Child porn as thought crime

Last week, David Scott Hammond and James Cory Hammond, 20-year-old twin brothers from New Glasgow—who were described in court as “fairly introverted” and “most un-streetwise”—were each sentenced to three months in jail for possessing child pornography.

What makes their case interesting—and troubling—is that the images the young men were accused of downloading onto their home computers were not photographs but drawings.

You can argue that someone who downloads photographic images of children in sexual poses is guilty of possessing child pornography even if that person didn’t actually take the photographs. That’s because it’s clear someone had to have exploited those children in order to produce the photos, and the person possessing the images indirectly contributes to their exploitation simply by creating a market for those peddling them.

But drawings don’t involve real children. They are works of imagination.

According to news reports from the trial, the seized images were “drawn in the Japanese style known as anime or manga.” While there are many variants of the style, the most popular highlight “exaggerated physical features such as large eyes, big hair and elongated limbs…”

Such images are not—and are not intended to be—realistic depictions of the human form.

We might not like what is going on in the heads of those who create—or view—such images, but is there any evidence any real children were exploited in their production? Or will be as a result of viewing them?

Crown Attorney Craig Botterill claimed as much. “Every one of these images involves the victimization of children… The victimization wouldn’t happen in the first place if there weren’t people there to look at this material.”

Plenty of researchers would beg to differ. Dr. Michael C. Seto, for example, a Canadian psychologist who teaches psychiatry at the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto, argues convincingly in a 2007 book on the subject that “not all sex offenders who target children are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles commit sexual offenses.”

Swiss researchers, who studied the criminal records of men charged with viewing child pornography on a US website, recently concluded that “the motivation for consuming child pornography (probably) differs from the motivation to physically assault minors.”

Which means we prosecuted these young New Glasgow men not necessarily for what they actually did—even indirectly—but for what they might have been thinking.

And that is a slippery civil liberties slope.

***

Addendum: Reader "Milton" is correct. While the news account of the case I’d read indicated that the two young men were convicted simply for possessing drawn images of children, the more detailed story of their trial in the New Glasgow News makes clear that, while "approximately 90 per cent of the images were of cartoon drawings," there were some photos and videos too. I apologize for the error.

That said, I continue to believe the criminal charges should have been restricted to the actual photos and videos they downloaded rather than images in which no harm was done to real children. 

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Copyright 2009 Stephen Kimber, Website
  1. I hope that one day the judges and prosecutors who have ruined the lives of men, their wives and their families because of this witch-hunt will be tried for human rights abuses.

    The witch hunting of so called ‘paedophiles’ for looking at imagery where no abuse has actually taken place is utterly disturbing. Truly thought crime has become a reality.

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  2. Milton, I’m the boyfriend of David. He did NOT have possession of actual porn, nor even shota. He merely had seen some on a website online. His legal aid lawyer was a bit of a [insert your own word here], and said there was absolutely no way he would try an appeal. He said, and I quote, “If there was something wrong with the case, I would have said so.” So in other words, David really got screwed. We can’t afford $3,000 for an appeal lawyer, so there’s nothing that can be done now.

    There were other things that we wanted to base an appeal on now, but I’m not going to go in to full detail here. I have already gone on in full detail in other places before, and it’s easy enough to track them down.

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  3. I would agree with your thoughts on this case 100%, if the facts were true as you presented them. Unfortunately they are not.
    The twins you speak of possessed videos and photographs of real children, along with the drawings.
    I would expect the quality of your research to be a bit higher.

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  4. The government sanctions lengthy prison sentences, for child porn, on the basis that victims (depicted in the photos/videos) “relive the abuse over and over again knowing that the photos/videos are being continually distributed over the internet”. Why are drawings and computer generated digital media depicting underage children also deemed as illegal? The answer lies in the proof that people prosecuted for possession “child pornography” are not necessarily going to prison for a reiterating crimes against those victimized (by actual photos/videos) but going to prison for what they were thinking (or what they might do)? Is going to prison for what you “might do” fair?

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  5. Stephen, I’ve been watching and worrying about this tendency since reading Julian Dibbell’s 1993 article in The Village Voice, “A Rape in Cyberspace” .

    The confusion/conflation of the virtual and the real — the identification of the representation in image (or words) of something that appears to be occurring with an actual occurrence of that thing creates all manner of problems.

    The logical extension of this trend would include — should efforts to protect animals from gratuitous harm reach this stage — one’s being subject to prosecution for possessing “animal porn” if one owned a DVD of a movie in which animals appeared to be harmed, nothwithstanding the presence of a certification that “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”.

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