Pornography is defined as any form of material manifested either through printed words or through images or pictures that is explicitly sexual in nature (Langton, 1990, p. 312). On the other hand, what can be termed as ‘sexually explicit’ may refer to a type of an indexical term of a concept that selects characteristics based on what has specific consequences or alters specific taboos depending on the identified context or the specific culture (Rupp, 2007, p. 525).
Pornography has been one of the primary social issues that have concerned individuals from all range of ages regardless of racial or religious background and remains to this day as a growing threat to the ethical and religious precepts of various cultures and societies (Rea, 2001, p. 119). Specifically, child pornography has created threats to the integrity of the moral precepts of parents seeking to build a well-defined sense of morality for their children amidst the changing values of the larger society from the economic to the legal doctrines and many others (MacKinnon, 1989, p. 316).
There are many reasons behind the existence of child pornography and pornography in general. Apart from reasons of immediate implicit desire to obtain ‘sexual pleasure’, certain forms of pornography may be derived from sexual coercion. In general, sexual coercion gives one the idea of the deed of persuading or convincing a minor individual in taking part into a sexual activity that is unwanted by the minor through the use of physical strength or threats of using it as well as the manipulation of the minor’s emotions (Brantley, 2005, p. 3).
On the other hand, Robert Franklin (2000) views sexual coercion as not necessarily including the employment of physical force, threat, or intimidation as the minor may not necessarily view the behaviors involved as coercive. Nevertheless, sexual coercion remains one of the primary reasons behind the persistence of child pornography in the society as countless prominent cases emphasize such claim, cases such as Ashton v. Free Speech Coalition (Cothrel, 2002, p. 8).
Another instance of child pornography is the case against Joshua Kistler who was convicted to 24 years of federal imprisonment. What separates the case of Kistler from the rest is the fact that he posed through the internet as a teenage boy with a terminal case of leukemia. This he did in order to coerce young girls from 12 to 14 years of age into forwarding Kistler images that are ‘sexually explicit’ (Associated Press, 2007).
This paper attempts to analyze the case of Kistler by explaining 3 relevant issues pertaining to the topic in the context of Ronald Akers’ Social Learning Theory: why Kistler’s case occurred, how the Social Learning Theory can be used in order to predict and prevent the likelihood of a similar crime from occurring in the future, and the suggestions that the Social Learning Theory will probably give on how to process Kistler through the criminal justice system.
In order to pursue with the goals set forth, it is an imperative to have a brief and concise look into Akers’ Social Learning Theory. Within the field of criminology, Ronald Akers along with Robert Burgess (1966) formulated the Social Learning Theory (SLT) in order to elucidate on the idea of ‘deviancy’ through the combination of certain elements that advanced delinquency such as the social pressure from reckless peers with the elements that dissuade delinquency such as the responses of parents after knowing the delinquent status of their child.
Roughly speaking, the concept of ‘deviancy’ may be interpreted as diverging away from the mainstream precepts or notions in the larger society, of what currently upheld as the norm or the manner in which things are ‘normally’ conducted such as the dominant behaviors established by a certain society not only as acceptable but also worth promoting. As Wolfensberger (2003, p. 21) notes, an individual can be considered as a deviant if the person is recognized as being considerably “different from others” in several characteristics that are deemed “of relative importance,” and if such “difference is negatively valued.
” Hence, it can be seen that Akers, through the SLT, attempts to scrutinize the existing differences through an understanding of the behaviors considered as ‘normal’ from not by putting together the aspects that promote and discourage delinquency among individuals. In SLT, it is argued that the process of social learning transpires through five primary stages of replication: close contact, replication of those who are superior, comprehension of the concepts involved, specific behaviors according to role models, and insertion.
Akers and Burgess modified the first two stages proposed earlier by Edwin Sutherland by adding the idea of reinforcement and applying the precepts of Operant Psychology. While the former relatively intensifies or weakens the potency of a certain behavior, the latter maintains that behavior is a function of its effects (Pfohl, 1994). In essence, SLT purports to support the employment of punishment which corresponds into extended sentences for criminals convicted as it also facilitates to elucidate on the population of prisons that commenced back in the early years of the 1970s (Livingston, 1996).
In the context of the case of Kistler, the SLT of Akers will be primarily used in bringing into light the causality behind the case not only the immediate causes one can easily perceive but the causes that will be arrived at after a careful analysis of the case. The SLT will also be used in predicting the likelihood of a similar case from occurring and the corresponding prevention that may possibly be employed as well as in arriving at a suitable suggestion in addressing Kistler’s case in terms of the existing criminal justice system.