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Wednesday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that aims to ban the importation and transportation of child sex dolls.The “Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots (CREEPER) Act,” is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY.)Even aside from the goofy name, the bill is odd. It’s very short, but makes a lot of big, broad claims. Its name focuses on robots, but humanoid—and child-shaped humanoid robots—aren’t nearly as widespread as their analog doll counterparts. It’s probably not the worst idea to ban child sex robots, but the bill makes a few claims that would seem to be impossible to prove, namely that “dolls and robots not only lead to rape, but they make rape easier by teaching the rapist how to overcome resistance and subdue the victim.”
The bill also claims that “dolls and robots are intrinsically related to abuse of minors, and they cause the exploitation, objectification, abuse, and rape of minors.”“Right now, a few clicks on a computer can allow a predator to order a vile child sex doll,” Donovan said in a press release. “This is not only disturbing—but also endangers the most innocent among us. Once an abuser tires of practicing on a doll, it’s a small step to move on to a child.”There isn’t a lot of evidence to support the claims made in the bill, and some researchers have tried to make the argument that child sex dolls could be used—or at least should be considered—to potentially rehabilitate pedophiles.“There is no research,” David Finkelhor, a professor of sociology and the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told me in an email. “But who’s going to vote against it? It is very likely that people who buy these also have child porn and are at greater risk to commit hands on offenses, but whether the dolls in themselves promote offending or change norms is not clear.”
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There are currently no laws against child sex dolls or robots in the US. In the UK, it’s illegal to import a child sex doll, but not illegal to own one. Any discussion of rehabbing pedophiles is going to be controversial, but some therapists say we should consider prescribing child sex dolls to them as a way to satisfy their desires safely. Society doesn’t have a good way of talking about pedophilia, so many people attracted to children don’t seek treatment at all, because of the stigma attached to it. Others try to self-treat, which has its own potential problems.I asked Donovan’s office what research or experts they consulted in writing this bill. His press secretary pointed me to an op-ed written by Donovan, an Atlantic article about child sex doll maker who is an advocate for rehabbing pedophiles using dolls in which a behavioral expert draws the conclusion that sex dolls could reinforce bad behavior, and a paper by law and psychology experts that builds a case for making child sex dolls illegal.Again, it’s probably not a terrible idea to ban child sex robots, but in this case, the House voted unanimously on a bill that makes hyperbolic claims that are not currently supported by scientific research, because it pulls on heartstrings—and that’s worrisome. It also raises questions about how sex dolls, robots, and artificial intelligence will be regulated in the future, and whether legislators are ready to consider the nuances of sex with humanoids.“It seems that technology is likely to present us with a lot of these dilemmas in the future—ways of indulging odious anti-social impulses and sexual fantasies without anyone actually being directly harmed,” Finkelhor said. A bill like this could make it harder for researchers to do future work on treatment options, he said.Legislators should take steps to pass laws that prevent children from getting abused, but it should do so with language that is precise, and that considers the actual reality of the situation. We’ve seen what happens when vague bills make their way through Congress on the merit of being “for the children,” and it’s not good.