Why is the amount of child porn growing?

Con­tent warn­ing: dis­cus­sion of the sex­ual abuse of children


Re­lated: Is pre­vent­ing child abuse a plau­si­ble Cause X?

Re­cently, the New York Times ran a long piece (a) about the rise of child pornog­ra­phy.

The trend is grim:

  • In 1998 – 3,000 re­ports of child sex­ual abuse imagery online

  • In 2008 – 100,000 re­ports of child sex­ual abuse imagery online

  • In 2014 – 1 mil­lion re­ports of child sex­ual abuse imagery online

  • In 2018 – 18.4 mil­lion (!) re­ports of child sex­ual abuse imagery online

This is ob­vi­ously hor­ren­dous. And if the re­la­tion­ship be­tween child­hood trauma and later-life nega­tive con­se­quences (as found in the ACE study) is true, it could have very large down­stream con­se­quences.

As a re­fresher, here’s a pas­sage about the ACE study from The Body Keeps the Score:

The first time I heard Robert Anda pre­sent the re­sults of the ACE study, he could not hold back his tears. In his ca­reer at the CDC he had pre­vi­ously worked in sev­eral ma­jor risk ar­eas, in­clud­ing to­bacco re­search and car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.
But when the ACE study data started to ap­pear on his com­puter screen, he re­al­ized that they had stum­bled upon the gravest and most costly pub­lic health is­sue in the United States: child abuse.
[Anda] had calcu­lated that its over­all costs ex­ceeded those of can­cer or heart dis­ease and that erad­i­cat­ing child abuse in Amer­ica would re­duce the over­all rate of de­pres­sion by more than half, al­co­holism by two-thirds, and suicide, IV drug use, and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence by three-quar­ters. It would also have a dra­matic effect on work­place perfor­mance and vastly de­crease the need for in­car­cer­a­tion.

It’s not clear whether the in­crease in child abuse imagery cir­cu­lat­ing on­line im­plies an in­crease in child abuse, though that seems very plau­si­ble. (Some anec­do­tal ev­i­dence for in­creased in­ci­dence of abuse, from the Times piece: “In some on­line fo­rums, chil­dren are forced to hold up signs with the name of the group or other iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion to prove the images are fresh.”)

Why is this hap­pen­ing?