Fred Reed confronts this conundrum.
The stuff is nasty. Children of eight or nine, mostly girls, forced to do naked live-cam chat with strange men on other continents, to engage in all the sexual behavior you can think of. No equipment is needed beyond a laptop and a webcam. In interviews, pedophiles say that they know it is wrong, but cannot keep themselves from consuming the stuff. Whether you buy this or not, they obviously will watch when they know there is no danger of being caught. Which means that children will continue being forced to make it.
. . .
And it becomes morally tricky. What to do if you catch those making child porn? Simply drowning them, despite its appeal, doesn’t always work. Lawyers, trials, appeals, delays, bribes. According to the documentary, in poor countries like the Philippines, the child’s parents are often the ones putting the kid in front of the camera, and they do it because the family has to eat. However one might regard this, putting mommy and daddy in slam doesn’t do much for the kid and, since in much of the world there are many hungry families, the jailed would just be replaced by others.
So what to do?
A supply-side solution seems impossible in the face of an untraceable Dark Web containing lots of kid porn from many poor countries that can’t or won’t do much about it. That leaves demand side.
. . .
Legalizing kid porn is not a winning political platform. Sexual exploitation of children is nauseating, and most people would probably see legalization as pandering to people they would rather throw from helicopters. But leaving things as they are will, well, leave things as they are, with wretchedly bad treatment of a lot of children. Anyone have a better idea?
There's more at the link.
My approach is predicated on the reality that thought leads to action. Only animals behave instinctively, without thought. Humans are different. As Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatma, famously put it:
That being the case, I believe that to possess and/or consume child pornography is functionally equivalent to being a child abuser, and should be treated as such. The former is, in my opinion (based upon considerable experience as a pastor and prison chaplain) a "gateway drug" to committing child abuse, and often occurs simultaneous with the latter; so I see no reason why it should not be regarded as child abuse as well, and punished in the same way.
I therefore have no problem with throwing the book at those guilty of possessing and/or consuming child pornography. Let them be treated in the same way as a child rapist. Lock them up and throw away the key, so that our children are protected against their evil, sickening presence. Does that seem unmerciful? Perhaps it is . . . but it's a matter of competing values. Which has greater value, a child who can grow up to be a healthy, functioning adult if s/he is not abused, or one who is likely to destroy that child's faith and trust in others by abusing them? I know my answer to that question. What's yours?
My attitude is conditioned by being born and raised in Africa, where child abuse - theoretical or actual - is dealt with far more swiftly and succinctly in tribal society than it is in the First World. Anyone caught with child pornography is likely to have the living daylights beaten out of him by his neighbors, and will be lucky to survive without permanent injury. The latter is frequently meted out to those caught in the act.
I recall a "flasher" who was active in a suburb of Soweto during the 1980's. This sick pervert would hang around schools, waiting for girls to walk home; then he'd expose himself to them, chasing them with his penis hanging out of his trousers, screaming at them. One such young lady arrived home, out of breath and in tears, to find her grandfather there. This gentleman was an induna on the gold mines; a sort of shift foreman, in US parlance. Furious, he assured her he'd "deal with" the problem.
The next morning, very early, two burly mine workers arrived at the house. They explained that the induna had sent them to look after his granddaughter. While they were doing that, the others on their shift would all chip in from their wages to pay them, to make sure they weren't out of pocket. For the next few days, they walked her to and from school, scanning everyone around them carefully. In due course, she spotted the flasher and pointed him out to them. He tried to run, but they were fit and very strong, and soon caught him. They led him to the nearest low stone wall, with people pouring out of their houses to watch. There they dropped his trousers, stretched his penis over the wall . . . and hit it once, overhand, with a twenty-pound mining sledgehammer. The remains were described as "mincemeat" (ground beef, in US parlance) by the hospital that amputated them.
The police duly went through the neighborhood, asking for witnesses to identify the perpetrators of this "crime": but for some strange reason, despite there being literally hundreds who'd watched proceedings, no-one could remember what the mine workers looked like. The police, wisely, dropped the matter. What's more, there were no sex crimes - of any sort, not just involving children - reported in that neighborhood for several years afterwards. The word had spread. "We look after our own. Perverts and sex criminals had best steer clear." They did.
A few years later, I was peripherally involved with an incident in another township. A rapist dragged a young schoolgirl into the bushes as she walked home from the bus stop. Her screams were heard, and several men ran to her assistance, catching the rapist in the act. They didn't bother to call the police. Instead, they searched until they found a discarded glass bottle. They broke it against a stone, and used the glass shards to castrate him, removing the rapist's penis and both testicles. He nearly bled to death before the police found him and took him to hospital. Again, their investigations led to no arrests, much less convictions.
I was a pastor at the time, and tried to remonstrate with those I believed to be responsible. I pointed out that such an injury was irrevocable. What if they'd got the wrong man? Indignantly, they responded that they hadn't got the wrong man - he'd been caught in the act, so there was no doubt about that. Furthermore, why waste money on a trial? They'd ensured that he'd never do it again! I had to admit, they had a point.
(Sadly, such tribal approaches to child sexual abuse appear to have largely disappeared in modern African cities, where tribal culture has been overwhelmed by urban pressures. The "virgin cleansing myth" has led to the widespread rape of young children [both male and female]. It's beyond sick . . . but it happens, and it's not punished in the same way as it would have been a few decades ago. I can only wish that it was!)
For the life of me, I can't see any difference between people who actually behave like that, and those who fantasize about behaving like that while fueling their sick, warped minds with child porn. I therefore can't see any reason to treat them differently from actual perpetrators. Here in the First World, we're supposed to let the law deal with them; but if the law doesn't do so, and as a result some people decide to adopt extra-judicial methods . . . I won't lose any sleep over that, provided that the offender's guilt is clear and certain beyond any doubt. I place a higher value on the lives and well-being of the children who are no longer in danger of being assaulted by them.
Having had to deal as a prison chaplain with some really sick, twisted, evil child molesters, allow me to assure you that there are, indeed, monsters in human form. I've met them . . . and I don't want them walking around. As for NAMBLA . . . I have a very visceral reaction indeed to those monsters. As far as I'm concerned, membership of or support for that organization should be regarded, in and of itself, as conclusive proof that the person(s) concerned is/are a danger to society, deserving removal from it by any and all means necessary.
As far as I'm concerned, child porn is directly equivalent to child abuse, and should be dealt with as such.