How Can I Bullshit Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

NEW YORK CITY—Robert Peters, president of the religious pro-censorship group Morality in Media, has issued a report, "How Adult Pornography Contributes To Sexual Exploitation of Children," which a press release accompanying the announcement says was compiled from "information from hundreds of news articles and from court cases, social science studies, books, Congressional testimony, and other sources" by Peters himself.

Of course, one doesn't have to look further than the introduction to find the manure that forms the backbone of this "report."

"The explosion of hardcore adult pornography on the Internet and elsewhere is contributing to sexual exploitation of children in a variety of ways," the report claims. First on the list is, "Perpetrators use adult pornography to groom their victims." The word "groom" in this context apparently means showing the kids pictures of adults either naked or having sex, and convincing the child that he/she can do that also. The concept is hardly new, and certainly wouldn't fall into disuse if all adult XXX material were to disappear tomorrow. Pedophiles have been using any vaguely sexual material for such purposes at least as far back as the Sears catalog has printed pictures of people in underwear, and there are a whole host of highly-respected Hollywood movies that undoubtedly have been used for the same purpose: The Last Picture Show, Midnight Cowboy and Blue Lagoon, just to name three prominent ones.

"Also at this time, there was much debate about whether adult pornography was harmful," Peters writes of his early days as a staff attorney at MIM. "Much of the debate focused on the question of whether adult pornography 'causes' sex crimes. In my opinion this is a dishonest question because when it comes to human behavior 'causation' is difficult to determine conclusively. The unresolved question of 'causation' notwithstanding, it seemed to me then, and now, that the use of adult pornography by predators to arouse, instruct and desensitize their child victims is an example of how adult pornography contributes to harm."

In other words, Peters wants to have the best of both worlds: He's willing to leave open the (settled) question of whether porn causes sex crimes—it doesn't, and there are numerous scientific studies showing that to be the case—but he's willing to assume it does when adults use it to "lure" kids into sexual acts.

But the right (and especially the religious ones) might want to think twice before blaming (legal) media for the (illegal) actions of its users. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice has recently opened investigations into whether certain CIA interrogators "exceeded the limits" placed on their torture of Guantanamo prisoners by the legal opinions authored by White House counsel staffers John Yoo and Jay Bybee—so if legal porn can be blamed for the illegal acts by pedophiles, that same logic would suggest that Yoo and Bybee are ripe for prosecution for conspiring, through their writings, to torture detainees.

And of course, the vast majority of articles Peters uses to prop up his charges were authored either by law enforcement personnel, anti-porn laypeople or journalists with no expertise in sexuality at all. Missing is any scientific evidence, and for good reason: There isn't any.

"For many perpetrators there is a progression from viewing adult pornography to viewing child pornography," is Peters' second claim, and the key word there is "many." The vast—in fact, overwhelming—majority of adults interested in adult pornography have no interest in kiddie porn; they're just not attracted, for both moral and esthetic reasons, to minors. Are there some adults who will progress from adult to child porn? Of course—but that has nothing to do with the adult material itself. Rather, there are some adults with a predilection for children's sexuality, and for them, adult porn is unattractive since it doesn't fulfill their fantasies. Again, it's the people who need treatment, not the material that needs banning.

Here, Peters props up his charged by quoting Dr. Victor Cline, an anti-porn "researcher" who claims that "porn addicts" go through four stages of their "illness": Addiction, escalation, desensitization and acting out sexually. But Cline plays fast and loose with the "scientific research" he claims to use. For instance, while it's correct that Drs. Neil Malamuth and Edward Donnerstein—both legitimate researchers—found that violent porn tends to increase males' acceptance of the fantasy that women like to be raped, the other side of that coin is never mentioned: That non-violent porn has little to no effect (other than temporary arousal) on its viewers. Cline is more at home quoting Drs. Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant—both anti-porn crusaders—who allege that porn "increase[s] callousness toward women," "devalue[s] the importance of monogamy," "distort[s] perceptions about sexuality," causes "an appetite for more deviant, bizarre or violent types of porn," and causes those exposed to "view non-monogamous relationships as normal and natural behavior." (Oooh, unmarried people having sex—real scary, boys and girls!)

And finally, in Cline's section titled "Research methodology," he admits that there is no causal link between porn and any of the sexual deviancies he chronicles: "Correlation alone never demonstrates or proves a causal relationship, though it can be suggestive or raise that possibility."

"Johns act out what they view in adult pornography with child prostitutes and pimps use adult pornography to instruct child prostitutes," is Peters' third charge, and again, the scientific evidence is absent. Peters quotes Cline's fourth step, "Acting out sexually," wherein Cline, citing no scientific evidence whatsoever, claims that "porn addicts" engage in "compulsive promiscuity, exhibitionism, group sex, voyeurism, frequenting massage parlors, having sex with minor children, rape, and inflicting pain on themselves or a partner during sex." [Emphasis by Peters]

The reader can perhaps be forgiven for failing to understand how porn viewers becoming patrons of prostitutes translates into those viewers patronizing child prostitutes and acting out porn fantasies with them, and of course, Peters' only evidence for that is his claim that, "To the extent that viewing adult pornography on the Internet is linked to prostitution in general, it is also linked to sexual exploitation of children trafficked into prostitution, if for no other reason than that so many prostitutes are children."

Peters' statement is difficult to assess since no one knows how many prostitutes are currently working in the world, much less in the U.S.... and of course, Peters himself provides no reliable statistics. Beyond that, his only evidence that prostitution patrons are seeking children are unsubstantiated claims that they're looking for hookers who are "young."

Similarly, there is no scientific evidence provided for the claim that "Children imitate behavior they view in adult pornography with other children." Oh, there are several press accounts of kids molesting or sodomizing other kids, usually with some adult opining that the molesters learned their sexual deviancy by watching either their parents' porn collection or going online to adult sites, but no one even attempts to factor in kids' normal post-pubescent sexual curiosity and inventiveness, nor the incidence of sociopathic behavior in minors. And indeed, most of the reports of adolescent sexual behavior can just as easily be traced to their natural sexual curiosity without the need to bring in dark conspiracies by porn sites to allegedly attract youngsters. Rather, it is the unwarranted (though in religious circles extremely common) assumption that kids have no sexual thoughts until some adult instructs them, or they view porn, that informs Peters' claim, rather than any assessment of reality.

So it's almost a breath of fresh air when Peters claims that, "Perpetrators use adult pornography to sexually arouse themselves." Can you say, "Duh"? Porn's purpose is arousal; the conveyance of an erotic message that says, in effect, "Sex is a normal part of human existence, and people who see other people having sex can revel in their enjoyment of it... as well as perhaps get some ideas to improve their own sex lives." Even the U.S. Supreme Court understands that!

But again, Peters has difficulty separating the fact that porn arouses people from the fact that some people, when aroused, will commit anti-social acts. That has nothing to do with the porn itself, but rather the psychology (and possibly physiology) of the perpetrator of the crime. Even in the absence of porn, bad people commit bad acts—even bad sexual acts. Hell, Richard Speck, raised in an extremely religious household, nonetheless went on to brutally murder eight student nurses, raping the last one, in Chicago in 1966.

Finally, Peters claims that "Addiction to adult pornography destroys marriages and children raised in one-parent households are more likely to be sexually exploited." We've noted several times that so-called "porn addiction" is simply another manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and that those who suffer from OCD may express their disease in any number of ways, from excessive hand-washing to excessive orderliness (indifferently expressed by the main character in the TV show "Monk") to excessive religiosity... to excessive porn viewing. The disorder is treatable, but the disorder itself has nothing to do with porn.

And as for the claim that kids in one-parent households are more likely to be sexually exploited, Peters devotes exactly one paragraph to the concept, citing a British study, "Children under 12 years with Sexual Behaviour Problems in London and Middlesex County: Trends and Professionals' Perceptions." However, what that study actually found, after surveying "social service professionals," was that roughly one-third of all kids who came in contact with those social service personnel had sexual behavior problems, which the study attributed to the kids having been exposed variously to "domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse problems, unstable living arrangements, different and often temporary caregiving figures, poor parenting skills, poverty"... and, yes, "adult sexual activity and pornography."

In answer to the question, "What predicts sexual problem behaviors in children," the British study states, "Research in this field suggests that many boys and girls who act out sexually have witnessed adult sexuality paired with violence, been sexually, physically and emotionally abused, and experienced significant neglect of their physical and emotional needs by their primary caretaker... Child maltreatment is very strongly correlated with sexual behaviour problems." [Citation omitted] Single-parent families are barely mentioned.

So if readers hadn't already guessed, Robert Peters' "study" of "How Adult Pornography Contributes to Sexual Exploitation of Children" is just another sorry attempt to justify the censorship of adult material by claiming a scientific basis for harm. And indeed, one might suspect that the entire purpose of the "study" was the press release announcing it—and, once one clicks through to MIM's website, soliciting donations—since the majority of people who go to the trouble of downloading the "study" won't even read the whole thing, won't think about it analytically, and won't investigate Peters' alleged sources for his "information."

But then again, that's exactly what Peters is hoping for.

Too bad, Bob!