The Pornography of Pornography
... We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to
accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any
of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging
to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning
consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do
... (Robinson, 1921, p. 28)
In many instances allegations of sexual abuse of children include
claims that pornography was involved. Either pornography was
produced and the children exploited and assaulted sexually, pornography
was used to entice children into sexual contact, or the person accused
is described as a user of pornography and therefore a "dirty old
man" who is a child molester. These charges are introduced
into cases by law enforcement personnel, child protection workers, and
sometimes by a parent who says the other parent is guilty. Search
warrants empowering law enforcement authorities to discover and seize
alleged pornography produce the kind of nude pictures of babies that are
in almost every family album in the country, photographs of children
fully clothed but someone judges them provocative, a few copies of
Playboy or Penthouse, and occasionally X rated adult videotapes.
No case we have been involved in has produced any actual child
pornography. We have read of a single case in Florida in which
lewd photographs of children were found in the home of a man with a
prior conviction for child molestation.
Nevertheless, there are many people who continue to believe that
thousands of missing children are used to produce child pornography,
that child pornography is a billion dollar business, and that all child
molesters are inveterate consumers of pornography. It is not
likely that the study by Schuijer and Rossen
reported in this volume will change the attitudes of those who need to
believe the myths about child pornography. Nevertheless, we regard
it as an important and useful piece of basic research that can, for
those open to receive data, dispel many of the myths that surround the
issue of child pornography. It may also be able to assist in a
more realistic and credible approach to any instance in which claims are
made about child pornography. We agree with the authors' stand
that child pornography is exploitive and demeaning to children.
Although we question whether or not child sexual involvement with an
adult can ever be positive, the empirical data Schuijer and Rossen
present that bears on this question is important and should be evaluated
for what it is, preliminary information that may inform the participants
in the discussion of the meaning and the nature of human sexuality.
We suggest also that contemporary advocates of social change who
choose to use the approach Gilbert (1991) labels "advocacy
numbers," that is exaggerated claims about the frequency of a
phenomenon in order to raise social consciousness and bring about the
desired change, have fallen into the trap of making a pornography of
pornography. The structure of pornography may be forced upon areas
of human behavior other than sex. Pornography may be seen as the
description of tabooed activities with the purpose of inciting
delusions, fantasies, or erroneous beliefs for private, personal benefit
(Rubinoff, 1967). Sexual assault upon children is a tabooed
subject but adults whose fantasies may induce guilt or guilty pleasure
may have legitimized access to those fantasies through exaggerated,
distorted, ugly, and sadistic representations. Such grotesque
fantasies are unrealistic, ignoring social, legal, or factual
limitations, while making virtuous behaviors out of punitive,
aggressive, and even illegal acts. Thus power is experienced and
the seductiveness of power that corrupts is effective but hidden.
This is the pornography of pornography.
This study provides the first empirical data
on the nature and content of actual child pornography. It is our
hope that publishing it will enable those who wish to fight against
child pornography to resist making a pornography out of pornography.
Gilbert, N. (1991). The phantom epidemic of sexual assault. The Pubic
Interest, 103, 54-65.
Robinson, J. H. (1921). The mind in the making. London: C. A. Watts.
Rubinoff, L. (1967). The pornography of power. New York: Ballantine