Study: Making Pornography More Accessible May Curb Child Abuse

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Whether pornography is an expression of free speech or a form of exploitation remains a hotly debated issue, and new research may only stir up the controversy further.

Scientists led by Milton Diamond at the University of Hawaii found that easing access to sexually explicit material may help lower sexual abuse of youngsters. Diamond’s group compared rates of various crimes, including sexual abuse, murders, assaults and thefts, both before and after the fall of the communist regime in the Czech republic. Before a more liberal government gained power in the country in 1989, all forms of sexually explicit material, including magazines such as Playboy, were banned, and all nudity was considered pornographic. (More on Will Polygamy Be Legalized in Canada?)

The new government, however, passed a law allowing some expressions of nudity, including child porn, and when Diamond and his group compared rates of child sexual abuse both before and after the communist regime was in power, they found that there were fewer cases of abuse after pornography became more accessible.

The data support previous work that found similar trends when pornography laws were relaxed in Japan and Denmark. Coupled with the fact that rates of other crimes did not change in the same time period in the Czech Republic, Diamond speculates that the reason for the decline in child sexual abuse could be due to the fact that potential offenders were able to substitute child pornography for sexual acts themselves. (More on Is Banning Pro-Pedophilia Books the Right Answer?)

But not all child abuse experts buy that theory, and take issue with the idea that child pornography, in any form, could be considered an antidote to sexual abuse. “The study and its findings are provocative,” says Dr. Cindy Christian, chair of the Committee for Child Abuse and Neglect for the American Academy of Pediatrics and chair of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “but as a pediatrician I would never condone any child pornography even in order to protect other children from child sexual abuse. Nothing in my experience or my education, in my professional opinion, could ever condone child pornography. It’s never okay to sexually abuse a child, and child pornography is a form of sexual abuse.”

Christian notes that the authors’ theory about sexually explicit materials serving as a substitute for sexual crimes needs further study, and points out that despite the rather liberal availability of pornography in the U.S., this country still has a significant problem with sex crimes against children. In addition, such a theory tends to favor the adult perspective on child pornography. “These children are victims, even if somebody is just photographing them in provocative and naked ways,” she says. “As a pediatrician, I know what kind of violation that is to the child, and that is not condonable in my world.” (More on A Glimmer of Hope in a Bad-News Survey About Bullying)

The results are likely to generate discussion, if not agreement, over what forces drive sex crimes, and in particular sexual acts against children, and open the possibility for considering some provocative, although perhaps less comforting ideas about addressing the problem.

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