A study by the U.S. government of inmates convicted of either the possession or distribution of child pornography found some very disturbing results, judging by a recent New York Times article. The study itself has not been released yet, and its fate actually seems uncertain, given the highly sensitive nature of the study, and the possible reactions to the study’s conclusions by the public and the media. But what it alleges is that the percentage of inmates convicted of child pornography charges who have actually molested children as well could be about 85 percent. Earlier studies have placed the figure closer to 30 or 40 percent.
The implications here are daunting, and hint that many of society’s child pornography offenders could, in fact, also be child molesters who have simply not been caught. In the past, the pattern of child pornography offenders has seemed disjointed and unconnected, including such pillars of the community as politicians, police officers, and teachers. But the new research could change the way people view these offenders, and also lead to stiffer sentences for those convicted. However, some experts do not believe that it is wise to generalize the observations of such a small group of test cases (the study reported on by the Times interviewed 155 inmates).
Still, I’m inclined to believe that any research in this area could be helpful in the need to understand sexual predators and child molesters better. Understanding the relationship between child pornography and child molestation is crucial to developing any sort of treatment for these offenders. In the past, at least some child molesters have admitted that images of child pornography have fueled their desires to act out their fantasies and have helped compel them to act on their criminal impulses. Most experts seem to agree that such studies should be continued and made public, sooner rather than later. In the Times article, Dr. Peter Collins, who leads the Forensic Psychology Unit of the Ontario Provincial Police, said of these latest findings, “We’re really on the cusp of learning more about these individuals and the studies should be encouraged, not quashed.”