Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pornography and Contact Offending

Jon Brandt
David S. Prescott
Robin J. Wilson

Many people have grave concerns about the potential for a relationship between pornography and inappropriate sexual behavior. For obvious reasons, there are apprehensions about the sexual behaviors of those who have sexually abused. As a result, it is not uncommon for persons who have sexually abused to be restricted from certain activities that would have remained available to them had they not sexually offended. However, questions remain as to whether we are using our professional energy and resources wisely in trying to prevent persons convicted of sexual crimes from being sexually active. This point extends to whether persons who have sexually abused should have access to sexually explicit materials.

There are many reasons not to like pornography. Perhaps women, more than men, are objectified by pornography. Both women and men have raised questions about how pornography cheapens and depersonalizes sex. As men dedicated to sexual violence prevention, we are concerned about both the demeaning representation of women and the unflattering portrayal of men (e.g., piggish, self-absorbed, or uncaring) in much commercial pornography. There are also concerns about the effects of the depiction of unhealthy, violent, or potentially harmful sexual behaviors. There is an open question about the long-term effects of exposure to sexually explicit media. These are important considerations, but as offensive as pornography is to many people, extant research does not support a causal relationship between pornography and sexual offending.

Defining pornography remains a challenge. In our field, this is not simply an academic discussion. Sexual offenders are typically restricted from possessing any type of pornography, but there are no clear demarcation points between artistic expressions of the human form, sexually suggestive images, erotica, or hard core pornography. When the legal consequences for possession of any sexual media are so severe, defining pornography has never been more important.

In the US, numerous court decisions, presidential task forces, and various “think tanks” have been unable to produce an agreement or useful definition of “pornography.” With the need for greater precision within our profession than perhaps elsewhere in public discourse, our field would benefit from fine-tuning and distinguishing between various types of sexual media. Using "pornography" to describe all forms of sexual media is both imprecise and emotionally loaded. It can obscure treatment needs and interventions. Missed opportunities of therapeutically beneficial sexual imagery could inadvertently lead to more harm.

The historical perspective that sexually explicit images are offensive and therefore must be harmful is such a powerful narrative that it is difficult to close the gap between what we know about private sexual behavior and widespread public perceptions. We wonder whether some restrictions imposed on our clients are the considered application of good science or a default result of moral panic. If the latter is true, are therapists complicit in the unwarranted enforcement of social controls more than the healing arts of rehabilitation?

Gone are the days when pornography originated in adult bookstores or arrived discreetly in the mail. Most sexual media today is user-produced and shared through cell phones and the Internet. The use of sexual media by male teens and adults today is not just normative, it is pervasive. Science has yet to show any key differences between those who “sext” and those who do not, except for the behavior itself. Consumption of sexually explicit imagery has been explosive in the last decade. Sexual content in cyberspace may account for more than 30% of the data transfer of the entire Internet. Starting as teenagers, consumers are overwhelmingly male, but also include a significant percentage of women.

Though controversial and perhaps even counterintuitive, evidence of the adverse effects of sexual media has not been established. Other than child pornography, broad sexual media restrictions for most persons who have sexually abused does not appear to be supported by research. Frequently, restrictions on "pornography" for such clients include prohibition of every type of sexual media. Without knowing whether some level of exposure to some form of sexual media might have some adverse effects on human behavior, we use a "shotgun” approach to such restrictions. These squishy definitions and operatives also compromise research.

We each entered the field of treating sexual aggression at a time when professionals assumed that all persons who had sexually abused were at high risk to persist. Not only has this turned out to be untrue, but the rates of sexual aggression and re-offense have declined at the very same time as access to sexually explicit imagery has never been easier. Although we know of no interactive relationship between these co-occurring trends, they should each cause us to reconsider our attitudes and beliefs about what is important in the treatment and supervision of persons who have sexually abused.

There has been limited research involving pornography’s influence on sexual aggression. The strongest concerns in studies published in refereed journals include a potentially aggravating influence of routine pornography use by men already at high risk for re-offending (and/or higher in entrenched antisociality, sometimes referred to as psychopathy). Certain types of pornography with high-risk offenders may also increase risk. Researchers such as Drew Kingston and Neil Malamuth appear to support the cautious position that without more conclusive research we should evaluate higher risk situations on a case by case basis. To our knowledge, no studies have as yet produced a credible indictment of pornography usage among persons who have sexually abused.

Two additional facts are worthy of consideration. First, both biased and impartial groups have been funding research for more than 50 years to find a connection between pornography and sexual offending, and none have been able to find any definitive link. Second, despite the explosion of sexual media since the advent of the Internet and rapid transfer of visual imagery, there has been no increase in rates of sexual offending—everywhere it has been studied, around the world. Arguably, the same information superhighway that provides access to pornography has also brought attention to the numerous media outlets that remind us that true sexual violence is intolerable.

Several researchers have suggested that the correlation between pornography and sexual offending is either absent or inverse. A noteworthy advocate for this theory is sexologist Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii. His published research on pornography and sexual offending in the US, Japan, and Europe persuasively argues that the relationship between pornography and sexual offending is negatively correlated. Diamond's research appears to also hold true for the relationship between child pornography and engagement in contact offenses. If validated, consider the implications of such findings in mitigating contact offenses against children, as offensive as it may seem. Perhaps adult pornography really is more offensive than actually harmful in the treatment and supervision of people who have sexually abused.

What might account for a negative correlation between pornography and contact offenses? Diamond and others have theorized that sexual media may provide a vicarious satisfaction of sexual curiosity and/or a cathartic venting effect for libido. If this theory turns out to be correct, restricting most sexual offenders from having sexual media might not just be overly cautious, it might, in individual circumstances, be counterproductive.

Kingston and Malamuth have challenged some of Diamond's research, but only to the extent that Diamond's aggregate data, while compelling, might not apply to certain individuals. Theirs is an important point for consideration. Michael Seto has raised similar concerns with respect to certain risk factors and child pornography. We can also see how this is an important aspect to consider. However, a ban on all sexual media for all persons who have sexually abused appears neither science-based nor justified.

At what point does research become conclusive? It may be that pornography currently remains too controversial and emotionally charged for effective public policy to emanate from good science. Nonetheless, our concern is that broad bans on sexual media may be squandering resources, at the expense of truly science-based treatment and supervision elsewhere.

These are not simply academic points. Revoking a person’s parole or violating their probation because of behaviors that are socially undesirable, rather than an established characteristic of risk or harm, can be costly to society as well as the individual. All too often, we implement public policies and impose restrictions on offenders because we feel better to believe we are doing something to help stop victimization. However, we should also consider that when we overreach with risk management, limited resources are stretched thin.

We are not suggesting that pornography use by clients should be ignored. Following the model of Risk-Needs-Responsivity, the risk and need principles may guide the formation of effective therapeutic and correctional interventions. To that end, clinicians would be wise to thoroughly assess the effects of sexual media on individual clients (see appendix). Professionals should avoid restricting clients’ access to sexual media based only on personal values, unsupported professional beliefs, or undocumented theories. Therapeutic efforts should be focused on managing abuse-related sexual interests (as opposed to all sexual interests). Therapists can provide clients with education about healthy sexuality, with the end goal of a safe, fulfilling, and non-exploitive sex life.

Given that science continues to better inform us about the psychological and social dynamics of sexual behavior, we should periodically review status quo. When scientific trending suggests current policies or practices might be unfounded, outdated, or perhaps even counterproductive, we should gather the professional courage to explore better pathways that might more effectively prevent or mitigate sexual offending.


In assessing the effects of sexual media with individual clients, clinicians might explore:

1) The client’s history, current use, and experience with different types of sexual media.
2) The client’s use of sexual media compared to normative data.
3) Possible connections between certain sexual media and problematic sexual behavior.
4) Escalating or compulsive patterns of the use of sexual media.
5) The possible relationships of sexual media to the index offense(s).
6) The use of sexual media as socially or psychologically protective measures.
7) How sexual media could be interfering with relationships.
8) The use of sexual media to explore or satisfy sexuality curiosity.
9) How sexual media is an element of libido management.
10) Whether clients might benefit from a modified use of sexual media.
11) The possible therapeutic or conditioning benefits of proscriptive sexual media.
12) Sexual media that might be contraindicated therapeutically or socially.
13) The legal hazards or consequences for accessing certain types of sexual media.
14) Limitations on certain sexual media for specific higher-risk offenders.
15) The various risk factors involved in client’s access to sexual media via the Internet, cell phones, digital cameras, Wi-Fi communication devices, and social networking websites.
16) The degree to which clients can exercise internal controls in managing sexual media or to what level external controls might be beneficial to aid in risk management.
17) How clients can move from external controls to internal controls prior to discharge from treatment or supervision in anticipation of independent management.


Andrews, D.A., & Bonta, J. (2010). The psychology of criminal conduct. 5th Ed. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.

Bensimon, P. (2007). The role of pornography in sexual offending. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 14.

Burton, D. (2010). Comparison by crime type of juvenile delinquents on pornography exposure: The absence of relationships between exposure to pornography and sexual offense characteristics. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 6.

D’Amato, A. (2006). Porn up, rape down. Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 913013.

Diamond, M. (1999). The effects of pornography: An international perspective. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

Diamond, M. (2009). Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

Diamond, M., et al. (2010). Pornography and sex crimes in the Czech Republic. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1037-1043.

Diamond, M., et al. (2011) Rejoinder to Kingston and Malamuth. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1049-50.

Ferguson, C.J. & Hartley, R.D. (2009). The pleasure is momentary… the expense damnable?: The influence of pornography on rape and sexual assault. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 323-329.

Kingston, D. & Fedoroff, P. (2008). Pornography use and sexual aggression: The impact of frequency and type of pornography use on recidivism among sexual offenders. Aggressive Behavior, 34, 1-11.

Kingston, D. & Malamuth, N. (2009). The importance of individual differences in pornography use: Theoretical perspectives and implications for treating sexual offenders. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 216-232.

Kingston, D.A. & Malamuth, N.M. (2011). Problems with aggregate data and the importance of individual differences in the study of pornography and sexual aggression: Comment on Diamond, Jozikova, and Weiss (2010). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40.

Seto, M.C., et al. (2010). Contact sexual offending by men with online sexual offenses. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 23.

Williams, K.M., et al. (2009). Inferring sexually deviant behavior from corresponding fantasies: The role of personality and pornography consumption. Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 36, 198-222.

Winick, C. & Evans, J.T. (1996). The relationship between non-enforcement of state pornography laws and rates of sex crime arrests. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 25.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brian Patrick McKegney 1950 - 2012

McKEGNEY, Brian Patrick - born June 23rd 1950 died unexpectedly September 2nd, 2012 of complications following surgery at Kingston General Hospital. Cherished husband of Cindy McKegney. Devoted Dad to Kate (Krin Mann) and Neal McKegney.

Sometime in the summer of 1992, I met Brian McKegney. I was a newly hired psychologist for the Central Ontario District (essentially, the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA) of the Correctional Service of Canada. He was the staff training coordinator for the District. Brian’s personality was as big as a house and often preceded him, as he was often heard exclaiming, “Holy Doodle” in response to colleagues who shared events and stories with him. The relationship we developed was one of the most important in my career.

Brian was a Parole Officer by trade, but he truly found his calling in staff training—a field in which he excelled like few others. In fact, I believe to this day that Brian was good at his job because he was propelled into it by life experience and he was driven by a need to ensure that he made a difference.

As the new kid on the block—the District’s first community based sex offender specialist—I had knowledge and expertise that would ultimately prove helpful to Brian as he attempted to develop a sex offender risk management training curriculum for parole officers and other staff in the District. We became quite a team. In fact, if you were a PO working in the Ontario Region in the 1990s, there was a good chance that you got your training in working with sex offenders from the one-two punch of McKegney and Wilson. He did the supervision side and I covered the clinical side.

Over the span of eight or so years, we got to meet many CSC staff and community partners (including police and agency staff) as we offered our 5-day course throughout the province, with many interesting and wonderful (if not colourful) extra-curricular moments in the hours outside of the classroom. We clicked. Indeed, before Brian, I had never really done much public speaking. As a lifelong stutterer, I eschewed such responsibilities. Brian taught me how to be a good presenter and encouraged me to be better with each opportunity. I now spend most of my professional life standing in front of crowds of people of various sizes, engaging in knowledge transfer, and trying to do it as well as my buddy Brian did.

However, the learning didn’t stop at the end of the training day. As I worked with this powerful educator, I discovered a bit about the man, the father, and the friend, and why he was so passionate about this particular element of his job—sex offender risk management. In many ways, Brian was working out his personal trauma.

The early 1990s saw many sweeping changes to the way in which sex offenders were managed by CSC in the community. In the span of a few short years in the late 1980s, three particularly troubling sexually motivated murders were perpetrated by offenders on conditional release in the Ontario Region. These events would cause CSC to completely rethink and revamp its methods of treating and supervising conditionally released sex offenders. Indeed, a good part of the reason for my being hired was to increase the likelihood that comprehensive aftercare and treatment services would be available to parolee sex offenders in the GTA.

Perhaps the most troubling of these crimes was that perpetrated on young Christopher Stephenson—by all accounts, a wonderful 11-year-old boy who was abducted from a suburban shopping mall in Brampton on Father’s Day weekend in 1988, sexually assaulted over a day and a half, and murdered. The Coroner’s Jury of the ensuing Stephenson Inquest would level some damning criticisms at the way in which sex offenders were managed in the community, and their recommendations forever changed sex offender risk management policy and practice in Canada. Canada’s first sex offender registry—Christopher’s Law—was named in honour of this young boy.

Brian was a Parole Officer when Christopher died, and he had some degree of involvement in the case. I came to learn that his participation in the case and, ultimately, the inquest, fundamentally changed him as a civil servant and human being. Brian set about becoming as knowledgeable as he possibly could about sex offender risk management, I think, in good part because of a burning desire to make sure that this never happened again on his watch. He took it personally. Brian needed to know that the staff he was responsible for training would have the best training and tools available to assist him in his personal quest for No More Victims.

Ultimately, Brian moved on to be a Staff Training Officer at the Regional Correctional Staff College in Kingston and I took a job in Florida. We didn’t speak often but, from time to time, one of us would call the other to check in. In hindsight, I didn’t do this often enough.

During my time training with him, Brian astounded me with his voracious appetite for new science and literature—evidence-based practice and perspective—in addition to new and improved ways of getting the message across that we (the Correctional Service of Canada and its staff) needed to do a better job to protect the citizens of Toronto and elsewhere. Brian’s breadth of knowledge and understanding was driven by a passion for and dedication to community service that was sincerely greater than that demonstrated by most other professionals with whom I have had the occasion to work. He never stopped being that way, as is clearly apparent in the many messages of condolence posted online after his death by those he trained and worked with. Those who knew him will miss him dearly; those who didn’t are poorer for the missed opportunity. For me, Brian set the bar. I will always be encouraged to work harder in what I do because of the example he set.

Rest peacefully, Doodle Man.