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Fr. Shenan Boquet

Opinion

Our country is drowning in a child porn epidemic. 4 steps to fight back

Fr. Shenan Boquet

October 9, 2019 (Human Life International) — Children, including infants, are being sexually abused, and then suffering the further degradation of having their abuse filmed and shared amongst an army of online perverts, on a scale that beggars belief.

"The Internet Is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse," states the title of a New York Times investigative article, published last week, exposing the epidemic of child porn. According to the Times, in 1998 there were some 3000 reports of images depicting child sex abuse. A decade later, that number grew to over 100,000. By 2014, the number of reports broke one million, before ballooning to over 18.4 million by last year. Those reports, says the Times, "included over 45 million images and videos flagged as child sexual abuse."

The scale of the problem is so vast that it is beyond the capacity of law enforcement agencies to respond. Officials interviewed for the article lamented that they are continually being forced to make impossible decisions about how to prioritize their resources — focusing, for instance, on identifying and rescuing the youngest and most vulnerable victims, knowing that by doing so they are abandoning countless other children to ongoing abuse. Furthermore, once the images are in circulation, they are almost impossible to delete, their existence haunting the lives of their victims indefinitely.

According to one law official, less than two percent of cases in which a computer in the U.S. has shared child porn will be investigated. "We are overwhelmed, we are underfunded, and we are drowning in the tidal wave of tragedy," said Special Agent Flint Waters.

Some of the increase in the number of reports over the years can, no doubt, be explained by the implementation of better technology, such as artificial intelligence, to detect child porn. However, the experts interviewed by the Times leave no room for doubt — the underlying problem is an exponential increase in the number of individuals producing and sharing child porn.

It is tempting to envision the perpetrators of this horrific crime as being a tiny sliver of sub-human scum lurking somewhere "out there." But the numbers defy this interpretation. One online forum on the "Dark Web" dedicated to sharing child porn reportedly had some one million members. Another such forum had over 30,000 members. The creator of that site — an Ohio man — had over three million images of child sex abuse on his computer when authorities caught up with him.

The members of these forums not only share child abuse images, but they also encourage one another to produce new images (i.e. to find children to abuse, and to film it), and exchange tips on how to evade the authorities. One of the creators of one such site, a daycare worker, admitting to abusing over a dozen children, as young as three months old. I cannot bear to type even the briefest description of what he did to the children.

Equally Deviant, "Legal" Porn Must End

As grateful as I am that the Times has drawn attention this epidemic, I was also troubled by a bizarre companion piece that they ran alongside their investigative article. This article strongly endorsed the hypothesis that the origin of pedophilic sexual attraction is "largely biological." As James Cantor, director of the Toronto Sexuality Center, says in the article: "The biological clues attached to pedophilia demonstrate that its roots are prenatal." In other words, people who are sexually attracted to children are "born that way."

Now, I will not dismiss the possibility that early biological development may play a role in predisposing some people to experiencing unwanted sexual attraction to children. And if that is the case, such people bear a heavy cross. However, if — as the article itself acknowledges — scientific research on the topic is in its infancy, then why do other possible causes of pedophilic attraction receive scarcely a passing mention? In fact, the article avoids any mention at all of the elephant in the living room: the explosion in so-called "legal" porn use, and its connection to the growth of deviant forms of porn, including child porn.

Indeed, many people who work fighting child porn have argued that there is a clear link between legal porn use and the rise in child porn. As Margaret Healey, a former adjunct professor at Fordham School of Law, put it in a report prepared for the 1996 World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: "[W]ith the emergence of the use of computers to traffic in child pornography, a new and growing segment of producers and consumers is being identified. They are individuals who may not have a sexual preference for children, but who have seen the gamut of adult pornography and who are searching for more bizarre material."

Muireann O'Brian, who leads the Bangkok office of the organization "End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism," made the same point. "[A]rrests have shown men with perfectly normal sexual proclivities become seduced, then involved and finally addicted to child pornography," she said. "Their addiction may manifest itself by them just keeping and looking at the images … But it has been found that the addiction leads many men into seeking out children to abuse."

Certainly, there is no doubt about the existence of the phenomenon of "escalation" among regular porn users. Many users of legal porn will admit that the kinds of material that once excited them no longer excite them. In order to achieve the same sexual "high" they used to experience, they have instead found themselves searching out more and more deviant forms of pornography. A habit that at first seemed innocent and "normal" gradually led them down a rabbit hole into a cesspool of the grotesque and the violent.

The world-renowned psychiatrist Norman Doidge, author of the best-selling book The Brain That Changes Itself, has argued that routine porn use can alter the brain itself, creating new reward pathways that can only be stimulated by more and more extreme material. Doidge objects to the simplistic claim that the only problem with porn use is that some people may use too much of it. The problem with porn addictions is even more sinister, he says. Porn addictions have the power to "change sexual taste."

It's a simple matter of science, he notes. "One key driver of plastic change [in the brain] is the reward centre, which normally fires as we accomplish a goal," he explains. "A brain chemical, dopamine, is released, giving us the thrill that goes with accomplishment. It also consolidates the connections between neurons in the brain that helped us accomplish that goal. As well, dopamine is secreted at moments of sexual excitement and novelty. Porn scenes, filled with novel sexual 'partners', fire the reward centre. The images get reinforced, altering the user's sexual tastes."

Not all regular porn users will become child porn users. However, many porn users will find themselves becoming gradually desensitized — or even attracted — to forms of porn that once disgusted them. Studies have found that people who view such material are also far more likely to want — and attempt — to act out what they have seen. Some will end up in the very darkest corners of the Internet. Indeed, it is madness to discount the possibility that some child porn users began as "regular" porn users, and that the normalization of pornography has in some way contributed to some of the worst crimes imaginable.

What to Do: The Porn Stops Now

In the face of such horrific evil, it is easy to feel powerless. However, there are several concrete steps we can do to respond to this epidemic:

  • Pressure lawmakers to put more resources into fighting child porn — The New York Times article gets this part right. Law enforcement agencies need more resources to fight this filth. Demand that your local, state or federal legislator prioritize this issue.
  • Pressure lawmakers to prosecute "normal" porn — As Patrick Trueman has pointed out, hardcore pornography breaks obscenity laws already on the books. Despite this, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies have allowed our society to be immersed in a sea of filth. We should be prosecuting the big porn platforms and porn creators, and passing tighter restrictions on porn sites, so that children can never "accidentally" encounter pornography. This may not end child porn, but it will do yeoman's labor in making it harder for people who are disposed to addiction to obscene materials to go down that dark road. Stop the problem at the source.
  • Quit porn — If you're a regular porn user, you're part of the problem. No, you may not be viewing illegal material involving children. But chances are you've already become comfortable with seeing forms of porn that once caused you discomfort. Furthermore, the porn industry in general is predicated on exploitation. The big porn sites are full of hardcore material involving young women who, in a moment of vulnerability, agreed to do something that they will regret for the rest of their lives. You are training your brain to be OK with violence and exploitation. Don't feed the porn industry. Quit.
  • Talk to your children — In this day and age, parents simply cannot afford to be complacent about the harsh realities of our pornified society. Child sex abusers will often show their victims legal pornography in order to lower their inhibitions. The average age of exposure to pornography is now around 11 years old. When children are exposed to porn, they are more likely to become addicted, to be potential victims of abuse, and in some cases, to abuse others themselves. Talking about sex and porn with your kids is hard. But it's your job. There are lots of helpful materials out there. One book lots of people I trust recommend is called "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures." Buy a copy, or look for other books, and then approach the topic with your children in a frank, non-threatening and prayerful fashion. Arm them with the tools they need to protect themselves from abusers, and to protect their souls and their minds from the scourge of porn addiction.

Published with permission from Human Life International.

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