While a strange topic to consider, this is something that, as a society, we are going to have to challenge relatively soon. As technology continues its relentless march forwards, progress is going to take many shapes. Some of those shapes will be positive, and others will appear rather strange.
As I’ve been studying Criminal Law, various ideas of the challenges of regulating such activity started to come to mind.
It is said that anything new that is invented after you are 35 years of age is going to ruin society. Still, I think that there are many topics of interest coming around the corner, including Artificial Intelligence, actual virtual reality, and the ability to easily create advanced viruses that will make COVID-19 look like child’s play.
Something that is likely to happen, is that someone will develop a robot that looks like a young child, and is designed for sexual pleasure.
Obviously, this is a genuinely repugnant concept, but that does not automatically mean that it should be illegal. I really, really hate the taste of anchovies, but that does not mean that they be illegal to sell. I also find the thought of sleeping with another man a huge turn-off, but, of course, that in no way means that, as a society, we should not be tolerant of homosexuals, and ensure that they have the same rights as everyone else.
If someone engages in a choice that causes no harm to anyone else in society, does society have a right to legislate or use force to block that person from doing it?
John Stuart Mill famously wrote, in his book On Liberty:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
This is known as the Harm Principle, which states that the right to self-determination and freedom within society is not unlimited. The limit is where your actions result in harm to another person in society.
This is such a grave issue that society, using the force of the state, has the right to intervene and block you from taking that action.
In other words, the freedom of your fist ends at the tip of my nose.
So, back to the topic of sex with child robots.
One clear argument against allowing such a behaviour is that this will normalize child abuse within society, leading to more cases of real child abuse, thus causing harm to society. If the hypothesis that having sex with a child robot is a slippery slope towards abuse of actual human children is true, then this is an extremely strong argument towards making this behaviour illegal.
However, there is a counter-argument that the slippery slope could work in the completely inverse manner, where someone who is a borderline paedophile could find gratification with a robot instead of a child. Thus society is spared harm because that person never engages in any actual child abuse.
This is something worth considering, and you can imagine that any manufacturer of these entertainment objects would make this argument quite strongly, most likely arguing that the Coolidge effect would be at play.
Let me quote the fountain of knowledge here:
The Coolidge effect is a biological phenomenon seen in animals, whereby males exhibit renewed sexual interest whenever a new female is introduced, even after sex with prior but still available sexual partners. To a lesser extent, the effect is also seen among females with regard to their mates. The Coolidge effect can be attributed to an increase in sexual responsiveness, and a shortening of the sexual refractory period. The evolutionary benefit to this phenomenon is that a male can fertilize multiple females. The male may be reinvigorated repeatedly for successful insemination of multiple females.This type of mating system can be referred to as polygyny, where one male has multiple female mates, but each female mates with only one or a few males.
So, a male that has psychological problems and is sexually attracted to children would likely prefer the infinite variety and ease with which he can experience child robots, vs the extremely dangerous and risky endeavour of engaging in actual child abuse.
Another argument is that anyone who has these types of feelings does have a strong psychological disorder and thus needs professional help, not a sex toy. This is a nuanced argument and is likely the same way that we should deal with drug addicts.
Instead of criminalization of drugs, we should treat drug addiction as a medical issue, providing a safe space and clean drugs for the addicts, and then slowly wean them off the drugs and help them get their lives together. Ignoring the problem doesn’t work — because the cost to society is so great due to all the criminality that occurs when drug addicts need money to pay for their addiction.
But, in the case of someone who is only thinking about having sex with children but has never done so, what can we do? Does the law start to regulate what we think and make it illegal to have specific thoughts? Right now, unless someone is actively taking action towards planning a crime, they cannot be arrested and charged with anything.
Purely thinking about robbing a bank is not enough, you need to start taking physical action towards doing so. This could include studying the layouts, recruiting fellow criminals, etc.
I think most societies will make child sex robots illegal, and quite likely so. While there may not be a solid legal foundation for doing so, the fact is that this just feels “wrong” — and we will find a legal justification for outlawing it.
This will not, of course, stop people from designing and manufacturing such apparatus, so the question then is, what do we do when we catch someone engaging in such an act?
Obviously, the crime is less severe than actual child abuse, and one would imagine that the sentencing should be less harsh. Arguably child abuse is one of the worst crimes imaginable, perhaps even worse than murder in some cases, because the victim has to deal with the consequences for the rest of their life.
If someone is found guilty of such a crime, they should be segregated from the rest of society for the rest of their lives; I think that is a clear conclusion.
After all, our children are precious. They are, quite literally, the future of humanity.
So what about someone who engages in a simulation of this abuse? And what about if they film it and distribute it? In this latter case, I believe it should be viewed as the same as filming actual abuse, because the distribution of these types of images does cause harm to society. If there is no discernible difference between simulated and actual child abuse on film, then the punishment for the distribution of child pornography should be the same.
Overall, this is a distasteful topic, and one that, as a society, I wish we would not have to deal with, but something that will, unfortunately, come up in the next few decades.