Nfld. & Labrador

Child sex doll trial opens Pandora's box of questions about child porn

A trial in St. John's that centres on a box containing an unassembled sex doll raises fundamental and complicated questions about child pornography.

St. John's trial began in January 2016

This box, which contains an unassembled child sex doll, is at the centre of a trial about child pornography in St. John's. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

Warning: This story contains graphic subject matter 

There's a trial going on in Newfoundland that centres on the contents of a long, rectangular box.

What's in it would most likely disgust and infuriate many, but others think it could actually be beneficial to society.

Inside the box is an unassembled child sex doll, shipped from Japan. The doll has not been entered into evidence yet. So far, the only ones to see it are the police, officials with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and an expert who has only seen pictures of it.

There is no actual person. It is a piece of latex.- Dr. James Cantor

The package is addressed to St. John's resident Kenneth Harrisson, a 51-year-old electrician now on trial for possessing child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Child porn cases usually include images of kids being sexually exploited. You have actual victims.

But the Harrisson case, which began in St. John's last January and resumes Feb. 14, raises the question of whether an inanimate object constitutes child porn.

Retired RCMP Supt. Bill Malone has not seen the doll but has screened thousands of images of child porn over his 26-year career and believes this object falls into that category. 

"When I look at the descriptions of the doll in the paper, in the newspapers, and how it is described and what it's for, and those sorts of things, I am of the opinion, and I'm sure I always will be, that it is child pornography," said Malone.

Toronto-based clinical psychologist Dr. James Cantor disagrees, and, in his opinion, what Harrisson is on trial for does not constitute child porn.

"Actual child pornography is evidence itself of a crime being committed. But that's not the case with a child sex doll," said Cantor. "There is no actual person. It is a piece of latex. So, if there is no victim where is there, exactly, a harm being committed?"

The arrest

Harrisson does not have a criminal record.

St. John's resident Kenneth Harrison is on trial in relation to a child sex doll that he allegedly had mailed to Newfoundland and Labrador from Japan. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

He doesn't have to testify and hasn't done any media interviews, but he did send a brief email to the CBC.

In it, he stated, "I do not condone child abuse in any way, shape or form. Any child abuse should be reported immediately to the proper authorities."

The police got hold of the box after it was flagged by CBSA coming through the International Mail Processing Centre in Toronto in January 2013.

The name of the Japanese company on the box — Harumi Designs Division of SIMA International Inc. — was on a CBSA watch list. The box was opened in Toronto and CBSA contacted the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC). 

On March 12, 2013, the RNC performed a "controlled delivery" of the package to Harrisson's home and arrested him when he took possession of it. He never opened it.

According to a statement from the RNC, the box contains "a prepubescent female doll, made of a foam-like consistency, that stands at 130 cm, approximately four-foot-two. It comes with clothes and other optional accessories. Some of those accessories could be and can be used for sexual gratification purposes."

Clinically, the majority of these men meet the criteria for the diagnosis of pedophilia.- Dr. Peter Collins

In all, Harrisson is facing four charges. In addition to possessing child porn, he is charged with using the mail for delivering something obscene; violating the Customs Act by smuggling or attempting to smuggle the doll into Canada; and having in his possession an item that violates the Customs Act or any other Act of Parliament that prohibits or controls the importation of goods. 

The Canadian Criminal Code's definition of child pornography is broad, but the most relevant section of the code says, "the dominant characteristic … is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of a sexual organ or the anal region of a person under the age of eighteen years."

Witnesses have told the court the doll has a vaginal opening, and that the package also contains underwear and lubricant.

Opinions divided

To help them determine whether or not the doll is child porn, the RNC sent photos of it to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Peter Collins, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and an expert in this field.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Peter Collins says the doll in question does constitute child pornography. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

In response, Collins wrote: "If [Harrisson] ordered a sex doll ... he likely has an erotic attraction to prepubescent children. Clinically, the majority of these men meet the criteria for the diagnosis of pedophilia."

Collins, who was qualified by the judge in the case to give his expert opinion at Harrisson's trial, wrote, "In my professional opinion, the possession of a sex doll is just another form of depicting a child for a sexual purpose and therefore would meet the criteria for child pornography."

Former Supt. Malone admitted he is "not a physician or a psychologist," but he helped establish the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit with the RNC, which included the Internet Child Exploitation Unit.

He feels strongly that a sex doll is not only child porn but that it could lead to an actual sexual assault on a child.

"I think it is troublesome," he said. "I would worry that the novelty would wear off and they would be out there looking for victims on the street."

Cantor said there is no evidence, however, that suggests a child sex doll acts like a "gateway drug."

In fact, he contends such an item could stop pedophiles from moving on to molesting children.

"I think the biggest misunderstanding is that people still treat pedophilia and child molestation as synonyms," he said. 

He said it might actually be positive to society at large if pedophiles did have access to such dolls. 

If a sex doll helps those people "keep their sex drive under control, and avoiding long kinds of therapy, lifelong use of medications ... then that is a basic social benefit."

The science of pedophilia

A senior scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Cantor has done extensive research on pedophiles, including brain scan studies on sex offenders.

Cantor said his team's findings, and those of a similar research group in Germany, have determined that pedophiles are not made but born and that "the brains of pedophiles are wired differently."

"There appears to be a sex network in the brain. And what seems to be ... different in pedophilia [compared to non-pedophiles] is the way that the pieces of that network are cabled together." 

Cantor said scientists don't yet know why that difference makes someone a pedophile. But he said people need to realize that pedophilia is a condition, not a crime, and that it doesn't lead to criminal activity until the feelings are acted upon.

Numerous companies produce adult sex dolls that are shipped around the world. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago, two men in the U.S. set up a website called Virtuous Pedophiles. On the site, they write that its intent is "to reduce the stigma attached to pedophilia by letting people know that a substantial number of pedophiles DO NOT molest children."

They also want "to provide peer support and information about available resources to help virtuous pedophiles remain law-abiding, and lead happy, productive lives."

In response to questions from the CBC, one of the founders, Ethan (not his real name), wrote, "Child sex dolls would certainly not qualify as regular child porn as no child was involved in the making of them."

Ethan says that Canadian law is "overly harsh in this regard."

We want these people to come in and get therapy. We want to help these people.- Dr. James Cantor

"For instance, entirely fictional stories describing sex involving people under the age of 18 are illegal," he said.

This, he said, is "a serious infraction of freedom of expression."

When it comes to sex dolls, Cantor agrees.

"My general bias is for free speech until we have specific evidence that we are doing a greater social good by banning something," he said.

He says that "until and unless there is evidence that they pose a risk of harm," child sex dolls should be legal in Canada.

He says a shift in societal attitudes about pedophiles could actually decrease child sexual abuse. 

"We want these people to come in and get therapy. We want to help these people, but by stigmatizing them so strongly, we've just driven them underground," said Cantor. 

"We just have pedophiles out in society completely unsupervised and completely unsupported by anybody. If anything, we might be making the situation worse."


Glenn Payette


A veteran journalist with more than 30 years' experience, Glenn Payette is a videojournalist with CBC News in St. John's.