Myths Regarding Child Pornographers, Child Pornography, and Victims of Child Pornography
In general, the rate of sex crimes has been decreasing over the past 20 years. For example, as learned in Chapter 1, official statistics show that there was a 35% reduction in the number of arrests for rape between 2005 and 2014. Likewise, victimization surveys (which are able to capture incidents not reported to law enforcement officials) estimate that rape rates have decreased 58% from 1995 to 2010. The trend for child sexual abuse is similar, with studies showing that rates are about half of what they were 20-30 years ago (Finkelhor & Jones, 2006).
Sex crimes involving child pornography, however, have increased over the past 20 years. Though child pornography was approaching near-eradication in the 1980s, the Internet dramatically changed the scale and nature of the child- pornography problem. From 2000 to 2009, the total number of arrests for child- pornography production more than doubled (Wolak, Finkelhor & Mitchell, 2012). From an entrepreneurial perspective, child pornography is one of the fastest growing online businesses, generating billions of dollars in annual revenue.
It is widely believed that all individuals who view child pornography will inevitably go on to commit contact offenses against children. However, this is only one of several hypothesized relationships between consumption of child pornography and hands-on offending. For example, some research has indicated that instead of propelling an individual to commit contact offenses against children, viewing child pornography may provide a substitute for actual contact offending (Taylor & Quayle, 2003). Other research has shown that offenders who sexually abuse children may seek out child pornography as an additional form of sexual gratification (Marshall, 2000). In this light, the offender's sexual interest in children drives child pornography consumption, and not the other way around.
It is also assumed that any adult who views child pornography is a pedophile. Although child pornography is a diagnostic indicator of pedophilia (perhaps even more than contact offenses against children), many child pornography offenders do not fit the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia. For example, some may be recreational users (i.e., those who seek out material out of impulse or curiosity). Others may maintain collections or libraries of images, yet do not maintain exclusive sexual interest in children (i.e., they may maintain age-appropriate relationships in addition to viewing child pornography).
Though adult males are the most likely to commit crimes involving child pornography, there has been an increase in the number of youth participating in these crimes. In fact, between 2000 and 2009, the number of arrests for illegal images produced, distributed, and downloaded for youth increased from 22 to 1,198 (an approximate 5,500% increase) (Wolak, Finkelhor, & Mitchell, 2012).
Some of these crimes involve "sexting" incidents, which have been sensationalized in the media as being widespread among youth, but the majority involve youth-produced images that were created as a result of adult solicitation (i.e., cases involving adult offenders who entice adolescent or child victims to produce images).