Early Perceptions of Child Pornography Offenders

For the most part, systematic research on child pornography offenders has only begun to appear in recent years (e.g., Lam, Mitchell, & Seto, 2010; Seto, Cantor, & Blanchard, 2006). Such research has focused on criminal history, clinical diagnoses, static (i.e., non-changing factors) and dynamic risk factors (i.e., changing factors), as well as recidivism risk. Recidivism refers to committing a crime again. Prior to studies of child pornography offenders, profiles of offenders were constructed largely on the experiences of police officials who arrested them or mental health practitioners who worked with them. In order to understand how we have arrived at a current understanding and conceptualization of child pornography offenders, it is necessary to examine some of the early views of them.

By the late 1970s, many myths of the child pornography industry and its associated victims and offenders had been identified. In particular, Groth, Burgess, Birnbaum, and Gary (1978) exposed a number of misconceptions (presented in Table 5.1) that previously dominated popular thought on the subject.

As the subject continued to garner attention and interest, progress was made to solve the problem through the creation of profiles, or composites. As mentioned earlier, these profiles were usually very vague and broad-sweeping, and were not informed by research. An important milestone was achieved, however, in that the scientific community began to realize that child pornography offenders, like rapists and child sexual abusers, actually mirrored mainstream society. An early composite described by O'Brien (1983) illustrates how child pornography consumers are not necessarily aberrant individuals:

  • 1. Ethnicity—White. There are some minority-group offenders, but they do not make up a large percentage of offenders.
  • 2. Gender—Male. Consumers of pornography are almost exclusively male. Adult and child pornography appeal primarily to male audiences.
  • 3. Age—Usually 25 to 35 years old, but offenders can range in age from late adolescence to elderly.
  • 4. Income Level—Middle class. Although earlier reports situated the offender as a "well-to-do" citizen, he is seen to also come from lower and middle socio-economic levels.
  • 5. Marital Status—Married. The majority (at least 50%) of offenders are married.
  • 6. Children—The majority of offenders have children.
  • 7. Community Standing—Stable. The majority of offenders enjoy an average to high degree of community respect.
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