News & Resources: Do Illegal Images Encourage Child Molestation?

Mere possession of child pornography (which includes images of sexually mature adolescents) – with charges often upgraded to “distribution” if one freely shares the images, or to “production” if one in any way alters or captions them – is one of the most rapidly growing offenses prosecuted in the U.S. federal system, earning those convicted an average sentence of 12.5 years (according to Department of Justice statistics). Often, the images in question are old and feature mere nudity, little different from what is found in naturist literature and legitimate art photography.  This severe punishment is not based on the actual harm done to the minor portrayed, but the widespread perception that interest in such images is a mark of “pedophilic” (or hebephilic or ephebephilic – which categories together include most males) orientation and thus useful in detaining would-be sex criminals before they commit a contact offense. In this brief, a well-known criminologist and expert witness reviews the most recent scholarship on the question, and concludes that there is no credible link between viewing such images and committing hands-on offenses against minors. The analysis summons evidence that minor-attracted males are more likely to be child-pornography offenders, but not contact offenders, most of whom are opportunistic rather than men with primary affective focus on children or adolescents. The brief is a useful summation of where the scholarship now stands.