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Assessing the Link Between Viewing Child Pornography and Child Sexual Abuse

Significant research has been performed in order to determine whether the viewing of child pornography makes a person more likely to participate in child sexual abuse. Three popular opinions exist as to this statement: (1) no relationship exists between the viewing of child pornography and the perpetration of child sexual abuse; (2) viewing child pornography makes the person no more likely to commit child sexual abuse; and (3) viewing child pornography makes the person more likely to commit child sexual abuse due to the normalization of the person's sexual interest in children. While some studies have indicated correlation--but not causation--between the two acts, a 2012 report by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) indicates that the likelihood of commission of child sexual abuse rests more heavily on the individual's characteristics rather than the individual's viewing of child pornography.

The USSC report analyzed various social science research that compared categories of persons who viewed child pornography: those that did not also commit child sexual abuse, those that did commit child sexual abuse, and those that committed sexual crimes prior to engaging in child pornography. The studies indicated that two factors--sexual deviance (such as bestiality, incest, or a previous history of sexual assault) and anti-social characteristics--indicated whether the person had gone on to commit child sexual abuse. Those who had previously been convicted of a sexual offense, had a history of drug abuse, or had any history of antisocial behavior were more likely to have also committed child sexual abuse. On the other hand, those persons who were well-educated and had a higher level of employment were more likely to only view child pornography and unlikely to commit child sexual abuse.

While the acquisition and viewing of child pornography may contribute to harm to children indirectly because it may prove incentives for others to create child pornography, the USSC report indicates that the viewing of child pornography in itself does not lead to child sexual abuse. This distinction between persons engaging solely in indirect harm and those likely to engage in direct harm to children should be reflected in treatment and punishment for the viewing of child pornography.

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