Sept. 30, 2015

Research shows watching child pornography is not a victimless crime

Visiting Fulbright chair says digitization re-traumatizes child sex abuse victims; panel discussion on Oct. 1
Warren Binford is the 2015 Fulbright Canada and Palix Foundation’s Distinguished Visiting Research Chair in Child and Family Health and Wellness. She will be working on a new direction in her research at the Faculty of Law until December. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Warren Binford.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

About two years ago, law professor Warren Binford took on a new research focus that has become a passionate academic pursuit. Her work at the University of Calgary is helping raise awareness that in the digital age, where images and videos last forever online, the trauma inflicted on the victims of child pornography may permanently impact their healthy development and undermine their ability to become contributing members of society.

Images of child sexual abuse that are traded online continue to victimize the children involved, long after the physical assaults end, often well into adulthood.

“We know the people who consume these images are doctors, lawyers, executives, teachers, priests, government officials; they can literally be anyone. So the victims suffer from anxiety, paranoia, disassociation and depression because anyone they meet may have seen these digital images,” says Binford.

“We need to help these young people recover but many people mistakenly think viewing child pornography is a victimless crime and so only focus on supporting the victim after the initial sex abuse. However, many victims say that having the digital images of them being raped, traded on the Internet is far worse than the hands-on sex abuse because the images are everywhere and the victims have no control. It will never end for them.”

Alberta is leading research on trauma to children's brains

Based at the Willamette College of Law in Oregon, Binford has arrived at the Faculty of Law as the 2015 Fulbright Canada and Palix Foundation’s Distinguished Visiting Research Chair in Child and Family Health and Wellness. She will be working on a new direction in her research in Calgary until December. The goal of Binford’s research is to support the advancement of brain research that can be used to support the development of laws, policies, and programs to end, or at least impede, the continuing victimization of children.

“The University of Calgary was really attractive because Alberta has become one of the leading regions in the world for research on trauma to the child’s brain,” says Binford. “We know when a child suffers trauma, generally if it lasts longer than six months, it can permanently alter the child’s brain.”

Binford is looking to partner with neuroscientists to help her dig deeper into how digitized images depicting the rape and torture of children, that never go away online, prolong the trauma experienced by the victims.

“I want to look at the neurological impact of digitizing child pornography on the brain of the child who is digitally victimized,” says Binford. “Victims’ statements of their experiences and symptoms is consistent with toxic stress, but no one’s done this research before.”

Panel brings visiting American researchers to campus 

As one of three Fulbright Canada-Palix Foundation Distinguished Visiting Research Chairs in Alberta, Binford will discuss her research along with the other two chairs at a panel discussion on Oct. 1, in the Blue Room at the Dining Centre on campus.

Speakers include President Elizabeth Cannon; Ed McCauley, vice-president (research), Michael Hawes, Fulbright CEO; Michelle Gagnon, president, Palix Foundation; and Tom Palaia, U.S. Consul General.

The event will begin at noon with the panel discussion from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. The other two panelists include Nicolette Teufel-Shone, professor from the University of Arizona who is visiting the University of Alberta to work on her research topic, Fostering Strategies to Build Indigenous Youth Resilience; and Diana Dow-Edwards, a professor at the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center, who is visiting the University of Lethbridge to study the effects of marijuana on stressed adolescents.

For more information, visit the Fulbright Canada website. As part of the university’s International Strategy, the Fulbright Canada–Palix Foundation’s Distinguished Visiting Research Chair in Child and Family Health and Wellness is reinforcing our U.S. relations, while complementing the expertise and strengths of our scholars.