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THE PORNOGRAPHY QUESTION
While no one has demonstrated decisively the relationship between fantasy and action, the lay public and some experts on see offenders tend to regard the link as a matter of proven cause and effect.
Wyre, for example, apparently never has to date presented single detailed case study of a paedophile in print, let alone one which demonstrates his thesis. Perhaps, as a consequence, one need not spend too much time on his assertion that fantasy can be the precursor to crime, obtained from the fantasy content or pornography.
Common-sense theories tend to be contradictory. For example, there is a lot to be said for the notion of fantasy as substitute for action, a largely separate stream of experience or a substitute for reality. The original psychoanalytic view of fantasy as wish fulfillment took a similar stance.
Nevertheless, there has been little acknowledgement of this in the debate on the effects of pornography and the legislation that has accompanied it
The feminist slogan "pornography is the theory, rape the practice" (Morgan, 1978) encapsulates the view that fantasy is the precursor to action. Some theorists see it as a cognitive process in which the offender learns false social norms and expectations from pornography. Thus, the role of pornography may be different from creating vivid sexual images which, at first, are used to accompany masturbation but later are inflicted on a victim.
While some therapists see fantasy as part of an escalating offending cycle
the direct evidence for this is slight. One cannot simply take evidence that offenders use and buy pornography as sufficient to implicate pornography causally in their offending. The most reasonable assessment based on the available research literature is that the relationship between pornography, fantasy and offending is unclear.
Often issues get confused when pornography is debated. The control of pornography might well be desirable simply on the grounds of its intrinsic offensiveness to sectors of the public
Unfortunately, The offensiveness issue tends to be confounded with public
Controversies concerning other social issues use the same structure. Drugs, media violence, poverty, promiscuity and education yield similar harm theses. Despite being superficially different, the rhetoric remains much the same. Third parties, not oneself, are held to be at greatest risk (Innes and Zeitz, 1988).
Harm theses are usually expressed simplistically; that looking at pornography will make men commit sex crimes takes a commonsensical appearance. This can also be seen in the political response to official reports such as the US Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (1970) and the British Williams Report (1979). Latterly, Howitt and Cumberbatch (1990) failed to find strong evidence of the adverse effects of pornography which prompted one government minister to comment:
Similar attitudes have spawned much research into the effects of pornography since the late 1960s, when the United States government first commissioned psychological and other research into obscenity and pornography (Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, 1970).
Indeed, the origins of social scientific interest in pornography trace back to this single initiative; virtually no research had been done until then.
A major theme in this earlier research was the effect of pornography on sexuality in general, including such matters as promiscuity and illegitimacy -- major social and moral concerns of the time. During the 1970s, under the influence of feminist ideas
the reserach emphasis shifted to the question of sexual violence
Despite changes in emphasis, questions concerning pornography continue to be framed mostly in terms of effects. The debate has been acrimonious and controversial, not only within academia but also in the responses of politicians and pressure groups
Psychology has been central to the debate, largely because of experiments (e.g. Donnerstein and Linz, 1986) that allowed causal interpretations -- though at the price of ecological validity (Brannigan, 1987).
Attention ought to be directed towards sexually violent crime rather than peripheral matters such as sexual arousal or promiscuity, which are only tangentially related to the crime issue
Statistical investigations of crime statistics have dominated the more ecologically
valid studies of pornography. These studies have had a variety of foci, but
especially changes in the
Of these authors, Court alone suggests that pornography causes sex crime. It is well known that Kutchinsky's rejection of the "pornography causes sex crime" thesis has been controversial (e.g. Bachy, 1976). An obvious limitation of such studies is that they consist of macro level analyses which, at best, can tell us little directly about how offenders use pornography and are possibly influenced pschologically. To emphasize the point, in general the authors of these studies have not implicated pornography in sexual crime, although others have interpreted the data differently (e.g. Baxter, 1990).
Investigations of sex offenders themselves, rather than official crime statistics, might offer greater insight into the links between sexual crime and pornography. Whether or not using appropriate
control groups, these studies tend to show fairly high levels of exposure to pornography during late childhood and adolescence among sexual offenders in general. But, set against fairly high levels of exposure to such material in the general population, the differences found between sex offenders and others are often relatively small and statistically insignificant, or tend to suggest that offenders have less experience with pornography
Similarly, studies of the age of first exposure to pornography show offenders to be no different from controls or to become involved with pornography later in adolescence
Whatever else, a clear-cut adverse link between sexual crime and pornography has not been demonstrated by such statistical studies -- neither for age of initial use of the material nor for the amount consumed.
Studies that treat sex offenders as a relatively homogeneous group, undifferentiated according to offence
find no differences in offenders' potential to be aroused by or preferences for different types of pornography
Consideration of research examining different offender types might reform this impression. Rapists of adult women are especially aroused by images of violence against women
Turning to the current use of pornography at the time of their offending, it has been shown over the last 30 years or so that there is no strong and consistent trend for sexual offenders to be more avid consumers of pornography than other men.
Cook and Fosen (1970), Goldstein et al. (1970), Johnson, Kupperstein and Fetters (1970) and Walker (1970) all suggest that offenders are similar to non-offenders -- what differences emerge imply that offenders are less frequent users of pornography.
Langevin et al. (1988) interviewed over 200 offenders and 150 controls but found no evidence that pornography was a factor in the offending. Goldstein (1973), in contrast, reports that many more of his rapists claimed to have been aroused to masturbate by pornography than his control group did. The proportions of offenders blaming pornography for their offending vary. Becker and Stein (1991) found 10% making such a claim, while
half of child molesters claimed incitement by pornography in Marshall's (1988) study.
Offenders' claims about pornography's influence on their lives may be self-serving; for example, by helping them to avoid self-blame for offences. Research on offenders demonstrates a paucity of interest in the development of deviant sexual fantasy. The use of self-completion questionnaires in much of the relevant research may not be conducive to complete disclosure of something as sensitive as fantasy.
It would appear that the existence of deviant fantasy among some offenders is established (Carter et at., 1987). Nevertheless, it might be naive to speculate that particular detailed types of fantasy accompany certain types of offence, let alone suggest what these types might be. It is a matter of conjecture how early sexual experiences might relate to fantasy (Howitt and Cumberbatch, 1990) but even mainstream research suggests that it is fairly common for offenders to have been physically and sexually abused as children
Significantly, Rhue and Lynn (1987) found that high levels of fantasy were associated with severe physical abuse in childhood -- a characteristic not uncommon in the childhoods of paedophiles, as we have seen.
Surveys and other statistical approaches have failed to provide clear information about the ways in which sexual offending relates to the use of pornography. There has typically been very little opportunity taken to investigate in detail the interplay between the offender as an individual and his experience of pornography. Virtually no extensive case studies are available on offenders, with the exception of Kutchinsky's (1976) account of the long-term sexual history of a "peeper".
He was an active sexual deviant many years before first seeing pornography; his deviant impulses were channelled by pornography, not created by them.
Following an extensive review of the research on pornography and sexual violence, Howitt and Cumberbatch (1990) wrote:
reveal the complexity underlying the superficially simple question of how sexual fantasy, perhaps stimulated by pornography, is involved in paedophile offending. The case studies discussed in this chapter are men with long-standing criminal paedophile records. The choice of research location is vital to enable the elicitation of fantasy material, since the institutional context may inhibit disclosure by encouraging denial or motivated distortions, for example, because offenders make assumptions about the interrelationships between researchers and management.
I decided to research a group of paedophiles in a treatment setting in which this particular motivated distortion was less likely. The men were all well into their assessment or treatment programmes, in which disclosure concerning the offences, pornography and histories of being abused, inter alia, had been stressed. An atmosphere of disclosure seemed to be more conducive to effective research. Certainly there was little or no evidence of the denial that some see as characteristic of sex offenders in the early stages of assessment (Wyre, 1987).
Spontaneous comments during the interviews indicated that sensitive information would have been withheld in penal settings. Only a small amount of the material gathered can be reported; topics are confined largely to the use of and experience with pornography, fantasy and sexual history, especially related to childhood sexual experiences.
Case 1: Brian
When Brian was about 10 years old, he first saw pornographic magazines which his stepfather kept in a cupboard. By 13, he was masturbating to magazines obtained from a friend; titles such as Fiesta, which are considered to be of the "soft-core" type. Brian's fantasies were not of women in the main -- his sexual history reveals little or no involvement with them. In his adolescence he used "non- pornographic pornography":
This erotic interest notwithstanding, he claims not to have seen commercial child pornography. It is his belief that his "non- pornographic pornography" had an indirect role in his offending
Similar self-made-pornography is discussed in Holmes (1991). In terms of childhood sexual abuse, Brian claimed:
His abuse of other children began at 13 years, when he was in a children's home.
Case 2: Bernard
Bernard has had a long-term fantasy of sex (vaginal and anal) with a particular physical "type" of woman as well as an obsession concerning his beliefs about the small size of his penis. Although he caid that he had been interested in "blue videos", he was deterred because of the largeness of the male genitals in such material. He admitted to enjoying magazines containing pictures of naked women which:
It was not until he was in the army that he saw pornographic material. He suggests that:
He claimed that newspapers or films in which a woman "showed" her "bum" would start him fantasizing. Bernard had extensively
photographed adult women although he had not taken "self-made" pornography of his girl victims, although:
His offences were indecent assaults on females.
Case 3: Adrian
Adrian is a prolific fantasizer capable of manipulating his imagery extensively. His offending had been against boys and had started while he was still at preparatory school. He had used pornography as part of the "grooming process" -- the preparation of circumstances appropriate to initiating the offence.
His collection of pornography had at one stage been worth £ 7000 cost price and included "hard- core" material such as Boys International, Golden Boys and Male International. He claims to have first seen this sort of material at the age of 16 while he was still at boarding school. However, his sources of fantasy included videos and television:
He also used other sources such as naturist beaches:
Case 4: Garry
Garry admitted that he had looked at pornography in prison but that it did not interest him really:
This refers to incidents with female peers during adolescence. He ad seen videos of a soft-porn sort but tends to regard them as humorous:
He denied using pornography in pre-offence preparation. Although spanking was part of his later offending, it was he who was
spanked -- a reversal of his fantasy. His initial offending was indecent exposure to children but later on there was contact abuse. Garry had
Case 5: George
George's offending involved touching girls in the 8- to 15-year-old age group under their clothing. He had not seen any pornography until his late 40s. Esquire type magazines he found interesting but repetitive. A couple of years before the interview he had a collection of soft-porn videos. None of this material had been used in relation to his victims. George had neither seen any pornography involving children nor taken photographs of his victims. Describing his sexual fantasies, he said:
He describes his fantasies about children as being very similar to this fantasy with adults.
Case 6: Charlie
Charlie's earliest sexual experiences were with other boys during adolescence. His first heterosexual experience was with his future wife while at university following a period of time in the army. However, sexual fantasies involving boys tended to dominate over heterosexual ones even during this time. His preferred age group with boys was the 9- to 13-year-olds, particularly blond haired, blue eyed, athletic types. For a period his paedophiliac contact was largely "horseplay", which created sexual arousal but did not reach the stage of illegality.
He would cut pictures from scout magazines, which provided erotic arousal. Nudity did not feature and the material was personally selected "non-pornographic pornography". Early on, his fantasies did not involve nakedness but this changed in his 40s after he moved in for a while with a family, when he saw his victim in various stages of undress every day -- in the shower and so forth.
Case 7: Michael
Michael sees the origins of his fantasy in childhood visits to Saturday morning children's movie matinees. He identified strongly with the heroes:
This pattern of tying up an adolescent/pre-adolescent girl and going elsewhere to masturbate in private reflects the man's adulthood offending very precisely:
His use of pornography in the conventional sense seems to have been nil, but he did report that:
This was during his late teenage years to early 20s. In his 30s, living away from home for the first time:
During his offending period in his middle age, he began to use Polaroid cameras to take picture of his "target" child but nudity as such was of little or no interest to him in his fantasy:
Case 8: Terry
Terry abused his three stepdaughters, including having full sexual intercourse with one of them from 10 to 18 years. A feature of his early life was sexual assault at the age of 4 to 6 years by his elder brother, including oral sex, and a sister from about 7 to 10 years. Although he knows his father sexually abused his sisters, he did not abuse Terry. More dominant is his first sexual intercourse with an
underage girl two years older than his 12 or 13 years and another girl slightly later while he was at boarding school. His fantasies largely centre around these girls, who seem to correspond to his preferred physical type:
His experience with pornography went back to his early childhood, perhaps as young as five years, when he saw pornography that his brothers had hidden away:
His experience of pornography involving females of his fantasy age group was minimal:
Case 9: Graham
The background of Graham has already been described in detail in Chapter 1.
Case 10: Mike
He has a 22-year history of abusing extra-familially, which included indecent assaults on both sexes and masturbation on boys, although he had not engaged in penetrative sex with them. He would afterwards masturbate to the fantasy of the offences. His offending had started at the age of 17:
Only since entering treatment had he started to have sexual fantasies about adult women. Pornography was used by his uncle as part of the abuse perpetrated on Mike -- this was generally available heterosexually orientated men's magazines such as Playboy. Pornography, he claims:
He had never seen child pornography but mentioned some television commercials that contained scantily dressed women which he was able to masturbate to.
Case 11 : Paul
Paul's offending history was a long one, going, as he put it:
His fantasy might start:
He has seen pornography:
He wanted to, but never did, take photographs of the children he abused because of fear that they might be discovered:
He videoed children's television programmes:
Such comments present a nurmber of dilemmas for the literature on the effects of pornography on offending. These stem from the fuller picture provided by the case studies, in which additional factors in offending can be considered besides pornography. Nevertheless, the research also provides confirmation of some previous findings from research.
One can seriously doubt whether reliance solely on questionnaires given to offender populations or experimental studies of offenders can fully illuminate precisely the role of pornography in the offending process. There are a number of reasons for this. In particular, our experience in collecting the case study material is that certain information, such as times and sequencing, is very difficult for participants to recall quickly and accurately. Also, in the case study approach, information is revealed that might not fall within the frame of reference of the survey questionnaire.
The compressed case studies presented here omit material that does not bear directly on pornography. For example, it spontaneously emerged early in the research that the paedophiliac offenders' sexual fantasies frequently involved themselves at afar younger age (especially adolescence).
Another unpredicted aspect of paedophiles' fantasy emerged
regularly in these case studies. It seems clear that commercial commercial pornography is only of limited interest to many offenders. Very little interest in child pornography was expressed by most of the paedophiles -- if by child pornography we mean nude children explicitly posed or involved in sexual activity (see also Marshall, 1988).
Some of the offenders expressed strong distaste for that sort of thing although few had actually seen it. Nevertheless, some of the offenders had an affinity for imagery that they found to be sexually stimulating. This was to be found in licit newspapers and magazines, television programmes and videos that did not normally involve nudity (although occasionally television advertisements with bare babies or toddlers were mentioned).
The range of such materials was quite extensive, varying from pictures of children in their underwear found in mail order catalogues through to Walt Disney videos. It is unlikely that normal adults process this material erotically.
Not quite so surprising is the choice of "pornographic" materials, which was largely limited to general heterosexual pornography of the so-called "soft-porn" type. It has to be stressed that some of the offenders expressed a distaste for this sort of material as well. A sizeable proportion of the paedophiles seemed to use heterosexual pornography more as an entertainment rather than to promote paedophiliac fantasy.
Previous studies have not found very strong evidence for specific arousal factors in different types of pornography, with only tentative exceptions (Howitt, 1991). There may be several reasons why this should be the case.
Firstly, a proportion of paedophiles show a pronounced erotic fixation on a particular age group and physical type which may not be well catered for by the pornography trade.
Secondly, conventionally defined child pornography may well fail to include powerfully erotic stimuli. For example, if an offender finds glimpses of children's underwear particularly sexually arousing, child pornography featuring nudity or adult-child sexual involvement quite simply fails to meet his sexual needs.
Thirdly, many paedophiles also seek to engage in heterosexual relationships with adult women. The apparent lack of interest in child pornography may be due to concern about being "caught" with certain illicit materials in their possession.
Finally, since offenders tend not to construe their involvement with children as primarily sexual, interest in child pornography might put this "distorted" linking under strain.
But, of course, these men have chosen to exercise their paedophiliac feelings directly through assaults on children. As a
consequence, they may be less likely to need paedophiliac pornography for use in masturbation since they generate fantasy through their offences. Only a few of the paedophiles actually reported orgasm as part of their offending; many would masturbate to fantasy arising out of their offending at a later time.
In this context it is interesting that some paedophiles take photographs of their victims or would like to have taken such photographs. Given these factors, perhaps it is not surprising that the men did not put effort into obtaining illegal materials when they had ready sources of fantasy in their offending, in licit materials and in children they observed in the street or elsewhere.
In the literature on pornography (especially Burgess and Hartman, 1987; Tate, 1990), suggestions are made concerning the function of pornography in the "grooming process" (Wyre, 1987). Grooming, as we have seen, is the steps taken by paedophiles to "entrap" their victims and is in some ways analogous to adult courtship. One suggestion is that offenders show children pornography (especially adult-child sexual depictions) as part of this -- possibly in order to make adult-child sex appear "normal". Only one of the men actually did this. This is not to deny that this sort of use of pornography occurs but merely to suggest its limited extent. Another of the men who had been abused by an adult as a child reported that this involved pornography.
One difficulty relates to sequencing. As we have seen, research has tried to ascertain whether sex offenders were exposed to pornography earlier in their childhoods than non-sexual offenders. The implicit theory underlying this is the notion of the depravation of childhood innocence.
If anything, the research actually suggests that sex offenders are likely to see pornography for the first time marginally later in childhood than non-offenders (Howitt and Cumberbatch, 1990), although this is only a slight trend. While at first appearing paradoxical, it might indicate that sex offenders are relatively naive about sex, making it difficult for them to form contacts with other adults.
However, paedophiles do not appear to be sexual illiterates or sexually naive. In the sexual histories of all of our offenders was evidence of significant sexual activity during childhood; for example, all but one had been the victim of direct sexual abuse by single or sequential abusers. The one exception to this had been witness to a paedophiliac assault on his friend. Not all of the abusers had been adults; in some cases, an older child was involved. There is no sense in which the paedophiles themselves were anything other
than sexually aware as children. Some of them described how they believed children to be sexually knowledgeable, just as they themselves were made to be as children. The rates of sexual abuse reported by our group of offenders are far greater than any survey has suggested (e.g. Risin and Koss, 1987), especially for males and particularly when peer abuse is included. Of course, it is difficult to make precise comparisons between surveys of the general population and a selected sample of offenders. The early sexualization of offenders might go some way to explaining Condron and Nutter's (1988) finding that masturbation began younger in offenders than in controls.
All of this is of considerable importance when it comes to assessing the impact of pornography on the genesis of offending. In none of the case studies in our research can be found instances of individuals who had experience of pornography of any sort prior to their early sexualization through abuse. In those cases where there was some childhood experience of pornography, this was either contemporaneous with the abuse or occurred later.
As such, there is no evidence that early exposure to pornography was a cause of later offending. Indeed, in the cases reported here, there is a continuity between abuse in childhood and adult offending. Early experience of abuse leads to peer abuse, which leads to adult abuse of children.
In many of the cases, first exposure to pornography appears to occur after their paedophiliac careers had started, and in relatively few cases was child pornography involved. For example, Adrian was the only offender who reported extensive use of child pornography rather than making it. This he first saw at 16 years of age, by which time his sexual career was several years long following his initial abuse and sexual involvement with peers. Quite clearly, whatever the role of pornography in his adult life, the structure of his sexual career had already been laid down by his earliest experiences.
It is unfortunate that there exists no comparative data on the use of pornography in British general population samples (Howitt and Cumberbatch, 1990), especially that which is broken down into categories of content.
Nevertheless, it seems likely that for many offenders their experience of pornography is similar to that of adult males in general. Most of this experience is with soft-core men's magazines or sex videos. Experience of child pornography was exceptional. This is not to say that the paedophiles did not find pictures of children arousing -- many of them quite evidently did -- but hat pornography was for most of them not a prime source of arousal
of paedophiliac fantasies.
The generation of paedophiliac fantasy from non-pornographic sources may well
be a special
Another issue is whether pornography has a role in heightening sexual arousal prior to offending. This is a viewpoint that has some support in the literature on rapists (Marshall, 1988).
In our sample's accounts, there were many descriptions of how the sexual interest of the offender was aroused by a particular child or type of child. Often this led to fantasy about the child and eventually to the offence. None of our sample reported using pornography in a similar sort of way. Their lack of interest in child pornography in general may explain this. The reasons for the lack of interest in child pornography may be intimately tied to the nature of paedophiliac offending by these men.
The offending process was rarely, if ever, described in terms other than "grooming". Children involved in these crimes had been often targeted because they possessed characteristics that were sexually arousing to the offenders. "Grooming" is often portrayed as a discriminating process by the men. It is not as if the sexual drive is triggered by factors external to the victim, then satisfied by the abuse. In these circumstances, pornography might not contribute to offending.
Furthermore, much paedophiliac sexual offending involves acts that do not require sexual arousal for their execution, and penetrative sex is not typical of the offences. Thus the offence itself may provide imagery for later masturbation. Conceived in this way, the offence does not what pornography is thought to do by some -- that is provide sexual arousal.
The implications of these findings for legislation concerning pornography have to be tempered by the limited range of offenders included in the present study, and by other factors. We have noted that most paedophiles seem not to be attracted by child pornography. Given that the possession of such material is currently subject to legal penalties, there is a hefty deterrent to its distribution. Some of the offenders expressed concern about being found in possession of
materials involving children. There is an implication that the Illegality of child pornography may serve as a deterrent against seeking the material.
Paedophiliac fantasy is unlikely to be effectively controlled by the exclusion of pornography. The legal alternative sources of fantasy seem to dominate in the lives of most offenders, and it is difficult to conceive of legislation that could effectively limit the visual materials that paedophiles process into paedophiliac fantasy.
None of this is to suggest that explicit child pornography is acceptable; Tate (1992) argues that the phrase "child pornography" is actually misleading:
Given the illegality of child pornography throughout much of the Western world, the "commercial" aspects of the distribution of the material may be seen as a "cottage industry" -- individual paedophiles make pictures and films of themselves abusing children, which are then bought or swapped by other offenders:
Despite the shocking nature of some of the material found by the police and customs officers, in itself this is merely evidence that the material is available and of interest to at least some offenders. It does not mean that it either causes offending or even that it maintains molestation patterns. Indeed, it is not even established precisely who buys it. Nevertheless, there is clearly a proportion of offenders who spend a lot of time and money on accumulating it.