The criminal justice system’s effort to combat child sexual exploitation has taken on a primary and aggressive focus toward prosecuting those who violate child pornography laws. The deontological policy labels all child pornography offenders, whether they are producers or merely viewers, as morally bankrupt and a threat to the nation’s children. Yet the basis for the policy bears fundamental flaws, and this article explores them. The article first summarizes legislative efforts to bolster child pornography laws and lengthen sentences for violators. It then provides a synthesis of criminal justice initiatives that are expending substantial resources targeted toward investigating, prosecuting, and punishing child pornography offenders. The policy and the initiative rely on a presumption that child pornography consumers are in reality undetected pedophiles and child molesters who are at high risk of sexually abusing children.
This article challenges the presumption by comprehensively analyzing certain of the most commonly cited studies that purport to empirically support correlations between child pornography, pedophilia, and child molestation. It also highlights other empirical evidence, as well as some practical considerations, that instead tend to show that most child pornography offenders are at low risk of committing contact sexual offenses. In sum, the concentration on child pornography crimes appears to be a misinformed policy that fails to directly protect real children from harm.
For the remainder of this paper: by Melissa Hamilton, University of South Carolina – School of Law