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This Child Abuse Expert Says Many Abusers Started by Watching Mainstream Porn

By April 2, 2021No Comments

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What type of person abuses children? This is a heavy question—one that counselors and researchers have been examining for decades.

While this is a complex issue, there’s a concerning theme that remains consistent when it comes to porn—many people who consume and possess child sexual abuse material (CSAM) started out viewing fairly “normal” or “vanilla” content that escalated into an interest in more hardcore and violent images and videos. All too often, extreme porn can become a gateway drug into child abuse content.

Don’t mistake what we’re saying here. Not everyone who consumes mainstream porn will end up abusing children, but this is information we can’t ignore.

Can porn generate child abusers?

Counselors of child abusers describe what is happening as a global crisis in online child abuse. Some see offender after offender who may not have personally abused a child, but has viewed child abuse content and gotten hooked, when they otherwise wouldn’t have claimed any sexual interest in kids.

It’s concerning, to say the least, that this type of content is available to really anyone who actively looks for it—and even those who don’t.

For over 33 years, child abuse expert Michael Sheath has been counseling men who abuse children. For the first 15 years, he worked mainly with child molesters, and while he still does, he describes a dramatic shift to treating more and more online groomers and downloaders of child abuse images in the last couple of decades.

Sheath describes his patients as having “deviant sexual interests” and warns that mainstream porn sites are “changing what is normal.”

Related: How Mainstream Porn Is Connected To Arrests For Child Abuse Images

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How abusive images and videos are impacting average porn consumers

Every year, there’s continually been a rise in child abuse images circulating online—and significantly more so during the global pandemic. Every month, an estimated 700 men are arrested in connection with child sex abuse imagery.

Sheath describes a “dangerous cultural shift” in the profile of offenders, brought on by—you guessed it—more extreme pornography and its impact on developing brains. In an interview with The Guardian, this is how he explains this issue:

“There are two groups. The first is older men whose sexual education and awakening came before the internet. They will have [mainly] learned about sex with another person who gives feedback, resistance, encouragement.

Before the internet there was a ceiling on how much porn you could consume, maybe your dad had some; you had to go to a sex cinema to watch a film. It was limited in scope and there was a stigma on its consumption.

For the younger men who had their adolescence after about 2000, men up to 40, they will have watched a huge amount of online pornography before they have sex with a human being. And that makes an absolutely enormous difference.”

Related: Twitter Sued By Trafficking Survivor For Distributing And Profiting From Child Abuse Images

Sheath is seeing that the increasingly extreme themes available on mainstream porn sites normalize and legitimize extreme or even criminal behavior.

“Anything you want to find you can Google. Typically these men I work with will have been watching porn that is freely available on the internet at eight, nine, 10 years old. This isn’t looking at naked ladies, it’s group sex, it’s rape-themed, incest-themed.

If you look at the videos on mainstream porn sites you can see ‘teen’ themes, ‘mom and son’ themes, lots of incestuous porn. It’s pretty deviant stuff. To watch this you have already lowered your threshold of what is acceptable. Porn is an entry drug for a lot of them.

There is a school of thought that these men we work with were already interested in children and went off to look for it—that they are born pedophiles. But that’s not my thoughts. I think a lot of the men we work with go down what I call a potentially escalating pathway.”

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Let’s back that up and shine a light on its impact.

Experts are seeing that many men who abuse children aren’t “natural-born pedophiles” or molesters already interested in children. Some have started out consuming abuse-themed porn readily available on popular porn sites, which has proved as a sort of stepping stone to have an interest in child abuse content or, in some cases, actually abuse children.

“Mainstream pornography sites are changing the thresholds of what is normal and I think it’s dangerous. Of course, most people can watch extreme porn and walk away, but I don’t see those people. What we are seeing on a daily basis is the conflation of easy access to hardcore and deviant pornography and an interest in child molestation. The link is unambiguous.”

While some extreme content is legal and defended as fantasy acted and consumed by consenting adults, this clearly isn’t the case with all of the content found on mainstream sites. And even if it were, Sheath warns, the content is still dangerous.

“Think of young women emerging into the sexual world and meeting men who are into strangulation and anal sex. It’s not criminal, it’s not being reported, but as a social and cultural experience, it’s really significant. Is incest porn chipping away at a protective taboo around incest? Probably it is.”

Related: Letter From A Sex Offender: How I Went From Watching Adult Hardcore Porn To Child Porn

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Profiling abusers and methods for treatment

There is definitely a stigma around the overall description of the type of person who abuses children. But public perception doesn’t always align with facts.

According to a recent report, for example, it was found that most child sexual abuse rings are made up of white men under the age of 30—debunking a common myth that offenders are disproportionately Asian, Black, or British Pakistani men.

While it can be difficult to draw conclusions about the characteristics of offenders in every case, we’re learning a lot—especially from those working with offenders on an individual basis.

Sheath describes watching over the years as the profile of individuals he treats has changed—a phenomenon that he sees closely linked to the way some men react to watching extreme porn from a young age.

“My earliest clients were child molesters. They tended to have been beaten, abused or have some sort of dysfunction. I’ve found in the last 10 years that increasingly people who view child sex abuse material don’t seem to have that history. They are mundane, ordinary people from all walks of life. They start saying, ‘Oh I just clicked, I don’t know why, I don’t fancy kids,’ or ‘the children seem to be smiling.’”

Related: New European Union Privacy Rules Make Finding And Reporting Child Sexual Abuse Material More Difficult

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So how can this rewiring of the brain and sexual tastes by exposure to extreme porn be treated or potentially undone?

A crucial aspect to help them not re-offend, counselors say, is to get these men to view children as real people instead of objects.

“I ask the men to tell me about an image they look at. I ask the girl’s age, I say what do you reckon her name is, what does she like doing at school? They look absolutely horrified. They have never considered it. They are objectifying this child—seeing them as just a mouth, or a body part. When I make them think this is a kid who goes to school and has a hamster, has a mum and dad, they don’t like that, it’s painful for them.

They can reach a point where they have more empathy for the child. We have evidence that our work not only reduces reoffending but brings about changes in empathy levels.”

To put it simply, Sheath helps offenders realize they aren’t just “harmlessly looking,” but are a part of the chain of abuse happening to a real child. And for many, breaking down this mental aspect of dehumanizing victims and replacing it with empathy works.

Related: Massive Porn Site Xvideos Investigated For Hosting Videos Of Child Sexual Abuse And Exploitation

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Porn plays a part in normalizing abuse

When it comes to porn, everyone involved can be victims—from performers to consumers, and those abused as a result of the attitudes and behaviors porn normalizes.

Take a moment to consider the implications of the chain of child sexual abuse, and the role porn plays in the attitudes and behaviors of offenders.

Related: How I Went From A 10-Year-Old Looking At Porn To A Suicidal “Sex Fiend”

Perhaps if everyone who looked at any kind of porn thought about the person on the other side of the screen as therapists are encouraging abusers to do, there would be less objectification in our society, and fewer issues of abuse in general.

Wouldn’t that be a world we’d all like to live in?

Click here to learn how to report child sexual abuse material.

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