Email Us My Blog



Danes First to Legalise Child Pornography

Sunday Business Post, 28 October 2007 by John Burke

The sexual revolution of the mid-1960s heralded a dramatic increase in the demand for pornography of all types, fuelled by what leading Irish criminologist and UCD academic Ian O’Donnell notes was a narrowing of what was perceived to be obscene.

Censorship laws were relaxed and the Danish government led the march by legalising all forms of pornography in 1969. The effect was to create a massive industry that created materials that later became mainstays among the international paedophile market.

One expert has described the following decade as a ‘‘ten year madness’’. A lack of legislation in other Western countries permitted a global industry to develop which was primarily based on images of children being abused, which were sourced and distributed from Denmark.

Some years after he became a rich man from the production of child pornography, Danish businessman Willy Strauss recounted how his 1971 magazine, which was entitled Bambina Sex, sold more than 10,000 copies among pornography dealers within two hours of it coming off the printing press.

By the end of its first week in print, Strauss and his business partner, his wife Leila, had sold 19,000 copies. Strauss has claimed that Bambina Sex was the first child pornography magazine produced.

Strauss was not the only Danish businessman to profit from the decriminalisation of the production of child porn.

Brothers Peter and Jens Theander were early market leaders. Their company, Rodox/ Color Climax, has been linked to an estimated 100 million magazines and 10 million films since they started production of child pornography publications from their Copenhagen base in 1975.

Much of this was adult in content, but they produced a vast array of child pornography to meet burgeoning demand. One expert described the brothers’ 36-series ‘Lolita’ films as ‘‘exclusively . . . pictures of young girls being sexually abused, primarily by men but sometimes involving women and other children’’.

The age-range of victims was primarily 7-11, but often younger. The series included unambiguous titles such as Fucking Children, and Little Girl Sex. A decade after the Lolita series was made, US Customs were attributed with claiming that the Theanders’ child porn films were the most widely traded of such films into the vast US market. The business made the brothers multi-millionaires.

By the time the Danes made the production of child pornography illegal, the industry had made numerous people vast sums of wealth through the creation of images of children being sexually abused, and the distribution for sale of millions of magazines and films reputed to remain in circulation among paedophile networks around the world today.


Protecting Childhood

Sunday Business Post, 28 October 2007 by John Burke

A controversial analysis of child pornography usage in Ireland by criminologist Professor Ian O’Donnell questions whether Irish society’s preoccupation with child sexuality has done more harm that good. Have we ended up viewing all children through the eyes of a paedophile, seriously altering the manner in which we interact with them as a result?

Minutes after Interpol released a semi-blurred image of a man who was suspected of raping Asian children and posting images of his crimes on the internet, the police investigation became a global news story.

Almost every media outlet in the world carried the slightly distorted images of the suspect’s face, which German police had initially managed to recreate from child pornography images the suspect had made. Along the way, some newspapers were slightly overeager in their bid to land an exclusive angle on the worldwide manhunt. One Irish newspaper alleged that the initially unidentified individual was a man living in the North.

Eight days after Interpol released the images to the media, a 32-year-old Canadian, Christopher Paul Neil, was identified as the man sought by police forces worldwide. On October 19, rthe Royal Thai Police arrested Neil in Nakhon Ratchasima, in the northeast region of the country.

Interpol secretary general Ronald K Noble lauded the arrest. "[Neil’s] arrest sends a clear message to those men who think they can travel to South-East Asiato abuse innocent children: there is no longer any such place as a safe haven for paedophiles; there is no such thing as anonymity; and there is no escape." Neil embodies every parent’s worst nightmare: a stranger who secretly intends to cause harm and sexual violence to children, and publicises that violence to the world, via pornographic images on the internet.

But it’s a relatively recent nightmare, says leading criminologist and UCD Professor Ian O’Donnell. Adults having sexual relations with children is not new. Nor is the practice of putting such images into print for consumption by those who take gratification from it. However, the criminalisation of both child sexual abuse and the production and possession of child pornography is a relatively new phenomenon.

Historical records show that the ancient Greeks paid homage in painting to adult men having sexual encounters with male children. Seventeenth-century French and English literature is full of written accounts of adults engaging in erotic trysts with minors.

Just over 30 years ago, it was deemed legal in Denmark to film or photograph an adult sexually abusing a child, and process and package the content for sale to a willing market. Lax laws and non-existent enforcement in most of the western world made the child pornography trade so lucrative that many Danish businessmen became multimillionaires within a short period.

Indeed, until the 1980s the term ‘‘child abuse’’ was barely heard in western society. Today, the consensus is absolute; downloading or possession of child pornography is a direct result of a child being subjected to abuse and, as the reportage of the convictions resulting from 2002’s Operation Amethyst suggests, we place those who view child abuse on a par with the abusers.

However, new research suggests there are significant differences between those who take gratification in child pornography and those who are termed ‘‘contact’’ child abusers.

A study by Patrick Walsh, director of Granada Institute in Dublin, which provides counselling to offenders, found that internet offenders were typically of above average intelligence and developed their interest in child pornography as an extension of an obsessive collecting behaviour, with offenders cataloguing their child porn collections in great detail. But the characteristics of an internet offender are not uniform and the crime is blind to socioeconomic differences.

Psychologically, internet offenders would appear to be obsessive collectors and archivers. They are intelligent people who are emotionally damaged. Walsh’s 2004 study found that a majority had withdrawn into a private world and developed obsessive tendencies after having poor childhood connections with their mother.

Comparatively, studies show that contact child abusers have strong maternal relationships, but have a history of paternal abandonment or have negative relationships with their fathers.

But while O’Donnell says there is little really known about internet offenders, society uses the terms child abusers and child pornography users interchangeably. Where there is a uniform agreement is that child pornography and child abuse are inexorably linked, according to O’Donnell.

‘‘In the majority of cases, child pornography cannot be produced without a child being sexually abused. The exceptions include where images are computer-generated . . . thus, child pornography is regarded as the evidence, stored on film, video or computer disk, of sexual assaults on children. It is a record of a crime scene."

The past decade has seen more discussion and coverage of paedophilia and child pornography than at any time before. But how much do we know about the true extent of these crimes in Ireland? And have news reports of both done more to spread fear and disinformation than to inform?

UCD’s O’Donnell has undertaken a forensic examination of the phenomenon of paedophile pornography in Ireland in his upcoming book, Child Pornography: Crime, Computers and Society. He says the fear that our children will fall foul of sexual abuse has led to a debate on child pornography usage that lacks nuance and which offers little constructive solutions for ensuring the welfare of vulnerable children.

O’Donnell also says the excessive concern that our children will be victims of sexual abuse has hampered our understanding of those in our own community who take sexual pleasure in viewing child pornography. He says levels of concern for children here are exaggerated, noting that up until 2000, there was little to suggest there was a problem with pornographic exploitation of children in Ireland.

A study by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) in 1998 found little evidence of forced participation in pornographic acts among callers to its Childline service. Garda statistics prior to 2000 contain no reference to child pornography offences.

Yet with Operation Amethyst in 2002, that all changed. On foot of dawn raids by gardai at more than 100 homes and businesses on May 27 that year, the media began shouting about a hidden community of paedophiles lurking in this country, concealed in respectable homes that masked a perverted interest in viewing images of children being raped.

Operation Amethyst was part of global police investigation, sparked by US law enforcement agencies, which found data of paedophiles using credit cards to acquire graphic images of child pornography. However, the flaw in the logic was that not every person who purchases child porn is - or will be in the future - a paedophile.

Nonetheless, with persons caught and convicted of the crime, the attention was turned on what was seen as lenient sentences being handed down to those found guilty of obtaining child pornography. The first high-profile person to be convicted in the Irish operation was celebrity chef Tim Allen, whom many believed escaped jail by paying €40,000.

The following day’s Irish Daily Star newspaper carried the headline: ‘‘You’re rich, you’re free, but you’re still a sick pervert." O’Donnell says the coverage was emotive but wrong.

Allen received 240-hours community service in lieu of a nine-month jail sentence and had his name placed on the register of sex offenders. The €40,000 Allen paid out was a voluntary donation to the court poor box, in aid of a charity that helped street children in Calcutta.

Days later, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny joined in the chorus of people expressing their disapproval at the sentence, calling for mandatory jail terms for those found in possession of child pornography.

Having interviewed seven District Court and five Circuit Court judges in relation to their handling of child pornography offenders, O’Donnell found that most judges were guided by the logical view that if the risk of reoffending was low and if supervision was deemed to reduce that even further, then probation was an option worth considering for those convicted.

The judges identified 12 aggravating factors in determining sentence. These included the nature of the images a person had collected, the effects of the abuse on the children and the risk of reoffending. In contrast, judges identified 19 mitigating factors, among which the most significant were the entering of a guilty plea, the absence of previous convictions and the person’s cooperation with gardai.

The judges also believed that public contempt and media coverage of the child pornography user’s crimes counted for a degree of punishment already meted out. Amethyst and its aftermath brought out of the closet a subject which had been mishandled or simply ignored in Ireland, largely because those in authority felt uncomfortable with a public debate on child sex and sexuality.

O’Donnell describes the early decades of independent Ireland as being characterised by an acquiescence to church and state, both of which resisted any discussion or elaboration on any subject that would alter their hitherto unquestioned control over the population’s morality.

‘‘What was socially acceptable was rigidly defined, and those in authority worked in close co-operation to ensure that any transgressions were dealt with harshly," he says.

Public discussion on anything to do with child sexuality was averted until the mid 1990s, despite the occasional high-profile incident such as the sad demise of a pregnant 15-year-old girl in a Co Longford cemetery in January 1984.The death of Anne Lovett and her infant while trying to conceal her teenage pregnancy from her community dominated the national airwaves on the Gay Byrne radio show, in a national conversation that may seem commonplace today, but which altered the context of debate on both consensual and non-consensual underage sex.

It was the same year,1994, that public awareness of clerical child sex abuse began, with media coverage of the trial of Fr Brendan Smyth, who abused children in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the US. His superiors had moved him from parish to parish as complaints mounted.

Ireland was lagging a decade behind other western countries, but a lid was slowly opening on sectors of Irish society that had either unwittingly, or even perhaps cravenly, facilitated the sexual abuse of children.

With the media now baying for the blood of anyone connected to child porn, O’Donnell questions whether we have merely replaced a slavish denial of the problem with a self-serving outrage that allows us to believe all child pornography-users are monsters. In doing so, he notes that much of what we presume to be fact is based on newspapers stories about the nature of child abuse in Ireland, and these sources may be dangerously faulty.

A2007 study examining The Irish Times’s coverage of child sexual abuse showed that where the profession of the perpetrator was mentioned, more than two-thirds (68.3 per cent) related to clergy or those in religious life. This compares with a major national survey in 2002 showing that such perpetrators were responsible for the victimisation of just 5.8 per cent of boys abused and 1.4 per cent of girls.

O’Donnell suggests that the public debates on child abuse and child pornography have become inadvertently intertwined, and in doing so, we have adopted an emotive fear of monsters hiding in every bush while struggling to address the overwhelmingly complex issue of how to deal most effectively with the protection of the most vulnerable children.

When Amethyst became an issue by 2002, Ireland was legislatively prepared with the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998.The legal framework was introduced after the case of convicted rapist and paedophile network leader Marc Dutroux in Belgium in 1996.

Yet,11 years later, O’Donnell wonders whether Irish society’s preoccupation with child sexuality has done more harm that good. Have we ended up viewing all children through the eyes of a paedophile, seriously altering the manner in which we interact with them as a result?

He believes parental fear over other adults’ possible interest in their child’s sexuality has led to a vastly changed parenting environment. ‘‘A belief that the world was a safe place and that other adults could be relied upon has been sundered. In its place has grown an attitude of generalised mistrust, accompanied by an ingrained tendency to overestimate the dangers of childhood. It seems as if adults have lost the ability to discriminate between degrees of danger."

With parents constantly eyeing how other adults are interacting with their children, they are increasingly restricted in how and where they can be intimate with their own children and the offspring of close friends and family in such a fear-driven environment.

Take too many photographs of your daughter in the bath and you can face complaints when the photo-roll is brought to the pharmacy for developing, as happened ITN newsreader Julia Somerville. She was questioned by police over several days in 1996 after a complaint was made by her local pharmacy. A well-meaning assistant thought that 28 photos which Somerville had taken of her seven-year-old daughter were ‘‘too many’’. No charges were brought.

Amid the worry for our own children is the absence of concern for those who are suffering from more prevalentmisery. O’Donnell asks if we have consciously decided to focus solely on protecting ‘our’ children, while ignoring the plight of millions of children living in poverty and without proper healthcare, both at home and abroad, when these children are far more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

‘‘The drive to eradicate child pornography is a distraction from important issues such as child poverty, discrimination, early school leaving and marginalisation. These factors diminish children’s life chances and render them vulnerable to a myriad of harms,’’ O’Donnell says.

Western society seems content to ignore the plight of millions of children whose lives are blighted by poverty and disease in favour of disproportionately expending its emotional energies on righteous indignation for a small number of child pornography offenders who are brought to justice, he adds.

The origin of this recent preoccupation with child sexuality is arguable, but the clues are there. One judge quoted by O’Donnell describes the media as ‘‘baying for blood’’ in a child pornography trial. Overanxious parenting is easily fed by frenzied and unbalanced commentary.

The academic is contemptuous of the apparent hypocrisy of the tabloid press. ‘‘Most disturbing is the way in which media outlets hound paedophiles, [and] blatantly push the boundaries of what is legal. While the front page may scream for retribution for a convicted sex offender or more usually a kid porn pervert, turn to page three and a young woman, often barely over the age of consent, is shown topless while another few pages on, readers are encouraged to dial premium numbers to chat with Lolita," he says.

Can the fascination of modern society with child sexuality be the result of something that many would find altogether less palatable?

In his 1998 book Erotic Innocence: The Culture Of Child Molesting, author James Kincaid, professor of English at the University of Southern California and an expert in post-Victorian literature, suggests the high levels of abhorrence at child sex abuse expressed by adults, including parents, betray a deep fascination with child sexuality. He says this creates a dangerous social faultline by simultaneously fetishising and denying child sexuality.

So is our modern media, driven by commercial pressure, creating a product for sale that is based on an understanding of precisely this phenomenon? And, as such, are these media that we buy every day profiteering in child abuse?

Child Pornography: Crime, Computers And Society, by Ian O’Donnell and Claire Milner, will be published by Willan in November

This story appeared in the printed version of the Sunday Business Post Sunday, October 28, 2007