PORNOGRAPHY: by Shawn SowerbuttsNews Weekly
Internet encourages sexual deviancy: SA psychologist
, October 23, 2004
The recent Australia-wide police bust of child pornography voyeurs has shocked the nation. Shawn Sowerbutts, a clinical psychologist with the Sexual Offender Treatment and Assessment Programme at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, evaluates the Internet's role in encouraging deviant behaviour.The dramatic results of the Australian-wide investigation into Internet child pornography, codenamed Operation Auxin, have raised community concerns about the number of people involved in online child pornography, and the amount of pornographic material available.
Child pornography on the Internet is certainly a growing problem. For example, between 1989 and 1994 approximately 12,000 items of child pornography were seized by officials in Australia. [Burke, Sowerbutts, Blundell and Sherry, 2002. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law
As a result of the recent Operation Auxin, by contrast, around two million pornographic images involving children were reportedly seized, with one collection containing 250,000 images.
It is clear from the media coverage of Operation Auxin that people involved in accessing Internet child pornography come from a range of walks of life, with those charged as a result of the investigations including police officers, teachers, doctors and public servants.
Little empirical data currently exists on the characteristics and motivating factors of individuals who access child pornography on the Internet.
But our experience at the Sexual Offender Treatment and Assessment Programme, in Adelaide, suggests that this population tends to comprise mostly men aged 25-50 years with little or no prior criminal background. They also seem to be better educated, have a higher IQ, are more likely to be employed and to be in a relationship than are individuals who commit hands-on sexual offences against children.
The growing number of arrests for this type of criminal behaviour may reflect either an increase in the number of people accessing child pornography due to ease of availability on the Internet, or an uncovering of paedophilic activity that has always existed.
While current information does not offer a definitive answer, our clinical experience with this population tends to support the former.
To date none of the clients who have been referred to our agency for accessing child pornography from the Internet have spoken of obtaining child pornography in any other way; most report that the relative anonymity afforded by the Internet was among its attractive features. Thus, the anonymity and convenience afforded by the Internet may well have contributed to an increasing population of child pornography consumers who would not actively seek out such material by more traditional methods.Escalation
All of the men who have attended our agency in relation to their use of child pornography so far have eventually acknowledged finding children sexually arousing, and usually, this arousal dates back to early adolescence.
While there is no certainty that individuals who access child pornography will progress along a continuum towards hands-on offences, several of our clients have described an escalation of their behaviour, including attempting to make contact with children via the Internet and telephone, and having established a relationship with a child and commenced grooming behaviours very similar to those shown by people who have committed hands-on sexual offences against children.
In addition, a few clients who have committed hands-on sexual offences against children have claimed that earlier use of child pornography led them to their later crimes. These reports of escalating offending behaviours and the potential risk of progression to hands-on sexual offending behaviour suggest that early intervention in this area is likely to be valuable.Treatment
Typically men who access child pornography report thinking that child pornography is a victimless crime and deny the possibility of progression to hands-on offences.
Our treatment program challenges these ways of thinking in a number of ways. For example, clients are assisted to recognise that there are victims of their offending behaviour, by discussion of child pornography as a record of actual child abuse and the distribution of child pornography as the perpetuation of that abuse.
While it is impossible to predict whether any particular individual who accesses child pornography will progress to hands-on sexual offending against children, we believe that viewing such material demonstrates a sexual interest in children and that this places them at some risk of escalating behaviour.
Thus we view treatment of this population as an early intervention to prevent childhood sexual abuse.