lived fantasies. Sex offenders are often described as concrete and/or unimaginative (Langevin, Lang, & Curnoe, 1998), and it is possible that contact child molesters do not have frequent or vivid fantasies and require activity with a child in order to generate later masturbatory thoughts. [...] Contact offenders seem to have less sexual fantasy pertinent to their offending than did Internet offenders. Fantasy deficit may be involved in contact offending against children."
  • Decision in R v. Sharpe by Justice Duncan Shaw in the Supreme Court of British Columbia
    "There is no evidence which demonstrates any significant increase of danger to children related to the confirmation or augmentation of cognitive distortions caused by pornography. There is no evidence that "mildly erotic" images are used in the "grooming process." Only assumption supports the proposition that materials that advocate or counsel sexual crimes with children have the effect of increasing the occurrence of such crimes. Sexually explicit pornography is used by some pedophiles to relieve pent-up sexual tension. A person who is prone to act on his fantasies will likely do so irrespective of the availability of pornography. There is no evidence that the production of child pornography will be significantly reduced if simple possession is a made a crime."
  • Knudsen, D.D. (1988). "Child sexual abuse and pornography: Is there a relationship?," Journal of Family Violence, 3, pp. 253-267.
    "Perhaps the most appropriate summary of the research pertaining to pornography involving both adults and children is that there are no clear relationships that can be identified between erotica and sex crimes. Individuals for whom pornography is the primary or direct motivator of violent acts appear to be relatively rare. And most violence toward women and children is undertaken without such aids to arouse aggressive feelings, though some indirect modeling effects may be identified in lowered inhibitions. If the problem is to determine whether access to pornography directly increases the probability of sexually exploitive behaviors toward children, there appears to be a general consensus among researchers that it does not (Nelson, 1982)."

The Nature of Child Pornography

  • Schuijer, Jan and Rossen, Benjamin (1992). "The Trade in Child Pornography," Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 4(4).
    "We have called the claims about child pornography "myths." The existence of child pornography is certainly not. The myths are the exaggerated estimates of the number of children, the volume and value of the trade, the profits that are alleged to have been made, and the horrifying damage said to have been done to the children."
"A survey of images in commercial child porn magazines that were available in the 1970s and early 80s by Schuijer and Rossen shows that only 14% depicted children engaged in sexual conduct with adults. Most of the material, 61%, showed children either nude at play or posing erotically. (8)"
  • Bauserman, Robert (2003). "Child pornography online: myth, fact, and social control", Journal of Sex Research, 40(2).
    "Most of the CP images themselves appear to involve adolescents or children posing nude, which is not illegal in most Western countries. However, some hard-core images of adolescent and prepubescent children having sex with each other and with adults are available. While some appear to be recycled from 1970s magazines and films, other images seem to be "sex tourist" images created by men visiting Asian or Latin American countries in search of less risky sexual access to minors. Jenkins offers no estimate of the number of minors who currently appear in CP, but fortunately they seem to number far fewer than the tens or hundreds of thousands of children (defined to include adolescents) often claimed."
  • www.almapintada.com: "Child Pornography Statistics 1984-2000"
    "Less than an average of ten new series per year have been circulated on the internet since 1984. Only 14 of these series include children engaged in sexual intercourse, 32 in non-penetrative genital contact and 39 in fellatio. Most of these series include genital display only."
  • Lanning, Kenneth (1992). "Investigator's Guide to Allegations of "Ritual" Child Abuse, Chapter 2.1: "Stranger Danger." Quantico, VA: Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
    "Child victims who, for example, simply behave like human beings and respond to the attention and affection of offenders by voluntarily and repeatedly returning to the offender's home are troubling. It confuses us to see the victims in child pornography giggling or laughing."
  • O'Donnel, Ian, and Milner, Claire (2007). Child Pornography: Crime, Computers and Society, p. 123. (Paraphrased by Brian Ribbon)
    "A recent study in Ireland, undertaken by Garda, revealed the most serious content in a sample of over 100 cases involving indecent images of children. In 44% of cases, the most serious images depicted nudity or erotic posing, in 7% they depicted sexual activity between children, in 7% they depicted non-penetrative sexual activity between adults and children, in 37% they depicted penetrative sexual activity between adults and children, and in 5% they depicted sadism or bestiality."
  • Ribbon, Brian (2008). "How can anyone believe these claims?". Boychat.org
    "I could only find a small number of websites (less than 20) which contained material which would be illegal if viewed in my home jurisdiction, despite the fact that my home jurisdiction prohibits simple nudity. It is clear that there are not 150,000 child pornography websites. The websites which did depict material which would be illegal if viewed in my home jurisdiction were much tamer than government-funded organisations claim. Over 99% of the images which would be illegal in the USA/UK/Australia showed no sexual contact."
  • Levine, Judith (2002). Harmful to Minors.
    "Aficionados and vice cops concede that practically all the sexually explicit images of children circulating cybernetically are the same stack of yellowing pages found at the back of those X-rated shops, only digitized. These pictures tend to be twenty to fifty years old, made overseas, badly re-reproduced, and for the most part pretty chaste. That may be why federal agents almost never show journalists the contraband. But when I got a peek at a stash downloaded by Don Huycke, the national program manager for child pornography at the U.S. Customs Service, in 1995, I was underwhelmed. Losing count after fifty photos, I'd put aside three that could be called pornographic: a couple of shots of adolescents masturbating and one half-dressed twelve-year-old spreading her legs in a position more like a gymnast's split than split beaver. The rest tended to be like the fifteen-year-old with a 1950s bob and an Ipana grin, sitting up straight, naked but demure, or the two towheaded six-year olds in underpants, astride their bikes."
  • Mirkin, H. (2009). "The Social, Political, and Legal Construction of the Concept of Child Pornography ," Journal of Homosexuality, 56(2), pp. 233-267.
    "Most of the actual acts depicted by the young models in child pornography are legal. Although some of the older pictures have sullen, battered looking children who look like they have been drugged or coerced, that is rarely true of more current photos. Impressionistically, the largest number of pictures on pornographic sites involves clothed photographs of pretty or good-looking children. Often they are in bathing suits. These are tainted simply because of their presence on pornographic sites, but, although they often have an erotic tinge, the pictures would not be considered pornographic in other settings. The next largest number consists of nudes of diverse quality and degrees of eroticism. Some pictures of boys show erections. Videos are a media that demand movement and they often show sex play and horseplay among the youths (especially boys), but no real sex (except masturbation or attempted masturbation). Masturbation, usually alone but sometimes in groups, and oral sex are also occasionally shown in still images. Generally both boys and girls look cheerful and healthy, although obviously this could be an act. Still the smiles and playfulness are often in hundreds of photographs of the same models, and giggles are ubiquitous in the films. The attempt is to portray an innocent and joyful sexuality, whether or not that is what is experienced by the models and actors. The pictures are far less tawdry and hard core than adult porn and are more playful. Domination is not an important theme and very few images (probably less than 1%) involve adults."

Child pornography subcultures

"Also of interest is Jenkins' finding that, like many other deviant groups (e.g., organized crime), the CP subculture does not represent a total break with conventional morality. This claim may be surprising, given the extent to which sexual interest in children or adolescents is socially and legally condemned. However, studies of deviant groups show that members may express mainstream or even conservative values on social and political issues, and share widely accepted goals such as material success. While subscribing to mainstream values, group members seek to rationalize or "neutralize" the illegal and socially condemned aspects of their behavior. Jenkins notes the use of techniques such as denial of victimization (the adolescent or child is said to be consenting), denial of harm, and condemnation of the condemners (e.g., as hypocrites). Users also self-label with nonderogatory terms such as "pedo" or "loli-lover." Reports of truly sadistic and violent crimes against children (such as the Dutroux case in Belgium, in which an offender kidnapped, raped, and killed young girls) are met with expressions of disgust and anger and claims that "true loli-lovers" are interested in mutual pleasure, not violence. Jenkins considers such statements genuine expressions of feeling, not a public front, because of the private nature of the bulletin board forums."

A Billion-Dollar Industry?

  • Brian Rothery: "Every image of a child being abused"
    "By now, many journalists and activists concerned with how the police deal with the child pornography laws are aware that the American police and some related agencies are the main, and likely the sole, dealers in and publishers of images of child pornography, using them for entrapment purposes."
  • Rosen, Jeffrey (2005). "The Internet Has Made Government Action Against Child Pornography Untenable," in Opposing Viewpoints: Mass Media. Ed. William Dudley. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.
    Child pornography is often alleged to be a 20 billion dollar industry. If this is true, that would put it at twice the size of the adult porn industry: "But today, as Frank Rich reported in The New York Times Magazine last May [2002] the porn industry—much of it hard-core—generates at least $10 billion per year in revenues for more than 70,000 websites, porn networks, pay-per-view and rental movies [700 million porn rentals per year], cable and satellite television, and magazine publishers."
  • Ian O'Donnel & Claire Milner (2007). Child Pornography; Crime, computers and society, p. 54.
    "Because there is no way of estimating the amount of child pornography that was in circulation prior to the advent of the internet, it is possible that the quantity has not increased but has simply become more available and more copied."
  • Jenkins, Philip (2001). Beyond Tolerance: Child Pornography on the Internet, p. 102.
    "Money is rarely involved in the child porn underworld, which is the preserve of truly motivated collectors."
  • O'Carroll, Tom (2000). "Sexual Privacy for Paedophiles and Children."
    "The production of such pictures is vanishingly rare, however, and there is no shortage of criminal law to deal with any perpetrators who are caught. Even in such cases, though, we would be hard put to blame the private viewer of such material for creating a market in it. There is no means, no even on the Internet, to buy and sell such material. Illegal images may be posted, but this will invariably be done anonymously or with a phoney "from" address – for obvious reasons. This means that it is impossible to make money on these activities. From time to time someone may naively hope do so, lured by claims in the media that it is a profitable business. These commercial attempts have always been stopped very quickly: If the potential customers can find the producer then so can the police. The notion that there is a vast child porn industry, organised by some ruthless mafia, is simply a myth."
  • Bialik, Carl (2006). "Measuring the Child-Porn Trade," The Wall Street Journal, April 18.
    "Unlike, say, the soft-drink or airline industries, the child-pornography industry doesn't report its annual sales to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Yet in a press release ahead of a recent House of Representatives hearing aimed at curbing the industry, Texas Republican Joe Barton said, "Child pornography is apparently a multibillion … my staff analysis says $20 billion-a-year business. Twenty billion dollars." Some press reports said the figure applied only to the industry's online segment. The New York Times reported, "the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet is a $20 billion industry that continues to expand in the United States and abroad," citing witnesses at the hearing.
    What was Rep. Barton's staff analysis? A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told me the source of the number was the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a group that advocates for the protection of children. When I first talked with that group's president, Ernie Allen, he told me that Standard Chartered bank, which has worked with the NCMEC to cut off funding to child-porn traffickers, wanted a quantitative analysis of the problem, so it asked for a measurement from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Mr. Allen faxed me an NCMEC paper that cites the McKinsey study in placing the child-porn industry at $6 billion in 1999, and $20 billion in 2004.
    But a McKinsey spokesman painted a different picture for me: "The number was not calculated or generated by McKinsey," he wrote in an email. Instead, for a pro bono analysis for Standard Chartered, he said, McKinsey used a number that appeared in a report last year by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, an international advocacy group.
    But the trail didn't end there: That report, in turn, attributed the number to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as did a report last year from the Council of Europe, a Strasbourg, France-based human-rights watchdog. Both of those reports noted that estimates range widely, from $3 billion to $20 billion.
    FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told me in an email, "The FBI has not stated the $20 billion figure... . I have asked many people who would know for sure if we have attached the $20 billion number to this problem. I have scoured our Web site, too. Nothing!""
    • Bialik, Carl (2006). "Measuring Chernobyl's Fallout," The Wall Street Journal, April 27.
      "Meanwhile, I heard more about the number that was the subject of last week's column -- the claim, which I couldn't verify, that the child-pornography industry generates $20 billion in annual revenue. In a 2004 report, the Council of Europe, a Strasbourg, France-based human-rights watchdog, attributed the number to Unicef. But Allison Hickling, a spokeswoman for the United Nations child agency, told me in an email, "The number is not attributable to Unicef -- we do not collect data on this issue."
      I told Alexander Seger, who worked on the Council of Europe reports, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Unicef, both cited in Council reports, said they weren't the source for the $20 billion figure. He said the Council won't use the number in the future, and added in an email, "I think we have what I would call a case of information laundering: You state a figure on something, somebody else quotes it, and then you and others [quote] it back, and thus it becomes clean and true. ... Perhaps this discussion will help instill more rigor in the future.""

Impact on Child Models

Very little research has been done into the direct effect of modeling on children.

  • Jan Schuijer and Benjamin Rossen (1992). "Interviews with Three Boys."
    "Despite the attempt to obtain a balanced description of the events, a remarkably black and white picture emerged. The boys described their friendship and feelings for Ferdinand in glowing terms. On the other hand the attitude towards the police is unequivocally negative."
  • Ian O'Donnell and Claire Milner (2007). "Child Pornography: Crime, computers and society". Willan Publishing, p229.
    "While we might feel uneasy about an individual who took sexual pleasure from photographs of children playing on beaches, it is clearly the case that such photographs are not based on an underlying act of abuse".
  • The Australian (2008). "Naked child in photo defends image
    Although the photos concerned are most probably not pornographic they have been criticised as such (for containing nudity and posing). "“I'm really, really offended by what Kevin Rudd had to say about this picture,” Olympia said outside her Melbourne home, accompanied by her father, The Age art critic Robert Nelson. “I love the photo so much. It is one of my favourites, if not my favourite photo, my mum has ever taken of me and she has taken so many photos of me. “I think that the picture my mum took of me had nothing to do with being abused and I think nudity can be a part of art.”" An adult critic responded: "And that the child concerned defends the photographs in my view merely compounds what has happened."

Impact on "non-appreciative" Adults

It is often claimed anecdotally that officers investigating high volumes of child porn suffer from "burn out" or may have to enter counseling.

  • Inquisition 21 (2008). "From inside the police force."
    "We have a report from a police insider about how many of his colleagues actually reacted to both adult and child pornography [...] He received his first, much of it shocking to him, initiation into the world of pornography from his older police colleagues who ‘sickened him with their canteen culture’. They pushed the first ever hard core magazines he had seen right in front of his face, as he put it, “Gloating over them.” [...] Only as the number of women in the force increased, especially in senior ranks, did the macho culture of open pornographic display decrease and become more covert. [...] These men were now being paid to study child pornography and soon he could hear them tell the media about fatigue and burn-out concerning images they had formerly gloated over."

Child Producers

The criminalisation of youth is also covered in a dedicated article.

As more facts slowly float to the surface in this stringently censored medium, the more we learn about under-age producers sharing their self-made images with other young people for recreational use, thus making prohibitions unworkable and pronouncements concerning who is "exploiting" who extremely hard to define. Whilst activists have been pointing towards this trend for some time, it has taken much longer for "Child-Protection" officers to admit that minors are capable of producing child pornography.

  • The Heraldsun (2008). "Making child pornography is now kids' stuff."
    "Teenagers are becoming major makers of child pornography in Victoria[Australia]. Statistics reveal adolescents last year outnumbered middle-aged men two to one as the main offenders in child porn production. Youths 10 to 14 were among the alleged offenders."
  • The Independent.ie (2008). "Children producing their own web porn."
    "CHILDREN as young as 10 years of age are taking sexually explicit pictures of themselves before uploading them onto the internet -- according to Ireland's leading Criminal Intelligence Officer at Interpol [...] Irish Detective Sergeant Michael Moran, who is one of the world's leading experts in the fight against child exploitation, has warned parents to be extra vigilant about their children uploading self-made pornography. "Everything from posing naked to actual sex acts on web cams. We are seeing a lot more self-produced child pornography to the extent that self-taking child abusive material is one of our biggest problems at the moment."
  • Inquisition 21 (2008). "The new pizza scam."
    "The child sex abuse and child porn legislation have boosted the business of so-called ‘under-age’ minors scamming and blackmailing adult men. The latest to arise from the chat rooms is the pizza scam. [...] One of our other researchers went onto that chat room and asked if anyone had been approached by individuals offering to cam for pizza and one man from London replied. He said he had spoken to a male student who lived in his local area, aged 19. The student gave some sob story and said he would give a cam show for pizza. The man agreed. The boy named a local pizza place but gave another telephone number. The man phoned the number, who took his order and credit card details. Subsequently a PayPal account was set up using that credit card and money stolen from him. He reported this to PayPal who refused to do anything without a crime number. He then reported it to the police who simply took details. PayPal responded once he had a crime number, but the police apparently performed no investigation. A source close to the police has informed us that the police have a good laugh at this kind of thing. They regard the scammed as the perverts, or the guilty ones, and the scammers as having a right to sting them."