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Virtual Child Porn and Paedophilia

November 25, 2012, 5:54 PM
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Distinctions matter in debate. When we conflate and equate, for example, controversial groups of people that are not the same, it means we are not reacting accurately. For example, just because someone was a prisoner doesn’t mean he’s automatically (1) bad, (2) guilty, or (3) committed an act that should even be a crime (like blasphemy or prostitution). This is easy to say, but many people conflate when it comes to paedophilia and child molestation.

Paedophiles are adults or young people (usually 16+) attracted to children; child molesters are people who have engaged sexually with children (i.e. child rape). Not all paedophiles are child molesters and not all child molesters are paedophiles. Some paedophiles go their whole lives without touching a child inappropriately. And not all child molesters are paedophiles, since a combination of factors - for example temporary altered mental states - could lead an adult to have sex with a child, perhaps believing them to be an adult or “not” a child.

Considering the violence, horror and destruction to lives caused by the latter, we can quite easily label child molestation wrong. However, simply having a desire – often a desire you wished you didn’t have – is not so obviously wrong. Equating the two helps no one and it is, by definition, wrong to claim otherwise: you can argue that both are wrong, but don’t conflate them.

"We don't make enough of a distinction in public debate between 'healthy' paedophiles, people who are not paedosexually active, and delinquent paedosexuals.”

These are the words from Rik van Lunsen, a sexologist from Amsterdam University Hospital who, along with his colleague Erik van Beek, has proposed legalising “virtual” child pornography: this means pornography using cartoon or 3D models that look child-like but are, naturally, not real children. This is to help assuage the sexual longing of paedophiles. By doing so, they hope to reduce actual child rape incidents from occurring in The Netherlands, preventing real children from being hurt in the process.

As outrageous as many find this, we ought not let outrage undermine what might significantly decrease violence against children.

As I’ve indicated before, there is evidence to back up the sexologists’ claims.

According to van Lunsen, Reek and supporters, virtual child pornography has the obvious benefits of not involving actual children – but more importantly it will allow paedophiles the ability to have a target of sexual longing without harm to that target. Indeed, the major point is that actual rape of children will be reduced since paedophiles will have legal means to find sexual release.

There are primarily two concerns:

Firstly, the evidence is not conclusive. Though there is evidence suggesting it may help reduce crimes against children, as I indicated previously, the priority for paedophiles isn’t acquiring pornography: What will benefit both paedophiles and society is reducing the stigma attached to paedophilia.

Secondly, there is the problem of it encouraging actual incidents. Of course, like saying violent video games cause violent attacks, this is itself a dubious claim. It would be very difficult to make a casual connection between legalised child pornography and incidents of actual child crime: indeed, when there were proper controls in place, research indicates the opposite occurs.

The Stigma

The idea that paedophiles live under a stigma seems laughably horrible and distorted to many: “It’s like saying we should feel sympathy for serial killers!”

Consider those who are part of the group Virtuous Pedophiles. They feature the kind of plea that crops up frequently and anonymously, across the Internet. I have received some myself on previous articles and in my inbox.

“I’m a 20-year-old man who has been trying to deal with an attraction to young girls since I was 13. Women just don't interest me. I wish with all my soul that I could have a brain that's wired normally. I know that I can never act on what I feel, but I need to speak to a therapist because I don't think I can get through this on my own. But if I talk to a therapist he could report me, because I have to talk about my attraction to young girls. I don’t know whether he would or not and don't even know how to go about getting more information. Even the friendships I have are in danger of falling apart because I can't just keep saying 'I'm fine' and I can't talk to anyone about my problem. I think about suicide a lot.”

As I’ve indicated, paedophiles haven’t necessarily harmed a child. They are attracted to children, something they are not able to turn off. However, our revulsion to this attraction helps neither the paedophile nor potential victims. That they themselves wish to not be attracted aligns them with us, not against. They share our hatred of such acts. Furthermore, they are closest to those most likely to perform such acts: themselves.

The question should then be what is the best way to prevent such acts from occurring.

As they state on their website, Virtuous Pedophiles have a pretty clear answer to whether they think virtual child porn is worth supporting

We believe child pornography is wrong where a real child is involved because the child can be harmed.  The case of 'virtual' pornography is less clear because no child is involved.  We would oppose it if it led to more sexual abuse of real children. No one knows for sure whether it would or not; some people believe that virtual pornography increases the risk to children by breaking down barriers, and others believe that it reduces the risk to children by providing a harmless way to reduce sexual tension.  This is an empirical question that ultimately must be resolved by scientists.”

Correctly, it isn’t about how you, I, or even paedophiles feel but whether, empirically, there is data to support the proposal. As Ethan, a pseudonym, co-founder of Virtuous Pedophiles, told me via email: “I don't think [virtual child porn’s] legality would be that much of a benefit for pedophiles (fully legal pictures and a little imagination go a long way).”

Ethan agrees that it is primarily the reduction of stigma for people like himself that we ought to be focused on. As his profile indicates, “Although I've never had sexual contact with a child and never will, I could lose all my friends and social supports if anyone found out.” This despite having actually done nothing wrong.

Thus, he tells me, “actually working to change the law [on virtual child porn] seems unlikely to be productive, especially as the scientific evidence is not clear-cut.” Instead, “[a]cknowledgment that we virtuous pedophiles exist in large numbers and do not deserve hatred and stigma for our attraction is a more basic step.”

I’m not sure we can’t do both. We might look at legalised virtual child porn as specifically directed at combatting child crime; tied in with that, a society that accepts such a legal change, premised on empirical data – which, admittedly, is sketchy – could itself contribute to lessening stigma. If we see a society that has legalised child pornography and hasn’t fallen into collapse, which has testable reduced crimes against children and so on, it would serve as an excellent reason to change attitudes towards (virtuous) paedophiles.

Naturally, there already exists virtual child porn on the Internet – as there also exist real child porn. Legality isn’t some magic button that makes things appear or disappear. The question is whether legalisation and control aids in reducing negative aspects: for example, prostitution’s legalisation/decriminalisation often aids prostitutes and society in general. So, as Ethan points out, paedophiles already have methods to cater to their sexual longing. Legalisation doesn’t suddenly create virtual porn, but it does mean paedophiles can’t get prosecuted for possession. It is primarily this latter part that, I think, matters.

(Production of actual child pornography must always be opposed. I’m not certain whether possession of actual child pornography is necessarily wrong. There is a lot to consider.)

This is of course a difficult discussion.

However, it is precisely because of the dangers and horrible events involved that we are required to look at the arguments without emotions clouding our decisions. One prime way for us to deal effectively with this is not to lump virtuous paedophiles, like Ethan, with actual child molesters: this helps no one and makes their lives worse. As indicated, these are people who, despite their sexual attraction, often hate having the attraction and wish no harm on children. This makes them allies, not enemies, in the fight to protect children. If there is still something to oppose by merely having an attraction – even Ethan and other virtuous paedophiles stand strongly against child molestation – then that must be outlined, but it cannot be equated with physical, sexual assault of children.

Image Credit: Hasloo Group Production Studio / Shutterstock

 

Virtual Child Porn and Paed...

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