Child pornography is an emotive topic, and discussions tend to touch raw and sensitive issues, where opinion and moral position become more important than rational debate. Perhaps this is how it should be when facing disturbing deviant behaviour. Bruno Bettelheim wrote that he 'shied away from trying to understand the psychology of the SS because of the ever-present danger that understanding fully might come close to forgiving'. The paedophile, and the public visible product of paedophilia in the form of child pornography, seems in many ways to give rise to public emotions that are like those associated with the SS. Collectively paedophiles are vilified, demonised and subject to enormous moral approbation. And in trying to develop a psychological understanding, we do run the risk of excusing, of offering a logic that seems to side-step issues of responsibility, or issues of consequences for victims, and in so doing appearing to condone if not forgive.
In embarking on this book, we were aware of these problems. But the paradox is that without understanding, the harsh world of the SS becomes that much closer as prejudice substitutes for reason, as self-righteous assertion distorts debate, and hinders the search for solutions. This book does try to increase our understanding of the processes that lead to the production and distribution of child pornography. In doing so, however, it neither offers apologies, nor does it diminish the significance of the consequences for the child victims, or for society in general. In its conclusions it places the debate firmly within a victim-centred perspective, with the ultimate aim of using psychological insights to develop better and more effective child protection strategies.
One victim in particular stands out. Thea Pumbroek died in Amsterdam on the 27 August 1984. She was 6 years old. She had already appeared in a number of child pornographic videos, and died of an overdose of cocaine whilst being filmed. As we have found in trying to reconstruct the events around her death, nobody remembers her. We know of no commemorative foundation in her name to focus attention on helping victims of child pornography, and even the records of her death seem to have disappeared or been mislaid. She seems to have been treated in death as little more than the object she had been in life. Children do not normally die as a result of involvement with child pornography, and Thea's tragic death finds few parallels in the contemporary world. But our lack of knowledge of her does