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An examination of judicial sentencing decisions in child pornography and child molestation cases in Canada

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Sex offenders, Child pornography, Criminal justice, Criminal sentencing, Child molestation, Judges, Criminal courts, Canada

Abstract (summary)

Purpose Accessing and distributing child pornography is an emerging problem. This paper aims to examine the judicial sentencing decisions of child pornography cases and whether they differ from decisions of child molestation cases. Design/methodology/approach Using a legal database of Canadian court judgments, the study examined sentencing decisions of 50 child pornography and 50 child molestation cases, identifying variables that were present in the judges' reasons for their decision. Findings The results revealed a disparity in sentencing that favours incarceration rather than community sentences for child molesters over child pornography cases. Despite what appears to be lighter sentences for child pornography offenders, judges were more likely to sanction treatment and recommend restrictions in cases of child pornography than child molestation. In light of the absence of literature exploring sentencing disparity among child sexual offences, further directions and suggestions for practice are discussed. Practical implications The examination of the disparity of sentencing decisions for child molesters and child pornography offenders and the identified variables that may contribute to these decisions suggests that the judiciary views child pornography and child molestation offenders differently and are more punitive toward contact offenders. Such disparity has implications for the criminal justice system. Originality/value This study offers the first exploration of sentencing disparity and decisions on child pornography and child molestation cases in Canada.

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