This is quite long, but if you don't want to read it all you can skip to the last paragraph to see a summary of the claims I am making.
(Please don't move this thread to the 'Legal' forum, as I would like to keep the debate focused on the ethical issues, not the legislative issues.)
This recent article describes a potential change in UK law which will criminalise people who create or possess non-photographic images of imaginary scenes of child sexual abuse:
The proposal is obviously absurd. The problem with photographic child pornography is that it can't be made without the abuse of an actual child. The problem is the actual abuse
that takes place. This new proposal seems to be based on quite a common assumption that the reason child pornography is bad is that paedophiles are turned on by it. The argument seems to be as follows: drawings and computer-generated images of imaginary child-abuse turn paedophiles on just as much as real child pornography; therefore, they should be banned. The article even quotes a charity spokesperson as saying, "
drawings or computer-generated images of child abuse are as unacceptable as a photograph." Surely not! Surely the filmed or photographed abuse of real children is a hell of a lot worse than the drawn or photo-shopped abuse of fictional children.
This mindset is reflected in the current laws against viewing real child pornography. It is not only illegal to abuse a child, or to pay for images of children being abused, but it is also illegal merely to look at these images; certainly to store them on a computer. But simply looking at the images does not cause harm to children. Paying for the images creates a demand which may encourage future images to be produced (and further abuse to take place). But paedophiles often share these images for free, and it is highly implausible that a sex offender will be encouraged to risk imprisonment by photographing the abuse of further children, simply because other people are enjoying the images. He might be motivated by money, or by his own sexual or sadistic desires, but with something as taboo as this I find it very difficult to believe that he will be motivated to commit abuse just to supply the images to other paedophiles at no profit
So it seems that viewing even real child pornography is a victimless crime. It doesn't appear to have any consequences for children at all, and it clearly has good consequences for paedophiles: they can satisfy their sexual appetite, and they can do this without abusing children.
I can anticipate one objection. Images of child abuse are evidence of that abuse, and police use them to track down child abusers and prosecute them. When a paedophile views an image of child pornography and doesn't report it to the police, he misses an opportunity to help the police prevent child abuse. So in a way, his actions (or lack thereof) do have harmful consequences for children. But the solution to this problem is not for paedophiles to stop viewing child pornography; the solution is for them to start reporting the images to the police. As long as it is illegal to view child pornography, paedophiles are not going to do this. By reporting the images of abuse to the police, they will be turning themselves in for their own crimes, and facing prosecution themselves. So here we have a good reason to legalise the viewing of child pornography so that paedophiles are not afraid to help the police track down child abusers.
But perhaps you think that this benefit to the police would be minimal. And perhaps you think that, somehow, viewing child porn for free does create a demand for it, and does therefore encourage real abuse. Nevertheless, perhaps you will at least agree that drawings of child abuse, based on nothing but fantasy, are about as victimless as it gets. While the viewing of real child pornography has no obvious consequences for children, it is admittedly worrying that some paedophiles are happy to arouse themselves by looking at pictures of real children effectively being tortured. But there should be no such worry when it comes to viewing drawings and computer animations of abuse. When a paedophile arouses himself by looking at such drawings, that is all he does. He is turned on by a fantasy, not by a sinister reality.
What if we do criminalize paedophilic fantasy? What if the law is passed, the internet is purged of all sexually suggestive drawings of children, and paedophiles have no outlet for their sexual desires ( which they cannot help having)? It seems that this really would have bad consequences for children. If all the options of sexual gratification available to the paedophile are made illegal, then what reason does he have to prefer the less harmful options? Why go to prison for looking at pictures of children? Why not do the real thing: abuse a child, what have you got to lose?
I'm aware of how controversial my views on this subject are, so I am interested to hear what people have to say about the ethical claims I am making. I am saying that paedophilic actions are only wrong insofar as they cause harm to others (specifically children). I am saying that it should be permissible to seek sexual gratification by looking at free images of child pornography, since this does not harm children. I am saying that the new laws proposed against viewing drawings of child abuse are based on the absurd idea that child porn is wrong because people enjoy it, not because people are harmed in the making of it. I am defending the right of paedophiles to satisfy their sexual needs in the privacy of their own homes, just as other people are able to. Since paedophiles cannot help their sexuality, we cannot condemn them for it. We can only condemn them for harming children because of those desires; and they are less likely to do this if we give them a safer outlet such as erotic drawings and even real child pornography which has already been made (I am not advocating the production of new child pornography.)