Crimes against children have changed in the digital age. Doctors Richard B. Krueger and Meg Kaplan, a husband and wife team of psychiatrists from Columbia University, believe that our legal system hasn’t kept up.
As researchers in the field of sexual behavior, they know that in the past, a victimizer engaging in predatory sexual abuse would have had physical contact with the young person. Today, people who will never touch a particular child are nevertheless part of a system that can result in that child’s pain, degradation, and even death.
What People Agree on – and What They Don’t
We can all understand that child pornography is not a victimless crime. The child who’s being videoed having sex or masturbating or being tortured is real.
The individuals responsible for causing this kind of sexual exploitation are unambiguously criminal and need to be put away. There’s no controversy about this.
Where it gets complex is, what about the viewers?
- Should they be locked up because they’re enabling an industry that causes almost unthinkable pain and degradation?
- Is it justifiable to lock the viewers up, both as a deterrent to others and as a means of chipping away at the demand for child pornography?
- Even if an individual viewer hasn’t touched a child, is he on the path to developing into a full-blown child molester?
Different countries and different researchers have different answers. In some countries, viewing pornography is a death penalty offense. In others, such as Great Britain, viewers get a warning.
Kaplan says that during a visit to colleagues in Scandinavia, “When they learned that we incarcerate people for five or ten years even when they’ve never touched a child, the Scandinavians look on us as if we’re from outer space.”
An Evidence-Based Response
“Our number one goal,” emphasizes Kaplan, “is protecting children. However, the evidence shows that some of our approaches are making things worse.”
Krueger adds, “We have 30 years of actuarial instruments with a high degree of predictability for understanding which individual is likely to abuse a child in the future.”
He recommends the website, http://www.static99.org/pdfdocs/Static-99R_coding_form.pdffor assessing an individual’s future risk of physically molesting a child. Here are two cases of individuals with vastly different likelihoods of harming a child in the future:
- An individual caught viewing child pornography is 65 years old and never had any prior offenses. He is at very low risk for child molestation.
- An individual caught viewing child pornography is 25 years old and has been convicted of several prior sex offenses as well as non-sexual violence. That person is drastically more likely to harm a child.
The Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT) has been developed to assess the risk of sexual re-offense of individuals convicted of charges involving child pornography: https://www.researchgate.net/project/Child-Pornography-Offender-Risk-Tool-CPORT
Both Krueger and Kaplan wish that legislators would distinguish between those who are unlikely to harm a child in the future and those who are. Fortunately, we have the proven tools to do it.
Why Not Put Both in Jail?
Putting that low-risk person in jail means that when he gets out, the stigma will probably cause him to have trouble getting a job or finding a place to live. On top of this, the notification laws telling people that he’s a sexual predator are going to make it hard for him to function in society.
The person who can’t find work or a place to live may turn into a danger to society. For a low-risk individual to be in this situation is both unnecessary and counter-productive.
A Final Thought
Krueger and Kaplan know that some consumers of pornography pose an imminent risk to children. Others pose very little risk. We need to treat them differently.
When we conflate the two groups, we’re actually making the dangers worse by driving people who are not a danger to society into becoming a danger.
Krueger and Kaplan recommend the following resources for further information:
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, a national organization for those who treat individuals who commit sexual crimes and conduct research in this area: www.atsa.com
The International Association for the Treatment of Sex Offenders (IATSO) is an organization that consists of professionals involved in the research and treatment of individuals who commit sexual offenses is: www.iatso.org
The Safer Society Foundation, Inc in Brandon Vermont maintains a database of treatment providers for individuals who have committed sexual crimes: www.safersociety.org
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5thEdition-DSM-5 has a chapter on paraphilic disorders, for more detailed information concerning such patterns of sexual behavior, which can be purchased from Amazon.com.