Tuesday, October 30, 2012

supply and demand...or something entirely different?

The usual "proof" that those convicted of child porn possession should be punished as severely as those who produce the porn is that those who look at the images only encourage someone else to create more images and to abuse more children. Demand drives the market, they say. Here are a couple of comments from the spate of comments left on my blog:
Downloading and posessing child porn is illegal because it continues to victimize the children it exploited. It's illegal because it creates and fuels a demand for more images which lead to more children being hurt and abused.
Child porn exists because there is a market for it. The consumers of child porn and the demand for it make it possible for it to continue to exists. 
If sick slime balls like your husband weren't creating a market for child porn, then it wouldn't be readily available. 
If that argument is solid, then it could make good sense to put as many people like my husband in prison as possible. Jacob Sullum, in the July 2011 Reason, points out that incarceration rates of those charged with possession, receipt or distribution of child pornography have increased dramatically in recent years. He says the sentences for those crimes have increased in severity as well.
Between 1997 and 2007, the number of people sent to federal prison for possessing, receiving, or distributing (but not producing) child pornography quintupled, from 238 to 1,170, while the average sentence more than quadrupled, from 21 to 91 months.
So let me think about this. After incarcerating increasingly large numbers of people for child porn offenses, the demand must have decreased quite a bit. On the other hand, child porn must still be available or we wouldn't have such a steady supply of child porn defendants and convicts. The only thing that seems clear is that reducing the number of people looking at child porn does not decrease the supply of the images.

Could it be that the motivation of those who post child pornography to the Internet has nothing to do with supply and demand? Could it be that the motivation of those who abuse children and post images to the Internet has nothing to do with whether there is an audience for those images?

It is easy to think that profit is a motive for posting more and more varied images to child porn sites that sell the images. When money is involved, we think profit is the motive but maybe not. Maybe the people running the for-pay sites have other reasons to charge for the images. Perhaps they think charging for the images narrows the audience, eliminating the merely curious who could be more likely to report the egregious images. I don't know. I don't know anyone who runs a website that charges for the images so I don't know what the motivation is. Imagining the motive is not the same as knowing the motive.

Many more sites are available that offer the images for no charge at all. Freely available. What is the motivation for the people who post images to these sites? There is no profit motive here. Could it be that there are many possible motives for sharing the illegal images? 

The common belief that demand drives the child porn industry must be questioned. Criminal sentences based on that belief must be challenged.