Child Pornography Is Abuse, Not a Warning Sign

By Anna Groff

Is there a connection between someone having a pornography addiction and committing contact sexual abuse? When should we be concerned, and what should we do?

If an adult in your church discloses a pornography addiction, does this mean he or she is at risk of sexually abusing children or adults? What are the chances he has already committed contact sexual abuse? How should church leadership respond?

The definition of child pornography from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015 states that it is “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor.” Children can’t give consent to any sexual behavior, so even if they are taking the photo of themselves, it still meets this definition. 

Also, since child pornography is a crime, it necessitates reporting.

According to an October 11, 2017, Stop It Now webinar, over half (50–60%) of those who watch online illegal child sexual abuse imagery, more commonly known as child pornography, are likely to become contact abusers.

The experts on the webinar, Jenny Coleman and Micah Waxman, said it is important to remember that “actual viewing [of child pornography] is not just a warning sign, but abuse itself.” Twenty percent of all internet pornography involves children.

The experts addressed the question of “barely legal” online material—meaning the individuals involved have just reached the age of 18. They said that viewing such content can be a warning sign for possible contact abuse, especially if there are other warning signs present, such as other kinds of dangerous behavior, adult relationship problems, or grooming behaviors, such as seeking out one-on-one time with children, commenting on children’s sexuality or bodies, or insisting on being physical with them.

Bystanders who discover illegal online behavior or hear a disclosure may be even more confused about next steps than if they discover an offender committing contact child abuse.

We can feel furious and empathetic at the same time, said the experts.

When caught viewing child pornography, offenders may disclose that they were abused as children. But bystanders need to know it is possible to be abused and not abuse. Most survivors do NOT become offenders.

Holding an individual accountable while moving forward with support remains important. First, we recommend the individual be immediately suspended from leadership responsibilities. Second, he or she should enter professional specialized therapy. Others in the church can offer support and accountability, but that cannot replace professional help. Finally, a limited access agreement or safety covenant with the individual is also appropriate.

Child pornography is devastating to its victims. Unfortunately, it is all too prevalent in our families, communities, and churches. Remember, there will be more success in changing the behavior of an offender or potential contact offender if the crime is taken seriously and addressed with accountability and support.