The other night we watched a documentary, The Dark Net, on Netflix on child pornography. Dim as I am, I didn’t realize that there was such a huge amount of it, mostly on the Darknet. This refers to transmission of material by layered encryption and quickly becomes technical: TOR, asymmetric encryption, IP packets, session keys, and so on. The upshot is that a staggering swamp of kid porn is out there, and it is almost impossible to eliminate.
The stuff is nasty. Children of eight or nine, mostly girls, forced to do naked live-cam chat with strange men on other continents, to engage in all the sexual behavior you can think of. No equipment is needed beyond a laptop and a webcam. In interviews, pedophiles say that they know it is wrong, but cannot keep themselves from consuming the stuff. Whether you buy this or not, they obviously will watch when they know there is no danger of being caught. Which means that children will continue being forced to make it.
It tends to come from poor countries where children are easily exploited. In the bush world, corruption, official inattention, and lack of resources mean that nothing much will be done, no matter the level of Western indignation.
And it becomes morally tricky. What to do if you catch those making child porn? Simply drowning them, despite its appeal, doesn’t always work. Lawyers, trials, appeals, delays, bribes. According to the documentary, in poor countries like the Philippines, the child’s parents are often the ones putting the kid in front of the camera, and they do it because the family has to eat. However one might regard this, putting mommy and daddy in the slam doesn’t do much for the kid and, since in much of the world there are many hungry families, the jailed would just be replaced by others.
So what to do?
A supply-side solution seems impossible in the face of an untraceable Dark Web containing lots of kid porn from many poor countries that can’t or won’t do much about it. That leaves demand side.
Some law-enforcement outfit came up with a convincing digital child, a brown little girl Philippine or Thai. She moved and talked realistically on a bogus porn site used as bait for pedophiles. If memory serves she got something like 25,000 responses in a day or two. In a big world, there are a lot of pedophiles. Pretty clearly, that many are not going to be prosecuted, especially since their identities and locations cannot be determined.
An interesting question. If the objection to child pornagraphy is that it involves abuse of children, why should it be illegal to look at a digital, nonexistent child? Who is harmed?
If on the other hand the intention is to prevent viewing by the public of things many find abhorrent, would this not also justify banning, say, movies in which nonexistent people are shot, garroted, blown up, and tortured? In which evil-doers engage in terrorism, in the bombing of city streets?
The argument will be made that kid porn encourages the molestation of genuine children. Does it? Or does it allow those with pedophile inclinations to satisfy their urges through fantasy? This is the crucial question.
The answer is not obvious. When a captured molester is found to have pedophilic pornography in his home, a causal link is often assumed. But of course a pedophile would be likely to own such material. This hardly establishes that he was made a pedophile by its possession. Adolescent boys of my generation once read Playboy. Did the magazine cause our interest in girls, or did we get the magazine because we were already interested?
It may be that legal kid porn would absorb molestational energies and thus protect real children. Might it be worth while to find out?
We swim today in sexually uncharted waters. One may read of virtual-reality goggles that provide increasingly realistic sexual video. On this I am no authority but clearly this can provide an intriguing variety of partners of every color, shape, race, body style, and age (how do you check the age of a digital girl?) as well as personality and kink. Streaming concubines, digital Turkish harems, Asian fleshpots on demand, magically compliant and available to boys of fifteen and oldsters of ninety. This may have a future.
And of course a great many more women than will admit it go to porn sites on the web.
The complaint is made that men sometimes become so used to the variety and accessibility of such cyberseraglios that that they lose interest in real women. This is usually presented as symptomatic of some psychic inadequacy, but is it?
Dating is expensive in both time and money, involves serial break-ups and relationship talk. Careerists may not have time for dating. It can lead to marriage that, in an age of feminism and feminist judges, is not a bright idea. As men ask each other, Do you want to eat at the same restaurant every day?
(Parenthetically, there seems to be a substantial desire among men to circumvent the monopoly economy in sex now held, falteringly, by real women. Brothels report that growing numbers of men pop for sex robots, which improve rapidly. I think this is nuts, but I am just me. You can download different personalities. Realistic sex dolls enjoy brisk sales, or so I read.)
If digiporn causes at least some heterosexual men to avoid the disadvantages of the real thing, might not digital kid porn have an identical effect on pedophiles?
The question is worth asking. The costs to men of dating real women are relatively minor (unless they marry in which case child support, divorce, and so on can be burdensome). For the pedophile the costs of being caught are serious: many years in prison, loss of job, being put on watch lists. If penalties for possession of porn involving real children were extremely severe, and realistic digiporn both legal and available, the market for the real stuff might dry up considerably up. Perhaps a pedophile cannot control his interests, but he can control how he satisfies them.
And yet whether the approach would work probably doesn’t matter. Legalizing kid porn is not a winning political platform. Sexual exploitation of children is nauseating, and most people would probably see legalization as pandering to people they would rather throw from helicopters. But leaving things as they are will, well, leave things as they are, with wretchedly bad treatment of a lot of children. Anyone have a better idea?