Vol. XXIX, No. 3
Summer 2017
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Is pornography use safe for those convicted of a sexual offence?
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Prosocial Treatment Methods for Juveniles Who Sexually Offended
The Relationship between Implicit and Explicit Evaluations of Sexual Aggression and Sexually Aggressive Behavior
Child pornography offenders: Profiles of a complex group
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Processes Accounting for the Covariation Between Hypersexual and Psychopathic Traits
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Treatment of High-Risk Sexual Offenders: An Integrated Approach
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David Prescott
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Sarah Gorter
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Contact the editor or submit articles to:

Heather M. Moulden, Ph.D.
Forensic Program
St. Joseph's Healthcare
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
E: hmoulden@stjoes.ca
P: (905) 522-1155 ext. 35539
Child pornography offenders: Profiles of a complex group
Sébastien PRAT
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Canada
Forensic Psychiatry Program, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Canada

Sebastien Prat1.       Introduction

It is known that child pornography has existed since ancient times. However, the first child pornographic images as we now know them can be traced to 1862 (Tyler, 1985).  As the reach of this particular type of offence has expanded globally, it highlights the challenges of tackling this problem as it requires an international collaboration of many national task forces (Krone, 2005). Easier said than done as the laws are quite different for each country and for a long time, child pornography has been described in many criminal codes under the section of obscene messages. Lately, according to the evolution of criminality, and specifically, criminality involving the new means of telecommunication, specific laws have been introduced. The legal evolution has not been linear if we compare one country to another. For example, specific laws pertaining to child pornography offenses were issued in 1977 in the US, in 1980 in Denmark, in 1984 in the Netherlands and only in 1994 in France (Tyler, 1985; Frederick, 1996; Prat et al., 2012).

The profiles of the offender are quite varied, describing different psychopathology and motivations for the offense (Burke et al., 2002). Many offender and offence characteristics have been described to explain this phenomenon. Child pornography is mainly known as pictures or videotape, but the narrative aspect, referring to specific literature, has to be considered as child pornography also and can be used to stimulate deviant fantasies. Artistic aspects have been emphasized as a tolerance of this kind of production in some countries (Krone, 2004; Kleinhans, 2004), and the border has sometimes blurred between real artistic depictions and indecent pornography. To give an example, in 1973 Tony Duvert received a literature prize in France for a book entitled “Paysage de Fantaisie” (Fantasies’ landscape), that clearly described pedophilic fantasies[1]. This publication was released during a time of cultural sexual liberation, which may explain how the obscene aspect was ignored while people focused on the “innovative and liberal style”. It is also interesting to note that David Hamilton, a famous photographer, is also known for his movie “Age of the innocence”, which depicted pubescent girls. To my knowledge, there are no indecent or obscene images in the movie, but the poses of the protagonists could be considered sexually suggestive. Although his work has not been considered child pornography, it is interesting to note that people charged and convicted for possession of child pornography, have also possessed material related to David Hamilton’s “artistic production”[2].

2.       Complexity of the child pornography offense

Child pornography as a concept is further complicated by the fact that some non-pornographic material can be used in pedophilic fantasy (Krone, 2004; Kleinhans, 2004). Casual images from clothing catalogues, newspaper images, or cartoons are often found in collections. It has been debated in many countries whether those kinds of images can be considered illegal, since they do not result from a sexual offense. Many countries consider those productions illegal, but some countries, such as France, allow a defense if the consumer can prove that the subject, although appearing as a minor in the image, is in reality older than 18 (Prat et al., 2012). From a clinical perspective, this consideration does not make any sense, because, the consumer is still interested in viewing minors in erotic or pornographic images. Based on those different considerations, scales have been developed to classify the images, or any kind of production, that can be related to child pornography. One example is the Combating Paedophile Information Networks scale (COPINE scale), developed at the University College of Cork in Ireland, which includes 10 levels from indicative to sadistic and bestiality. It is interesting to note that from step 6 “explicit erotic posing”, most countries agree that the images are considered illegal, but there is some variation between countries for lower levels. From the COPINE scale, the Court of Appeal, in the case Regina v. Oliver (2002), issued the Sentencing Advisory Panel scale (SAP scale), describing 5 steps from “nudity or erotic posing with no sexual activity” to “sadism and bestiality”; the purpose of designing the scale was to help the judges/jury to provide appropriate sentencing based on the gravity of the offenses depicted in the images. This SAP scale, issued from a trial, can be considered as a practical legal tool for use with those convicted, as opposed to the COPINE scale which was mainly designed for clinicians and researchers (Taylor & Quayle, 2003; Krone, 2004; Quayle et al., 2006). Indeed the SAP scale focuses on illegal material, as opposed to the COPINE scale which describes all possibilities as to how a minor can be depicted.

The use of child pornography goes beyond functioning as a tool to fulfill sexual fantasy. In addition, it is used as currency for exchanging material between collectors and within specific websites. The collection of child pornography is well described as a risk factor. Such materials are also used to normalize the activity in the process of grooming potential victims. Furthermore, consumption of any depiction of child sexual abuse supports rationalization of abusive behavior, and reinforces cognitive distortions related to sexual activity with minors. Finally, financial interest is also a motivation to deal in child pornography, because a significant market exists. However, generally, people interested in the money are not really motivated by pedophilic interest, and this speaks to the complex and varied motives for the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material (Tate, 1990; Marshall, 2000; Taylor et al., 2001; Quayle et al., 2001; Frei, 2005; Beech et al., 2008).

Apart from the features of the material itself, the characteristics of the collection have been highlighted as relevant to conceptualizing risk and risk management. We describe notably 1/ the importance of the collection for the collector; 2/ the constancy of the collection; 3/ the organization of the collection; 4/ the attempts to conceal the collection, and 5/ the degree to which the collection is shared with others, or part of a virtual community, such that the collector considers his material to be relevant or desirable to someone else (Taylor et al., 2001).

As mentioned above, the profiles of child pornography consumers are quite varied. Three different studies highlighted three different typologies to explain the motivations. Burgess and Hartmann (2005) defined three categories: 1/ “Traders”, people who send and collect child pornography on the Internet; 2/ “Travelers”, people who try to make contact with children using coercion or manipulation and; 3/ “Traffickers”, people who are actively involved in child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Elliot and Beech (2009) described 4 groups, 1/ the “periodically prurient”, those who access images out of curiosity, who can have addictive behaviors, but who have no particular sexual interest in children; 2/ “fantasy only”, people who have sexual fantasies about children, who fuel this interest by sharing images and have no known history of physical aggression; 3/ “direct victimization”, people with a particular interest in contact with children, either real or virtual, and use images or stories to groom victims; and 4/ “commercial exploitation”, people trading images for money.

3.       Assessing the profiles to guide the clinician about risk

Because of the complexity of the offense and the specificities of the profiles, those assessing the risk of recidivism first need to ask what kind of risk is being assessed (Wakeling et al., 2011). There is specific sexual recidivism, violent recidivism and general recidivism. When we think about child pornography and sexual offenses in general, we are primarily interested in sexual recidivism. Regarding child pornography offenses, we also need to think about what kind of risk we are looking for. Generally, child pornography is described as carrying a low risk of recidivism, from 1.5 to 6 % (Babchishin et al., 2011; Babchishin et al., 2015; Faust et al., 2014). However, we have little information about the type of recidivism and the offender profiles. Because child pornography involves a wide range of profiles, we must be able to define precisely the type of recidivism according to the profile.

3.1.   From a virtual and hands-off offense

A significant hurdle in defining recidivism for this group is that we do not know what to expect after a child pornography downloading offense (Neutze et al., 2014). Generally, we are interested in assessing the risk for the subject to offend again in the same manner, but there are questions about how to classify potential offenses from virtual to real and from hands-off to hands-on offenses. On this “double scale”, we can define four stages, 1/ child pornography would be the most virtual and most hands-off offense against children; then 2/ sexual online grooming and the obscene phone calls or image sharing, are still a hands-off offense, but less virtual; 3/ exhibition becomes a real offense, because of the face-to-face relationship, but is still a hands-off offense, because there is no physical contact between the offender and the victim; and 4/ sexual molestation and rape are clearly hands-on offenses, regardless of differences in terms of coercion, violence and gravity. The idea of exploring the risk assessment in terms of child pornography consumption is to know if we want to predict the same behavior, or a potential escalation. The tool to assess the risk of re-offense must be designed regarding those aspects of virtuality/reality and hands-on/hands-off. The Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT) was recently developed and shows promising data, as it will help focus on the relevant information for assessing  risk (Seto & Eke, 2015), but still does not signal the manner of re-offence. However, by using it in combination with typologies and motivation conceptualizations, we can enrich our risk evaluations and thus risk management.

An international perspective: Research on French child pornography offenders

Based on a sample of adult French males convicted of child pornography downloading, this author performed two studies: 1/ a comparison between non pedophilic and pedophilic child pornography consumers; and 2/ using only the pedophilic child pornography consumers, a comparison between those whose offending was limited to downloaded child pornography, and those who already had another closer contact with a child (from online grooming to rape).

As child pornography consumption and any related offenses are complex offenses, it appeared important to be able to discriminate between looking for the images on the Internet and engaging in any other type of sexual behaviour with children. Four variable domains were identified in each study: 1/ the social and emotional functioning of the offender, including educational background, employment, relationship status and sexuality; 2/ childhood history of the offender in terms of violence, parental relationships; 3/ the perception of the offense with specific attention to indications of remorse, rationalization; and 4/ psychological functioning inferred from introspection capacity, and cooperation during the assessment.

3.1.1. Pedophilic vs non-pedophilic child pornography consumers

In terms of the social and emotional variables, we found that non-pedophiles had better academic achievement, more stable employment, and felt better integrated in society. This group was typically heterosexual, and denied complaints of loneliness or sexual dissatisfaction. In terms of childhood history, the only significant result was the absence of a father or father substitute. We did not find any group differences in terms of violence experienced in childhood, or antisocial traits.

In terms of the perception of the offense, the non-pedophilic group endorsed positive attitudes towards minors, and described regret and culpability, contrary to the pedophilic group, which presented with more minimization or rationalization. The non-pedophilic group expressed a morbid curiosity towards the images, explaining the need to also access images of car accidents or war. The non-pedophilic group was more inclined to talk about their sexuality. They cooperated more and exhibited capability for introspection compared to the pedophilic group.

3.1.2. Hands-off vs hands-on child pornography offenders

In the study comparing hands-off and hands-on child pornography offenders, it was interesting that the groups did not differ greatly. This can be explained by the fact that both groups were composed of pedophilic subjects, who likely present with the same characteristics. In terms of emotional and relational aspects, no statistical differences were found. However, the offender’s attitude towards the offense was significantly different, such that the hands-off group presented with a more positive attitude, characterized by remorse or acknowledging  the status as victim for the depicted child.

In the same way, the hands-off group expressed more sense of virtuality, with the idea that they were alone behind their computer, with no contact, and at no risk of being caught for their fantasies. The hands-on group had more difficulty in talking about their sexuality. They showed no introspection, nor did they cooperate during the interview.

3.1.3. Criminal history of the hands-on child pornography consumers

As part of the second study, the criminal history of the hands-on child pornography consumers was explored further. The first idea was to test some kind of “escalation process” in the sexual behavior, from consuming child pornography to assaulting a minor. It was interesting to find that most of the subjects had been convicted many years before for a hands-on/“close physical proximity” offense, such as sexual assault or exhibition. However, after the 2000’s and  the Internet’s explosion, most of the convictions were related to child pornography downloading, with no convictions for another sexual assault or exhibition; some were convicted however for communicating with minors on the Internet.  It is important to be cautious with these results, because they were based solely on convictions. However, because there was such a large majority of subjects presenting in this way, (although controversial) what, if anything, might this mean about pornography as a protective factor for pedophiles?

4.       Conclusion

Although the research reviewed here did not specifically identify risk factors or link the variables to recidivism, it focused on specific patterns and behaviors, and in this way may provide guidance about what to explore during an interview, to be able to conceptualize and differentiate profiles, and then consider the potential acting out or re-offence most likely. Furthermore, the indirect elements presented above can be used to formulate the level of intensity of an individual’s interest and behavioural patterns in accessing child pornography materials. In this way, the present research can be incorporated into assessments designed to gather information both for the purpose of formal risk assessment, such as with the use of the CPORT, but also for the purpose of conceptualization and risk management formulation.


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[1] http://bibliobs.nouvelobs.com/essais/20100517.BIB4290/duvert-le-mal-aimant.html

[2] http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/24/bookshop_conviction_overturned/

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