|Child pornography offenders: Profiles of a complex group|
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Canada
Forensic Psychiatry Program, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Canada
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).
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. 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”.
of the child pornography offense
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).
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).
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.
the profiles to guide the clinician about risk
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.
a virtual and hands-off offense
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).
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
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
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
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?
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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