How dolls could help prevent child sexual abuse

Editor’s note: This article has been contributed under a pen name by one of the respondents to Prostasia Foundation’s background research into sex dolls and child sexual abuse prevention. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

In December of 2017 Representative Daniel M. Donovan, Jr. introduced the CREEPER Act into the U.S. House of Representatives calling for a ban on the importation and transportation of “child sex dolls.” In an article about his proposed law he writes, “These awful dolls endanger our children by providing near-real life training for the worst among us to target the most vulnerable among us. Once a child sex abuser tires of practicing on a doll, it’s a small step to move on to an innocent child.”

As I type that quote I look over at the doll sitting next to me. She is exactly the type of doll the CREEPER Act is trying to ban, and although I know she is not alive somehow she seems a little hurt by being called awful. I pat her on the head as I continue to write. I am not a “child sex abuser” nor do I have any interest in ever becoming one. Since the day she was delivered to the doorstep of my suburban home, my doll Lexie has been nothing more than a companion, just as she is now sitting next to me on this quiet rainy afternoon. Having her here is a calming experience very different from Donovan’s imagined visions of a frantic predator honing his skills on a doll before moving onto real children.

The thought that there might be a link between childlike dolls and sexual offending against children is indeed a horrifying one, especially for someone like me who himself owns such a doll. But although it’s easy to assume that such a link may exist as the CREEPER Act asserts that it does, this doesn’t square at all with my personal experience as a doll owner and a member of a community of doll enthusiasts. So it didn’t surprise me when I dug deeper and found that Donovan’s assertions about a link between doll ownership and child abuse had been entirely made up.

According to the best experts in the field, there simply isn’t any evidence at all that a link between doll ownership and sexual offending exists. Just as punching bags don’t make people violent (but can be used to take out aggression, or simply to get fit), researchers have speculated that dolls are also used for various purposes, but there is nothing to suggest that conditioning their users towards committing sexual abuse is one of them.

There are many reasons for owning dolls

This reflects my personal experience too. Most doll owners that I know would consider themselves introverts, who need time spent alone to recharge and stay balanced. However a sense of loneliness can often develop in that time spent alone. For that reason, as aberrant (or abhorrent) as it may seem, dolls have become the ideal partner for some.

The desire to nurture is also commonly described by many doll owners. The owner of a smaller doll, especially, feels pulled towards taking special care of such a doll, for many of the same reasons that someone would choose a toy poodle over a pit bull.  Along with seeming more playful and less threatening in nature, the youthful appearance of a child size doll conjures a primal desire to nurture, care for, and protect in a way that an adult size doll does not.

Before being invited to write this guest blog post, I was one of the respondents to a survey conducted by Prostasia Foundation, which revealed that almost all of those who owned childlike dolls would describe them as cute, innocent, or adorable, while only about half as many people described them as sexually attractive.  Because they have been labeled as “sex” dolls it is hard to comprehend how many of us see child size dolls as an unsexualized version of their adult counterparts. Adult size dolls are preferred by most of those who seek fulfillment through sexual means, while smaller dolls appeal to those of us who seek the companionship of a doll but prefer the feeling of satisfaction that we get from having something to care for. In fact, the Trottla-branded dolls that Representative Donovan used as evidence of the child sex doll “problem” don’t even possess openings that can be used for sex.

In addition to companionship and nurturing, many doll owners also enjoy the element of self expression and artistry that goes into posing and photographing dolls.  Through photography we make them come to life and sharing those photos with others that appreciate the effort that goes into creating them is a rewarding experience in and of itself.  

For others including myself, it’s also a sense of community. Eager to share our passion with others we have built a community of our own where we come together to share in and discuss something that is so important to us, yet we keep hidden from the rest of the world.  The online world of small doll owners is not the festering training grounds for child molestation that you may believe. Anyone who finds their way among us wishing to discuss or promote any kind of abuse is never welcomed or tolerated. Instead it’s a place where we can come together to share our interests and often our personal struggles as well. It’s a place where genuine friendships have been made, and many of us have achieved a level of social interaction greater than what we had before discovering dolls.

Although it makes many people uncomfortable, some of us do also receive sexual gratification from our dolls. However, many owners of small dolls may not see their dolls as synthetic children. Some people are attracted to dolls simply as objects, and do not fantasize about them being anything more than that. Experts recognize this as a sexual fetish, and like other fetishes, it is widely misunderstood and feared. But it is really no different than many other sexual interests that may be observed by simply browsing any porn site. Sexuality is expressed in an almost infinite number of ways; in fact, for just about any situation or object that most people find mundane or downright bizarre, there exist a community of people whose sexuality revolves around it.

Eliminating outlets for pedophiles

Granted, within the category of people who use their dolls for sex, and who own childlike dolls, there are certainly at least some for whom these dolls act a proxy for their sexual interest in children; and Donovan makes it quite clear that it is these people against whom the CREEPER Act is aimed; saying, “as a legislator in Congress, I’m introducing a bill to ban the newest outlet for pedophiles: child sex dolls. They don’t belong in our communities.”

This rationale for the CREEPER Act seems to assume that eliminating outlets for pedophiles will be good for society. But there are cases in which having an outlet to channel a socially unacceptable impulse into a harmless activity is exactly what society needs—recall the punching bag analogy. For a doll owner who is also sexually attracted to children, does having an outlet in the form of an inanimate childlike doll make it more likely that they will commit abuse against a real child, or less likely that they will do so? Shouldn’t we at least find out the answer to that question before banning the dolls, or should they be banned no matter what?

Many would say no, that such research is irrelevant because the use of a childlike sex doll is immoral in and of itself, and that it should be recognized as a crime even if it is a victimless one. On this view, any representation of a child that could be used sexually is itself immoral and obscene.

Although emotionally compelling, there are several practical problems with this argument. The first is that anything could be used as a representation of a child, leaving no clear boundaries about what might need to be banned. For example, as wave after wave of complaints about childlike sex dolls has hit platforms like Amazon and Wish, and those dolls have been removed, complaints have shifted to dolls that the protesters admit were intended as adult dolls, but which they speculate are small enough that purchasers could be buying them for use as childlike dolls. When will this end? Do we want the government to be able to regulate the minimum height of sex dolls, and their minimum bust size? Eventually, this will lead to sex dolls being banned altogether, which is exactly what those behind the CREEPER Act really want, and even that won’t be the end of it. Will dildos under a certain size be considered too childlike for some politician’s tastes?

This should be profoundly concerning to other sexual minorities whose private thoughts and behaviors politicians would also like to be able to police

A second problem with the argument that sex dolls should be banned irrespective of any harm associated with their use is that it effectively represents an attempt to outlaw not the dolls themselves, but rather the sexual thoughts and private behaviors of the dolls’ owners. This should be profoundly concerning to other sexual minorities whose private thoughts and behaviors politicians would also like to be able to police. Without suggesting that the concerns of sex doll owners are in any sense equivalent to the struggles of other sexual minorities, lawmakers are only too ready to use similar smear tactics against both. Examples of this include how consensual sex workers paid the price of FOSTA, a law that falsely associated them with child sex trafficking, and how the Trump administration’s recent overt attacks on the transgender community have been stoked by transphobic stories about pedophiles disguised as women invading women’s bathrooms.

How sex dolls could help protect children

You can still believe that sex dolls are immoral, while stopping short of arguing for an unconditional ban. You can feel that people who use them are creepy, and that they should be disliked and shunned. You can maintain that there should be limits on how and where the dolls are sold and used. But it remains possible to believe all of those things, while still accepting that it would be worth accepting sex dolls in our society if it could be shown that they are indeed like a punching bag—a way of containing the social problem of pedophilia that can prevent at least some real children from being sexually abused. So far, this remains an open scientific question.

That those behind the CREEPER Act seem to show no interest in looking into this question is because facts, in this case, are beside the point. Representative Donovan knows that emotions speak to people more loudly than facts. He knows that one of the best ways he can stir up emotions for political gain is by introducing a law that raises (and purports to vanquish) the spectre of doll-toting pedophiles. He also knows that most people won’t care to investigate further and discover that the law will be ineffective in saving children from abuse. These are the same textbook tactics that many other politicians before him have adopted, using the taboo around pedophilia to drive a hidden agenda, or to simply build their own political capital.

By taking away dolls from those who have few if any other outlets for sexual expression, the CREEPER Act falsely reassures the public that the government is containing the problem of child sexual abuse, when in fact it may be doing the opposite. By eliminating one of the few safe outlets that one in this situation has, it may inadvertently drive those on the edge of offending towards the terrible alternative of acting out against a real child. Dolls will not eliminate sexual abuse against minors, but if they can prevent just one young person from enduring a lifetime of trauma, it is our responsibility to seriously consider the real cost of a ban.

Conclusion

Dolls are not everyone’s thing, to put it lightly. But for a marginalized community of people like myself, they have had a major positive effect. It’s easy to understand why you may believe that I am a dangerous predator, but in reality I pose no threat to anyone. I am married, I work a regular job, and I happen to have an unconventional but harmless hobby that has given my life a deeper meaning. Loving and caring for my doll may make me an oddball, but it has also led me to build friendships and to find a peace that I have sought my whole life.

With all the good intentions in the world, not everyone can find themselves attracted to having sex or relationships with the people—or in our case, the objects—that society wants us to be attracted to. My fellow doll enthusiasts have various motivations for sharing this unconventional interest, yet there is one motivation that I have never heard any sex doll owner express, and it is the only one that the CREEPER Act asserts—that it is being used as a stepping stone to sexual abuse of a minor. In reality, the doll community has no tolerance for such behavior.

We ask only that we be judged on our actions, rather than on our feelings. Doll owners who are involved in child sexual abuse (including distributing photographs or videos of such abuse) should face the full judgement of the law, as should anyone else who engages in such despicable acts. But I believe that the doll community can be part of the solution to this problem. I look forward to the day when policymakers focus on real data and solutions so we can all work together to keep children safe from harm.

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