When a smoker purchases a pack of cigarettes, it comes with a surgeon’s general warning on the pack to warn the smoker of potential consequences of tobacco use. Any supplier of an addictive product that has harmful effects to the consumer should be required to follow this protocol. Unfortunately, the world is not so. Pornographers don't put disclaimers beneath their videos that say, "Women often reject men that view pornography," "pornography causes less satisfaction in real sexual experiences," or "avid porn users can actually lose interest in real life intimate relationships," (Zillmann & Bryant, 1988).
In addition to those consequences for viewing porn, even more serious problems can emerge. “Standard” porn does not satisfy the addict. For some people, porn use can even evolve into a curiosity or an appetite for child porn or pornography blending violence with sex. Don't believe us? Well, let's talk about that.
One generally does not Google "child porn" or "violent porn" on their first search. We talked to a man in jail who had over 40 counts of charges for child pornography. We asked him, "So how did you get into that? If you don’t mind me asking.” His response was, "when you’re a porn addict, the same stuff gets boring. You cycle through different phases."
This sex offender’s statement verifies research done by Zillmann and Bryant. In 1984 they conducted a study that revealed an increased interest in violent porn merely from exposure to non-violent pornography. Zillmann also conducted a study with college freshmen and found that frequent use of pornography requires more novel and bizarre material to achieve the same level of arousal or interest due to a growing tolerance of sexually explicit material (2000). Extended pornography use creates boredom and sexual dissatisfaction among viewers of both genders (Weaver, 2004). After using any drug for a while to satisfy an urge, the impulse tends to grow and requires more intense stimulation.
Just like transitioning from gateway to harder drugs, soft or “standard” pornography can morph into hardcore, violent, and even child porn over time. The average person who gets into heroin doesn’t just strap a leather belt on their bicep, put a lighter beneath a spoon and begin injecting their first time. They start with painkillers or smoke a small amount with their marijuana. The same pattern can be seen with meth. More often than not it starts with abuse of an Adderall prescription before they become addicts with sunken eyes, decaying teeth, and withering hair.
Just like there is more drug abuse than we know about, child pornography is more prevalent and growing faster than we would ever like to imagine. The people who actually get caught for such crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. Child pornography is a business that has been expanding virally on the web and the material is getting worse. In 2008, Internet Watch Foundation found 1,536 individual child abuse domains. Additionally, every week there are over 20,000 images of child pornography posted on the web (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 2003). Furthermore, U.S Customs Services estimates that illegal child pornography is offered by approximately 100,000 websites.
In a study on findings from the peer-reviewed Journal of Family Violence, 85% of the offenders in the study convicted of possessing, receiving or distributing child pornography on the Internet had admitted to sexually molesting a child at least once (Day, Chung & O’Leary, 2009). The average number of victims reported for each of these offenders was 13 and a half. Seventy-four percent of these men had no documentation of hands-on victimization. As one would expect, offenders tend to underreport when they are the perpetrator in child molestation and these percentages only represent the offenders who actually confessed in a genuine therapeutic environment with the stipulation of no legal consequences. Because children normally stay silent, imagine for a moment the offenders who keep their mouth shut or the majority who don’t get caught.
It is difficult to find a causal relationship between viewing child pornography or violent pornography and becoming a pedophile or rapist. Do people who are pedophiles prefer to watch child pornography or do people who watch child pornography become pedophiles? As in many cases of statistically significant correlation, it probably goes both ways. Regardless of what causes what, behavior psychology discovered over a century ago that a consistent pairing of two stimuli together creates a stronger association (Pavlov, 1897).
It’s called classical conditioning. Under this strongly supported theory, if one is constantly pairing sexual feelings with the image of children on a screen, sexual feelings will continue to be associated in the presence of a child in real life. Similarly, the more frequently sexual arousal is experienced when viewing violent porn, the stronger the bond will be between the two stimuli.
Watching many different videos of violent or child pornography desensitizes the viewer to what is and is not appropriate concerning sexuality. A study promoting social learning theory revealed that if a subject observes aggressive behavior that is rewarded, the subject is more likely to engage in that behavior than those who were not exposed (Bandura, 1961). A child porn viewer constantly sees different occurrences of children engaging in sexual acts that maybe even appear to enjoy it. They might begin to think, “hey children are sexual too,” or “I’ve seen a hundred adults already do this to a child, me doing it is no big deal.”
At what cost does child pornography come?
We had the opportunity to talk to a girl who was forced into child porn at age five by her mother who was trapped in the drug world. The pornographer raped this little girl then took pictures and made videos of her engaged in sexual acts. When this little girl’s mother tried to get their family out of the child porn business she was blackmailed by the pornographer who threatened to have child protective services take her children away. Their family didn’t get out of the business until the little girl and her siblings were “getting too old” and the family had to run away afraid into hiding like Jewish fugitives during the Nazi regime. Even at the time we talked about this (over a decade later) she refused to tell us many details about what had happened in fear of being found.
This girl’s therapist concluded that her post-traumatic stress disorder was in conjunction with these events from her childhood. She also has an inability to trust others, suffers from severe anxiety around people over 40 (the age of the offenders in her past), and is dealing with drug problems to cope with the pain, and distortions about sexuality. She informed us that “sex trafficking” is not a myth and that it’s happening here in regular neighborhoods.
“I think more should be done in communities and neighborhoods and cities to watch out for child sex trafficking. This all happened to my family in a pretty normal working-class suburb in the northwest... Child pornography—the making it, the viewing it, everything about it to me is worse than abortion because I would have been happily aborted if I knew I was going to deal with living my life feeling dead and empty inside already. But that’s what the viewers and people involved in child pornography get off on. I don’t think it will ever be stopped, but hopefully stifled.”
So where did these pedophiles think the children exploited in child pornography came from? Did they think it was a voluntary “make your child a porn star” opportunity in which eager mothers broke open their piggy banks and drove cross-country in their minivans to enter their child? Children’s lives are getting exploited and scarred while producer’s bank accounts get fat.
Not only is child pornography or violent pornography damaging to the viewer, it creates a demand and when there is a demand there will always be a supplier ready to capitalize on it. There is a strong link between these types of pornography and modern slavery. Sex traffickers put on their party hats and fire off confetti launchers to celebrate this kind of media; it’s ideal for advertisement and a foolproof way to strengthen the demand for their “product.”
Because pornography companies are not going to put disclaimers on their “product,” we have to do our best to educate each other and ourselves on the harmful effects of pornography. Child and violent pornography viewers do not appear out of thin air, they develop with a history of pornography use. Beliefs, ideas, perceptions, and appetites can change with exposure, which influences behavior. Pornography use is a slippery slope to ideas and behavior that are detrimental to the individual and society as a whole.
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