Lay Perceptions of Child Pornography Offenders

By Lam, Anita; Mitchell, Jennifer et al. | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Lay Perceptions of Child Pornography Offenders


Lam, Anita, Mitchell, Jennifer, Seto, Michael C., Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


Introduction

It is widely believed that the Internet has led to greater access to child pornography (2) (see Jenkins 2001). As a result of this increased availability and concomitant concerns about the link between child pornography use and sexual offending against children, a great deal of public, professional, and governmental attention has been turned towards child pornography offenders. Recent changes in criminal justice policy have resulted in a rapid increase in prosecutions for child pornography offences: Child pornography offences now represent the largest proportion of sexual exploitation cases prosecuted by federal attorneys in the United States (Motivans and Kyckelhahn 2007: 1).

In Canada, the incidence of child exploitation, as reported by police, has risen substantially. For example, though the total numbers are small, cases of child luring increased by 31% from 2006 to 2007 (Taylor-Butts and Loughlin 2009: 5). There have been myriad legislative proposals aimed at increasing children's protection from sexual offenders and offenders' punishment. For instance, Bill C-22 increased the age of sexual consent for minors from 14 to 16 years of age. The Ontario government has also made a change to the Victims' Bill Of Rights, allowing victims of Internet exploitation to seek financial compensation for their suffering through lawsuits against offenders (Moroz and Crawley 2009). Newly proposed changes to the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) would make registration of all convicted sex offenders, including child pornography offenders, automatic and furthermore would make mandatory a sample of their DNA for the National DNA Data Bank (CBC News 2009). These legal and policy changes likely reflect public perceptions and concerns about child pornography offenders.

Bill C-2, which was passed into law in 2005, also contains proposed changes to violent or sexual offender rules, allowing prosecutors to seek automatic indefinite prison sentences for offenders who commit three serious offences, including possessing, making, or distributing child pornography. Moreover, it invokes a reverse onus provision whereby the burden is shifted from the state to the accused to prove that indefinite incarceration is not warranted.

Offenders against child victims have emerged as one of the focal targets of "tough on crime" policies and sentencing statutes that aim at increasing the ease of prosecution and the use and length of incarceration of sex offenders. This greater emphasis is evidenced by increased referrals for placement on sex offender registries, increased managing and sanctioning of these offenders, and the increased use of public notices regarding the release and whereabouts of sex offenders (Seto and Eke 2005: 203; Bates and Metcalf 2007: 11-12; Mears, Mancini, Gertz, and Bratton 2008: 534).

Research on child pornography offenders has only begun to appear in the last few years (e.g., Renold, Creighton, Atkinson, and Carr 2003). Seto, Cantor, and Blanchard (2006) found that child pornography offending is a better diagnostic indicator of pedophilia than is sexually offending against child victims because, when assessed in the laboratory, the majority of child pornography offenders showed greater sexual arousal in response to images of children than to images of adults. Consistent with this finding, Buschman's (2007) interview with a clinical sample of child pornography offenders revealed that most of the men admitted to being sexually aroused by children, and all of the men admitted that they masturbated to child pornography. With respect to criminal recidivism, Seto and Eke (2005: 208) found that child pornography offenders who had a prior criminal history were more likely than offenders who had no criminal history to reoffend, either sexually or non-sexually, but that overall the recidivism rates were low after 30 months of opportunity.

This recent work has focused on criminal history, clinical diagnosis, and risk of recidivism for child pornography offenders, but there has been no empirical study of Canadians' perceptions of this group of offenders.

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