Protecting kids from real threats? No, Congress postures, protecting no one.
The U.S. Congress—which can’t figure out a way to treat actual children as human beings—has come together to protect abstract children from an abstract threat. It has voted to criminalize the importation or transportation of lifelike robot “sex dolls” that can be configured to look like children.
Robots. Sex dolls. Criminalizing.
A 1950s (or 1850s) approach to a 21st-century phenomenon.
These lifelike dolls are made of flesh-simulating silicon, and can be programmed with simple personalities. That includes being a child, either cooperating with or resisting sex.
Remember: they’re robots. Machines. Toasters with smiles (or tears) and orifices.
Of course, throw the word “pedophile” into any American conversation and chaos ensues. “Child sex robot” gets you bonus points. Hence the McClatchy newspaper chain (29 daily papers, 2 million readers) headline: “Congress moves to ban child sex robots favored by pedophiles.”
The legislation claims that the robot-dolls normalize sex with minors; teach rapists how to overcome resistance; and lead to actual rape. In case anyone misses the point, Congress puts its speculations on the record as alleged fact: “the dolls and robots are intrinsically related to abuse of minors.”
Very interesting. None of it true.
This law is part of a long series of attempts to corral our sexual imagination. It follows our government’s attempts to prevent us from looking at sexually-themed videos, watching sexually-themed stage comedians, seeing sexually-themed movies, reading sexually-themed books, seeing accurate contraceptive information, and sending one’s sweetheart a sexually-themed postcard back during the Civil War—which popularized the then-new invention of photography.
Congress and other legislators love to speculate about the practical consequences of using various objects (e.g., criminalizing vibrators) or of perceiving various images (e.g., rape, child abuse, promiscuity, divorce) relating to sex. Ultimately, they’re really just expressing their disapproval of our sexual imagination.
So House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) says “The very thought [of these dolls] makes me nauseous.” Sponsor Dan Donovan (R-NY) refers to “these sickening dolls.”
No calls for research. No curiosity about the robust data showing that child sexual exploitation declines when child pornography becomes more available (not only in the U.S., but in Japan and other countries as well). Certainly no asking sex researchers or pedophiles themselves what they think.
We’ve seen this pattern before when it comes to regulating our sexuality: overstate a danger; demonize anyone involved with the object or activity as “other;” explicitly contextualize the discussion within a a current social problem resisting solution; and attempt to ban the fantasy expression that some people hate. This has been the approach to homosexuality, transgenderism, strip clubs, and many other forms of sexual expression.
Over 150,000 people on Change.org follow the same pattern. The petition refers to “disgusting, lifelike dolls that normalize and encourage sexual attraction to children…that encourage child abuse…dolls are for children, not people who want to rape them.” Anyone who uses such a robot/doll is branded as “other:” as a pedophile, as being dangerous, as out of control and engaging in “sicker and sicker behavior.”
Federal and local laws already attempt to control our sexual imagination as used in consuming pornography, going to swing clubs, texting in chat rooms, and elsewhere. Tens of millions of Americans support these laws. They are terrified of their neighbors’ sexuality—not only their behavior, but their very thoughts. Straight men excited by fantasies of giving fellatio. Women who climax imagining being raped. Couples who get hot watching other couples in adult clubs. People who pretend they have an alternative life while in a chatroom.
Society does condone fantasy (e.g., in literature) and simulations (e.g., in video games) of violent crime and other actions that are prohibited in real life. Logically, watching CSI or playing Grand Theft Auto should be banned if sex robot-dolls are banned. But of course Americans consider violence more “normal” than sexuality.
The law always lags behind real life. Laws attempting to regulate the internet were laughably obsolete before they were implemented. Invisible beneath Congress’ radar, teledildonics and other sexual applications of computers are increasing. A black market will surely fuel the development of these new “child” sex robot-dolls.
And virtual reality? When enough parents come home to find 12-year-old son Timmy on the couch “having sex” with Beyonce or Johnny Depp via virtual reality, that will be the next object of legislative wrath and control. But as always, it will be too late. And self-righteous outrage always feels safer to most American parents than actually talking about sex.
As long as humans have imagination, our neighbor will imagine stuff about sex that makes us queasy. Over and over, we will, apparently, fear it. And so attempt to control it.
And fail to do so effectively.