My first post on this topic was more than eight years ago. For most of that time the situation has got worse. Much worse. But today I saw the first glimmer of light:
All major disasters have multiple causes and the great child abuse overreaction is no exception. Why grown men – and occasionally women – should want to kiddie-fiddle, I have no idea. Some sexual misbehaviour I can understand, even find tempting. Usually men my age (60s) getting romantically or sexually entangled with 18 year old girls are figures of fun. I remember that when I was young I had difficulty appreciating fine differences (or a decade or so) in the ages of those much older than me. Basically there were just two categories: the old, like my parents or the teachers at school, and the incredibly old, like my grandparents. So that stunning, sexy 18 year old girl sees me as incredibly old, like her grandfather. Maybe her grandfather is a lovable old stick, in which case she might not mind talking to me. Or maybe is a bad-tempered bore, in which case she might not. But in no case would she have any romantic or sexual interest. Or maybe that kind of analysis comes more naturally to mathematicians (like me) who are programmed to generalise, abstract, recurse etc more easily than breathing.
There are clearly exceptions. The sufficiently famous and the sufficiently rich often attract at least simulated interest from much younger members of the opposite sex. A minority of girls also seem to enjoy trying to attract much older men either for amusement or as part of discovering their sexuality, but with no intention of ever consummating the relationship, such as it is. Also men seem to be genetically inclined to make fools of themselves even when their rational selves know that a relationship won’t work. But after a number of misadventures most men, over say 50, have grasped that relations with much younger girls are unlikely to work well, however tempting they may be.
So far I have skirted around an inevitable difficulty. The law uses fixed ages, which are set cautiously high. But some people mature sexually, if not emotionally, far earlier than others. Some girls have substantial sexual experience by the age of 14 or younger. Others have none by the age of 21. The American use “jailbait” to describe a girl under the statutory age who behaves like an extremely flirtatious and apparently sexually available girl in her twenties. Appearances can be deceptive, she may not actually expect or want things to go further than suggestive talk, but it makes little difference, responding to her overtures if you are significantly older (say over 25) is to risk being jailed, and we all have, or should have, sufficient self-control not to respond.
Arbitrary boundaries arise all over the law and basically one just has to accept them. But consider the case of someone manifestly young enough to have little idea of what sex is about, say age 9 or 4 or 2. Why are some people sexually aroused by such children? If you do not feel any such arousal yourself, you are likely to feel absolutely appalled by the behaviour of someone who apparently does.
In passing, it is unfortunate that the word “child” has two meanings in this context. On the one hand it means “under-age human being”, on the other it means what most people think of as a child – someone pre-puberty, probably under 10 and maybe under 4. So the horror which we naturally associate with someone buggering a 3-year old child tends to get carried across to someone having conventional sex with a highly sexually experienced girl of 15 who took the initiative all the way along.
So far I have been talking about “child abuse”. At first sight, it would seem that “child porn” is a far less serious matter. After all, if I spend all day watching unpleasant videos, no one else is apparently hurt, although there it is at least arguable that I am. Interestingly, this point is rarely made. When it is, the response is that the watcher is increasing the demand for such movies and hence indirectly increasing the supply of such movies. Assuming there is no clever fakery, each movie involves actual child abuse.
We can forget clever fakery. The only cheap fakery is for an actress in her early 20s to dress, make up and act as if she was 15. The video equivalent of “photoshopping” images is still far too expensive (in time and equipment) to be much used.
But it is hard to see that (say) 100 views of a video would justify the trouble and expense of making it. So yes an individual watching a video of a child being buggered is adding to the total number of real-world incidents, but his contribution is small, far smaller than the contribution of the person carrying out the buggery. You may object that an individual may watch thousands of hours of such videos, but I still find the whole argument flimsy.
If you try to discuss it, or look at the way the topic is treated, it is quite clear that this issue does not get careful consideration. People just emote. They are horrified by the idea of their 2 year old child being abused by some “monster” and anyone involved in that kind of thing (such as someone caught with downloaded child porn) is clearly a monster. Lock him up and throw away the key.
That brings us back to the elephant in the room. The overwhelming majority of child abuse is by family and close friends. Usually, family members not directly involved in the abuse cannot bring themselves to believe it is happening, even when there is clear evidence that it is. All that is exceedingly uncomfortable. Much easier to blame a gang of evil strangers going around kidnapping or grooming innocent children and then abusing and filming them, so their sicko friends and contacts can watch what they did.
But curiously, Simon Bailey has now come out to say we should stop prosecuting people for watching child porn. He is the chief constable of Norfolk and the NPCC lead on child protection. The NPCC, for those lagging behind, is effectively the April 2015 replacement for ACPO. Its role is to coordinate policing between the various forces. Partly that is about boring issues like purchasing policy, and partly about trying to get an agreed approach to tricky issues.
Doing something about online child porn is one of its “digital” objectives in its 2016 plan:
Bailey is clearly aware that the public will emote wildly about the idea of not jailing those looking at child porn. He bases he recommendations simply on practicality.