Pedophilia and adult-child sex - A philosophical analysis

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[I]t is unclear whether such sex, when the children are willing, is harmful. At least some of the studies undermine our confidence in the notion that adult-child sex with willing child participants is always or usually harmful. The limited and controversial data on long-term harm suggests that it is unclear whether it is harmful. [...]

I have a strong intuition that the risk of legalizing willing adult-child sex is far too great given the tremendous harm that is posed by child rape and incest. However, I do not have data or studies to support this claim. [...] Consider whether animated child pornography whets the appetite of pedophiles (thereby increasing child rape) or acts as a substitute for it (thereby decreasing it). It is hard to see the answer can be gotten without empirical study. A similar thing is true for whether permitting adult-child sex with willing participants would increase or decrease child rape, molestation, and incest. Given the large number of adults interested in sex with children and the likely shortage of children who are similarly interested, this would not appear to be a good outlet for decreasing adult-child sex. If the willingness defense were to become a shield by which child-rapists and molesters were to reduce the likelihood of arrest or conviction and discourage such crimes from being reported, the the law permitting willing adult-child sex would produce a lot of harm. This strikes me as plausible. [...]

In several areas, such as guns, abortion, drug legalization, and pornography, there are strong controversies as to whether various changes in the criminal law have made us more or less safe and whether less restrictive alternative laws might have had similar effects with much less punishment. This undermines our confidence in our ability to assess laws that prohibit adult-child sex, although whether they undermine it to a degree that results in intermediate scrutiny blocking the case for punishing willing adult-child sex is hard to assess. [...]

I then argued that given the value in preventing child rape and incest, both of which are extremely harmful, it seems plausible that the criminalization of willing adult-child sex passes the practical tests. I expressed some concern, however, as to whether armchair evaluations of empirical effects are enough to warrant criminal punishment, let alone significant criminal punishment. This is particularly true given the historical role of such armchair evaluations in other policy areas.

source: From the book 'Pedophilia and Adult-Child Sex - A Philosophical Analysis' by Stephen Kershnar; Lexington Books; Printed in the United States of America; 2015