Cover photo from Joel Davis Facebook. Portions of this post were originally published on NY Daily News. 3 minute read.
Trigger warning: The follow post contains descriptions of child abuse.
A former Columbia University student who made international headlines for his efforts to halt sexual violence against children admitted Thursday to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and possessing child porn, according to reports.
Many news outlets have been reporting on this case with headlines stating: Joel Davis, 24, admitting to “sex with a minor.” Sex implies consent from all parties involved. Any lack of consent implies sexual harassment, assault, and/or rape. Under US age of consent laws—the age of consent depending on the state—an underage person cannot consent to sex acts, so we feel it’s more accurate to describe his actions as “sexual assault.”
Davis was once rumored to be on the short list for a Nobel Peace Prize nominee as a result of his activism on behalf of child sex crime victims. For his crimes, he could get life in prison, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
In Manhattan Federal Court, the former Ivy League student admitted that he had illegal sexual activity with a 15-year-old boy after setting up a meeting with the teen in June 2018.
But, unfortunately, this isn’t his first run-in with illicit acts with minors.
In 2018, Davis also allegedly sent child pornography pictures to an undercover FBI agent and sought to engage in sex with another agent’s make-believe 9-year-old and 2-year-old daughters.
His sentencing is set for May 7. He faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life on charges that include enticing a child to engage in sexual activity.
In 2017, he told Columbia University’s student newspaper that he was a victim of rape and said the abuse he suffered as a 10-year-old changed his approach to future relationships.
Joel’s activism-filled past
As it turns out, Davis was executive director of Youth to End Sexual Violence, a group he founded in 2014. The next year, he said that he had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his charity work. It was also reported that he sat on the board of directors for the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence.
“Having started an organization that pushed for the end of sexual violence, Davis displayed the highest degree of hypocrisy by his alleged attempts to sexually exploit multiple minors,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement at the time of his arrest in 2018.
In a criminal complaint against Davis from 2018, the FBI outlined how Davis allegedly responded to an online posting using the name “yngperv22.” He is alleged to have told investigators that he had once tried to have sex with a 7-year-old boy but ultimately didn’t, and had once sexually assaulted a 3-year-old girl.
When he was arrested, he allegedly told investigators that he had used the Grindr app to meet a 13-year-old boy and “engaged in oral sex and digital penetration,” according to the complaint.
The sad truth is, cases like this happen every day across the world. Child sexual exploitation is a huge underground industry, so why is this case making headlines?
But is everyone a pedophile who looks at child porn?
Child exploitation imagery, also known as “child pornography,” has become more prevalent than we would ever like to imagine.
It is said to be an estimated $3 billion dollar industry globally, generating massive amounts of money for people seeking to exploit young children. While federal agencies work endlessly to fight this global issue and rescue the children affected, the people who actually get caught for the crime are only the tip of the iceberg.
We don’t know Davis, and we don’t know his personal porn habits other than what’s been reported. It’s possible he could have diagnosable pedophila, or it could be something else. Let us explain.
A little-known fact about a widely accepted habit in our society is that pornography is an escalating habit. It’s possible that a person can start consuming mainstream porn and become unsatisfied until they find something more extreme—crossing over in some cases to child porn.
After that point, it’s possible that a person can watch enough child porn that they seek out an online advertisement and pay to rape a trafficked child. More than both of these scenarios being possible, they actually happen.
Dr. Julie Newberry is a psychologist who has worked with patients who have stories that sound similar to Davis’. In an article for PsychReg, she writes: “My therapeutic experience is that a person who views child abuse images, though committing a sexual offense, is not necessarily a pedophile. A pedophile has a primary sexual interest in children. I suggest that for some people, it is porn addiction rather than pedophilia, which is the cause. A person, usually a man, who has no sexual interest in children, can find himself ‘crossing the line’.”
She continues on to describe her experience, saying:
“[My clients] didn’t go onto the internet with the intention of looking at child abuse images, but nevertheless ended up there. They couldn’t understand why they continued to do something that disgusted them and which they knew was illegal. I suggest that each of them became desensitized to mild porn and sensitized to extreme porn. Their higher thinking brain, compromised by addiction, could not win the battle, even when it came to viewing child abuse images. Porn sex was too powerful a need and withdrawal too difficult.”
While it is uncommon for porn consumers to end up turning to illegal content, it does happen.
This is why we raise awareness that porn is anything but harmless, personal entertainment. In too many cases, the porn consumer ends up becoming consumed by their porn.