Lost in all the shrill self-justifying illiberal nonsense being brayed about the SL child porn scandal, there is a still, small voice of a woman whose SL name is Adri. You can find it at Clickable Culture, in an article titled "Child Porn Panic Hits SL" which unfortunately reveals the author's snorting bias on the subject. Unimpressed with the way LL has been handling this festering problem, Tony Walsh writes about how difficult it is to police the vastness of SL, especially given that island and continent-owning customers are now going to be responsible for handling their own abuse reporting., "Who, then, is truly responsible for such acts as depictions or possession of child pornography in Second Life?," asks Tony.
The poster Adri of Metaversatility writes, in response to this liberal poo-poohing of the topic, "You know, it's a crazy, crazy thought, but maybe the people depicting and/or distributing and consuming child porn are the ones truly responsible?"
Blame Europe, says Carl Metropolitan on the Herald, because the scandal takes place in Germany, where laws are more strict than in the US governing even virtual or simulated child porn. Blame LL, everybody has been saying on every blog, as if they are over-reacting -- even "panicking". But it's appropriate to blame those who need to have child porn of either the real or the virtual kind: the pedophiles.
Oh, I know, in the licentious and anarchic but politically-correct atmosphere of Second Life, we're supposed to call them with the sanitized term "ageplayers" -- not that icky thing called "pedophiles". Just like the Kentucky Fried Chicken people dropped the fat connotations by renaming themselves KFC; just like the BDSM folks took the sting out of the whips and chains by only using the acronym for sadomasochism, so "ageplayers" make child predators sound like creative, fun, folk at the theater having a neat time in SL, at best, or at worst, psycho-drama participants acting out something "therapeutic" in a kind of variation of a legitimate and standard form of child psychiatry called "play therapy" -- which has nothing to do with sex.
So let's call this phenomenon, and the people who practice it, by the proper term: it's pedophilia, which means an unnatural sexual attraction for children. Let's call it by its right term, so we don't get confused about it.
AIR-BRUSHING THE IMAGE IN SL
Many people in this debate around SL like to picture the pedophiles of Second Life as something different than they in fact are. They imagine them either to be horny 35-year-old IT personnel alone at home cavorting with avatars of the same age only dressed as 17-year-old high-school girls in short plaid uniforms. Or they imagine that an adult who suffered child abuse as a child in RL will dress up in her perfect pink birthday party dress with bows, and go and sit on Uncle Bob's lap and relive that awful time he touched her inappropriately and she felt icky. Most people simply aren't that offended when they glancingly reflect on such images -- they aren't for everybody, but they seem perfectly harmless. Victimless crime, eh? And scenes that aren't really so bad -- right?
DEMONSTRATION IN YONGCHONG
Wrong. Last summer, when there was an "ageplay" (and I'm going to go on putting it in scare-quotes because I believe it to be a euphemism) scandal in Yongchong, I went out to investigate it for the Herald because people holding a furious demonstration about child porn summoned me. I got there and found a house full of pedophiles hastily clearing out the *real-life very graphic child pornography" off their walls -- they were photographs imported from real life porn and as they whisked them away, leaving holes in the spaces of the walls, Guy Linden flew up. He remained, hovering over the scene silently.
On the one side was a strange amalgam of Native Americans with that funny poster about "Homeland Security" showing the chiefs who tried in vain to resist the white man's invasion; BDSM practitioners dressed in bondage outfits, and all kinds of gawkers. They were marching with signs, and of course, seeing them essentially out with the pitchforks, and seeing that there was more than a little "pot kettle" sort of thing going on. a stranger arriving on the scene and not zooming in might be forgiven for thinking that a clear-cut hate campaign was going on, possibly with parcel encroachment, and possibly all a TOS violation. In a way, you could feel sorry for those people inside the house, hurrying to take things down and dodging harassment IMs and particle bombs and hate shouts.
Until you zoomed in. Then you were chilled. These adults (we can only hope they were) had made child avatars that were creepy enough -- child avatars are *always* creepy in Second Life -- and had enacted all kinds of really graphic BDSM scenes. These weren't 17-year-old teenagers. These were children of 8, in their pajamas, horribly brutalized in BDSM muzzles and shackles, whipped with chains. I tried to piece together in my mind that pedophilia was also combining BDSM -- somehow the two just didn't seem to "go together," but it shows you how little I know of the extremities of human depravity. I took a few shots that I thought might be acceptable to go on the Herald's blog and not have the blog shut down by the provider, thought about how to write up this story, shuddered, and gave up. I sent them to the Herald mailbox -- I didn't want the pictures on my hard-drive. Nobody followed up -- nobody felt like following up, the people sold their land and disappeared and the story was over. Possibly if the Lindens had decided to change their policy, and Lindens like Guy were empowered to act, the outcome might have been different. But they weren't, and here we all are.
I forgot about the subject then with the crush of other stories, RL and SL -- who wants to dwell on that subject? Until now, when we all really had to think about it. And I remembered as I saw the argumentation on various blogs that it's all harmless stuff. I beg to disagree. But only when I began to research articles in the RL press this last week did I understand more what's up.
ORGANIZED PEDOPHILES WORK AT JUSTIFICATION
Just like organized Leninist griefing groups, just like the most die-hard BDSM practitioners and the most heavily-indoctrinated and evangelizing Gors, the pedophiles are organized ideologists and trained propagandists. They've rehearsed and rehearsed every argument in the book, and when they are under attack, they fan out in blogs and forums and ring all the chimes. Like a lot of people who never really contemplate this seemy side of life, I figured pedophiles were lonely postal workers hiding in their mom's basements at the computer until the Feds burst in with a sting and put them in cuffs. I didn't think of them as having groups, chat rooms, company, *support structures*. But of course they do, like all the extreme lifestyles that have so aggressively infested the Internet and are particular entrenched in Second Life.
The New York Times had an excellent article about the phenomenon, about the chat groups, the profiles, the sheer determination of these people to get what they want and do what they want. Far from cringing and hiding in shame, they are a rights movement -- and I don't just mean NAMBLA, which is discredited even in civil rights circles. They're particularly successful at making their case because they can appeal to guilty liberals' sense of the need for tolerance, and because so often their members are caught in sting operations that manufacture the entire scene of child porn in the first place to make it "stick," they can appeal to liberal concerns about "The Man" and "Big Brother" and excessive government. That shouldn't be allowed to distract from the sinister nature of the perverse arguments they make. And it shouldn't be allowed to distract from the ways in which they segue from online to offline activity. As a police officer quoted in the Times explained, the chat groups help bolster and legitimize the pedophile's sense that he is justified:
Indeed, law enforcement officials say that the refrain of justification from online conversations is frequently voiced by adults arrested for molestation, raising concern that such conversations may lower pedophiles’ willingness to resist their temptation.
“It is rationalization that allows them to avoid admitting that their desires are harmful and illegal,” said Bill Walsh, a former commander of the Crimes Against Children Unit for the Dallas Police Department, who founded the most prominent annual national conference on the issue. “That can allow them to take that final step and cross over from fantasy into real-world offenses.”
Chief among the arguments of the pedophiles and their apologists and other extreme anarchal types is the idea of the disconnectedness of virtuality from reality. They behave as if there is a firewall between the two -- but of course we all know there is not. Normal heteosexuals meet on SL -- and meet in real life and get married in both. Goreans meet in real life. BDSM meet in real life, and intertwine real life scenes with their SL scenes. And...we're supposed to believe that the pedophiles, the "ageplayers" of SL never, ever 'take it into real'? What basis do we have for that?
'BUT THESE GUYS LIE'
Law-enforcement accounts in the media and on their own sites explain how devious the pedophiles are, and to what great lengths they go to draw in family and community support for their claim they don't "take it to real life".
Studies show that viewers of child pornography take out their destructive attractions to real life, and a certain percentage make contact with children and molest them. Of course pedophiles and extremists imaging that they have to protect pedophilia to protect civil rights discredit these studies, and try to debunk them. For every German TV expert who explain that in his practice he sees the connection; for every psychiatrist who explains there really is a connection; for every citizens' group or foundation that puts a watch on the phenomenon and finds a link, there is a chorus of debunkers and with SL they have found their metier: how can a place where people fly or appear to have millions of dollars to buy mansions be "real"? Surely no harm can be done.
"IT'S ONLY PIXELS"
Many people do practice cybersex in SL. So how does that work? They enter this world, and suddenly, where they never had it before, they develop a strange attraction to oversized pixelated busts and skimpy latex skirts, which are nothing like anything they are ever attracted to in RL? Of course not. The furry play is perhaps the better case to make as "firewalled" -- it's a safe bet that a furry fox in SL is not going to go through the woods at night looking for a real-life fox and try to have sex with it -- he'll be clawed to death.
Furry culture aside, most people cybering are *making something they find attractive in real life and engage with in real life*. And they don't tell themselves a hundred times a day that mutually masturbating online with other people is fictional; it gives them real pleasure and they don't preface each description of this as "only pixels" or "not real" or "a dream". They are involved, committed, engaged. Indeed, precisely because cybering in SL *is* real and *does work* that the legions of people using SL for sex don't stop after one time, and say, "Gosh, that was retarded. I won't be doing THAT silly pixel-rubbing again!"
And so it is with "ageplayers" -- and why would it be different? "Ageplayers" aren't making just making little baby animal avatars, they are making humans. And they make those humans for the same reason that normal adult heterosexuals and homosexuals make their adult avatars in SL -- they are attracted to them in *real life*. They don't make child avatars because they are fantasizing and the child is like a fox in real life that the adult would never touch or be clawed to death in the wild; the child avatar is made *because the adult in SL is attracted unnaturally to children, and wishes to carry out with them acts that are illegal in most countries*. I don't know why that obvious fact is never contemplated.
People don't suddenly "become" attracted to children in SL and leave that attraction at the door. They make the "ageplay" scene because they arrive with that attraction and wish to act it out. And there's no proof that acting it out in SL is some kind of hydraulic activity, that completely discharges that desire in pixel form so that it never, ever crops up in RL. Huh? That seems unlikely -- what, the legions of SL wankers only do their wanking-- or for that matter, their actual sex -- inside SL and never in real life and never with real people? Why, if we couldn't possibly believe that about all the *non* ageplayers, we're suddenly supposed to put on our blinders and believe that we should never believe it about "ageplayers"?!.
Most people who have this feeling were themselves abused as children and so they perpetuate the abuse on others. SL is therefore objectively used to enable abusers to justify, act out on, and become inured to the illegality of, something that in RL is morally and legally wrong. Allowing even the depiction of the simulation, when adult typists make child avatars and manipulate them, creates a climate of justification and impunity, and is therefore an enabling climate for a crime that should not be tolerated.
IF VIDEO GAME SHOOTING AND MURDER ISN'T A CRIME, WHY IS PEDOPHILIA?
Here's where 'ageplay' apologists like Aimee Weber, looking for trouble and a venue for being a libertarian and a contrarian, come in with an analogy to murder in video games. If nobody who just PK'd their rivals in World of Warcraft is arrested by RL police, how much "ageplayers" can be investigated in SL?
Aliasi Stonebender answers this liberal canard pretty well:
I think the difference is, we don't generally shoot each other in SL as a way to subliminate an urge to shoot someone in the flesh; it's a game from the get-go, with as much bearing on the real world as a kid playing with toy soldiers.
Sexual ageplay seems to be a way to indulge pedophiliac urges without breaking the law. I can at least see a little twisted nobility in that, but the point remains that some part of that person's psyche thinks having sex with kids is really, really cool. And that's kinda sick.
Be sure to read the rest of the comments in that thread as people stand up to Aimee's silly apologia -- and with good reason.
But...isn't this American culture? Say, now, everybody plays shoot 'em up video games, right? They massacres thousands of people in a lifetime in those games. They maim, kill, and incinerate human figures by the boatload. Nobody calls them murderers! Nobody arrests them for homicide! So what's the big deal with "ageplay"?
Big difference. Let me explain how.
When I'm in a video game shooting, I'm in an inscribed circle -- the magic circle is what it is called in the ludologists' works. I'm in a suspended place where the rules of real life don't obtain. "It's a game from the get-go," as Aliasi phrased it. I shoot and kill things ilke NPCs or other players in a realm where I know ahead of time that no real harm can come to them. If they are 10 or 100, I know they will not be harmed by stabbing or bombs. We're *playing a game*. We shut it off, and then we go outdoors.
Out on our front lawns, we can be sure that there will never be beings from outer space suddenly invading and shooting at us. We can also be fairly sure the guy next door will not be lobbing a grenade at us. The Feds are really unlikely to come storming in the door, kicking it down and telling us to go up against the wall. We're not in a game. There isn't going to be shooting. We played murderers, but we don't lie in our lawnchair, most of us, and actively pursue the concept that we will shoot that neighbour, or that we'll beat those Feds who come in the door. If we want to play FPS, we go back to the video. We don't go over the hedge and stab our neighbour, for the most part.
A video-game murderer has no trouble keeping his murderous desires inside World of Warcraft where the wild bores and orcs are that he must kill to get ahead. The magic circle exists. He is tethered inside it mainly because it's fun there -- and it isn't fun outside in the real world, where there are no boars, no men in tights, no magic spells or -- no weapons in most cases. No way to enact the crime; no scene of the crime; no motivation for the crime.
Not so the pedophile. When he leaves "his game," he comes out on his lawn, and there is a child on a swingset. Or he walks to a park or the supermarket where there are kids. He doesn't put away his fantasies or desires; they remain. In fact, you could say "it's not a game" because there's no circle inscribing anything. Just as he is attracted to children made in Second Life out of other adults' avatars, so he can easily continue the "game" outside -- and there is nothing to stop him from pursuing it because unlike the video-game murderer who needs weapons and a setting of orcs, the pedophile needs nothing but his own criminal lust.
And that's why it's different, and that's why the facile parallels made between video game murdering and child molesting online are so false, so misleading, and only serve to legitimize the abominable.
THE 'THERAPY' FALLACY
What about the idea that "ageplay" is therapeutic? This is a cloyingly sweet story told from the victims' perspective, and therefore more persuasive. Sobbing, they cry on forums about how they were finally able to "get it out" in a game "in a safe space". I've argued at length against the "therapy fallacy" of this form of pedophilia -- it's not therapy that any licensed psychiatrist ever uses, and it is not to be confused with play therapy. Tateru Nino was particularly disingenuous and misleading by mixing in commentary about ageplaying and play therapy as if the former never involves sex.
And as Ace Albion very pointedly asked: "What's in it for Daddy?" OK, so you had to enact a trauma in the belief that it will help purge it from your system (one does wonder why the purge then has to keep being made). But a predator -- why would enacting violence and coercion be therapeutic? It only justifies it, giving it rein.
No, all these arguments are the arguments of determined pedophiles who wish to continue practicing pedophilia, and they often appear on forums masquerading merely as Joe Public or Jane Concerned about Art Freedom.
CORRAL THEM IN SL WHERE THEY'LL STAY OUT OF TROUBLE?
Yet another theory has it that it's better to send the pedophiles of the world into SL, where they "won't hurt anybody" and "keep it safe". There's an obvious problem with that idea, because it legitimizes their activity in virtual form and then creates not only a climate of impunity, but ups the chances, percentage-wise, that the connection to real child porn and real children will be established.
Because in fact it is. Some determined forums contrarians have trouble admitting what LL has said now officially on their blog, and in follow-up question and answer sessions in their office hours. The German TV made the allegation that the couple they found in SL had real child porn in addition to the SL variety made of avatars. The Lindens expressed shock and said they couldn't find it -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't there, just because the TV was tabloid. They took the allegation seriously, and banned the couple involved because the prosecutors of German have been contacted and are looking into the case. The Lindens could not act in any other way; they are a service that has to think of the children, literally, and has to obey the law of California, and their own TOS, and limit their liability for litigation.
Do extreme lifestyles stay "contained"? Of course they don't. I've witnessed myself in SL in the last 2 years how BDSM, which was relatively marginalized when I first came, has spread like wildfire. There is a kind of BDSM lite that many began to practice, far from any norms, guidance, or "safe word" culture that gets more and cruel the further it spread, culiminating in the absolute cruelty of things like the snuff picnics celebrated on Second Citizen. People increasingly put more and more cruel bondage and torture equipment in their homes; if once you could talk about "a little light restraint" with some cuffs or ropes, today, the bedrooms of probably a good 60 percent of those cybering in SL look like science labs from the Nazi and Soviet eras where experiments were done on human beings. It's hugely sick and troubling.
So extremism does spread, and it spreads by people becoming more and more inured, indifferent, *desensitized*. And all we have to do is ask ourselves whether we want that to happen with pedophilia. Do we *want* people to take it for granted that scenes of the most brutal torture and humiliation of children for the sake of sexual pleasure is acceptable? What is to be gained for society and for civilization by growing used to such scenes, by making them even the subject of bemusement and cynical humour? To make it seem as if those who turn away in nausea and revulsion are prudish church ladies?
AGE VERIFICATION: YOU CAN'T CATCH ALL THE KIDS
The solution the Lindens have conceived and that the rest of the Internet has long ago enacted is age verification. To this effort to restrain and control pedophilia, the pedophiles and their apologists from the Art and Fiction Departments say, oh, but you can't catch children! Those wily bastards! Their parents should watch them, not people online. And oh, they are asking for it, anyway (a common strategy of pedophiles is to portray themselves as victims, and the innocent children as victimizers themselves, preying on adults).
There's no way to track them, they can use their moms' credit cards or fax their dad's license to Integrity or any verifying firm. It's ridiculous to try to stop them -- don't even try.
Of course, this concept of "it's breachable, don't bother" is the reasoning we always get from the tekkie-wikinista set so prevalent in SL, who think that if you can't stop Copybot 100 percent, and can only mitigate it 60 percent, it's a bust. There's always at least one rocket scientist who comes on the forums in these debates and brays about how somebody is no different on day 364 before their birthday than they are on day 365, so what's the big deal? So why not have no speed-limit then, either, because 59 is no different substantively than 60, etc.
But just as a mile or two can make the difference between road fatality statistics, surely it's so with this topic! Every single kid NOT allowed to slip through is a plus. You do your best. But verifying *kids* isn't the point here, people.
VERIFY ADULTS, NOT KIDS
The point is to verify *adults*. Yes, Cristiano in his flowing white robes, leading the 3,900 Open Letterers to the Promise Lag-Free Servers, wants *those laggy despicable unwashed poor people with no credit cards to be the ones checked. Not him. Not his friends.
But of course, it's adults who need to be verified. When you can get people's real-life information, as best as you can, and tell them that their adult clubs have to be on parcels checked off as adult, then you have created a pretty good deterrent against "ageplay". Hosts of such parcels can be sure they don't have the liability because they are verified themselves. Their guests, if they have verified themselves, will then be available to be investigated by police -- should that need, hopefully remote, ever arise. A known formerly jailed sex offender; a sex offender not yet jailed; those aren't the people likely to verify their IDs. Of course anything is possible given rampant identity theft but again, you go for as much of a protective percentage as you can muster.
WHY APOLOGIZE FOR PEDOPHILIA?
Why are all these things so hard to understand? Why are they so difficult to get heard on forums? Why is there such an uproar? For one, those who are making the arguments are a) themselve pedophiles and determined; b) those in the adult sex trade in SL who want to make sure nothing enroaches the adult lifestyles next; c) tekkie totalitarians who want code as law, not law as law, and who equate freedom of world-making and writing scripts with licentiousness of lifestyle, thinking the one requires the other. They are all a perfect match for each other.
Will SL suddenly suffer a huge oppressive stifling of creativity, and a stampede of artists out the door? No, unles their idea of art is pictures of little kids being chained and raped, or if their idea of oppression is restricting criminal activity. The laws of the democratic states where most SL residents reside have spent a good deal of time making the distinctions between liberties and crimes. All the Lindens have done is said that those distinctions must go on being made, and those who can't make them will answer to their own RL authorities.
The thuggish anger I'm seeing on the Herald and other papers and blogs about the Lindens' determination to crackdown on both the public advertising of "ageplay" and to cooperate with RL authorities who need to prosecute even simulated child pornogrpahy is hugely troubling. Why aren't people immediately able to make that "firewall distinction" that they claim exists between fantasy and crime? Whom are they protecting, if not real children? and real adults from prosecution from crimes?
The anger stems from the feeling that people's hedonistic playground has been invaded. They thought they could create that Temporary Autonomous Zone that they are always linking to on Wikipedia, a free culture where anything goes. Doesn't anyone think about why the creativity and freedom and autonomy that pertained up to that point in SL lead to attention from museums and art galleries and agents? That it led not to tax inspectors marvelling at the value of all the sales (they looked, then put aside their concerns)? That it led not to awe and excitement about beautiful builds on CBS, but to the German police and German tabloid TV about "ageplay"?
Why aren't people more defensive of SL's creativity capacity for everything else besides *this*? Why would they be willing to jeopardize it *for this*? Why can't *the pedophiles be responsible themselves* and why must *we* become responsible for keeping open their options under the guise of protecting our own freedom of speech, or why must the Lindens be responsible for endlessly providing cover for possible pedophiles and "ageplayers' creating a living, 3-D, streaming *justification for* and *desensitizing scene* of child molestation?
Why do they believe that the freedom of our world can only hinge on the destruction of a child's innocence" Why must we validate what amounts to desensitizing ourselves evermore to that harsh reality we know to be wrong, through that continuous re-enactment in virtuality?