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‘Child Sex Dolls – what’s your view?’ – is an odd title for an article. Surely there can only be one viewpoint about a doll, made for sex and designed to look like a child. Abhorrent, sick and disgusting are words that most people would no doubt voice. Many, would also be united in their view of those people who seek to use the dolls, “lock them up and throw away the key”. However, the reason for the title of this article is because there are two camps with differing views. There are the majority who argue for their complete ban and tougher laws for those that possess such dolls, and the minority that argue that whilst they shouldn’t be available to the wider public, they can provide some therapeutic response when treating paedophiles.

Should a person be allowed to possess a child sex dolls or might this encourage the user to go on to abuse real children, when the novelty of the doll diminishes?  Should they be banned, but potentially available on prescription where a paedophile is engaged in therapy, much like a heroin addict is prescribed methadone as an alternative to the ‘real thing’?

Landmark ruling

Child Sex dolls hit the news in summer last year. On Monday 31st July at Canterbury Crown Court, Judge Simon James ruled that importing a child sex doll was an obscene article. It was a landmark ruling and came in the case of 72-year old David Turner, a primary school governor and church warden from Kent. Turner was on trial accused of importing the doll from China, for sexual purposes. In fact, he had already admitted to the court that he had imported the doll and had had sex with it. What was at issue, was the fact that he had asked his defence team to contest whether the doll could be classed as obscene or indecent, and therefore not unlawful to import. He claimed that it was to be his ‘companion’ for him and his wife. She was reported as being unaware of the importation and of her husband’s sexual inclination towards children. His lawyers therefore argued the doll was not covered by the law banning the importation of obscene items. The Judge dismissed the claim stating “any right-thinking person” would find the doll obscene. Turner was convicted. Whilst there had been other successful prosecutions, the Turner case was the first ruling that deemed a child sex doll to be obscene.

What are sex dolls?

Sex dolls have been around for a very long time. The earliest record of dolls used for sexual gratification dates back to the 17th century. They became popular in the pornographic industry from the 1970’s onwards, with vinyl, latex and silicone used in their manufacture. Vinyl ‘blow up’ dolls are at the cheaper end of the market whilst the more expensive and lifelike dolls are made from silicone or Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE). Modern dolls are articulated and can be used in variety of positions. There are hundreds of differing types of sex dolls widely available online or in the diminishing sex shops in the UK.

Whilst, sex dolls have been around for some time, recent technological advances have seen the creation of sex robots. At this stage they are not fully functioning, are still in the experimental stages and not commercially available.  The inventors of these dolls appear to be in a race as to who can produce the most realistic and workable model. Sex robots will eventually be designed to interact conversationally, express emotion and of course be a sexual companion. Robotics is a controversial area at the best of times, let alone robots that are designed for sexual use. This has prompted debate that they will lead to the objectification of women (although male versions will be produced), and an interesting argument that because there is no issue of consent with a doll, it could potentially embed a rape culture in some men.

What about child sex dolls?

Child sex dolls are described an emerging trend but have been around for about 10 years. They are not the typical ‘blow up’ sex doll, but anatomically detailed and very lifelike figures. They have moveable joints, synthetic skin, functioning orifices and many have a heating function via a USB, to warm them before use. Most are under 1.2m high and weigh around 25kg, roughly the weight of a 7-year old child. They can come in a variety of age ranges, some as young as 5 years. The price range varies from between approximately £800 to several thousand pounds to buy and import, dependent on the quality of the model purchased. Many are hidden under the guise of adult dolls but there can be no mistake as what the purchaser is acquiring, with adverts such as “100% mimics girl’s body” aimed at the buyer.

Child sex doll used by David Turner

How prevalent is importation?

Although a notable case, David Turner was not the first person to be prosecuted. At the time he was one of seven people to been charged with importation. The National Crime Agency (NCA) stated that they and the Border Force had seized 123 dolls in an operation targeting importation, whilst the UK Border Force has quoted seizures as being 179 since March 2016. That figure is bound to have risen in the several months since Turner’s conviction. Most dolls are imported from the Far East and the UK is not the only country experiencing an upsurge in importation.

On 15th August, a few weeks after Turner’s conviction, Australian border authorities reported that they had seized 18 shipments of child sex dolls since 2013. In the USA, a petition was started to call for legislation that would ban the sale and distribution of the dolls. A similar petition was launched in Australia.

On 12th April this year, a BBC investigation revealed that the dolls were being sold in Amazon Marketplace by third-party sellers. The BBC identified around a dozen dolls. Amazon initially removed one advert, but this reappeared a few days later. The fact that the dolls were available on such a large platform such as Amazon drew criticism from Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield. She said, “these dolls are disgusting and are clearly meant to look like children”. “Not only do I, as Children’s Commissioner, but the wider public also, have a right to expect a huge company like Amazon, to not only remove these products from their platform, but to explain why they are on there in the first place and ensure they can’t just be reloaded having been taken down. “Such dolls are clearly built for one purpose and that purpose is a clear danger to the safety of real children”. Amazon reacted by removing all the products advertised.

What is the law?

Possession and the manufacture of a child sex doll is not illegal in the UK. Those that have been prosecuted have been so on the basis that dolls contravene Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876, which makes it an offence to import to the United Kingdom any ‘indecent or obscene prints, paintings, photographs, books, cards, lithographic or other engravings, or any other indecent or obscene articles’. This has prompted the prosecutions under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.

The issue of possession in the UK has been described as a loophole. The NSPCC have called on the government to take make manufacturing, distribution, supply and possession of the dolls a criminal offence. They also called for enforcement against those online sites that advertise and sell the dolls. Support for a change in the law also comes from the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command, who have said that any new legislation has to take into account new advances in technology, in effect ‘child robotics’.

There are also other legislative issues to be considered, such as a lack of sentencing guidelines around the specific offence of importing the dolls. Sentencing of those convicted so far has been based on other offences committed (more of which later). The courts have no specific guidelines on child sex dolls. Any new statute would need to cover this aspect and would also need to consider whether the new laws would sit within existing legislation, or would require a new and separate act, which could effectively pull the importation, possession, manufacture under one umbrella. These are all questions for the lawmakers, but at this stage there appears to be no plans to change the law.

The argument that they can help treat paedophiles

Two days after Turner’s conviction a story appeared in the Independent Online, that covered  whether paedophiles ‘could be prescribed child sex dolls to prevent real attacks’. The article focussed on the views of the charity ‘Specialist Treatment Organization for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (StopSO) who campaign to prevent sexual offending through therapy.  StopSO argued that the future use of child sex dolls in a regulated and managed environment, might deter some paedophiles from offending in real life situations. The charity was clear that dolls should not be available to the wider public for fear of normalising the act of using child dolls, but reasoned that, as part of a treatment programme and on prescription, they could have positive effect.

The argument for their use in treatment relies on loose evidence that the vast majority of people attracted sexually to children do not act out their fantasies, nor do they commit offences against children and also do not come to the notice of the police. The view is that many want to seek help for their ‘addiction’ through therapy and that the emphasis should be on prevention. Another point of view supporting the use of child sex dolls comes from someone with a sexual interest in children. Shin Takagi, founder of a company that manufactures child sex dolls claims that he set up his company to help him fight his own sexual urges. He believes that by providing the dolls to likeminded individuals, he prevents offending against children, allowing his customers to “express their desires, legally and ethically”.

These views are challenged by critics who argue that the use of child sex dolls may ultimately encourage the user to act out their fantasies for real, leading to the abuse of children. Others argue that used in therapy, they would have a negligible effect on a paedophiles orientation towards children, but instead would reinforce, desensitise and normalise the desire to have sexual contact with minors. The critics also point to the fact that there is no clear and reliable evidence that the use of child sex dolls in therapy would help prevent potential abusers from committing offences against real children. The NCA point out that importing dolls “is a crucial flag to potential offending against children” and highlight that whilst Turner portrayed himself as a respectable member of his community, he harboured a longstanding sexual interest in children.

In September 2017, David Turner was imprisoned for 16 months. The importation of the doll was not the only offence he was sentenced for. Whilst he had instructed his lawyers to contest whether his  child sex doll was obscene in law, he had also previously pleaded guilty to possessing more than 34,000 indecent images of children, aged from 3 to 16 years. These had been discovered when his house was searched for the doll. 138 of these images were Category A, the worse type of abuse. He also admitted in interview that he had secretly taken photographs of girls aged 6 to 11 in public places. Border Agency staff also found two other child dolls in his house.

Unconfirmed reports say that out of the seven men charged with importing child sex dolls into the UK so far, six of them were also linked to child indecent image offences. An indecent image of a child almost certainly means that somewhere in the world, that child has been abused. I know where I stand on this issue – legislation banning child sex dolls outright, cannot come soon enough. I remain unconvinced as to whether they may be beneficial in the treatment of paedophiles? What’s your view?

 


Andy Passingham - Co-founder - Safeguarding Hub

Andy Passingham - Co-founder - Safeguarding Hub

Andy is the co-founder of the Safeguarding Hub and also a Detective Sgt in the police. As a police officer he currently specialises in missing persons and improving the multi-agency response. Andy is passionate about safeguarding, and in his spare time he is also a school governor at a local primary school and a website designer.

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7 Comments

  1. Should these dolls be freely bought and a child is abused then the law must come down hard on the abuser. A new set of laws would need to be written that respects the child and gives appropriate punishment to the paedophile.
    A piece of plastic or silicon cannot be sexually abused whatever they look like.

  2. Well there’s a lot to unravel here.

    Let me begin by sharing and acknowledging the distaste and abhorrence society is expressing about the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. I doubt anything provokes a more gutteral and instinctive sense of horror at the whole thing.

    What we ALL want is to eliminate as far as possible, the incidence of child abuse (in all its forms).

    So the question being asked is ‘Do these sex dolls increase or decrease the incidence of actual child sex attacks? Well we can speculate and vent our spleen over this if we wish but what is needed is some kind of study to ascertain the answer to this.

    My immediate thought is that people who buy these are ALREADY pedophiles. I can’t see a non pedophile buying one and becoming one.. Why would they? So existing pedophiles buy them. O.K.. lets run with that. So does it make sense to think that every time someone uses one of these dolls S/he is NOT using an actual child?

    I might even dare to suggest that the Japanese manufacturer – himself a pedophile – has probably come up with the most constructive way of dealing with his urges possible – and I believe is both acting responsibly in acknowledging his problem and encouraging others to do the same.

    Its not a human, there is no victim here and it detracts from the actual incidence of child abuse – every time its used.

    One last point: I think we need a full and proper study of pedophilia so that we can replace our visceral hatred of pedophiles with the knowledge of how best to deal with it.

    It’s not my cup of tea but if if it stops a genuine attack on a real child just once – make them available.

    We need to replace our anger with knowledge.

  3. As time goes by, more and more people will try try to find more and more excuses to butt in on other peoples personal business of what they do by themselves in the privacy of their own homes. If having a child sex doll is a crime, then just who is the victim? The doll???? Maybe we should give the doll a chance to grow up into a normal adult doll? Let’s all give the child doll a chance to live a normal life! That’s the attitude I see here. Some people do have Pediphille urges but most of them don’t go around molesting children. What do you want to do with such people? Lock them up, even if they never hurt or touched a child in their lives? Maybe you all would like to hang them high? ”How dare they fantasise about such things!” ”Sex equals Evil!” Seriously, what people do in their own bedrooms by themselves that doe’s not include hurting any living person or animal should not be the concern of other people. who do not know them. At a time when the U.S. government is separating real live children from their real live parents and locking them up in pens, and religious leaders are really molesting real children and getting away with it, there are better causes to take up than to scream and act horrified at the thought of what somebody living hundreds of miles away from you might be doing with a humanoid shaped piece of silicone in their own bedrooms in their own homes.

  4. Thanks for helpful article. I agree these dolls should be banned and there is no place for them, including in ‘treatment’.

  5. “is a crucial flag to potential offending against children”
    Whilst accepting some of the rehabilitation comments surely the direction should be towards protecting children.
    The issues of sale and importation need clarification and robust enforcement
    I am personally yet to be convinced of the need for a child like doll for sexual gratification or for the treatment of offenders
    As usual great article well done

  6. Paul Maslin - Co-founder - Safeguarding Hub

    Some good points and clearly a lot for the lawmakers to look at . As Andy alludes to in the article, any new legislation would need to be well considered, including the definition of what constitutes a child sex doll. My understanding is that so far in the prosecutions, a paediatric expert has advised that the dolls anatomically resemble a child’s body. Whilst weight, size etc may be an indicator, there will probably always be a need for expert opinion in prosecuted cases.

    I think the argument that they may assist in the treatment of paedophiles is based on them being part of an overall treatment programme complimented by therapy

  7. There are a few issues not covered here:

    1. What IS a child sex doll. To make a law banning possession, distribution and marketing, there needs to be a clear definition on what a child sex doll is.

    Height alone is insufficient in that definition. There are legitimate VAT registered vendors in the UK selling adult dolls of 135cm+. I say adult, as they are fully developed in all aspects except height.

    Weight alone is not an indicator as the manufacturers of ALL sized dolls are manufactured to reduce weight for save on shipping, manufacturing costs and to alleviate the awkwardness of moving an unwieldy object of 40kG+ (2x suitcases without handles).

    Banning imports, even at this stage, is dubious due to the landmark Conegate precedent of 1986 (Case 121/85 ) which effectively prevents the UK from banning imports as follows:

    “A Member State may not rely on grounds of public morality within the meaning of Article 36 of the Treaty in order to prohibit the importation of certain goods on the ground that they are indecent or obscene, where the same goods may be manufactured freely in its territory and marketed in that territory subject only to an absolute prohibition on their transmission by post, a restriction on their public display and, in certain regions, a system of licensing of premises for the ‘sale of those goods to customers aged 18 years and over.”

    I would guess that many paedophiles are somewhat socially awkward and have limited opportunities for establishing a ‘normal’ adult relationship. Who’s to say that ADULT sex dolls are not a suitable alternative for paedophiles?

    Focusing solely upon child sex dolls to treat paedophilia appears somewhat narrow minded. Paedophiles may not have exclusive paedophilic tendencies and an ADULT doll could alleviate the inherent loneliness of many members of this group.

    I do not support the use of ‘childlike’ dolls, but adult dolls to treat this group could well be a very effective option to alleviate the frustration felt by their social isolation.

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