Internet access and sexual offences against children - an analysis of crime bureau statistics from India (2015)

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Open Journal of Psychiatry & Allied Sciences
Year : 2015, Volume : 6, Issue : 2
First page : ( 112) Last page : ( 116)
Print ISSN : 2394-2053. Online ISSN : 2394-2061.
Article DOI : 10.5958/2394-2061.2015.00007.5

Shaik Subahani1, Rajkumar Ravi Philip2,*

1Junior Resident, Department of Psychiatry,

2Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Consultant, Marital and Psychosexual Disorders Clinic, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry – 605006, India

*Correspondence: ravi.psych@gmail.com

Abstract

Introduction

The association between pornography and sexual crime is controversial, with various researchers finding positive, no, or negative associations. Recent evidence suggests that there may be a specific association between child pornography, which is easily available on the Internet, and sexual offences against children.

Methods

Using methodology similar to an earlier study from India, we obtained official statistics on sexual offences against children, namely rape and procurement of minor girls, for the period 2000–2012 from the National Crime Records Bureau. We analysed the association between the rates of these crimes and Internet access, measured by the number of users per 1,00,000 people.

Results

Even after correcting for population growth, we found significant linear associations between Internet availability and the rates of both these offences against children. However, there was no correlation between the growth rate of Internet access and the rate of increase of these crimes.

Discussion

While the association between pornography and the rape of adults is still under debate, our results provide indirect evidence of a possible association between Internet availability and sexual crimes against children. Regulation of the Internet to suppress access to child pornography may prevent at least some of these crimes.


 

From Discussion Section of Full Study

Rates of sexual crimes against children in India have increased significantly over the last decade. Our results show that this increase is significantly correlated with an increase in the availability of Internet access. In addition, both the rates of these crimes and Internet availability showed a significant upward trend at around the same year – 2005 for sexual crimes, and 2006 for Internet access. These results suggest that there is both a temporal association and a positive correlation between a proxy measure of access to pornography - including child pornography - and two specific kinds of sexual offences against children. As this association was found consistently for both forms of crime - rape of children and procurement of minor girls - it is unlikely that this was due to chance.

A number of mechanisms may explain this association. First, child pornography may interact with individual psychological abnormalities, such as personality disorders or paraphilias, in a sort of stress-diathesis model. Such models, which posit both a pre-existing vulnerability and an environmental exposure, have been used to explain a variety of mental and behavioural disorders. Data from the Indian setting suggests that a substantial number of violent offenders may suffer from mental illness, and that these offenders have psychological characteristics such as emotional instability and impulsivity which may lower their threshold for offending;[28] however, this study did not specifically examine sexual offenders.

Second, exposure to images that depict young children in sexual situations – known as sexualised images – is common on the Internet. Viewing such material may lower the inhibitions of consumers, and lead to an acceptance of child sexual abuse myths (similar to the “rape myth” described earlier) in which children are viewed as taking an active part in sexual situations and activities that are appropriate only for adults.[29] Exposure to such material at an early stage of the individual’s psychosexual development may increase the risk of perpetrating sexual offences in adult life.[19]

Third, the uniqueness of the Internet as a medium for the consumption of child pornography may cause both cultural and individual changes. At a cultural level, widespread access to pornographic material may lead to greater social acceptance, as has already happened in the West;[30] even in more traditional settings, changes in sexual practices and preferences related to pornography have been described.[31,32] At an individual level, the features specific to Internet pornography – the “triple-A engine”[22] – provides a “supra-normal” level of stimulation of brain reward pathways, leading to changes in neural plasticity and the development of an addictive pattern of usage. Whether such changes are linked to an elevated risk of committing sexual crimes is, however, still unclear.

Of course, it is possible that a positive correlation does not indicate a true causal relationship. A variety of other social factors, including changes in population distribution, value systems, family structure, and attitudes towards sexuality, can potentially contribute to the rising rates of sexual offences against children.[33] But even if this is true, we cannot rule out the individual and societal influence of the Internet on sexual behaviour, including deviant forms of sexuality. Other research methods, including anonymous surveys of Internet users and studies of sexual offenders in the criminal justice system, would be required to provide a definitive answer to this question.