Childhood is idealised as a garden, protected by walls and hedges, where nature flourished at its perfect best. It is often envied and honoured. However, in reality most children are often neglected, abused and exploited. An overview of the reported cases suggests that a major part of reported child maltreatment was sexual abuse. As many as one out of every four children will be the victims of some kind of abuse.
Child Pornography and child sexual abuse are two of the most disturbing issues in the world today. This paper aims to show the ongoing debate on whether consumers of child pornography pose a risk for hands on child sex abuse offences. It provides an overview of existing research studies and their approaches concerning the linkages between child pornography and child sex abuse. In this paper I will be including arguments for and against this relationship by various authors, statistics reports and surveys to reach a conclusion. This paper also aims to talk about how the legal system attempts to control child pornography through actual legislation and a graded selection policy.
Child pornography is a complex topic for which the standards applied are subjective and dependent upon moral, cultural, sexual and religious beliefs. Legal definitions of both “child” and “child pornography” differ globally. However, the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Child, which has now been adapted by 191 member states, provides a universal definition of the child as any person under the age of eighteen years. It should be noted that each country’s legal definition of “child” may be different but the term “child pornography” will refer to a “sexually explicit reproduction of a child’s image”. According to the Interpol Specialist Group on Crimes against Children, “Child pornography is created as a consequence of the sexual exploitation or abuse of a child. It can be defined as any means of depicting or promoting the sexual exploitation of a child, including written or oral material, which focuses on the child’s sexual behaviour or genitals. The Council of Europe defines child pornography as material that visually depicts a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The ECPAT’s definition closely mirrors Interpol’s which states the visual depiction of a child engaged in explicit sexual activity, real or stimulated, or the lewd exhibition of genitals intended for the sexual gratification of the user, and involves the production, distribution and/or use of such material. It can be seen that each definitions given by the above bodies speak of visual images or depictions, or representation of sexual activity involving the “child” or “minor” defined in Article 1 of UN Convention Rights of a Child. Each of the definition emphasises the sexual nature of the representation and seeks to distinguish child pornography from, wholly innocent images of children, for example in a family setting or on the beach, where they could be fully or partially undressed, which are appropriate to the wider lawful activity shown in the depiction.
The official definition of child sexual abuse is “forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities including prostitution, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening”. The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative or non-penetrative acts. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or, in the production of, pornographic material or watching sexual activities, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways. Persons who exploit children sexually, in the view of ECPAT, fall into two categories. “Preferential child sex abuser” and the “situational child sex abuser” where abusers in the first category suffer from psychological disorder and the latter are experimenting with new forms of sexual contact. In the paper prepared by Julia O’Connell Davidson for the World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, she describes both of these categories. According to her, the term paedophile refers to an adult who has a personality disorder which involves a specific and focussed sexual interest in pre-pubescent children. The ‘preferential child sex abusers’ are abusers who are usually, but not always, men, and their victims may be either male or female children. Psychiatry views their taste for immature and powerless sexual partners as the manifestation of a personality disorder.
The ‘situational child sex abusers’ are men and women who sexually exploit children, not because they have sexual interest in children per se, but because they are morally/sexually indiscriminate and want to experiment.These abusers do not consciously seek out children as sexual partners, but use them when such children are available. Generally child pornography will be possessed, made and distributed by the paedophile or preferential sex abuser. However, it would appear from a number of arrests that child pornography can be accessed with ease on the internet. Its anonymity has meant that ‘situational child sex abusers’ are also using this medium.
Identifying Victims and Offenders
In most countries, street children, poor children, juveniles from broken homes, and disabled minors are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation and to being seduced or coerced into the production of pornographic material. While impossible to obtain accurate data, the perusal of the child pornography readily available on the international market indicates that a significant number of children are being sexually exploited through this medium. According to the Home Office Statistical bulletin more than one third (36%) of all rapes recorded by the police are committed against children under 16 years of age. Another study which examined police data on rapes committed against children found that children under the age of 12 were the most likely of all those age 16 and under to have reported being raped by someone they knew well. According to the NSPCC statistics, there is a predominance of girl victims than boy victims. For example, in England and Wales there were 6,587 offences of sexual abuse on a female child under 16 and 2,821 offences of sexual abuse on a male child. Another Home Office report shows that 60-70% of sex offenders against children target girls only, about 20-30% target boys only, and about 10% children of either sex.
In the context of sexual exploitation of children, ‘sex exploiters’ can be defined as “those who take unfair advantage of some imbalance of power between themselves and a person under the age of 18 in order to sexually use them for either profit or personal pleasure”. Child exploiters and pornographers often seek occupations that bring them into habitual contact with children. Paedophiles constitute a significant sector of the offenders. Some of these paedophiles are attracted to children of the same sex, but the majority are heterosexuals. It should be noted that not all paedophiles are child molesters and that many child molesters are not paedophiles. In 2005/06 the average number of registered sex offenders was 58 per 100,000 of the population in England and Wales. An estimated 110,000 people have been convicted of sexual offences against children in England and Wales. 90% of the child victims know their offender, with almost half of the offenders being a family member. Although higher proportion of the offenders is males, the number of female offenders is also a key concern. Researchers from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a child protection charity that deals with British female sex offenders, said its studies confirmed that a “fair proportion” of child abusers were women. The sexual exploitation of children can happen anywhere – in schools, homes, workplaces, in communities and even own computers, and anyone can be an exploiter – a teacher, relative, religious leader, employer, aid worker, peer or pornographer. A study which examined police data on rapes committed against children found that children under the age of 12 were the most likely of all those aged 16 and under to have reported being raped by someone they knew well. Children between 13 and 15 years of age were the most likely to have reported being raped by an “acquaintance”. Since the advent of the internet and mobile telephone services linked with download and exchanging capabilities, the production and sale of child pornography has also became a profitable business. The men who sexually violate or photograph children being violated in order to sell the images are child sex exploiters. So are those who operate the websites that are the shop fronts for the illicit trade in child abuse images. When someone pays to look at child pornography, they are not just looking, they are exploiting. They are part of the chain of exploitation and in most countries, are pursued by the law as child sex offenders.
This research assignment is aimed to answer the question of whether there is a link between child pornography and child sex abuse. This is a very controversial area, with experts differing over any casual link. Some experts argue that there is a link between the two as watching child porn increases the risk of offending, and some argue that it reduces the risk of offending. The main reason for this debate is that it is virtually impossible to conduct research in the laboratory using standard specific methods which yield statistically reliable results. The constraints of ethical research, false reporting, interviewer distortion and a whole host of other problems contribute to the difficulty of acquiring scientific results. Many researchers have come to the conclusion that there is no sound scientific basis for the conclusion that exposure to child pornography increases the likelihood of sexual abuse of children. Others have suggested that there is a consistent correlation between the use of pornography and sexual aggression. This debate will be considered in two sections, the arguments supporting that there is a link and the arguments against the link followed with a conclusion.
Arguments supporting the link between child pornography and child sex abuse
A common theme within the existing discourses surrounding child pornography is that such an activity represents a threat because it is invariable existing sexual abusers of children who possess and use child pornography as an