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UK government advisor John Carr, of the Council on Child Internet Safety, claims in a radio interview:

Mr Carr said there was "no question" that some men who look at child sex abuse images go on to carry out abuse.

Earlier, speaking to BBC Radio 5 live he said: "There is enough evidence to suggest that if we can put more barriers towards guys getting to child abuse images, fewer of them will do it and more children will be safe."

He said between 15 and 50 per cent of men who previously had no involvement with child abuse images would go on to physically harm children once they accessed them.

Search engines urged to block more online porn sites

That sentence claims correlation, not necessarily causation. But let's ask the question twice: once for correlation, once for the implied causation.

  • Is there evidence that >15% of men exposed to child pornography, physically harm children?
  • Is there evidence that exposure to child pornography leads to this harm being committed (that is, is there evidence that these assaults would not have happened if the culprit had not consumed child pornography)
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    Again (because we had this discussion before), the claim here is causation. By all means let’s discuss whether there’s correlation but at the same time let’s not forget that that’s obviously not what John Carr meant here, otherwise he couldn’t use it to justify his policies. Jul 22, 2013 at 18:16
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    I also think it’s not enough to examine whether >15% of men exposed to child pornography harm children, the claim is 15–50%! That is an extremely wide margin (up to 50%!) and unless there is actual evidence which supports this upper bound, this is clearly a deliberate lie that answers to this question should expose as such. Jul 23, 2013 at 13:58
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    At a guess (and therefore not putting it in as an answer) I suppose there could be a subset of men and women who are already inclined to pedophilia/molestation but who don't realize they are until they get massively aroused by child porn. But in those cases they were basically time bombs waiting to happen and the child porn is just the excuse they needed... Jul 24, 2013 at 9:13
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    @KonradRudolph if we can debunk correlation, causation is automatically debunked. And I'd not be surprised if debunking correlation is easier than focussing on causation (certainly without doing double blind experiments, something you do NOT want to do in cases like this).
    – jwenting
    Jul 25, 2013 at 5:37
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    @jwenting True of course. It is however important to hold public people (especially politicians) accountable for their claims. They steer the discourse, and it’s very hard for us normal folks to steer against it. The very least we can, and therefore should, do is to call them out on their lies and publicly shame them. (Of course that’s actually the job of the press but since they don’t do it …) Jul 25, 2013 at 13:27

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Evidence that exposure to child pornography leads to this harm being committed

Neil Malamuth (2018) (available as Free PDF) conducted a massive meta-study to

integrate the vast research literatures on non-consenting adult [pornography] and on child pornography (also a form of non-consenting pornography) by using the framework of the Confluence Model of sexual aggression.

I added [pornography] just to highlight (to make it clear) for some commenters, that it is a given that all child porn involves non-consenting sexual content, and the study included pornography which in turn, includes non-consenting sex with adults.

The Confluence Model of Sexual Aggression is a well-established framework for understanding factors that contribute to men's perpetration of sexual aggression against women, highlighting the roles of hostile masculinity, impersonal sex orientation, and exposure to pornography (Huntingdon, et al. 2020).

Neil Malamuth found that pornography use may add to the risk of sexual aggression only for those men already predisposed to aggress sexually due to more primary causes than pornography use.

To answer the correlation/causation query from @Oddthinking in the comments, near the beginning of page 80 (page 8 of the PDF)

Criminals were more likely than noncriminals to perform some sexual act, such as masturbation, consensual, or criminal sex after viewing pornography. Analyses by these investigators of the degree of physiological sexual arousal, across 32 studies, indicated that generally sexual criminals were more aroused than non-criminals (r = 0.15, N = 2099). However, when the studies separated portrayals of consenting and nonconsenting sex, it was found that sex criminals were more aroused by non-consenting sex in comparison to noncriminals (r = 0.39) [...] 2.4.4.2. Correlations within noncriminals (see cell 4b of Table 2). Wright et al. (2015) conducted a meta-analysis examining the associations between pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression within non-criminals. Examining 22 studies from 7 different countries they did find a significant positive association, both for verbal and physical sexual aggression, in both cross-sectional and the few available longitudinal studies. In keeping with the other meta analyses, they also found that non-consenting content in pornography was an exacerbating factor.

While this passage doesn't state that any non-criminals turned into criminals, it highlights the risk being there, with non-consenting content making the risk higher.

Further on in the same page, Malamuth points out that

[Ybarra and Thompson (2017)] found that even after controlling for other potential contributing factors, current exposure to non-consenting pornography as well as prior exposure to parental spousal abuse were strongly associated with the emergence of most of the types of sexually violent perpetration. These conclusions were in keeping with those found by Ybarra, Mitchell, Hamburger, Diener-West, and Leaf (2011) wherein 1159 adolescents were followed up over several years. Similarly, in another longitudinal study Brown and L'Engle (2009) reported that male adolescents were more likely to report having engaged in sexual harassment perpetration if exposed to sexually explicit material in early adolescence. Finally, in a two-wave study (separated by a year) of Polish university students, additional data were provided suggesting a role for pornography use in predicting attitudes and behaviors. Tomaszewska and Krahé (2018) found that pornography use assessed at Time 1 predicted sexual aggression perpetration in the subsequent 12- month period via its association with sexual aggression perpetration since the age of 15. The researchers also found that pornography use at Time 1 significantly predicted attitudes supporting sexual coercion, which had a direct prospective link to perpetration 12 months later. Overall, these findings support Wright et al.'s (2015) meta-analyses' conclusions that both cross-sectional and longitudinal data indicate that pornography consumption predicts sexual aggression among non- criminals.

Also, on the same page,

In correlational studies (Type 2 Correlational Studies) does exposure to pornography enable additional prediction of sexual aggression, after controlling for other known risk factors? Although this type of analysis cannot show support for causality the way Type 1 Causal Studies can, it can nonetheless better support such a possibility by statistically controlling for other factors. In other words, does pornography use in and of itself matter, or are observed cross-sectional and longitudinal relations between pornography use and sexual aggression in some sense illusory and merely the result of “guilt by association” with other variables, such as family violence or juvenile delinquency? This question was addressed in one study by Malamuth et al., 2000 that used a random sample of the entire USA male population of males who are in some form of post-high school higher education (about 42% of the male population). The researchers found that after controlling for key risk factors (e.g., family violence, delinquency, attitudes accepting of vio- lence, impersonal sex, and Hostile Masculinity), consumption of pornography remained a significant predictor of sexually aggressive behaviors. Moreover, additional analyses showed that only for those men who were at relatively high risk (a clear minority of the sample) did pornography consumption make a significant difference in levels of sexual aggression...

And he continued with more on that when reading on from there.

Correlation with child porn and child sex offending is covered from page 83 (page 11 in the PDF).

He received some criticism against his findings, and in response, he re-examined his findings (Malamuth, et al. 2000).

In response to some recent critiques, we (a) analyze the arguments and data presented in those commentaries, (b) integrate the findings of several meta-analytic summaries of experimental and naturalistic research, and (c) conduct statistical analyses on a large representative sample. All three steps support the existence of reliable associations between frequent pornography use and sexually aggressive behaviors, particularly for violent pornography and/or for men at high risk for sexual aggression. We suggest that the way relatively aggressive men interpret and react to the same pornography may differ from that of nonaggressive men, a perspective that helps integrate the current analyses with studies comparing rapists and nonrapists as well as with cross-cultural research.

This re-examination is also available as a Free PDF

References

Huntington, C., Pearlman, D. N., & Orchowski, L. (2022). The confluence model of sexual aggression: An application with adolescent males. Journal of interpersonal violence, 37(1-2), 623-643. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520915550

Malamuth, N. M. (2018). “Adding fuel to the fire”? Does exposure to non-consenting adult or to child pornography increase risk of sexual aggression?. Aggression and violent behavior, 41, 74-89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2018.02.013

Malamuth, N. M., Addison, T., & Koss, M. (2000). Pornography and sexual aggression: Are there reliable effects and can we understand them?. Annual review of sex research, 11(1), 26-91. https://doi.org/10.1080/10532528.2000.10559784

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    I have been skimming the first Malamuth paper. A great find. Interesting and very disturbing. I can't see how it addresses the question though. I see the numbers being bandied about making the original claim look unlikely, but where is the correlation/causation that non-offenders that watch child sexual abuse materials become offenders?
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 29, 2022 at 10:27
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    I struggle to see how what is written here answers the question. It seems like the studies arent very clear about differentiating non-consenting adults and children, and differentiating child sexual abuse with sexual violence in general. At least from your summaries, it seems hard to conclude anything directly about child abuse. For example, it seems like this study would count it if someone watched child pornography and then went and committed sexual violence against an adult. It's still not good, and worth understanding, but doesn't seem to match the claim in the question.
    – JMac
    Nov 29, 2022 at 12:54
  • In addition to JMac's comments, which I support, I have to ask what 'nonconsenting adult on child' means. I get no child can give proper consent due to their age, but if that statement is referring to situations where a child is clearly resisting the sexual act and is forced into it that's a further degree of sexual violence then say a drawn depiction of two children having a consensual, to the level the children are capable, sexual encounter with each other. The implication though is far less then 15% of men exposed to child porn go on to assult others so it partially refutes the claim.
    – dsollen
    Nov 29, 2022 at 17:49
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    @dsollen - the paper discusses non-consenting adult pornography and child pornography. It is a given that all sex with children is non-consenting Nov 29, 2022 at 22:05
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    @ChrisRogers But not all sex with "children" is non-consenting. Things like teens sexting gets classed as child pornography. The law deems them unable to consent, but that will not in any way be reflected in such images. Dec 3, 2022 at 3:49

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