THERE’S no delicate way to write about the disturbing growth of the child sex dolls market. Indeed, writing about this at all risks making more people aware that such grotesque products are available to buy. If even a tiny fraction of those people are intrigued rather than repulsed, there’s a risk that demand will increase further. And be warned: if you read on you may find yourself feeling pretty despondent about the depths of depravity to which some men will sink.

However, the news that Scotland has had its first conviction for trying to import a child sex doll is heartening, and the more attention that headline gets, the better. A 31-year-old man named Darren Morrison pled guilty at Glasgow Sheriff Court to buying a £2000 doll that was seized at East Midlands Airport in 2021. He also admitted to possessing more than 1000 indecent images of children, and will be sentenced next month.

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The conviction, reported by The Sun, comes a little over a year after Police Scotland expressed concern about their ability to stop the dolls entering the country because there is no specific law against possessing, buying or importing them. A customs law from 1876 does prohibit the import of “obscene articles”, but this raises thorny questions about what qualifies as obscene. Indeed, other jurisdictions have grappled with the challenge of defining what actually constitutes a child sex doll.

The report on Morrison’s conviction contained a telling detail – that the doll was sent from Hong Kong in two packages. One was for the body, the other for the head. This is one of several strategies used by manufacturers that are outlined by writer and activist Caitlin Roper in her thoroughly researched and very disturbing book Sex Dolls, Robots and Women-Hating: The Case for Resistance.

Others include adding “adult” features to the dolls that can later be removed, or omitting the features that make them recognisable as sex dolls. I won’t spell out what that means, but I will say that if all creepily realistic “reborn” silicone baby dolls (like below) have to be outlawed in order to legislate against child sex dolls, it would be absolutely no loss to society.

The National: Ending Sunday - Reborn Baby Doll "Ariella"

Roper rejects the phrase “child sex doll” in favour of the more accurate “child sexual abuse doll” since this is what is being acted out by the men who buy these products. Her case for resistance to sex dolls and robots is quite simply that objectification is the foundation of men’s violence against women, and these products “legitimise and entrench” sexual objectification. She also explains and demolishes some of the current arguments put forward in defence of child sex dolls in particular.

In a chapter titled “Better a robot than a real child,” she charts the rise of the paedophile rights movement and shifts in language that seek to paint men who are attracted to children as victims.

The introduction of the phrase “minor-attracted person” has been deployed as a way to destigmatise paedophilia and present attraction to children as problematic only if it is acted upon in specific ways. The notion of a “non-contact” paedophile does not, of course, imply an absence of victims, since real children are harmed in the production and sharing of indecent images of them. However, what if child sex dolls replace those materials – and real children – altogether?

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It’s a deft move from a community of people who realise they will never succeed with the argument that children can consent to sex and are not harmed by it. Instead, they now use the vast body of evidence about the harm of child sexual abuse to argue that child sex dolls are not merely harmless, but an essential tool, and that depriving men of them means a greater risk that actual children will be abused.

There’s just one little problem with this line of reasoning – the complete absence of evidence that the use of child sex dolls replaces rather than inspires other types of offending by paedophiles. On the contrary, it seems much more likely that the existence of the dolls, the use of them, and the sharing of images and videos of men using them, only serves to make matters far worse.

Roper writes: “Legitimising children as appropriate objects of male sexual desire and gratification puts them at risk, normalising men’s sexual use and abuse of children and encouraging offenders.”

Perhaps the only argument in favour of maintaining the status quo – an absence of any laws preventing the purchase or possession of a child sex doll – is that these actions, if they come to the attention of police, serve as the reddest of flags that the activities of a particular man should be investigated, and urgently.

It’s easy to laugh off reports about the supposedly impending rise of “sex robots”, but the idea that an inanimate object could ever be a credible replacement for a real woman is not just absurd, but harmful. And any advances in technology that make dolls more responsive, more realistic, will without doubt be harnessed to make ever-more-realistic child sex dolls.

Scotland’s laws should be reviewed now, before the products for sale become even more horrifying, and their users even more depraved.