Does watching child pornography lead to contact sexual offense

In this article we discuss whether viewing child sexual abuse material (so called child pornography) increases the risk of contact sexual offenses. 

Person X, 23 year old, single male is inclined to watch so-called child pornography. With high speed internet available at home and even at his workplace, there are not many obstacles in his way to fulfil his wishes. When we think of the consequences of viewing so called child pornography there are multiple questions that come to our minds. Does watching the so-called child pornography not increase the risk that this person might commit sexual offenses? Or does it act as a buffer to channelize his sexual impulses and prevent cases of contact sexual abuse? The following explanations will reveal that these deceptively simple questions are not easy to answer. 

Seto and Eke analysed the association between child pornography use and subsequent acts of contact sexual offenses. Their results showed that 1.3% of the sample committed contact sexual offense4. In another study, Riegel (2004) conducted an internet based survey on people who identified themselves as Boy-Attracted Pedosexual Males (BPM). When this group was asked if consumption of child pornographic material increased their desire to commit sexual acts with minors, 84.5% of the group replied ‘rarely’ or ‘never’. The above findings point to the possibility that child pornography alone does not lead to contact sexual offending. 

Furthermore, there is evidence that child sexual offenses are committed before engaging in child pornography. In 2011, Eke et al. did an extensive study of 541 child pornography offenders. Out of these, 30% had also committed contact sexual offenses. Within this sample majority of the contact sexual offenses were committed before (18%) the child pornography offenses or at the same time (8%); only 3.9% of these offenders committed contact sexual offenses following their child pornography offenses over a period of 5.9 years. In another study, majority (84%) of the contact sexual offenses were reported before engaging in child pornography offending.6 In another study, Howit (1995) studied the role of child pornography in sex offeding. His results indicated that viewing pornography did not precede the sexual offense. Thus a simple direct causal effect of viewing pornography on offending was not supported by this study.

There are other factors which interact and determine if a person will act out or not. Sexual deviance is a major risk factor for sexual recidivism. In addition, antisocial tendency is another major risk factor. We will not be talking about these factors in detail since it is beyond the scope of this article. 

The aim of this article was only to elucidate if viewing so called child pornography leads to contact sexual offenses. It does not, in any way, justify, or advocate the use of so-called child pornography or child sexual abuse material. In the reality viewing CASM and contact sexual abuse both are seriously harmful for children.  

In conclusion, a number of people who engage in child pornography offending also commit contact sexual offenses. However, there are some who don’t. Hence a direct causal link between the two cannot be established and more research is warranted.  

References: 

  1. Aslan D., & Edelmann R. (2014). Demographic and offence characteristics: A comparison of sex offenders convicted of possessing indecent images of children, committing contact sex offences or both offences. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology25, 121-134.
  2. Babchishin, K. M., Hanson, R. K., & Hermann, C. A. (2011). The characteristics of online sex offenders: A meta-analysis. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 23, 92-123
  3. Bourke, M., & Hernandez, A. (2009). The “Butner Study” redux: A report of the incidence of hands-on child victimization by child pornography offenders. Journal of Family Violence24, 183-191
  1. Eke, A. W., Seto, M. C., & Williams, J. (2011). Examining the criminal history and future offending of child pornography offenders: An extended prospective follow-up study. Law and Human Behavior35, 466-478
  2. Endrass, J., Urbaniok, F., Hammermeister, L. C., Benz, C., Elbert, T., Laubacher, A., & Rossegger, A. (2009). The consumption of Internet child pornography and violent and sex offending. BmC Psychiatry, 9(1), 43.
  3. McCarthy, J. A. (2010). Internet sexual activity: A comparison between contact and noncontact child pornography offenders. Journal of Sexual Aggression16, 181-195