In my previous post I talked about the Japanese aesthetic of kawaii and how this is easily misinterpreted in the West as a form of paedophilia. The Japanese deliberately manipulate the ‘Western’ archetype of the Lolita (derived from Nabakov’s famous novel). However, in typical playful Japanese style it takes on complex meanings. And whilst much of this is intended to be kawaii, there are much darker aspects. Some anime and manga explore paedophiliac themes in graphic detail. This shocks many in the West, with many moral conservatives arguing that the widespread availability of such material will only encourage people to offend against children. At first glance this argument makes sense. Viewing such material ought to lower inhibitions, legitimize paedophilia and lead to an increase in crimes against children.

The problem is that the evidence suggests something completely counter-intuitive: that viewing such material provides an outlet and actually cuts the number of offences against real children. Now I’m not talking about material involving the recording of abuse against ‘real’ children. That is a record of a crime against that child. Such material is banned in Japan. No, we are talking about illustrations; anime and manga.

In an important study: Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan, Dr Milton Diamond and Ayako Uchiyama discovered that as Japan’s strict pornography laws were relaxed there was actually a corresponding drop in sex crimes against children and women. The complete opposite of what the moral conservatives would expect.

The most dramatic decrease in sex crimes was seen when attention was focused on the number and age of rapists and victims among younger groups (Table 2). We hypothesized that the increase in pornography, without age restriction and in comics, if it had any detrimental effect, would most negatively influence younger individuals. Just the opposite occurred. The number of juvenile offenders dramatically dropped every period reviewed from 1,803 perpetrators in 1972 to a low of 264 in 1995; a drop of some 85% (Table 1). The number of victims also decreased particularly among the females younger than 13 (Table 2). In 1972, 8.3% of the victims were younger than 13. In 1995 the percentage of victims younger than 13 years of age dropped to 4.0%.

What the?

It is important to reiterate that this last sentence reports a reduction of crimes against minors of 50%. That is a dramatic and welcome decrease. The authors also noted a decrease in all forms of sex crime.

One of the central tenets of the moral conservative view is that sexual images cause uncontrollable arousal, which in turn inspires the aroused person to seek sexual expression, through force if necessary. This is based on the biblical fear that people cannot control their sexual impulses and that a loosening of morals will lead to Roman-like orgiastic excess. This is completely irrational.

The authors offer an interesting counterpoint:

…most researchers have found similarly. The upbringing of sex offenders was usually sexually repressive, often they had an overtly religious background and held rigid conservative attitudes toward sexuality (Conyers & Harvey, 1996; Dougher, 1988); their upbringing had usually been ritualistically moralistic and conservative rather than permissive.

If anything, the widespread availability leads to an entirely different problem, that of becoming fixated on the material with a corresponding inability to relate to ‘real’ people. There are reports from US Colleges that young men are becoming addicted to online porn and finding it increasingly difficult to have sex with ‘real’ women. In Japan there is now a recognized problem of people becoming addicted to anime and manga. There is also widespread concern that modern Japanese teenagers are becoming increasingly asexual.

In other words: fantasy sex is replacing real sex, not encouraging it.

It seems that, rather than leading to acting out, access to this material may provide an introverted ‘masturbatory’ outlet (that may or may not become addictive). Seeking out sexual ‘victims’ in the outside world is seen as too difficult and less satisfying.

Other evidence suggests a chicken and egg argument: does child porn cause paedophilia or does paedophilia create child porn? Rather than viewing child porn encouraging paedophilia, it seems paedophiles are attracted to child porn because they are already paedophiles (and it may provide, in some cases, a substitute for real children).  (see Canadian Justice Department report)

If the object is harm minimisation. If the object is to protect ‘real’ children from abuse, then surely we may have to confront, as disturbing as it may be, the fact that some forms of illustrated child porn may provide an outlet for those who may otherwise offend against real children.

However I maintain that moral conservatives are not actually interested in protecting children at all. And if they are, then, based on recent revelations, they’ve done an exceedingly poor job. What the moral conservatives are primarily interested in is banning all sexual activity outside marriage, including masturbation. What they want is to ban all material that might cause sexual arousal outside marriage.

 But, as the authors point out, repression does not work, indeed, by restricting the ability to find sexual release, they may in fact create the conditions which will see an increase in sexual offences against children.

In short, the moral conservatives are the problem, not the solution.

NOTE: The above report studied the period up until 1999. A recent report showed that, whilst child abuse increased in Japan up until 2005, most of it was physical abuse and neglect. The proportion of ‘sexual’ abuse remained remarkably low compared to Western countries – 3% compared to around 10-20% (averaged out across both sexes). (Source)

The questions remains as to why Japanese sexual abuse rates are so low, especially given they have been historically sexually permissive.