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Child pornography: Drawing the line

Yesterday I read a story in the Ottawa Citizen about a 27-year-old Gatineau man who was convicted on child pornography charges. Police had found on his computer about 2,000 animé images of children having sex with adults or other children, plus three photographic images. Animé is Japanese cartoon-style drawings. (I’m not sure whether his drawings were animated or not – if so, I guess they could collectively make up a single cartoon.)

A psychiatric assessment indicated that he did not meet the criteria to be deemed a pedophile. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, to be served on weekends, plus three years probation and 20 years on the sex offender registry.

Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that the three photographs didn’t exist, and that the man did meet the psychiatric definition of a pedophile. Do you think he is guilty of possessing child pornography? What if he had drawn the animé images himself, or painted a picture – from his imagination – depicting a child in a sexually graphic situation?

I don’t think we get much choice in who or what we’re attracted to. We only have a choice in what we actually do. It’s not a crime to be a pedophile – someone who is sexually attracted to children – as long as you don’t act on it.

I’m willing to bet there are plenty of pedophiles out there who have never touched a child sexually and never will. Whether it’s because it’s illegal, or because they fear the humiliation of getting caught, or because they don’t want to hurt children, I don’t know. But they don’t sexually abuse kids. By the same token, they might avoid child pornography as well, either because it’s illegal or because real children get hurt in the making of real child porn.

But drawings? Isn’t that going a little too far?

What if we had the technology to monitor people’s fantasies? Should those be subject to our child pornography and obscenity laws too?

24 comments to Child pornography: Drawing the line

  • EK

    This came up in a case in NS last October and sparked quite a debate in my journalism class. Photos aside, I think you’re right. I’m uncomfortable about legislating against things in people’s heads. One player (an attourney I think) argued that this helped to encourage and promote acts that do have victims – actual child abuse, as opposed to drawn pictures.

    Stephen Kimber wrote a thoughful piece on that case, you can read it here: http://stephenkimber.com/2009/10/child-porn-as-thought-crime

  • I don’t think I can separate the actual photographic evidence of a crime against children from the amassed drawings in either of these two cases. I am trying, but I really can’t.

    I expect, given how lenient our court system is with pedophiles and others who DO sexually abuse children I can totally understand using this kind of evidence as a backdrop for charges about child pornography to be taken seriously. It isn’t child pornography under the law but neither is amassing a collection of children’s underwear, or hanging out in parks watching children in an overcoat, but contextually these sort of things have been used to show intent when there is evidence of abuse.

    I find it interesting that child porn sentences are longer than the sentences for people who have been convicted of sexual touching and assault with children but I think it’s because child pornography gets written off as a victimless crime by the viewer when in actual fact it’s a whole web of abusers and businesses making money off the abuse of children. I guess in that sense the sentences make sense, because we use jail time less for punishment sake but to alert society to how seriously we take breaking certain laws. It doesn’t have anything to do with protecting victims or retribution.

  • I’d really love to believe that the pedophiles of this world, in majority, are not acting on their desires. But it’s too close to home for me — I find it hard to believe that someone with those interests, left alone with a child, would be able to resist taking advantage. Lots of people might, say, enjoy bondage porn, and not actually act that out. But left alone in a room with whips, chains, and a tied up woman…would they just walk away?

    For that reason I think it’s maybe a good idea for the police to just know that here’s a person who has these desires. And maybe they shouldn’t be able to, say, act as a scout leader or be a field trip supervisor for their kid’s class or run a camp. The parents at my youngest daughter’s preschool have to pass a police check to be able to help out in the classroom…and the fact that a parent has a computer full of child porn at home is exactly the kind of thing we expect the police to identify for us with these checks.

    Man, I really sound militant on this one! Usually I think of myself as so middle ground. But I fret about this a LOT, for personal reasons, and while I don’t necessarily think the man should be punished severely for having the porn, I do think putting him on the police registry is well justified.

  • XUP

    I agree with Mudmuma on this one. There is a whole bunch of stuff a pedophile can be doing that isn’t directly harming children. I’m likening this to the stalker laws that took too bloody long to come into effect. People argued for years that just because a guy parked his car in front of your house all day or called you 20 times in the middle of the night or said things that gave you the creeps though it was never anything overt; that didn’t mean he was dangerous – at least there was nothing there to arrest him for. But everyone knew from past experience that this sort of behaviour has a very high potential of escalating into violence. And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t let a guy around my children who collects pornographic drawings depicting children. I know what you’re saying about there perhaps being pedophiles out there who are trying hard to keep themselves away from children, but collecting such drawings seems not to fit into that category. It’s not a case of being arrested for your thoughts. I can be thinking of killing someone and no one can arrest me for that, but when I start stalking a person, telling them stuff like “I hope you’ve been saying your prayers”, collecting clippings of them and papering my walls with them – maybe someone ought to stop me.

  • Lynn, a police check does not identify the parent with a computer full of anime images. It identifies only those people who have been CONVICTED of crimes, and those who have been charged and are awaiting trial and have conditions on their release.

    Want to know something absolutely horrifying? Most sex offenders who are awaiting trial (which can take a year or more) have a publicity ban. There may well be conditions on their release like staying away from children, house arrest etc, but the public, their neighbours, the school across from their house, their children and grandchildren etc are not informed. Its just hoped that the fear of jail will make them respect the conditions on release.

  • Forgot to mention. We aren’t asked to get a police check every year to volunteer in my kid’s school. You do it when they enter kindergarten and its enough until they leve the school for jr high. So you could have someone who “passed the check in kindergarten and 3 years later is charged with molesting children or having child porn images, and they will still be able to volunteer at the school because of a publication ban that keeps the charges from being publicized to the community!

  • kayT

    Innocent until proven guilty? Awaiting trial is not the same as guilty!!!

  • Awaiting trial and given conditions on release like not associating with children under the age of 16. Yet no one knows about the conditions but the person charged?

    Sorry I think that’s wrong.

    If the courts feel you shouldn’t be near kids while awaiting trial then your neighbourhood school should get a heads up about that.

    Or you should be awaiting your trial behind bars (which is the punishment if you go volunteer at the school while awaiting trial…but then no one knows about that but you and the police…and the police can’t tell the school and won’t find out unless there is a complaint that you are breaking your conditions…which no one but you knows about.

    It is bizarre.

  • Oh and in case I need to clarify this – because neither of these people were charged JUST on having kiddy based sex anime on their computers (I see nothing about charges relating to the anime it was simply used to back up the egariousness of the charges relating to the photographs) I can’t comment on if child porn laws would apply here.

    I do know an artist – a child abuse SURVIVOR – who had his work pulled from a gallery in Toronto in the late 80′s early 80′s but he wasn’t actually charged with creating child porn in the end. There was a big enough stink about the police taking his work down (it was about child abuse).

  • Thanks for the link, EK. From what I understand, the research looking at the linkages between child porn and child sex abuse (eg whether there are any ameliorative effects) is inconclusive.

    Mudmama, I think Canada is one of the few countries that *do* legislate against ‘virtual’ child porn, so animé could qualify under our laws. I agree with you about the contextualizing factors. But I’m not so sure about your last paragraph (of your first comment). Is it true that actively practicing pedophiles get more lenient sentences than people convicted of possessing child porn?

    Lynn, for the record, I would never leave a child alone with someone I knew to have a sexual interest in children, even if he (or she) had no history of or desire to sexually abuse children. Mudmama’s right – that police check isn’t very thorough. It just determines whether you’ve ever been convicted of particular crimes. Everybody who volunteers to work with vulnerable populations (like children) has to have one. By the way, I’d like to know your answer to my last question – the one nobody answered: If we had the technology to monitor people’s fantasies, should fantasies be subject to our child pornography and obscenity laws as well? Should people go on the sex offender registry on the basis of their fantasies?

    XUP, I agree with you to a certain extent. But using your analogy of thinking about killing someone, what if you collected murder-themed drawings but never hurt, threatened, harassed, or stalked anyone? I’d argue that you should be left alone with your drawings.

    KayT, good point about innocent until proven guilty.

    But Mudmama comes back with a good point too about conditions being imposed (such as staying away from children) before the accused is found guilty. (And the twisted way the conditions are imposed but are practically meaningless since nobody is allowed to know about them.)

    I’d love to know what percentage of people who are sexually attracted to children never act on this attraction. But these people can’t even seek psychological help for it, let alone speak openly, because of the mandatory reporting laws, which leave the psychologist with little choice but to turn him in.

  • If we considered an attraction to crime and murder a crime in itself everyone who watched most prime time television would be a criminal!

    Fantasies – those you intend to stay fantasies – are not something a mandated reporter would have to report. Intent does matter.

    But you’re right, I think social stigma keeps pedophiles in the closet. I would like to know what a psychiatrist uses to determine danger to society with a pedophile. Because part of the definition of a pedophile is the mnipulativeness. The literature I’ve read always talks about their ability to blame their victim, to see what they do as consentual in some way. so if a psychiatrist is examining some guy with 2000 imaginary images of kids engaged in sex and a hand full on photographs of actual children..and leaves stating they are NOT a pedophile AND that person does not mount a defense and pleads guilty…what allowed them to detmine that person is NOT a pedophile? Is it a simple kink (like liking japanese images of people having sex with animals with tenacles) and he made the very grave mistake of getting curious about real images?

    We do know that those who have been abused often have their sexual wiring rewired by the abuse and have dysfunctional fantasies about sexual abuse – being the predator or the victim. So clearly some people are feeling they can talk about it.

    Someone once said “The Internet MADE me a pervert” Those japanese images aren’t even cconsidered immoral in japan. One of their comic book heros is “RAPE MAN”.

  • XUP

    If the guy was just sitting at home drawing stuff or looking at drawings, he wouldn’t even attract anyone’s attention in the first place. The drawings are completely incidental. And we do have technology to monitor people’s fantasies. They hook some whatsits to a few of your more responsive areas and then present you with a variety of material. The machines monitor which material/situations/scenarios arouse you and to what extent. But again, you have to have drawn some negative attention to yourself before they use this technology.

  • Oh yes the peter meter readers -) There was something about them discontinuing the practice in BC in the news recently.

  • future landfill

    Years ago the Woody Allen part of the movie “New York Stories” had his disembodied mother appear in the sky whenever he was out in public telling his friends and passers-by embarrassing stories about him, making his life hell. It seemed to me an apt metaphor for having our subconscious revealed to everyone around us and how traumatic it would be to have our secret fantasies thus revealed. Sure would keep a lot of weirdos off the street though.

  • Convivialiddell

    Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drawings of the children. I really don’t. I mean, what if he drew them himself? And still, it’s not as if they were “real-life like” drawings at all. Japanese anime doesn’t really look like people. And even then, the difference between a 13 year old and a 16 year old in anime is pretty small. I’m not entirely sure if they were “children”.

    The thing with being accused of pedophilia is that even if nothing is true, even if you aren’t interested in children (prepubescent), the accusation is incredibly damaging. In the US (I don’t know about Canada) even suing for damages to character isn’t really going to get you anywhere.

    Personally, I think part of the problem is that our society fetishizes younger adults (mid to late teenagers), but we also call that pedophilia. And it’s interesting that he was arrested for having paraphernalia as opposed to actually sleeping with children (pedophilia). It’s like… being arrested for having a bong but no marijuana. And in our zealousness to protect children (because they can’t consent and are vulnerable is usually the implied reason), a lot of people are caught up. For example, there are cases where women that are breast feeding their children, pictures of their children swimming naked in a lake, etc. etc. are accused of pedophilia. Even if the charges are dropped, their friends, family, children’s teachers, schools, all know that there were charges. And then it’s the “there’s no smoke without fire” attitude and it’s a social downhill slide from there.

    Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about the whole thing. But I think that since this guy didn’t actually physically engage a child (excluding the photographs), he isn’t actually a pedophile.

  • But how on earth can you “exclude” the photographs?

  • People who don’t meet the psychiatric definition of a pedophile still sexually abuse children. Their motivations may be different, but the damage is still real. “Pedophilia” isn’t even a charge under the criminal code. The laws refer specifically to abuses against children. The photographs ARE evidence of abuse.

  • Wow, I’m really surprised to find out that the sex offender registry is NOT checked when we do these police checks for the school. What do they have the registry for? Is it just to keep track of potential suspects if something did happen? Or to lend ammunition to any future accusations? If it isn’t being used for public protection, then I’m not sure I see the point of it.

    As for thought policing…man, that is a really hard one. I have to say it sounds very dangerous to try to predict what someone will do just based on their thinking about it — there have been times I’ve been so angry with my kids, for example, that I’ve THOUGHT of hitting them, but I didn’t actually do it. And the idea that something like that could put me on some child abuser registry is scary.

    On the other hand, if I had a bunch of videos of parents hitting their kids and loved to read about that sort of thing then sure, put me on that child abuser registry right away!

    (Not that it’ll stop me from working at the preschool, though, apparently. And mudmama, we also have that rule, that once you pass the check once that’s good enough…so feel free to commit crimes after the check clears!)

  • It’s checked Lynn, but it only contains ppl who have been *convicted*, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers of ppl out there abusing children or using kiddy porn. It gives people a really false sense of security.

  • Of course, in fairness, it *should* only contain the names of those who have been convicted. But I’d be willing to bet that most people who have sexually abused children have never been convicted, so the registry s FAR from complete. Like Mudmama, I think it gives people a false sense of security. Fortunately, I think there’s a greater willingness – on the part of families and police – to prosecute now than in the past. People used to think of child sexual abuse as a private family matter, and kept it secret, which effectively protected predators.

    Future Landfill – that movie sounds hilarious. I’m going to rent it.

  • I have mixed feelings about this. I am a child abuse survivor. It was a family member and no one ever knew because I never told anyone until I was an adult. There were no adults in my life that I felt safe enough with (my mother was a single mom working 3 jobs) to tell.

    Should we keep track of people’s fantasies? No. I don’t think so or there wouldn’t be too many people left out on the streets. I think there’s a huge difference between anime and actual photos. No one was demeaned or abused in the making of an anime drawing. A photo is another matter and the fact that it contains images of real children in abusive situations is enough for me.

    Maybe we need another catagory besides pedophile. Something to do with harboring thoughts and materials related to pedophilia.

    I have three grown female children and fought long and hard against Megan’s law here in NJ (communities are notified if a person with any kind of child sexual predator record moves into the area). I’ve known too many people convicted of things that fall under the ‘sexual predator’ heading that are not dangerous to children.

  • I agree that kiddie-porn which didn’t involve real children should not be against the law, at least not criminally (tax it?). We should punish bad acts, not bad thoughts. Where is the victim? But our laws don’t need any victims or scientific evidence…

    The current law has exceptions for “artistic merit” and “educational, scientific or medical purpose”. The R vs Sharpe supreme court decision is at
    http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2001/2001scc2/2001scc2.html

    The sex offender registry should be smarter, distinguishing between 1) abuse of prepubescent kids by much older people, 2) exploration by kids of much the same age (ie, no registration), and 3) violent sexual acts. The registry should just list people who are a danger to others.

    If you look at pedophiles convicted of abusing children, 4% are strangers, 20% fathers, 16% relatives, and 50% acquaintances or friends. – Patrick Langan and Caroline Wolf Harlow, “Child Rape Victims, 1992,” Crime Data Brief, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994.
    http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=410&Itemid=336

    (I don’t know what proportion are priests or monks….)

    When pedophile sex offenders are released, they need to observe their conditions, and law agencies should know about them, and monitor them, and they should not be working with children. But they do need to make a living, and are little danger to adults. They need their privacy protected so they can get a job and be integrated with the community.

    tOM

  • One more comment– Why is pedophila so much worse than killing or torturing people? Yet we allow depictions of atrocious violence in movies and TV in loud 3D moving colour, while non-moving black and white pedophilia anime comics are illegal in Canada (though not in the US or Japan).

    If depictions incite, why not make murder and violence illegal to depict or to watch depictions of?

    If not, then why not legalise pedophile material which doesn’t victimise real kids.

    All this preventive censorship of this is without scientific basis. No scientist has shown that depictions of violence or pedophilia incite anyone to commit these acts. The material may, in fact, relieve the desire rather than increase the desire.

    One study stated:
    “our finding does contradict the assumption that all child pornography offenders are at very high risk to commit contact sexual offenses involving children.”
    http://www.iprc.unc.edu/G8/SetoEke2005.pdf

    Until there’s accepted evidence, it’s wrong for the government to create a crime where there are no victims.

    tOM

  • Unknown1

    I was just looking up how the law takes child pornography into context and came upon this website. I personally have no interest in child pornography at all but one gallery i knew had some depictions of child-pornography all non photographic and was therefore disbanded and is reassembling under new management. Added to this fact that the real reason why the website was pursued for these crimes was because some artists just didn’t want their pictures on the gallery but people posted them saying they liked them and sharing the pictures with other internet users.

    I understand the right to with hold ones art from another. I understand that child abuse images [the correct legal term] is a crime and the purpose of bringing abusers, videos and photographers of these images is to stop the abuse to children.

    So I completely agree with ANY decision using anime or art IN CONJUNCTION ONLY with evidence of real photography to not only prove ones intent but also sentence a person. However as far as solely convicting a person for possession of graphic art depicting these its not right.

    Lynn if someone were in a room with someone chained up I think the first thing in a persons RIGHT MIND is to unchain and release the woman and leave the area before the person who set it up comes back @.@. Anyone who forcefully commits sexual actions on another without consent is not in their right mind but most citizens are. [though they might not always be intelligent]

    So given the situation that people get raped on the planet earth, [It does happen] and people get murdered on the planet earth. [still very possible] no art pictures can be created based on rape even if it were to educate people about the terrors of it. Same with any picture about murder and that also means no horror movies or even a scary story so that your child isn’t even the slightest bit afraid of doing anything before they think what is right and wrong.

    Hey if you are gonna put the ban hammer on any subjects creativity don’t be weak about it, start putting the ban hammer on everything that people think could be offensive to the eyes.

    As far as i consider it, art has no emotion only humans do, putting someone in jail for 90 days even will demoralize them, putting them on a sex offender list for 20 years will crush their self esteem, over pictures which will probably lay somewhere untouched in some evidence locker with no change.

    In conclusion, bad people should be punished, but you aren’t bad for having preferences. People have emotions and should be valued more than paper [thats the whole reason for laws i hope], all art containing graphic images should have warnings on entering [which is why i believe the site i was referring to should have been taken down for].

    Aww I wrote this before reading yours Tom, but you are on the ball and I agree.