Common misconceptions about child porn and sex offenders

Posted: January 4, 2013 in Dark Web
Tags: , , , , , , ,

When researching my story The New Underbelly, I wound up, as you do, with reams of information, the vast majority of which didn’t make it to the article due to space constraints or because it wasn’t what my editor asked for.

I briefly quoted Dr Bill Glaser (and I hope I did not misrepresent him in any way) but our exchange was significantly longer and I’d like to share some things I learned about child porn and contact child sex offenders.

Whilst I did visit many of the sites mentioned in my article – including some of the gateways to the child porn sites – I did not download any child abuse material, i.e. I did not view any pictures or videos.  I have no interest in seeing such stuff for journalism purposes or otherwise.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of gigabytes of child porn images (‘Lolita City alone hosts over 100gb).  However, one thing I suspect from my research is that the majority of what I would have seen, had I investigated further would not have been what we normally consider “child porn” – i.e. children being subjected to sexual acts by predators – but would more likely be pictures of kids frolicking at the beach or playing in the bath.

I have little doubt that there is some porn of the most depraved kind.  I saw links that purported to be to images of children being sexually abused or otherwise harmed.  But I think this is a very small minority of what child porn users access.

I read some discussion boards which made me feel physically ill as people discussed children in terms I’ve only ever heard from the most derogatorily misogynist men talking about what they’d like to do with certain porn stars.  It is what I saw in these chatrooms that led me to contact Dr Glaser – a clinical psychiatrist who is an expert in the field of sex offenders – to ask him about the effect of the availability of online forums and filesharing sites on child sex offenders – for example, does it normalise such behaviour, given that users of child porn can now be in contact with people ‘just like them’?

The TL;DR version of his advice and that of the Australian Institute of Criminology is:

  • Most child porn users are ‘normal’ people who do not go on to actually offend against children but have deviant sexual fantasies.
  • Those who talk in the most frightening and offensive way are more likely NOT to be actual offenders, but are fantasising (much in the same way the vast majority of those who fantasise about rape do not go on to commit/subject themselves to rape).
  • Most actual offenders do NOT use ‘child porn’, but rather turn innocent pictures into porn
  • Actual contact offenders are more likely to be a male member of the victim’s family and they are getting their jollies by looking at Facebook pics of kids at the beach or at underwear catalogues.

But so I’m not paraphrasing too much, here are Dr Glaser’s observations, in full, in his own words:

  • Firstly, it looks like the traditional stereotype of the internet child-porn user doesn’t hold up. E.g. some recent studies seem to show that many child porn users have reasonably OK relationships, are not desperate loners searching for approval/companionship and have reasonably effective non-sexual ways of dealing with “stress”.

  • Importantly, a substantial proportion of child-porn users (perhaps the majority) do NOT engage in contact sexual offending with children (although, of course, this finding should be interpreted with caution given the huge under-reporting of sexual assault of children)

  • Just as importantly, offenders who only use  child porn without going on to assault children seem to have a higher level of deviant sexual fantasies and an increased tendency to hold distorted views of children as sexual beings, compared to those offenders who actually assault kids. This finding is, of course, counter-intuitive at one level but at another level it makes sense: most males (and I apologise for my gender here) experience all sorts of bizarre and horrifying sexual fantasies at some stage but the majority do not act on them. In other words there really does seem to be a “disconnect” between sexual thoughts and sexual behaviours with no good correlation linking the two.

So, in terms of your questions:

  • It might be possible that for some offenders, contact with other offenders over the internet could help to “normalise” and validate their experiences. After all, despite what I pointed out earlier, one would expect potential offenders who are not well-integrated into the community to seek out, and accept, moral approval for their The key question is: what is being normalised? Having deviant fantasies (in the same way as Star Trek characters and stories are normalised at a Star Trek convention, while everybody realises that they are still just fantasies)? Or acting on the behaviours depicted in the porn (which is, of course, much more sinister)?

  • Contact with other offenders over the internet probably increases the use of internet and other child porn. Whether it increases the risk of sexual assaults on children is simply not known. My guess is that it probably does, simply because there are always going to be particularly nasty offenders who will use the internet to get ideas for their next assault and hook up with like-minded offenders. But of course, such offenders could also obtain recipes for offending just from the web-sites, without having to link up with other offenders.

  • In terms of those using the internet, recent studies show (as you might expect) that offenders who stick solely to internet porn are better educated and have sometimes quite sophisticated computer skills. This raises the interesting question of how many offenders who (e.g.) assault children do NOT use internet porn. One observation that has been made repeatedly over the years is that child molesters are very good at creating porn out of seemingly harmless material e.g. underwear ads in magazines, pictures of kids in pyjamas in supermarket catalogues, and (chillingly enough) endless watching of certain children’s movies (“Home Alone” seems to be a perennial favourite). The children depicted in this material are easily (in the offender’s mind) made into the subject of deviant fantasy. This is why the Australia Institute condemned David Jones a few years ago for its “corporate paedophilia” for portraying subtly sexualised images of young girls in its kids’ clothing catalogues. Perhaps, in this sense, we are all complicit in allowing/encouraging such images to become common-place … my own view is that, overall, they probably do far more damage than frank child porn in terms of promoting exploitative views in our society of childhood sexuality.

Dr Glaser’s views that stereotypes often do not hold true correspond with those of the Australian Institute of Criminology.  In its paper ‘Misperceptions about child sex offenders’ the Institute states:

  • not all child sex offenders are ‘paedophiles’. That is, child sex offenders are a heterogeneous group with varying offender profiles;
  • children are usually abused by someone they know, although data suggest that strangers comprise nearly one in five perpetrators of child sexual abuse against males;
  • not all child sex offenders have been victims of sexual abuse themselves and there are complex relationships between being a victim of child sexual abuse and becoming a perpetrator, which require further research. It is important to recognise that while many offenders report a history of being sexually abused, most victims of child sexual abuse do not become perpetrators later in life;
  • while not all child sex offenders have high rates of recidivism, a specific subset—those who target extrafamilial male children—do frequently reoffend; and
  • although it is difficult to accurately determine how many children a child sex offender has already offended against by the time he is detected for an offence, this number varies according to offending profiles and is unlikely to be as high as is commonly assumed. There is, however, a subset of extrafamilial male offenders who abuse high numbers of victims.

It all raises some interesting questions.  Should someone who masturbates to the picture of a child in a bathtub be considered a criminal?  What about the person who uploads that picture, knowing it will be used for sexual gratification?  Are people still hysterical about ‘stranger danger’ when all the evidence shows that it is within their own families they should be looking for sex offenders?

Comments
  1. Dushan Savich says:

    >>It all raises some interesting questions. Should someone who masturbates to the picture of a child in a bathtub be considered a criminal?

    Yeah, it should be. Sorry, if that’s an interesting question for you, you’re an asshole

  2. AKA.Steve Guttenberg says:

    Actually, that’s a perfectly legitimate question. Just like this one I will pose to you: What’s the crime in that circumstance?.

    Criminal acts infer there was an act of aggression against someone’s person or property. The act is deviant, but no one was harmed. It’s akin to condemning someone who punched a wall instead of their misanthropic co-worker.

  3. […] Bill Glaser, a psychiatrist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of sex offenders, was recently interviewed at length at All Things Vice on this […]

  4. dirgel says:

    It’s depressing that so many people will simply ignore your post simply because you are not trying to justify burning paedophiles at the stake… You have a very valid point and as a rule utilitarian, I strongly agree with you on many points.

  5. Mike Harding says:

    Ah… “thought crime” – even in Australia people are regularly prosecuted for it.

    No vaguely “normal” person thinks child sex is OK but neither do I think people should be prosecuted for thinking about it any more than I think they should be prosecuted for thinking about punching their boss after a bad day at the office. (Responders: don’t attempt to draw a trivialisation link).

    Many (all?) males *do* have significantly violent and/or deviant sexual fantasies but, as the shrink pointed out, we don’t usually act upon them – many (all?) women have submissive fantasies but, sadly :) they do not always act upon them either.

    People are strange but we should *never* seek to prosecute people simply because they think in a way we don’t like.

    Eiley: heard you with Raf this afternoon, good listen. In general, he’s a pretty good and balanced guy.

    MH

  6. Dr Glaser has, sadly, passed away recently

  7. Mind Control says:

    Sounds like a modern day witch hunt. how unhuman of people to glorify laws less than 100 years old. compared to the length of humanity…

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