Viewing child porn is not a victimless crime. Children were abused in making those images. Many offenders delude themselves into thinking they looked like they enjoyed it or otherwise distance themselves from the reality of the pain and suffering caused. Some now refer to these images as child sexual abuse images or images of children being abused. This change in terminology is intended to make it more evident to the viewer that children were harmed in making these images.
Many people believe that if a person enjoys looking at child pornography (CP), they inherently pose a risk of committing hands on sexual molestation of a child (CM). That is an understandable belief, but it is not supported by research into the actual problems of these offenders. While it is true that some CP offenders also are CM offenders (or dual offenders), it also is true that some of them are not dual offenders. Many people believe viewing child porn leads to molesting. In fact, the majority of offenders who both molested children and possessed child porn did the molesting first, then later sought the porn.
Initially the Butner Study (conducted at the Butner Federal Medical Center) was believed to be one of the best regarding CP offenders. This study found that among their child porn inmates most also had molested many children. Comparison of this study to many others finds that it is an outlier, or that the results are not consistent with those of many other similar studies on similar defendants. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but there may have been methodological differences or other issues. I do not include the results of this study in my analysis of offenders.
Research into the co-occurrence of CP and CM has resulted in very disparate findings. The Butner Study found 85% co-occurrence while another study found only a 12% co-occurrence rate, which I believe is spuriously low. Other rigorous studies and meta-analyses of many independent studies have concluded that the co-occurrence rate is about 50%. Those offenders who do have both issues typically have molested children before they began to view CP, rather than CP leading a person to later molest children. Overall, some CP offenders do pose such a risk, while others do not. The evaluation of their risk should be done on a case-by-case basis.
Persons whose only offense was possession of child porn have lower rates of recidivism than offenders who engaged in multiple types of sex offending or those who directly produced the porn. Most of these offenders often can be successfully treated in the community.
It was believed that the size of a child porn collection indicates the duration of the collecting. In the past that was true, especially when it was difficult to obtain such materials. Collections included nudist magazines, art books, grainy 16mm films and the like. Nowadays, the situation is different. A download from the Web can yield thousands of images in minutes. The size of collections vary widely. Some persons have one or a few images on a phone, while others have hundreds of thousands of images on removable digital media.