I've argued that child porn viewing should not be a crime, on civil liberties grounds. This post focuses on what happens after a person has looked. What sort of crime is this and what sort of enforcement can a person expect? It is highly uncertain, and I would suggest that the uncertainty is greater than for any other crime.

A lot of people look at child pornography. A UK estimate is <500,000>https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/729650/Half-million-British-men-viewed-child-sex-abuse-images-online. If we guess that only 25 million of the 33 million British males have the temptation provided by private internet access, that's 2 percent. That's a lot of people. We should compare it to crimes of similar or greater frequency.

Unless someone is arrested, it is a private crime. I don't just mean that the perpetrator might not be identified, but that there is no victim. In this it is unlike theft, where the victim knows a crime has taken place even if they don't know who did it. If CP downloading is detected, it is based on inferences in the vast electronic realm of the internet that lay people simply don't understand. Like most things on the internet, the evidence stays around forever. On the other hand, for crimes in the physical world, you have a sense of the evidence and know that the chance of detection goes down as time passes.

The fact that it is a private crime and that those who are not caught choose overwhelmingly not to report their private viewing means those who commit it have no intuitive sense of how likely they are to be caught. News reports are only about those who have been caught, and there is no sense of how many silent ones there are who do not get caught. Is it only 5% who get caught, or 95%?

There are technologies that can greatly reduce your chance of detection, such as use of Tor. Most people will be uncertain whether they have used this correctly or whether they have some other vulnerability (such as malware on their computer).

It is also a crime with huge penalties. If you get a ticket for speeding or are caught having cheated on your income taxes, you will likely pay a fine. If you've downloaded CP you might well be facing a long prison sentence. What's more, it has huge social penalties. You won't lose all your friends if you are caught speeding or cheating on your taxes.

The next problem is that it isn't always clear if you've broken the law or not. The legal system does not allow independent investigation and categorization of the illegal images that people possess that lead to their being convicted -- almost always on the basis of a plea bargain. It is understandable that the system does not want images circulated for prurient interest, but surely some group of professionals that is totally independent of government control could be trusted to not share the actual images they study.

Borderline cases include youthful-looking adult women, or actual minors with bodies that can easily pass for 18. They include girls posed provocatively but with their private parts covered and not engaged in any sexual activity. They could include video that is legal in its entirety (such as video from nudist camps) but that could be considered illegal if the editor crops it to focus on the genital areas. They could include cartoons or drawings. They could include teen selfies. Case law is unsettled on these borderline cases and varies between jurisdictions. Many of those who ordered the Azov videos felt confident that they were buying something legal. The consequences of being wrong were not a fine, even a large fine like $5,000. They were prison time and further time on the sex offender registry.

One principle of a free society is that there can be no ex post facto laws. Another is that the law has to be sufficiently clear that someone can know whether they are breaking it or not. In their latest package of anti-pedophile bills, the UK powers-that-be essentially said that it would technically make illegal things that are innocent, and they asked the citizens to trust them to figure out who were the actual bad guys. That position strikes at the heart of a society governed by laws.

In practical terms, some people write to Virtuous Pedophiles who have looked at child pornography. They shouldn't have done it, just like people shouldn't commit any crimes. They now report living in fear of the police knocking on the door. But in this case, I can do little to assuage their anxiety. I really have no idea how likely it is they will be investigated, or how the chances of that will vary over time. It feels to me like this uncertainty is unparalleled in comparison to any other frequent crime.

A few others report that they only looked at innocent video of young girls, for instance dancing or doing gymnastics. But they still fear the knock on the door, and I can't be totally confident reassuring them. What if some illegal images were bundled with a download and they don't even know they have them? If law enforcement decides they are a pedophile, with no evidence of other wrongdoing, then they are subject to harassment, at the least.

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