Working in the field of child protection, I often am asked "Why would someone want to view child pornography? Or, "How could I have not known that my colleague/relative/friend was into child porn?" These are good questions. I'd like to try to provide some understanding of the complex motivations behind this crime against children.
In my last blog on this subject, I discussed "who" is behind the keyboard viewing child pornography. Here's a link to that blog. A report that analyzed the findings from the National Juvenile Online Victimization Study found that men (less than 1% were women) who view child pornography include those who are:
• Sexually interested in prepubescent children (pedophiles) or young adolescents (hebephiles), who use child pornography images for sexual fantasy and gratification
• Sexually "indiscriminant" meaning they are constantly searching for new and different sexual stimuli
• Sexually curious, downloading a few images to satisfy that curiosity
• Interested in profiting financially by selling images or setting up websites requiring payment for access
The full report can be accessed here.
The reasons "why" men view child pornography are complex. Researchers, therapists, law enforcement and child protection professionals have posited important considerations. The Internet and social media have allowed unencumbered access to these illegal images and videos of children. The Internet allows the individual to believe that they are "flying under the radar." People imagine they are accessing it in their homes or on their phones without detection. Unfortunately, there is also accumulating evidence that the Internet and social media are acting as a catalyst, facilitating an interest in the sexual images of children and in internet-facilitated sexual offending.
In "Internet Pornography and Paedophilia" (2013) Dr. Heather Wood, a clinical psychologist, delved into the reasons for the impact that Internet sex has on the person viewing it, and why they might find themselves regressing from adult pornography to child pornography. They included:
• A man may feel himself to be inadequate or depressed, and so uses Internet sex as an "anti-depressant" to foster a state of exhilaration, a sense of potency and desirability.
• Internet sex provides vast amounts of materials which appear to sanction unlimited sexual exploration and gratification. Online, the individual can take on a different "persona" and imagine himself as virile, young and desirable. This may fuel an "addictive" cycle of arousal and elation. So, to keep this "high" going, they continue to view. As I reported in my last blog, some men progress to "riskier" photos and videos, often of very young children or of children undergoing violent sexual encounters with adults.
• There is some evidence that those who have experienced high levels of sexual stimulation in childhood may have a particularly strong association between childhood and sexuality. There could also have been experiences of child sexual abuse in their past.
• Those who struggle with adult intimacy may be much more likely to seek a child as a sexual object, as they would assume that the child will not pose the threat which an adult might. The child might also be less likely to reject them and be perceived as less hostile or aggressive than an adult partner.
• Exposure to large volumes of pornography may destabilize a person's sexual adaptation, particularly if these images include children, and can ultimately produce sexual arousal by viewing children against their inclination.
Adults who view child pornography have varied reasons for doing so, but with each view, a child is irreparably harmed. All child pornography offenses, including possession, are extremely serious because they result in perpetual abuse to the child and validate and normalize the sexual exploitation of children.
Here are resources for more information about stopping child pornography. The National District Attorney's Association to combat child sexual abuse has resources, newsletters and trainings.
The Innocence Justice Foundation, lists action steps that one can take to stop child pornography.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers a wealth of information on child safety and operates the Cyber Tipline for reporting crimes against children.
Child pornography must be stopped. It's a very difficult battle, but as you can see, those investigating and prosecuting offenders are making inroads. If you know of anyone producing, promoting or possessing child pornography, please report them through the Cyber Tipline at www.cybertipline.com/
For more information on keeping your child safe visit The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children www.nyspcc.org .