This is our truth, tell us yours
I wrote in the week on the way in which current policing of child sexual abuse appears to be failing, and to have systematically failed over the last three or four decades.
We still have no reliable data on the occurrence of child sexual abuse, and insufficient data on the motivations and behaviours of those who offend. All too often, because they’re only interviewed about their behaviour after arrest, it’s hard to know if the explanations individuals give of the origins of their behaviour are truthful, or intended to mitigate the likely sentence in court. Or, to put it another way, are they just playing the Ted Bundy defence of ‘It was the porn that made me do it.’
As I commented in the previous post, we rely all too often on the claim by moral entrepeneurs like Jim Gamble that consumption of child sex abuse images is a gateway to child sex abuse, and that those who look go on to do.
A couple of important points need to be made here. One is that not all of the images declared illegal under British law depict sexual acts; they include, for instance, images taken prior to the law being changed, such as pictures of naked 16 yr olds for porn mages and newspapers (e.g. Page 3) and old nudist pictures, and also that there is a thriving and troubling hinterland for paedophiles based in the US and elsewhere that specializes in non nude images that are technically legal, or borderline in the UK, but which are designed to be arousing to the consumer. The result is that things it is legal for a child to do, such as sunbathe naked or topless, cannot legally be recorded under the strict interpretation of the British laws.
The second point to make is that not all circulation of child porn is commercial. Collectors swap pictures between them, with no commercial transactions taking place. The insistence on the part of Gamble, and others, that without the consumers of commercial child porn there would be no production of child porn appears to be a grotesque over simplification, since so much of it is clearly amateur made and circulated for no gain between sharers. This point is especially important as child sexual abuse appears to have preceded the mass production and circulation of child porn, making the focus on child porn look like a risky gamble on a chain of causation that has never been proven.
It’s important to reiterate that last point. Jim Gamble may be right to assert that the majority of offenders who abuse children directly today have consumed child porn, but any aetiological conclusions he draws from that are unevidenced, and implicitly refuted by the existence and persistence of child sexual abuse before child porn was even technically possible.
Having said all that, we’re in the same bind as the police and the moral entrepeneurs. So here’s a modest proposal. Let’s have an amnesty. We do it for knives and guns, so let’s do it for child porn. Let’s say to anyone who has suspect images on their PC, that they did not produce themselves (as in taking the original picture or video) that they can bring their devices to a designated place, and have the images forensically examined and removed, without threat of prosecution provided the are not evidence that that person committed a specific criminal offence against a child.
There’s precedent for amnesties in Britain – knife and gun amnesties are a regular feature of police campaigns to reduce the prevalence of weapons.
However, this amnesty would have another purpose altogether. Those availing themselves of the amnesty would have to sign up for a course on sexual consent, and to agree to be interviewed by a psychologist to gather data on their motivations and attitudes. Yes, it’s a challenging task, but in the process we’d have a cohort of people who could be used as the basis of a study to prove or disprove the thesis that those who look go on to touch, and we’d have a basis for saying that there was no further excuse for having child porn. We might even, by using the data gathered, have a chance to identify who, if anyone, from the cohort went on in future years to commit offences against children, so that we could move on from merely demonizing offenders to using data to develop strategies to prevent them from offending. That is the primary object, after all, isn’t it?