‘Shadow’ Trade in Child Sex Dolls Should be Banned, Say Profs

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Illustration by Rachel Caiano via Flickr

Last October, Miguel Ruiz, a 41-year-old Florida resident who worked for Disney World in Orlando, was arrested after a police search of his home found child pornography, and revealed that he had created life-size child “dolls” in the size and stature of children by fashioning them out of swimming or pool noodles (i.e. buoyant foam tubes)—even dressing them in children’s clothes.

Ruiz was not arrested for the possession of these dolls but for his possession of the child pornography.

That illustrates a worrying gap in U.S. law. Under existing law, life-like child sex dolls are not considered a form of child pornography, making it difficult to successfully prosecute those who produce, distribute, receive, and possess with the intent to distribute child sex dolls and child sex robots.

The arrest of Ruiz highlighted a shadowy industry that is increasingly transnational.

Companies in Japan, China and Hong Kong are manufacturing and shipping these realistic child sex dolls to customers around the globe. Buyers can even custom-order child sex dolls with predesigned facial features and expressions. They can request certain facial expressions, such as happy, sad or afraid.

Even more disconcerting, they can request dolls to resemble children in provided photographs. The ultimate goal of manufacturers is to make the child sex dolls look and feel as realistic as possible.

Such dolls that have been confiscated at the borders in other countries—the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, to name a few—that contain anatomically correct body parts and orifices (mouth, vagina, and anus) which can be used to accommodate an adult male penis.

They are far from toys.

Although not yet reported in the media, there’s a strong likelihood that child sex dolls and robots capable of moving, speaking, and performing sexual activities have already been—or are close to being—created. Adult sex dolls with these capabilities are already on the market (and sold all over the world).

Specifically, adult sex robots can both move and speak, and can be positioned for the user to perform a variety of sex acts on them. These robots have artificial intelligence and have programmable personalities; for example, one programmable personality for an adult sex robot by True Companion is “Frigid Farrah,” which rejects all sexual advances, thus encouraging the user to rape the robot.

Given that child sex dolls and robots are of a smaller weight and size, it is likely that development with these enhanced capabilities is further along in the child versions than in the adult sex dolls and robots.

While real children are not involved in the sex acts performed by owners of these child sex dolls and robots, their use still causes harm.

One Wales-based organization, the Specialist Treatment Organization for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (StopSO) argues that such adult toys have potential therapeutic effects by deterring offending by pedophiles. Similar claims by the self-identified pedophilic child sex-doll manufacturer, Shin Takagi, maintain that child sex dolls and robots are an alternative to offending and minimize the risk of harm to children in our society

Scientific evidence contradicts these claims as nonsensical and irrational [see also: R. Karl Hanson, Guy Bourgon, Lesley Helmus, and Shannon Hodgson, A Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Sex Offenders: Risk, Need, and Responsivity (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Public Safety Canada, 2009), 195-197].

Enabling offenders to act upon their impulses to rape and abuse an anthropomorphic child sex doll or robot simply reinforces, rather than reduces, these urges, associated thoughts and behaviors. Committing sex acts on child sex dolls and robots normalizes sexual assault; it does not supplant or inhibit it.

Moreover, as with most child pornography, the user becomes desensitized and will need a higher level to reach gratification. Once the child sex dolls become insufficient to satisfy the pedophile’s urges, he or she s likely to seek out children in order to once again receive the same amount of satiety.

It is imperative that child sex dolls and robots be banned outright by U.S. law. This would require the creation of a new law to criminalize the production, distribution, receipt, possession, and possession with the intent to distribute child sex dolls and robots.

The introduction of a bill Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots (CREEPER) in December 2017 by Republican Daniel Donovan Jr. is a step in the right direction.

Lauren Shapiro

Lauren R. Shapiro

However, the bill only prohibits the distribution and importation of child sex dolls. Child sex robots should also be criminalized. Legislation is also needed to criminalize the manufacture and possession of both child sex dolls and child sex robots.

Marie-Helen Maras

Marie-Helen Maras


Without these additional prohibitions, criminals will find ways to evade criminal sanction by, for example, creating these child sex dolls and child sex robots themselves (for example, using a 3D printer).

(Readers seeking more information can contact the authors for access to their recent article, entitled “Child Sex Dolls and Robots: More Than Just an Uncanny Valley,” in the Journal of Internet Law (December 2017 issue), which reviews the scientific literature and illustrates the dangers and adverse impacts of child sex dolls and robots.)

Marie Helen Maras, Ph.D., is an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Lauren R. Shapiro, Ph.D., is an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Readers’ comments are welcomed.